This past year has been many things: a rejuvenation for the West Coast, another major year for Atlanta and a coronation of sorts for DJ Mustard. But across the board, sentiment has been that 2014 was a down year for hip-hop. But that doesn't mean that there wasn't still great rap music that was made. The beginning of the year saw the mainstream success of Kid Ink and ScHoolboy Q and the street rap brilliance of YG and Freddie Gibbs; the middle of the year saw Common lay down the law and Jeezy lay it all out, while the end of the year was packed with big albums from J. Cole and Nicki Minaj, to name a few. So when it came time to pick the best hip-hop albums of the year, it was a tough decision, to say the least. From Run The Jewels to Ghostface, Rick Ross to T.I., here are XXL's 14 best albums for 2014, ordered by release date. —Dan Rys, Emmanuel C.M., Miranda J. and Roger Krastz

Related: The 25 Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2014 (So Far)
The 25 Best Albums Of 2013
XXL Lists The Best Hip-Hop Songs And Albums Of The Last 40 Years 

best albums 2014 kid ink my own lane

My Own Lane
Kid Ink
Label: RCA
Release Date: Jan. 7

Kid Ink secured his spot in the game with his first major label studio LP, My Own Lane. The album’s catchy hooks and high-end features not only showed off the L.A. rapper’s growth but also put a spotlight on the project that was not present with his last indie project, Up & Away. Standout tracks from the effort include the Chris Brown-assisted “Show Me” and “Main Chick,” which both rocked radio airways for the majority of 2014. With this album Kid Ink proved he wasn't going anywhere but up. —Miranda J

Schoolboy Q oxymoron

ScHoolboy Q
Label: Interscope/TDE
Release Date: Feb. 25

The long-awaited major label debut from Q became TDE's first No. 1 album, and the West Coast MC brought back a tougher edge to music with the release. Bona fide hits like "Collard Greens," "Man Of The Year" and "Studio" helped give the album a long shelf life, but the deeper cuts, such as "Los Awesome" and "Prescription/Oxymoron," as well as bonus cut "Grooveline Pt. 2" with Suga Free are what make this LP better than the sum of its singles. —DR

best albums 2014 rick ross mastermind

Rick Ross
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: Mar. 3

Rick Ross released two albums this year—the second being Hood Billionaire which dropped in November—but this one, his sixth studio LP, was far and away the better project. Tracks like "The Devil Is A Lie" with Jay Z were massive, while "War Ready" was both a towering song and the official end of Rozay's beef with Jeezy. But while the album is cohesive all the way through and an addictive listen, the real gem is "Sanctified," the Kanye West and Big Sean-assisted cut that shimmers and shines in a way that affects the entire project. It's a strong album from Ross, though the followup wasn't really necessary. —DR

best albums 2014 freddie gibbs madlib

Freddie Gibbs And Madlib
Label: Madlib Invazion
Release Date: Mar. 18

Pairing Freddie Gibbs’ hood stories over Madlib’s sample heavy production for Piñata was unexpectedly brilliant. The two artists—who were thought to be from two very different spectrums of hip-hop—made a beautiful combination. Gibbs’ Midwest drawl meshed perfectly over crisp soulful beats by the critically acclaimed hip-hop producer. Piñata is so lush, listeners may confuse it as the soundtrack to Soul Train’s Greatest Hits rather than a street, gangsta rap album. Either way, it’s an LP that can be played from front to back without any skips. —Emmanuel C.M.

best albums 2014 yg my krazy life

My Krazy Life
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: Mar. 18

After the breakout success of "My Nigga" last summer, YG's Def Jam debut, five years in the making, was bound to be a major event. When the album came, almost entirely produced by DJ Mustard, it immediately affected the sound of 2014, bringing YG's West Coast slang and flow and Mustard's patented bounce to the mainstream. It's hard to underestimate the affect of My Krazy Life, as it kicked off a hugely successful year for the Bompton MC. The fact that it didn't even get nominated for a Grammy is criminal, to say the least. —DR

Common nobody smiling anticipated albums

Nobody's Smiling
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: July 22

With the violence and crime rate in Chicago rising, Common put his thoughts on wax for Nobody Smiling. Throughout the album, the hip-hop vet looks back at the place that he came from, opening dialogue on the problems that are corrupting Chi-town. What’s enjoyable to see is the young new upstarts from the Windy City who are featured on album—Lil Herb and Dreezy—step up to the plate and deliver. The social commentary on inner city struggles was needed and applicable to many situations in the U.S., making the album bigger than its 41 minutes. —ECM

