Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 50 Tracks Of 2014, 50-26

2014 saw our fair share of stunning singles. Songs so concisely put together, either sonically or told with a coherently powerful message, littered the year from far-reaching sources. Looking back, while the year may have not been as pivotal as past years, 2014 could be seen as the starting of true alternative musical inspirations. No song here sounds remotely similar. Each artist, each song, brings its own unique tinge, untethered to the songs surrounding it. No longer do we have trite lyrical conversations that fashion themselves to what's the latest trend, and no longer do we have sound structures composed off last years success stories. Sure, those tracks still exist, but their influence, notoriety, and impressiveness have dwindled this year. 'Bangers' in the typical sense can now reach from a Run The Jewels track to a Death Grips paranoid-infused manic refrain. No longer do songs need certain tendencies, be it autotune, trap-inspired sounds, drops, or reckoning bass to survive. Artists can bring their own flair, own style, own confidence and be accepted almost anywhere. 2014 will be known for its diversity, through and through. Below is list one of two of my top 50 songs of the year. Each picture links to the track itself.

50. Jay Electronica
'We Made It'

We Made It Single

The enigmatically frustrating rapper, one of the most technically skilled to ever touch a mic, and yet entirely willing to release a track a year, Jay Electronica's track of the year threw out introspection for some good ol' fashion braggadocio with the help of Jay-Z. 
Using Soulja Boy's track as the basis, with a throbbing beat that conjures up champion-status feelings and a Eastbound & Down sample that's awfully reminiscent of 'Niggas In Paris,' the two Jay's trade verses of technical flows made easy. The stunting, comparisons to slavery and the rise-up out of it, resembles Jay-Z's recent thoughts on black excellence, Electronica is merely along for the ride. Few songs have come out this year where two artists have respectively annihilated a beat, and that' exactly what the Rockafella players do, go ahead and stunt on Jay-E. 

49. Shabazz Palaces

Lese Majesty

The second single off Lese Majesty confounded listeners with its unorthodox approach to verse structure. Substituting the concluder with a simple repetition of "eating cake" some became irritable to the songs nonsensical layout. But, as with anything Shabazz Palaces creates, there's more looming under the surface, and in this case the song, emphasized by the obvious outlier of a #-hashtag thrown at the face, takes a look at society and how we're all just eating the cake of those living the lavish lifestyle, one YOLO at a time. The conclusion, a finale of sorts with Butler resoundingly naming cities across the world, pokes fun at rappers' insistence on doing this while also providing a glorious send-off to the lifestyle's of those that spread it around the world. As with much of Lese Majesty, the underbelly of '#CAKE' is where the song thrives, building upon layered production that utilizes multiple Butler voices and demanding bass to lull the listener into submission. 

48. J.Cole

2014 Forest Hills Drive

Structure in music isn't always a good thing. Just like how some of the best movies don't follow your standard hour and a half formula where the same story plays out. A long-lasting impression can be made internally if one sidesteps the boundaries of the art form they are currently engulfed in. That's exactly what J.Cole does on 'G.O.M.D.' Excluding lyrics of course, because the song suffers from potentially the worst on the album. But when a campy, vocally-distorted production piece centers itself around his arrogance one can only become engrained in the sound itself. The song never remains in one position, but uses those eery, chanting voices as the anchors to each one. Whereas basic beat looping allows you to tell stories, songs like 'G.O.M.D' allows the rapper to express themselves, freed of the restraints holding them down. J.Cole can boast every once in a while, and on an album centered around his childhood-to-Hollywood transition it's best to incorporate some of the repercussions for the latter. Might as well have some fun doing it. 

47. People Under The Stairs
'Doctor Feelgood'

12 Step Program

12 Step Program may have been a bit of a let down only in terms of P.U.T.S' lack of expanding past their reach, but that doesn't mean they haven't improved upon their skills as purveyors in the field of feel good Hip-Hop, and nothing accomplished that better than the closer 'Doctor Feelgood.' Sometimes nothing more than a few simple chords will initialize the feelings of old 80's Hip-Hop where things were looser, critiques were more forgiving, and the vibes were happier and not trying to make a grand statement. 12 Step Program's closer brings your typical styles from Thes One and Double K to the forefront for one last hooray, as definitively joyful samples parade around the track, including the titular chorus which announces P.U.T.S' own ambitions. The radio skit and rounding sample from the opener bring the album to a resounding finish that doesn't bore, but rather entertains with music easing off in the background as those feel good vibes come to an end. 

