What’s up folks! It’s that time again, the best Hip Hop all around for the year 2015.
This has been a very good year for quality Hip Hop, as stellar projects and career benchmarks have been released this year. I’m about to go into the 25 best albums of 2015, plus some honorable mentions. Let’s get to it!
25. Various Artists - Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder Present Indie 500
Earlier this year, Talib Kweli, 9th Wonder, and Pharoahe Monch got together to launch the company Indie 500 to serve as an avenue for young up-and-coming artists to deliver their craft to the masses.
Kweli and 9th later got up together to present the company’s first project, a compilation filled with what you expect from a project with these two guys’ signature attached: insatiable beats, fantastic concepts, and far above average lyricism. None of the three disappointed in the slightest. With excellent appearances by Rapsody, Problem, Pharoahe Monch, and others, this was a great shining mark in this year’s indie movement.
24. Rapper Big Pooh & Apollo Brown - Words Paint Pictures
The homie Rapper Pooh has had a busy year this year. He collaborated with super-producer Nottz (see later), and made appearances on the Mello Music Group compilation (again see later).
The first project he put out was with quickly blowing Detroit producer Apollo Brown and this was a very dope release. Apollo’s soulful, thumping production mixed with Pooh’s witty lyricism made for results we hope we can see again with the two of them.
23. Statik Selektah - Lucky 7
Boston’s perennial DJ / Producer has knocked out seven show-stealing albums, working with everyone from Joey Bada$$ to M.O.P. to the late great Sean Price.
With this being reportedly being his last album, he goes out on a very high note. Proving himself to be one of Hip Hop’s most in-demand and hardest working producers, he’s handling his business on the airwaves, thus making him a very important figure in the game. He’s built enough stripes to allow all these many emcees to shine, from vets like Talib Kweli, Royce Da 5’9, and Bun B to up-and-coming new jacks like Your Old Droog, Dave East, and Mick Jenkins.
Indeed, 7 became his best number.
22. Gangrene - You Disgust Me
One thing we’ve come to expect from The Alchemist and Oh No is to expect slightly psychedelic, slightly inebriated Hip Hop that feels so good to absorb.
On this their seventh project, they continue to be one of Hip Hop’s most consistent duos. They continue to show their chemistry, and while they lyrically keep showing signs of improvement, it ultimately comes down to the ridiculous production on the album and their tag team like continuity. They won’t be underrated too much longer.
21. Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz - Home Sweet Home
Earlier, we had Pooh on the list for his highly slept on collab with Apollo Brown, and this was the second release for him. This one knocked even harder than the previously mentioned with veteran producer Nottz which provided a searing soundscape for his relatable, down home content.
Take your pick, he knocked every track out the park on this one and hasn’t sounded this rejuvenated since his ’05 debut Sleepers.
20. Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
This album can be considered as one of the darkest albums in all of 2015, but can definitely be considered as Earl’s best. Excelling off his stunning debut, Doris, this depressing, yet highly introspective, album can be seen as his coming of age album. Dealing with depression and the death of his grandmother, this is a sobering look at a young man starting to uniquely find his identity, while serving us more of his multi-faceted persona and artistic growth.
19. Apollo Brown - Grandeur
Underground Detroit producer Apollo Brown officially presented himself on more of a mainstream level with this very dope debut.
Collaborating with O.C., Guilty Simpson, The Left, Ras Kass, and Rapper Big Pooh on past acclaimed projects, this time the spotlight was put on him as a producer and boy did he deliver. With fantastic showings by the likes of Chino XL, Planet Asia, Finale, and many other guests, this is not even the tip of the iceberg with what we will continue to see from this praised producer.
18. Czarface - Every Hero Needs A Villain
Why the hell this album isn’t mentioned more in year-end best lists, I’ll never know. This sophomore effort from the trio of 7L, Esoteric, and Inspectah Deck not only improvements upon some of the very few missteps and flaws of their debut, but they delivered one hell of an album this year.
With 7L’s unapologetic boom-bap production and the ever-growing chemistry between Esoteric and Deck, this album was a sledgehammer, inflicting damage upon anyone who listened.
17. Wale - The Album About Nothing
It’s time someone said this: it’s about time we got this album from Wale. It’s been a minute since we’ve heard a totally cohesive album from the D.C. native, but he comes through in the clutch.
This album, inspired by one of his favorite comedians Jerry Seinfeld, is a very relatable, down to earth album that has Wale providing social commentary and past negative experiences to have Seinfeld be his conscious and storyteller makes this album intriguing enough to hear Wale’s story.
Gone are the excesses, and welcomed is the guy we could actually identify with.
16. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf
Chi-town’s residential philanthropist Chance The Rapper gained mainstream accessibility two years ago with his highly touted mixtape Acid Rap.
