Here are the year's Honorable Mentions:
60. Snootie Wild "Made Me"
59. Freddie Gibb's "Harold's"
58. DJ Mustard feat. Ty Dolla $ign & 2 Chainz - "Down On Me"
57. Father, Makonnen, & Key! - "Look At Wrist"
56. Logic - "Gang Related"
55. Joey Bada$$ - "Big Dusty"
54. Juvenile feat. Drake (Rich Gang) - "I Sho Love"
53. Vince Staples - "Hands Up"
51. J. Cole - "Apparently"
Now, if you're still with us, on to the Hottest 50.
50. Juicy J (feat. Nicki Minaj, Lil Bibby & Young Thug) - "Low"
Juicy J's Pure THC (The Hustle Continues) was delayed, but one single emerged, which showed us Juice is still good for the minimal ratchet bangers that adorned Stay Trippy. "Low": one word to define J's swag. His voice, his beats, his freq, his freaks. Nicki, who can drop low herself, Young Thug, and Lil Bibby, one of four XXL freshman out of Chicago, make for a track with all types of charisma. As usual, Thug goes the opposite of low on his screeching hook, though he seems to get the mentality: "I do a verse, you know my prices ain't...low." Wonder why he only got a hook on this one? Anyway, if all J's got for us is more of the same strain, let's hope More THC is just that and nothing else.
49. Young Thug & Metro Boomin (Metro Thuggin) - "The Blanguage"
Young Thug's take on Drake's "The Language," from Nothing Was the Same. Thugga makes it his own with his unique blood-stained language--"blanguage"--but compare the hard-hitting opening lines of Drake and Thug respectively: "I don't know why they been lyin' / But your shit is not that inspirin'." Nice on paper, and with Drake's melody and impeccable timing, it became an iconic rhyme that immediately set the attitude for the entire song. Thug's opener, somehow, works to similar effect--though, predictably, it's 100x as ridiculous: "I fucked her then washed off my dick with the curtains inside of the phantom." Did he really just pull that off? That's the power of Young Thug: he can, in one breath, spit out one of the most hilariously imaginative lines of the year, off the top (of course), and, somehow, his tempo clicks just as perfectly as an oh-so-carefully-constructed Drake hook.
Metro Boomin pulls off a dark and syrupy re-interpolation of the original Boi-1da beat that nicely melds with Thugga's free-form structure (or lack thereof). The two are planning a collaborative album together as Metro Thuggin, and it's one of many Thug projects we look forward to in 2015.
48. Pusha T - "Lunch Money"
Pusha surprised us with an unannounced single that just happened to boast a Kanye West beat unlike anything else we heard this year. Kanye creates his own video game soundtrack, and it's child's play for King Push: “Grew up on Nintendo playing contra / And though that nigga only 5’9” / 100 bodies on his timeline.” The only d-boy quotable, Push is stealing the rap game's lunch money, and, right under Kanye at G.O.O.D., he's eating well. The music video just took the song up another level, too.
47. Rome Fortune & Dun Deal - "Come & Get It"
Here we have another young fringe character from Atlanta, and, yes, his sound is about as far-out as his multicolored beard would indicate. We first noticed Rome with last year's excellent Beautiful Pimp mixtape. He's had a prolific 2014, releasing three mixtapes including the just-as-good Beautiful Pimp II. While still not a household name, he's now worked with iLoveMakonnen, OG Maco, and Young Thug (more on each of those guys later). Even more impressive are the producers he's managed to pull tracks from. He's worked with experimental dance producer/DJs like Jacques Greene, Suicideyear, and the legendary Four Tet. He's also worked extensively with Childish Major and Dun Deal, who've each produced for the biggest names in Atlanta and the rest of the South. Rome and Dun Deal (whose creds include "Stoner" and "Hannah Montana") did an entire six-track mixtape together, Drives, Thighs, & Lies, off which we pulled our favorite Rome cut, "Come & Get It." On this one, incidentally, Dun Deal crafts a dubstep influenced beat, though he suffocates his wobbling bassline until it's hardly audible, and airy enough for Rome to fully explore his creaky, half auto-tuned mating call. This is another gem from a city that's changing the blueprint of what we consider hip-hop, and the new school really runs deep.
46. Yo Gotti - "Errybody" [+ Remix feat. Lil Wayne & Ludacris]
Aside from a solid effort alongside Boosie Badazz fresh out the pen, Gotti had a relatively quiet year. Still, it feels like his career is on an upward slant following last year's I Am, which stands as the biggest album of his near-15 year career. Gotti--age 33, (some might a dinosaur in today's game), gives some wisdom on a trend that’s always been rampant in the game and now more than ever: frontin’, or now we're calling it flexing. Gotti finds himself competing against an image-obsessed generation that thinks status is what you see on Instagram. Gotti knows the difference. So do Wayne and Ludacris, who come through hard on the remix. All three vets have album's scheduled for 2015.
45. Yelawolf- Till It's Gone
In the past few months, Yelawolf has distanced his sound from the surrounding hip-hop world, releasing freestyles over classic rock tracks from the Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and funk-metal novelty outfit Primus. Who knew what to expect from the second single off Love Story--which we hope to catch in 2015--though we knew it definitely wouldn't be an industry-mandated DJ Mustard beat. "Till It's Gone" debuted on the TV show "Sons of Anarchy," and it was ridden with some Bayou country funk that our readers got down with. One thing's for sure, only Yelawolf can mix rap and country and live to tell the tale.
44. Run the Jewels - "Oh My Darling Don't Cry"
RTJ2 has proved to be the most critically acclaimed album of the year. It was the rare album that properly channeled the anger, confusion, and rebellion--ultimately, the ludicrousness of it all--that hip-hop fans nationwide are feeling. And it just happened to be the most fun record of the year. It's inherently political, but far from P.C. They've channeled a beast together, saying exactly what they want, and it's exactly what we need. If all you've got to rap about is a chain, "You can run the jewels, or lose your fingers...or "run naked backwards through a field of dicks." Your choice. In under three and a half minutes, "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" packs in eight vicious verses from the next great rap duo, "one black, one white, we shoot to kill."
