2012-2014 has arguably been the best couple years for major label and independent hip hop in a long while. This past few years we had everything from blockbuster releases from legendary artists as well as amazing works of art and music from upcoming artists from all over the globe. Undeniably the past years belonged to Macklemore & Jay Z with Drake and Kendrick Lamar rounding out the top in sales, radio play, and touring. I’d also like to shed some light on a LARGE amount of high quality hip hop singles, mix tapes, and albums that were released this year making for an incredible 12-24 months for hip hop and rap music!
Wale – Kicked off the year with the “Folarin” mixtape. Standout cuts include “The Right One” ft. Hit-Boy, “Cool Off” ft. Jhene Aiko, and “Back to Ballin” ft. French Montana. The latter of which had one of the most creative music videos of the year in my opinion. Following up the platinum breakout hit “Bad” ft. Tiara Thomas, Wale released “The Gifted” which is one of the most complete and true hip hop works of the year featuring the standout cut “88” produced by Just Blaze. Other outstanding songs on “The Gifted” include “Heaven’s Afternoon” ft. Meek Mill, “Vanity”, “Gullible” featuring Cee-Lo and “Bricks” ft. Yo Gotti & Lyfe Jennings. With a platinum single and two solid projects plus stand out verses on Self Made 3 and other features Wale had an amazing 2013. Since his album Wale has started a successful clothing and headwear line called “WrkngTtle” and is gearing up to release a lot of new music in the next year.
Mac Miller - Kicked off the year debuting a reality show on MTV about his ascension to fame and adjustment to living in Los Angeles after relocating from Pittsburgh. The success of this show and its catchphrase spawned his first single of the year in “Somebody Do Something”. This track produced by Flying Lotus was instant proof that his upcoming album would give us a “different sounding” Mac Miller than on his first album. After dropping “Watching Movies With The Sound Off” Mac showed true growth in his recordings, videos, and tours which featured “The Intanet” as his back up band. Stand out cuts from his new album include “Red Dot Music” featuring Action Bronson & Loaded Lux, “Aquarium”, “Matches” featuring Ab-Soul, and “Youforia”. Mac is gearing up to promote the second season of his MTV television show.
Drake – Kicked off the year with singles such as 2Chainz “No Lie” still ringing off from 2012 and announced that he would be releasing a full length album in 2013. Warming up with the infectious low key anthem “Started From the Bottom”, Drake, like Mac Miller immediately showed a growth and difference in his sound. It seemed as if Drake the “Rapper” was taking over for Drake the “Singer” this year with standout verses on “9AM in Toronto” & “Versace” carrying him towards the release date. Then he dropped “Hold On, Were Going Home” which was a runaway cross over hit that guaranteed him a great sales run for his album. “Nothing Was The Same” was released to positive critical and fan response spawning a radio takeover featuring concurrent singles such as “Worst Behavior”, “The Language”, “Wu-Tang Forever”, and “All Me” featuring 2Chainz and Big Sean. Drake has also displayed growth in his touring with memorable stops and guest appearances throughout the second half of 2013. Drake has owned the past year since his album with steady feature work and one off releases albeit influential to the rap game.
J Cole – Kicked off the year releasing a single featuring Miguel titled “Power Trip”. This radio slow burner helped propel his album to a great liftoff of sales upon release. His next two singles “Crooked Smile’ and “She Knows” proves that Cole can make a cohesive album with radio singles included in the mix. Recently releasing a compilation for free download Cole is warming up for hopefully another run in 2014 like he has last year. His recent signees to his Dreamville record label are showing much promise as he gears up to start releasing new music.
Jay Z – Some say its unfair to include Jay Z in these kind of lists due to his legendary stature but when you release an album you are putting yourself out there to the public just like a new artist. Hov really came through this time utilizing mainly the production skills of TImbaland to make a great rap album for 2014. With lyrical content spanning his whole career as well as contemplations of the future over very true to form hip hop beats Jay-Z’s album was defnitiely a top tier release for 2013. Following up his own project he shined on Beyonce’s album release and tour keeping relevance even when not putting out his own music. Summer 2014 his Made In America festival expands to two cities Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Kanye – Yeezus was one of the most contrevertial releases this past year and Kanye delivered a true piece of art (which is MEANT to be controversial anway) Utilizing production from Daft Punk and reduction from Rick Rubin, Kanye dipped more into an electronic-rock sounds reminiscent only of Trent Reznor’s work in the band “Nine Inch Nails”. With a new stripped down sound Kanye presented a large scale tour with Kendrick Lamar to great success and has recently released new visuals and remixes. Since his album release Kanye has become a father and husband and is rumored to be working again with Rick Rubin on a new album with an upcoming release date.
Macklemore – Along with Ryan Lewis Macklemore crossed over into territories that hip hop culture and rap music has never reached. With many successful singles (and enough left to keep promoting) they had one of the biggest couple years of any artist or group in any gengre. Crossing into pop like no other has in rap music in a long time there is now a lot of fans anticipating growth and new music from this duo.
Big Sean – After a slew of head turning features Big Sean dropped his album to an underwhelming reception. The album itself was very well put together but was released among a large group of other worthy purchases which fans seemed to gravitate more towards than Big Sean’s album. I feel there were really strong records on there, including the current single “Ashley” featuring Miguel as well as other standout cuts and features.
Gilbere Forte – With his “Pray” project, Philadelphia bred MC Gilbere Forte proved he could put a strong project together using mature themes. Standout cuts with great production make this project one of the best short bodies of work over the past year.
