10. Bitch U Guessed It – OG Maco
Minimalism is everything. Produced by fairly newcomer Brandon Thomas, this beat is as stripped back as they come. I like to think in whatever program he made this in, the project file has no more than a piano track, an 808 track, and a drum track. Perhaps what brings out the best in this beat, however, is OG Maco’s absolutely bonkers delivery. Either way, although this song may have been made popular by Vine, it’s still a standout of 2014.
9. IDFWU – Big Sean
2014 was dominated by DJ Mustard and his signature sound. Although he produced nearly every track on YG’s critically acclaimed My Krazy Life, his most impressive beat was given to Big Sean. Produced in conjunction with Kanye West and DJ Dahi, this beat continued an awesome clashing of styles started on Rick Ross’s “Sanctified”. The first half is a Mustard staple, with a analog bass-driven beat that is spiced by hints of Kanye-style production with a little vocal sample, however the latter-half of the beat has the same soul sample take centre stage. The concoction is such a catchy masterpiece that one may find themselves tuning out Big Sean’s lyrical garbage to listen to just the instrumental.
8. Sunday Candy – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
For those that think Hip Hop has to be all money, sex, drugs, and violence, this is the best possible reminder that there is no way that’s true. The Social Experiment, alongside Chance the Rapper, come through with easily one of the happiest songs of the year (Pharrell probably takes that title without question). The beat is a piano driven melody that builds to a full and vibrant chorus complete with a triumphant horn section and wanderous percussion. Amongst all negativity in the world, this reminder to smile once in a while is surely an important step for Hip Hop, and at the very least, a positive message for 2014.
7. Lunch Money – Pusha T
Kanye and Pusha T do it again. Last year’s list featured the duo’s masterful “Numbers On the Boards”, a beat characterized by it’s rolling bass line, glitchy percussion, and an unexpected interruption by Jay Z. However, this year the two come through with a cut that is much more experimental, yet still somehow just as vibe-able. The beat samples Jean-Jacques Perrey’s “E.V.A.” to create an atmospheric soundscape windstorm. The beat is a constant build-up to the smooth jam climax that comes around the 2 minute mark. Still retaining some glitchy percussion that “Number On the Boards” thrived on, we are reminded how well these two work together.
6. 0 To 100/The Catch-Up – Drake
Even without an album, Drake still dominated the airwaves this year with hit after hit after hit. “0 To 100/The Catch Up” is no exception. The beat features a switch-up at around the halfway mark, a trend in Drake’s music that all started with “Tuscan Leather” (aka last year’s beat of the year), with the first half produced by frequent collaborator Boi-1da and the second by partner-in-crime Noah 40 Shebib. “0 to 100” follows a traditional Hip-Hop sample formula: sample with drums – sample without drums – repeat. Following the switch, linked by the line “whole squad on that real shit”, “The Catch Up” is a much smoother traditional Drake sound. All in all, this 2-for-the-price-of-1 beat gives Drake a textured instrumental to excel on.
5. Shot You Down – Isaiah Rashad
TDE’s newest addition to the crew Isaiah Rashad dropped his incredible debut tape Cilvia Demo in the early spring of 2014. The tape was filled with a number of awesome tracks, all characterized by laid-back jazzy production. However, the clear stand-out, that was originally dropped as a single, was the album’s finale “Shot You Down”. Produced by The Antydote and Chris Calor, the beat samples a pitched down version of “Sparkling in the Sand” by Tower Of Power, giving the track a distinctive crooning flute and the ominous “when god made you” line that is repeated throughout. In addition, the two add some percussion to give the track its rhythm, using a heartbeat-like pattern to start off the track that then goes into a more tradition beat driven by its distinctive hi-hats. All together, the beat makes the 7 minute track not just an easy listen, but a great listen too.
4. Who Else – Mick Jenkins
Mick Jenkins’ water-themed mixtape The Water[s] was not just one of the most interesting and conceptual works in 2014, but also easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the year outright. The album’s theme of water was not just hit home by the MC’s lyrics, but doneso on an instrumental level as well. The track “Who Else”, produced by TJ Osinulu, takes us on a journey that feels like we are being tossed around in the stormy ocean. The blaring drums that are then subdued partway into the track take us through the crashing chorus only to through us under during the verse. The whole track feels like an allegory for the biblical Jonah and the Whale story, which is referenced by Jenkins in the opening line of the verse. The conceptual and technical excellence of this track, and the album as a whole, solidify them both as some of 2014’s finest.
3. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) – Run The Jewels
run them r-run them r-run them run them r-run them r-run them.
Flasback to 2013: Run the Jewels drop their debut album that starts off so incredibly insane with the track “Run the Jewels” (go figure). Now, in 2014, Run the Jewels drop their sophomore album and are able to capture the same energy and intensity with the track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”. Dominated by a “run them jewels fast” vocal sample, the driving beat is fast, intense, and an awesome template for the duo to explore social and political issues. The beat sounds like it could be a heavy metal song, with a guitar like riff dominating the verses, but also could be a bass heavy banger. “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” shows the multifaceted nature of hardcore duo Run the Jewels, and is not only the finest on their 2nd album, but easily one of the best of 2014 as well.
2. Uno – Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Producer Madlib has a special talent to make you think listening to something straight forward. But when you listen closer, and try to break down what you’re hearing, you realize what you’re actually listening to is just weird as hell, but still catchy and sonically pleasing. All of Piñata was a prime example of this. You could pick any beat off this album and put it on a “Beats of the Year” list, and there would be pretty much no argument. So, with that said, when going through the tracklist trying to make my pick, I decided to find the one that combined elements of weirdness, complexity, catchiness, and fusion of sounds the best. From this criteria, I landed on “Uno”. As one of the shorter songs on the album, this beat is condensed and to-the-point, as it combines elements of wobble bass and ominous strings to create its overall ora. As a whole, this album has the unique trait of sounding like a 1970 Blaxploitation movie; where “Uno” stands out on top is combining this characterizing sound with other unique elements, most notably the bass line. As a result, this beat is the pinnacle of weirdness and complexity that made Piñata a modern-day classic.
1. (TIE) “Hang On” and “Take Flight” – Shad & DJ T.Lo
I warned you. But honestly, it’s hard for me to put into words how incredible these beats are. You know that feeling when you’ve got your headphones in and a beat comes on that makes you rock your head so hard that inevitably you just yell out “OH SHIT”… yeah well that was me.
But in all seriousness, both of these instrumentals are absolute fire. “Hold On” uses a bouncing piano sample to create a rhythmic masterpiece. All held together by a vocal sample, traditional Hip-Hop drums, and a chorus section that seamlessly transitions back into the verse, producer DJ T.Lo hit a home run on this instrumental. But he didn’t stop there as the following track , “Take Flight” takes the cake for sample of the year. Said instrumental bounces from note to note to create a rhythm that flows just as smoothly as Shad’s lyrics. Both of these beats we’re key players in the masterpiece that was Boarding Pass EP, so it is no surprise that one of the best Hip-Hop projects of the years was the home to the #1 beats of the year.
Hip Hop is a constantly changing landscape. Each year we get to examine those who are branching out and exploring new territory and those who are taking it back to the roots of traditional Hip-Hop. 2014, like every year, was no exception. The range of varying styles and sounds makes a list like this no easy feat, so I’d like to thank you for reading. Enjoy!