43. Kendrick Lamar - "i"
Many K. Dot die-hards were taken aback by his lone single of 2014. For one thing, it was the "happiest" record ever made from a guy who was never squeamish about dark matter. It's definitely a marked shift away from the morally ambiguous street lessons that made good Kid, m.A.A.d. city such a game changer. But Kendrick never wants to make the same piece of music twice; he operates on his own intuition alone, and in light of consecutive tragedies that have swept the nation, Kendrick felt he had the chance to reach his audience in a different way. Alongside a classic Isley Brothers' sample, Kendrick delivers some rare positive energy that doesn't feel sugar coated.
42. Jeezy - "Seen It All" (feat. Jay-Z)
As CTE boss, Jeezy's got a full plate, and, unfortunately, most of the attention surrounding him this year was due to a series of run-ins with law (here and here). He also had a fallout with former signee Freddie Gibbs, who hit him with a stinging diss track off his record with Madlib. In the end, Jeezy managed to clear himself of all legal trouble and put out Seen It All. The title track was a reminder that Jeezy's seen a lot more than whatever 2014 had to throw at him, and he brings in another legend to back him up. Jay and Jeezy are now atop the industry, and this ain't even their first career. However, Jeezy was lucky to find this Cardo beat in his inbox--definitely the most classical material he's produced. Supposedly Cardo meant to send the beat to Big Sean, but we doubt he's complaining. Fans of the old South are hoping that rumors of a Jeezy & T.I. collaborative album are true, so the old heads can re-assert themselves atop a city brimming with explosive young talent.
41. Audio Push - "Quick Fast" (feat. Wale)
In 2009, Audio Push taught us how to jerk and got a deal with Interscope in the process. Over five years later, they’re now the main attraction of Hit Boy’s HS87 crew and label, and they’re finally starting to blow up in a serious way. They capture all that energy on “Quick Fast,” Hit-Boy assisting on a beat filled with sprightly flutes, and a nice high-fashion verse from Wale. They've now polished their style, far more than an accessory to a fleeting dance craze. "Quick Fast" finds the Inland Empire duo, friends since middle school, quickly trading verses, sometimes singing, sometimes rapping. While it seems we can say that for anyone these days, Oktane and Price have the timing down—knowing when to sing, when to rap--when to cut each other off and when to let each other go.
40. JMSN - "Ends (Money)"
In a year where R&B started to compete with both mainstream rap and EDM for a spot in the club, JMSN gave us something a little more laid back without ever sounding out of fashion. Most guys here have few qualms about the way they use their money, but JMSN's picture is a little less clear and more true-to-life. Money's trying to compromise him every day, but he's still gotta chase it. This also serves as a welcome change of subject from the singer who often writes about his troubled lovelife. Off his new self-titled album (or Blue Album), it's just a slice of the Detroit native's ability, when it comes to both production and vocals. JMSN is a one-man show.
39. Jeremih & Shlohmo - "No More"
After LA-beatcrafter Shlohmo turned in a heavy, slightly club-fixed remix of “Fuck U All the Time,” the two made plans to collaborate, and they dropped a six-track EP, which Jeremih gave out for free on his birthday; no doubt this soundtrack'd some legendary b-day nookie. The solo work of each guy hits a similar mind-body state—the mind being heavily subjected to the whims of the body. The title track finds Shlohmo at his most experimental, with shrill guitars threatening to drive the beat into a frenzy. If "Bo Peep" was foreplay, this is the climax. Through all the noise, Jeremih breathlessly finds his way, vulnerable and fearless at the same time. We unfortunately didn't get a full-length from Jeremih this year. He did happen to change the album's name to Late Nights, though he could've kept it as Thumpy Johnson, and it still would've managed to sound sexy.
38. Mac Miller - "Diablo"
It's taken awhile for Mac Miller to get vetted by the industry tastemakers, perhaps longer than it should have, but this year, it looks like he's right where he wants to be. He's been on the left coast chilling hard with Odd Future and TDE, arguably the best crews out of LA. On Faces--a mixtape, mind you--guests include Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples, and Rick Ross. He's also investing just as much time in his production game, making beats under his Larry Fisherman alias. He produced almost all of the tracks on Faces, including one of our favorites, "Diablo," his beat and only his raps. He’s found his niche in the crate-digging, stoner rap facet of the underground. Though the source material isn’t too obscure on "Diablo"—Duke Ellington & John Coltrane’s “In A Sentimental Mood”—it’s still a marked shift from the trap/EDM beats that are dominating the game today. The raps are typical Mac, witty metaphors and jokes referencing Petey Pablo, Mortal Kombat, and the Mighty Ducks. He gets real on the hook, though, repeating, "Said everybody got dead homies..." Despite his easygoing feel, he's letting us know he does this for a reason.
37. Rick Ross & Jay-Z - "Movin Bass" & Alternate Version (feat. Tink)
Unfortunately, the best song off Hood Billionaire, the boss’s second, and ultimately underwhelming (next to Mastermind), album of 2014, is, for now, shrouded in drama and mystery. First things first, though: the beat is magic. If Timbaland ever signed up to make a real drug pusher’s beat, then this is it—some brainmelting frequencies whirring below an, appropriately, quick moving bass. Ross also drops two high quality verses. Jay-Z gives the hook, appropriately emphasizing the double entendre of bass/base, but we wanted more than a hook. Then there's the song’s intro, a reportedly recorded-from-jail phone call between Rozay and former Carol City Cartel boss Kenneth Williams, now locked up. While it sounds properly cinematic over Timbo's beat, the convo left us with a few questions: Why would Williams call Ross, referring to him in third-person, and praise him for staying out of jail?
