What. A. Year. Am I right? From Pharrell’s big hat to all the big butts to all the bass that it was all about, it was quite the year for music! For me personally, I was writing about music more than ever before, which, surprisingly, meant I often didn't have as much time to listen to the music everyone else was listening to: Instead, I spent a lot of time sifting through music that might turn out to be good in the hopes of finding out that it actually was (this is my way of apologizing to Todd Terje and Swans). But I still managed to scrape together the time to listen to one or two things, and I always kept in mind something along the lines of what my grandfather always used to say: All music is dope, it's just that some music is doper than other music. With that in mind, here are my by-no-means-objective favorites of 2014:
Kyle's Top Albums
Automatic bye: D’Angelo—Black Messiah
If not the album of the year, then this is at least an album of the year, but it’s also been out for two days, which makes it unfair to put it in a ranked list. It would also be unfair to put it in a ranked list because D’Angelo transcends such earthbound concepts as rankings and lists.
10. Ariana Grande—My Everything
In no world is this album, on which pretty much every song has something holding it back from being as good as it could be, objectively one of the best albums of the year. But I couldn’t stop listening to it. It has hits on hits, and even the filler tracks might as well be hits. I believe so firmly that “One Last Time” could have topped the charts if someone had just lobbied for it really hard. And that song’s written by David Guetta, who’s not even cool anymore! I recently met Tommy Brown, the guy who produced the album’s first and last song. He showed me his text thread with Ariana Grande, and it was maybe the most starstruck I’ve been all year. Just reading her text messages! Really, it says everything you need to know about how obsessed I got with this album that I memorized the Childish Gambino verse where he says “flow so sick my nickname school lunch.”
9. YG—My Krazy Life
At this album’s listening party earlier this year, DJ Mustard said that he and YG were the 2014 Snoop and Dre, and I firmly believe that to be true. This album brought LA back.
8. Benjamin Booker—Benjamin Booker
Somehow this album got billed as an Americana or blues album, which is true insofar as it definitely sounds like it came out of the Louisiana bayou and it falls within the proud tradition of scuzzy American punk made by burnt out English majors. But to sell this album as a genre exercise misses the point, which is that it contains some of the most immediate songwriting and badass, distorted guitar riffs of anything I heard this year. It's occasionally clumsy but always heartfelt, and it seems criminal that in a year so heavily applauded as a sort of garage punk renaissance that this album was barely mentioned (I blame the mixed blessing of having Jack White's co-sign). Plus, Benjamin Booker is a legitimately nice guy.
7. Taylor Swift—1989
I have only ever known the rich people playground version of New York that everyone complains Taylor Swift made official, so now that we’re done with the hand-wringing, can we just admit that Taylor Swift has always written great pop songs and been a great pop star? She had a line of Hallmark cards like three years ago; if you want to complain about Taylor Swift selling out somehow you’re way late to the party. So, more importantly, the run of “Blank Space,” “Style,” and “Out of the Woods” is both some of her best work and the best three-song run on any album this year. I'm not sure how much I even think of 1989 as an album because I keep finding myself stuck on listening to individual songs on repeat for days at a time, but I think that's a good thing.
6. Sam Hunt—Montevallo
People like to stress out over what country artist Sam Hunt means because he works record scratches and EDM drops into his songs, which means that he can't be easily categorized by genres or something. But the only thing you need to know about Sam Hunt is that he writes incredible songs that make you feel like the whole world belongs to you and maybe the person riding shotgun with you in your pickup truck. Whether he was describing the feeling of watching his ex start dating someone else before the tire marks from where she used to park her car in his yard have faded or capturing the rush of heading out on a back road drive at two in the morning, Sam Hunt had one of the year's most evocative, emotive, and sing-along-friendly debuts.
5. iLoveMakonnen—iLoveMakonnen EP
Makonnen makes really good songs about feeling sad. Makonnen also makes good songs about not selling molly. Makonnen had a really good year.
