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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy.  Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.

Today, we single out our favorite songs of 2014.  As always, our distinguished panel consists of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Joshua Phelps, Clyde McGrady, and Weird City Fest‘s Aaron Miller and Leah Manners (of Hip Hop Hooray too).

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Kendrick Lamar: “i”

So what do you do if you’re Kendrick Lamar and you’ve spent the last three years providing hip-hop culture with a moody, defiant and introspective soundtrack, as well as rubbing the entire game’s nose in how incredibly dope you are at the art of rapping? You celebrate.

Anybody expecting anything else from King Kendrick hasn’t been paying attention to anything Kendrick has been saying so far. Lamar’s the closest thing rap has to a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant-type presence. Kendrick plays to win, and loves to shut the whole thing down. The idea that he’s dancing to an Isley Brothers sample and telling us how much he loves himself while dancing on the windpipe of the rap industry? Well, that’s kind of amazing.

Lyrically, ‘i” is an on point performance, and if you hate the subject matter, Lamar has already told you that your career wasn’t shit until you had some Kendrick it.

Fuck you. Fuck you very much. I love myself.

– Marcus Dowling

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Big K.R.I.T.: “Mt. Olympus”

“Now they wanna hear a country nigga rap.”

Shots fired on this whole rap shit.

What strikes me most about “Mt. Olympus” is that K.R.I.T. seems to resent even having to tell motherfuckers what’s going on.

“Thought they wanted gold / Thought they wanted shine / Thought they wanted radio / Bitch, make up your mind.”

Dude is straight telling you that you don’t know what’s good for you, so just shut the fuck up and listen.

“Mt. Olympus” is a line in the sand. It’s heavy and the message cuts through all bullshit.

This is much needed.

– Aaron Miller

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Jeezy ft. Jay Z: “Seen It All”

According to Jeezy, Jay Z recorded this song with tears in his eyes. Not sure I believe that but damn, I want to.

Anyone who’s listened to Jay’s music for, say, the last five years knows he’s never as comfortable as when he’s talking about drug dealing (or maybe bragging about his art collection). Of course, everyone knows that he’s half a billionaire from music now and that hasn’t touched a brick since ’96, so it sounds utterly ridiculous when he talks about getting investigated by the Feds. (That’s why American Gangster was so great: He got to rap about drug dealing in the present tense under the guise of playing a “character.”)

This stroll down memory lane gives both Jay Z and Jeezy the opportunities to relive the glory days while putting up lines like “park 92 bricks in front of 560 State / Now the Nets a stone throw from where I used to throw bricks / So it’s only right I’m still tossin’ ’round Knicks.”

– Clyde McGrady

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iLoveMakonnen ft. Drake: “Tuesday”

“Tuesday” is a stupidly catchy song.

Sonny Digital’s beat sounds hazy, as if under a skunk-and-lean-induced fog, and its simplicity is what fuels the track. It doesn’t hurt that Drizzy Drake came down from the YOLO Estate to put his soft-serve stamp of approval on it. It rap’s equivalent of the “Colbert Bump” – all of a sudden, producer and crooner are in demand, and a thousand extra rappers without talent (myself included) are thinking, “All I need is a lucky break.”

But, in all fairness, it’s one of rap’s feel good stories: Makonnen seems like a nice guy, even if I’m not sure how much of a career he can expect.

And damn it if I don’t sing this song every Tuesday night, no matter what going down – or up.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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Future ft. Pusha T, Pharell & Casino: “Move That Dope”

Well, shit, it’s tough to say anything bad about probably the best song of the year.

BRB going to sell drugs.

– Leah Manners

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Common ft. Vince Staples: “Kingdom”

Lil Herb ft. Common & Chance the Rapper: “Fight or Flight (Remix)”

So, how about Common’s year, huh? Was there a bigger-

Hey, wait, where are you going? Don’t leave. Give me a second.

Look, I get it. Riding for Common in 2014 is like pushing L.L. Bean’s new fall line or getting really into “CSI: Boise”. You’re not going to win any style points.