We knew a new star had been born, but this project is a little left field of Acid Rap. He introduces us to jazz band called The Social Experiment and the results are nothing less than amazing. Musically, this mixes funk, jazz, and other genres to put together an experience the likes of which will challenge conventional listeners.
If you were expecting an Acid Rap follow-up, this isn’t for you. However, if genuine musicianship and feel-good elements are what you’re looking for, this may have been your ticket for the year.
15. Logic - The Incredible True Story
Maryland’s Logic dropped one of the most heralded debuts in recent memory from the Def Jam label last year when he delivered Under Pressure. Very personal and autobiographical, the mood was a tad bit somber with certain points of the album. Many compared this to Kendrick’s beyond wonderful major label debut, good kid, M.A.A.D. City, and in many ways that’s a valid argument.
This follow-up is a lighter-hearted version of Under Pressure, and in comparison is more like a Drake/Kanye-esque album, complete with production that sounds like it could’ve belonged on Late Registration, and stylings that are very reminiscent of Aubrey Graham, only with more double-time rapid-fire delivery. Regardless, this is musically a step up from his debut, and this should put him another step closer to the widespread acclaim he deserves.
14. Drake - If You're Reading This, It's Too Late
Let the heat begin. I know this will catch me some temporary hell, but hear this out. While many have scoffed over his LL-esque sensitive songs to or about the ladies over the years, anyone that denies his tremendous talent for making hit songs is nothing short of a hater.
Drake has put out his most cohesive album since his mixtape days, and that’s saying something considering how much lots of people still rock his previous albums of Thank Me Later, Take Care, and Nothing Was The Same. If he does have LL comparisons, this may be his version of Mama Said Knock You Out.
This was a mixtape he needed to do, and mission accomplished. When looking back at this year, with this mixtape, and the overwhelming smash of “Hotline Bling” and the Grammy-nominated “Back To Back” (A first for a diss record), who has had a hotter year than Drake on a grand scale? Bottom line: this album delivered.
13. Ghostface Killah - Adrian Younge Presents Twelve Reasons To Die II
Ghostface has proven himself to be the most prolific member of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan.
This year he laced us with not one, but two bangers, and each presenting us with vintage Ghost. This one is the follow-up to the first edition of this series, which was damn near magnificent. Although this one isn’t quite the exceptional piece the first one was, this version is still a great, great project with that outstanding Adrien Younge scoring that fits with Ghost’s criminal story-telling abilities.
With help from his Wu brethren, as well as the likes of Vince Staples and Chino XL, this made for overall another excellent audible movie. So what about his other project?
12. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD - Sour Soul
This project had Ghost collaborating with jazz Hip Hop instrumental band BADBADNOTGOOD to create one of Ghost‘s best albums in recent years.
Short in length, there’s really not a misstep on this album. Even more so than Younge for Twelve Reasons To Die II, BBNG provided almost a flawless backdrop for classic Ghost rhymes, and this fits up there with any of his better albums over this past decade.
11. A$AP Rocky - At. Long. Last A$AP
Harlem’s Rakim Myers brought us a sophomore album that truthfully should’ve been his first album. His debut album was fairly good, but lacking an overall cohesive focus.
As for this album, this project far and away outdoes his prior effort. Unfortunately, it came at a somber price. During the recording process of this album, Rocky lost his friend and inspirational leader of the A$AP Mob, A$AP Yams. While this greatly disheartened this emcee, he tuned it inward to make a very acclaimed project.
Using production from Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, MF DOOM, Gnarls Barkley), Emile, and even Mr. West himself, this album is more varied and at times ethereal, but Rocky does his job well of reaching a broader audience and does so by improving greatly, not dumbing down.
10. Vince Staples - Summertime '06
If there was a full-length debut that could be considered the best around, this will likely be it. Although controversial in his viewpoint of the nineties in Hip Hop, no one can deny how hard his double album debut went.
This was a fairly dark album exploring the streets of Cali while also touching on subjects such as drug addiction and police corruption. With the impeccable production of No I.D. leading the charge the entire album, Staples became a big time prospect in the game and a hell of a follow-up to his EP, the equally impressive Hell Can Wait. Behold the next west coast phenomenon.
9. Joey Bada$$ - B4. Da. $$
Speaking of hellacious full-length debuts, this was damn sure another one. After dropping fantastic
After dropping fantastic mix-tapes, the Pro Era representative finally delivered his debut, and this could’ve easily belonged in the nineties, as most of his other projects could as well. This album brings a focus and an overall completion to this project that officially puts Joey as a leader of the new school. With production assistance from Premo, Statik Selektah, and even J Dilla on the jazzy “Like Me”, this is almost virtually an unstoppable album. The best is yet to come from this young mic assassin.
8. Jay Rock - 90059
TDE had another stellar year. First there was the landmark of To Pimp A Butterfly (see later), then it was TDE’s elder spokesperson, Jay Rock.