4. St. Vincent—St. Vincent
I still unequivocally maintain that St. Vincent is the best rock band in the world: Her music is adventurous, fun, entrancing, and ugly all at once. Annie Clark manages to make the guitar exciting and experimental at a time when the guitar is more or less irrelevant to popular music, and she herself is a pop star when rock is basically devoid of those. No album this year felt more electric or more full of surprises than this one.
I don’t know how it became consensus opinion in the hip-hop world that somehow Honest sucked or was lame or even didn’t really live up to expectations, but somehow that happened, and everyone chose to ignore that Future put out a pretty much flawless album in 2014. Fortunately, now is my chance to set history right with this year-end list. I assume people overlooked this album because, unlike Pluto, it didn’t really have any successful singles other than “Honest,” which came out in 2013 (why “Covered N Money” never took off and “Benz Friendz” never got a single push at all I’ll never understand), although maybe it’s because Future lost a lot of goodwill by separating from Ciara. I will acknowledge that it’s not the seamless front-to-back listen that Pluto was. But who knows.
The important thing is that “Honest” still sounds like Future drank from some heavenly fountain that grants people the perfect falsetto, and, true to its title, captures everything about Future in one perfectly succinct lyric: “Real street n—a ain't get nothing but some pain from it.” “I Be U” is the prettiest love song of the year and a clear evolution from Future’s previous heart-on-sleeve high points of “Turn on the Lights” and “Real and True.” “Benz Friendz” is the best Outkast song to come out in a decade. Future rapped circles around your favorite rapper this year on the basis of the line “let’s have a heart to heart, drink wine, make art” alone. Who doesn’t want to do that? Add Andre 3000 showing up for his annual blockbuster guest appearance to rap about how his memory sucks and that’s a landmark song.
Let’s not overlook how brilliant this album is, please. Let’s not reduce it to “Move That Dope,” which, despite having the most fire Pharrell verse in recent memory, is still only like the eighth best song on the album. To quote the emotional, majestic toast to all of our accomplishments, “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” which I may or may not have cried to at least once this year, “this right here, this is a miracle / this moment now, this is spiritual.” I, too, wish everyone in here could see how good this album is.
2. Rich Gang—Tha Tour Part 1
Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan bring out the best in each other, which is great because they’re amazing talents in their own rights. They are the Lennon and McCartney of our era. Their voices alone make interweaving symphonies that Beethoven would be jealous of. They blend together so seamlessly and excitedly that it’s impossible not to love them. Birdman showing up for the occasional verse or monologue is just icing on the cake. I’ve written about half the songs on this tape in various staff picks roundups, so I’ll spare the play-by-play, but there was no project this year that contained the lyrical or melodic range of this mixtape, and nothing in history quite as poetic as the artfully crooned words “200 on that pussy like a T-Rex.”
1. Dej Loaf—Sell Sole
Is Dej Loaf’s mixtape an unimpeachable classic that we’ll remember for years to come as a indispensable addition to the rap canon? No, probably not. It doesn’t even contain the best song she released this year (that would be the hit single “Try Me”). She’ll probably make a better album at some point in the near future. But Sell Sole is the project that connected with me more than any other this year. Its sound is anesthetizing, with big, dreamy beats that seem to swallow up feelings and that lesser rappers could easily get lost in trying to sound cool. Dej, though, is also a magnetic personality who doesn’t need to sound cool. She just is cool: She’s self-assured and funny and tough and confident yet willing to be vulnerable. Dej Loaf has effortless swagger—I’ve seen her live twice in the last three months, and not only does she rock flawless outfits and kill with stage banter, she’s the type of person who has the presence and charisma to be the leader of a crew whose other main member is a dude who is like three times her size (Oba Rowland, also her hype man). But most importantly, she raps in the way that we should expect all our favorite rappers to rap: Directly and honestly, with the kind of confidence that makes you feel like the world can indeed be conquered. Dej Loaf's music gets its strengths from the vulnerabilities it offers—early on we know that they “took my daddy away when I was four / why would I give a fuck about y'all?”—and from the flexibility of Dej's voice, which sounds smooth singing and has a sharp edge of an accent when rapping that makes phrases like “hey there” stick a little harder. She can rap real #bars—if you pay attention, “It Got It” is one long verse with about eight different flows, cycling through topics as diverse as sipping Arizona Iced Tea and the fact that where she's from “they use alleys for caskets.” There is no harder rap line this year than Dej Loaf cooing the words “sweep your whole block we gon' even get the mailman” and nothing more direct than “I miss my grandma why did she have to leave me.” Dej Loaf contains multitudes, and I have a feeling that we're only seeing the beginning.
