Welcome back to the second part of the Year End Album Reviews. This has been a really slow year for music as a whole. The charts moved like snails and there hasn’t been that much impressive numbers. Quality-wise, it was yet another year of mediocrity. But going through all of that shit is worth finding a bunch of gems. Let’s get started.
Release Date: July 1
Modern R&B now is split into three categories: traditional R&B which has a throwback sound of yesteryear (John Legend, Alicia Keys, etc), indie R&B which has a more progressive sound and a following amongst the alternative/indie crowd (The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, etc.), and mainstream R&B which incorporates more hip-hop, pop, and/or EDM (Chris Brown, Rihanna, etc.). Trey Songz is definitely the latter. Here is his latest record and… it is bland. I never was a fan of Trey Songz’ music, I couldn’t get over his goat-like vocals and stylistically, he’s basically a diet R Kelly. The production sounds less like an R&B record and more like a generic mainstream hip-hop record. While there are a few production moments that are decent, others are just straight-up bad. The songs are your typical love/sex jams (mostly, the latter) with little to no sublety. The guest features don’t add anything good to the record. Nicki Minaj puts out another forgettable verse, Ty Dolla $ign wastes time, Juicy J does exactly what I know he’s gonna do, and Justin Bieber is just pointlessly tacked-on to a remix of one of the songs that doesn’t deserve one. Trey himself isn’t a bad singer, but his voice at times can be grating to my ears. Overall, Trigga will satisfy is fanbase, but won’t be appealing to anyone else. I am not in a rush to listen to this again. I give it a D. It’s not worth checking out.
1000 Forms Of Fear
Release Date: July 8
I know very little about Sia. Most of what I know comes from guest features and the song Chandelier, which is pretty decent. So maybe I get to know more about her with her recent album, 1000 Forms Of Fear. Artists should be able to win over new fans with records, so what did I think of this one? It’s alright. It’s not anything I would look forward to listening to again, but it ain’t bad. This record is sort of a mixed bag. The production is hit-or-miss; at times, it can be boring and mundane, mixing in a lot of influences and not doing anything with them. The songwriting is alright, though nothing amazing. The vocals bounces back and forth between mumbling like she’s bored and belting out every note. Like I said before, Sia as an artist just doesn’t interest me and this album doesn’t help, though it is an admirable effort from her. I give it a C. I do recommend checking it out, but don’t have any high expectations.
Release Date: July 22
In terms of underrated rappers who deserve more attention than they get, Common is definitely one of the best with his introspective lyrics and concepts. Records like Like Water For Chocolate, Be, and Finding Forever are some of the best hip-hop records ever made. Now here’s Nobody’s Smiling, which is his tenth studio album and a concept record about the violence in the ghettos of Chicago. And it’s a pretty good album despite some flaws. Common is still bringing that lyrical fire, painting a picture of being . The dark, brooding production fits the tone for the album’s subject matter and it’s all done by the legendary No ID. The guest features do their thing on here (except for one, but I’ll get to that in a bit) from Lil Herb to Jhene Aiko and Vince Staples. Like I said, this album does have its flaws. There are a few tracks that felt out of place on here like Diamonds, which is easily the worst song off this album and it features Big Sean, who does nothing but waste time. What the hell was Common thinking here? Anywho, while Nobody’s Smiling is not a classic album like Be or Like Water For Chocolate, it’s still a good album regardless. I give it a B. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Release Date: August 18
It’s always disappointing to see a rapper with so much potential fall into mediocrity so quickly. This bring us to Wiz Khalifa. His brand of pop-friendly stoner rap was tolerable at first, but when he got famous, his music got worse with every album released. The best song that Wiz has ever made was Young Wild & Free with Snoop Dogg and Bruno Mars. Everything else was average at best. So when Wiz started promoting his follow up to 2012’s O.N.I.F.C., Blacc Hollywood, I wasn’t too excited, especially when We Dem Boyz was the lead single. So I go into this album with very low expectations and it was exactly what I thought it was gonna be. This album is a sloppy, radio-pandering mess. The production is a mixture of trap and pop rap beats. Wiz isn’t even trying lyrically and he was never an impressive lyricist. But come on. This is just lazy. All of these songs are about everything you’d expect from a Wiz Khalifa song. The guest features aren’t that good, either. None of them help elevate these songs beyond mediocrity. There are some songs that aren’t completely trash like House In The Hills, but they’re very few and far between. Listening to this album is not a pleasant experience. I give this an F. Skip it. It’s not worth it.
