"Hey, I'm looking for some CD-Rs. Do you sell them?"
Rodney from Guitar Center looked at me blankly, "CD-whats?"
"Like blank CDs," I responded, embarrassed that I had just asked for blank CDs in 2014. I might as well have asked him to play Pogs on his break or if they also had any Furbys.
"Uhhhhh...I don't think so, but let me check."
Guess what? They didn't, and I also realized that Rodney may have been in the fourth grade the last time someone actually used a blank disc.
Yes folks, someone who gets paid to listen to music still uses blank CDs.
Thanks to a phone upgrade, a shoddy aux port in my car and an iPod clinging on for dear life, I've had to resort to burning CDs; and not just for a month or two, either...the whole year. Somewhere in my car, dropped between seats, buried under Slurpee cups and stuffed in the glove box is a collection of about 50 CDs, all with songs and albums from the year that was. Sure, some of them are now stained with coffee and substances still awaiting test results, but they are all there. As I was cleaning out my car, I collected all the CDs, often times letting out an, "Oh shit I forgot how dope this album was!" when I was smart enough to have written the title on the disc, and by the end I had amassed nearly 70 CDs! Some of them didn't work and some were sticky, but it was 70 nonetheless. 70 discs filled with great music, all from 2014.
And yet this whole year, from the first burned disc to the last, all I've been hearing about is how it's been a slow year for music. Maybe it was a comment on an article, ASAP Yams, or a lone tweet that is now lost in a sea of 140 characters. But it seemed like the whole year there were whispers of what a bad year it was until those whispers turned into one large, pessimistic scream.
Well...my car says otherwise.
It's been a bitch burning CDs, but it's also been a blessing in disguise. Literally being able to see how much music I've amassed was inspiring and exciting. I found some albums that I had completely forgotten about, but when you pop them in, they take me back to an exact moment: a feeling, a season of the year. When I'm blasting that Mursday album I swear it's the start of summer; I'd put my windows down, but now I'd be greeted with cold rain instead of the summer sun. Winter sucked and when I put on Oxymoron, my body tenses up as if its bracing for the cold. Now that we have moved well beyond blank discs, it's hard to have tangible music, but since I effectively live in 1998, I have a different perspective. While others have been jumping from single to single, I've been sitting with projects, really taking the time to listen, since I have no other choice. I can guarantee at least 10 of these albums are getting spins again solely because I had them on a disc. The best example is Saba's Comfort Zone. I had all but forgotten about the project, but when he came back with a DJBooth freestyle and a video for "Burnout", I revisited the album and re-fell in love.
And then I found Caitlyn Scarlett's Jurassic Jukebox...
And then I found St. Paul And The Broken Bones' Half the City...
And then I found Sam Lachow's Huckleberry, who is close with Raz Simone who dropped Cognitive Dissonance and who I saw on tour with Rittz, who dropped Next to Nothingand is on the same label as Ces Cru who dropped an album the same month as King Avriel, who really impressed me (she even wrote articles about her songs) and came from out of nowhere like Raury and like Paris Jones, who literally dropped an EP every month and speaking of kings, how about King Mez who hails from North Carolina like the Jamla squad who dropped an album, who are led by Rapsody who dropped an EP that represented the ladies well like NEBUCHADNEZZARfrom Sa-Roc, who is from DC like Goldlink, who made a huge impact this year and is not to be confused with GOLD SPEX, who also dropped a project in March like YG, Freddie Gibbs, REKS, Sean Brown, Dao Jones, and some guys named De La Soul and Dilla. Damn.
And then I found Big K.R.I.T.'s See Me On Top 4, which had about a thousand cuts on it and speaking of A Thousand Cuts, I had Locksmith in heavy rotation. Then I found Lord Steppington, and then I found Ugly Heroes, Eric Biddines, Jhene Aiko, Jon Bellion and What Goes Aroundby Statik Selektah, who also recorded a project with Jared Evan. Two projects in one year?! Who else did that?
Remember Asher Roth? Remember Chuck Inglish? I know you remember SZA. Freeway? He did a project with Girl Talk! Logic? He finally released his debut. Oh yeah, two guys named Isaiah Rashad and Mick Jenkins, maybe you heard of them?
But it was a shitty year for music, right?
So there was no 2014 version of 2013's June 18. No big heavyweight albums, no platinum albums. Sure, we had major label releases, but none that made a splash like GKMC, Yeezus, Born Sinner, or even Watching Movies With The Sound Off. Since when did major label albums make or break a year? Is the radio your only source for music? Like the candy in the Halloween bowl, the best stuff is always at the bottom; you gotta dig for it. And if you dug in 2014, you found a goldmine. Since when did popularity mean quality? We as music fans are both greedy and lazy. We want all the reward with little to no heavy lifting. We want great music and want it now, and then we give up when it doesn't fall into our laps. It's like rifling through a construction site Porta Potty after Taco Bell breakfast day and being frustrated you only found shit (literally). You can't expect great music to show up on your desktop any more, you have to look for it.
This year, with the RefinedHype merger, I really began to focus on the young, independent artists. DJBooth is very much both the Wal-Mart and a mom and pop source for music. We'll feature the new Rick Ross album, but we'll also give you profiles on small, indie rappers from Minnesota. Getting to really hone in on the hidden gems allowed me to see how much talent there is in hip-hop today. More than just some guy with sick bars or that dope producer, I see artists who are experimenting and really challenging what hip-hop means. I see artists who care about what they say and how they say it. Ones who aren't satisfied by numbers and deals but buy the music they make. The pros play for cash, the rappers who have stood out to me stood out because they do it for the love; you can hear it dripping form every bar. I don't want to turn this into something where I start rattling off albums that were subjectively great (even though I totally already did that) or say we had X number of downloads, because that's boring and also not how I quantify greatness. To me great means quality, challenging and fun music, and in 2014 we had an endless supply. For the first time in a long time, I'm really truly excited for the new year. 2014 was very much an introduction to many of the faces I expect to see making music far down the line, and in the meantime I'll have some great projects that will carry over into 2015. I don't remember having this feeling after 2013.
Starting next week, you will be inundated with lists, rankings, and end of the year debates. Why? Because it's fun to do that stuff. We will rank the best, the worst and everything in between, but to truly understand 2014, I think you have to go off the beaten path and venture into the foggy abyss. It might be scary, and might be hard path to sojourn, but in the end it'll make you a better music lover and will elucidate the strengths of 2014. 2014 may not have been great on paper, but in the hearts and minds of those who live, breathe and bleed urban music, there is much to look back on and much to look forward to.
Here's to you, 2014.
P.S.- Oh yeah and Taylor Swift too...
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]