46. Ab-Soul
'Just Have Fun/These Days'

These Days...

These Days may have been a divisive release. On one end there's those who believe the lack of cohesion breaks any recognition the album deserves for the project itself fails at gaining a face, on the other, there's ones who pick up the hidden undertone of 'These Days' as a synopsis of rap in 2014, where being non-coherent was the only option. This, often times, led to a combination of songs, disconnected between themselves. The best one of these was 'Just Have Fun/These Day,' the former a look at positive reinforcement of controlling one's life, the latter reflects on the opposite and how to cope. The choir-like chorus and relaxed southern-vibes melody soothes the listener with one of the most inventive instrumentations on the album, while 'Just Have Fun' take a more synth-oriented approach to its beat, reflecting the usage of drugs present in the song. 

45. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib


While the enjoyment I received from Piñata wasn't as high as others, there were a handful of tracks that I felt accurately displayed the immense talent on the mic and behind the board here. Madlib's chaotic strings, agitated and disoriented, match wits with a lumbering bass that drills the foundation of the track into place. Freddie Gibbs torches this beat, keeping up with its movements, something he doesn't typically show, as he puts fake players in their place. Thing is though, as most rappers place themselves above all others, Gibbs included, here he looks at himself through his flaws, bringing everyone surrounding him down to his level. They aren't any better than him, down here they're all in shitsville.

44. Chimurenga Renaissance
'The Shackles Are Off'

riZe vadZimu riZe

While riZe VadZimu riZe, created by one half of Shabazz Palaces' Tendai Maraire, may have been a more poorly executed version of his group's magnificent releases, a handful of songs off his album could land on lists comparable to the best of what Palaces has to offer. The shining beacon of this was 'The Shackles Are Off,' a revitalizing experience that sees one's life chained to his own inhibitions being released thanks to his voice finally being heard though music. While riZe VadZimu riZe aimed at tearing back the layers of Hip-Hop to reveal its inherent African influences, 'The Shackles Are Off' lets that go in a grinding exhibition of venturing out into unforeseen areas, incorporating computerized vocal effects, blaring trumpets, and woozy, starlight synths. While not technically the closer, the song works as such, a resounding climax to Maraire's successes that finally landed him a place for his own verbal expression.

43. Milo
'In Gaol'

A Toothpaste Suburb

To appreciate Milo's debut album A Toothpaste Suburb one must forgo all typical structures of Hip-Hop and the seriousness of it all. His mumbled verbiage, intricate and commandeering, requires a multitude of listens where it either clicks or you've given up attempting to decipher it. But that's where the fun of Milo comes in, attach to him one of the most absurdist lyricists in the 21st century, Kool A.D., and you've constructed a song so unorthodox and fully aware of itself that one can't help but enjoy it for the song's endearing qualities. Milo rips off more of his one-line random outtakes here, showing them to their greatest avail, as lines like "I'm humbled eating lemon bars" mash at their wits end over the pointlessness of it all. This is before Kool A.D. delivers a concluding verse that summarizes the song itself as nothing more than "the weird rap song." He couldn't be more right.

42. Run The Jewels
'Blockbuster Night Pt.1'

Run The Jewels 2

The menacing opening sirens aren't half of what 'Blockbuster Night Pt.1' has to offer. It isn't until Killer Mike allows El-P to complete his masterwork on the boards by exclaiming "I'm talking crazy, half past the clock is cuckoo" when the militaristic bass loop, clicks and clacks loaded throughout, is allowed to shine. The first single off Run The Jewels 2 showed off exactly what the duo was cooking, and that was more of the same; vicious verses laying haymakers and body blows before one can even attempt to breath. "Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers" couldn't be a better example of the duo's competence with arrogance. For its duration, a short 2:32, the amount of energy, passion, and intensity packed within is outstanding. 

