Sam Bennett's Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2014
10) Cracker Jon & 2Late - You Can Take The Cracker Out Of Croydon:
Cracker Jon and 2Late have been tearing down festivals and shows for a good few years, and 2014 finally saw the release of their debut album, released on the UK hip hop powerhouse that is High Focus Records. Cracker's unique and slightly abstract flow, along with his intricate writing combine with 2Late's funky, Redman esque beats, and the styles compliment each other terrifically. Jon tackles a variety of concepts on this album; in fact he tackles a variety within each song, and it's this approach that definitely makes this album stand out. He's one of the most unique MC's from the UK, and the partnership with 2Late is an exciting and promising one, and 'You Can Take The Cracker Out Of Croydon' is a really solid debut project, with a cohesive sound executed to its full potential.
9) Kev Brown & Hassaan Mackey - That Grit:
Rochester MC Hassaan Mackey and Maryland producer Kev Brown collaborate to bring us this absolutely sick album, entitled 'That Grit'. Released in November, this album has constantly been in rotation for me since then; Hassaan's intelligent writing and great presence complement Kev Brown's slick, intricate sampling and consistently dope drums. The Low Budget producer has worked with an array of underground talents, including LMNO, Has-Lo and Raw Poetic, and his production is always incredibly solid. This one might have slipped under the radar, but it's definitely one of my standouts from the year.
8). J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive:
J. Cole has been around the block. The hype and buzz around him has been there since he first appeared on a mainstream level, and his third album, entitled '2014 Forest Hills Drive' finds him at his most honest, personal, raw and effective. He's responsible for much of the albums production, and it really feels like this was the project he wanted to make. The reception to the album has been excellent; with first week sales of 361,120 in the States, making it the highest selling hip hop album of the year. It's a refreshing body of work in today's climate, with much of commercial rap recycling the same materialistic concepts and subjects we've heard thousands of times before, and it's encouraging that people are engaging with Cole here.
7) Skyzoo & Torae - Barrel Brothers
Brooklyn rappers Skyzoo and Torae collaborate on 'Barrel Brothers', a gritty, east coast constantly lyrical affair, featuring production from DJ Premier, Oh No, Black Milk and Jahlil Beats amongst others, and guest appearances from Guilty Simpson, Sean Price, Sha Stimuli, Blu and Livin Proof. It's a truly consistent offering, with a continuous vibe, with beats that all bump and catch your ear, maintaining your interest for the duration of the album. It's been a year that has reminded everybody that amongst the vast array of commercial artists churning out tired and over-done hip hop to the mainstream, there are still a huge number of artists making real, credible rap music to a very high standard, and these two are holding down the East Coast sound without any hesitation.
6) Willie The Kid & Bronze Nazareth - The Living Daylights:
In a year where Wu-Tang Clan's album 'A Better Tomorrow' was released to a somewhat mixed reception, it's nice to see that there is still a generation continuing the classic Wu sound with successful results. Bronze Nazareth is a producer specialising in hard hitting drums and hypnotic loops, and Willie The Kid demonstrates his lyricism, storytelling and raw flow with real precision. There are appearances from Sean Price, Roc Marciano, Young Dirty Bastard and LA The Darkman, amongst others, and it's a cohesive, very impressive project. There have been so many dope rapper/producer collaborative albums this year, and the consistent sound that this results in so often makes for fantastic albums, and 'The Living Daylights' is one of the best.
5) Step Brothers - Lord Steppington
And another one! The Alchemist is one of the most versatile and consistently raw producers in the game, and he's proved his longevity, repeatedly delivering his signature brand of boom bap, with incredibly hard hitting drums and a gritty feel. This project finds him partnering with Evidence, of Dilated Peoples fame, as Step Brothers. The LA MC's cutting tone, heavy flow and well constructed bars have earned him a lot of respect, and his skills are in full display on this album. The producer/rapper team recruit some of the most talented spitters on the circuit to appear, with, amongst others, Styles P, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano and Blu being included as guest appearances. 'Lord Steppington' is an uncut, relentless example of the quality underground hip hop that seems to have had quite a year in 2014.
4) Statik Selektah - What Goes Around:
Statik Selektah has perfected the art of producing an entire album of pure hip hop like few others. His choice in rappers to enlist is flawless, diverse and always a real treat for rap fans. This isn't the glossy, over the top DJ Khaled project, this is something raw, humble and exceptionally orchestrated. 'What Goes Around' is Statik's sixth album, and it's a soulful, jazzy affair, with Statik's genius sampling and boom bap drums backing some of the best names in the game. Whether we're talking veterans like Lil Fame, Talib Kweli, Snoop Dogg and Pharoahe Monch or new-era heads like Joey Bada$$, Astro, Boldy James and Action Bronson, the rappers are impeccably matched and selected, and this is hip hop that sounds like hip hop is meant to.
3) Fliptrix - Polyhymnia:
It's been another healthy year for UK hip hop, and High Focus have continued their prolific output in 2014. Label owner Fliptrix released his fifth album, 'Polyhymnia', and it closed out a trilogy of albums that have shown a huge level of growth in Fliptrix's music. The album is produced in its entirety by longtime collaborator Molotov, and it's a piece of gloriously varied, beautifully sampled underground hip hop. Fliptrix shows his dexterity as an MC on this album, with many different flows, moods, styles and concepts being present, and executed perfectly. Fliptrix's lyricism and general outlook makes him one of the most important figures in the scene, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
2) Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2:
Killer Mike and El-P's first offering in 2013 was met with universal acclaim, and deservedly so. The duo returned with the albums sequel, and it's one of the most cohesive, consistent and undeniably banging albums i've heard for a long time, never mind solely of 2014. El-P's hard hitting electronic production serves its function perfectly, backing the relentless and aggressive flows of two veteran MC's, making some of the music of their lives (and their back catalogues are each impressive in their own right). As soon as Killer Mike announces he's 'finna bang this bitch the fuck out' on 'Jeopardy', the albums opening track, you know exactly what to expect. This is relentless, in your face music, but with real content, edge and importance.
1) Apollo Brown & Ras Kass - Blasphemy:
Ras Kass is an absolute legend in the hip hop scene. The California spitter has long been known for his ferocious presence and excellent lyricism, and has released a number of great albums, and has worked with a vast array of rappers and producers. On 'Blasphemy' he partners with Apollo Brown, one of the most promising and consistent beatmakers of recent times. It's clear as you take in and absorb 'Blasphemy' that Apollo's beats have been constructed around Kass' savage flow, and it's an onslaught of quality, hard hitting hip hop from start to finish. Ras Kass' flawless performance is a reminder amongst a very promising crop of newcomers that are pushing the rugged, 90's inspired sound that the old guard has never left, and is here to stay.