25. Sour Soul featuring young Canadian trio BADBADNOTGOOD and legendary Wu-Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah. The experimental jazz instrumentals blend with a variety of vocal styles from Ghostface, along with features from Danny Brown, MF DOOM, and Chicago’s MC Tree.
Key Tracks: Six Degrees, Tone’s Rap, Street Knowledge
24. Magnifique by Brooklyn based instrumental group Ratatat. This is just an easy listen front to back with smooth guitar riffs and synths used almost as a substitute for the vocals that are left out of Ratatat’s music.
Key Tracks: Cream on Chrome, Magnifique, Nightclub Amnesia
23. .Wav Theory by Chicago’s own Towkio. The SaveMoney artist definitely delivered on his first official project with the help of some fellow group members Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Leather Corduroys, and Donnie Trumpet. This LP combines dance beats with the light but party-ready lyrics Towkio has had for a few years.
Key Tracks: Clean Up, God in Me, I Know You
22. Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit by Australian rocker/songwriter Courtney Barnett. The Aussie has high energy throughout the project and shows a range of writing styles from sunny days to heartbreaks.
Key Tracks: Dead Fox, Elevator Operator, An Illustration of Loneliness
21. Shadow of a Doubt by one of the best rappers alive, Freddie Gibbs. The Gary, Indiana rapper comes through following the incredible collaboration Piñata with legendary producer, Madlib, last year. There’s definitely a different vibe on “Shadow of a Doubt”, but Gangsta Gibbs unleashes hard-hitting rhymes on almost every single track (except Basketball Wives) with some big named features such as the trap-God Gucci Mane, E-40, and The Roots frontman, Black Thought.
Key Tracks: Rearview, Careless, 10 Times
20. Ego Death from Odd-Future’s The Internet. Syd’s vocals carry the listener from start to finish over amazing electronic-jazz instrumentals, with production mainly from Matt Martian. This is by far their best project and it will be entertaining to see what the young group has in store for years to come.
Key Tracks: Gabby, Girl, Penthouse Cloud
19. The Documentary 2 by The Game. The Compton legend’s 19-track sequel to his debut 10 years ago was a surprise to many. A week after The Documentary 2 released, 20 more songs were added when The Documentary 2.5 came out. With around 40 songs in total, I think this project would have been much higher on every single album list of 2015 if he would have just put the 15 or so best songs together, because they were definitely there between the two projects. With that being said, The Documentary 2 had some standout bangers courtesy of production and features from Dr. Dre, Diddy, Ice Cube, and Q-Tip to name a few.
Key Tracks: Circles, Standing on Ferraris, The Documentary 2
18. #Maxo187 from Houston rapper Maxo Kream. One of the rawest rap albums of the year, Maxo Kream lays down gritty vocals over some great southern trap beats. If you want a record to play on full blast while having a good time, this is what you need.
Key Tracks: Murder, Cell Boomin, Trap Mami
17. Liability by Minnesota rapper Prof. He has some of the most creative wordplay in the game right now, and does so over arguably the craziest instrumentals I’ve ever heard. If you enjoy fellow Minnesotans Atmosphere and/or Brother Ali, I highly recommend checking out this guy.
Key Tracks: Ghost, Bar Breaker, Mob
16. Darkest Before Dawn by Virginia’s Pusha T. I may be slightly biased because Pusha T has been one of my favorite rappers my entire life, but he consistently stays relevant album after album. Push goes back to some of his lyrical flows that remind me of his start in hip-hop as Clipse, a group with his brother. Darkest Before Dawn serves as a prequel to his album King Push coming this spring and if it sounds anywhere close to this, he will end up at the top of my list next year.
Key Tracks: Intro, Untouchable, Sunshine
15. Evermore: The Art of Duality from the Flatbush collective, The Underachievers. Probably the best underground, conscious rap album from this year, The Underachievers do not disappoint on their full-length album debut. With no features, they unsurprisingly remain interesting and thought provoking from front to back and show more of a mainstream audience what the young duo has had for two or three years now.
Key Tracks: Chasing Faith, Take Your Place, Generation Z
14. Integrity> by British grime artist JME. JME was one of the first emcees to start rapping overseas about ten years ago, and he got it right on this project. With such a distinct voice over equally as distinct instrumentals, it makes for one of the most ear opening projects of the year. Integrity> helped me discover countless other talented grime artists (besides Dizzie Rascal and Skepta) such as Stormzy, Wiley, Section Boyz, and Big Narstie.
Key Tracks: Pulse 8, 96 Fuckries, Man Don’t Care
13. Multi-Love by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The Oregon based collective provide electronic synths with mellow vocals and original rock guitars and drums. This is a lively project all the way through and is a must listen for alternative rock fans.
Key Tracks: Multi-Love, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Acid Rain
12. Surf by Chicago’s own Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. Listening to this project for the first time was something I’ve never experienced from an album ever before. Trying to figure out the mysterious features sprinkled all over the album like Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, Big Sean, Erykah Badu, and Noname Gypsy to name a few of the nearly forty people in total that contributed to this project, was insanely fun. I was anticipating this album for over a year, and it failed to disappoint. Thanks to Surf, Chance the Rapper and Donnie Trumpet finally are receiving the recognition they deserve.
Key Tracks: Slip Slide, Warm Enough, Rememory
11. 90059 by Watts, CA native, TDE signee, and Black Hippy member, Jay Rock. It’s been four years since his debut Follow Me Home, and Rock gave his fans what they wanted to hear and then some. From his classic gangsta rap vocals about the streets, Rock manages to slide in tracks of him showing a slight singing ability (and an Ol’ Dirty Bastard impersonation on the title track).