41. Mac Miller


Possibly more than any other song on this list 'Thumbalina' benefits the most from its beat. Mac Miller's lyrics, as opposed to some other songs on Faces but not unlike much of his lazier work, doesn't really leave an impact. But, with a simple vocal manipulation, Miller turns 'Thumbalina' into an entrancing piece that utilizes the human condition to become addicted to easily consumable moments. It's a repetitious phrase that's barely intelligible, with the word "block" being the only one to clearly shine through. It's what Mac Miller's known for bundled up into 3 condensed minutes, fun tracks made for the sake of enjoyment. There's nothing to decipher, nothing to 'get,' just pure, adulterated fun through the ear holes. The lack of structure, with numerous bridges, segments, and sections, keeps things fresh throughout, despite the fact that at the end of it the last thing on your mind is whatever Mac said. 

40. Clockwork Indigo
'Butterfly Effect'

Clockwork Indigo EP

The pairing of the Flatbush Zombies and the Underachievers seemed almost too perfect not have happened. Sure enough, it did, and the match made in heaven resulting in a 5-song EP was a nice blend of both their styles, over great production from the ever-improving Eric Arc Elliot. The lead single, 'Butterfly Effect,' is a trope through each rappers skills on the mic and Elliot's talents behind the boards. The haunting, hollow, and maddening beat slither's through and through, lurking under the madness that is Clockwork Indigo. Where most FBZ tracks focus on the interaction between beat and vocals, adding nothing more, here Elliot changes it up with an extensive instrumental section closing out the 7-minute track. The samples carrying the finale, along with the whistles and haunting choir melodies, make for FBZ's most interesting song thanks to experimentation that they've been previously lacking in.

39. Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks
'That It Won't Grow'

Enter The Slasher House

Avey Tare's Slashing Flicks may have been another Animal Collective-related disappointment since the Centipede Hz-era, but a few tracks here echoed the cooky, haunted house style of song-making Tare was aiming for with dazzling effect. An obvious choice would be 'Little Fang,' the album's lead single, but just two tracks later, on 'That It Won't Grow,' is where Tare really exploits his thematic vision to its greatest effect. His excessively layered vocal effects come full circle here, as quiet hymns are met with explosive melodies. The track, more than any other on Slasher House, creeks, rattles, and sways like a zany haunted house. Tare's lyrics may not be a first notifier, the way he hoots and hollers puts the perspective tone of the track into the forefront. The finale, with backing vocals becoming heavily distorted as their intensity ramps up, is the perfect climax to Tare's monster-infested terror tale.

38. Busdriver
'Colonize The Moon'

Perfect Hair

I've praised Busdriver's latest album Perfect Hair numerous times, and I'm still not done yet with him on this list. However, 'Colonize The Moon,' the album's 9-minute closer featuring two separate songs, in all likelihood sums up the thoughts I've had on the album best, with Farquar completely coming clean with his own life, his childhood, and where he plans on being in the future. The first half of the epic assumes the position of a rich man whose made poor ethical choices in his life here on earth and plans to, as the title implies, colonize the moon. His self-centered status, "after all I've done and all I've seen, who cares about you," provides a great anti-thesis for Busdriver himself, as shown on the song's second-half, which discusses the come-up of Farquar. 

37. P64
'Make Up On'

Philadelphia Love Story

In my first Rising Artist's section I checked out P64, a up-coming Philadelphia emcee and his mixtape Philadelphia Love Story, which laid out his trials and tribulations of competing relationships in his life, relating to many who gave his music a listen. The album's glorious conclusion, 'Make Up On,' summarized the ongoing summer and the eventual downfall of his attempts at ever-lasting love. What truly elevates the song to the next-level, standing head and shoulders above the rest, is the production by Cosmo Mix. It emphasizes echoed vocals, widening drums, soaring synths, and an instrumental conclusion which effectively closes the book on P64's summer, much like a fireworks finale. What makes 'Make Up On' so enchanting is his effectiveness at incorporating the instrumentation with his spoken words, singing choruses, and broken-heart verses, climaxing and concluding his story in one fatal swoop. 

