Sunday, 3 January 2016

Top 10 Favourite Hip-Hop Albums of 2015

Happy New Year everyone! It’s that time of the year again when we look back and determine what some of our favourite albums were. I waited until 2015 was fully complete to make sure I didn’t miss any surprise albums. For the most part, people agree that this year is one of the best for Hip-Hop in a while. While this idea may be supported, I believe it was just a good year with a handful of great albums and a slew of just solid albums that may have been over-hyped. With that being said, there were 10 albums that I believe are worthy of being replayed in the future and worthy of praise. So without further adieu, I give you my top 10 favourite albums of 2015. This is not a list of the albums I think are the "best" – the most technically cohesive albums – but simply my subjective list of my favourite ones. The criteria are simply most replay value and impact on me and Hip-Hop as a whole.

10- Compton – Dr. Dre:
Dr. Dre finally came out of the hole he’s been hiding in and released his third and apparently last album of his career. I know many people were very disappointed with this album as it wasn’t on par with 2001 or The Chronic. For me, I didn’t grow up with those albums and even though I enjoy and respect them, they didn’t really place high expectations for me. I approached Compton with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised with what I got. The production from Dr. Dre was stellar as expected and most of the features impressed me, especially newcomers Anderson Paak and King Mez. Legends such as Ice Cube, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, and The Game delivered while more contemporary artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Jon Connor and BJ the Chicago also got their shine. While sonically it doesn’t flow as well as I would want it to, it still is an enjoyable listen.

9- Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples:
For his major label debut, Vince Staples saw fit to give us a double disc album filled with some of the best production you’ll hear all year. No I.D., DJ Dahi, and others really pulled through with providing Vince with some very detailed gritty beats that match his style perfectly. Vince Staples is a West-Coast Gangsta rapper through-and-though with a unique flow and interesting point of view. His stories are very vivid and his lyrics are very introspective yet he still conveys this feeling of danger and grit in his delivery. The featured artists all do their thing on this album, with Jhene Aiko and James Fauntleroy stealing the show. At 60 minutes, this album never bores me and is definitely worth the listen.

8- The Documentary 2 – The Game:
Speaking of West-Coast MCs dropping double disc albums, The Game finally dropped an album that I can fully back and enjoy from front to back. For this list, I’m combining both discs of this album as I believe they complement each other very well. The Game dropped over 2 hours of music that proves that not only does he still have it, but he is capable of reviving the old-school G-Funk Hip-Hop sound, especially on disc 2 of this album. As expected, the feature list is extremely long, ranging from legends to more contemporary artists, but this time the features add to the album’s grit and stories instead of feeling misplaced like Game’s last few releases. With an album this long, filler is expected but I give it a pass simply because the amount of great songs from both discs is way too high. I personally love disc 2 more, but disc 1 is also a very good listen. Be sure to check this one out if you haven’t and don’t sleep on The Game if you think he doesn’t have it in him. This is a worthy sequel to the classic that is The Documentary and will definitely be remembered in time.

7- I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt – Earl Sweatshirt:
This album came out very early in 2015 but still managed to get a lot of plays throughout the remainder of the year. Earl is one of those rappers that is undeniably a lyrical genius that requires multiple listens to fully absorb his bars. Unlike his 2013 release Doris however, IDLSIDGO was an album that I understood right away because Earl was relatively more straight forward. He rapped about his frustrations with his fan base, his relationship problems, his grandmother, and other deep topics. The features were all placed very perfectly in the album, especially Vince Staples who destroyed Wool. The production was handled mainly by Earl himself and it sounded dark and menacing, which matches his content perfectly. At almost 30 minutes, this album is a great quick listen and with each listen I took something new away from it. It’s definitely worth the listen so be sure to check it out.

6- Live From the Dentist Office – Injury Reserve:
This was an album that caught me by surprise. I’ve never heard of the Arizona rap group Injury Reserve until Anthony Fantano of the Needle Drop gave this album an extremely positive review so I was curious to see what the fuss was about. After listening to just the first track, I knew I was in for something awesome. This Hip-Hop trio seems very heavily influenced by Jazz, Alternative, and even Electronic music which seep into their music. I’m a sucker for Jazz so this kind of music was perfect for me. As for the rapping, each member of this group brings his own personality and humour to every song making the album a very enjoyable listen. They are very funny, but can also rap about deeper topics as well. This is one of those albums that I can play at any time and enjoy it for just being a simple, fun, and creative album without over-thinking the content. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t!

5- 90059 – Jay Rock:
90059 was easily one of my most anticipated albums of 2015 simply because every verse Jay Rock has dropped since Follow Me Home has been nothing less than fire. I made sure I didn’t listen to any of the singles to make sure I don’t spoil any of the surprises that might come up in the album. When it dropped, I copped it right away and all of my expectations were surpassed. This album is only 11 tracks long but is packed with awesome Gangsta rap from Jay Rock. His delivery is so vicious and on point that you believe all the stories he tells. Every member of TDE appears on this album, and every member kills it (although I would have loved to hear an Isaiah Rashad verse and not just a chorus). There is an awesome Black Hippy posse cut which only makes me want an album from the group even more. Jay Rock also has a handful of tracks that are more introspective, soft and down-to-Earth such as the soulful Gumbo which is one of my favourite tracks of the year. In conclusion, Jay Rock gave me exactly what I wanted, which is a very dark and creative Gangsta rap album that I can play over and over again. Be sure to check it out!

