The proverbial “5-year rule” tends to be a typical minimum threshold for determining whether an album can be deemed a “classic.” So, we decided to take a look at five of the most acclaimed albums that came out five years ago – and discuss whether or not they should be considered as “classic albums” today.
2014 isn’t typically a year people remember as a “great” year in hip-hop. 2013? Sure. 2017? Absolutely. But due to 2014 being light on the big album releases, it is widely perceived as a down year.
However, what we don’t often discuss is how that “down” year granted us a handful of the best rap albums released this entire decade. And we thought it was worth revisiting how those albums have aged and whether they qualify as modern day rap classics.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and legendary hip-hop producer Madlib might’ve fucked around and dropped the greatest rapper-producer collab album of all time, perhaps even rivaling Madvillainy, which is another titanic Madlib-involved album and largely considered one of hip-hop’s greatest albums. The duo informally known as MadGibbs struck gold with an album that has basically solidified itself up to this point as a classic album. Madlib’s incredible crate-digging skills and creative sampling are really some of rap history’s greatest wonders, and Freddie Gibbs came through with some of his most rugged bars and most versatile flows — which is really saying something because he’s as rugged and versatile an emcee as it gets. Piñata is a near-immaculate album that left such an imprint on the game that people have been clamoring for nearly five years for the follow-up, Bandana – which, thankfully, is slated for release later this month.
Our verdict: CLASSIC (or, at the very least, an Underground Classic)
Run the Jewels – RTJ2
While we’re on the topic of amazing rapper-producer duos, few in recent rap history have been as excitable and electric as Run The Jewels, the duo of esteemed southern rapper Killer Mike and underground rapper-producer El-P. Their first collaboration under the name Run The Jewels was the previous year, in 2013 on the first installment of RTJ. But it was really in 2014 that the artists reached the apex of their powers. The sheer abrasiveness of their punchlines, rebellious lyrics, and unapologetic social commentary hit listeners full-force like a train, and credit has to be given to El-P for creating what can only be considered some of the most unique, dystopian-sounding, futuristic soundscapes any emcee or duo has ever rapped over. An argument can most certainly be made that RTJ2 is a classic album; however, I think that it will take a little bit longer than 5 years for a less esoteric group to also consider it so.
Our verdict: On the verge of being a Classic
J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Of all the albums here, J. Cole’s surprise 2014 effort named after his childhood home was easily the one with the most cultural impact. You’ve probably heard the frequent boast from stans about the album going “double platinum with no features.” Cole already had an established fanbase off the backs of his mixtapes, and had reached mainstream stardom with his two previous albums Cole World and Born Sinner. But the album’s honesty, somberness, and relatability – as well as universal bangers like “No Role Modelz” and “G.O.M.D.” – allowed 2014 Forest Hills Drive to become one of the decades most “stanned” albums. Some still debate the quality of the album, and I would argue that the album doesn’t compare to some of 2014’s more obvious classics like Piñata and RTJ2, but this album has to be, at the very least, in consideration of being a classic based purely off the strength of it’s extra-curricular grasp.
Our verdict: Not quite a classic
Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
It’s a little sad that sometimes we forget about Isaiah Rashad, because at one point in time, hip-hop literally couldn’t get enough of him; he was one of the frontmen of rap’s last elite generation of new rappers (think Chance the Rapper, Joey Bada$$, Mick Jenkins, Vince Staples, etc.) His reclusiveness has undoubtedly stifled the momentum he came out of the mid-2010s with, but don’t forget that there was a very good reason for all the hype around him. Cilvia Demo, the Chattanooga rapper’s first project for TDE, received widespread acclaim for its introspective narrative and set expectations sky-high for the rapper who had joined the Black Hippy rappers – Kendrick, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock – at the top of the rap game at the time. And while it probably won’t be considered by the culture as a classic, I feel that it is infinitely close to it.
Our verdict: Not a classic, but definitely a personal favorite
What do you think? Which of these albums do you think are “classic” rap albums? What other projects from 2014 deserve consideration?