We’re almost a week into 2015 and it’s already looking like a much more promising year for music. With upcoming albums from Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Kanye and A$AP Rocky to name a few, it’s arguably going to be a better year than 2014. But before we move forward and discredit 2014’s musical releases completely, we should take time to acknowledge those that were noteworthy. Although 2014 wasn’t a big statement year for already established acts, we were introduced to some new artists that we can’t help but take the time to honor. Take a last look at 2014 and check out our Top 25 Hip-Hop Projects below.

25. Ratking – So It Goes


Though New York’s hip-hop scene has seemed almost over-saturated lately, Ratking was able to distinguish themselves amongst the pack by injecting the game with their rowdy and rebellious sound. So It Goes paints the vision of the trio’s surroundings—particularly New York City and rap—almost giving off a nostalgic sound at times. The album may be hard to take in as there’s no cohesive sound throughout; however, with records like “So Sick Stories” featuring King Krule and “So It Goes,” it’s hard to deny this album as a standout of 2014. – Djordje G.

Notable Tracks: So Sick Stories, So It Goes, Canal

24. Logic – Under Pressure


Logic‘s Young Sinatra mixtape series was perhaps one of the most impressive to come out in recent memory, and I would be lying if his album wasn’t a bit of a disappointment comparatively. With that being said, the young DMV rapsmith certainly proved via his debut album Under Pressure, that his talent is deeper than one may have thought. Sure, Under Pressure is a little heavy on the superficial brags, but there are moments when it shines (the title track, “Under Pressure,” for example), and in a down year for hip-hop, Logic easily grabs a spot on the list. His flow is immaculate, but under the surface, there just doesn’t appear to be much going on in Under Pressure. Regardless, it’s worth a listen or two, and perhaps you’ll be more connected to it than I was. Logic has one of the most vibrant and eager fan-bases of anyone on this list, so there must be something to his music—it just takes a little searching to find it. – Boswell H.

Notable Tracks: Under Pressure, Buried Alive, Soul Food

23. Ro Ransom – Ro Ransom Is The Future


Ro Ransom returned to us in 2014 with a new project aptly titled Ro Ransom Is The Future. A bold statement, yet one that was backed well, as the project held its own and lived up to the title. Offering not one, but two discs full of music by himself and his S-Rank companions Jayex and RobGotBeats, Ro gave us an entirely new side of New York (or Deadman Wonderland, as he calls it) that hasn’t been heard before. – Djordje G.

Notable Tracks: Jayex Let The Beat Build, See You There, Nightfall

22. Young Jeezy – Seen It All: The Autobiography


On his latest album Seen It All: The Autobiography, Jeezy brings it back to his street roots to tell the story of his childhood. The Atlanta rap vet sounds reinvigorated on songs like “Black Eskimo” and “Holy Ghost” in a way that brings us back to The Recession. Plus, any time we get a guest appearance from a motivated Jay Z, it’s always appreciated. While this album is not top of our list, Seen It All remained in heavy rotation since its release and is a strong effort from Jeezy. – Brad W.

Notable Tracks: Seen It All, Black Eskimo, Holy Ghost

21. Kevin Abstract – MTV1987


Kevin Abstract was a name I had to get familiar with after seeing it pop up continuously every time I logged online. The 18 year-old artist hailing from Corpus Christie, TX dropped his highly acclaimed project MTV1987 earlier this summer but it wasn’t until late August that I caught wave of it. His music speaks volumes to a generation that grew up with the Internet at hand, citing the positive and negative effects it has had on his growth and worldly views. The project has Kevin experimenting with sounds, acting as both a rapper and singer, while flowing on the synth-driven production handled entirely by Romil. The album was a bold introduction and placed him as one of our favorite new artists of 2014. – Djordje G.