Release Date: August 22
Ariana Grande has become one of the new breakout artists of now. Last year, she released her debut album Yours Truly, which is a solid R&B-influenced pop record and one of my favorites of that year. This year, she released her follow up to that album, My Everything. Honestly, I wasn’t too hyped up for this record. The first single, Problem, was underwhelming for me and when I saw the tracklist, I was turned off by the number of features and most of them were rappers. But I decided to be optimistic and give the album a chance. And let me say that this album is not as good as Yours Truly, even though it’s still a good album. The previous album had a mostly throwback R&B sound while this one incorporates more pop, hip-hop, and EDM sounds to mixed results. The ballads and the R&B-style tracks are easily the high points of this record while the more poppier rap/EDM tracks have mixed results. Break Free and Love Me Harder are pretty cool songs while others like Best Mistake and Hands On Me are insufferable. In terms of guest features, the only ones who are tolerable are The Weeknd and Childish Gambino, everyone else can eat a fat dick. Ariana Grande still has those strong pipes and knows how to use them. I’m not too sure about this sexy stuff she does and plays off as “mature” work. I’m just saying, you can do mature without sex talk. Oh, well. Like I said, My Everything is still a good album in spite of some things that I wasn’t too fond of. Hopefully, she improves on the next album. I give it a solid B. I do recommend this.
Release Date: August 29
Oh, Maroon 5. You have disappointed me too many times. Just like Wiz Khalifa, this group has gotten worse with each release. I was a fool to think that they would’ve gotten better after Overexposed and gave them a chance, but I think it’s safe to say that V is their worst release to date. This is a mess of epic porportions. The production sounds more artificial than ever, the writing is douchebag-like and laughable, and Adam Levine’s voice is more painful to the ears than ever, not helped by the effects put onto his voice. There is WAY too much radio-pandering crap on here, more so than the previous releases. The band is talking a back seat for its frontman, who is taking up too much of the spotlight. Maroon 5 is basically the Adam Levine Show plus Friends. I’m done with this group. They haven’t given me any reason for me to even stay invested in their stuff and no amount of catchiness is gonna fix that. This record gets an F. Stay the fuck away from it.
Seen It All: The Autobiography
Release Date: September 2
There are certain subgenres of rap that I just can’t get into, one of them being trap music. I mean, sure, the beats can be hard-hitting and all, but a lot of times, trap rappers are not very good lyricists with vague subject matter and a tendency to use more ad-libs. Jeezy (formerly Young Jeezy because nobody stays young forever) is one of those trap rappers who I can tolerate the most. His music just has more honesty than other rappers like him. Anyways, here is Jeezy’s latest release since 2011 and it’s good. Not his best, just good. The rapping is okay, though his voice can turn some people off. The topics are the same braggadocia/coke dealer rhymes as Rick Ross, but not as over-exaggerated. The production is all trap music with a little variety in the sound. There are a couple of guest features, but the only one who brings some competence in their feature is Jay Z on Seen It All, which is a great track. This album might seem like another cliched Southern rap album full of drug references, but Jeezy seems to find a way to take those topics and do something creative with them. I give this a low B. Check it out.
