The State of Hip Hop in 2014

mixed tapes

Ask any true hip-hop head about the current state of the genre, and most will disdainfully shake their heads and mutter something about the “proliferation of EDM” or the threat of “pop bullshit”. These aficionados may rightfully be considered pretentious, but they do have a point: now that rap is the ‘popular genre’, the face of the game has changed quite a bit.

Readers, in an ongoing effort to provide you with nothing but the unfettered truth, this piece will delve into the current top ten records in the iTunes rap section and give an opinion on the legitimacy of each project. Obviously, our opinions may not line up directly with yours, but we hope that through an examination of the state of rap, we can perhaps begin to dissect why the pop-friendly, bubble gum niche of hip-hop has exploded in years. With that in mind, we begin!

10. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Eminem

There was a time when Eminem was widely regarded as a talented if deranged MC, a hip-hop force destined to rock the world of MC’s everywhere. Of course, that was before “Love the Way You Lie” and Eminem’s pathetic verse on “I Need a Doctor”; it was before Eminem became the bloated public figure he is today.

The era of Eminem’s legitimacy was marked by the releases of Infinite and the original Marshal Mathers LP, so one could only hope that this newest release brings fans back to that era. The answer is: sort of. While some tracks such as “Survival”, “Rap God” or “Baby” harken back to the glory days of old, the album is still filled with generic bullshit fillers like “The Monster”. However, compared to many of the other current entires in the iTunes Top 10 list, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is one of the strongest offerings, and we encourage readers to give Eminem’s newest project a listen.

9. Directors of Photography – Dilated Peoples

Ah, Dilated Peoples. If you’ve never gotten down to the upbeat sounds of the group’s 2001 release Expansion Team, you’re missing out on one of the best records of the early 2000’s. With that in mind, you can imagine our excitement to see these OG’s ranking at number 9 in the iTunes Rap charts with their new album Directors of Photography.

Upon listening through Directors of Photography, we’re happy to report that this album falls squarely in line with the with the earlier portion of Dilated Peoples’ career. The album is nice mix of engaging rap verses and interesting hooks, and most importantly of all, actual turntablism. Dilated Peoples proves once again why they have the staying power they do, and we definitely recommend this one to readers.

8. Anomaly - Lecrae

The number eight album at the moment is Anomaly by Christian rapper Lecrae, which is simultaneously impressive and a bit depressing. The album hasn’t even dropped yet, and it’s already charted, which says something about Lecrae’s rapping ability and the tight production team behind him.

That being said, based solely on our personal convictions and views of religion, we’d have a hard time getting into Lecrae. It’s nothing personal towards him (he’s actually one of the more talented members of the Christian rap genre), but simply because his personal ideologies clash with ours to such an extent. However, we can definitely recognize talent when we see it, and this rapper has talent. If you’re into the religious hip-hop scene, this one is a definite “must-listen”. Otherwise, you could move on to one of the many secular pop-rap hybrids featured in this list and get a pretty similar musical experience.

7. Gucci vs. Guwop - Gucci Mane

There was a time when Gucci Mane was worth a good deal of money and frequented the public’s eye, but any hopes of a long term career seemed to have been dashed by Gucci’s affinity for guns and mounds of cocaine. Somehow finding the time to record an album between (or perhaps even during) stints in jail, Gucci’s newest album, Gucci vs. Guwop, seems to come off as a last ditch attempt to get Brick Squad back on the map.

Musically, Gucci vs. Guwop is actually quite satisfying, and sees the Atlanta based rapper move back into the trap beats that made him so popular in the first place. The beats are slow, and all of the rappers really take their time in delivering thought out, well-paced verses. If you’re into that dirty south sound (and really, who isn’t these days), definitely check this one. Keep in mind that Gucci is currently in jail, however, so touring seems to be out of the question for the immediate future.

6. The Dark Horse - Twista

If you know Twista, it’s likely because his unique lyrical style, called chopper. The man raps both extremely quickly and melodically (think Bone Thugs style verses), and his vocal prowess is definitely the driving force behind his newest release, The Dark Horse. The album also features a number of popular guests, including Wiz Khalifa, Chief Keef, and everyone’s favorite R. Kelly.

