40. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
“Lana’s success doesn’t have to do with changing her image, but deepening it. Ultraviolence finds its creator plumbing American myth to find the perfect balance between Hollywood glamour and blue collar Americana. A classic story about a good girl gone bad, Ultraviolence follows Lana as she abandons her suburban life and chases adventure, accepting the riches, glamour, and pain that can come with it… It’s an impressive piece of work. It is a fulfillment of the idea of Lana Del Rey and proof that there are still second chances in today’s pop culture. Sometimes artists need to grow to be who we want them to be.” —Corey Libow
Buy Ultraviolence on Amazon.
39. Black El – L_ST
“This year, no two Bostonians crafted better projects than Michael Christmas and Black El. Both sidestepped derivation. Both embraced their personal traits and tastes — Christmas’ goofy intricacies, El’s spacey melodics. The latter, with help from longtime producer Durkin and Victor Radz, unrolls a road map for us lucky listeners to explore on L_ST.
El offers it all, from transcendental queries to sensual storytelling. Most impressive is his ability to slide from one topic to another in a matter of lines. The system, which puts ‘another n***a out like a cigarette,’ and cancerous women lurking in a strip club’s darkness become intertwined on ‘Golden Child,’ for instance; even if the connection is strained on paper, El pieces his moving parts together with a fluidity rivaled only by Rome Fortune, if at all. One spin of this free LP and you’ll be hooked, guaranteed.” —Alex Siber
38. Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary
“Co-produced by the two rappers, Bestiary constantly propels itself forward. There’s no time for either MC to catch his breath. It gives the project an immediate feel. Aesop has grown more confident as a producer and Bestiary bangs. ‘Kiln’ hums with industrial energy, ‘Krill’ sounds transplanted from a sci-fi chase scene, and ‘Used Cars’ stutters along as if it’s an ’80s soundtrack gone awry…. Bestiary was given its name because both Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic went into beast mode on each track. It certainly earns that title. Hail Mary Mallon is a rap group that’s inspired by the past but aims straight for the future.” —Corey Libow
Buy it on Amazon.
37. Michael Christmas – Is This Art?
“We can’t say that Michael Christmas‘s rise is surprising; in fact, we’d be astounded if the young rapper from Boston achieved anything less as he continues to stand above the noise. Armed with nothing more than his own personality and a knack for cleverly, humorously flowing atop reliable production, Christmas is what some might label ‘the peoples’ champ.’ His proper debut mixtape, Is This Art?, garnered serious looks across the country and beyond. Unless rap game’s Michael Cera abandons hip-hop in favor of comedy acting, you can expect to see him ruling over a sizable niche with a friendly fist.” –Alex Siber
Download and stream Is This Art? here.
36. Thelonious Martin – Wunderkid
“Proving to himself and to the world that he is more than just a producer behind a computer, Thelonious Martin spent an entire year crafting Wunderkid, his opus of an album featuring both talented and well-known MCs (Curren$y, Mac Miller, Domo Genesis, Joey Purp, Smoke DZA) over live instrumentation, meditative breakdowns, soul samples, and drool-worthy loops. It’s an album from the Adult Swim producer that should not go overlooked in the shuffle of end of the year albums and opinionated lists (like this one).” —Ben Niespodziany
35. Tunji Ige – The Love Project
“Acknowledgments of supernova inspirations litter Tunji Ige’s The Love Project. I mean, the 19-year-old phenom straight lifts a portion of Kanye’s severely underrated ‘Street Lights’ — brownie points for that, Ige — in ‘Trustfund Chick,’ and Drake’s cadences are aplenty. Those influences are never abused, however, only forming a springboard Tunji stands proudly on. The 19-year-old producer/rapper/singer/college student is a product of his environment, no doubt, but he does more than enough to suggest he might have a similar effect on the youngins of the future. The simplistic anthems are done right. The revealing examinations of the soul hold little back. Ige’s honesty, whether joyful or gloomy, never wavers, and neither does our affection for his work.” —Alex Siber
34. Busdriver – Perfect Hair
“Busdriver will satisfy longtime fans without question; the record rewards careful listening, seeping with jewels and gems of knowledge and perspective. Weird, rhythmically complex and humorously intellectual music, Perfect Hair is far from perfect itself, and it’s better off because of it. Good music is in the ears of the beholder, but there’s no taking away from this artist’s untampered catering to his own creative pulse. While not universally accessible, Busdriver’s latest need not be to prove that the man behind the mic’s a force to be reckoned with.” —Oscar Hallas
Download and stream Perfect Hair here.
33. Jon Waltz – Alyss
“Alyss is brisk and brief at seven tracks — a short memo slid across the desk of an industry exec, a memo slickly penned and bountiful in narrative and character. Waltz has the fundamentals to land in a record pusher’s wet dream (and receive a lucrative contract). He has an ear for cadence and melodic inflictions that, while still crystalizing, contains a special something unmatched by most in his rising class. His soundscapes, largely supplied by Zayd and Nova, prosper in a space between grounded atmospherics and radio-ready whirlpools of synths. He’s commercial but never corny, marketable yet driven by his own meticulous wishes.” —Alex Siber
32. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
“Broke With Expensive Taste is a tremendous debut stuffed with ideas, but it’s also a bold statement about what music can be in 2014. The last few years have seen a glut of incredibly talented female rappers from all parts of the country. Yet for all the prospects, no focal point or landmark album has torn the gates open. For this whole year, it looked like it was going to be Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint, supposedly a ‘blueprint’ of sorts for female rappers going forward. It looks like Banks beat her to the punch.” —Corey Libow
Buy Broke With Expensive Taste on Amazon.
31. Travi$ Scott – Days Before Rodeo
“At his best, he’s a force of nature. But lyrically there isn’t much to go on. There are a couple of nice brags—at one point he asks “did you ever get high with your muh-fuckin’ jeweler?”—but really Days Before Rodeo is about how he’s rapping and the beats he’s rapping over. This is one of those rare hip-hop albums that gets by on its own merits, through sheer force of will, without really having anything to say. That’s probably more than enough for his label bosses, but it would be kind of disappointing if it remains so when his album rolls around. For now though it’s genuinely enough to drop a major release that sounds this commandingly singular.” —Michael Russam
Stream Days Before Rodeo here.