Release Date: September 9
One of my favorite new acts out right now is Jhene Aiko. I loved her beautiful angelic voice which reminded me of Aaliyah and her brand of R&B is more interesting than her contemporaries. Her Sail Out EP was a great record and I hoped to see more great things on her first album titled Souled Out. And MAN. It was one hell of a listening experience. This is easily a contender for album of the year. I love the atmospheric production as it fits Jhene’s voice perfectly, which is also on-point. The album has a concept about a woman going through heartbreak and her going from darkness to the light and the lyrics are perfect. Not a lot of guest features, which is good since more focus is on where it should be, the main artist. I just love this album. It’s beautiful, cohesive, and sounds good to the ears. I give this an A. I HIGHLY reccomend this.
Songs Of Innocence
Release Date: September 9
Without question, U2 is one of the world’s biggest rock bands. Since the late 70s, they have made some of the best records in rock history, sold millions, and played sold-out arenas that many artists wished they could play. Now, the band released their newest record exclusively on ITunes thanks to a deal made with Apple. People didn’t like the fact that this record was being downloaded to their devices without them knowing and I sympathize with those people. I mean, I don’t want to see a Katy Perry album on my playlist knowing damn well I never bought it. But this could get overlooked if the record was good, right? Well, it’s alright, but very lightweight compared to U2’s previous records. The instrumentals are alright, but nothing special. The writing was also alright, but also nothig special. The vocals sound fine, though it isn’t the best. Basically, this album is just another U2 album, not that much growth or experimentation. If you’re fine with that, then you’ll like this record. Otherwise, your opinion on this album depends on your opinion on U2 themselves and I don’t see many people liking this album. I give it a C.
Release Date: September 16
It must be a hell of a life being Chris Brown. Damn-near hated by everyone despite a loyal fanbase who’ll defend his every actions. We live in a strange world. Anywho, while I admit that I did listen to his older songs, Chris Brown’s albums were never that great. Graffiti and Fortune are undoubtedly terrible while F.A.M.E. was average at best. So after numerous delays, here is Chris’ newest album titled X and it is just like F.A.M.E., average. The production is a mess of rap, R&B, and EDM influences. Chris Brown is a good singer when he doesn’t use Auto-Tune, but the writing makes him look like an unsympathetic douchebag. A lot of the guest features don’t help his case. Chris Brown needs to just take a break indefinitely. I give this a D. I only recommend this to hardcore Chris Brown fans.
Release Date: September 19
Take Me To Church is a really strange song. It really is a miracle that this song is currently in the same Top 10 as Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor. And still, it is a fantastic song. After seeing the rave reviews for Hozier’s self-titled debut, I decided to check it out and I’m glad I did because it is fantastic. I undoudtedly agree with the critics here. Hozier has the voice of a great blues singer, he pours his soul out on ever note he sings. As a writer, he’s very compelling, touching upon themes of religion, love, and life. The production is solid all around, it’s very bluesy and alt-rock-ish. There is a lot of great songs on this album that makes Take Me To Churck look like the weakest song on here. Regardless of your opinion on religion, this album shouldn’t be ignored. I give it an A. I definitely recommend this to everyone.
Release Date: October 6
If you frequently watch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, you’d probably heard the works of L.A. producer Flying Lotus. He’s known for a lot of experimental music, with a series of albums and mixtapes showcasing his talents as a producer, including this new record, You’re Dead!, which is phenomenal. The album’s biggest strength is the production, which experiments with electronic, jazz, and hip-hop. It create a dark and beautiful picture. This album is mostly instrumentals with a few guest features like Snoop Dogg on Dead Man’s Tetris and Kendrick Lamar on Never Catch Me and they all kill it (in a good way), especially Kendrick. People who aren’t into listening to instrumentals probably won’t like this record, but to those who don’t mind, it is worth checking out. I give this record an A.
