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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 count down our favorite album, mixtapes, and EPs 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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15. Girl Talk & Freeway: Broken Ankles

Was 2014 the year people finally stopped talking shit about Greg Gillis?

While the grand majority enjoy the Pittsburgh native’s live “performances,” many are quick to dismiss him as all show and no substance – a snake oil merchant who is piggy-backing his way to the top off other people’s original compositions. Coupled with the music industry’s reticence to sue him for copyright infringement (and the Pandora’s Box they’d be opening if they did sue), it lends itself to making Girl Talk an easy target for the haters.

But Girl Talk has always had a sharp ear for a great break beat and hook, and in Freeway he’s found the perfect foil for Broken Ankles. The EP has a relatively short run time – eighteen minutes – but every single track is a banger. It’s all high energy, hood stories, and trap flow, different to previous Girl Talk releases while retaining that air of familiarity.

And, real talk – me and the homie Girl Talk, we combine. This shit is fire.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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14. The Roots: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin 

In light of Ferguson, Staten Island, and Bobby Shmurda this year, The Roots’ …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin doesn’t really make The Roots sound like old rap dudes saying fuck you to the music industry anymore.

They were actually the first to really understand that something’s really wrong here, and for that they deserve some sort of an honor.

Somehow, being on every year-end list really doesn’t feel like close to enough.

“When The People Cheer” is the ultimate takeaway here, Black Thought rapping with dexterity but moreso from the heart, his talk of “douchebags in durags” one of 2014’s most important and quotable rap lines of the year.

In a year where everyone struggled with exactly what it means to “keep it real,” somehow Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show band more than exceeded expectations.

– Marcus Dowling

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13. Future: Honest

Honest: The second studio effort of Nayvadius Wilburn.

Honest: The oft-delayed follow-up to Future’s breakthrough, Pluto.

Honest: Once titled Future Hendrix, which was significantly cooler.

Honest: Rec-Room’s thirteenth favorite record of the year.

Wait, the thirteenth best rap album of 2014?!? [Future voice]: Crazy.

How do I make sense of this oversight? How did we get here?

Did I not ride hard enough for this album? Is that even possible? Did I not put an Honest song on 98% of the playlists and mixes that I made this year? Did I not spread the word? Was Future’s goodwill Kozelaked by shit like “Pussy Overrated” and “Monster”?

Do my ears pick up a frequency of awesome that my colleagues don’t? Do they not hear “Look Ahead” and want to karate chop things? Do they not get stressed out trying to decide what parts of “Honest” to sing along to? Do they not want to slow dance with someone whenever “I Be U” comes on? Does a mile long school bus worth of children not start double-dutching in their brains when “Benz Friendz” hits their ears? Do they not realize that no other album this year had such a high percentage of flamethrowers? Eight! Maybe even nine! Fuck it: nine and a half, because “My Momma” is great before Wiz Khalifa shows up and says, “She thinks it’s a Snicker, because I feed her the dick.” (Ugh.)

So, yeah, that jackass, and Kanye’s nonsense on “I Won” – the kind of verse that Yeezy would never in a million years put on his own record – and that weirdly aborted Drake song: Honest is not a perfect album. When it misses, it misses big. But it’s not hard to quarantine those mistakes. Every song on Honest is its own little self-contained universe – of production aesthetic, of message, of Future voices. These songs were labored over. Pick any fifteen second span and just marvel at everything going on.

I told Rec-Room that if Honest didn’t make our top ten list, I would burn this place to the ground. My colleagues called my bluff. They ain’t even trying to be special.

So I made this a top fifteen list.

I was gonna lie to you, but I had to tell the truth.

– Phil R

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12. BeatKing & Gangsta Boo: Underground Cassette Tape Music 

When I say that Gangsta Boo and BeatKing’s Underground Cassette Tape Music has absolutely no redeeming qualities, please believe that’s a compliment of the highest order.

This mixtape is 15 tracks of trunk-thumping, deuce-chunking, bullet-dumping madness that burns a swath of the South from Houston to Memphis.

The fact that Beatking, aka “Club Godzilla,” and Boo literally phoned-in – they never met, just emailed – this whole project should scare any and all bullshit rappers out there.

Fuck drunk in love, Gangsta Boo is drunk on dick and dollars and her acid-tongued verses on “Dirty Hoe” alone are enough to deflate Nicki’s ass and make Iggy blush, all four cheeks.

