30. Rome Fortune – Beautiful Pimp II
“Rome avoids falling into the pitfall of lyrical laziness that accompanies other rappers’ laid-back flow by remaining sharply in the pocket, hitting rhythmic points of emphasis with force. His content is complex, but remains accessible because he manages to share complicated ideas without obscuring them behind overcomplicated rhythmic cadences. The listener has time to take in what he has to say, from ‘Bad For Me’’s tortured musings on a troublesome female to his declaration of future stature on the finale, ‘So.’ He maintains this balancing act between complexity and clarity, between popular sound and individual vision, a truly impressive feat from a truly promising novel voice in hip-hop.” –Daniel Kisslinger
29. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
“Weed, questions of race, suicide and women all weave through his calculatedly laid-back delivery. It’s not until the neck-snap of ‘Soliloquy’ hits that Rashad starts to flash his reserved confrontational delivery. He doesn’t veer far from his median emotional level, but it’s part of what makes the project so inviting. In a wake of blown-up characters dominating the rap conversation, including those signed to the same TDE label, Isaiah Rashad feels completely human.” –John Healey
Buy Cilvia Demo here.
28. Abhi//Dijon – Abhi/Dijon EP
“Abhi & Dijon are skilled at their craft. The warm mixes, relaxed vocals, hushed percussion, and dreamy soundscapes perfectly embody the word “smooth” down to its very core. Mixed feelings about a lack of experimentation, a sense of familiarity, and a touch of disappointment at the closer all fade away the second the replay button brings ‘Honest’ on for another rotation. Abhi//Dijon may be resting deeply in its comfort zone, but there aren’t many better places to be.” —Daniel Baldus
27. GoldLink – The God Complex
“In his debut mixtape The God Complex, the 20-year-old rapper from the DMV works hard to envelop listeners in a relatively novel sound archetype; by the nine-track project’s dark ending, his efforts comes to full fruition. What Complex lacks in length it more than makes up for in quality, catching the attention of rap heads everywhere since its early April release…. When taken altogether, Complex attaches gravity and power to an artist of epic potential. Charismatic, confidant and an effortless entertainer, GoldLink is destined to stride towards the stars.” –Alex Letvinchuk
26. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
“As the [J. Cole’s] stories evolved, one theme became apparent: unrealized potential. Forest Hills still slopes through peaks and valleys, but most of its running time unfolds on higher ground. The record is Cole’s closet realignment to the mixtapes that made him, a rush of storytelling (‘Love Yourz’), insightful race remarks (‘Fire Squad’) and memorable hooks (‘A Tale of 2 Citiez’). Even the lesser tracks house gems worth excavating…. Cole is undeniably good and arguably great, but a glass ceiling separates him from joining hands with the greatest.” —Alex Siber
Buy 2014 Forest Hills Drive here.
25. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica
“After years of grimacing because it felt like no one was listening, it seems like Big K.R.I.T. is finally smiling on Cadillactica. The beef for prestige finally squashed, he can comfortably collaborate, satisfied that he is not surrendering creative control. Ironically, his newfound comfort in collaboration may finally sever the assumption that the world isn’t willing to lend an ear.” —Daniel Kisslinger
Buy Cadillactica on Amazon.
24. Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]
“[Mick Jenkins] diligently exposes ironies, joys, and pains though clear, engaging lyrical play that isn’t obsessed with being clever for clever’s sake. His formidable ability serves as a means to latch on to listeners and ensure they hear his words… The listener is left excited for the next set of stories he will tell and the inevitable risks he will undertake as he builds. The Water[s] is not an ark – it is a sailboat with a strong wind behind it, gliding its way into scarcely charted seas. A few pitstops and additional planks to Jenkins’ vessel could make for a formidable ship indeed.” —Daniel Kisslinger
Download and stream The Water[s] here.
23. ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
“Even though Oxymoron is a few steps away from greatness, ScHoolboy Q barely lost a step when it comes to songcraft. He travels to different aural corners from the terse clacks of the still-replayable ‘Collard Greens’ to the druggy comedown of ‘His & Her Friend.’ But one thing ScHoolboy Q does know how to do is play to his strengths. What he lacks in technical ability he compensates for with accessibility. There’s a certain bounce that follows ScHoolboy Q regardless of tempo or rhyme pattern… There are plenty of memorable moments on Oxymoron; but for an album to be labeled a “classic” (as Q so blatantly aimed for), it must surpass being collection of moments to become one moment in and of itself.” —Brian Josephs
Buy Oxymoron on Amazon.
22. Kevin Abstract – MTV1987
“MTV1987, Abstract’s free album, picks and chooses from each school of thought, documenting his own dashed dreams and hopes in hope that we do not decline his invitation — to love, to wonder, to scream and then hope some more. Fortresses of internal design fall, crumbling as the teenaged artist attains a meditative place of honesty through catharsis until few walls are left… Though this record might have saved Abstract’s life, a newfound place of peace is not as stable as Romil’s production sometimes suggests. The juxtaposed tension is exhilarating, an overarching nod to the satisfying escape offered by the internet and the uneasiness it leaves behind. It’s not real, after all — or is it?” —Alex Siber
21. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
“McMorrow cut Post Tropical in a Texas studio situated by the Rio Grande River; the album is suitably fluid. And like water, there is plenty of surface-level shimmer, but a shimmer is the first sign of disruption. Those ripples belie a world-weary melancholy that permeates the record. The album is also superficially beautiful, but it’s what lies beneath the surface that sets it apart.” –Brian Hodge
Buy Post Tropical on Amazon.