1. 25. Father “Young Hot Ebony”
While the Atlanta rap that comes out nowadays is usually buried in synths, Father made a project that takes things back to the soulful, bluesy Dirty South roots. Father isn’t on any kind of conscious, Dungeon Family kick though: Father has sex tales to tell. Explicit, hilarious ones to bat.
Must Listen Track: “2 Dead, 6 Wounded”
2. 24. OG Maco “OG Maco EP”
After the sudden success of “U Guessed It,” OG Maco fully embraced his screaming wild man persona on his self-titled EP (unlike other projects where he turned it on and off). The results are often highly entertaining.
Must Listen Track: “FUCKEMx3” featuring Migos
3. 23. Isaiah Rashad “Cilvia Demo”
While two of the big dogs from TDE dropped albums this year — Schoolboy Q and Ab Soul — it was the pups that really shined in 2014. Isaiah Rashad’s “Cilvia Demo” came out at the top of the year. And it showed that the Southern rapper can hang with the lyrically-driven group, while still keeping things country.
Must Listen Track: “Shot You Down (Remix)” featuring Jay Rock & ScHoolboy Q
4. 22. Childish Gambino “STN MTN / Kauai”
Childish Gambino released a DJ Drama-hosted mixtape full of raps, “STN MTN,” and a short Jaden Smith-featured R&B EP, “Kauai.” While the Gangsta Grillz is nice, “Kauai” is actually where Gambino shines. The short project shows off Gambino’s Drake-like hitmaking ability.
Must Listen Tracks:“Candler Road” & “Pop Thieves (Make it feel good)” featuring Jaden Smith
5. 21. Yo Gotti & CMG “Chapter One”
Yo Gotti’s CMG crew consists of four rappers: Gotti himself, Snootie Wild (best known for “Yayo”), Zed Zilla, and Wave Chapelle. On the crew’s first mixtape, you realize how lighthearted most of the rappers are. However, things don’t ever get too fluffy, because that’s when Yo Gotti, the crew’s glue, comes with another rock-hard street track.
Must Listen Track: “Lay it Down” featuring Chris Echols
6. 20. Ty Dolla $ign “Beach House EP”
Before Ty Dolla $ign moves on to bigger things — like a debut album — the singer found one more way to monetize his epic “Beach House” series: an EP. The star-studded EP features songs like the “Paranoid (Remix)” and the Wiz Khalifa-featured “Or Nah,” which picked up some spins at the top of the year.
Must Listen Track: “Wood & Leather (Whenever)” featuring Big TC & Pops
7. 19. Plies “Da Last Real Nigga Left 2”
As a rapper, Plies doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He’s shown a lot of depth in his music. And it’s a joy to see that depth on “Da Last Real Nigga Left 2,” his best project in ages. Thankfully, Plies is past his sexed up Rico Love phase, and he’s making songs with substance again, like on “2 Good 4 Me” and “Daddy.”
Must Listen Track: “Did It Out Of Love”
8. 18. Future “Monster”
Future’s “Honest” album was his attempt at making a well-rounded commercial release. One of the sacrifices is that Future’s harder side was stunted. “Monster” is a peace offering. Women are ignored on this tape. There are basically two types of songs here: street anthems and downbeat, introspective sad tracks.
Must Listen Track: “Gangland”
9. 17. Mac Miller “Faces”
Going all artsy-fartsy has been the best career move for Mac Miller. Just three years ago, Mac was in the frat house, Asher Roth lane. He’s left that alone, and his style has become more highbrow, rapping over obscure samples and wacky breaks. “Faces” is not too different from his excellent sophomore album, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.”
Must Listen Track: “Insomniak” featuring Rick Ross
10. 16. Lil Bibby “Free Crack 2”
We all know Lil Bibby can rap. But can he meet those XXL Freshman cover expectations? Can he be a notable mainstream artist? He gives it a hell of a shot on “Free Crack 2,” a free project that sounds a lot like an album. There are singles, like “For the Low Pt 2,” street cuts “Game Over,” and even the posse cut, “Water (Remix).”
Must Listen Track: “We Are Strong” featuring Kevin Gates
11. 15. Dej Loaf “$ell Sole”
Dej Loaf proves that tough things can come in little packages. To put it bluntly, Dej Loaf sounds like a child. So it’s interesting to hear how much struggle and violence are in her lyrics. That contrast and her ability to make melodic hooks make “$ell Sole” a winner.
Must Listen Track: “Blood” featuring Birdman & Young Thug
12. 14. Majid Jordan “A Place Like This”
While ILoveMakonnen made the OVO hit of the year, it was the duo Majid Jordan (from “Hold On, We’re Going Home” fame) who really impressed. They released a short EP of poppy, disco-influenced jams on “A Place Like This.” The project fits right in the OVO spectrum due to the spacey production Drake has brought to the mainstream over the years.
Must Listen Track:“A Place Like This”
13. 13. Kehlani “Cloud 19”
Bay Area newcomer Kehlani is only 19. Just remember that when you listen to the singer’s debut mixtape “Cloud 9.” “FWU” has been the song making minor traction, but this tape is full of jams: from the Iamsu!-featured “Act a Fool,” to the ’90s-inspired “How We Do Us.”