Then, after Hood Billionaire dropped, Timbaland played the Breakfast Club crew another version of the song, this time with Tink, the young lady out of Chicago who Timb has huge hopes for. Timb claimed this as the OG version; Ross wasn’t happy and took sly shots on Twitter. We at HNHH prefer the Tink-featured version, which we hope, if nothing else, will give Tink the platform she needs to blow up in 2015. Whatever version you feel, somewhere in the middle of all the politics there’s a banger in here.
36. Jay Rock - "Parental Advisory"
Jay Rock continues to be the low-key guy in the Black Hippy crew. Quality over quantity is the man’s mantra, and “Parental Advisory” proves he’s more than that guy with THAT verse on the Kendrick album. Without going into the many eccentricities of each Black Hippy member, Jay Rock has always been the crew's most gangster rapper in the classic sense, and he clearly welcomes the reputation. “Parental Advisory” is a localized manifesto on L.A. street life like we haven’t heard since the 90s. Maybe that’s because the beat, crafted by SmokeyGotBeatz, contains not one, but two samples off Doggstyle (“Tha Shiznit” and “Pump Pump”). It's no one-off, though, and we expect Snoop would give it tha blessing. As the L.A. revival has pushed some brand new sounds in the mainframe, this reminds us why we fucked with the West in the first place.
35. Mick Jenkins - "Dehydration"
The Water(s) was without a doubt one of the best mixtapes of the year (just wait and see where we place it on our Hottest Mixtapes list next week...). Mick has a direct, aggressive flow that lands him somewhere between D.I.T.C. and Wu-Tang. His sound is definitely more 90s than most of what’s out there right now, but at the same time it's still modern. His aggression might be fueled by the evilness of Chicago drill, but his content and unrelenting quickness put him in a league of his own. Over a cerebral, and, properly, aqueous beat courtesy of DJ Dahi, Mick gives us an unflinching look at the unescapable grasp of street life on Chicago's South Side.
34. PartyNextDoor - "Don't Worry" (feat. Ca$h Out)
As the first signee to Drake’s OVO imprint, which made some huge moves in 2014 with the Toronto GTA on its back, there's definitely some pressure on PartyNextDoor. Luckily, he showed us he has the productivity to run with his mentor, releasing his second self-titled mixtape and then randomly dropping four free songs on his soundcloud. "Don't Worry," featuring Atlanta rapper Ca$h Out, was our favorite of the bunch. We know he can sing like the Weeknd, but "Don't Worry" has him yapping and rapping like Young Thug, albeit a tad less berserk, alongside a somewhat surprising guest spot. Over another Cardo beat, PND nicely adapts to the trap game. By bringing in guys like Makonnen, Drake definitely wants to add some Southern sound to his already excellent Canuck roster, and this proves the combination works just fine.
33. Tyga - "40 Mill"
Tyga's drama with Cash Money might have been overshadowed by Wayne's, but he, too, felt trapped with the label, who were supposedly stunting a project that he's been sitting on for a long time now. It now looks like he's going to release The Gold Album independently. Though the promo campaign hasn't exactly been smooth, it's going to be on everyone's radar after "40 Mill." If anything's gonna come of Tyga hanging around with the younger Kardashian ladies, let's hope it keeps him on good working terms with Kanye West-- cuz this beat is a real prize. You can hear in Tyga's voice: he's sick of the bullshit. Now someone hand him 40 Mill.
32. Ty Dolla $ign - Stand For
With "Paranoid" already one of the biggest tracks of 2013, Ty's inclusion among the XXL Freshman, really, came a year too late. Even so, some still griped with the fact that Ty isn't, exactly, a rapper, on a list of artists that are "supposed" to be rappers. Ty himself would say he leans more R&B. And he'd say that two distinct genres have never existed in isolation of each other, and the fact that R&B rhythms have become a driving pulse in hip-hop is a natural development in the mainstream sound. Certainly a few others on this list would agree. Still, Ty's sound is new and he hasn't even released an album yet. His debut EP, last year's Beach House, was highly successful but featured multiple rappers on almost every track. He's been everywhere this year, but mainly as the hook man on club-heavy bedroom jams.
With that in mind, "Stand For" is highly encouraging. He ditches all sex talk for a heartfelt solo salute to the streets. And he does it over a refreshingly uplifting beat, co-produced by Diplo and DJ Dahi. Dahi's had a massive year, and Diplo, the Mad Decent boss, continues to straddle the line between the EDM and hip-hop worlds. It's hard to know who's responsible for what, but the track features a beautifully distorted song cry that's sure to get the feels flowing. Amidst so much tragedy this year, many rappers have attempted to address and unite the streets as a whole. For good reason, these songs often come from a place of anger. Not so much on "Stand For"; it never sounds political at all. If you're a stand up guy, or girl, Ty's gonna stand up for ya--a salute to anybody who's keeping his head up. Ty can make big statements on his own, and we hope to see more of this on the forthcoming Free TC.
31. Boogie - "Bitter Raps"
Boogie didn't exactly blow up in 2014, but he surely made an impression on anyone who was lucky enough to discover his debut mixtape Thirst 48. He's got the the half-singing, slow rapping, instinctual spoken word style that's en vogue these days, oft compared to Chance the Rapper. But the 24-year-old single father from Long Beach has a nasally voice that's all his own, and "Bitter Raps" is his most definitive statement, and the track that spread the furthest off Thirst 48. "There's a thin line between opinions and bitterness," he says as the song begins, and Boogie has plenty of opinions. This is a thirsty generation we live in, and he, with refreshing self-awareness, knows he's a part of it. He's prone to flexing for some ratchets, geeking for likes on Instagram--like all of us--but he knows he shouldn't be bragging about it. That's not what he's chasing, so fuck anyone salivating over some fake status. This is a dose of realness, and who cares if it's bitter? Smoke it up.
