This time last year, albums from Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, J Cole, Mac Miller and Wale—with a Jay Z album right around the corner—had already dropped, providing hip-hop heads with plenty to talk about at the halfway mark of the year. In 2014, the focus has been less on established acts bolstering their resumes—though Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, The Roots and Tech N9ne have all submitted solid efforts—and more on a new crop of talent staking their claims for the throne. ScHoolboy Q, YG, Sage The Gemini, Iggy Azalea, August Alsina and Kid Ink all dropped their major label debuts, lending a distinctly West Coast flavor to the offerings, while Ab-Soul, RiFF RAFF, Iamsu! and G-Eazy all released the biggest projects of their careers so far. We've even seen some veterans make strong returns, with Mobb Deep, Onyx and Pharoahe Monch all commanding attention.

With so much fresh material coming out of the speakers this year so far, it's time to take a measure of what we've heard at the halfway mark. Here is XXL's top 25 albums of the first half of 2014.—Dan Rys, Eric Diep, Emmanuel C.M., Miranda Johnson, Jeffrey Whaley And Rachel Chesbrough