Artwork: James Dunne
Sure, we’re going to throw Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Frank Ocean and plenty other high profile names into the hat and debate for top projects of the year. Your favorite sites have already begun their lists and discussions are ensuring on social networks. It’s good and dandy that some of these artists get the spot since they created great pieces of work. Still, it was physically impossible to catch every single bit of music that came out this year.
This list is made to highlight some of the better projects that may have been overlooked when considering the top. Some of these projects received great praise when they were released but haven’t popped up too much with year end discussions, and a good portion just didn’t get the proper attention. Featuring excellent offerings from Emilio Rojas, Bei Maejor, Phreshy Duzit, Ty Dolla $ign, Jon Connor and more, read on for SD’s best 20 overlooked projects of the year (and listen if you missed it).
Breaking Point proved that Emilio Rojas is only getting better with time. The follow-up to Life Without Shame featured only R&B features woven to help its concepts like “One More Time” or “Blame Me.” There were also deep moments like the intro where he gets personal while still showing determination or dealing with racism on “Spic.” All in all, it was playable from start to finish and possessed great replay value.
The same way we saw T-Pain and Future take over with their unique sounds, Ty Dolla $ign could do the same. Beach House is one of the coldest projects that shows off the player-like lifestyle of the California native. Backed by features from Dom Kennedy, YG, Joe Moses and more, the project captivated its own sound and proved that he’s an excellent songwriter. And not for nothing, but “My Cabana” is a hit.
After a quiet battle to get off Atlantic Records, Phreshy Duzit immediately bounced back by linking up with After Platinum Records. Then, he worked on and released The New Religion this past summer. It featured mostly production from Nylz, who has great chemistry with Phresh, and a lot of interesting samples, most notably on “Michigan Ave.” It also featured stand-out records like the Jon Connor-featured “Ultimatum,” the clever “Ms. Industry” and hypnotizingly slow “Good Mourning.”
With everyone praising Frank Ocean and Miguel, it seems like R. Kelly’s latest album got swept under the rug a bit. Not that the promo was all that big, the Pied Piper released this album without a big charting single or lots of notice. Loyal fans still flocked to grab it off shelves and on iTunes and weren’t disappointed. It was all that smooth R&B we’ve grown to expect from Kels. “Feeling Single” had a two-step thing going on, “Lady Sunday” is the joys of falling in love and one of the most interesting things is that he produced the entire album himself (with a few names nabbing co-credits).
Insane lyricism mixed with pop culture references over beats by Blue Sky Black Death. That’s one way to sum up Nacho Picasso’s Exalted. The Seattle-bred artist dropped three projects in a span of a year, and this one garnered the most attention. Getting love from Complex, The Smoking Section and others, along with being able to sell out several different venues in the city, Exalted was a fine grade of music that may not have substance, but it sounds like a bunch of bangers with focus on the lyrics more than the beats. But yes, the beats were equally as good.
Charm being his second project of the year (third if you count an instrumental album), Chase N. Cashe displayed growth from The Heir Up There. Always having a good ear for beats, and access to producers like Tha Bizness, AraabMuzik and more, the production on Charm was superb and matched in well with records like “Line Of Fire” and “I Don’t Play.” He also nabbed a couple features from ASAP Rocky, Troy Ave and more.
The Bay Area is getting more into the function movement. E-40 is one of the top dogs when it comes to the style, but several artists on his tail. IAMSU! is one of them. Getting a good look on Wiz Khalifa’s Cabin Fever 2, he ended up releasing $uzy 6 $peed about a month later. The tape had turned up production from his crew, The Invasion, and featured Juvenile, Wiz, Problem and more.
This concept project is one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Flipping pop culture samples and ideas, XV dropped one of his most memorable efforts. He, Schoolboy Q and B.o.B killed “Aaah! Real Monsters” in such a crass way. Nobody has captured Inception quite like “The Kick” did. “The Wonkavator” is irrefutable. Point blank, Popular Culture had an aim and shot above that.