30. TeeFlii - "24 Hours" (feat. 2 Chainz)
The first of the Mustard onslaught; not much else to say here. Yes, it's an incredibly catchy club smash, and, yes, it's covered in Mustard. This may be Mustard's most generic beat of the many he may or may not have on this list, and he probably made it in all of 10 minutes. But nobody's denying it's a hit. TeeFlii has been buzzing out West for a minute, with prior collabs with LA's best, from Snoop to YG, but, really, it's his Mustard-accredited productions that have put him on the map. He's got a croon like Jeremih, a little less sexy but a little more grit. And, like Jeremih, and fellow Angelino Ty Dolla $ign, he's part of the new school of sex-crazed R&B singers that can turn the club up as high as any purebred rapper. Though a Mustard hit on all fronts this year, his biggest influence came as he took over this trend, leaning more towards R&B--or, more appropriately, "ratchet & blues." If ratchet & blues ain't your thing, stay for the always entertaining 2 Chainz guest spot.
29. Riff Raff - "Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdins"
If you haven't "gotten" Riff Raff yet, it's probably too late: the man inhabits another planet. But be careful to dismiss it all as a shtick. Jody Highroller has been steadily solidifying his status for a few years now, and if the haters haven't dragged him down yet, there's no hope for them in the future. His debut album Neon Icon was a carefully painted picture of the totally absurd, yet always alluring neon-tinted world of Riff Raff. And it boasts production from Diplo to Mustard, and features from Mac Miller to Slim Thug. "Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdins" inspired endless Vines, but we came back for more (with one of the most entertaining videos of the year) because of Raff's authenticity--he really does tip toe through life at a different speed than the rest of us, going places we can never dream of going.
28. Migos - "Fight Night"
In 2014, Migos proved they were more than the three-headed ATLien spokesmen for their favorite three-syllabled high-fashion brand. We were further introduced to each of the Migoasians and their unique skillsets. They released two high-quality tapes this year, No Label 2 and Rich Nigga Timeline, and both tapes only had a couple of guest spots. "Fight Night" was this year's "Versace" and it was bigger in every way. Though the iconic hook connects the attack to TKOing the pussy, the song isn't about sex. It doesn't have to be about anything: it's the ultimate embodiment of the Migos three-headed attack-- Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset trading blows, rattling off bars like bullets, back-to-back-to-back. Among the three of them, Migos has enough personality to keep going without any co-signs. And "Fight Night" feels like they've got endless energy to match. Migos couldn't have spawned out of anywhere other than Atlanta, but they have their sights set worldwide. As far as they are concerned, the Beatles are their only competition.
27. Nicki Minaj - "Chi Raq" (feat. Lil Herb)
Nicki isn't from Chi-city, but Chicago, and its war-torn streets, might be the only place that can match her ferocious flow on this one. Nicki plays drill sergeant, and she calls on young Lil Herb, one of the more lyrically minded up-and-comers in the drill scene, hot off the release of his excellent mixtape Welcome to Fazoland. After recycling the hook off "Kill Shit," Herb drops a monster verse, and he's proud to share his turf with Nicki, the only bitch he loves aside from his moms and sister. We’ve seen a lot of different Nicki’s this year— she’s got a different look for every month of the year, and we’ve enjoyed them all. While some fans have questioned her ascent into pop stardom, she can still, at moment's notice, bang street-level raps colder than any of the boys.
26. O.T. Genasis - "CoCo"
Most of the relatively unknown rappers who emerged scoring dominating hits this year didn't do it with subtlety, and O.T. Genasis is no exception. There's no mistaking, in the song or the video, what the drug in question is, though I suppose "CoCo" is a nice euphemism for it. And O.T.'s not just selling it: he's madly in love with it. The single also probably contains the fewest lyrics of any song on this list, and they all, half in Spanish, try to rhyme with "CoCo." No need to say, though, this ain't here for the lyrics. One thing O.T. does have is personality. "Baking soda, I got baking soda," he screams like a mafioso reverend who's tasted the Holy Ghost in his latest batch. His accents and character shifts are all over the globe. In the club this will make you feel the CoCo whether you've ever tried the stuff or not. After seeing O.T. mosh a crowd to pieces with his hit single-- apparently repeating the song four times in a row-- Busta Rhymes, now 42, signed the 27-year-old from L.A. to his label Conglomerate Records. Though, as Busta himself (and a surely CoCo'd up purple Wiz) will attest, careful not to go too hard with this one.
25. Drake - "Draft Day"
The 2014 ESPY host is now all over the sporting world, and aside from his Wildcat debut, he's having an MVP-type season. Though he's now synonymous with the Raptors, he also has an interest in non-professional college athletics. He put out "Draft Day" right before summer when analysts were evaluating the prospects of Johnny Manziel and Andrew Wiggins, who've somehow made their way into Drizzy's inner-circle. Drake remembers when he was in their position-- cuz it really wan't that long ago. And how has he fared? Better than even his friendliest critics could've imagined. Here, whether taking an unnecessary jab at Chance the Rapper or firing game at Jennifer Lawrence, all the while playfully dismissing any Jay-Z beef, Drake's got the swagger of a guy who can do whatever he wants and get away with it. He can drop non-album tracks like this on a dime and have them banging for months.