To be fair, this is actually a fairly decent album. It’s a bit poppier and emotionally blunted than many of Twista’s previous releases, but it’s more listenable than many of this year’s comparable releases. Of particular note is “Crisis”, which features the equally quick-worded Tech N9ne. The two rappers seem to compete to see who can rap the most intense verse, and while there isn’t a clear winner (though our vote goes to Tech N9ne), one thing is for sure: listeners will profit from the competition. Be listening for the Taken reference.

5. All You Can Do – Watsky

To be frank, we have a bit of problem with Watsky. The California based rapper is without question talented; he definitely spit with the best of them, and his beats are tight and nicely compliment his voice. That being said, absolutely nothing about this guy is even remotely original. His music succeeds based on two principles: quick rhymes and attitude. If you’re looking for quick rhymes, we’d like to refer you to the previous entry on Twista, Sure, Watsky’s lyrics are a bit different, but he’s definitely trying to imitate the chopper style, a niche that’s already filled.

Speaking of already filled niche’s, Watsky’s career has also been successful based on his blatant copies of Eminem. Watsky seems to have no trouble positioning himself as the slightly unstable, angry white rapper, even going for the same kind of “scream rapping” that made Eminem famous in the first place. While he does this better than most other people, it’s not something we haven’t already heard a thousand times.

4. The New Classic - Iggy Azalea

There’s not much to say about Iggy Azalea except that it’s the same pop-rap bullshit that seems to accompany a frighteningly high percentage of female rappers in the market. Why can’t there be more rappers like early day Nicki Minaj or, better yet, more Lauryn Hill’s?

If you like Charlie XCX and/or whatever shit they play though your local pop station, Azalea is right up your alley. If you like rap that’s actually challenging, look elsewhere. Azalea is definitely talented, but it’s hard not to feel like her abilities are going to waste on The New Classic.

3. Blacc Hollywood - Wiz Khalifa

Blacc Hollywood hasn’t even officially dropped yet, but managed to score a spot as number three rap album in the world based solely on the reputation of Wiz Khalifa. Based solely on the tracks made available before the album drops, we aren’t too excited for this. Khalifa’s rap skills are fresh as always, and it still sounds like weed smoking music. This one will definitely work well at parties and pop stations.

That being said, we’re having a harder time getting into the singles from Blacc Hollywood than Wiz Khalifa’s previous releases. There’s a lot more pitch correction (aka autotune), and there’s just a certain corporate, major-label feel present on Blacc Hollywood that was previously absent. Fans of Wiz Khalifa will certainly enjoy this release, however, and it’s definitely worth a listen to formulate your own opinion on.

2. Because the Internet - Childish Gambino

If you’re looking for upbeat party rap with heavy bass, look no further than Childish Gambino’s most recent release, Because the Internet. While some of the hooks are a bit poppy for out tastes, the verses are solid, and the atmospheric and EDM-influenced beats are definitely enjoyable to listen to, especially in the grips of a mind-altering substance.

Also interesting is the structure of the album. In an effort to promote the album, Childish Gambino also dropped a short film and 70-odd page screenplay. The album follows this material quite nicely, and many of the tracks are numbered, indicating to listeners that this album should be listened to as a whole, rather than dissected into singles. That’s definitely a goal we can respect, so hats off to Childish Gambino.

1. These Things Happen - G-Eazy

Finally, our current number one rap album in the entire world: These Things Happen by G-Eazy. Musically, this album really isn’t all that different from hundreds of other indie rap records that will drop this year, which may lead readers to question how it came to be number one. In our opinion, the answer comes down to one thing: honesty.

Throughout the album, it’s quite evident that not only is G-Eazy doing his absolute best to remain honest to his origins, but he genuinely appreciates the opportunity to perform his music at such a large scale. Unlike most rappers on their third albums, G-Eazy hasn’t really come to expect the rap lifestyle yet, and his excitement radiates through the album. It’s an example of rapper who’s in the game because there’s nothing else he’d rather spend his life doing, and for that reason alone, we can accept this album topping the charts.

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