Honorable Mentions: How to Dress Well, Ratking, Aphex Twin, Tink, Popcaan, FKA Twigs, Tinashe, Key!, OG Maco, Michael Christmas, Travis Scott, GoldLink, Miranda Lambert, Run the Jewels
Kyle's Top Songs
15. Kuhrye-oo feat. Evy Jane - “Air Days”
14. Ty Dolla $ign - “Stand For”
13. MBE - “Feeling Good”
Literally how can you not feel good when you listen to the best bop song of the year?
12. Ariana Grande - “One Last Time”
11. Popcaan - “Everything Nice”
Popcaan singing “music'll play 'til the speaker fuck up” made me renew my faith in music every time I heard it this year.
10. How to Dress Well - “Words I Don’t Remember”
9. Magic! - “Let Your Hair Down”
Magic! May be a band made up of four cardboard cutouts standing in front of a speaker playing Police songs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make the easiest easy listening song of all time.
8. Dej Loaf - “Try Me”
Listen to this song when I’m feeling godly.
7. Key! feat. iLoveMakonnen - “I Understand”
Key! crooning the words “don’t make me turn this car around” has been the Noisey editorial staff’s unofficial theme song for the last few months, and, at press time, there were no signs of that car getting turned around in the slightest.
6. FKA Twigs - “Pendulum”
Everyone spent the year talking about the FKA Twigs album being the soundtrack to robot sex or something, but the clear highlight was a song about miscommunication and unrequited feelings for someone that sounds like a score for watching a mythical city crumble into the ocean. Forget robots; this is painfully human.
5. Future - “I Be U”/ “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)”
Andre 3000 literally rhymes words with orange. What more do you need?
4. Rich Gang - “Flava”
Rich Homie Quan saying he’ll pull up on your ass like a diaper and Young Thug extolling the merits of crew cut T-shirts by yelling “crew cut!” are not even necessarily the obvious highlights of “Flava.” I love this song so much the money, I let it count it.
3. Mas Ysa - “Shame”
Music is for expressing the emotions that our words can’t handle, and there was no song that better captured the feeling of emotional collapse this year than this one.
2. Taylor Swift - “Out of the Woods”
1. iLoveMakonnen - “Club Goin’ Up (On a Tuesday)”
This song has been stuck in my head at some point every day since it came out. Eric wrote a very nice thing about why it is the best song in his list, to which I will only add that, as recently as August, he and I ran into Makonnen in the crowd at the Drake and Lil Wayne show. On a Tuesday. Right after Drake's remix came out. Now, Makonnen and Drake are nominated for a Grammy together. Things only keep going up.
Honorable Mentions: Drake - “0-100”; Rich Gang - “Lifestyle”; Fetty Wap - “Trap Queen”; OG Maco - “U Guessed It”; Prince - “Breakdown”; Tinashe - “Bet”; The-Dream - “Wedding Bells”; Wiz Khalifa - “We Dem Boyz”; Sam Hunt - “Leave the Night On”
The best of 2014:
Best Live Show: St. Vincent.
Best Reminder that the Turn Up Is Real: After Future's show, when Future's merch guy stood on a table yelling "I told y'all the turn up was real" instead of selling merch.
Best Folksy Phrase I Heard T.I. Use: "That doesn't amount to a hill of beans."
Best Screenshot I Took of DJ Khaled:
Best Album Promotion Campaign:
The worst of 2014:
2. Music blog posts that say a new album is “streaming” on the day it comes out and then just embed a link to the album on Spotify.
Kyle Kramer is a Noisey editor. Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.