And I rolled my eyes like the rest of you when the middle-aged urban cowboy announced he would be making an album inspired by the violence in Chicago.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to buy completely into the 42 year-old as a rapper to appreciate what he did this year. Common just flat out made good decisions. He reconnected with No I.D. and had him produce all of Nobody’s Smiling.  He gave a spotlight to some of the best young MCs out there – most notably Vince Staples and Lil Herb (see: “The Neighborhood”). And he picked his own features carefully.

To wit: “Kingdom” and “Flight or Flight (Remix)”, two great songs on which Common is the least essential guy in the room. But he is in the room.

No I.D.’s production on “Kingdom” is a thing of beauty. It’s towering, flirting with bombast without ever crossing the line. The producer subtly chops a gospel sample under the song’s verses before letting the levees break each chorus. And speaking of religion: Jesus, this Vince Staple feature. “We still wading in the water, cocaine, blunts, marinating in the water / Leina took a puff and then she gave it to my father / Used to take the bullets out so I could play with the revolver /Satan serenading ever since I was a toddler.” Guest verse of the year.

In comparison, “Flight or Flight (Remix)” is a more understated piece of struggle rap, but it boasts two fire-breathing Lil Herb verses, and Chance the Rapper reminding us that he’s good at rapping in a year where he didn’t do a ton of it.

– Phil R

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Pusha T: “Lunch Money”

Pusha T single-handedly bodied Apple’s iWatch before it even launched.

Nearly half a decade into his G.O.O.D. Music contract, Terrance Thorton is prancing down the white brick road to Kanye’s wizardry.

The only drawback is that like coke, it’s just never enough.

FREE PUSHA T’S NEXT RECORD.

– Joshua Phelps

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Action Bronson: “Easy Rider”

Action Bronson isn’t a normal human being. The more that Arian Asllani realizes this and relishes in the fact that he’s a emcee-as-superhero, the better off rap is for it.

“Easy Rider” isn’t as much a song as it is a live action stream of consciousness play that’s acted out in your mind. A pound of kush and five tabs of acid later, Bronson is Dennis Hopper on the psychedelic road to nowhere, and we’re all completely stunned in his wake.

There was once a time with Bronson where his uncanny lyrical resemblance to Ghostface Killah held him back. However, in still rapping like Ghost, but also becoming more unhinged from any sort of reality that any of us mere mortals are aware, he’s superseded that and is one of the rappers-to-watch for 2015.

– Marcus Dowling

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Busta Rhymes ft. Eminem: “Calm Down”

“Calm Down” is my favorite rap offering of the year. Because rapping. So much rap.

As I have previously stated in the hallowed halls of Rec-Room, there are only two rappers that get a pass for doing wack shit every now and again. It’s these two.

The “Harlem Shuffle”/“House of Pain” loop is intimately familiar, but the chop is abrasive and confrontational, which, coincidentally is exactly how I like most of my rap shit. This track is the ultimate we-still-got-it headbanger of 2014. Don’t make these rap dads come over there.

I’m obviously not saying it’s the BEST best, but it will do.

Q: HOW MANY PUNCHLINES ARE IN THIS SONG?

A: ALL OF THEM

– Aaron Miller

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T.I. ft. Young Thug: “About the Money”

I like to think that little Damoney (sp?) or another member of T.I.’s brood played Young Thug around the house so much that Clifford actually thought it was a good idea to put him on a track.

“About the Money” is the first song in years that made it sound like Tip’s first job title isn’t “reality star.”

We are all better for having little D’monie (sp?) around.

– Clyde McGrady

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Open Mike Eagle ft. Hannibal Buress: “Doug Stamper”

I called “Doug Stamper” joke rap in its highest form when I reviewed it a few months ago, which had a lot to do with the presence of Hannibal Buress – one of my favorite comedians of the last few years – appearing on the latter half of the song.

But fuck that description. This is more than that. “Doug Stamper” is a seriously good song.

It has a frayed-neon-bulb, distorted melody that worms its way into heavy rotation. Before you know it, you’re muttering the song’s refrain to yourself in all sorts of places: on your daily morning commute on the metro; after getting shot down at the bar by that girl with the cool tattoos; when you realize you’re pushing thirty but look closer to forty (what up, beer gut and bad hips).