cover art 2014 worst jeezy illuminati albums

Seen It All
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: Sept. 2

Jeezy's first album in three years is his most honest work in the past six, easily. Seen It All unfolded like a book, with Jeezy laying out his story with more clarity and cohesion than much of his recent work. Tightly crafted at 12 tracks and tasteful with the features—Jay Z, Boosie, Game, Rick Ross, Akon and Future—Jeezy's dedication to his street tales and insanely catchy hooks made this one of the best albums of the year by far. Between "Me OK," "Seen It All," "Holy Ghost," "Beez Like" and the rest, each track has its own character and its own appeal. Maybe the album's biggest win is its sequencing, with each song flowing effortlessly into the next. —DR

best albums 2014 logic under pressure

Under Pressure
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: Oct. 21

Logic’s debut album Under Pressure was a statement for the former XXL Freshman. While his Young Sinatra mixtape series already displayed the Maryland native’s lyrical prowess, Under Pressure exhibited his storytelling abilities. The LP dives into who the mixed race MC is as a person right now and, more poignantly, his family’s tumultuous history. With No I.D. serving as the executive producer, the lyrically gifted rapper is a diamond in the rough. —ECM

t.i. paperwork best albums

Label: Columbia
Release Date: Oct. 21

T.I. rarely disappoints, and from beginning to end he put together another album full of bangers for his ninth studio LP. "No Mediocre" and "About The Money" may have been the big hits, but Paperwork is rich with textures, from the Down South grit of "G Shit" to the sultry smoothness of the title track to the ambitious heights of "New National Anthem." Tip mined a slew of different styles for the album, and it paid off with a body of work that both reflects how far he's come in his career and the current state of the hip-hop world. Always on point. —DR

best albums 2014 run the jewels 2

Run The Jewels 2
Run The Jewels
Label: Mass Appeal
Release Date: Oct. 24

It's hard to overstate the importance of what Killer Mike and El-P brought to the hip-hop world and music at large when they dropped Run The Jewels 2 at the end of October. With the country embroiled in racial unrest following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police, Mike and El came through with a powerful, thoughtful tour de force of an album that was as lyrically tight as it was forcefully crafted. Is there a better duo in hip-hop operating right now? Not one making the impact that Run The Jewels has in 2014. —DR

best albums 2014 ghostface 36 seasons

36 Seasons
Ghostface Killah
Label: Tommy Boy
Release Date: Dec. 9

When it comes to constantly delivering solid projects, Ghostface can always be counted on. His 2014 release, 36 Seasons—coming just a week after Wu-Tang's group LP A Better Tomorrow—is an outstanding conceptual album that is inspired by the 1970's with its production, and features a narrative of Tony Starks fighting through the evils that have invaded his beloved Staten Island. The comic book-esque approach is tastefully done by Ghost, and his features fit perfectly with the concept of the project. Starks outdoes himself once again with this cohesive LP. —Roger Krastz

j cole 2014 forest hills drive best albums

2014 Forest Hills Drive
J. Cole
Label: Columbia
Release Date: Dec. 9

J. Cole scored 2014's top-selling album of the year with his unexpected effort, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Bestowing his long-awaited third studio LP upon fans sans marketing or any promotion, with this project it was evident that Cole had one focus, and that was the music. The album's rich lyrics and thought-provoking tracks like "January 28th" and "No Role Modelz" also serve up a sense of relief for listeners, as the project points out the smoke of all the problems long swept under the rug in the music industry. Targeting everything from race issues to the gloryifyng of unjust women in entertainment, the album's different concepts certainly raised Cole a few spots higher in the arena of hip-hop. —MJ

best albums 2014 prhyme

Label: PRhyme Records (Self-Released)
Release Date: Dec. 9

Delivering one of the strongest albums in 2014, Royce Da 5'9" and DJ Premier satisfied hip-hop fans with their debut LP, PRhyme. From the production to the lyrics there's no denying that the chemistry between Primo and Royce is outstanding and first-rate. The duo enlists the help of a great supporting cast of MC's for features and also adds the magnificent touch of composer Adrian Younge for the project. All around, the 35-minute album exemplifies the true meaning of hip-hop. —RK

cover art 2014 best nicki minaj best albums

The Pinkprint
Nicki Minaj
Label: Young Money/Cash Money/Republic
Release Date: Dec. 15

With Nicki Minaj’s third stuido LP, the YMCMB rapstress took it back to her hip-hop roots, and apparently everyone loved it. Moving 244,000 units in its first week, the album swooped in as hip-hop’s second highest selling LP of 2014. Aside from returning to her core with the effort, on the album Nicki also shows off a side of herself that fans had not yet seen. The ordinarily private MC speaks on everything from the depth of her breakup with longtime boyfriend Safaree Samuels to dealing with the death of a family member. As there is an unseen openness and an inarguable rundown of her accolades on tracks like “Want Some More,” after listening to this LP, Nicki undoubtedly raises questions as to why she is not regarded as one of the greatest. —MJ

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