At the top of the year, we named five hip-hop artists as our choices for some of the most interesting and intriguing MCs on the rap map. Did they all live up to the hype (including ours)? We decided to follow up and grade how our five choices performed. These are our 2014 new artist report cards.
Hand Job Academy
When you get right down to it, there are really only three things a musician can hope to professionally accomplish over the course of a calendar year: release music, perform live and find listeners. Hand Job Academy accomplished all of these things with the release of their album Ikea Monkey. Along with both an East Coast and overseas tour to promote the record, they capped the year off by going viral, thanks to the actual Lena Dunham being filmed by Taylor Swift dancing to HJA’s song “Lena Dunham,” in one of rap’s most meta moments of 2014.
One-half of Kansas City duo COA (Centers of Attention), KJ’s charisma behind the mic is matched only by his intriguing perspective as the rapping son of Kansas City Mayor Sly James. While KJ’s story didn’t quite blow up in 2014 like we thought it would, the rapper also spent the year laying relatively low, honing his craft and preparing his next wave of music. Two weeks ago he dropped his only video this year, “This is Love,” which happens to be his finest work thus far. While we may have jumped the gun a bit on his 2014, the arrival of “This is Love” restores our confidence in KJ, and we expect more big things from him in 2015.
Random AKA Mega-Random aka Mega Ran
Indie-rap’s Player 1, Random had one of the busiest years on our list, especially on the road. With Ran tours hitting both coasts, the U.K. and Japan, if you didn’t catch him live in 2014, you probably were too sick to leave the house. Along with the tours, he successfully funded his documentary Mega Lo Mania, which he hopes to get out to all major festivals and streaming distributors next year. He also released collaboration with Joell Ortiz and Murs and landed a spot in the #TeamBackpack cypher. All this without releasing an album, which he’s already announced for 2015.
The best head of hair in rap reinvented everything else about himself in 2014, adding more dimensions to his personality. The release of his EP IVRY this year was the funkiest thing to ooze out of our speakers in quite some time. What made IVRY stick with us was how its funk transcended each of the seasons to make an ideal spaced-out score. Given what a shift this was from his earlier Ice Cold Perm mixtape, we look forward to what he puts out next.
Rhymesayers MC Prof was our number-one rapper to watch in 2014 and, if you had the stage of a hip-hop or music festival in your field of vision in 2014, chances are you saw him in action. He’s had one of the most celebrated live shows in underground hip-hop for a good three years now, and spent 2014 completing two national tours, one headlining and one opening for Atmosphere. While he didn’t release much new music, his single “Farout” was one of our fall favorites. But Prof’s most surprising moment of the year came early on, when he engaged in a very heated Twitter feud with Full House star John Stamos. The two have since buried the hatchet, and befriending John Stamos is something only a select few rap artists in 2014 can boast.