10. FKA Twigs—LP1
Visually and aurally stunning, a worthy continuation of the dark-ambient-R&B idea that the Weeknd conceived of but never quite followed through on. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
9. Migos—No Label 2
Besides having an incredible aesthetic, Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff make fun (and occasionally surprisingly cerebral) music. If you can’t get down to “Fight Night,” you are not invited to my Christmas party.
8. Thom Yorke—Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Nobody seemed to take much notice of this latest Yorke effort, but I thought it was lovely. “Guess Again” is like a slice of Amnesiac-era Radiohead—sad, lovely, warm.
7. St. Vincent—St. Vincent
Exactly the album I wanted to hear from her. Crisp, crunchy, unabashedly funky, and deliciously weird.
6. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib—Piñata
Consistently vicious—“Motherfuck euthanasia, I’ll lace your food up with razors / Make you gargle with saltwater, excuse yourself from my table”—and sonically fascinating.
5. Rich Gang—The Tour, Vol. 1
Young Thug is the heir that Lil Wayne has been searching for—a fascinatingly weird workaholic that truly doesn’t give a shit what anyone else says, thinks, or does. Paired with the consistent talent of Rich Homie Quan and a cadre of hot producers, there was no way this record wouldn’t succeed.
4. Flying Lotus—You’re Dead!
Whereas Until the Quiet Comes explored minimalism and ambient, You’re Dead! swings dizzily back around to a world of psychedelic excess. Bonus: the best, and maybe the most evocative, music video of 2014.
3. Vince Staples—Shyne Coldchain, Vol. 2
Vince dropped not one but two terrific projects this year—it pained me greatly to have to leave his Def Jam EP Hell Can Wait off this list. But his mixtape Shyne Coldchain is the stronger release of the two. His work on the mic is ferocious and astonishing—even a lyrical monster like Earl Sweatshirt avers that Vince is the best rapper out right now. It’s a dark, PTSD-laced chronicle of growing up in a society that places no worth on black life.
2. D’Angelo—Black Messiah
I thought that the year wouldn’t give me a more unexpected gift than a new Aphex Twin album, when, suddenly, D’Angelo drops his first joint in 14 years. (I was in fifth fucking grade when Voodoo came out.) And it is so, so good—sexual, political, and personal all at once.
1. Run the Jewels—Run the Jewels 2
Once in a very great while, a political zeitgeist aligns perfectly with the trajectory of an artist’s development, and we, as listeners, get to hear an album that is a perfect encapsulation of its times. RTJ2 is such an album, and El-P and Killer Mike are its prophets. Of course they were playing St. Louis on the night of the Ferguson decision. How could it be otherwise?
Rap-wise, this record is unimpeachable. You can hear Mike’s influence on El, and vice-versa: El’s raps are funnier, faster, more profane, more audacious; Mike’s are grimmer, more allusive, more free-wheeling. Rap hasn’t seen a duo this electrifying or as perfectly suited for each other since the days of Blackout!-era Method Man and Redman. But the sonic construction of RTJ2 is what elevates it above its predecessor—each beat, from the hyperminimalist to the most lush and expansive, is a perfect gem of sweat, aggression, and rage. It oscillates from the hyperminimalist (“Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”) to the rich and lush (“Early,” “Angel Duster”) without losing a step. And it doesn’t waste a second—this is an exhaustingly rich album that somehow manages to clock in at only 40 minutes.
We, as Americans, watched our country tear itself to pieces this year. El and Mike made the soundtrack—both a haunting jeremiad and a vicious, inspiring call to action. It’s an instant classic, one that deserves to sit alongside Nation of Millions and Straight Outta Compton in the pantheon of protest hip-hop, and it was far and away the best record of 2014.