Release Date: October 10
Everyone has at least one artist that they want to like, but they just couldn’t. For me, that artist is Jessie J. She’s a damn good singer and I genuinely enjoyed Price Tag and Domino. I wanted to like her more than I should, but I just couldn’t. Her style was very similar to Katy Perry’s and a lot of her songs outside of the two I just mentioned are a very mixed bag. It seems like she doesn’t know what kind of artist she wants to be. So does her new album, Sweet Talker, fix any of that? Nope. In fact, this album is a BIG mess. Jessie’s vocals are still amazing and are actually some of the best parts of this album, although she has a tendency of overdoing it ala Christina Aguilera. She’s a decent writer, but considering the number of writers for this shit and the fact that Jessie was only involved in writing fewer songs than previously, we don’t get to see that a lot. A lot of the lyrics are very vague and hollow and orbits around the typical pop/R&B subjects. Input from the guest features bring mixed results, some good (De La Soul), others are terrible (2 Chainz). The production is a mess, mixing too many genres and sounds together and not making anything that sounds fluid and cohesive overall. Overall, this album has both good songs like Personal and terrible songs like Burnin’ Up (and the less said about Bang Bang, the better), but it’s a sheer disappointment. Why do you do this to me, Jessie? This record gets a D. I don’t recommend this.
Release Date: October 21
When it comes to this generation of rappers, a lot of them aren’t very impressive to me. They’re either unoriginal, not that interesting, or they just suck. One of the rappers who have caught my attention who impressed me with their work was Logic. His mixtapes are really good and I wanted to see where he goes. Now he released Under Pressure, his debut record which he has compared to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. While this record isn’t as great as that album, it’s still a pretty good album. Logic is one of those rappers with tons of potential and this album showcases that. The rapping and lyrics are excellent. Logic doesn’t play around as a lyricist. The beats are also great, bringing in some talented producers and recreating that 90s vibe. This album also has no guest features (save for the deluxe edition which has songs with Childish Gambino and Big Sean) and I like that. If there’s one problem that exists, it’s that at times, Logic sounds a lot like Kendrick and Drake, which is troubling because I hope for this guy to be more original with his style. There’s being inspired by someone and then there’s copying exactly what they do. But that’s just a nitpick and I hope he takes time on his next record to be his own rapper. Still, Under Pressure, great debut album. It gets an A from me. I definitely recommend listening to this.
Release Date: October 21
The 2010s decade hasn’t been kind to T.I. musically. He released the mediocre No Mercy when he was serving prison time for another probation violation and while Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head was a decent album, it wasn’t Tip at his best. It’s very clear that T.I. is past his prime. I was not looking forward to his newest release, Paperwork, mostly thanks to singles with Iggy Azalea and Young Thug. I was worried we were gonna get another No Mercy and while it’s not as bad as that album, it wasn’t that great either. The rapping for the most part is alright. T.I. is just doing what he always does and talks about the same things he always talk about. The production is typical hit-or-miss mainstream rap. There is a lot of guest features, some good, others not. Some songs were pretty good like the title track with Pharrell and New National Anthem while others aren’t like the main two singles. The whole album is another mixed and compared to Tip’s other albums, it’s pretty forgettable. I give it a C. I do reccomend checking it out for the good moments that exist.
Run The Jewels 2
Run The Jewels
Release Date: October 24
One of my biggest regrets of doing the Year End Album Reviews last year was not covering certain albums. One of them was the self-titled project by Run The Jewels, the rap duo of Killer Mike and El-P. The first RTJ album was awesome, with banging beats, great lyricism, and some social commentary. And the newest one is exactly like that. This is easily one of the best albums of the year out of any genre. Killer Mike and El-P bring it lyrically and have great chemistry. El-P handles the production on every song along with some co-producers and they’re all hard-hitting and compliments the raps. The guest features are also pretty good, my favorite being Zack de la Rocha on Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck). Nothing else needs to be said about this record, just non-stop awesomness. I give this an A. Check it out.