Notable Tracks: Drugs, 27, Hell/Heroina, Tame Cab

20. Your Old Droog – Your Old Droog


Your Old Droog sounds so much like Nas that, for a while, internet conspiracy theorists ran with the idea that he was the legendary Queensbridge emcee under a secret name. Well, as it turned out, Your Old Droog is not Nas—he’s a 25-year-old Coney Island native with eerily similar cadence and raspy voice inflection. Frankly, though, the God’s Son comparison is unfair. While the two are alike, let’s all chill out for a minute; Nas is a legend, 20 years into the game, and Your Old Droog is brand spankin’ new. Plus, it’s important to let Droog separate himself and become his own entity. That’s not to say the kid can’t spit. In fact, quite the opposite—Droog maneuvers through jazzy, loop-heavy, 90s-esque instrumentals on his self-titled LP like a coupe through traffic, dropping obscure references and witty punch lines at warp speed. A rapper’s ability to switch flows is crucial, and Droog’s knack for moving in and out of the pocket of the beat is truly special.

The entertainment level is high throughout Your Old Droog LP. The nearly 70 minutes of music are littered with clever one-liners and obscure NBA references. However, Droog’s best asset may very well be his storytelling ability. The one knock is that the album’s production will feel a bit outdated to the average listener, but clearly, that’s not who Droog is making his music for. – Eli S.

Notable Tracks: Nutty BarsDroog’s Anthem, U47

19. Raury – Indigo Child


Possibly one of 2014’s most peculiar artists to arise is ATLien Raury. He himself classifies his music as “different,” and after one listen to his project Indigo Child, I’m sure you’d agree. With this debut he seemed to prove his worth, as he is no stranger to success, having already landed a deal with Columbia Records and held a secret meeting with Kanye all prior to the release of this project. His combination of pop-esque singing and raps caught our ears early and earned him a rightful spot on our list of top projects. – Djordje G.

Notable Tracks: Cigarette Song, God’s Whisper, Chariots of Fire, Armor

18. PartyNextDoor – PartyNextDoor 2


Jahron Brathwaite, better known as PartyNextDoor, delivered his sophomore album titled PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO in late July. This album served as a follow-up to his widely successful eponymous self-titled debut album. However, PND2 takes a slightly different approach lyrically, as Brathwaite seems to be more focused on a particular girl in his songs, in contrast to his debut project where he was speaking from a more braggadocios, alpha male perspective. PND still delivers crass and suggestive lines that we became accustomed to in the previous album; they just seemed to come from a more sensitive place. The instrumentals, entirely self-produced, are the project’s strongsuit. The production is extremely clean and it progresses nicely from song to song. You even see PND flip the wildly successful “Latch” record to make a more subdued love song, titled “Sex On The Beach.” The standout track on this project comes when PND links up with fellow Toronto native and OVO affiliate, Drake, for “Recognize.” This album comes up a bit short of the bar that was set by his debut project, but it definitely still impresses. It was a refreshing change of pace in the middle of the summer that certainly appeals to the R&B fan as well as rap enthusiasts. – Ryan W.

Notable Tracks: Sex On The Beach, Recognize, Belong To The City

17. Lil Herb – Welcome to Fazoland


Lil Herb (AKA G Herbo), a South side, Chicago native, blessed us with Welcome to Fazoland early on in the year. This was Herb’s debut project, which had garnered quite a build-up in the months prior to its release. This is in part due to the release of Free Crack by Lil Bibby, Herbo’s friend and frequent collaborator, which he guest featured on several songs. The tape describes life on Chicago’s South side from the perspective of Lil Herb and his clique. It touches on gritty issues such as gun violence, gangs and poverty that plague his area of the city, all in a more lyrical manner than other Chicago drill artists. Most of the production is done by fellow Chicagoans DJ L and Da Internz, as well as Honorable CNote, Showtime, DJ Kenn, and more. Herb handles the fast-paced, bass-heavy, traditional “drill” beats quite well, while also showing versatility to handle slower, more soulful beats on his more introspective tracks such as “Mama I’m Sorry” and “Still Fucked Up.” This is a solid tape that impressed me more than any other drill project of the year, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t already peeped. – Ryan W.

Notable Tracks: Mama I’m SorryOn My Soul, On The Corner

16. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait


The West Coast has certainly enjoyed a resurgence over the past couple of years, and it was only a matter of time before Long Beach emcee Vince Staples got his turn to shine. It’s arguable that he had one of the strongest 2014 campaigns with his free mixtape Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 and of course, his first retail release, the gem of an EP Hell Can Wait. With vivid pictures painted in his verses combined with a sharp tongue to portray his point of view, Vince brings the feel of gritty gangster rap that NWA paved the way with. Although the project was a short one, the Def Jam artist left a powerful impression on the industry and put it on its toes to see what he has in store for his full-length debut. – Steven V.