Mike Eagle’s languid delivery is the perfect counter for the twitchy beat, and much like the rest of Dark Comedy, it is introspective, off-kilter, and very, very clever.

Plus, it’s all decent advice. Listen to Mike and Hannibal! Nobody should pay for porn these days.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKsU6gdjZXY

Jeremih ft. YG: “Don’t Tell Em”

TeeFLii ft. 2 Chainz: “24 Hours”

Was there a more prized commodity in the summer of 2014 than Mustard? Fuck limes: If you could afford Mustard, you were living the life. That shit paired with everything. Riff-RaFF. J.Lo. Rozay. T.I. Whatever.

But sometimes it fees like Dijon McFarlane’s production was made for R&B. There’s something about the way a good singer can skate through his icy landscapes, filling the minimalism and negative space with melody and lechery and dick jokes. Ty Dolla $ign has been the biggest beneficiary of this – riding “Paranoid”, “Or Nah”, and “Down on Me” to legit fame – but the two best R&B songs have come from a couple of also-rans: the criminally underrated Jeremih and the criminally spelled TeeFLii.

And with “Don’t Tell Em” and “24 Hours”, these guys have gave us twin slices of breezy, dirty-mouthed synth pop perfection.

“Don’t Tell Em” is obviously the better of the two. Jeremih just nonchalantly bodies this thing. If he doesn’t sell you with the interpolation of Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer”, just stick around for the vocal runs at the end of the song. And even though YG is out here talking about “Twitter pussy I met on the internet” like “Catfish” never happened, you have the give the Compton rapper credit for always sticking to a song’s theme (see also: “Vato”).

The one thing working in “24 Hours” favor: 2 Chainz. Titty Boi knows his way around a Mustard beat. And here? Woo. Try to find another verse more fun to sing along to this year. All day.  All night. 24/7 like a Waffle House.

– Phil R

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Busdriver ft. Pegasus Warning: “Colonize the Moon”

Allow me to sample myself: “I keep listening over and over for the same reason I always dip my hand back into my crumpled bag of Cheetos – more often than not there’s one more crumb of something fucking delicious.” Remember that time you did drugs and it was awesome? Reminisce over this song while Busdriver whips the ’64 into the stratosphere.

– Joshua Phelps

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ScHoolboy Q: “Break the Bank”

From the eerie piano plinking instrumental, to the four on the floor flow from Q, “Break the Bank” is hypnotic. Equal parts sing-along and hood story, Q demonstrates in this song more than any other that he’s trying to inherit the West Coast rap crown, and he’s definitely got some talent to work with.

– Leah Manners

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Captain Murphy: “Cosplay”

I hate to tell y’all, but there’s a good chance that one of the best producers around may secretly be one of the best rappers. Captain Murphy is some next level shit. He may have been guilty of a little too much Tyler/Earl influence on the early tracks but he quickly hit a stride of pervy, shamanistic, poetry sounding shit.

It’s just so goddamn weird. Not fake weird like a lotta these rappers do.  You know: “Oooh look at my weird skirt-pants, I’m so fucking crazy” Or: “Daaaaaamn my video got purple smoke and slo-motion tho” Like, there is some legitimately strange and witchy shit going on here. And “Cosplay” is one of the more understated Captain Murphy tracks.

I’m hoping this not a phase, and Flying Lotus guns for a healthy rap career on the side while making the most visionary electronic music since Aphex Twin.

Random: He should make an album with Aesop Rock.

– Aaron Miller

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YG ft. Drake: “Who Do You Love?”

I love Drake and I love YG, but the real star here is DJ Mustard. He blazed through the charts in 2014 like Sherman through Georgia. I give this track five flame emojis.

– Clyde McGrady

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Jay Z & Jay Electronica: “We Made It (Remix)”

In a year where black folks are getting murdered in cold blood by white folks like it’s 1964, Jay Z and Jay Electronica’s “We Made It” has gone from anthemic ode to excellence to possibly the moment of the 2014’s most wishful thinking.