Release Date: November 4
The G.O.O.D. Music label has a lot of talent that lives up to the label’s name, from John Legend to Common to Pusha T to our current subject Teyana Taylor. I actually didn’t pay much attention to her. She has talent, but talent alone isn’t enough to hook someone. Ever since she signed to G.O.O.D., Teyana has been working on her debut album and now it’s out. I decided to check it out because of the reviews it was getting and it’s actually pretty damn solid. I went into this record expecting another typical R&B record, but this one really surprised me. The prodution is a mix of throwback 90s R&B and modern rap-influenced R&B. The tracks with the 90s style production are actually the better tracks. The writing is fine, even if it the typical R&B topics. The features are a mixed bag. Fabolous and Pusha T are good, something that can’t be said about Chis Brown and Yo Gotti. It’s pretty impressive for a record that I thought wasn’t gonna pay any attention to hook me in to its quality. I give this a B. I reccomend this to anyone wanting to listen to a good R&B record.
Release Date: November 10
When people talk about the best rappers of this generation, names like J Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar are always brought up. But a name that I believe should be brought up more is Big K.R.I.T. This Mississippi MC/producer has gained buzz thanks to his mixtapes, which are in-par to some great albums out now and is actually better than a lot of albums out there. His first album, Live From The Underground, was a decent debut, but it didn’t live up to expectations from the mixtapes. After that, K.R.I.T. decided to release more mixtapes while working on perfecting his second album, Cadillactica. And it is AMAZING. Words alone can’t describe how much I was blown away by this album. The beats are out of this world. K.R.I.T. handles most of the production along with some other producers. Along with being a great producer, he’s also a great rapper, whipping up some hard-hitting bars along with some introspection. Most of the guest features do their thing here as well. It finally feels like Big K.R.I.T. finally made the record he should’ve made with Live From The Underground. Here’s to more great music from this talent. I give this an A. Check it out for some great Southern hip-hop.
Eminem & Shady Records
Release Date: November 24
To celebrate 15 years of Shady Records, Eminem decided to put out a compilation double album with the label, with one CD containing new material and the other containing the greatest hits. Now I’m breaking my own rule here by talking about this record because I said I wasn’t gonna review a compilation. But I just wanted to talk about this record, mostly the first CD with new material, so I’m bending the rules to my will because it’s my site. For what it is, this is a pretty good record despite obvious flaws. Eminem himself makes an appearance on most of the tracks on the record. He, alongside Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse, still bring that lyrical fire. The beats are pretty good on a lot of songs, though some are pretty lackluster. Best songs are Psychopath Killer, Vegas, Y’all Already Know, and Detroit vs Everybody. The songs that I didn’t like are Twisted and Bane, the latter especially being the weakest track on the disc. The second disc has all the classics like Lose Yourself, In Da Club, Purple Pills, etc. This record has everything for everyone. The first disc will satisfy those wanting new Shady music while the second disc is for those wanting the older Shady. I give this compilation a B.
Release Date: November 24
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Rick Ross released ANOTHER album this year. That actually happened. And, believe it or not, this album is WORSE than Mastermind. Yes. Worse. As much as I didn’t like Mastermind, there was some effort put into that record. Hood Billionaire, however? Ross just gave up. This is the same shit from the last album and the previous with more coke kingpin rhymes with even less subtlety than before. Hell, these songs sound like Mastermind rejects. The beats were always the high point of Rick Ross records, but this album has some of the weakest beats ever. They’re all the same 808 trap shit with some exceptions. Ross has regressed as a lyricist even more, with half-finished verses and hooks that are just repetitions of one phrase. The guest features outdo Ross once again and show off how much he’s always the worst part of a song. If you’re not convinced that Ross’ formula is getting stale, then this album easily will. This record gets an F. Stay away from it by all means.
