Everyone has their own, here’s mine.
Just like I said in the previous post, 2015 was a significant year for more reasons than one. One of the many arguments for this is the quality of the projects that were released over the 12 months. I realize there were many smaller mixtapes and EPs that should probably on this list, as we all know there are some gems that can be found in the underground of Hip hop. Nonetheless I’m restricting it to full-length LPs that weren’t exclusive to DatPiff or some other website that’ll give you a virus (that means your local backpack rapper won’t be featured here too, sorry). Firstly though, I’d like to give honourable mentions to several projects that didn’t quite make the list:
- A.L.L.A (At Long Last A$AP) – A$AP Rocky
- Dreams Worth More Than Money – Meek Mill
- Surf – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
- The Documentary 2 – The Game
- Shadow Of A Doubt – Freddie Gibbs
With that out of the way, let’s get on with the top 10.
10. Rodeo – Travi$ Scott
G.O.O.D Music affiliate Travi$ Scott released his first studio album back in September after a fair bit of hype among Hip hop heads, all eager to see how the rapper/producer would fare on his first solo LP. While I personally wasn’t into Travi$ at the time, my opinion was changed once the album was dropped under the Grand Hustle label. The production was dark and heavy yet still allowed him to spit the materialistic raps he’s come to be known for. Not only that but the beats felt meticulously crafted, each song having the sense that it could switch up at any moment, giving the whole thing a continuous sense of excitement. Some of the most interesting beats of 2015 that masked themselves in trap-esque sounds and ‘turn up’ hits ensured it surprised the hell out of me, along with many others.
Highlights: Oh My Dis Side, Antidote, Apple Pie
9. The Documentary 2.5 – The Game
While the aforementioned The Documentary 2 was a enjoyable line up with solid features and a variety of sounds, The Documentary 2.5 took it up a notch. Opening with The Game’s own account of his infamous dispute with 50 Cent’s G-Unit, the album never really stops being an incredibly personal and profound journey through his experiences of life in Los Angeles. West Coast vibes and samples from songs of the past meant this was the most ‘LA’ sounding album this year. The Game keeps up an almost Jekyll and Hyde type personality throughout the duration of the project; one moment angrily dropping names and threats as the self-proclaimed king of LA, the next moment quietly reminiscing of how losing friends to gang violence has taken its toll on him. A must-listen for any hardcore West Coast Hip hop fans. Stitches could only dream of making this sort of music.
Highlights: Gang Bang Anyway, From Adam, My Flag/ Da Homies
8. B4.DA.$$ – Joey Bada$$
One of the first notable Hip hop albums to be released wayyyy back in January of last year, the New York native and Pro Era co-founder Joey Bada$$ not only lived up to the hype surrounding him, but also exceeded it with his full-length debut album B4.DA.$$. Taking influence from Joey’s Caribbean family roots, the project is littered with reggae-infused sounds and rhythmic spitting. This however does not take away from the fact that this is one of the most diverse-sounding Hip hop albums of last year. From Boom Bap to Jazz Rap, Joey shows his amazing ability to switch his style across the 17 tracks while maintaining a vibrant and exciting personality. The variety of beats means all kinds of Hip hop heads should find something to like here, as well as being caught up in Joey’s evident passion when he spits, whether it be about money, fame, women or chicken curry.
Highlights: Paper Trail$, Christ Conscious, Like Me
7. Every Hero Needs A Villain – CZARFACE
Although it did well critically, Every Hero Needs A Villain sadly didn’t get the commercial success (sales/awards/mainstream exposure) that it deserved. But by God did it deserve it. The most underground-sounding project on this list, the collaboration of Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric made for an album that frankly gave no fucks in any aspect. 7L’s production, sampling simple guitar/piano riffs and mixing them with hard drum loops, sets up the two MC’s perfectly for them to drop some fantastically relentless lines throughout. Imagine Run The Jewels meets Madvillain and you have what makes up CZARFACE. The cartoon-style recordings that make up the rifts in between verses/choruses and songs give the album a nostalgic feel, while memorable bars like “only time I go soft is when I’m pleasing your bitch” provide the edge. Like Saturday morning cereal with a punch to the face.
Highlights: Czartacus, The Great (Czar Guitar), Good Villains Go Last
6. Compton – Dr. Dre
After 16 years of patiently waiting, sitting through reports of cancelled projects and a number of collaborations, fans of Dr. Dre finally got their hands on his third solo album when Compton was released. Andre Young, arguably the biggest living name in Hip hop graced us with this take on a day in the life of a Compton resident (the gangster kind, I mean). Though the legendary N.W.A member has only several actual verses on the album, it’s abundant with his signature production style that’s mixed up with modern-day rap tropes. From the moment the chorus of horns drop in ‘Talk About It’ you realise that you’re in for a ride Dre’s been carefully building for years. The album moves at breakneck speed, switching up both the tone and style with every track, while features from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar bring their A-game to create an LP that certainly didn’t disappoint after so long.
