Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums

5. Isaiah Rashad
Cilvia Demo
(TDE Records)

Top Dawg Entertainment's Isaiah Rashad turned a lot of heads in the opening throes of 2014 with the release of Cilvia Demo, his first project for the label and an immediate, assuaging response to those initially surprised by the largely unknown Southern rapper's recruitment into the L.A. collective. Named affectionately after the Chattanooga native's old '95 Honda Civic, the record revealed touches of the thematic maturity and unvarnished, daily life commentary that first gripped listeners in labelmate Kendrick Lamar's statement-making jumpoff set Section.80, albeit more fragmented and conflicted.

Sonic nods to hip-hop's past and a general vibe-out feel offered further insights into the rapper's influences and musical development, but it was Rashad's own frank delivery and complete unreservedness rapping about an absent father, a complicated love and his resulting fatherhood, suicidal thoughts and Rashad's past as a cutter that provided the record's most captivating trait. Fellow TDE artists SZA, Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q lend a sparing hand, but Cilvia Demo is Rashad's show, and as proper introductions go, this one laid down some pretty exciting promises for the future of TDE's newest MC. (Kevin Jones)