24. Travis $cott - "Don't Play" (feat. Big Sean)
Travi$ Scott has been all over the map thus far into his young career. He became an in-house producer for G.O.O.D. Music in 2012 and signed to Grand Hustle in 2013 to release his own mixtapes, rapping and producing. Owl Pharoah was one of the most innovative mixtapes of 2013, and the same can be said for this year's Days Before Rodeo. "Don't Play" preluded Days Before Rodeo as a single, and it features British alt-rock band The 1975 and a guest verse from Big Sean. Like most of $cott's productions, "Don't Play" is wildly aggressive and chillingly bleak at the same time. He had some help from Vinylz, quickly on the come up, often working alongside Boi-1da. It samples "Jesus Walks," presumably with no protest from Kanye, $cott's label boss and a mentor over the past couple of years. $cott has been compared to Kanye production-wise and in rapping style as well--Kanye with the bass range of fellow Houstonian Bun B. Though his ability to howl out the climatic hook is more akin to Thug and Quan (find them on "Mamacita"). This, alongside Big Sean, who drops one of his better verses of the year, shows he's right at home at G.O.O.D. and Grand Hustle, and anybody else that wants some serious starpower on their hands.
23. Future - Move That Dope (feat. Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino)
This is the hardest Mike WiLL beat we heard all year. Future wasn't afraid to get in touch with his feelings on Honest, but there's no mercy on "Move That Dope," and it helps that Mike pulled this beat straight from the gutter. The squelching and sputtering bass alone will have you flare your nostrils up. Future, still the most convincing trap star amongst the South's burgeoning group of sanging rappers, and Push, the only dope boy quotable, link up to make the d-boy anthem of the year. It's also got Pharrell--farreal? And a spot for Future's Freebandz associate Casino, who later got axed on the radio-version. Pharrell’s no pusher, but he's been with Push from the start, and this sounds like one of the cold-nosed Lord Willin’ productions that he had a hand in-- though he's rapping here, and we haven't heard him rap like this in a long time. The whole song is a taunt to all the d-boys who think they're hot, from two former kingpins who hit jackpot in a dangerous game, and now succeeding seamlessly in an entirely new industry. So go on young bulls, move that dope. They'll see you on the other side.
22. Shy Glizzy - "Awwsome" [+ Remix feat. A$AP Rocky & 2 Chainz]
Though Shy Glizzy released “Awwsome” at the tail-end of last year, it continued to blow up well into 2014, and it’s still hot thanks to an undeniably awwsome remix with Rocky and 2 Chainz. Shy Glizzy’s awwsome isn’t your type of awesome—unless your spirit animal is, too, a possum. He’s mean, he’s hungry, laser-eyed, always lurking in these streets. Every song that went viral this year was remixed to the point of exhaustion, but “Awwsome” was perfectly curated with big punchlines from Chainz (“I don’t like ‘em either!!”), and a worthy show-stealing rare 2014 appearance from Pretty Flacko. If you thought Glizzy struggled to find possible words that rhyme with "awwsome," then wait for Rocky to make a whole verse of it with no trouble at all.
21. Chris Brown - "Loyal" (feat. Lil Wayne & Tyga)
Chris Brown needed a hit this year. "Loyal" was actually released mid-December of last year, with both an East and West coast "version," featuring French Montana and Too $hort respectively; both versions feature the same verse from Lil Wayne. This version with Tyga, instead of either coastal rapper, which would make it onto the album, came out soon after in early 2014. X, the album, finally came out at the end of August, and while it's one of Chris's better albums, it ultimately underwhelmed as four out of its five singles had been out for almost a year. But "Loyal" kept its heat through the album release, and scored Brown a top ten hit.
It's easy to see why. Despite all the notoriety attached to his extracurriculars, "Loyal" proves Chris still has the power to be one of the biggest hitmakers in the R&B crossover game. As the beat drops, no "Mustard on the beat," hoe? It could have easily been pulled from Mustard's harddrive. In fact, it's even more soft and sugary EDM than Mustard's typical fare, lacking the typical 808 rollouts. It actually belongs to Bay Area producer Nic Nac, who wrote the song alongside Ty Dolla $ign, before it was given to Brown (for a pretty check, I'm sure). Ty and Mustard are obviously close collaborators, but it should be noted that, however prolific, Mustard's sound isn't exactly inimitable. In that sense, this beat is his closest competition all year.
It's the content that really stuck with us, though. "These hoes ain't loyal," sure... But Chris and his two Young Mula buddies don't take the stance of the betrayed-- instead they're the unavoidable targets of the adulteresses. It's the ultimate triumph of money over love. What could be more stinging than this tongue-in-cheek apology on behalf of the victors? As we all know, Chris has had his romantic troubles in the past, and, at times, has appeared visibly scarred. He just knows it's more fun on the other side. With Rihanna, yes, but recent developments show that Chris has faced loyalty issues in his most recent relationship with Karrueche Tran. Sometimes love just doesn't work your competition is in a different league.
20. Wiz Khalifa - "We Dem Boyz"
Throughout his career, at least while he's been in the mainstream eye, Wiz the stoner has often overshadowed Wiz the rapper. To be fair, his affair with marijuana has made him a lot of money, but maybe at the cost of not always being taken seriously as an artist. It hasn't helped that he had a nasty divorce in the public eye, and the media sensationalism continued with his rebound Playboy bunny. "We Dem Boyz" was the hit we already knew Wiz could produce, though we may have been overbaked since "Black and Yellow." There's plenty of weed in "We Dem Boyz," don't get us wrong, but like "Black and Yellow," it works on the streets, in the club, and on the radio. It earned a Grammy nod, which, whatever your thoughts on the Grammys, was huge for Wiz. Taylor Gang, now with Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign, and Project Pat, is now a major name in the game, and "We Dem Boyz" is a powerful statement.