A Better Tomorrow
Release Date: December 2
The Wu-Tang Clan is one of the best groups in all of hip-hop. Back in the 90s, the group and its members individually released game-changing classics and have influenced the next generation of hip-hop in many ways. But the big problem with a group like Wu-Tang is that there’s bound to be some heads butting over creative differences. The tension peaked with the polarizing 8 Diagrams, which didn’t have the harder, grittier sound that is synonymous with the Wu and was hated by some of its members and fans. So now the group is back with another album with all problems put to rest and WOW. They do not have it in them anymore as a group. The album is not terrible, but it sure is underwhelming. The members still have solid raps with some exceptions. The production could have been better considering it is Wu-Tang. It lacks the punch of previous records and it’s not made better by the mixing. Was the engineer dozing off during the mixing and mastering? All of those years of waiting on a new Wu-Tang album and this is what we get? *sigh* You know? If the Wu decided not to make anymore recods after this, I wouldn’t mind. They already left behind a legacy together. The individual members should focus on their own stuff. Overall, this album gets a C. I only recommend checing out a few tracks, but not the entire album.
2014 Forest Hills Drive
Release Date: December 9
J Cole is at the best moment of his career. After two solid releases and various platinum and gold singles, he’s guaranteed to do whatever he wants. For his newest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole went back to his hometown roots. And he has surpassed himself again. 2014 Forest Hills Dive is easily J Cole’s best album to date, even better than Born Sinner. This time around, there’s no guest features, no radio singles, just the music. The beats are A+ solid with Cole handling the production along with others. The rapping is also great; his punchlines have gotten better in spite of some bumps on the road and he expanded his subject matter more. He isn’t a great singer, but it’s tolerable here. My only real gripe is the last track Note To Self, which is basically like the movie credits. It was unnecessary. But that’s it. This guy is really focused on making the best record of his career with every album and I can bet the next release will be even better. I give this an A. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Release Date: December 15
By now, it’s pretty much a trope for me to criticize Nicki Minaj, but it’s not out of pure hate, but of sheer disappointment. There was a time where I was actually rooting for her. She had some solid bars and was an interesting personality. There was potential to not just be the best female rapper ever, but the best rapper ever PERIOD. But then she relied on the gimmicks and the pop songs and any potential left is now nonexistent. She was all style over substance and her music reflected that. Pink Friday was mediocre at best and Roman Reloaded is a giant turd. After a lot of heavy criticism for being too pop and not being hip-hop, Nicki decided to go back to her mixtape roots for her newest album titled The Pinkprint, which she said was gonna be more personal. I was going into this expecting another clusterfuck like the previous records thanks to the singles. While, surprisingly, this wasn’t as bad as Roman Reloaded (hell, I’ll even say that this is her best album), it’s not great, either. I don’t even feel comfortable calling it good; this is just average. The positives: there are moments on this album where Nicki gets personal and they are genuine and the first and third tracks, All Things Go and The Crying Game, are actually the best songs on this album (I didn’t like the second one). The negatives: the album quality goes downhill after the third track, the production on this album SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS, the guest features except for Jessie Ware (who, for some reason, is uncredited) are terrible, Nicki’s rapping remained the same, there’s too much Auto-Tuned singing for an album that’s supposed to be more hip-hop, all of the songs are either annoying pop rap tunes or slow boring ballads, songs like Anaconda and Only which brings the whole thing down, and there is no cohesion or focus. In other words, we got another clusterfuck of an album from Nicki Minaj. Again, this isn’t bad, but I hope I never hear this shit again. This gets a D. No recommendation.
D’Angelo & The Vanguard
Release Date: December 15
It’s been almost 15 years since D’Angelo released Voodoo. The industry has radically changed since then. Just like Beyoncé, D’Angelo released his newest record, Black Messiah with The Vanguard, out of nowhere when no one expected it. And just like Voodoo and Brown Sugar, it is frigging awesome. The production and instrumentation is great, the writing is great, the singing is great, everything on this abum is great. This is the music that the industry needed, something authentic with no bullshit. In a year filled with mainly average records, it’s always good to see something of high quality. Welcome back, D’Angelo. We missed you. This album gets a perfect A. Check it out so you don’t miss out on a good thing.
So that was Part II of the Year End Album Reviews, covering albums from July to December. Agree or disagree with what I said? Then let me know your opinions. Next week, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for all year, The Top 10 Worst Songs of 2014. No artist is safe (except for those who didn’t release a terrible song).