4- Love Story - Yelawolf:
I'm not sure why this album isn't getting the praise its deserves because this is one of the most unique albums you'll hear this year. This album is so criminally overlooked and under-appreciated, and I hope with time it leaves its mark. Yelawolf came back from his disappointing debut and instead of repeating what he did on his mixtapes, he did something different. On this album, Yelawolf fused Hip-Hop and Country music masterfully, and the product sounded 100% organic. Yelawolf sang a lot on this album as well and surprisingly held his own! The themes on the album are very deep and dark, and Yelawolf approaches topics such as fame, love, depression, addiction, and even abuse in a very raw way. The production on this album is some of the best I've heard in a while. All the instruments sound great and Yelawolf just flows over the music so perfectly. This album is 18 tracks long and near 75 minutes, but to be honest I never feel bored listening to it. I revisit this album constantly and will continue to do so in the future. I hope Yelawolf continues to make music like this. Be sure to check this one out if you haven't. Even if you're not a Country fan, you may still appreciate what Yelawolf does here.

3- King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T:
This is the album I had to wait for before I wrote this top 10 list simply because I knew it had the potential to be one of my favourites of the year. Even though this album hasn’t been out for long, I played this album more times than I can count since it dropped in late December. Pusha T doesn’t seem to be slowing down after the success of the excellent My Name Is My Name and is striking while the iron is hot. This album is only a prelude to King Push which will drop at some point this year. Now if the quality of a “prelude” album is this high, I’m left with nothing but high expectations for his next release. To me, Darkest Before Dawn is an even more cohesive and creative album than his last and has more replay value. The features are all excellent, especially Beanie Sigel whose verse on Keep Dealin’ is one of the coldest verses of the year. Pusha T’s wordplay and metaphors are at an all-time high and his delivery is as vicious as ever. Every time I listen to this album, I pick out a few awesome clever lines that stick in my head. I really hope people don’t sleep on this album and remember that Pusha T is a legend for the stuff he did with Clipse. Be sure to check it out if you haven't!

2- Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco:
My top 2 albums were basically solidified since the beginning of the year. Lupe dropped this gem way back in January of 2015 and I’m still listening to this album in January of 2016. This album is Lupe’s return from what seemed to be the end of his career. He finally evolved as an artist and picked the production that suits him best and delivered some of the densest bars of the year. This album is a very tough listen to digest. Once you give it a shot, you can appreciate the complexity and proficiency of his lyrics and the impact they have. Lupe covers topics such as love, politics, urban violence and equality, the prison system, and just going off lyrically on tracks like the monstrous Mural. The seasonal concept of this album is executed perfectly and the instrumental interludes are gorgeous and tie the album together very nicely. It’s definitely Lupe’s best album since The Cool and easily one of my favourites of the year. Give it time and it may become one of my favourite Lupe albums in general!

1- To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar  
Of course this album is my favourite of 2015. It’s a no-brainer. I understand many people couldn’t vibe with the production and the content of this album, which is totally fine, but I thought there was not a single misstep in To Pimp a Butterfly. The content is easily what makes the album so great, and the lyrics delivered poetically by Kendrick over the lush production only makes me love the album more. To me, this album is the best produced album since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. The list of contributing producers for this album is one of the most extensive of the year, but the album is still the most cohesive of 2015. Kendrick definitely went above and beyond with this album and I don’t know how far he can push the genre from here. This album gave me the same feeling good kid, m.A.A.d city gave me when that album came out, which is “what the hell is he gonna do next?!”. But hey, I’m open to new sounds and experiments and will be patiently waiting for his next album.

Honourable Mentions:

Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
A very dope collaboration between the Wu-Tang legend and the rising Jazz trio BBNG. I hope this leads to more creative output from Ghostface and more Hip-Hop collaborations between BBNG and other notable rappers.

It’s Better This Way – Big K.R.I.T. 
Another solid Big K.R.I.T. mixtape filled with is signature production and Southern flavoured rap.

Pharaoh Height 2/30 – Lupe Fiasco
A great short EP filled with stellar lyricism from Lupe.

A Special Episode Of – Open Mike Eagle
A great extension of Mike's Dark Comedy filled with witty and funny lyrics.

B4.DA.$$ - Joey Bada$$
Another album that was difficult to leave off from my list, a very cohesive and well executed East-Coast debut album from this very talented rapper.

The Ecology – Fashawn 
A very solid West Coast Hip-Hop album.

Biggest Disappointments of the Year:

Cherry Bomb – Tyler, the Creator
A very messy disappointment following Wolf, which was a great album. The vocals weren't mixed well and the content wasn't anything special.

Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson
Some of the chances taken by Bronson didn't pay off and led to some very awkward moments, still a decent album but not an impressive major debut.

Surf – Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
Decent but did not match the quality of Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap. I understand these are different projects but my expectations were very high and they weren't met.

At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky
Had high expectations for this due to his great debut album Long.Live.A$AP, however this album was filled with very boring tracks and mostly disappointing features. Not horrible but not that great either.

The Incredible True Story - Logic 
This is a good album but did not give me half of what his debut Under Pressure gave me. Some great beats and good lyricism, but the concept didn't work and the content wasn't as deep as what I wanted it to be

Favourite Non-Hip-Hop Album of the Year:

The Epic – Kamasi Washington 
This album is 3 hours of pure Jazz awesomeness. There are no missteps in this album and Kamasi manages to convey so many emotions with the music. Each disc is stellar and the all the musicians kicked ass.

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