If you told me in 2011 that the dudes who made "Teach Me How To Jerk" would be signed by the guy who produced "Niggas In Paris" and quickly become the most promising prospects on his label, I probably would've responded sarcastically with something along the lines of "Oh yeah, and I heard Cali Swag District are gonna produce half of Kanye's new album." Lo and behold, it's three years later and Audio Push just released a track with Wale that makes their former selves seem like the World Class Wreckin' Cru to their current N.W.A.
Signing to Hit-Boy's HS87 label last year, Oktane and Pricetag were key players on the label's 2014 album We The Plug, and plan to release their debut album in 2015. They may not have had the big hits that many others on this list scored in 2014, but the aforementioned "Quick Fast" is promising enough to nab them a spot. Along with that, Audio Push killed a CMJ showcase at S.O.B.'s earlier this year (which will be referenced in other artists' sections too), showcasing lyricism onstage chemistry the likes of which I had no idea they were capable of. I left that show blown away by their abilities, and looking forward to hearing the studio versions of many of the unreleased songs they played. Expect Audio Push to handily top their 2014 run next year.
When "Hot Nigga" (or more accurately, "Hot Boy") peaked at number six on the Hot 100 last month, Bobby Shmurda was a total anomaly. The five spots above him were dominated by female empowerment anthems such as "All About The Bass" and "Bang Bang," and out of the blue, here comes this swaggering, hookless song about fifth grade crack deals and catching bodies. That, along with the unprecedented level of female dominance at the top of the charts, was the biggest sign in 2014 that the "powers that be" in music were losing their edge when it came to dictating our listening habits.
Shmurda and GS9 prove that any crew could film videos on their block, and (if the dance moves are wild enough and the lyrics on-point) break out in a matter of weeks. They drudged up conversations about regional styles, the decline of the New York "sound," and the reckless abandon with which rappers often discuss violence, so even if it wasn't their aim, GS9 were an important factor in shaping conversations about hip-hop this year.
As his somewhat flat Shmurda She Wrote EP suggested, Bobby himself may not be able to uphold his current reputation in the future, but as we predicted in an earlier article, perhaps Rowdy Rebel will be GS9's best hope for staying power. With his A$AP Ferg-like charisma, knack for catchy flows and definite flare for on-camera work, he seems overqualified to continue playing second fiddle to Bobby, and may very well end up on this list next year.
Perhaps the only rapper to ever rhyme "body" with "family" (read: "fahmly"), DeJ Loaf was another overnight success with her track "Try Me." The first of several parties on this list to be anointed by the high priest of popularity, Drake, this year, Lil Loaf didn't end up getting remixed by The Boy (most likely thanks to Wiz Khalifa's particularly half-baked rendition), but still ended up with a buzzing single. Unlike other tracks Drizzy tapped in 2014, the DDS-produced thumper actually sounded like something that the 6 God and 40 would've made on their own -- an effortlessly cool, placid head-nodder swathed in frost-covered atmosphere. As a Detroiter, DeJ didn't grow up too far from The 6, and her chilly sound reflects that.
Unlike Shmurda, DeJ followed up her smash hit with a project that strengthened her buzz, rather than smothering it. Save for a remix, "Try Me" didn't even appear on Sell Sole, which was instead chock full of shit-talking, entrancing hooks, more fantastic DDS beats and even a Rich Gang (sans Rich Homie Quan) feature. By showing that she had a cache of tunes on deck, DeJ showed that, despite the fact her audience increased exponentially this year, she'd actually been doing this for years. She's definitely improved since her "College" days, and with an Eminem feature making up her latest release, it looks like she'll only keep going up in this rap game.
Named USA Today's "hottest ticket on the college circuit" this year, Bay Area native G-Eazy saw his fortunes improve quite a bit in 2014. With These Things Happen debuting at number three in the country, two legs of his "From The Bay To The Universe" tour popping off, and increasing numbers of women swooning over "the James Dean of Hip-Hop," Young Gerald cemented his place as Macklemore's heir apparent this year.
In possession of the "crossover appeal" that's endlessly sought after by marketers and sponsors, Eazy has surprisingly also managed to make in-roads with more traditionally hip-hop artists, collaborating with French Montana, Rick Ross, A$AP Ferg & Rockie Fresh, and bringing Bay legend E-40 on tour with him. To borrow a phrase from Jay Z, G-Eazy's not a businessman, he's a business, man.
Makonnen is the only artist on this list who was nominated for a Grammy this year. He's also probably the least-likely hip-hop star in years, so how did we get here? Again, the answer lies with Drizzy. Catching wind of the ATL singer/rapper's "ain't got no motherfuckin' time to party on the weekend" jam, "Club Goin' Up On A Tuesday," Drake offered up a career-changing remix, and as they say, "nothing was the same" again for iLoveMakonnen.
