Who am I and who is anyone to really say something is the definitive best? I can only give my thoughts and opinion on what resonated with me the most. And that is what I plan to do with this list.
I went back-and-forth in my head if I should just make this a hip-hop list or touch on music in general. I went with “music in general” because there are a few albums outside of my beloved hip-hop that I want to honor. There are great albums that came out in 2015 that will not make this list such as projects from Bjork, Vince Staples, Tame Impala, Mac Miller, Death Grips, Earl Sweatshirt, jamie xx, Adele, The Alabama Shakes, L’Orange/Jeremiah Jae, and many more but the albums I listed below are the ones that I have found the most enjoyable.
So, let’s begin…
Before this year, I was not really a fan of anything The Weeknd did, I thought his sound was very dry and boring. I was always able to tell he was a skillful writer but the music itself was usually always an ear-sore for me. My first time hearing “Earned It” on the radio, I knew The Weeknd had altered his sound a little to make the listen more smooth for the casual audience. And I was right, there is much more of a classic R&B feel on Beauty Behind The Madness but The Weeknd did not water-down his content whatsoever, still very rated-R material, just a smoother listen at times.
Beauty Behind The Madness was one of the only two albums that I mostly consumed due to my surroundings (nightlife scene or radio play).
Similar to The Weeknd, I have never been a fan of ASAP Rocky nor have I understood the hype that followed him. Before At Long Last ASAP, I would always use artists like Rocky as an example of style (or “swag”) becoming more important to hip-hop/rap fans than the music but Rocky shut me up with the release of this project. If I had to describe At Long Last ASAP in word, it’d be “artful.”
Rocky had great production on this project to go with his very creative flow patterns. I enjoyed listening to this project a great deal because Rocky’s voice and flow often reminds me of Dipset’s reign in hip-hop but his sound is very un-Dipset like so it is a very attention-grabbing listen.
Say what you will, you cannot deny how Drake dominated mainstream hip-hop this year. From releasing a surprise (?) mixtape/album — If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late — to destroying Meek Mill in a beef Meek provoked, to releasing a collaborative (yet mediocre) project with another super popular rapper — Future.
With all of that being said, I did not like this mixtape/album very much. There are somewhere between five and seven songs that were so good and impactful (when I say “impactful,” I mean, everywhere I turned — whether it was in a club or on the radio — I’d hear a cut from If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late) that I just couldn’t leave this project off the list despite the rest of the album being mediocre and boring.
What I can say about this album that is overwhelming positive is, I like the sound Drake is making and I am anxious to hear what he is cooking up for Views From The 6.
I cheated twice in the making of this list by including to albums that were released in December of 2014. Criticize me all you want for that but those two albums got much more play from me this year than anything I left off. D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s Black Messiah was released on December 15th 2014, following D’Angelo’s 14-year hiatus from the spotlight.
This album resonated deeply with me because of it’s subject manner in the midst of so many injustices in America. The sounds on this album was a breath of fresh air, the way D’Angelo and The Vanguard fused funk and soul was something we all have missed (whether you knew it or not). Listening back to this album after hearing some of the great albums made after it, the immediate impact of Black Messiah is very apparent.
Here is an album that just recently grew on me despite dropping in May of 2015. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment is a Chicago collective of entertainers (from rappers to singers to musicians to dancers and so on). The face of the collective, despite their name, is Chance The Rapper. Chance on his own has had a pretty big year through his guest verses, releasing both of his singles for his future project on national TV (The Late Show and Saturday Night Live), and Surf has to be right up there among his 2015 successes.
The live instrumentation on Surf is incredible but so is the guest appearances on this project (including J. Cole, Busta Rhymes, B.o.B, Janelle Monae, King Louie, Noname Gypsy, Saba, Quavo, Erykah Badu, BJ the Chicago Kid, Raury, and more). I highly recommend checking out this project because I can guarantee it sounds like nothing else from 2015.
My only knock on Surf is that it isn’t cohesive at all. And I don’t think it was meant to sound cohesive but that is something I do look for in albums. This is just a collection of great songs.
