5. “Paperwork” – T.I.
Picking the number five album for this list was definitely the most difficult. With so many solid rap albums in 2014, it was hard to choose from the wide selection of albums I had bought and listened to from beginning to end (I bought over 20 of them). One album I was particularly impressed with was T.I.’s “Paperwork.” The majority of the tracks on this album pop with that signature T.I. southern hospitality, as executive producer Pharrell Williams brings his impeccable rhythm and production skills to help create something that sounds both original and familiar. T.I.’s southern country-style flow is present as ever and, from beginning to end, the album feels like a return to form for the king of Atlanta with hard-hitting tracks like “Jet Fuel” and “About the Money” (the album version, not the awful radio edit) and smoother, more soulful tracks like “Paperwork” and “Stay.” Not to mention, the track “New National Anthem” couldn’t be more appropriate at a time like now with the tragic occurrences involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, “Paperwork” should be in any T.I. fan’s library. This is the T.I. I remember and love and it’ll be interesting to see if he can top this album next time around.
4. “Cadillactica” – Big K.R.I.T.
Speaking of southern rap kings, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” released an album in 2014 that impressed the hip-hop world. I’m honestly a little ashamed to admit that I was sleeping on K.R.I.T. big time, as I didn’t even know he was releasing an album last year until the week before. Sure, there have been tracks here and there that I’ve enjoyed from the artist in the past, but I never expected anything as bright as “Cadillactica.” It’s entertaining from beginning to end with rapidly-spit lyrics and constantly clever wordplay throughout. Though the first half of the album is much brighter than the second half (even seeming to draw inspiration at times from Daft Punk), the whole album pops with rhythm and bass that sounds like it could’ve been recorded in a futuristic version of the rapper’s hometown in Mississippi. Being transported to the planet of “Cadillactica” was a treat, and I sure won’t be sleeping on Big K.R.I.T. ever again.
3. “Run the Jewels 2” – Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P)
“Run them Jewels fast! Run them, Run them Jewels fast!” After Killer Mike & El-P announced the sequel to their hit album “Run the Jewels,” I couldn’t help but get excited. They couldn’t possibly top their electric first effort, right? Dude… Grab a pair of HD headphones, throw on this album and prepare yourself to, quite literally, be blown away. From the first track, “Jeopardy,” leading into “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” you instantly realize you’re in for a treat. Ferocious beats, high energy and an impeccable one-two punch from Killer Mike and El-P highlight this outstanding second effort from the acclaimed duo, as the album is a straight-up attack on the senses. And, just like their previous album, it’s free! Go do yourself a favor and download this gem.
2. “2014 Forest Hills Drive” – J. Cole
As a huge J. Cole fan, I am more than happy to say with confidence that Cole is BACK! I mean, it’s not like he’d ever left, but he did stumble a bit with “Born Sinner” in 2013, which was considered a commercial disappointment. “2014 Forest Hills Drive” debuted at number one on the Billboard charts its opening week and has already sold more copies than “Born Sinner.” Trust me when I say the success is well deserved. There are no features this time around: it’s all Cole, and he even largely produced the entire project himself. The result is an album that feels very personalized, original and near perfect. Cole states at the beginning of “Wet Dreamz,” my personal favorite track: “Let me take y’all back, man, as I do so well.” That couldn’t be truer as J. Cole still proves himself to be one of the best storytellers in the business. The album starts with Cole as a young, naïve kid, and he ends as a more self-reflective, mature adult ready to move things forward with his career. “2014 Forest Hills Drive” is an experience worth listening through multiple times over. Once again, Cole has restored faith in rap as an art and talent.
1. “Under Pressure” – Logic
After following Logic on college music websites for years, I couldn’t be happier for this kid. After years of mixtapes, Logic’s time has finally come with his first studio album with Def Jam Records in the form of “Under Pressure;” the result is more than impressive. Logic makes a perfectly good case for himself that he is, pound for pound, the best lyricist and storyteller in the sea of talented rappers today. “Under Pressure” gives us insight to the rapper’s past regrets and future ambitions, and it’s all detailed with immaculate wordplay accompanied by an unstoppable flow. No track on the album supports this better than “Under Pressure,” a nine minute track produced by Logic himself that showcases the rapper’s struggles of aspiring to be the best rapper in the business, but then quickly turns to the perspective of his different family members. It’s gritty, raw, honest and an absolutely perfect track. With about only 100,000 copies sold so far, it’s clear that too many people are sleeping on this talented artist. If you’re a true rap fan, don’t let that happen to you. “Under Pressure” was my clear winner for rap album of the year and is my favorite album since Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” 24 years old, Logic is going to do big things in the future. Look out for him.