36. Thom Yorke
'The Mother Lode'

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Off his surprise release Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, 'The Mother Lode' was the first, and likely best, instance of Yorke's insistence on IDM as a major influence of his new music, taking a simple two-time beat into rampant directions, fluctuating from a synth connector to a more visceral bass-only approach, resting ever-so uneasily on a dank piano and vocal refrain that continues the song's mind-warping beat. Delicate synths masquerades as violins rise and descend through the six-minute opus, as Yorke spouts crystal clear proses, at least by his standard, despite the song's lyrical content still remaining a complete mystery to me. As always, ever since their descent into experimentation, Radiohead and Yorke rely totally on atmospherical additions to cascade the track and provoke the listener, rather than a direct verbal cue. 

35. Big K.R.I.T.


Cadillactica was a disappointing collage of K.R.I.T's worse assets, entirely separate from his earlier mixtapes, that teased another excellent work with the first four tracks only to collapse upon itself throughout. However, with almost all hope lost, K.R.I.T. brought back his biggest guns with the help of Jamie N Commons for a soul-drenched record that tugged at heart strings and pushed one's mental state. The production is foreboding, in-your-face, and rugged, all the while a piano becomes drenched in all the rubble as the industrial sounds engulf its innocent presence. K.R.I.T. himself provides some of his realest lyrics on the record, as Commons furnishes the piece with gritty, earthy vocals that splatter the rigid production backing him. 

34. St.Vincent
'Severed Crossed Fingers'


Annie Clark's pinnacle closer to her persona, self-titled fourth album, is as intimate as they come. Her attempt to come to grips with her previous failures, the things that have constantly put her down, dragged her under the rubble, only to look back and find her severed crossed fingers lying there. She never lost hope and it paid off. To commemorate her successes, the production reincarnates memorium tunes, endlessly drifting, hopelessly simple. Her chorus, emphatically human, dreading aware of her decomposition, is accompanied by churning drum rattles and backing vocals that add just the perfect layer to her conflicting tones.

33. Clark
'There's A Distance In You'


Clark's choreographed mechanical opus effectively concludes with a romp through jagged drums, beaming synths, and re-wired organic melodies. It's an eery combination that succeeds based off its confounding melody alone, a infinitely textured bass loop works through numerous layers, mashing them together, splitting them apart, as a wicked journey through the stars lies in its path. The settling finale, long, droning and contempt, lingers through numerous transitions, concluding with the solemn melody that started it off, weak, fragile, and alone. It's a musical endeavor that, for the first time on the album, felt a heartbeat and wasn't entirely devoid of humanities touch on it. 

32. tUnE-yArDs
'Rocking Chair'

Nikki Nack

Merril Garbus' excellent exposition towards the end of her second LP Nikki Nack took a step away from her densely arraigned palate, forming a more collective symphony using solely her voice as a tool for manipulation. Her African-like tribal hymns pierces the soundwaves, so graceful and heart-felt. The addition of multiple Garbus voices, all performing varying acts in the piece, culminate together, concluding within their own melodies on cue with the conclusion of others. It's one of the most pleasant songs of the year, with a simplicity that is every bit as endearing as it is challenging to incorporate successfully. To deny one's pure bliss with the song however Garbus decides to focus her lyrical talents with a more depressed focus, choosing to look within at her own self-confidence issues, found elsewhere on the album in songs like 'Wait For A Minute.' Her two-sided approach to song-making allows for songs like 'Rocking Chair' to be appreciated in more ways than one. 

31. Mick Jenkins

The Water[s]

Possibly the most accessible song on Mick Jenkins' evocative debut, 'Jazz,' cleverly pits multiple metaphors against each other, the most obvious of which comes off the play over Jazz legends of yester-year and the fools thinking they can talk all that jazz. The message wouldn't be nearly as captivating if it weren't for Jenkins' use of jazz samples and constant jazz references to drive home the point of his vast knowledge of music. What tops the meaning however is the chorus, which, upon each arrival in the song, heightens itself to an even greater range, instilling more elaborate production with more sinister overtones. This culminates in a electric guitar-led finale as Mick rounds out his topic concretely, "that Coltrane, that Charlie Parker, that Charles Mingue, that Frank Sinatra, talking all that Jazz." 