BeatKing is no slouch either, holding his own with punchlines and and a violent, blustery bravado that pairs so, so well with Boo’s Memphis twang and Three Six slang. BeatKing handles much of the production here as well, mixing his own submarine-deep knock with grimy synths that undoubtedly pair well if you have as many 15″s in your whip as he does – that is to say, make it “sit obtuse.”

Throw in a couple of assists from Paul Wall, Lil Flip, RiFF, Danny Brown and an in-stride Daz, and you have most get-buck album of 2014.

– Joshua Phelps

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11. Common: Nobody’s Smiling

Man, everybody around me is seeing the bullshit going down with the police in Ferguson and NYC and saying, “Where’s hip hop in all of this? Why aren’t rappers saying anything?” Well, FFS, here it is! LISTEN UP.

With Nobody’s Smiling, Common delivers one of the most lyrical and compelling tales of violence in an urban environment (specifically Chicago), touching on how communities are built by drugs, what it’s like to grow up with violence as a permanent fixture in your life, and with police as the enemy. With outstanding features from Vince Staples, Lil Herb, Cocaine 80s, Snoh Aalegra and something, like, “OK that’s not terrible” from Big Sean, Common is an old head’s old head.

He isn’t pulling any punches on this release.

– Leah Manners

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10. YG: My Krazy Life

At a time when most rappers treat major label debuts like victory laps – platforms to describe all the ways that they’ve already made it, and, I don’t know, can afford a bigger pool now – YG just wanted us to know that he had a boner.

It wasn’t necessarily a bombshell: Seven songs earlier, on My Krazy Life’s “Left, Right”, he had informed us that his dick works.  Well, he hadn’t told us directly – he had offered that operating status to a female companion, presumably as a means of seduction. “My dick work, girl.” That’s what he said. He sounded proud. And, eighteen minutes later, that claim checked out.

But when the Compton rapper tells of us his morning wood on “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)” – on its very first line – it’s not much a boast. It’s meant to illustrate sexual frustration and much more:  “I woke up this morning, I had a boner / I went to sleep with no bitch,  n****, I was loner / I be going through shit, losing bitches and homies / If I don’t make it with this rap shit, n****, I might be homeless.”

This isn’t the first time on My Krazy Life that YG’s dick is going unused. That apparently happened a lot when he was locked up: “My bitch wouldn’t come see me, I was in there masturbating,” he shares on “Bicken Back Being Cool”. The beat drops out for that revelation. Again, YG can’t stress this boner thing enough.

Why am I stressing it? I think when people talk about My Krazy Life, they focus on DJ Mustard’s West Coast 2.0 production – which, granted, did feel like a culmination of sorts – and the gang talk throughout the record, and they want to slap a “gangsta rap” label on this record and move on. What they’re missing is that YG made something very human, and often jawdroppingly uncool.

YG is not a self-stylized badass – if he’s a gangbanger, he’s one reluctantly (“I Just Wanna Party”). He’s insecure, fixated on the idea of who’s really got his back (“My Nigga”, “Meet the Flockers”), because no one does (“1AM”). He’s a shitty son, which comes out explicitly on My Krazy Life’s closer, where he raps alternatively from his perspective and that of his mother: “Damn, now I’m feeling less than a man / Because you birthed me, and I was acting like I couldn’t understand / I’m sorry, momma.”

You’re not going to misinterpret any of this in the literal sense. YG raps in a way that’s unabashedly unshowy. He leaves nothing to decode. The only punches he has are deliberate, steady body shots.

But fixate on all the ways that he’s not Kendrick – a comparison he admittedly set-ups in cribbing theday-in-the-life concept of good kid, m.A.A.d city – and you’ll miss all the ways that his flaws and unguardedness makes him a compelling narrator.

It’s poking you right in the eye like a… well, you know.

– Phil R

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9. Tinashe: Aquarius

I listened to a lot of R&B and hip-hip this year, but there is nothing I listened to more than “2 On.”

Not many things in 2014 gave me as much joy as listening to that song. DJ Mustard is fast becoming my favorite beatmaker, and that song is his best work so far. It’s also a go-to party track that never fails to get things moving.

But “2 On” is by far the most uptempo song on Aquarius. Tinashe tends to favor slow, grinding production. This album is slower than molasses dripping from a tree in Alaska. The purest distillation of this aesthetic is the Devonte Hynes-assisted “Bet,” the second-best track on the album. There’s also the Janet Jackson-sampling “How Many Times” that features Future, well, Futuring all over the place with that stuttering hick-up flow he pulls out every now and then.

As good as this album is, I can’t wait to see what Tinashe does in the future. My hope that she and Dijon somehow get to make all the great songs Timbaland and Aaliyah were supposed to before terrible fate intervened.