This follow-up to Follow Me Home showed an improved lyrical structure, as well as excellent tracks to do the company proud. This was a top to bottom play through and was capped off by one of the best posse cuts all year, if not the best period in the TDE featured “Vice City”.
7. Joe Budden - All Love Lost
Joe Budden is a very polarizing emcee. Very few people think he’s not a dumb-nice emcee, but his on-camera persona and his string of Twitter / on wax beefs tend to make him a hated guy of sorts. With this album, he strives to let people inside of his somber, and at times very depressing, world.
This album is very heavy, centering on woman problems, suicidal tendencies, his addictions, and his son, but this also presented us with in all likelihood the best album of his career. Almost seen as this generation’s Me Against The World or even another version of his fellow Slaughterhouse member Royce Da 5’9’s Death Is Certain, it’s murky, sobering, melancholy, and outstanding body of work.
Most artists put out some of their best work when dealing with sadness and depression in their lives.This is without question one of them.
6. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth
Talk about a polarizing emcee. Look no further than Lupe Fiasco. We were nothing less than enamored by his first two phenomenal releases, Food & Liquor and The Cool. His knack for intelligent, conscious rhymes made him an instant hero for underground heads and backpackers alike.
Then he folded to the pressures of the majors, releasing the obviously radio-accessible Lasers, then followed up with Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, which were likewise met with lukewarm reception. Something was wrong. He wasn’t in tune with the artist he knew he could be and the artist he needed to be.
Tetsuo & Youth ended all of that. Definitely the best album he’s put out since The Cool, Fiasco went back to what got him to the dance, and if you don’t put “Mural” as his lyrical flagship, what the hell are you on??
5. Skyzoo - Music For My Friends
Brooklyn’s own Skyzoo is known for dropping fantastic, fluid Hip Hop, and with this new one, not only did he continue that practice, he took it up a notch.
This generally good-themed album about childhood innocence and growing pains made for one of the year’s most musically and lyrically pleasing feasts. Easily up there with the likes of his collar album with !llmind, Live From The Tape Deck, The Salvation, A Dream Deferred, and his sick album with Torae, Barrel Brothers, this album will keep you continuing the push the repeat button frequently.
4. Dr. Dre - Compton
The good doctor made a triumphant return with this, his final album.
Based off the record-breaking NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, this album was supposed to be the much anticipated Detox, but according to Dre, Detox wasn’t even worth putting out.
We’re glad he put this one out though, as this showed us once again why he’s Hip Hop’s Quincy Jones in terms of legacy. While not quite the benchmarks The Chronic and 2001 were, this is regardless a monumental release for Dre and he’s going out like the icon he is, with an album as pleasing as his legacy.
3. The Game - The Documentary 2/2.5
Not very often do we sequels that live up to the original. In Hip Hop, that almost never happens, give or take Raekwon‘s Cuban Linx II, Nas‘ Stillmatic, and Dre‘s 2001.
However, Jayceon Taylor did so, and did so in spades with The Documentary 2. His first Documentary was one of the most stunning debuts in recent memory and it established a new west coast star. Now ten years after that debut, he brings us a project that has him stepping up lyrically and showing us a fire we haven’t seen in years, and without question the best-produced album of the year as a whole.
More than that, his companion piece Documentary 2.5 is every bit an extension of Documentary 2, if not even better. This was hands down The Game’s most impressive in ten years, and musically this is a monster.
2. Scarface - Deeply Rooted
Goodness gracious! This was the return of Brad Jordan we all needed.
Going back to his roots of the hard, yet spiritual and conscious, Mr. Face delivered us an album that can be placed as one of his finest moments ever in his career. Not since his undisputed benchmark The Fix have we heard Scarface this focused, this hungry, and this in tuned with himself and the game around him.
This was a return of the southern icon that has influenced generations of emcees from all over the map, not just the South. If we never get another album from Brad, rest assured he went out on the highest note he could go out on.
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
I could go on and on about why this is not just the album of the year, but the album of the past decade and one of the best we’ve ever heard, but I won’t. There’s a whole article I wrote about this album.
This album is special. Special in a way Hip Hop hasn’t seen in a long ass time. This album isn’t for the conventional listener, strictly for the mature, deeper listener. Let’s forget about how the concept itself is nothing short of genius. Let’s forget that he lyrically is likely the new king of this game right now. This album is highly comparable to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On mixed with Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions…
When I said it was this generation’s version of Illmatic, it was met with very critical responses, but in terms of raw honesty, artistic merit, vision, and the want for cultural and global change, this is that album. There’s no mistaking good kid, M.A.A.D. City was one of the finest debuts ever heard, this is without question one of the best follow-ups. That rare album that is inspired to provoke change while taking an introspective look to see how fully capable and qualified you are to either take part or initiate it.
