A couple of months ago, A$AP Mob leader A$AP Yams proclaimed that 2014 was the worst year in rap music ever.
That’s a little extreme.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to the statement. The year 2014 has been dreary when it comes to mainstream hip-hop.
That also doesn’t mean there wasn’t some excellent rapping heard here and there. So for this post, we’re going to focus on the positive. Lyrical hip-hop has not gone away.
This year, we saw a nice mix of vets (like Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake) and youngins’ (like Dreezy, Logic, and Lil Herb) spit standout verses.
So clear those negative thoughts about hip-hop out of your head, and look at the 14 best verses of 2014 below.
14. Logic “Gang Related” (Verse One)
People in rap circles already knew that Logic could go. This year was about showing a larger audience how far he could go. The Baltimore-rapper shocked casual fans with how well written and thoughtful his debut album, Under Pressure, really is. The centerpiece of that album is “Gang Related,” a song in which Logic expertly weaves a tale from the perspective of a young boy with the perspective of his gang-banging older brother.
13. Big KRIT “Mt. Olympus” (Verse One)
By the top of 2014, the impact of Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse (our verse of the year in 2013) had mostly faded. Still, there was one rapper we hadn’t really heard from, and that was Big KRIT. The Mississippi-rapper sounded lethargic the last couple of years, but he was as fiery as ever on “Mt. Olympus,” a song in which he addressed Kendrick, his “Control” verse, and any muthafucka who thought someone from Mississippi couldn’t rap.
12. ScHoolboy Q “Hoover Street” (Verse three)
Authenticity is still a vital part of hip-hop. It’s why a rapper like ScHoolboy Q can be a success story in 2014. On “Hoover Street,” Q tells a haunting story of his upbringing, being raised in a family consisting mostly of criminals. On the song, Q spits specific details about his uncle asking him for clean piss, and his grandmother keeping a pistol on the table. It’s easily the realist song of 2014.
11. Big Sean “Paradise“
After a somewhat disappointing 2013, Big Sean wants the spotlight again. He’s doing all the right things. Yeah, he has a hit single, the E-40-featured “IDFWU,” but more importantly than that, he’s showing folks he’s still very much about this rapping life. On the super short “Paradise,” Big Sean proves that the hunger never left, spitting rhymes like this:
“What you think this life just landed on me? My whole city look like it’s abandoned, homie, and we came straight out of those abandoned homes. Every wish we ever had got granted, homie, and I’ll never take that shit for granted. Even when the marble floor and counter top is all granite.”
10. Jeezy on Rick Ross’ “War Ready“
After years of feuding, Rick Ross and Jeezy finally settled their differences. And they did it with a song: “War Ready.” Honestly, we would understand if Ross started beefing with Jeezy again, because the Atlanta rapper just rapped circles around the Bawse. (On his own album!) We’ve never heard Jeezy sound this relentless and lyrically nimble.
9. J. Cole “Fire Squad” (Verse three)
Sometimes one line can screw a whole verse up. Let’s use J. Cole as an example. He clearly has something to say – and it’s important. And he starts to say it on the 2014 Forest Hills Drive cut “Fire Squad:”
“History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes
Same way that these rappers always bite each others flows
Same thing that my nigga Elvis did with Rock n Roll
Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore
While silly niggas argue over who gon’ snatch the crown
Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound
This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile“
That’s powerful, right? And then he says “just playin'” right after. And the verse goes from a strong statement to something passive aggressive. If it weren’t for that line, the verse would be near the top. What a shame.
Still, as it stands, it’s one of the stronger lyrical outings you’ll hear this year.
8. Joe Budden “Only Human” (Verse two)
Joe Budden has built his career doing this kind of track. He goes through some kind of adversity and then details the events in a brutally honest way. On “Only Human,” he talks about his very public fight with an ex-girlfriend. He also revealed stuff we didn’t know about…like how close he was to committing suicide last year. It’s definitely one of the more emotional songs you’ll hear in 2014.
7. Drake on ILoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday“
Here’s how you know a rapper has a great verse: everyone raps along when it comes on. There’s probably not a more quotable verse in 2014 than Drake’s bars on “Tuesday.” Drake took ILoveMakonnen’s quirky little song — about partying on weekdays because he’s too busy selling drugs on weekends — and made it into a certified hit. We also need to give props to Drake for coming with a flow that is, frankly, better than Makonnen’s.