– Clyde McGrady

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8. Beyoncè: Beyoncè

Beyonce basically released the same album twice in twelve months and nobody cared.

The first drop was the musical equivalent of the virgin birth, Baby Bey having “woke up like this,” 14 tracks and 16 videos long, no promotion necessary. For literally any other artist in the world except Beyonce, a 30-track audio and video “immersive album experience” would be too much.

But, for Beyonce, it was just enough.

She’s the queen, married to King Jay-Hova and mother of a princess named Blue Ivy (who even has an album credit on the appropriately named “Blue”). Thus, we expect ostentatiousness and are overjoyed to see it delivered, needing to discuss it ad nauseum, everywhere, even behind the partition (please… lest we see Queen Bey on her knees…), as “‘Yonce” was all on our mouths (for twelve months) “like liquor… like liquor… like like liquor.”

You get the point.

As far as raps, Jay Z’s verses on “Drunk In Love” are like watching Michael Jordan jogging onto the court during a relaxed pickup game among friends and dropping a triple-double. It’s totally unexpected and showcases Jay’s virtuosity, even though he’s not even really being tested.

The other rap performance we must discuss is on the “Flawless” remix, where Nicki Minaj steps up to the plate like she did on Kanye’s “Monster” remix and knocks it out of the park, the home run leveling her up as not just a rapper but a supreme pop diva-deity.

If hip-hop culture is going to be more style than substance these days, then this album is perfect. Instead of the Wu-Tang debacle, imagine if there was only one physical copy of Beyonce. Crazy to consider, right?!?!?!

– Marcus Dowling

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7. Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!

Years ago, Flying Lotus used to be my secret snob weapon. No matter what music came up in casual conversation, I could be all like “Yeah, but have you heard this shit?”

Now everybody knows about this shit. Peoples’ moms do yoga to it and 19-year-olds shotgun beers and pop Mollys to it. Normally, that would be my cue to peace out and move on.

Not this time. Not now.

His music is truly transcendent. It listens less like beat-making and more like a new wave of jazz or genre unto itself. He is phenomenally talented and next level producer… and don’t get me started on Captain Murphy.

You’re Dead! is far and away the best album of the year. Technically, spiritually, pharmaceutically: bananas. It’s like if Weather Report had DMT-fueled tantric sex with all the Aphex Twin records in a fetish club on a space station.

Tune in, turn on, and cop this record.

The future of electronic music depends on it.

– Aaron Miller

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6. Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy

” My thoughts are very lofty/Response time is very frosty.”

A lot of rappers try to sound deep. They try so hard. Too hard. They try and fail. In every genre from bleep-bloop experimental wankers to the Struggle Thugs, they think it’s what we want. They think they have to shove those skills down our throat and then strike a career long b-boy stance like “WHAT?! RESPECT MY SHIT OK PLEASE.”

Mike Eagle is not that dude. “Dark Comedy” slides in with unparalleled slick shit and hooks before you know it. Pre-judgment. He is on that Yoda “no try, just do” shit. He is on some humble Bruce Lee “be like water” shit. I think… I don’t know for sure.

Leah and I kicked it with Mike a little during Weird City Fest 2014 (shout out myself #NOPROMO). I’m not gonna lie: I expected a strange-ass dude that spoke in secret code and wore sunglasses at night. Maybe I expected him to be a big snob jerk like a lot of rappers. I was thinking about “Thirsty Ego Raps” and “Qualifiers”, and I was so distracted thinking of wordplay and obtuse punchlines that I was caught off guard by a really normal-ass dude.

Is there such thing as keeping it so real that nobody notices? Like, in a good way. Like “I’ma just leave you alone so you can be a genius or whatever.”

I have a terrible attitude about Rap. I am constantly at war with the Self, because I want progress, but I also want to ride out. I want funny and friendly with gunshots and airhorns and Illuminati rhymes. Pyramids vs. holes in the jeep. I want something so new that only me and a few 12-year-olds understand it, but I also reserve the right to listen to only shit from 1990-95 and bore you with Old Man Rap speeches if I feel like it.

I don’t know why, but albums like Dark Comedy and emcees like Open Mike help me come to terms with my shitty attitude. It lets me know that the divide I feel in hip-hop is not as real as I think – that there is plenty of room for art and idea power. It teaches me that street cred is intangible bullshit and there is always something new.

This album is a stand-alone work of art.

– Aaron Miller

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5. Big K.R.I.T: Cadillactica

The newly-crowned “King of the Souf” finally put all the pieces together in 2014.