Of course, the exuberant artist also has one of the longest-standing careers of anyone on this list, making avant-pop sonatas for years without recognition. Early this year, he finally caught the ear of Atlanta's finest beatmakers (among them Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin, FKi and Dun Deal) and put out the still-very-weird, but more-in-line-with-the-rest-of-ATL tape Drink More Water 4, which he promptly followed up with a self-titled EP. This was around the time that the rest of the world caught on, with our top comment for that release describing most people's feelings to the T: "He's different. . . This shit is dope to me." Along with "Tuesday," cuts like " I Don't Sell Molly No More" and "Sarah" made for one of the best and most interesting ATL releases of the year.
Also performing at the aforementioned CMJ showcase with Audio Push, Makonnen shared the stage with Digital and Mike WiLL Made It, who both expressed their amazement at his work ethic and unique mindset in the studio. Alongside Key!, Father and the Awful Records squad (all of whom deserve to be shouted out on this list), Makonnen won over New Yorkers and gave us the best idea of where Atlanta is headed. Look out for Drink More Water 5 next year.
At the end of 2013, it was anyone's guess as to whether it'd be Lil Bibby or Lil Herb in this spot. Both Chicago teens came up in their city's drill scene, but thanks to similar focuses on lyrics and a habit of working together, they've often been viewed as a package deal. The old man-voiced Bibby's best project to date came right at the end of last year, Free Crack, but its sequel (released a few months ago) failed to connect quite as powerfully as Herb's Welcome To Fazoland, an early drop this year that still sounds fresh. On the project, Herb showed that he was willing to sacrifice nothing in terms of his ferocious flow and lyrics, and able to convincingly rap about designer labels, all of the times he's wronged his mom and (spectacularly) about the most basic of human instincts.
Add in a Nicki Minaj guest spot, a Common and Chance The Rapper-featuring remix and a recent collaboration with Earl Sweatshirt, and G Herbo comes out of the year looking much stronger and poised for domination in 2015. Look for his next tape, Ballin' Like I'm Kobe, to drop next year, and hopefully an album will be soon to follow.
There are people who think this guy has the album of the year, and people who think he's just a savvy combination of J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi, but whichever side you fall on, you have to be impressed with the year Logic just had. After the Maryland native secured himself a fiercely loyal fanbase with his Young Sinatra mixtapes, he released his debut album, Under Pressure, this summer, and almost outsold T.I.
A student of storytelling and 21st Century hip-hop masterworks, Logic's frequent comparisons to some of the most noteworthy lyricists of his era are more often viewed as digs, but it really does say something about his abilities too. Even if he's never able to drop a consensus-classic like good kid, m.A.A.d city, Logic will have a successful career and die-hard followers.
After Bobby Shmurda, King of The Vine, OG Maco's the most viral of the entries on this list. Breaking out just as soon as his blood-curdling shrieks about bitches guessing had soundtracked everything from classrooms to college homecoming dances, OGG quickly signed to Migos' Quality Control label and released Live Life 2 and a self-titled EP.
A shouter in the tradition of Waka Flocka Flame, Pastor Troy and Mystikal, Maco also has a soft, R&B side that's shown on tracks like "All In 2." Unlike those mentioned above, Maco's an outspoken fan of punk rock and dresses the part too, with this nihilistic, irreverent aspect also showing up in his music fairly frequently. More than anything, it feels like Maco was sent here to fuck the game up, and although it's a shame that him and former collaborator Key! aren't on good terms anymore, we're sure he'll find plenty of others waiting to work with him.
2013 was the year most of us were introduced to PND, with his first mixtape dropping that July. However, this year was the one that saw the OVO Sound signee doing bigger things and making more of a splash in the game. Starting with "I Don't," which dropped on New Year's Eve, concluding with the four-peat of tracks he dropped earlier this month, and lest we forget, hitting its high point with PND 2, the Toronto singer's sophomore year was one for the books.
Hitting that same sonic sweet-spot as his label boss' music, but dealing with more bedroom-ready subject matter, PND has cemented his place in romantic R&B history alongside a peer he used to get compared to all the time: The Weeknd. This year, he outgrew those comparisons, carving out his own distinct style and attracting a bevy of great beats. Expect PND to have at least one prominent feature on Views From The 6.
When Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee performed at CMJ this year, most people only knew the two big hits. Expecting a brief appearance alongside Mike WiLL to do "No Flex Zone" and "No Type" back-to-back, we were instead given a high-energy, Hennessy-drenched performance that said, in effect: these dudes have tunes on deck.