19. A$AP Rocky - Multiply (feat. Juicy J)
We hadn't heard much at all from Lord Flacko, when in early October he dropped his only single of the year with basically zero warning. Though one was enough: all of his thoughts and misgivings about the game in 2014 are condensed into "Multiply." It's an ode to Pimp C, and other Southern rappers who represented the "trill" lifestyle decades ago. It helps the song starts and ends with Juicy J fiercely talking shit about the backstabbing fakes who will surely come at Rocky. This year, everyone brought lean, among other things, to their set, appropriating the Houston style with no knowledge of the culture. Flack is a longtime student of the trill game and counts on Pimp's blessing was he alive today. Rocky also credits himself and his crew with the resurgence of high fashion streetwear experimentation and feels deserves some props, if not royalties, from the proliferation of labels like Been Trill and Hood by Air. But so it goes. The reals start trends and then fakes bounce all over it until the message is lost. And in Rocky's brief absence, all trillness has been lost in translation, and he's here to set the record straight.
18. Rae Sremmurd- No Flex Zone
Brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, who make up the duo Rae Sremmurd are one of 2014's hottest commodities simply because of their age. Or the fact that they came out of nowhere and gave us two of the most memorable hooks of 2014-- yeah, now you know another song that'll most likely be elsewhere on this list...Swae Lee, with the dread-mop, is 19, Slim Jimmy, with the spiky fade, is 21, though both could pass for 14. They haven't said too much where they came from-- Tupelo, Mississippi, famously the hometown of Elvis, but apparently not always a friendly place. But they landed in the hands of Mike WiLL, and it looks like he's putting these boys on the fast-track to the big time. "No Flex Zone" was the one that blew up instantly. Rae Sremm don't look or sound a day older than they are; they use the voice cracks to their advantage-- and that youth is just what turned this three-word hook into one of the summer's biggest tunes, and an over-used hashtagged quotable.
17. Tinashe - "2 On" (feat. Schoolboy Q) [+ "2 On/Thotful" Remix feat. Drake and OB O'Brien]
2014 was Tinashe's coming out year, winning hearts and stunning critics with her debut Aquarius. Mustard curated many a R&B club smash, but Tinashe's was the most iconic, and she owns the Mustard beat better than any of her male contemporaries. Tinashe doesn't have a huge voice, but her masterful control over the instrumentals sent her way was what set her apart from any other R&B singer this year. She has all the hedonistic tendencies of ScHoolboy Q, who gets extra explicit on the feature, but with a subtlety that makes her words especially intoxicating.
Of course, this was one of the few big ones that Drake had to have a hand in. He gave Toronto its numeric nickname and introduced the world to crew mate OB O'Brien. If you're especially thotful, you should consider kicking it with the TOPSZN boys up in the Six.
16. Kevin Gates - "Out the Mud"
Kevin Gates dropped two of the most banging mixtapes of the year, By Any Means, released in back in March, and, just recently, Luca Brasi 2, the sequel to last year's incredible first installment of the Luca Brasi saga. Luca Brasi was the number one enforcer for the Corleone family in "The Godfather," a character Gates identifies with in his own life. Brasi 2 is more of the same street stories in which Gates paints himself as the unflinching, always-ready-to-die protector of his hood and his family. And he couldn't be more convincing. "Out the Mud" was the first cut off Brasi 2, released in the summer, and it was a re-introduction to the X-rated trap houses that sit atop the murder breeding ground that is Baton Rouge-- the "mud." It also was the introduction to Gates's "I Don't Get Tired" (#IDGT) 24/7 hustle mentality, which he's branding into an energy drink in the near future-- if you're trying to get on his level.
15. OG Maco - "U Guessed It"
The story goes, OG came home near-blackout one night, pissed off at the general lag of his rap career and the fact his engineer wasn’t giving him any beats. He slapped his man upside the head, told him to play him whatever he had, and started going off. The beat was very simple— call it minimal if you like— a creepily childish piano melody, with some hi-hats that occasionally slither underneath. And it was the perfect backdrop to O.G.’s sudden fits of rage. We’ve heard a lot of unhinged improvising this year—especially in ATL— but none quite as wild as Maco. The most memorable is the title line— “Bitch U Guessed It!,” which he yells with varying degrees of shrillness throughout the song. You thought O.G. was a monster? You guessed right.
14. T.I. & Young Thug - "About the Money"
Thug was on too many features to count this year-- yes, he was everywhere, but it made it difficult to critique his output as a whole. His best all year was on "About the Money," also the best song off Paperwork. T.I. does his thing, no doubt, but Thugga starts the track and makes it his own immediately. And the best part is the magic he creates on the hook: "I pack an 11, I pack an 11" sounds like the grooviest thing anyone's ever done. This is also London On Da Track's biggest feature, aside from Rich Gang at least. Where many of the beats on Tha Tour showcased his artillery in the trap game, "About the Money" is a dizzyingly glamorous production glazed in Southern charm, and T.I. & Thug dance over it like true Southern gentlemen, the footwear Giuseppe, of course. If the OGs and the new prodigies continue to collab like this, Atlanta will become untouchable.
13. Jeremih - "Don't Tell 'Em" (feat. YG)
Late Nights didn't come this year, and the release date for 2015 isn't clear. Jeremih, who now hasn't released an official album in almost four and a half years, says he blames himself. Coincidentally, he's recently been involved in not one, but two of the year's most ridiculous run-ins with the law. Regardless, his mid-2012 mixtape Late Nights with Jeremih was a good enough prelude that there will be still be buzz around the album even if it lags another two years. Luckily, "Don't Tell 'Em," the first single released for Late Nights, showed us he still has the ability to be one of the hottest singers in the game. Not only that, it shows he can update his formula. He swoons out over one of DJ Mustard's catchiest beats to date (and that's saying something). The hook is one of the hottest of the year, and Jeremih proves he can easily take things from the bedroom to the club.
The hook is taken, and reinterpreted, by Jeremih and Mustard, from German dance group Snap!'s smash hit "Rhythm Is a Dancer." This shows that Mustard's source material often comes from the tender ravey-ness of early 90s dance music rather than from the bass-driven glitz of today's EDM. As always, a spot from a charismatic rapper is welcomed, and no one understands how to rock a Mustard beat like YG.