30. Azealia Banks
'Idle Delilah'

Broke With Expensive Taste

You couldn't compile an aggregated list of artists who've voiced displeasure of Banks, and yet, releasing her long-delayed Broke With Expensive Taste out of the blue, critics and fans alike couldn't resist the urge to admit that her work was good. The intro, 'Idle Delilah,' showed off her best qualities effortlessly. The story tracks a young girl contemplating her wasted life. But, as with all Banks songs, where it truly flourishes is in her mastery of flow and the usage of her verbiage. She glides across the track, fills hollow spots with slang fitting to only her style, and isn't afraid to utilize instrumental segments to get the feet moving. The dexterity over the mix to create a lasting first verse, composed half of rapping, half of singing, simultaneously occurring, makes 'Idle Delilah' commendable off that basis alone. 

29. Eagle Eyed Tiger
'Over // Lover // Love Her // Okay'

Free Agency

Off a hardly recognized post on reddit's HipHopHeads, Eagle Eyed Tiger released his instrumental mixtape, Free Agency, unto the world. While certain practice still needed to be done, the majority of the tape reeked of ingenuity in terms of instrumentation relying on ambiance as a provoking signature for the listeners enjoyment. No song did that better than 'Over // Lover // Love Her // Okay,' which, as shown in the song's title, whistles through four movements, all intertwined using similar samples, distortions, and wavelengths to make four distinctly different impacts. Possibly the best moments here, and something not many instrumental artists can lay claim to on their music, is the changes that consistently erupt to announce the arrival of the next segment, each one as beautiful and mesmerizing as the last. 

28. Lana Del Rey
'Shades Of Cool'


Probably one of the most divisive Pop artists and really, why shouldn't she be? Her childhood perpetuates her persona, conflicting, perplexing, and controversial. She's pompous, worships cult leaders, and likens herself to idolized versions of middle lane 1950's Americana. A torch singer, with a brass voice that resonates deep, accompanied by cinematic sounds, swelling orchestration, and Hip-Hop influences. Lana Del Rey may be one of the most mystifying artists of the 21st century. Some adore her, others loathe her, and no song could better extenuate that disparity better than 'Shades Of Cool.' From its enticing romanticism, to its orchestral explosion, to Del Rey's transcending timbre, 'Cool' is a perfect example of the New York City singer's lustful exuberance. 

27. Rick Ross


Say what you want about Rick Ross, his persona or his music, few can still maintain a level of ignorance to deny the greatness of 'Sanctified.' For starters, the song made me insanely interested in Ross' latest release Mastermind. And while that album didn't live up to the standards of 'Sanctified,' it wasn't a letdown by any means. What starts as a holy event, in the literal sense of a baptism, Betty Wright's introduction and further use of her voice sets the strong tone of the song with a powerful message backed by a strong voice. Now sure, Big Sean's immediate words following the enlightenment, "all I wanted was a $100 million and a bad bitch" puts us back into the place of a Ross song, filled with standard mafioso language, but Wright's use during the chorus alone make the track an event. 

26. Schoolboy Q


For all the good that 'Prescription/Oxymoron' gives us it's still a bit of a letdown. Not in the song specifically, but with the fact that Schoolboy could craft something like that and yet still chooses to douse Oxymoron with catchy, but uninventive Hip-Hop. The two-track collective features two halves of a traumatizing situation. In the first we see Schoolboy's addiction to prescription pills becoming a serious tribulation in his life, only bolstered by the fact that his daughter, still only a handful of years old, desperately tries to wake him up out of his coma. And on the second half, Q succumbs to dealing drugs on the streets, not in a glorifying way (although he'll make it sound like that), but in a way based out of necessity for providing for his daughter. The juxtaposition is what makes the 7-minute opus great, and it's a shame that such storytelling in divinely self-depreciating ways wasn't find elsewhere on the album. 

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