After "No Flex Zone" ruled the summer and had everyone calling it "annoying" one day, and "infectious" the next, "Ear Drummers Backwards" had to escape the sand trap of one-hit-wonderdom pronto, and "No Type" accomplished that several times over. Having heard others like "Throw Sum Mo" and "Illest Walking" now, our anticipation for the young duo's Sremm Life EP grows by the day. Along with Makonnen and Thugga Thugga, Jimmy and Swae's unorthodox, pitchy deliveries were some of the most important factors in evolving the concept of "rapping" this year, and on top of that, they can actually RAP. It's safe to say that the Kriss Kross comparisons that have been here since day one no longer apply.
I hope that seeing himself on this list is enough to make Shy Glizzy say "swish" to himself. The "ballin'" D.C. rapper initially broke out with his track "Awwsome" this year, and after having it remixed by 2 Chainz & A$AP Rocky, he went on to drop Law 3, a tape that handily topped his Young Jefe effort from earlier in the year.
Hosted by DJ Drama, the project brought us excellent tracks like "Funeral" and showed us that Glizzy's been grinding in the game for years at this point. His newfound success is well-deserved and big for the DMV area in general, adding the buzz that Fat Trel and Yung Gleesh have already been curating for their city.
Tinashe is another person on this list who's been waiting to pop for years. Getting the projects Reverie and Black Water from her in 2012 and 2013, respectively, we finally got to see her take off in 2014, starting with her DJ Mustard-produced single "2 On" (and its subsequent Drake/OB O'Brien remix).
With her debut album, Aquarius, the young singer proved she could work with a variety of producers and end up with a sound that was appealing to both hip-hop heads and more indie-R&B-minded crowds. She was able to attract big-name guests while still keeping things very much in her orbit, which is an increasingly difficult task for young, untested artists singed to major labels. Look for her to become a household name in the years to come.
Another artist from Chicago who plays by her own rules, Tink is one of the most exciting female rappers we've heard in a long while. First wowing us with Winter's Diary 2, a tape released in January, she went on to nab big collabs from Jeremih, DJ Dahi, and most recently, Timbaland, who signed her to his Moseley Music Group imprint.
Equally adept at singing, Tink is the definition of a double threat on the mic, able to bend her voice and delivery to fit any beat. It's easy to see why Timbaland, the king of shape-shifting beats, was instantly a fan of her work and tried his hardest to get her on the album version of Rick Ross and Jay Z's "Movin Bass." While that didn't work out, we still think Tink's version is far superior to the original.
With an Andre 3000 collaboration ("UFO") on deck, Tink looks like she'll continue beefing up her already-packed rolodex, and we expect her debut album to have some very notable guests. Her latest track, "Tell The Children," was one of the more powerful takes on police violence we've heard this year. With versatility, intelligence and big-name friends, Tink might have the most potential of anyone on this list.
Another dude who's been bubbling in the underground for a minute, Vince Staples initially rose to prominence adjacent to Earl Sweatshirt and the Odd Future camp, and continued winning by collaborating with Mac Miller on an EP last year. 2014, however, was the year we learned that he's more than capable of doing this rap shit on his own.
With Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 and the incendiary Hell Can Wait EP (my personal choice for rap EP of the year), the Long Beach native created an update on the West Coast sound that retained its confrontational qualities while also incorporating some modern sonic flourishes and good kid, m.A.A.d city-style morality checks. "Blue Suede" and "Hands Up," two highlights off the EP, together form the most vivid depiction of life in the struggle: hoping you outlive the red roses that were recently laid on your friend's grave, and living in constant fear of cops looking to imprison you for anything and everything. Staples sounded hungrier and most desperate than ever this year, and it truly has paid off for the Def Jam signee.
Appearing alphabetically last on this list, Young Thug would probably be in the same position had we decided to rank this list from #15 to #1. The elastic-voiced, often-unintelligible, vibrant-dressing ATLien went from being arguably the most hated MC on the site to a must-click artist in just a few months. What happened? He established his dominance on what was once thought to be the last place he'd ever end up: the radio.
Opening the year strongly with the one-two punch of "Stoner" and "Danny Glover," Thugga Thugga continued his reign with Rich Gang's "Lifestyle," T.I.'s "About The Money," his and Wayne's "Take Kare," and many more. He still has his haters (many of whom are still latching onto that stance simply due to Thug's wardrobe choices and perceived sexuality), but he's overcome greater odds than almost anyone currently making waves in the rap game, and his reach is still growing.
His tape with Rich Homie Quan and Birdman as Rich Gang is one of the year's best free releases, and showed that he and Quan can still boss up while singing songs mostly related to love and relationships. This connection to Birdman will probably yield another Rich Gang tape soon enough, but it could also lead to problems similar to the ones we've seen with Lil Wayne recently, If anything, Young Thug's biggest strength to date is his ability to keep us guessing, and if he's stifled by a restrictive major label deal, that could mean trouble for his future. Let Thug do what Thug wants, on the other hand, and we could be looking at a revolutionary whose career will be a turning point for future generations of rappers.