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The 25 Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2014 (So Far)

mastermind-cover

Rick Ross, Mastermind

Rick Ross’ sixth studio album Mastermind is much stronger than its predecessor, God Forgives, I Don’t, both sonically and lyrically. Mastermind gives fans a better understanding of what it means to have a target on your back 24/7. We get what we love about Ross—mafioso raps that makes you feel like you’re Pablo Escobar (“War Ready, “Devil Is A Lie,” “What A Shame”)—but there’s also a great influx of The Bawse sharing tales of morality, survival and vulnerability (“Blessing In Disguise,” “Paradise Lost”). The outstanding guest features (Lil Wayne on “Thug Cry,” The Weeknd on “In Vein,” and Kanye West and Big Sean on “Sanctified”) and Ross’ penchant for picking plush beats mixed with his Kingpin lyrics makes Mastermind an enjoyable album that stands alongside the rest of his catalog. —ECM

Riff Raff , Neon Icon

Riff Raff, Neon Icon

Riff Raff is one of hip-hop’s most polarizing figures, but his debut album Neon Icon clarifies his oft-debated place in the game—the man is here to have fun, period. Riff Raff is aware of himself, as evidenced by his clever intro that parodies the Bro you take him and his fans for. He winks at your disapproval and then proceeds to throw a 49-minute audio party that you’ll desperately want to join.

The album is executive produced by Diplo, so it’s unsurprisingly carried by an electronic current, but generous blends of old school nostalgia, trendy trap, poppy melodies, and even country provide a level of diversity that stands defiantly in the face preconceived predictions. You can practically hear the fluttering of a stack of cash being thumbed through as Neon Icon plays; the album is curated with the singular goal of making a hit stick with a large audience, and the amount of money invested to do so is obvious. The lead single “How To Be The Man” is a prime example of that intention, as DJ Mustard produced a less-is-more beat with Riff Raff spitting his trademark more-is-more content. He stays in a self-created lane of hyperbole, painting vivid and cartoonish pictures of technicolored opulence.—RC

schoolboy-q-OXYMORON-deluxe

ScHoolboy Q, Oxymoron

TDE has been one of hip-hop’s fastest growing movements since the success of Kendrick Lamar’s debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city. Following that up was ScHoolboy Q’s own major label debut, Oxymoron, which dropped in February and landed the label its first No. 1 album. Thanks to production from Digi+Phonics, Pharrell, Swiff D, The Alchemist and more, Oxymoron stands on its own two feet all while displaying a mean, gritty style of gangsta rap on songs like “What They Want,” “The Purge” and “Break The Bank.” It also sets the pace of the album with chill vibes on songs like “Collard Greens,” “Studio,” and “Man Of The Year.” Q’s no longer up next, he’s already here.—JW

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Skyzoo & Torae, Barrel Brothers

Barrel Brothers is made for running around in Brooklyn. Inspired by a fan who accidentally wrote that Skyzoo and Torae were putting out a collaborative album on Wikipedia, the two thought it was actually a pretty good idea and went right to work. Capturing the essence and sounds of New York hip-hop, the duo put their lyrical skills to the forefront over stellar production. It’s an interesting take on the city’s origins; whether the prideful “Blue Yankee Fitted” or “The Aura” restores “the feeling” for you, the LP as a whole has quickly become a fan favorite.—ED

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