After 2012’s solid but uneven Live from the Underground, Big K.R.I.T. returned with Cadillictica, his best effort to date.

But we should have known that Krizzle was focused, man, after he dropped “Mt. Olympus” and slapped the entire rap game with the hand of Zeus, pissed that he even had to descend from his throne and explain what should already be understood to these silly mortals. In the process, he came up with the best response to Kendrick’s “Control” verse (though Drake comes close), using the Mississippi-sized chip on his shoulder to best even Mr. Lamar.

Cadillictica is spaced out (“Cadillactica”), soulful (“Soul Food”), and preachy (“Lost Generation”). It features a cast that ranges from Raphael Saadiq to everyone’s favorite terrorist-designating conspiracy theorist, Lupe Fiasco.

This album is a statement: Anyone who wants the crown is gonna have to snatch it off K.R.I.T.’s head.

Good luck.

I made it through this whole review without saying “OutKast.”

Shit.

– Clyde McGrady

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4. Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait + Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2

We’ve been loving on Vince Staples all year, and rightly so. The latest member of the Odd Future collective to step out on his own has been making all the right noises, dropping great guest verses left and right, as well as coming out the blocks strong in 2014 with soul-cribbing Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, and then the pummeling mission statement, Hell Can Wait.

Both place him in rare company: young rappers who lived up to the hype this year – his only real peers being Young Thug and YG.

We’ve spilled a lot of (virtual) ink about this kid so far, and there’s not much else to say except that listening to Vince Staples’ music is to let a great storyteller take you on a trip through realness.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez

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3. ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

In music as with movies  – you put your shit out early in the year, you may fall off the end of the myriad listicles and masterbatory critical breakdowns and “Best Of’s” like this one. Well, fuck that, right, Schoolboy Q? You just gonna start dropping spider bag singles in early 2013, couple more in the fall, and push your album into February.

No matter, Oxymoron still sits near the top of the Rec-Room top 15 – and for good reason.

Oxymoron is one of the most volatile and eloquent records in recent rap history. Maybe just plain rap history.

Beyond the obvious appeal of the Lamar-laced “Collard Greens,” the infectious Chromatic-sampling “Man of the Year,” or the amped up gangsta rides on “Gangsta” and “Los Awesome,” it’s the introspective and autobiographical drug tales that grip you. Listen to “Prescription/Oxymoron” and you might look down and find you had oddly dialed 911 into your phone to help this dude.

“Prescription drugs, show me love / Percoets, adderral, xany bars, get codeine involved / Stuck in this body high, I can’t shake it off! / I’ve fallen off, I can’t hold a thought / What’s wrong with me? now depression creeps / I’m stressin deep, even in my sleep / My mommy called, I hit ignore / My daughter calls! I press ignore / My chin press on my chest, my knees press the floor.”

Son, I thought my hangovers were bad. Interweaving his daughters voice here throughout holds a lot more sway than on the amped up bangers. It’s an Eminem trope, but hits so much harder here.

But for as many dark turns as Schoolboy Q takes on the record, it really is one of the most fun records of the year – because of those contradictions. The inter-posse arms race this record created between Schoolboy and Kendrick can only be a good things for fans of rap. I just hope we don’t have to wait until 2016 for the next salvo from Q.

– Joshua Phelps

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2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata

Piñata kicked me in the bozack hard this year.

I hesitate to get into cliché territory with stuff like “instant classic” blah blah blah, but at this point, Madlib can do no wrong. It’s that Old New Shit. Any Madlib beat could have come out at any time ever. Does that even make sense? Just pick one. That shit could come out today, tomorrow, 15 years ago?! Fuck if I know.

In a sea of Shmurda-fied bullshit and dry-snitching toy criminals, Gangsta Gibbs is too real. I’m not offended by his overt criminality, because I feel like I’m learning something about hip-hop not listening to swagged out campfire stories. Gibbs doesn’t really talk the big shit. He’s not Tony or Sosa. He’s just right in the middle, grinding and winning. I get a distinct man-behind-the-man-behind-the-motherfucking-man vibe off Gibbs.

If Future and King Push taught us how to “Move That Dope”, Gibbs is schooling us on how to keep getting away with it.

I saw this duo at FFFFFFFFFFest last month around and it was amazing. I was worried at first: Gibbs announced that he was high as fuck, drunk as fuck and ready to do this shit. Every rap fan knows a faded rapper can be his own worst enemy.

But no worries. Madlib had a drink in his hand for half the set, dropping the smooth shit with one hand like a boss. Gibbs never stopped rapping, and said “(SAY)FUCK POLIIIIICE” no less than 40 times. It was infectious enough to make well-intentioned, normal White People scan the crowd, looking for cops and festival security to make eye contact with, so they could say it and mean it and giggle and shit.

