DECADE REWIND: REFLECTING ON THE PIVOTAL RELEASES OF 2014

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Entering the new year with hip-hop’s 50th anniversary now behind us, we’re still feeling a little nostalgic. 

Thinking back to 2014, amidst the peak of the blog era, when internet acts ushered in a new chapter and major label rap albums were fruitful; it was an astounding year for hip-hop. One that can only be appreciated, with hindsight.

Internationally, acts like J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Freddie Gibbs handed in, arguably, their best projects. Newcomers of the time, SZA, Vince Staples, Logic, and Mick Jenkins all dropped incredible debuts while singles from Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Bobby Shmurda, and Big Sean dominated the airwaves. 

On a domestic scale, Australian hip-hop began to creep further into the mainstream, with acts like Hilltop Hoods, Thundamentals, and 360 taking over festival stages and achieving significant commercial success from their projects. Social media began to be weaponized by the likes of Kerser with his YouTube music videos, and Ivan Ooze with his car freestyles posted to Facebook. 2014 also marked a turning point for what hip-hop in Australia looks like for representation, with artists such as Remi and Baro Sura offering a new perspective to a scene otherwise heavily dominated by white Australians. 

Safe to say 2014 was a landmark year for hip-hop music. So let’s hit rewind on the year, and reflect on some of the pivotal hip-hop and R&B releases turning 10.

BARO SURA – HOWGOODISGOOD?

HOWGOODISGOOD? Apparently, really good. In his last year of high school, Melbourne rapper Baro Sura cooked up an underground favourite with the 10-track project featuring Charlie Threads, Te Waere, and Emerson Alexander. Drawing appeal with its delicate jazz-infused production, woozy R&B, and smooth hip-hop stylings, Baro’s debut was a refreshing offering to the Australian scene. The lo-fi aesthetic and his early genius as an artist gave the project a defining nostalgic feel that’s only aged like fine wine. While initially hesitant to be categorised as ‘Aus hip-hop’, it can’t be denied Baro Sura was an early innovator in expanding the sound and POC representation in the scene.

YOUNG THUG & RICH HOMIE QUAN – LIFESTYLE

EUUGHBLAHBEAHELGWLINAHDEWFQLFKQWFNLLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFEEEEEEEESTYLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. One of the early hits that would avalanche Atlanta’s dominance over the charts in the late 2010s, ‘Lifestyle’ by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan divided hip-hop fans. Thugger’s feminine fashion sense and frequently incoherent lyrics were polarizing at the time, but have gone on to influence the next generation of rap stars like Lil Uzi Vert, Gunna, and Lil Baby. ‘Lifestyle’ is still in rotation a decade since its release, with recent headlines on the track being played in court during the RICO trial against Young Thug and YSL. That’s gotta be the hardest ‘try not to sing along’ challenge.

NICKI MINAJ – ANACONDA

‘Anaconda’ well and truly certified Nicki Minaj as the Queen of 2010s Rap. Serving as the second single to her seminal album The Pinkprint, we all remember where we were when watching the music video for the first time. From the ‘Baby Got Back’ sample to Minaj giving Drake a lap dance, the ‘Anaconda’ visuals entered the Hall of Fame for music videos from the second it dropped. It’s a monumental release for female representation and empowerment in hip-hop, and one that earned Nicki a spot in the billion views club on YouTube – becoming the first female rapper to do so.

REMI – SANGRIA

Remi has been a significant player in Australia’s development of hip-hop in the last decade. An independent POC hip-hop artist in Australia was almost unheard of until Remi kicked in the door alongside producer Sensible J. Their 13-track project Raw X Infinity showcased the Melbourne rapper’s sharp lyricism, diverse sonics, and unapologetic social commentary. It felt like Australian hip-hop had a fire lit under it. Produced by Sensible J and Dutch, ‘Sangria’ is a timeless and addictive tune from the group’s debut that encapsulates summer in 2014. Raw X Infinity inevitably laid the groundwork for their critically acclaimed follow-up Divas and Demons featuring Sampa The Great, Jordan Rakei, and more. It’s been three years since their last release, we need the return of Remi.

KENDRICK LAMAR – I

While the iconic album this single belongs to, would be released the year after, ‘i’ guaranteed Kendrick Lamar’s third album would be one to remember. Produced by Rahki and featuring Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers, the lead single from To Pimp A Butterfly was a sonic change of pace for K.Dot fans of 2014 or prior. Lamar is one of few artists who can command the entire hip-hop community’s attention with a new drop, and the eccentric and funk-infused cut about black empowerment did exactly that. As the penultimate song on To Pimp A Butterfly, ‘i’ continues to serve as an anthem of powerful self-love. 

SZA – Z

From one TDE member (formerly) to another, 2014 witnessed SZA deliver the last EP offering before her 2017 debut album Ctrl. Marking her first release via Top Dawg Entertainment, the alternative R&B and neo-soul project included minimalist and synth-driven production from Mac Miller, Emile Haynie, Toro y Moi and more. With one of the best R&B discographies of all time, tracks like ‘Sweet November’ and ‘Childs Play’ featuring Chance The Rapper still stand up against her most recent work on SOS. It’s crazy what SZA has accomplished across three full-length projects in 10 years but listening back to Z, it makes a lot of sense.

HILLTOP HOODS – COSBY SWEATER

At the time, the Adelaide trio were already a decade deep in the game when they released Walking Under Stars, their thematic sequel to the previous album Drinking from the Sun. If previous releases ‘Nosebleed Section’ and ‘I Love It’ featuring SIA didn’t sell it for you, ‘Cosby Sweater’ solidified the group’s hit-making status. Now 9x Platinum and boasting over 100 million Spotify streams, the track’s upbeat nature is emblematic of a group at the height of its success, having fun name-dropping celebrities over an iconic bass line (some references have aged better than others).

J. COLE – 2014 FOREST HILLS DRIVE

Let the history books state: ‘J. Cole went platinum with no features’. Titled after his childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina that he ended up buying in the same year, the album was announced only a few weeks before its release. Despite little marketing and no singles prior, Cole’s magnum opus would win Top Rap Album at the Billboard Music Awards and be nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards. Home to tracks like ‘Wet Dreamz’, ‘No Role Modelz’ and ‘Apparently’, his third studio album was mandatory listening for any rap fan in 2014, and remains today as an essential hip-hop album.

ALLDAY – YOU ALWAYS KNOW THE DJ

‘You Always Know The DJ’ was responsible for a large portion of the public finally being able to know at least one Australian rapper. And that was Allday. Building off the success off his Loners Are Cool EP and its cult classic ‘Girl in the Sun’, the Adelaide artist returned in 2014 with a pop-rap record just as big. With the single spawning plenty of DJ remixes and radio play, his debut album Startup Cult landed at #3 on the ARIA charts behind only Ed Sheeran and SIA. Shortly followed by a national tour supported by Remi and Baro, Allday has become a mainstay in the Australian scene over the years. 

IGGY AZALEA – FANCY FT. CHARLI XCX

Like it or not, this is still what a lot of people outside of the country think when they hear ‘hip-hop artist from Australia’. Taken from The New Classic, the debut album by Iggy Azalea, ‘Fancy’ featuring Charli XCX earned both artists their first number-one on the Billboard Hot 100. This marked the first female Australian artist to top the Hot 100 since the 1981 track ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newtown-John. Paired with a music video inspired by Clueless, ‘Fancy’ was also named 2014’s most streamed song on Spotify in America. Whether or not Iggy claims Aus or Aus claims Iggy, there’s no denying the magnitude of this record.

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