Notable Tracks: Screen Door, Hands Up, Blue Suede

15. Saba – Comfort Zone


While Saba is probably one of the lesser-known emcees on this list, his sophomore mixtape ComfortZone was quietly one of the best to come out this year. Hailing from Chicago’s West side, Saba blends complex production with on-point features to make ComfortZone not only an artistic feat, but an accessible one at that. One doesn’t have to be a hip-hop head to enjoy ComfortZone—and that’s exactly where it shines. While the important aspects such as catchy hooks (“Burnout”) and poignant lyricism (“Scum”) are present, there really is a little bit of something for any musical listener on this tape. Combine that with Saba’s rigorous live show schedule over 2014, and the future looks very, very bright for Saba indeed. All it takes is one listen of ComfortZone to see this kid’s potential, but by listen number three, you’ll believe that he is destined for the national spotlight. – Boswell H.

Notable Tracks: Butter, Burnout, Scum

14. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica


Cadillactica reminds us why we have been fans of Big K.R.I.T. since the beginning. Though he has struggled to achieve the same southern Cadillac sound on his major label releases (that he achieved without sample clearances on his mixtapes Return of 4eva and 4eva N a Day), fans woke up when he delivered the best “Control” response yet in “Mt. Olympus.” Holistically, Cadillactica describes the creation of the planet where the Cadillac from his first album cover came from. The music parallels this by bringing fans to his world. Songs like “King of the South,” “My Sub Pt. III,” and “Soul Food” deserve repeated listens. – Brad W.

Notable Tracks: Mt. Olympus, King of the South, Soul Food

13. Childish Gambino – Kauai / STN MTN


This past fall, Childish Gambino enlisted the aid of DJ Drama and released an homage to Atlanta from the not too distant past. The sound is bold and explorative, as Gambino blends a myriad of flows over some of ATL’s hottest hip-hop beats from the past 10 or so years. Following the trend we have seen in his last few projects, STN MTN / Kauai EP runs to the tune of an overarching theme. This dream of an old Atlanta is an immersive, entertaining listen with a sublime vibe of new and familiar, and deservingly snags a spot on our Top Projects of 2014 List. – Jordan S.

Notable Tracks: Dream/Southern Hospitality/Patna Dem, Move That Dope/Nextel Chirp/Let Your Hair Blow, All Yall 

12. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata


The quintessential gangster rap album. That is basically what Freddie Gibbs and Madlib created with Piñata and, as a result, it’s arguably an instant classic. Gibbs is in absolute top form throughout the album with intricate verses that perfectly complement the dreamy, weird soundscapes Madlib is known for. They aimed to create a gangster film on wax and it is safe to say they delivered. The old school vibe is undeniable and, had it been released later in the year, it probably would have topped more year-end lists. Either way, it was worth the wait and Gangsta Gibbs showed that he still runs gangsta rap. – Steven V.

Notable Tracks: Harold’s, Bomb, Thuggin

11. Future – Honest


Future is one of the more polarizing figures in hip-hop. Fans praise him for his catchy, auto-tuned hooks and knack for choosing banging beats, while detractors often point to his lack of content. UPC errs on the side of the former group, and, as a result, the Atlanta crooner’s second studio album Honest lands at number eleven on our list. The 18-track project contains plenty of solid records to ride to, including hit single “Move That Dope” featuring Pusha T and Pharrell. “Look Ahead” and “Benz Friendz” featuring Andre 3000 are other standout songs.

Notable Tracks: Look Ahead, Move That Dope, Benz Friendz

10. A$AP Ferg – Ferg Forever


The latest mixtape from A$AP Ferg, entitled Ferg Forever, shows his creativity to the fullest. Not only does the cover showcase his father’s old clothing brand logo, but each song contains the same amount of hype that Ferg is known to have. Unlike his last album, Trap Lord, this mixtape veers away from the longer and expressional tracks that Ferg actually sang on (which proved to be for the best). For a solo project, there are many standout features and collabs including the likes of MIA, Twista, YG, Big Sean and even Elsa from Disney movie Frozen. That being said, there was more than enough room for a feature from the A$AP Mob. Even though this project received a bunch criticism for being a bit sloppy, Ferg stays consistent with Ferg Forever. – Robert M.

