2014 has been another insane year for music. We saw “Tuesday” become everyone’s new favorite day of the week, we saw the Grammy’s once again fail immensely at being “in the know” in regards to album quality in their nominating process, we saw the return of D’Angelo out of nowhere, we saw the Cash Money records empire slowly start deteriorating, we saw Vine become a new platform for breakout artists, and so much more. These are just some of the highlights of 2014… there were so many moments that we’ll speak about for years to come.
Here at S&S we’ve been extremely patient and quiet about our opinions of the top albums of the year and now as we close this chapter we’d like to use our top list as a bookmark we can use to revisit this year again and again. Of course, this is an opinionated piece that holds little-to-no critical relevance, and there was a lot of great music that came out this year. These are just our highlights. Enjoy.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
In 2013, Killer Mike and El-P took the industry by storm with Run the Jewels, a dark, gritty, booming album produced entirely by El-P himself. The album was praised for the production and unusual chemistry of the duo. The bars and beats came correct every single time and ended up on numerous year end list’s “Honorable mention” section. Now it’s 2014 and RTJ have come back with their second effort, Run the Jewels 2, which shoots for far more than just an “honorable mention.” This is the grittiest album of the year, hands down. Sonically, the album is so dark you have to listen to it with the lights on in order to feel safe from the vicious bars that P and Mike spit like venom.
The topics on this album range from social issues like police brutality to completely unrealistic, fictionalized scenarios regarding just about every sickening topic imaginable, and there is not one second or tone of voice that shows remorse. The versatility of these two emcees is unmatched lyrically, endlessly and flawlessly weaving themselves in and out of each others verses while the attack the mic like it was wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood.
This line sums up RTJ as a whole. They literally don’t care, it’s almost a flat-out refusal to listen to anyone but themselves. RTJ as a project is one of the most creative forces we’ve seen in hip-hop over the last few years and we’re excited for RTJ3 already (as El-P has already confirmed it’s coming.) And we’re saying a prayer that they never change. As said on “Oh My Darling, Don’t Cry,” run the jewels or lose your fingers.
††† – Crosses
††† (Crosses) is the musical side project of Deftones frontman Chino Moreno. With Crosses we hear a lot more experimental and electronic influences in their music. When I first heard their EP’s in 2013 I wasn’t really finding a uniqueness about them that differed band’s respective main projects. I quickly changed my opinion once I heard their self-titled debut. Crosses find themselves in a perfect medium between the heaviness of Deftones and the emotion of Far. Chino’s vocals smoothly glide over electronic tinged production while Shaun Lopez’s guitars provide a soft, almost harmonic background.
“I’ve been waiting for you to say the words… as we sail across the universe.“
Chino’s songwriting style has always been metaphorical. Throughout his tenure with Deftones and this album he finds a way to say what he’s thinking in the most poetic of ways. Crosses has also given us a softer side of his vocals, with less shrieking and more actual melody. From the album’s booming, synth-tinged opener “This is a Trick” to the closing words in “Death Bell” the album cohesively covers topics ranging from love, sex, to religion in a solemn, poetic way. It doesn’t overwork itself but rather lets you sink in to an atmosphere that says “I’m going to take your breath away for a moment, but don’t worry, I’ll give it back when I’m done.”
Tinashe – Aquarius
Can we just take a minute to thank the powers that be that The Stunners disbanded? If they hadn’t, we might never have been graced with a Tinashe solo album of this magnitude. Riding the success of my personal song of the summer, “2 On“, a party anthem for the ages, Tinashe was tasked with creating a solo album that not only kept similar vibes, but would show a deeper side of her that painted her as more than just another pop star getting ratchet. She delivered. “Aquarius,” is a groundbreaking album for R&B. Taking obvious influence from Devonté Hynes’ 2013 project “Blood Orange,” Tinashe finds herself fusing lush guitars with her beautiful harmonizing before heading into rapping over Boi-1da and DJ Mustard production. We see every side of Tinashe on this album and there’s not a bad one to be found. It’s hard to find someone with so much soul and artistic capability who can also make radio hits like the A$AP Rocky featuring “Pretend.” This album has something for everyone, and is nowhere near a typical “play it safe” pop star album. Tinashe is the real deal, she’s here to stay, and she’s taking over. Best said on album opener Aquarius; “Welcome to my world.”
Jon Waltz – Alyss
I’ve been following Jon Waltz since Pigeons and Planes first posted his phenomenal single “Bang (Left My Home)” on their website. I was immediately fascinated and hungry to devour all of this guy’s music, as were many of my friends. He became a staple in all of our playlists, all of us hungry to see what he’d do next. Still, after all of the internet hype, Waltz remained relatively elusive, sporadically releasing tracks and drenching himself in mystery. Then, in October 2014, the Memphis native shocked the internet and everyone that had been following him with a seven-track EP that suddenly gave us answers to questions we’d been asking for months. That answer was one word: “Alyss.”
“Left my home with a dream and a cigarette.”
Alyss sets a new bar for young rappers on the come-up these days. Waltz graces every track with powerful flows and lyricism, but most importantly cohesively telling a powerful, suspenseful, and twisted tale inspired by the classic Alice in Wonderland. The quality of the project is represented by just how much work truly went into it. Waltz not only has masterfully created a cohesive, flowing story while maintaining a high level of production and lyrical quality. His melodies match his flow flawlessly. Every single aspect of the album was carefully crafted and chosen, down to the visual aid on his website. This EP gave me hope for the next generation of hip-hop and you should listen to it.
PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO
The last album to grace this list is none other than PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “PND2.” What can I say? This album is dope. I’m a blunt individual, I get my point across and I continue. As much as I love poetry and when someone is poetic with their words, I also love it when someone says exactly what they want without fear of what others may think. Party does that continuously throughout his second studio effort. He powerfully crafts stories and scenarios portraying fantasy and reality and on occasion fusing them into one. What we get from all of this is a style of experimental R&B that screams “I really don’t love you, but I’ll make you think I do. Ultimately, I’m about me.” Whether singing or rapping his way through his own production he shines brightly. Another one of my favorite things about this album is that Party doesn’t rely on anyone to help carry the album, having a lone Drake feature (and at that, a very strong Drake feature) on his album while he croons his way through the rest. Sonically, the album is pleasing and powerful, forcing you to rethink all you know about love, relationships, yourself, and your own desire.