Kendrick Lamar – OD, Section80, and GKMC are certifiably one of the coldest 1,2,3 knockout punch combinations of any new artist in a long time. Deemed “classic” by critics and peers and mentored by Dr. Dre, Kendrick proved time and again these past two years why he is one of the BEST new artists in rap music. With a cohesive album full of standout cuts and steady played radio singles KDot left his impression all over the rap game. His next project is probably the most anticipated rap projects of late 2014 or early 2015.
Big Krit – With great consistency Big Krit excels from project to project. His albums and mixtapes both have high quality and he always has great visuals, shows, and standout records. After touring with Macklemore his music has reached a lot more fans who are eager to hear more Big Krit music in 2014 and 2015. He is currently working on a new album dubbed “Cadilactica”.
Meek Mill – Meek has arguably the most recognizable voice in rap music today. His vocals shine through whether it’s his own music, with his MMG team, or on features. A cultural phenomenon who turned his album’s intro into a worldwide anthem, is about to release his second album after two extremely successful years touring off the Self Made compilations and his own first album as well as the DreamChasers mixtape series. Extremely charitable in the Philadelphia area, Meek has shown signs of being a true hip hop superstar and humanitarian.
Trvsxx – Travis Scott is responsible for a whole new sound which many other producers and artists have begun to respectably clone and copy. His mixtape was filled with different styles but all consistent with his signature sound. His drum programming and synth work as a producer and his vocal tones and flows definitely earn him a place on this list of some of the best hip hop music of the past year or two.
Yg – Along with DJ Mustard this duo set the west coast apart from the rest of the country with an infectious uptempo sound with some soulful elements reminiscent of the G-Funk era. Following up two acclaimed “Just Re-d Up” mixtapes with the album My Krazy Life, YG displayed a lot of growth as an artist throughout these three projects. On tour right now building his fanbase, look forward hearing his work on DJ Mustard’s upcoming debut album “Ten Summers”.
Nipsey Hussle – Even tho its been an up and down few years for the music business that did not deter west coast rap stalwart Nipsey Hussle from debuting a proud to pay system for his music, merchandise, and performances. After critically acclaimed mixtape “The Marathon Continues” Nipsey released his clothing brand and built his fanbase with standout features including “Fountain of Youth” with Rick Ross & Stalley. Capitalizing on his rapidly growing national fanbase, Nipsey announced that his “Crenshaw” mixtape would be available online for free but also on sale for $100 dollars. With wide ranging support he put together an ongoing tour utilizing this proud to pay system inspiring new models of doing “music business”.
Machine Gun Kelly – One of the best hip hop live show acts right now bar none is Machine Gun Kelly and his amazing band. They have proven that rap music can reach new and younger demographics but stay true to the “Bad Boy” formula of balancing radio sounds with true from the heart lyrics. MGK’s rabid and rapidly growing EST/LaceUP fanbase is proving to the industry that there really is power with the people as each of his tours continue to grow in size of the crowds and venues. His music also continues to improve with many standout cuts on both his debut album and most recent mixtape “Black Flag” and his brand grows as he has upcoming appearances in major motion pictures as well as an upcoming second album.
Action Bronson – Newly crowned pride of Queens, NY, this crafty rhyme-spitter has made waves performing worldwide and releasing many critically acclaimed as well as fan received mixtapes such as Blue Chips 1 &2, and Rare Chandeliers. With many standout features and witty visuals as well as a partnership with Warner/Noisey/Vice to create a culinary oriented web show, Bronson is poised to stay on the radar of rap fans leading up the release of a lot more music in the next year.
Asap Rocky / Asap Ferg – The Asap Mob took the hip hop industry by storm from many angles besides the music such as fashion, design, video direction, and in terms of music they influenced flow patterns, beatmaking, and mixing. Rocky & Ferg both released albums and mixtapes full of street anthems mixed with solid album cuts. Their solid show performances keep the crowds growing and their fans are definitely anticipating releases from both artists.
Tyler, The Creator – Tyler and his Odd Future cohorts have carved a lane so wide for themselves that they threw their own CARNIVAL. Bursting with the energy of the youthful hipster movement Tyler and Odd Future’s music have provided a mystic hip hop soaked backdrop with standout work from Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler especially.
Future – Coming up out of Atlanta’s “Dungeon Family” Future, was out from the jump set apart from the pack of recent emerging artists due to his particular sound and performance style. With strengths in writing catchy melodic hook as well as spitting “rapper”-esque bars, Future proved to be a new force in the hip hop game.
Ace Hood – One of the most underated fire spitters in the rap game, Florida’s Ace Hood, has made a bunch of hits and solid bodies of work on albums and mixtapes with DJ Khaled’s “We The Best” Music Group. Often imitated but not duplicated his flow patterns, emotion, and energy has helped sell out tours with Meek Mill and sell a lot of Itunes singles.
Yo gotti – Another underated artist, Memphis’s Yo Gotti had a break-through year after signing his first major deal after many successful years being fully independent. With a range of different sounds and styles he kept songs on the charts and sold out multiple tours over the course of his last two mixtapes and album he has shown much growth as an artist.
Juicy j – Rap legend from 36 Mafia, Juicy J seems to have a “comeback” year … every year. He always has at least one of his own songs as well as a feature on the charts and also sells out shows and appearances worldwide year after year. Along with Wiz Khalifa & Ty DollaSign, the Taylor Gang unit is at the top of their games and making vary high quality mixtapes and albums.