12. ScHoolboy Q - "Studio" (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)
On Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q unapologetically displayed the most menacing sides of his persona. He takes us from his darkest days as an addict to his unstoppable reign atop a prescription drug ring. During the good times, he's usually partying like a madman. Though the biggest hit off the record, "Studio," showcases his lesser-seen softer side. Over a sweltering 3 A.M. production from Swiff D, we get to see Q in the studio, working through the night putting the finishing touches on a blazing track. Obviously, he’s got a lady waiting for him at home. He’d be there if he could, but the beat is too damn hot to walk away. When he raps, he sounds typically naughty as he unleashes “this little verse to get you naked,” but the rest of the track finds Q singing, and he's not bad at all.
And Q’s not the only man with some blazing vocals on the track. Just as much, this serves as an introduction to BJ the Chicago Kid, who, honestly, has one of the best voices in the game. He's old school, soulful-- enough with the tropes; just know no one else can do a hook like this (and here). Watch out for the kid in 2015.
11. DeJ Loaf - "Try Me"
In 2014, one track gone viral can launch a major hip-hop career-- this isn't the first time you've seen it on this list, and it's not the last. Good or bad? We don't know, but definitely the former in the case of DeJ Loaf. The game needs her. The track proliferated after Drake quoted it on Instagram this summer; this says as much about Drake's name in the game-- a guy who's social media cosigns make hits faster than record deals. But after the track got hot, DeJ got vetted by the all the boys, especially Rich Gang, Birdman, Thug, and Quan. Shady seems to consider her, already, a part of Detroit's all-star lineup. It's lazy, but unavoidable-- with the dearth of females in the game-- let's put her alongside Nicki. Without getting too deep into the industry's gender politics (lamentable at best), for a woman to get noticed today she often has to take on a larger-than-life personality. Obviously no shade at Nicki, and a world of kudos to her bipolar genius, but don't expect DeJ to throw the boys a change-up like this. Like "Try Me," DeJ is tough but softspoken. The content and the wonderfully relaxed beat sound more 90s than anything, but her sing-rap flow is right up there with anything else Drake might cosign. Her story isn't uncommon in hip-hop-- she merely raps about her streets, her family, her crew-- all of which were plenty tough before anyone discovered her. These are the ride-along rhymes that we love, but we rarely get to hear 'em coming from females. Even if she doesn't have another hit like "Try Me," the song's success is encouraging.
10. Future- Benz Friendz (Watchutola) feat. Andre 3000
Future is an undoubtable leading influence in the ATL new school. From slick trap bangers to free-spirited confessionals, he did it all on Honest, but perhaps the biggest surprise was a throwback track with the elusive Andre Benjamin. Dre publicly praised Future as a genius, like a "hood Prince." And, Andre Benjamin just played Jimi Hendrix in his biopic. Well, now Future's calling himself Future Hendrix, so who knows who's who, but there's a lot of artistry here. Organized Noize, the legends, also gave life to their first track with "Benz Friendz" since the last Big Boi album. It plays like a tribute song to the heartbroken everyman who's holding onto what little he has. "These cars don't mean shit, These hoes don't mean shit, These clothes don't mean shit," they chant together finding a harmony that packs in 20 years of Atlanta hip-hop. This is rare subject matter for Future, but he shows he's been part of the Dungeon Fam all along. An Andre, well, where does he get this stuff? We haven't sat through a storytelling experience so genius since that verse on "International Players Anthem."
9. Rick Ross- Sanctified feat. Kanye West & Big Sean
Here's a video of DJ Mustard talking about the making of the "Sanctified" beat alongside Kanye West. The ever-prolific Mustard sent Kanye 100 or so beats, and Mustard shows us the one 'Ye handpicked. And, even played through Mustard's MacBook you can tell it's a great beat, but as he'll admit, there's a stunning disparity between the before and after. It's as if Ye needed to get a hold of what the kids were listening to, and then he turned it into the hip-hop sermon of the year-- a song, where he's basically absolving himself for his own self-worship. Somehow they managed to recruit soul legend Betty Wright to come in and open for Kanye, as well as deliver a bridge that gives the song all its Godliness. Did we mention this went on Rick Ross's Mastermind album? And Big Sean sing's one of the year's most quotable hooks, but let's be honest, Kanye is the Mastermind here.
8. Rich Gang - "Lifestyle"
What is Rich Gang? At first we thought it was the joint venture of Young Money and Cash Money (also YMCMB), with an extensive and varying roster. The next installment of Rich Gang was “Lifestyle,” which featured Atlanta’s two hottest young guns, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, and Birdman somewhere behind it all. “Lifestyle,” is the lead single off the upcoming second official Rich Gang album, which we hope to see in 2015. After “Lifestyle,” the duo came together and put out a highly-acclaimed mixtape, and they’re synonymous with the name now. They’re the strangest thing we’ve seen hit the mainstream in a long time, but every one of their syllables, audible or not, is 100% honest. Quan has posited the duo as the new OutKast. After one mixtape, it's too early to tell, but there’s no one else in the conversation.
And don't forget about another essential piece to this puzzle: young London On Da Track, who has produced every track for Thug and Quan, and is very much under Birdman's close mentorship. And here he crafts a beat so smooth it hurts. Birdman finally speaks as the Gang disappears into the sunset, "Sitting in the middle of this ocean--Pacific that is...popping that GTV." And it's all for his momma.