Jay and Jay on the same track is pretty epic though, and we get a truly invigorated performance from Shawn Carter here in his role as “rap game Barack Obama.” I love everything about Jigga’s verses here down to how he pronounces actress Lupita Nyongo’s name.

As far as Jay Electronica, rap’s last consistent five-percenter drops science here and shows no rust as an emcee whatsoever. Though tempered by recent occurrences, it’s still features top quality rap performances over terrific production and is worth a year-end listen.

– Marcus Dowling

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Rustie ft. Danny Brown: “Attak”

The opening bars of “Attak” are a freak beacon.

Having had the distinct pleasure of seeing Rustie and Danny Brown perform separately in the span of a week, that live wire melody had the same reaction in two very different crowds: unbridled, energetic and joyful dancing. And that’s what really good Rap/EDM can do, and why it has so much potential as an art form.

Rustie has always had an affinity for a trap beat – his debut album, Glass Swords, was basically a Scotsman’s love letter to Southern trunk-rattling bass and sizzling snares – and on “Attak” he pushes this aesthetic out of the upper ninety and into the stratosphere.

Of course, nobody is better for this song than rap chameleon Danny Brown, who jumps on this track and matches the song’s frenetic pace like a goddamn snapper (ninja) turtle on meth.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: “Shitsville”

Don’t fool yourself: You’re a piece of shit.  Freddie Gibbs isn’t gonna let you forget this.

But, hey, it’s OK, here’s the silver lining of “Shitsville”: We’re all pieces of shit.

We all cheat. We all cry. We all pick our noses. We’re all the same.

But if you’re trying to act like your shit don’t stink, please see yourself out of this group hug. Gangsta Gibbs is having none of it. He’s allergic to fronting he is. Ask Jeezy is he keeps it “Real”.

Or just ask Gibbs: “I fathered these fuck niggas with fables / Pussy, I been real.”

Well, that about settles it.

– Phil R

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Migos: “Hit Em”

Vince Staples: “Blue Suede”

You ever just drive around singing jibberish with the windows up, ad libbing and inserting words into songs that don’t make sense? Congrats, you’re the 4th member of Migos. “Hit Em” is an addictive, audible opposite of nootropics.

But if you balance it out with a healthy dose of Vince Staples, a young west gunner who’s as awake as he is gangster, you’re going to be OK. I’ll defer to Leah here:  “Blue Suede” has the “foreboding menace of street gospel.”

– Joshua Phelps

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Bishop Nehru ft. Disclosure: “You Stressin”

I find myself returning to this track again and again this year, because it displays Nehru’s raw talent, and, honestly, it’s just a relaxing listen.

I keep hoping for more Staples-like vulnerability from Nehru, but he’s young, and I’m sure yjay we’ll see a lot out of him in the coming years,,with high hopes for continued smooth flows. When young, fresh talent meets an old head, sometimes the results can be less than stellar, but the Bishop Nehru collab with DOOM this year was a welcome surprise.

– Leah Manners

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Run the Jewels ft. DJ QBert: “Pew Pew Pew”

RTJ. OK. WTF. NEXT.

– Aaron Miller

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Big K.R.I.T: “Cadillactica”

“Cadillactica” is K.R.I.T. synthesizing the best of his influences (UGK, OutKast, 8 Ball & MJG, Three 6 Mafia) into something distinct and beautiful.

– Clyde McGrady

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Girl Talk & Freeway ft. Young Chris: “Tell Me Yeah”

Real talk: Freeway and the homie Girl Talk, they combined.

Are they thinking way beyond making them hits? Allegedly.

Does the block tell them no? My sources say no.

Are they on Jamaican time in St. Tropez? Yes, although that doesn’t make sense.

Do I love what they be cooking up? Yeah, yeah.

– Phil R

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Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar: “Never Catch Me”

“Never Catch Me” could more easily be part of a Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaboration than anything featuring the newest (self) anointed King of Hip-Hop. This is acid jazz! This is some stuff that we would have listened to in my college History of Jazz class, and it’s incredible that we have come to expect nothing less than amazing from Flying Lotus.