Highlights: Talk About It, Genocide, One Shot One Kill
5. The Incredible True Story – Logic
Vision Music Group member and Maryland’s resident rapper Logic dropped his sophomore album in mid-November, just over a year after his debut Under Pressure. A slightly more conceptual project, TITS (I pray that was intentional) addresses the question ‘what happens when the original music runs out?’ through a narrative of a fictionalized space journey with some pretty impressive voice acting. Say what you will about the loosely tied anecdote of spaceships and astronauts, the music you’ll find here is simply fantastic in its enjoy-ability. Logic not only lays down his solid flow and wordplay but also lends his beat-making prowess to create some truly standout tracks across the LP. He doesn’t stray too far from the voice-sampling and clean drum beats of before, but manages to craft a project that holds its own from beginning to end.
Highlights: Young Jesus, Run It, Lord Willin’
4. 90059 – Jay Rock
Jay Rock’s second album under the TDE label is criminally underrated. When the fiasco over its ever-changing release date was over and the album finally dropped, we were granted with a focused and mature LP from ‘the quiet one’. Jay Rock chooses his beats perfectly, infusing West Coast style instrumentals and heavy bass throughout, developing this dark musical persona of a man conflicted with his roots, shown by the album’s name being the zip code of his home; Watts, Los Angeles. What’s impressive is how Jay Rock communicates these ideas over wavy guitars, slowed down horns and harsh snares, jumping from Gangsta rap to G-funk to Trap depending on his mood. Though its one of the shortest of the projects on this list, it means each song has its place and none of it is any sort of throw-away music, with solid features from all of his TDE colleagues (not to mention the first congregation of Black Hippy in too long) that ensure there was a strong case for 2015 being the year of West Coast Hip hop.
Highlights: Easy Bake, Money Trees Deuce, Vice City
3. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T
You wouldn’t think a mere ‘prelude’ album would be on someones top 10 list, let alone in the top 3, but then the recently appointed president of G.O.O.D Music doesn’t do things in half-measures. Pusha T dropped Darkest Before Dawn only last month, but it gained both critical and commercial recognition in that short time, quickly becoming one of the most talked-about projects of 2015. With production credited to Kanye West, Metro Boomin, Boi-1da and even Timbaland, this was one of the most professional and polished sounding albums of last year. Mix this with Pusha’s charismatic, drug-fueled wordplay and you have a recipe that lives up to his previous album, My Name is My Name. 10 tracks of vicious lyricism and superb beats from some of the biggest names in the genre at this moment meant this LP deserved all of the praise it got, and certainly the number three spot on this list.
Highlights: Untouchable, M.P.A, Got Em Covered
2. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
The debut studio album of Long Beach resident Vince Staples is by far the darkest album on this list, but nevertheless is one of the most interesting listens to come out of Hip hop in the last 12 months. The 2 disc project tells the story of Vince himself and the events of summer 2006 that was “the beginning of the end of everything I thought I knew”. The rapper spits on his personal experience growing up in the gang-orientated world of Long Beach, discussing topics like the relationship with the police and leaving the hood because of fame, with both vigor and solemness . The lyricism is more than impressive by itself, but the album propels itself into the greats of 2015 thanks to the incredible production of the legendary No I.D., who captures the tone of the young LA resident with unwieldy distorted bass and haunting melodies that place you in Vince’s shoes and his struggle with being a black artist from an area where books are judged by their covers.
Highlights: Lift Me Up, Lemme Know, Señorita
1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Because what else was it going to be?
Kendrick’s triumphant return to the game after keeping quiet for almost 3 years was everything the fans wanted and more. While I could write a whole essay on TDE’s golden-boy and his third studio album, I’ll try and concisely impart my love for it. From the first track of the project you quickly realise that it’s quite sonically different from the highly praised good kid, m.A.A.d city. With production from Thundercat, Terrace Martin and Ron Isley (to name a few), the LP is the ultimate Jazz Rap, G-funk and spoken word trip in a modern format. The instrumentals here are incredibly soulful and embracing, even on their own they could pass as a soundtrack for an Oscar-winning film. The real kicker here is the profound, insightful, rooted and poetic lyricism from Kendrick himself. Throughout the project he critiques both himself and the Rap game, speaking on his battle with depression, going home to his roots and even his own conflicted views on the Black community in America. His words aren’t just vignettes of his own life and how it’s been changed by money and fame, but a commentary on the current state of being black in a society where every other day there seems to be a cop with an itchy trigger finger for a minority. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you owe it to yourself to do just that, because TPAB is a masterpiece, worthy of not only the number 1 Hip hop album of 2015, but perhaps of all time.
Highlights: All of it.