Must Listen Track: “How We Do Us” featuring Kyle Dion
14. 12. Raury “Indigo Child”
Things are going right for you if you get a thumbs up from Kanye Freakin’ West. Earlier this year, Mr. West flew Raury in after he saw a video for the emcee’s breakout single “God’s Whisper” on the ‘Net. The legend was already swirling before the release of his debut project “Indigo Child.” We got early Kid Cudi vibes listening to this ATLien’s debut project.
Must Listen Track: “God’s Whisper”
15. 11. Lucki Eck$ “Body High”
Over the last couple of years, there’s been an undercurrent of quiet storm gangsta rappers — MCs who almost sound like they’re talking over a beat (think Ka or Roc Marciano). Lucki Eck$ is from that cloth. A couple of things make him different, though: he’s younger (only 18). And, while those rappers still rap over hard beats, Lucki spits over almost R&B-like beats.
Must Listen Track: “Count on Me 3”
16. 10. Kevin Gates “By Any Means”
Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates has been out here scrapping for a couple of years now. He’s out for mainstream success, and he’s close to achieving it. “By Any Means” is his most accessible project yet. In the past, Gates has been a wordy rapper, and on this tape, he shortens his verses up, to somewhat mixed results. Still, the highs are really, really high.
Must Listen Track: “Movie”
17. 9. Mike Jenkins “The Water”
While not as commercially successful, there’s an argument to be made that Chicago, again, had the most dominant year artistically. Helping lead the charge was Mike Jenkins with his warm sophomore project “The Water.” The tape is one of the denser rap projects to come out this year, with “water” being a metaphor for multiple things throughout the album.
Must Listen Track: “Healer” featuring Jean Deaux
18. 8. Shy Glizzy “Law 3”
If your introduction to Shy Glizzy was the playful “Awesome” and his “Young Jefe” tape, prepare to be rudely awakened. Shy Glizzy is dark. And his jokes are brief as he speaks about life on the streets in the third installment of his “Law” series. In fact, the happiest moment might be “Funeral,” where Glizzy describes his burial.
Must Listen Track: “Legend”
19. 7. Migos “No Label 2”
The release of a new Migos tape has become an event. And fans were not disappointed when “No Label 2” dropped at the top of the year. The tape is a crowd pleaser, but it still finds ways to be innovative with melodies and song structures, like on “Birds” or “Freak No More,” or the throwback-sounding “Fight Night,” which has overtaken “Versace” as THE Migos song.
Must Listen Track: “Fight Night”
20. 6. SZA “Z”
TDE isn’t just a hippity-hop crew. SZA, the crew’s soulful R&B artist, is here to make sure of that. Musically, SZA isn’t that much different from her contemporaries, like Jhené Aiko and Tinashe, who put mood before anything else. What makes SZA stand out from others is her songwriting, which almost reads like actual poetry.
Must Listen Track: “Childs Play” featuring Chance The Rapper
21. 5. Vince Staples “Hell Can Wait”
It seems like every year, a new talented rapper breaks out from the West. This year, that rapper is Vince Staples, who dropped two excellent projects in 2014. The stand-out is the “Hell Can Wait” EP, which features the brilliant anti-police song “Hands Up.” And people say rappers don’t talk about anything anymore.
Must Listen Track: “Hands Up”
22. 4. Boosie Badazz “Life After Deathrow”
During those peek Lil Boosie years (mid to late 2000s) the Baton Rouge-rapper was known to put out five to six projects a year. Due to a lengthy prison sentence, he hasn’t released anything in five years. In his first post-prison project, Boosie Badazz was able to stuff a half of decade of frustration onto one tape. We missed you, Boosie.
Must Listen Track: “I Feel Ya”
23. 3. Jeremih “N.O.M.A.” & Shlohmo & Jeremih “No More”
Jeremih was supposed to put out an LP this year. For whatever reason, he didn’t. Yet, the singer dropped two of the best R&B projects of the year: “N.O.M.A.” (which stands for ‘not on my album’) and “No More,” his collaborative EP with producer Shlohmo. They are both so strong and innovative we have to wonder what the album will sound like. Hopefully 2015?
Must Listen Tracks: “Chillin” & “Bo Peep”
24. 2. Lil Herb “Welcome to Fazoland”
2 years after its rise, Chicago’s Drill sound is in an odd space. The rappers who put the sound on nationally – Chief Keef – have moved on. Lil Herb is still Drill, and yet he’s more than that. On his debut tape “Welcome to Fazoland,” there’s early-Kanye soul sprinkled about. Lyrically, Herb raps like a veteran: he’s surprisingly introspective and unsurprisingly cold.
Must Listen Track: “Fight or Flight”
25. 1. Rich Gang “Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt 1”
Before “Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt 1” dropped, there hadn’t been an official Young Thug mixtape since early 2013. So it was a bit shocking to see how complete of a rapper he’s become. Thugga puts on a star-making performance on Rich Gang’s first tape. We should also praise co-star Rich Homie Quan, producer London on da Track, and Birdman, the man who put everyone together.
Must Listen Track: “Givenchy”