The first half of 2014 was a mixed but mostly stale bag of music. However, Iggy Azalea's 'Fancy' and Wiz Khalifa's 'We Dem Boyz' were surefire staples throughout the year -- just look at our initial 20 Best Hip-Hop Songs list. Thankfully, since then, more songs have dropped and things are picking up before heading into 2015.
Many of the hits were surprises and sleepers. Big Sean messed around and gave us a four-track EP with some of his best work, including a track that immediately stuck as soon as it hit Soundcloud. Out of his hometown came a diminutive newcomer with an ear for beats and a penchant for violence. Baking soda, one of the most slept-on food additives of all-time, is also having a moment.
Make no mistake, though. The highlights did come in the earlier months. See where rise of the booty and one day of the week falls in the 10 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2014.
‘Tuesday’ILOVEMAKONNEN Feat. Drake
Drake was on top this year without dropping an album as ‘0 to 100’ ran clubs and his small beef with Jay Z became the center of blog gossip. This might just be one of the important years of his career, too; 2014 is OVO Sound’s breakout year. PARTYNEXTDOOR has amassed a following and has been quoted on countless tweets. ILoveMakonnen is more ubiquitous thanks to ‘Tuesday’ -- a joint that’s great in its novelty and execution. The song has even earned a Grammy nomination. Over a warbly, instantly recognizable riff (Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital with yet another success), Makonnen rises to make the rare club hit that’s both exciting and acutely aware of the journey to the bar. He’s genuinely sympathetic if you listen closely enough: “I've been workin' graveyard shifts every other weekend / Ain't got no f--- time to party on the weekend.” So tonight, on a Tuesday, we dance.
It’s very clear that capriciousness lies at the center of the minimal keys and constant bass heard on ‘Bitch U Guessed It.' That’s nothing new -- see Young Thug -- but there’s a precision with which OG Maco navigates his bipolar presence that truly makes this song stick. The raucous “I’m still with my n----“ comes within seconds before he slyly muses that he’s “Still in that place and I'm flexin’.” There’s a charisma that connects the two points; we’re rioting and flexin’ for no reason other than the fact that he’s OG Maco.
'About The Money'T.I. Feat. Young Thug
On one hand, credit should go to London on da Track for crafting an elastic production that stretches from a woozy synth representation of the neon light district’s plush corners to the condensed space occupied by T.I. and Young Thug's taunts. There’s also the connection between Tip and Thugger, which isn’t just regional. They juxtapose each other: Thug’s tiptoeing from slick delivery to a cartoonish singsong that somewhat resembles a pop star (“I want them birds 'til’ next May / Never let 'em fly away”) and T.I.’s dose of reality (“Catcha witcha betcha heat will blow your brains bout that”). The Atlanta connection and Benjamin rule once again.
Sometimes you just know when you got one. Even though the lyrics to ‘CoCo’ come off like a drug dealer's all caps text demand, O.T. Genasis knew. “It’s a feeling,” he said in an interview with Complex. “You know it when you feel it. ‘Baking sawda, I got baking sawda.’ I felt that, you know what I’m saying. That’s why I said it.” In other words, there’s a legal high in ‘CoCo.’ It works in the same way you feel in the excitement of ‘Scarface’’s final scene instead of explaining to yourself that doing a shootout while incredibly high on cocaine isn’t a smart choice. It’s a thrill that makes grown-ass men like Busta Rhymes do head-first dives off stages.
“Rock that all white when I'm feelin' godly,” Dej Loaf says as she simultaneously describes DDS’ twinkling beat and the tonality of her Detroit twang. The religion ends there, though. The ethereal earworm quality only partially sheaths the fact that this is coming from a gritty, Detroit perspective. It’s clear Loaf doesn’t live in the clouds as she lets off violent quotables with a deadpan that can by described as Dipset-esque: “Put the burner to his tummy, and make it bubbly,” “Leave a bitch n---- head in pasta,” “Turn a bitch to some macaroni.” High carbs, murder and the come-up have rarely sounded this sweet.
Nicki Minaj has been pretty sharp and direct when it came to her feminist agenda this year. This time she gets wacky with it. In a way, this is a continuation of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s 'Baby Got Back.' But instead of the one-hit wonder standing on top of a giant ass, you get Minaj turning that hump into a ship, capsizing it and possibly killing Sir-Mix-A-Lot in the process, then piloting that ship into some Amazon utopia. While ‘Anaconda’ doesn’t reconcile Minaj’s hip-hop cred and pop ambitions like ‘Super Bass,’ it’s charm lies in how it trades in the austerity of either side for a playful riff of its ideology -- from its line of quotables (“D--- bigger than a tower, I ain't talking about Eiffel's”) to the outro’s playful riff (“F--- the skinny bitches”).
Mike WiLL Made-It’s slight fall from being the game’s top producer has a lot to do with its characteristically short attention span. Some of it is on him, though. In his quest to switch up his style to maintain his uniqueness, he’s ended up sounding similar to other producers who’ve switched up their style to maintain uniqueness. His work and his ambition never quite met up, resulting in washed out instrumentals. ‘Buy the World’ should’ve been a hit. His union with club wunderkinds Rae Sremmurd somehow inspired him to return to the basics: trunk-rattling, but melodic bass combined with woozy, metallic synths. Mike WiLL has been so focused on establishing his legacy that he’d forgotten the carpe diem philosophy that put him in position to do so. Rae Sremmurd symbolizes it: “I’m just living life / And let my momma tell it n---- I ain't living right.” Here’s to more highs like these.
There’s this famous scene from ‘The Wire’ where Detectives Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland are investigating a murder scene, and they manage to give paragraphs-worth of dialogue by simply using different intonations of ‘f---.’ Big Sean’s hook is like that sans the morbid nature. In “I don’t. F--- with. You,” he’s transferring sudden realization into middle finger-waving rage. In “Idon’tgiveaf---,“ it’s reactionary defiance. In “Don’t give a f--- about you or anything that you,” transfixes ‘Return of the Mack’ in one line. Sean has captured the audience on a wide level before -- multiple times, in fact -- but he’s never been able to hit so many readily available emotions with this level of concision. It turns out DJ Mustard’s five-keys-or-less productions are a good influence.
'Lifestyle’Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan
If Young Thug didn’t reach critical mass before, he did when Birdman asked him to do a song with a simple, constantly tread topic: We made it. Even with the models, Ferraris and the yacht, it’s made abundantly clear that this gender-bending eccentric is of his own cosmos. This is not just done through Thug’s presence, but through an utterly nutty diction that seems to transcend the English language. Through him, the song works on two levels: A viral sensation even Tracee Ellis Ross is hip to and a victory lap given extra elation by Thugger’s extraterrestrial touch. You get the typical Birdman outro after Rich Homie Quan’s functional verse. Even with the song's wide-reaching charm, it’s clear Baby again gets the spoils.
The joy of ‘Hot N----' isn't the pocketed bliss of the ‘Nae Nae’ or ‘Stanky Leg’ -- we’ve lost a bit to get here. Some would make the case that Bobby Shmurda’s shimmy is a cause of desensitization. But he’s too specific for that. There’s a sense of vigor with which he hits those bullet points: he’s been selling crack since like the fifth grade, Meeshie and Breezy’s incarceration, Mitch’s potential murder charge. It all becomes moot in these three minutes; what connects the Shmoney Dance, and ‘Hot N----‘ by association, to its audience is its in-the-moment mode of catharsis. We all know losing a hat is annoying as hell. Here, it’s a minor inconvenience along with everything else.