Notable Tracks: Jungle, Reloaded, Fergsomnia

9. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo


It’s weird to say that Isaiah Rashad is one of TDE’s most unsung emcees, but alas, that remains the case. The Tennessee-based rapper had a hell of a year in 2014. First, he was named one of XXL Magazine‘s famed freshmen, and then he dropped his first project, Cilvia Demo, under the Kendrick Lamar-backed label Top Dawg Entertainment. While his name may have been eclipsed, especially in C-U, by the meteroric rise of emcees like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, Rashad proved that his prowess extends far beyond a flash in a pan. Tracks like “Heavenly Father” and “Shot You Down” are wonderful examples of how Isaiah smoothly melds a confident, in-your-face rhetoric and an introspective “conscious” rap attitude. More than anything else, Rashad has proved that he has staying power, and I have a hard time believing that this will be my last time putting him on a year-end list. But hey, that’s just me. If you need any more convincing, just watch his XXL Freshman freestyle video where he absolutely obliterates the competition. – Boswell H.

Notable Tracks: Heavenly Father, Shot You Down

8. Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]


Mick Jenkins followed up his breakout tape in 2013, Trees & Truths, with his Cinematic Music Group debut in August entitled The Water[s]. With one of the most cohesive projects of the year, Mick embarks his listeners on a journey surrounded by smooth jazz influences and submerged in metaphors comparing water to life. Bass heavy cuts feature Jenkins spitting bold statements that speak on a confident young MC aware of society’s blatant obstacles. Anchored by masterpieces such as “Healer,” “Jazz,” “Dehydration,” and “Martyrs,” Jenkins disguises his findings inside excellent production and smooth hooks. The entire project echoes authority, consistency, and no time for nonsense. In the current landscape of turn up culture and getting money, The Water[s] is poured up in the year’s purest glass of H2O. – Thomas D.

Notable Tracks: Jazz, Dehydration, Martyrs

7. Migos – No Label II


Known as The Beatles of our generation, the three Migos sprinted to hip-hop prominence with the release of No Label II. With a mixtape that featured two club staples (“Fight Night” and “Handsome and Wealthy”) and one trap musical, it seemed like the Migos could do no wrong in this 25-track classic. We anticipate a similar 2015 from the Atlanta-based trio. – Omer O.

Notable Tracks: Fight Night, Handsome and Wealthy, First 48

6. Rich Gang – Tha Tour Part I


It’s always an event when two of the biggest acts in hip-hop team up for a full-length project. In 2014, rap fans were blessed with a Young Thug x Rich Homie Quan mixtape entitled Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part I, a 20-track body of work with no shortage of bangers. The Atlanta artists, alongside Cash Money veteran Birdman, delivered the hit single “Lifestyle” in May and the trio’s ensuing collaboration album was simply a continuation of that success. Thugga Thugga and Rich Homie have perfected the art of melodic, sing-song rap; often times, it’s difficult to understand what’s being said on a particular record, but their musical ability is undeniable. Bump Tha Tour Part I in the whip or at a party and you’ll understand why it nabs the number six spot on our Top 25 list. – Eli S.

Notable Tracks: Givenchy730Freestyle

5. ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron


When Kendrick Lamar released Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, it was clear that Top Dawg Entertainment had some serious talent on their hands. ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron was the second project to follow Kendrick’s (with the first being Rashad‘s Cilvia Demo) and it does not disappoint. Picking up steam where his label-mates left off, ScHoolboy was able to put together an album that showcased his own talents and why he belongs alongside some of the greats in the game today. He takes us through 12 star-studded tracks, with production from the likes of Boi-1da, Mike Will Made It, Pharrell, and much more, along with features from Tyler the Creator, 2 Chainz and some of his crew such as Kendrick and Jay Rock.

