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The Best Minnesota Rap Albums of 2014

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The year in Twin Cities hip-hop is like a wall covered in graffiti. So many different styles have coalesced -- boom bap descendants, noise rap, futurism, and more -- in such a satisfying fashion. From St. Paul to the South Side to the North Side and beyond, it's been another great year.

Here's our list for the best MInnesota rap albums of 2014.

No one in rap is doing what Muja Messiah achieved with his latest record. Mike the Martyr's throwback boom-bap production situates it among the work of the greats of the golden age, and Muja's rapping has the internal rhyming and succinct impact that lives up to the best of a bygone era, but he explicitly avoids the trappings of past rap tropes by expounding on the concepts in greater, more nuanced detail. Rarely does a line pass that doesn't show off Muja's defined, intricate flow as well as cleverly and profoundly elucidating some larger point. It's firmly rooted in street rap's themes and posturing but pushes the narrative further than most are willing. God Kissed It, the Devil Missed It easily found its way onto the list of best local rap, but deserves to occupy space on critics' national lists as well.

GRRRL PRTY - TNGHT EP
These five songs have compacted enough energy, grit, and bombast to sustain both the year since its release and the year prior, when the songs were played live at a smattering of packed performances. Lizzo, Sophia Eris, and Manchita managed to walk the line between open-book self-expression and explosive dynamism, playing with voicing and flow on a record that's a breath of fresh air for the local scene. A full-length from the group is in the works now, but this EP has been a kick in the teeth for Minneapolis rap in the meantime.

Moodie Black - Nausea
A record that's decidedly not for everyone, Moodie Black's tightly mixed and pored over Nausea combines Earth guitar drones with 808s to create distorted rap that sounds like little else in hip-hop. Less spastic than Death Grips and more defined than B L A C K I E, Moodie Black can claim themselves as progenitors of noise-rap, and seem eager to take the sound to a mainstream level with music that's raw and aggressive yet surprisingly palatable. It's aspirational but unapologetic, looking to change the landscape around them rather than conform to it. Among the most left-field of this year's local offerings, it's also one of the most intricately constructed and firmly realized.

Toki Wright & Big Cats - Pangaea
The sonic chemistry between Toki Wright and Big Cats is evident everywhere on their collaboration Pangaea, a painstakingly minimal and textured exploration of contemplative hip-hop. It's multi-layered and thought-provoking, finding Toki at his most meditative over some of the best production Cats has been involved in over his impressive career. The vibe they've concocted in conjunction with one another is remarkable and unlike most of the rap landscape currently, finding a downtempo space to work through larger ideas about society, self, and politics. It's a powerful record that demands a full listen.

The Stand4rd - The Stand4rd
The Stand4rd might be the biggest Twin Cities music export we've had since Atmosphere, thanks in part to Spooky Black's viral attention, but mostly due to the fact that they're truly onto something. Their sound is startlingly contemporary, pulling inspiration from the Drakes and the Futures and the James Blakes but pushing past to find their own distinct sound. Their collective young hunger and unrestricted approach have placed Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, Psymun, and Spooky Black ahead of the curve, crafting a legitimately original record that progresses on-trend ideas instead of chasing them, a feat few Twin Cities rappers truly achieve. 

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Franz Diego - Float
Franz Diego remains one of the scene's most progressive-minded rappers in terms of aesthetics -- one of the few to branch into multiple different production territories for his complicated party raps. Continuing in the distinctly electronic direction he took with Xanja on the Equinox EP from early in the year, Float recruits producer Enron Hubbard for some spacey EDM beats that are intentionally on a different plane than most local rap. Franz's raps are all over the place, combining individualist philosophies, nostalgia, political questioning, twerking, and drugs wherever he feels, with a slick flow that maneuvers well over the varying downtempo grooves. It's distinctly Minneapolis while simultaneously aiming outside of the confines of the city's scene.

Sweetz P - Life Behind Barrrs
Sweetz P released two very strong mixtapes this year, each with exceptional lead singles that reflect both how hard-tinged and hook-heavy she can be at her best. Life Behind Barrrs continues P's trend of varying styles and differing beats, filtering her aggressive raps into both unflinching murder-rap territory and club-pop ballads. Using the mixtape format to try out different vibes and styles of writing, Sweetz P has the rare ability to stay consistently vibrant regardless of the kind of song she attacks. One of the strongest emerging Minneapolis street rappers, Sweetz P has not slowed her movement in the slightest.

Manny Phesto - Southside Looking In
Atmosphere drew some national attention to south Minneapolis's regional rap scene by titling their album Southsiders, but it was Manny Phesto who crafted the record most representative of the sound this year. It's immersed in the vibe of the local neighborhood, drawing inspiration from the people, the scenery, the political outlook, and the sonic styles, effortlessly representing the surroundings with a stoned drawl and a laid-back attitude. Mike the Martyr scores another win with the album's consistent sample-centric soul production, and Manny sinks into the beats with a smooth feel that complements the head-nodding tone. Manny's slickly understated and socially aware bars are among the best offerings the local scene has seen yet.

Allan Kingdom - Future Memoirs
Future Memoirs made it onto our best-of list that marked the halfway point of 2014 with barely a day to digest it, thanks to an experimental immediacy that made it a startling listen right off the bat. After more time to sit with the record, especially within the context of the young St. Paul rapper's success with his Stand4rd counterparts, it reveals itself as an impressively complex record beyond simply its stark newness. The slick-talking falsetto and airily slow pacing sets Kingdom apart stylistically as he reaches beyond the confines most rappers stay within, but the themes of creative individuality, personal growth, and sexual expression are remarkably sophisticated and nuanced. The young rapper, who also produced the entire record, is an exciting presence in the local scene not just as a vibrant new voice but as one that is sure to only expand from here.

Mike Mictlan - HELLA FRREAL
Mike Mictlan's multifaceted approach to rap pulls from all aspects of his storied life, reveling in the grimy lows and aiming to reach the transcendent highs. While his previous effort SNAXXX found his sound taking a turn for the gritty, he's attempting now to make inspirational music that pulls from those same guttural vibes while expressing a hopeful new direction. Combining greasy bangers with uplifting power ballads is not the easiest bridge to gap, but for every point where it doesn't entirely come together, there's several where it achieves a profundity few records reach. "Wild At Heart" mines minimalist club beats and gigantic shout-along choruses that connects despite seemingly occupying opposite ends of the spectrum, while "CLAPP'D" is a ever-poignant indictment of America's state-sponsored terrorism against its own citizens set to both drones and massive drum fills. It's a messy, abstract, engaging, and elevating listen that's one of the year's most adventurous.

Honorable Mentions: 
Chantz Erolin - Break Shit And Die
RP Hooks - 340am
deM atlaS - DWNR
Maria Isa - Valley Of The Dolls
Tek - ...Like I Never Left
Sims - Field Notes
Midway Felix - Something Different
MaLLy - The Colors Of Black
King Fuvi - I Want My Name Back
Ceewhy - Freedom=Genius
Knox - Kingdom Kulture


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