Any dip in momentum was immediately hammered down by Gibbs’ ruthless, lighting speed freestyle between tracks.

Dude has crazy breath control. I truly believe he can hold his own with any dude rapping. You owe it to yourself to listen to this album and catch these flows. Get some fire-ass weed, get real high, and ride these beats.

– Aaron Miller

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1. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

First, a prayer: Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of Shmurdas, I will fear no fuccbois: for thou art with me; thy Killer Mike and thy El-P, they comfort me. Amen. Fuck the Police.

It’s tough to say that this duo are God-like, because fuck that noise, but Killer Mike and El-P are the righteous anger of hip-hop, and on the spectacular Run the Jewels 2, they’ve brought together their respective southern vitriolic spitting and indie snark sensibilities with features from Zack de la Rocha, Gangsta Boo, and Diane Coffee.

The kind of rage that RTJ inspires in listeners is inherently based around dissatisfaction with the current scene: its mumbly marble-mouths, its pretenders to the throne, its repetitive line-shouters, and of course its fuckboys.

Mike and Jamie use their words like fully loaded AK samurai swords, spitting each like it’ll actually cut your damn face if you don’t duck soon enough. That kind of delivery is so satisfying because there’s no ambiguity. Don’t cross the line into being a shitty person, or you’ll get sliced. Wake up to the bullshit around us, or you’ll get a fist to the face like it’s “fucking Folgers.”

Indie, conscious, and backpacker hip-hop was a backlash against the mainstream’s senseless glorification of criminality, money, and misogyny.  Well, hipsters, here’s your backlash to the backlash.  Run the Jewels are calling everybody to the carpet, and they’re not gonna care about hurt feelings (although, in all truthfulness, some of Mike’s verses about women can be pretty creepy) and they sound like they have a ton of fun doing it.

With each release, it seems like Run the Jewels have gotten closer to figuring out their perfect formula of interaction, production, and delivery.

Let’s hope for another summer of killin’ em in 2015.

– Leah Manners

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STAFF LISTS

Marcus Dowling

1. Beyonce: Beyonce

2. The Roots: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

3. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

4. Atmosphere: Southsiders

5. ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

6. Common: Nobody’s Smiling

7. Rapsody: Beauty and The Beast

8. Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo

9. RiFF RAFF: Neon Icon

10. Azealia Banks: Broke with Expensive Taste

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Clyde McGrady

1. Beyonce: Beyonce

2. Big K.R.I.T: Cadillactica

3. Tinashe: Aquarius

4. T.I.: Paperwork

5. YG: My Krazy Life

6. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

7. Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait

8. ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

9. Azealia Banks: Broke with Expensive Taste

10. Future: Honest

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Jose Lopez-Sanchez

1. Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!

2. Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Piñata

4. Tinashe: Aquarius

5. Girl Talk & Freeway: Broken Ankles

6. Vince Staples: Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2/Hell Can Wait EP

7. Run the Jewels: RTJ2

8. DJ Mustard: 10 Summers

9. Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica

10. PRyhme: PRhyme

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Leah Manners

1. Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica

2. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

3. Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy

4. Common: Nobody’s Smiling

5. Vince Staples: Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2/Hell Can Wait

6.  ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

7. Dilated Peoples: Directors of Photography

8. Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty

9. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata

10. Azealia Banks: Broke with Expensive Taste

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Aaron Miller

1. Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!

2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata

3. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

4. BeatKing and Gangsta Boo: Underground Cassette Tape Music

5. Statik Selektah: What Goes Around

6. Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy

7. ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

8. Black Milk: If There’s a Hell Below

9. Pharoahe Monch: PTSD

10. Adrian Young & Souls of Mischief: There Is Only Now

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Joshua Phelps

1. ScHoolboy Q: Oxymoron

2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata

3. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

4. Vince Staples: Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 / Hell Can Wait

5. BeatKing and Gangsta Boo: Underground Cassette Music

6. RiFF RAFF: Neon Icon

7. Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica

8. A$AP Ferg: Ferg Forever

9. The Roots: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

10. Havoc: 13 Reloaded

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Phil R

1. Future: Honest

2. YG: My Krazy Life

3. DJ Quik: The Midnight Life

4. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata

6. Vince Staples: Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 / Hell Can Wait

7. PRyhme: PRhyme

8. Common: Nobody’s Smiling

9. Girl Talk & Freeway: Broken Ankles

10. Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!

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