6. Jay Z on Jay Electronica’s “We Made It” (Remix)
Even in his later age, it’s going to take a Herculean effort to out-rap Jay Z on a track. (Or, a Kendrick Lamar effort.) And, dammit, Jay Electronica tried on the remix to Soulja Boy’s “We Made it.” But Electronica and his B-level Migos flow was no match for Jay Z, who sounded like he was born to rap over this beat. We think Hov got it right when he raps:
“I’m the true and livin’, book of Hov
New religion, 8th wonder of the world, alien, superstition
You’re blind, baby
Blind to the fact of who you are maybe
My bloodline’s crazy
Kings and queens and Michael Jordan rings”
5. Dreezy “Chiraq”
While building up hype for her upcoming album, Nicki Minaj hooked up with excellent Chicago rapper Lil Herb for the very drill sounding “Chi-Raq.” No offense to Herb, but Nicki should have hooked up with Dreezy. The 20-year-old may be the best pure rapper coming from Chicago.
Dreezy knew she belonged on that song, which is probably why she dropped her monster “Chiraq” freestyle. We got flashbacks of Nicki on “Monster” on this can’t-miss freestyle.
4. Killer Mike on Run the Jewels & Boots’ “Early”
Overzealous police. That has been the theme of the second half of 2014, with the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown being front-page news. And while there have been many great anti-police songs this year, none were as illuminating as Run the Jewels’ “Early.” Killer Mike, who is the son of a police officer, breaks down the trauma black people go through efficiently:
“Could it be that my medicine’s the evidence
For pigs to stop and frisk me when they rollin’ round on patrol?
And ask “why you’re here?”
I just tell ’em cause it is what it is
I live here and that’s what it is
He chimed “you got a dime?
I said “Man, I’m tryin’ to smoke and chill
Please don’t lock me up in front of my kids
And in front of my wife
Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife
You do this and you ruin my life
And I apologize if it seems like I got out of line, sir
Cause I respect the badge and the gun
And I pray today ain’t the day that you drag me away
Right in front of my beautiful son”
And he still put my hands in cuffs, put me in the truck
When my woman screamed, said “shut up”
3. Lil Herb on Common & Cocaine 80’s “The Neighborhood”
Common was light on features for his latest album, Nobody’s Smiling. We noticed a trend: the veteran MC was putting new rappers on his album, like Vince Staples and Dreezy. The best of these collaborations is the one you’ll hear first: “The Neighborhood,” which features a wise and honest verse from Lil Herb. Do you want to know what Chicago violence is all about? Listen to Herb’s verse:
“Can’t nobody stop the violence, why my city keep lyin’?
Niggas throw up peace signs but everybody keep dying
Used to post up on that strip, I look like a street sign
I’ve been out there three days and I got shot at three times
Felt like every bullet hit me when they flew out each nine
I be happy when I wake up and I have a free mind”
2. Kendrick Lamar on Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me“
Let’s start off by saying this: Expect to see Kendrick Lamar on these kinds of lists for the next decade or so. Even though Kendrick didn’t put out an album this year, the Compton rapper had several beautiful verses in 2014. But none were quite like his stunning display of lyricism on Flying Lotus’ single “Never Catch Me.”
On the song, K.Dot literally does something most rappers fail at: he takes us step by step inside his mind.
1. Young Thug on Rich Gang’s “Givenchy”
Young Thug was the most influential rapper of 2014. The Atlanta star appeared on some of the biggest hits of 2014 – like “Lifestyle,” “About the Money,” “Hookah,” and “2 Bitches.”
However, Thug’s best performance wasn’t on a single. It was on “Givenchy,” the opening track off Thug, Rich Homie Quan, and Baby’s magical Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt 1 mixtape. (Our mixtape of the year, by the way.)
Now before you scoff at our number one, we want you to do two things: one, actually listen to the verse. And two, ask yourself this: “Is there another rapper in the world that can do what Thugga does on this track?”
If you answer honestly, you’ll say “no.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Instagram, Getty