I have full confidence when I say this: 2014 has been an incredibly disappointing year for hip-hop albums and singles alike. Albums that hip-hop heads widely anticipated fell short of (perhaps unreasonable) expectations. To understand what I mean, it’s best to look back at the previous year in hip-hop.
Last year started off with a bang, with A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP. The album included some singles that appeared late in 2012, which then carried over into 2013. Some of these chart-toppers included “Goldie,” “Fuckin’ Problem,” and “Wild for the Night.” While A$AP’s debut album was not a lyrical masterpiece, it showcased his flow and beat selection and was overall a very entertaining album. Even the non-singles had some great highlights, including “Suddenly,” the fantastic feature-heavy “1 Train,” and the titular intro track.
Then there was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, which could warrant its own blog entry. Like Long.Live.A$AP, The Heist had some singles that came out prior to 2013. This included the hip-pop phenoms “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” and the more intense “Wing$.” Nonetheless, 2013 is when those albums started to blow up (about the same time earlier Macklemore fans decided to turn on him). The duo quickly became a household name and made hip-hop a little more accessible for all those trap-fearing youngsters.
The next widely talked about album was of course, Yeezus’ Yeezus. The album seemed to divide longtime Kanye fans, as some did not like the sound and thought it was a step back from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (see: 808s & Heartbreak and Graduation). Though the album debuted at number one in 31 countries, it marked the lowest solo opening album week totals ever. Still, the album made many “Best Of” lists and built an absurd amount of hype.
Not to be outdone by his Watch The Throne partner, Jay-Z released Magna Carta Holy Grail. Technically the album went platinum instantly with that obnoxious Samsung promotion, but it hardly mattered since it went double platinum anyways. The album itself was mediocre, but at least built a somewhat universal interest in a Jay-Z release. Notable singles included “Holy Grail” with Justin Timberlake and “Tom Ford.” Magna Carta Holy Grail best represents what we’ve seen so far this year – a lot of hype, but nothing that really qualifies as a “modern classic” or an album that will at least be talked about for years.
While we’re not at the point yet this year, Drake’s Nothing Was the Same and Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP II came out later in 2013, in September and November, respectively. Perhaps that means 2014 could make a huge rebound in Q4…
2014: A Year of Disappointment
If you polled music critics, what would they say is the best hip-hop album this year? Some may say it’s Freddie Gibbs’ “Piñata,” others may say it’s YG’s “My Krazy Life,” or even Open Mike Eagle’s “Dark Comedy.” While those are all great choices, none of those have really sparked conversation or changed the face of hip-hop. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t successful, but it might make it seem like we were spoiled last year.
If I had to pick the best album of the year (so far) it would be YG’s “My Krazy Life.” The album however, didn’t set the world on fire despite debuting second on the Billboard 200, though what else would you expect from an under-hyped studio debut album? Not even the impressive features, high quality storytelling, or fantastic homage to classic west coast rap could get this album the sales numbers it deserved.
Gibbs’ collaboration with Madlib was a critical success but barely made a splash on the charts. Personally, I found parts of the album mundane, mostly because of Madlib’s production. Gibbs has one of the greatest voices and flows out there, but I really felt like the beat selection here brought him down. This album would be great within a 90s playlist, but it felt a little dated in the way that Joey B4DA$$ feels dated. (To be fair, many hip-hop fans are still living in the 90s, so there is some niche for this type of style.)
The front-runner for the most widely popular album of the year seems to be Iggy Azaela’s Thew New Classic. While half of its singles were released in 2013, Iggy’s music is still inescapable, lead by the oh-so-addicting “Fancy.” As of July 23, 2014, the album has sold less than 300,000 copies in the U.S. and even more impressively, led to a Weird Al parody.
Apologies to TDE, but the albums they’ve released so far this year have also been underwhelming. I’m excluding SZA’s fantastic Z here, since that’s more R&B/Soul (it does include one of my favorite songs of 2014, “Babylon” with Kendrick Lamar, though). Part of the problem with ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron was that it was hyped up as being THE album of 2014. Yes, I know I was one of these people.
The album seemed like it was destined for success, with great singles that included “Collard Greens,” “Man of the Year” (which were both released in 2013), and “Break the Bank.” However, the rest of the album did not live up to the lofty standards set by these singles, a la G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer. Relatively speaking, Oxymoron performed well in the eyes of critics, but never caught on with the public like I thought it would. There is a possibility that the singles came our far too early, and since the singles and leaked songs were essentially the best part of the album, Oxymoron came across as lackluster. (Apologies to “Fuck LA,” which is a great, classic gangsta song.)
Perhaps it was Oxymoron’s failure to meet its absurd expectations, but Ab-Soul’s These Days… saw a sudden spike in anticipation. While it was lyrically on point, the inconsistency of the album failed to make it really worth talking about. The best thing it gave us was perhaps “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude,” which is more or less a sequel to Section.80’s fantastic “Ab-Soul’s Outro.” The album is not necessarily bad, but when that interlude and “Tree of Life” are your highlights, then it isn’t about to change the face of hip-hop or help you become a household name.
So what future releases are there that could give this year a huge boost? In 2013, a lot of great albums come out after the summer, such as the aforementioned Nothing Was the Same last year and good kid, m.A.A.d city in 2012.
This year, there’s Run the Jewels 2, which will most likely not be a huge hit commercially, but is destined to be a huge hit among hip-hop heads based on three factors: it’s free, the first Run the Jewels album was fantastic, and the first song from the album, “Blockbuster Night Part 1” is very promising. 50 Cent is allegedly finally coming out with Street King Immortal, and while he can’t throw a baseball to save his life, he’s been showing signs of making a big splash this year with Animal Ambition and the G-Unit reunion. Plus, look at some of the producers on Street King Immortal – Dr. Dre, Eminem, Hit-Boy, and Just Blaze.
One problem with looking ahead is the amount of “TBA” releases on the horizon that will almost undoubtedly see setbacks. Kendrick tops that list right now, and hopefully he’s not rushing this deadline, especially when mainstream expects him to live up to the incredibly high standard set by his sophomore effort. In terms of hip-hop mainstays, Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 are also on the “TBA” side of releases and Kanye never stops being in the development process.
Finally, there is one album that does have a release date that will very likely be a huge commercial success – Tha Carter V. While YouTube sections and /r/music may claim Lil’ Wayne’s “not REAL hip-hop,” there’s no doubt that he’ll be topping charts with this album. The first two singles, “Believe Me,” which sounded like Drake featuring Drake, and “Krazy,” which is not memorable, are not too reassuring, but a vast improvement from Weezy’s recent work that he’s destined for a rebound.
Unless there’s a Q4 savior, this year is looking pretty bleak for hip-hop, or at least not too memorable. And when 2015 at its tail end, fans of the genre may even remember 2014 as a year in hip-hop sandwiched between two of the best ever.