Nominated for several Grammies, bringing forth the #BlackLivesMatter war cry, “Alright”, and helping us explore every possible emotion the Black man and woman can identify with, this is an album we will be talking about for many years to come and is truly a once in a generation piece. Gone are the 808s, boom-gap, and easily digestible production, and in are the modes of live instrumentation and stripped down jazz fusion and occasional funk to give the album a more historical musical appeal.
Again, this is what grown folks Hip Hop is all about, maybe even grown folk music period. All hail King Kendrick!
Slum Village – Yes! The best SV album since Dilla was living. Dilla would be smiling proudly.
L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – The Night Took Us In Like Family Fantastic release that showcases Jeremiah’s constantly improving lyrical abilities and L’Orange’s incredible production abilities to give this an old 1930s NYC feel.
Sean Price – Songs In The Key Of Price (mixtape) The world was shocked and saddened when we lost Sean P the day after Dre dropped his Compton album. He did however leave behind a mixtape that reminds us why he’s one of the best to do it. Rest in Power P!
Oddisee – The Good Fight One of the most overall relatable albums about trying to make it in the music business, Oddisee delivered one of the year’s most prized possessions and made this listening experience very very enjoyable.
Georgia Anne Maldrow – A Thoughiverse Unmarred The first Hip Hop album from this Cali poet/songstress, this is a beautiful yet occasionally jarring look at the Black human consciousness and it delivered with incredible precision.
Pusha T – King Push: Darkest Before Dawn (The Prelude) Seen as the prelude to his bigger album King Push, Pusha T dropped a very dope preview of what to expect from King Push. If this is any indication of it, expect that album to be a hard-hitter.
Quelle Chris- Innocent Country Unorthodox and at times eccentric, Quelle Chris dropped a pretty decent album and definitely had people questioning their faith with the slightly controversial “I Asked God”
Mello Music Group – Persona Hip Hop’s new version of Rawkus Records delivered a compilation album that continues to elevate their artists and hit with some of the best production you’ll hear all year.
Kirk Knight – Late Knight Action This Pro Era emcee/producer hit us out of nowhere with this surprisingly incredible debut. We see why he’s one of Pro Era’s best kept secrets.
Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful The much anticipated major label debut of Action Bronson delivered with his brand of quirky, yet dope, rhymes, and an appeal that you can’t help but root for. As long as he keeps Ghostface’s name out his mouth of course.
Raury – All I Know Often compared to Andre 3000, this young ATLien shined during a BET Hip Hop cypher, and showed how very talented and artistic he really is. His future looks very good.
Dizzy Wright – The Growing Process This Funk Volume representative dropped a dope project that shows why he’s considered a very underrated talent. The cousin of Krayzie Bone will keep dropping good material, with his breakout coming sooner than he or we for that matter, think.
Mick Jenkins – Wave(s) Sooner or later, y’all are gonna stop sleeping on this Chicago native. He definitely got next out the Chi!
Mac Miller – GO:OD AM Mac Miller’s most complete and most confident album to date. Bar none.
Cannibal Ox – Year Of The Ronin If you don’t know who these guys are, or don’t know why this album is significant, youtube them. Although not the groundbreaking album The Cold Vein was in the late nineties, this was still a very dope return.
Tech N9ne – Special Effects The indie veteran dropped yet another excellent album filled with insane triple time rhymes and the ability to show why he’s among the most respected ever.
Dr. Yen Lo- Days With Dr. Yen Lo Ka and Preservation together make for some of the more murky moments in the underground. You get the feeling that you’re in NYC in thirty-degree weather at night watching out for fiends and stick up kids.
Big K.R.I.T.- It’s Better This Way Back on his mixtape hustle, K.R.I.T. presented us with the same type of soulful Hip Hop that made us look at him as one of the leaders of this new substantial school to begin with.
Jadakiss – T5DOA It’s been six years since we’ve had a whole full-length album from Kiss, and it was worth the wait, as he not only maintained his late nineties/early millennium appeal but is also able to keep up with the times of today as well for a very decent project.
Your Old Droog – The Nicest This Nas- soundalike dropped a fairly mean EP on us earlier this year and continued to show why he’s becoming one of the most talked about newcomers in the game right now.
Murs – Have A Nice Life
Fashawn – The Ecology
Jedi Mind Tricks – The Thief And The Fallen
Blackalicious – Imani Vol 1
KRS-One – Now Hear This
Chances are, these choices will cause tremendous debates and some heat, but guess what, this is MY list. Which means, MY opinion.
This has been overall an amazing year of quality, substantial Hip Hop, even more so than last year. Here’s to hoping we repeat this same success next tear with releases from Nas, AZ, Run The Jewels, T.I., Rapsody, and Kanye, among many, many others.