Key Tracks: Easy Bake, Gumbo, Vice City
10. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by the best emcee under 25 in my opinion, Earl Sweatshirt. One of the darkest albums of the year, the former Odd Future member gives us a 10 track project, nine of which are self-produced, into his depressed world not many knew existed. The title speaks for itself, backing up the idea that Earl probably doesn’t like a lot of things, and thus probably does not go outside too often.
Key Tracks: Mantra, Grown Up, AM // Radio, DNA, Wool
9. A New Place 2 Drown by Archy Marshall. Formerly known as King Krule, Marshall delivers more of an electronic/alternative album than what he is known for in the past. The British musician keeps this project laid back discussing love, heartbreak, and finding himself over relaxing yet complex production from Archy. The tracks flow together so well, it’s simply incredible.
Key Tracks: Arise Dear Brother, Ammi Ammi, Buffed Sky, Sex With Nobody, Thames Water
8. Tetsuo & Youth from Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco. One of the most intelligent rappers alive, Fiasco’s impressive rhyme scheme turned me into a fan. I was never a hater, but I didn’t even give Tetsuo & Youth a chance until a few months after its January release. So Lupe, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I might even compare his rhymes to those of the great MF DOOM’s, rhyming sometimes more than four different words a bar. One of the most cohesive projects this year.
Key Tracks: Mural, Dots & Lines, Chopper, Prisoner 1 & 2, Madonna
7. The Epic by contemporary jazz artist Kamasi Washington. Frequent Flying Lotus and Thundercat collaborator, Washington unveils about three hours of jaw-dropping, melodically orchestrated jazz. If Beethoven made music in the 21st century, this is what it would sound like. The amount of noise that comes from this project is something I’ve yet to hear in my lifetime.
Key Tracks: Askim, Change of the Guard, Cherokee, Final Thought, Miss Understanding
6. I Love You, Honeybear by Josh Tillman, also known as Father John Misty. I didn’t know much about Tillman until he was featured on Kid Cudi’s 2012 release Indicud, where I made myself slightly more familiar. I never listened to his music regularly until this year, after this LP’s February release. With gentle vocals, drums, keyboards, and guitars, it is another smooth listen from beginning to end.
Key Tracks: I Love You, Honeybear; Chateau Lobby #4; When You’re Smiling and Astride Me; Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamned Dusty Crow; Holy Shit
5-.B4.Da.$$ by young Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$. The debut from the young emcee proves his worthiness in the discussion of one of the best new artists right now. Bada$$’s lyrical cadence is unique and his raps are hardly matchable by any other artist right now. Any fan of the golden age of hip-hop needs to give Joey Bada$$ a listen, and I recommend starting with his first mixtape, 1999, made when Joey was a senior in high school.
Key Tracks: Paper Trails, Piece of Mind, Paper Trails, Like Me, Christ Conscious
4. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. This is definitely the best story-telling albums of the year, perhaps the best I’ve heard in my life. Stevens takes his listeners through his life, describing his childhood, to detailed accounts of his mother being diagnosed with cancer, to her battle and eventual death as a result. This project is incredible and is one of the most well written, thought out pieces of work in a long time.
Key Tracks: Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, Eugene, Fourth of July, John My Beloved
3. Summertime ’06 from Long Beach native Vince Staples. Recent Interscope signee, Staples was able to show off his rapping ability with some of the most well known producers for his debut album, including No-I.D. for many of the songs on this project. Like the title suggests, Vince takes fans on the journey of his summer as a young teen in Long Beach during the summer of 2006. With fantastic features such as Jhene Aiko, A$ton Matthews, Joey Fatts, and Kilo Kish, Summertime ’06 is as consistent as his previous mixtapes which are also top notch. Like Bada$$, Vince Staples should definitely be considered as one of the best young rappers, as well as one of the best alive today.
Key Tracks: Lift Me Up, Jump Off the Roof, Surf, Hang N’ Bang, C.N.B.
2. Coming Home by Leon Bridges. Bridges brings listeners back to early 20th century blues, with a delivery eerily similar to Sam Cooke’s. At just 10 tracks, there is little room for error, and Bridges doesn’t have any. Every song is simply amazing in their own way. The title track has a more up-beat vibe to it, while tracks like “Brown Skin Girl” and “River” are much more laidback.
Key Tracks: Coming Home, Better Man, Smooth Sailin’, Lisa Sawyer, River
1. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. I’ll try to keep this paragraph brief but my obsession with the record might make that a challenge. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best album from this year and will be considered in years to come one of the best albums of the 21st century, as well as one of the best rap albums of all time. I don’t even know where to begin, it’s so beautifully overwhelming. The features include some of the best musicians and artist of all time like George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington. When the lead single “i” came out sometime last year, I was unsure what to expect from the album. Then, “The Blacker the Berry” followed and I thought there was a possibility of this to be the best K Dot project to date. Both tracks sounded even better in the context of the album. After every listen I gave this project from start to finish—probably over 40 times this year— I came up with a new discovery in the album, whether it’s an instrument I never realized was there or a different interpretation of the project as a whole. There are hundreds of different interpretations out there, but no matter what you get out of it, there is no denying that this is the album of the year, and should be considered a classic hip-hop album. The creative level of each song revealing a new part of a poem, not to mention an interview with 2Pac at the end, and a strong message of making a name for yourself in America today particularly for young black males, helps make this simply a 10/10.
Key Tracks: All of them
Written by Dylan Hardin