Not only did this mixtape surpass his album by miles, The Diamond Life Project some of the most hardcore and grimey records of the year. There were a good amount of features that didn’t overshadow the Ghost, but there is one song that did. Rhyming on four instrumentals is something Rick Ross did on “Maybach Music IV,” but originality doesn’t matter when SP dropped four Alchemist beats onto “The Myth.” To say it was fire would be shorting the record of proper credit.
The PLK puts out mixtapes every year it seems. Going into the sixth installment, The Gift is that Lloyd Banks that was ripping and rhyming over instrumentals over 10 years ago. He displayed hunger and no monotony. It seems like he never lost a step when you listen to “We Run The Town” or “Open Arms.”
Single wise, “Team Work Makes The Dream Work” is one of the best independent songs you’ll find this year from a buzzing artist. Mix that in with a lot of substance and relatable records to make up SmokeOut Conversations. He and SwizZz turned things up with “Who Want It?” The relationship issues hit close to home on “Get It Together.” It was his debut project after joining Funk Volume and made a lasting impression.
While being under Sean Kingston has only helped a little bit, Toronto’s Tory Lanez is slowly building up a name. The comparisons to Drake are imminent, since they both rap and sing, but he just makes good music period. He also stood out by having a hand in most of the production found on Sincerely Tory. There was a lot of diversity to the project too. One moment you’re getting a Doo Wop style record with “Doo Wop Kid,” and the next it’s back to rhyming vicious and singing during the hook with “Friday The 13th.”
Gerald Walker has stood out through an excessive grind and his love for making outrageously catchy song titles. On Believers Never Die, we have songs like “That Thing In Your Heart Doesn’t Beat. It Counts Down” and “Girl, Oh No He Didn’t.” Aside from the eye-catching, Gerald has some amazing production from Cardo, Kuddie Fresh, Slot-A and more that fit well. He’ll certainly have a task topping this effort.
Jon Connor might never collaborate with Eminem, however he can say he jacked a ton of his instrumentals and murdered them all on The People’s Rapper LP. If you didn’t already identify with the beat, Jon could’ve passed these songs off as original. That’s how good it was. They were beyond just freestyles.
Serge and Genetics did the exact thing you should do with your project: properly promote it. Aside from making plenty of blogs, they delivered quality videos for all 10 songs. Let’s just say, it’s not as easy as it sounds since visuals get stale and boring, but not the ones off LIFELINES. The plus to this is it kept the project floating around the internet and only expressed how deep the material was. It made “HOWL” an even eerier song. Catch up to their campaign.
Customized Greatly Vol. 3 has so many dope records that even Young Jeezy couldn’t resist quoting “Verified” on Twitter earlier this year. A lot of swag-related rap is weak and sub-par overall, but young Veggies can swag it out and still spit hot bars. When he’s serious, it’s memorable too such as the Jhene Aiko-assisted “Life Rhymes,” where he spits, “I got all this shit in motion, I got so much shit to do/ I’m just grinding getting focused, man I put that on my crew.”
The duo known as Ces Cru spent a good portion of their year promoting their solo mixtapes before rejoining on their first Strange Music EP. As solo acts, they were exceptionally well. Both exerted a high level of lyricism and when they came together on a few tracks, it was clear why Tech N9ne wanted them on his team. For the SM fans who were just getting familiar with them, this was a lasting impression.
Upscale took a new direction with Bei Maejor’s sound. Not too far away from what he did on Upside Down 1 and 2. He made it work with a sort of thematic vibe during parts of the project, and not to mention the hilarious “Enterlude” with Mike Posner. To this day, “The Truth” is one of the most chilling records of the year.
Problem was everywhere this year. If an artist came to work with the League Of Starz, a lot of the time would wind up working with Problem too. He’s ushering in that Function movement, and Welcome To Mollywood was the beginning. Despite being in the game for years, it received more than enough attention and provided club banger after club banger. Songs like “Rollin’,” “Function,” which is E-40’s, and “Broke Down The Weed” helped accomplish his goal.
Narrowing down Masspike Miles best project of the year is tough since he dropped three since January. However, Say Hello To Forever seems to stand out most with extravagant features from Wiz Khalifa, Raekwon, Fred The Godson and Torch that all were great additions. Not only that, the material was as strong, if not stronger, than anything he has done. “Love Come Down” is in the top five for his catalog.