The album has an overall aggressive, “gangster” tone matching his oxy-selling life-story, however it successfully portrays the many dimensions of ScHoolboy Q and his career. It takes us through tales of selling drugs, gangbanging, dealing with fame and fortune, and the difficulties of raising a daughter by himself. “Prescription/Oxymoron” is one of my favorite tracks and perhaps best displays the duality that Q represents, a line that is hard to draw in rap music these days. Oxymoron has cemented its place as one of the top projects of 2014. – Jordan P.

Notable tracks: Gangsta, Man of the Year, Prescription/Oxymoron

4. Travi$ Scott – Days Before Rodeo


Travi$ Scott earns the number four spot on our list with the album Days Before Rodeo, a vast improvement from his 2013 mixtape Owl Pharoah. The Houston native grabs fellow southern rappers T.I., Young Thug, Migos and Peewee Longway for guest verses on the 12-track project. The beats are the real winner here; DBR’s production is incredibly experimental, containing a sound that brings to mind other hugely successful artists such as Kanye West and Kid Cudi. Be on the lookout for T. Scott’s Grand Hustle/Epic Records debut studio album Rodeo, set to drop in 2015—a year that’s expected to be chock-full of amazing hip-hop. – Eli S.

Notable Tracks: Quintana Pt. 2Don’t PlaySloppy Toppy

3. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive


J. Cole surprised many fans when he announced the release of his third LP, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. There is no denying that Cole has one of the most loyal fanbases in all of hip-hop. Despite leaking a week before the December 9th release date, without any radio singles or promotion whatsoever, Cole’s first week sales were huge, selling over 350,000 copies. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was the address of Cole’s childhood home, one which he recently purchased to give families a place to live rent-free until they get back on their feet. This album was monumental for Cole, as he expressed in his 7-minute trailer for the album that he did not want to be Hollywood anymore and that he wanted to bring it back home to his Carolina roots. The 13-track album has no features and lets Cole do what he does best, and that is his ability to tell you a story. Tracks like “Wet Dreamz” and “’03 Adolescence” paint us a vivid image of how nervous he was for his first sexual encounter and how he navigated through the drug scene as a youngster, respectively. Listeners can tell that Cole poured his heart and soul into this one. – Luka L.

Notable Tracks: No Role Modelz, Apparently, Fire Squad

2. YG – My Krazy Life


Released on March 18th, My Krazy Life is YG’s debut studio album. A project that brings you back to the West coast of old, it features four singles headlined by “My Hitta” and “Who Do You Love.” A 17-track deluxe album produced mainly by DJ Mustard, My Krazy Life might as well be an audio book examining a day in the life of young gangbangers in Bompton, CA. Look out for YG to have a big 2015 after My Krazy Life failed to receive a Grammy nomination to the disdain of many, including YG himself, of course. – Omer O.

Notable Tracks: My Hitta, Who Do You Love, Bicken Back Being Bool

1. Run The Jewels – RTJ2


Killer Mike and El-P, one of the most unlikely pairs in hip-hop, built upon their impressive 2013 debut with their latest release Run The Jewels II. They have transcended geographical sounds and barriers to craft one of the grittiest gangsta rap albums in recent history. Drawing upon their previously hard-hitting industrial sound, “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” demanded authority in a way not heard from any other artist this year.

While the previous album had dope beats and tough rhymes, Run the Jewels II is a more holistic effort. Hooks like those on “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” featuring Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine are more ear-grabbing and memorable. The choruses are lusher, like on “All My Life.” And the lyrics are just that much more memorable. This album embodies the killer, defiant, and socially aware roots of hip hop. – Brad W.

Notable Tracks: Blockbuster Night Pt. 1, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, All My Life

Honorable Mentions:

Common – Nobody’s Smiling
Curren$y – The Drive In Theatre
DJ Mustard – 10 Summers
Young Chop – Still
Mac Miller – Faces
Ty Dolla $ign – Beach House EP
Father – Young Hot Ebony
Thelonious Martin – Wunderkid
Tunji Ige – The Love Project
Theophilus London – Vibes!

Understanding that this list was compiled and discussed before the actual end of the year, it does not take into consideration last minute releases such as Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint, Miguel’s, Wale’s Festivus, Rae Sremmurd’s SremmLife, French Montana’s Mac & Cheese 4, and D’Angelo Black Messiah.