The return of Lupe Fiasco! Seriously, if you have not heard this album just go listen to the first song on the project; “Mural” and thank me after seven-minutes of remembering why Lupe is one of the best lyricists in hip-hop history. After thanking me, continue to listen to rest of Tetsuo And Youth and begin to wash away the scum that was Lasers and Food And Liquor 2 from your memory.
Bits-and-pieces of what made Food And Liquor and The Cool so phenomenal are found throughout Tetsuo And Youth, such as: Lupe’s ability to just rap his ass off, his conceptual mind, the statements he makes in his rhymes, and some soulfulness that he has been missing for seven-plus years.
Oddisee put together one hell of an album with The Good Fight. This album is full of positive vibes, smart rhymes, and strong messages. Oddisee said he named this album The Good Fight because people often thank him for fighting to keep the kind of hip-hop he makes alive but he never looked at it that way, he just makes music he thinks is good.
Something unique about this album — other than just how great the music Oddisee wrote, produced, and performed is — is the fact that he refrained from speaking any explicit language on this album. He said he did this not as some gimmick but because he hates performing at shows full of white facees and screaming “nigga” at them and hearing them say it along with him. Also, he has notices how his fan-base is growing up and he wants those fans to be able to play unedited versions of his music to their kids.
Just when you thought jazz was dying, here comes Kamasi Washington with a bolt of electricity to remind music fans why jazz was so innovative. The different instruments and the different uses of those instruments composed into a beautiful body of work. Jazz is music truest artform in many ways and Kamasi’s The Epic is proof of that.
There are days I just put on this album and let it be the soundtrack of my life. The feels of funk and R&B are very apparent in this record. There are several new artists in the jazz world worth listening to (such as Robert Glasper) but The Epic, as a stand alone project, is the best thing from the genre in a very long time by my estimation.
I do not give a fuck about award shows and one reason is because someone is always left out of nominations and, in my opinion, that discredits the award. There should be a group of judges for each genre and those judges should consider every album of that genre for the year. It is absolutely ridiculous that Kamasi Washington’s The Epic appears to have been ignored by The GRAMMYs.
The most critically-acclaimed album of the year…. BY FAR: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly! The social commentary on this record is some of the best hip-hop has had on the mainstream level since 2Pac.
Mentioning 2Pac, this album gave me my favorite listening moment of the year. It happened when I was on the train heading to my internship, giving To Pimp A Butterfly it’s first listen and I got to the end of the last song, “Mortal Man.” Once the song came to an end, Kendrick started talking as if he was interviewing someone. It turned out he was interview someone and that someone was 2Pac. Kendrick and his team found an old interview of 2Pac and chopped up Pac’s answers to fit Kendrick’s questions, questions that correlated with the subject manner of the album. It was so dope!
The concept of this album has been dissected so many times, I won’t bore my readers with another breakdown of it but it is a fantastic concept. My main problem with the album is that I found it to be overhyped. Immediately after it’s release it was considered “classic” by the masses and that took away from the album for me. It’s a great project but not as good as Kendrick’s debut; good kid, mAAd city, or the album I have at number one on this list.
This is the second album of the two albums I “cheated” to put on this list. J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive was released December 9th 2014. I consider all December albums apart of the next year’s batch of albums because I don’t find it fair to do a “best albums of the year’ list and try to critique December albums within a month when you had two months to a year to sit with the rest of the albums. I’m glad I did it this way for 2014 Forest Hills Drive‘s sake because I definitely didn’t love this album when it first dropped nearly as much as I love it now.
Cole’s album wasn’t as socially-conscience as Kendrick but that alone shouldn’t make an album better or worse. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is by far Cole’s best commercial release because it is reminiscent of what made Cole special on his mixtapes — The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights — his relatability. To Pimp A Butterfly is a great album but often over-preachy and too layered, which isn’t necessarily bad but while albums should be cohesive, they also should be well-balanced. J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a perfectly balanced album, he is socially-aware, introspective, confident, conceptual, lyrical, and melodic all throughout this project.
J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive is the best album of 2015.