Every year the debate of which artists put out the strongest albums of the year in a particular genre ensues. While this year, the strongest work may not have been the top selling, the top five hip-hop albums agreed on by our Music Editor Duane Benjamin and in-house music critic, Senior Writer Sean Watson are not to be ignored. In no particular, here are their selections. Take heed.

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib // Piñata

It’s human nature to judge things based on our own preconceived notions. With Freddie’s gangsta and rapid delivery matched with Madlib’s often obscure production, more than an eyebrow was raised when the two put out a project together. But this isn’t the first time the two have cooked up something in the studio. In comparison to the EPs the duo previously put out, Piñata is a dope full-length release that you can just let play while you zone out. Songs like “Shitsville”, “Thuggin’” and “Uno” really put a stamp on the chemistry these two have. Both artists in their own right probably don’t get as much praise as they deserve, but as long as they keep putting out ill music, that’s all that matters. – @LahGic

Freddie Gibbs is one of those underdogs that you just can’t help but root for. The type that will pull legendary beat conductor Madlib out of whatever dimension he resides in to drop a collaborative album. Of course it works beautifully. Madlib beats are by no means easy to rhyme to. They are an acquired taste that takes a certain eloquence of palette to truly appreciate. Freddie handles it masterfully playing with his dark baritone all while adding his usual slice of Gary, Indiana inspired bars. Make no mistake – Madlib is the star here. While Freddie more than stepped it up, it’s hard to shine when a master is at the plate. With bars, beats and perfectly casted guest verses from Raekwon on “Bomb”, Danny Brown on “High” and Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt on “Robes”, Piñata is the album on this list that didn’t get its just due. – @MaajinnBluu

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Big K.R.I.T. // Cadillactica

Big K.R.I.T. really marches to the beat of his own drum. Handling two-thirds of the production on Cadillactica, Big K.R.I.T. is more than capable of crafting a masterpiece almost entirely on his own. This album isn’t one of those skim through and nod your head to LPs. And even if you tried to, Big K.R.I.T.’s lyricism and the conviction in his voice, for example on “King Of The South” and “Lost Generation” featuring Lupe Fiasco, is bound to force you to tune in to what he’s trying to tell you. Every word, sentence and syllable counts, and Big K.R.I.T. makes sure each one hits its mark. – @LahGic

It’s hard to say what it’s going to take for Big K.R.I.T. to shake his best-known unknown title. Does he need a radio record? Possibly. He has the acclaim of his peers, a density of lyricism that’s uncanny and the ability to evolve with every release. Cadillactica seems even beyond his accolades. One listen to the title track is enough to put it on most of this year’s top 10 lists. However, as the album continues you realize you’re on a journey that lasts far too short. From “Saturdays = Celebration” with its simplistic intensity to “Mo Better Cool” with its rat pack swagger, Cadillactica plays like a Quentin Tarantino movie. K.R.I.T. takes you right to the edge of madness, but never quite throws you over. – @MaajinnBluu


YG // My Krazy Life

YG is unapologetically a west coast artist. There have been some solid releases from the left coast in the last couple years, but the east coast influence remains very prevalent. My Krazy Life sounds like it could be the soundtrack to California. DJ Mustard handles things behind the boards on half of the tracks and YG seems to shine brightest on those cuts, from “Bicken Back Being Bool”, “My Nigga” and “I Just Wanna Party”. It might be the end of the year and the middle of winter right now, but if you bump My Krazy Life, you’ll feel like you’re cruisin’ through Compton, top down, with the sun beaming down on your candy paint. – @LahGic

We’ve all been starving for some good old west coast rider music. Yeah, Kendrick dropped a classic that was technically a west coast album, but GKMC had a universal appeal that was influenced by other coasts. My Krazy Life is unabashedly west coast. From “Bicken Back Being Bool” with its Blood lingo to the break and entering primer “Meet the Flockers”, My Krazy Life is probably the most authentic, organic and iconic west coast album in the past half decade. And yet, it’s fresh. It contains the whistling synths and digital bass stabs that breed nostalgia, but somehow speaks to a new generation without throwing up Ws while bouncing in a ’69 Cutlass. – @MaajinnBluu

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Black Milk // If There’s A Hell Below

Black Milk is easily in the top five of active producer/emcee combinations in the game. With his witty pen game and versatile cadence, Black brings the most out of his own beats like no one else can. If There’s A Hell Below has a steady and constant vibe or air about it. Even with the varying tempos, melodies and tones of Black’s production, If There’s A Hell Below shows that the arrangement is just as important as the beats and rhymes. Add to that, guest appearances from Pete Rock, Bun B, Random Axe, Blu and Ab Soul, and you’ve got the perfect blend of personalities, OGs and lyricism to complement Black Milk’s vision. – @LahGic

Black Milk’s If There’s A Hell Below is a masterpiece. Not in an esoterically hipster sort of way, but more in how it blends all these great sounds – Curtis Mayfield, Herbie Hancock, Bo Hansson – to create something archetypal. This is all while adding a signature Black Milk touch that makes your head knock until you have a migraine. It’s hard to say what the best cut is. “Leave the Bones Behind” with its sparse bassline, “Story and Her” with its native tongue vibe or maybe “Gold Piece” with its cartoonish stabs. It all just sounds so good. Black Milk will probably never be the greatest rapper on the planet, but if he keeps piecing together these grand opuses, he’ll never have to be. – @MaajinnBluu

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Run The Jewels // Run The Jewels 2

If you thought Run The Jewels was flames – maaaaan. There’s no sophomore jinx on this one, as Killer Mike says it best on “Jeopardy” – “top tag team for two summers.” Going against the grain is often risky and doesn’t always equal success, but the fusion of El-P’s trippy production and the duo’s ‘no fucks given’ approach to every track results in a banging album that sounds like nothing else dropped in 2014. You can tell they had a lot of fun putting together Run The Jewels 2 (RTJ2), but even with the sprinkling of funny one liners, the back and forth sparring between El-P and Killer Mike, often spitting at machine gun relentlessness, makes for a beautiful borage to blow your speakers to. – @LahGic

What an unlikely pairing these two are. The Rawkus veteran known for his unique production and the Southern socio-political spitter have created something unique. Now, El-P and Killer Mike’s first collaboration was sometimes written off as an enjoyable quirk, but RTJ2 is a whole other animal. EL-P’s futuristic soundscapes are lush and expansive, but still provide character and Killer Mike’s bars are not only sharp, but are delivered with a fun and entertaining punch that keeps things replayable. To top it off, the album was offered for free before going on sale on iTunes. After topping most of the year-end lists in 2014, it’s hard to deny this duo. Tuck your chain. – @MaajinnBluu

Words By. Duane Benjamin (@LahGic) + Sean Watson (@MaajinnBluu)

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