top 10 hip hop albums / mixtapes of 2014

10. Young hot Ebony - Father

Since iLoveMakonnen's club anthem, "Tuesday," went viral early this summer, the indie hip hop collective, Awful Records, has become notorious for turning out some of Atlanta's most eccentric rap and electronic music. From Ethereal's lazy, psychedelic trap beats, to Makonnen's sing-song/jazzy rap bars, to Abra's lo-fi electronica, the artists on this label seem committed to forging an alternative sonic identity to go along with Atlanta's more mainstream hip hop production style. Father's Young hot Ebony demonstrates this through both its experimental and collaborative ambitions: it blends rap, psychedelic rock, punk, and trap into a relatively minimalist and down-tempo overall sound and features pretty much everyone in the Awful fam.

9. Yarz - Rich Kidz

Another couple of ATLiens here! Love the way this mixtape juxtaposes high level production with an unconventional approach to lyricism. Beats come from industry giants like London on da Track and Sonny Digital but are textured against RKaelub and Skateboard Skooly's singing, screaming, and rapping. Rich Kidz have another release out since that shows their increasing use of rap as a mode of delivery, but I prefer this tape for its playful mixture of genre and vocal sampling/recording.

8. Underground Cassette Tape Music - Gangster Boo & Beatking

Early on in Underground Cassette Tape Music, the former Three 6 Mafia rapper and producer, Gangsta Boo, sums up the tape's sonic and conceptual structure by rapping "Memphis, Texas, chop-chop and we screwin" while chopping and screwing the bar's words and beat. The move is symbolic in both a regional and artistic sense, as it articulates a synthesis of Memphis and Texas hip hop across divisions of production and geography. And the result is a hard hitting southern tape full of glitches, sirens, and repetitive trap and 808 loops. Throw it on and get ready to hear some "mother-f***ing bass in the trunk!"

7. Batman and Robin 2 - J. Money & Yung L.A.

These goofballs struck gold here with some of the best production of the year. The release offers 18 tracks by the likes of Cassius, Zaytoven, and DJ Plugg that cohere to a melodic and dreamy narrative and set of tones. This, along with the repetitive and playful raps of J. Money and Yung L.A., works to color the spontaneity at which the tape oscillates between blissful happiness and demonic musing. Tracks such as "Trappin," "havin' Dis S***," and "Yes You Can" tell the story of the rap duo negotiating an at times euphoric and at time profoundly devastating life in East Atlanta.

6. By Any Means - Kevin Gates

By Any Means is a bit idiosyncratic within the roster of this list, but is here for Gates' surprisingly emotional and sensitive maneuvering within the rigidly masculinist and gangster world of rap in Louisiana/New Orleans/Baton Rouge. Gates is certainly hardnosed and serious, but something about his gaspy voice and impassioned raps present him as a very deep and compassionate bro--in other words, he captures the intensity of Boosie while maintaining the endearing vulnerability of someone like Chance the Rapper. Thus, this album shows Gates speaking about his childhood and innocence with a sense of nostalgia for time past.

5. Still - Young Chop

Although Chicago's Drill movement seems to have slowed down in recent months, music production in the city continues to forge ahead. Thus, the Chief Keef, Lil herb et al that you hear in producer Young Chop's debut album are artists experimenting with new styles at a moment of transition. Still, then, is both structured around the dark and industrial instrumentals of Drill and moving towards a different use of that sound. Also, always good to see a producer getting his or her own album.

4. No Label II - Migos

No one had a bigger 2014 in terms of buzz and indie musical production than the self-employed, Atlanta rap trio, Migos. But Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff's YRN philosophy has manifested in both material wealth and a unique anti-hero status within the hip hop world. For, despite rejecting major label affiliation, Migos are not often seen as counter to the economic structures of the music industry. Nevertheless, No Label II is fun, crude, playful, and exciting in a way that reflects its origins in the underground. Over trap production by Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, and Murda Beatz, Migos joke and rap about their past of drug trafficking and the fast life they live now. Top tracks include "Antidope," "Contraband" and "Copy Me."

3. Broke With Expensive Tastes - Azealia Banks

After two years and many disputes with Interscope Records, Azealia Banks' debut studio album, Broke With Expensive Tastes, finally dropped this November. The album picks up where Banks left off by way of production, but shows a shift in the artist's rap style and use of vocals--that is, the instrumentals maintain the up-tempo house and electronic sampling from her 212 EP, but the wide range of vocal styles introduce a new Banks interested in negotiating multi-generic sound through shifts in singing/rapping and delivery/inflection. The product is an aggressive and deeply textured album that will get everyone dancing while hitting them with a healthy dose of dark humor and cynicism.

2. Back From the Dead 2 - Chief Keef

Like Broke With Expensive Tastes, Chief Keef's Back From the Dead 2 was released at the tail end of messy negotiations with Interscope. however, since Keef was unable to reach a financial or artistic agreement with the label (and was eventually dropped), this tape marks the young Chicago Driller's return to the indie music scene. Not surprisingly, freedom from corporate influence has revealed a more experimental side to Keef's music: Back From The Dead 2 is demonic, abrasive, and fragmented in a way that his former releases strived for but rarely achieved. As both rapper and producer (Sosa On The Beat), Keef takes you on a 20 track journey through ominous tones, rhythms, and half-rap-half-babblings sure to get you and your inner demons turnt up.

1. Black Portland - Young Thug & Bloody Jay

"Danny Glover" is certainly the staple of Young Thug's entrance into mainstream hip hop, but the rest of Black Portland may end up being his best overall release; for this tape comes as the result of a specific and transformative moment in the Atlanta music scene. Indeed, the sonically eccentric and highly collaborative composition of Black Portland can be linked to hip hop's fading economic sway within the broader structures of music production/consumption: the tape is representative of a community of musicians that must pool their resources in order to make music and receive some sort of compensation for their labor. Metro Boomin, Zaytoven and 808 Mofia produce the tape, Thugger and Bloody Jay provide its vocals, but there is little division between the artists in terms of how the tape is marketed (other than the inevitable spit between rapper and beatmaker). Thus, Black Portland makes use of the limitations of the hip hop industry for the production of a collective and meta-generic fusion of disparate styles and musical backgrounds. It is playful, fun, dancy and accessible, but also preserves a sense of craftsmanship and innovation through its search for intensity and sonic complexity. Take a listen and hear the sounds of a world where "Mollys got the whole hood off, they geekers."

here's a mix of my favorite track from each release:

0:00 "Why Can't I Cry $$$" - Father - Young Hot Ebony
3:03 "More" - Rich Kidz - Yars
6:31 "Bass N Da Trunk" - Gangsta Boo & Beatking - Underground Cassette Tape Music
10:25 "Havin' Dis Shit" - J Money and Yung L.A. - Batman & Robin 2
13:36 "Wish I Had It" - Kevin Gates - By Any Means
17:06 "Valley (feat. Chief Keef)" - Young Chop - Still
21:02 "Contraband" - Migos - No Label II
24:14 "Desperado" - Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Tastes
28:11 "Dear" - Chief Keef - Back From the Dead 2
32:31 "No Love" - Young Thug & Bloody Jay - Black Portland
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