It’s easy to talk about FlyLo’s familial connections to jazz as a genre (his aunt was jazz legend Alice Coltrane), but the truth is that he’s producing some incredibly avant-garde music with rich themes and outstanding production values, no matter who he’s related to. Listening to “Never Catch Me” and You’re Dead! requires dedication and attention – sure, this is sonically challenging, but it’s so rewarding to hear the subtle details and incredible musicianship within the barrage of sounds.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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RiFF-RAFF: “Jody 3 Moons”

RiFF-RAFF: “Versace Python”

“Jody 3 Moons” is a hell of a lot cheaper than a therapist. Go ahead and let them teardops fall like Versace waterfalls, and give me a hug. Paired with “Versace Python” – an amped up production of a two and half years old reeeeeediciulous RiFF RAFF YouTube freestyle – these two tracks are a pretty fair representation of Jody Highroller: inane yet endearing, and unquestionably catchy as hell.

– Joshua Phelps

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Childish Gambino: “Telegraph Ave”

Your mileage may vary with Childish Gambino. Even as someone who thinks irony is overplayed, I can find his earnestness a bit grating. But if there’s a song I would play to convert someone to a Gambino believer it would be this. It’s the best song from a vastly improved sophomore album, featuring better production and flow than anything on his debut.

– Clyde McGrady

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Black Milk ft. Bun B: “Gold Piece”

“Gold Piece” is just a solid joint. Black Milk is still one of the best do-it-all rapper producers out there holding the torch. He pretty much exudes quality on both fronts. “Gold Piece” is sinister and deliberate.  It’s a (cautionary?) tale in two parts: Black Milk throwing snapshots and speaking in paranoid duality about what could happen, then Bun B telling you what will happen.

TRILL OG IS SO SLICK WITH THIS SHIT: “Can’t identify the body how they found you/it’s gone take more than a stovepipe and a houndstooth/ With the Dr. Watson/ When I hit that ass with the hot ones/ Courtesy of the shotgun”

Sherlock Holmes ain’t got shit on Bun B.

(I don’t know what that means. I just said it)

– Aaron Miller

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Vince Staples: “Nate”

My father was a far from perfect man. He married eight times – a few times before I was born, a few times after. Once, not long after my parents divorced, he got married and kept it hidden from us. I don’t remember a lot from the second grade, but I  remember my mom screaming and crying on the phone the night that she found out. He could be ridiculously charming and funny, though. In fact, he was most of the time. He spoiled me and my sisters. He was flashy too – with the luxury cars and the watches and the apartment on the ocean in Florida. It was hard to square the good stuff with the dodgy stuff – the stuff my mom would tell me when she’d had too much to drink. It’s difficult to process all of this information as a kid. It’s difficult enough as an adult. He died two years ago, unmarried, owing people money. He’s still the coolest person that I’ve ever known.

Vince Staples grew up in different circumstances than I did, but what he’s describing on “Nate” is universal. It’s about the way the good and the bad and all things you didn’t understand growing up swirl in your memory. It’s about knowing even as a kid that your father is wildly flawed, and yet still idolizing him. It’s about your parents not wanting their kids to repeat their mistakes. It’s about how children see everything, even if they say nothing.

Like no song this year, “Nate” wrecks me.

– Phil R

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Big K.R.I.T. ft. ASAP Ferg: “Lac Lac”

Man, the #weekofKRIT was maybe my favorite week of the year, and this track was my favorite of that week. It just rolls so smoothly into the southern rap canon.  And Ferg doesn’t even fuck it up.  Incredible.

– Leah Manners

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: “Thuggin'”

One of the many gems in the bezel of Gangsta Gibbs’ and Madlibs’ Pinata, “Thuggin” is unapologetic ode to slangin that’ll have your mother on the glass dick. Metaphorically.

– Joshua Phelps

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Follow Rec-Room on Twitter, where we’re limited to 140 characters:  @marcuskdowling, @philrunco, @gitmomanners, @jrlopez, @dc-phelps, @Aaron_ish, and @CAMcGrady.

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