7. YG - "Who Do You Love?" (feat. Drake)
On the year’s best West Coast albums, “Who Do You Love?” feels properly Bompton— with one of Mustard’s coldest, g-funk laden beats, the skits at the end, the reference to "Juice," at the end of YG’s first verse. YG actually got the inspiration, and the chorus, from a Lil Boosie song of the same name. And he throws us for another spin by sharing the track with Drizzy. The Six God takes the opening line, and the whole motion of his verse, from Bay-Area legend Rappin 4-Tay’s “Playaz Club.” But Drake took care of any foreseen drama with an easy 100K. Drizzy has made an effort lately to include gangsta rapping in his repertoire, and he makes a pretty good case here— somehow making crab rolls at Nobu sound as essential as brown-bagged 40s. Maybe this song shouldn’t work so well, but Drake, like YG, is “big on the west like I’m big in the South / So we gon’ pay some people off, we gon’ figure it out.”
6. Rae Sremmurd - "No Type"
After the summertime heat of their debut smash simmered down, the Tupelo bros came right back with "No Type," and all possibilities of one-hit wonderdam were extinguished. "No Type" was even bigger, and the hook even catchier. Like "No Flex Zone," they're taking a stand against any future impediments to their steez. They boast a proud disregard for any flexing, or, in this case, any categories that might limit the number of women they run with. In the video, the boys are just hanging out at the Santa Monica Pier, fun in the sun, looking right at home. They're here to ride this wave of positivity that's ushered them to stardom in 2014, and if you ain't with it, then your summer probably ended a month or two before Rae Sremm's did.
5. Lil Wayne "Believe Me" (feat. Drake)
This served as the first song off The Carter V, an album we're still fiendishly anticipating, but with some hesitation, knowing it might not result in a happy ending. Wayne has now come forward and apologized for the delays, admitting he's trapped in a bad situation, publicly directing some fighting words Birdman's way. Whenever it materializes, he says it's going to be his last. What happens next isn’t clear. For our selfish ears we hope he gets it off as soon as possible, but in the interim, we have a handful of singles purporting that the "old Wayne" is back. On one of two singles with both Weezy and Drake, "Believe Me," there’s no compromise. He's still got Young Money. With Drake’s rise to the top of the game, it’s almost like the public wants tension with his former mentor. They channeled this into Drake Vs Wayne tour, and competing with each other only served to make them both bigger. They go toe-to-toe on "Believe Me" with chilling production from buzzing Vinylz and Young Money elite Boi-1da.
4. Big Sean - "IDWFU" (feat. E-40)
You can’t go through a highly publicized breakup, make the breakup song of the year, and claim it wasn’t personal. Sean was right, though, that 2014 was a breakup year. Big Sean and "Glee" actress Naya Rivera called off their engagement earlier this year, and if it slowed Sean down, he wanted to let his stance be known (although he does say he recorded this song while he was still with Naya). Kanye and DJ Mustard come together for one of two highly successful collaborations. DJ Dahi and Key Wayne --not far behind talent-wise-- are both here, too. What results is 70% fuck-up-the-club, 30% teenage heartbreak, 100% masterpiece. This track has all the typical Kanye theatrics. E-40, who knows the game all too well, goes hyphy, aiding Sean Don with some classical pimp instruction. Sean, quite the ladies man, has already attracted the relentless eye of the paparazzi. If you thought you were gonna catch him trippin, though, think again (P.S. Kanye for coach of the year).
3. iLoveMakonnen - "Tuesday (Remix)" (feat. Drake)
Wednesday morning was not happy about this. The only thing better this year than a Drake co-sign was Drake giving you an unannounced verse. And if Drake also happens to sing his entire verse, well, count your blessings. Such was the fate of iLoveMakonnen, Atlanta via L.A. soft-voiced drug-selling emo kid, who doesn't look the part--but that's the whole idea in Atlanta these days. The original was already produced by Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin, who are no strangers, but no one expected Drake to touch it. Drake and Makonnen, coming from opposite ends of the success spectrum, both get ultra sentimental singing the woes of their daily grinds. Makonnen wants some of the spotlight, and maybe Drizzy wishes he was back where Makonnen's at. Now they're both at OVO and they can meet somewhere in the middle, on a Tuesday.
2. Drake - "0 to 100/The Catch Up"
This is the culmination of Drizzy's contributions to 2014, a year where he, without releasing an album, still managed to be everywhere. This summer, Drake dropped "0 to 100/The Catch Up," a two-part song combining the best efforts of 40, Boi-1da and another OVO-affiliated producer, Nineteen85, who have, 40 especially, soudtracked Drizzy's ascent to stardom. Immediately fans wondered why this wasn't on an album. Drake clearly had some things to get off his chest and when he dropped the mic, he let this one preside over our entire summer. "0 to 100" acknowledges all his critics and "The Catch Up" has him wondering why he acknowledged them in the first place. In the end, Drake knows he's moving faster than anyone in the game, and he can't remember the last time he made a bad record. If you have something to say about him, then say it now before he changes your mind.
1. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot Nigga"
The recent events that have transpired in the past week or so have been an all-too-unfortunate end to what was a highly exciting year for hip-hop. We'd like to congratulate Bobby on winning our #1, but as his future is filled with utter uncertainty, it's tough to see this as a victory. Shmurda gave us the number one viral hit in a year full of viral hits. It's fitting that Bobby simply took a beat off the Internet, luckily, it was technically unclaimed after appearing on Lloyd Banks' mixtape. The Jahlil Beats production soon had a video with Shmurda and his boys. The video, and the #ShmoneyDance, was huge, but the song was unabashedly raw. Jahlil had no problem going back and mastering the track. Many will lampoon the 20-year-old from East Flatbush for his honesty, saying he snitched on himself. But wasn't that what made it so good? Only someone with such reckless abandon could've taken this to #1. On "Hot Nigga" Bobby didn't exactly ask for the spotlight, but that's what he got. It will be a remarkable tragedy if the recent charges signal the end of young Shmurda's career. If he manages to get lucky, maybe he'll learn something. But if his time is up, his 15 minutes of fame was about as hot as you could imagine. This was the hit of 2014, now let's bang it out a few more times in tribute.