2015 has been a glorious year for hip-hop, and we're only half way through it. Moses Wiener took a look back over the past six months and compiled 18 of the best releases.
As we reach the halfway point of 2015, what better time to take a look back at the specific instances for which this year will foreseeably be considered a golden year in hip-hop. The following list consists of the genre’s most significant releases from January 1 to date; albums which have set our music libraries ablaze with awesomeness, mixtapes which have made us move in ways previously unknown, and if you’re unfamiliar with this here list, now would be the time to change that.
From Action Bronson’s dazzling debut, to Chance The Rapper’s on his more recent outing as Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, to Drake running through the 6 with his woes and Big Sean spending most his life living in a Dark Sky Paradise: the last six months or so have been staggering in terms of output. In addition to our retrospective review, we’ll also be sharing a small selection of the other LP’s we're looking forward to being released later this year.
For now though, please enjoy our list of the year’s top releases (so far), below. At worst, the volume and repetitive, late-night listening which is sure to follow might anger your neighbors, but best-case scenario is that we’ll shine a light on music that would’ve otherwise slipped past. Most of you, however, probably already know the words to a lot of the content featured. In any case, these are the best albums so far of 2015.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
March 15 (via Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records)
Evidence of a move towards more challenging subject matter and sound, Kendrick Lamar still managed to top charts and break a Spotify streaming record with the release of To Pimp A Butterfly. In the wake of its surprise release, the album’s content stirred much discussion, providing a focal point for many a think-piece aiming to make and dissect connections between the music and the issues it raised.
Surrounding the album’s release, Lamar spoke with one of the album’s collaborators Flying Lotus in an interview aired on BBC Radio 1, in which he contextualized the album’s overall sound. "The ideas and influences from this album was me collecting every little bit of music that I have learned to live with and love since the day I was born, and my father's influences from oldies to gangsta rap. That was it for me. And not being in fear to show these influences. A lot of artists get to a point where we like to stay redundant, we like to stay compromising what we really want to do. I said I wasn't going to do that on this album. I give that advice to any artists out there. Do what your heart tells you to do because the rewards are much better."
Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
March 23 (via Atlantic/Vice)
New York’s Action Bronson is probably the biggest personality in rap right now and his first full-length album following years of fire mixtapes was proof of his capabilities (if any was ever needed). Featuring production from Mark Ronson, Noah “40” Shebib, Alchemist (and on another note, one of the funniest opening tracks to an album of recent years), it’s fair to say that he hit it out of the park for his first "proper" LP.
Spanning from Big Band stylings heard on "Baby Blue" to the bongwater boom bappery of "Falconry," the warped self-reflection on "Actin Crazy," and of course the crooning about cruising on "Easy Rider" – each song somehow manages to shine a light on the numerous contributing aspects that make Action Bronson as wonderful as he is.
February 12 (via Cash Money Records)
With well over half a million copies sold in the week following its surprise release, the fourth album from Aubrey "Drake" Graham has probably been the most prominent fixture of of hip-hop charts around the globe for the last few months, and what’s more, his Views From The 6 LP is still expected for a forthcoming release later this year.
Focusing for now on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – an impassioned love letter to his hometown Toronto – the album solidified Drake’s place as the original sadboy of hip-hop the moment he ran through the 6 with his woes. The suggestive subtext and somber undertones of the album, which possibly pertain to the state of his rocky relationship with Cash Money Records, is still up for discussion. The quality and impact of the music itself, however, is not.
Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$
January 20 (via Cinematic/Pro Era/Relentless/RED)
One of the many impressive debut albums to have emerged this year, Pro Era kingpin Joey Bada$$ brought it all to the forefront for his first full-length album B4.Da.$$. The album was received by many as a successful realization of his own sound, and that he had lived up to the expectations set by his fast-growing fanbase following the initial release of 1999.
At 20 years old, Joey Bada$$’ ability to channel his own brand of revivalist '90s hip-hop themes through his own personal prism has definitely earned its place on our list, and is also famously amongst the "favorites" playlist of Malia Obama who showed her support prior to the album’s release in a picture in which she was wearing a Bada$$ T-shirt. And if it's good enough for the President’s daughter, it’s good enough for you.
Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise
February 24 (via GOOD Music/Def Jam)
For his third album released in the first quarter of the year, Big Sean did it big indeed, and enlisted the help of names like Kanye West, DJ Mustard, Mike WiLL Made It, John Legend, Drake and more on the project which has been two years in the making.
Lead singles from the release including "I Don’t F**k With You" (which was released late last year) and title track "Dark Sky" – the videos for which have alone been viewed well over 50 million times on YouTube – secured Big Sean’s seat at the table of hip-hop’s biggest names in 2015.
Young Thug – Barter 6
April 16 (via 300 Entertainment/Atlantic Records)
With seemingly more focus than previous efforts, and in turn more clarity throughout the album as a whole, Young Thug’s third solo release (the title of which is a vague homage to Lil Wayne’s Carter releases; a homage which wasn’t received well by the intended recipient), was received well by audiences in terms of its content.
At 22, the Atlanta-born rapper has managed to make a successful yet subtle move from a rougher, less-refined sound on other material he’s put out so far, to something that seems a little more polished and erudite. And for an album which could be described as showcasing a more "stripped back" and honest sound, it makes much more sense in contextualizing his naked portrait on the cover.
Lucki Eck$ – X
May 30 (Self-released)
For his birthday last month, FKA twigs collaborator and fine young talent known as Lucki Eck$ let loose a halcyonic haul of 11 tracks that may have slipped under your radar, in which case X would mark the spot you start to get Lucki.
Often woozy and with a blunt in-hand throughout, Volume 1 of what we hope will become an ongoing series of releases from this young man, X also showcases his production chops off on tracks like "BIRDGANG" and "Mac n Cheese." From the sounds of it, Lucki Eck$ is set to reappear on lists like these for years to come.
Oddisee – The Good Fight
May 5 (via Mello Music Group)
Straight out of the States’ capitol, rapper/producer/singer Oddisee served up something in early May that can safely be described as timeless hip-hop. From the psychedelic jazz of album opener "That’s Love," to the reverb drenched guitar jam "First Choice," and right through to the album’s superbly skittish finisher "Worse Before Better" – the entire album is a confident foray into territory familiar to anyone who owns or has listened to a copy of Guru’s Jazzmatazz, or a welcome surprise to anyone unaware that Washington D.C. has a hip-hop scene to speak of.
In an interview following the release of his most recent solo album, Oddisee had a few choice words to say about success and the reception of his music which bear sharing here. “Success for me is very direct. If I put out an album and I get two calls in a day to license to two separate companies and my manager hits me up about a festival. That is validation. You put out this record and suddenly somebody wants to book you for shows. Suddenly people want to license your music. Suddenly people like you want to interview me. If the record wasn't good I wouldn't get those things. That is the validation.”
Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment – Surf
May 28 (Self-released)
Almost bordering on being more of a pop album than it is a hip-hop album, Chance The Rapper and his troupe of talented trumpeters et al turned up with one of the year’s top albums as Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment. Surf (which was initially given away for free through the iTunes Music Store) is worth familiarizing with for any summer playlist you might be working on current or future.
With a strong resurgence of "live sounding" instrumentations appearing and an abundant jazz influence, Chance charms his way into our hearts through our ears once again with the assistance of Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Big Sean, and a bunch more. Bask in the beautiful and bright moments which can be found throughout.
Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul
February 24 (via Lex Records)
What happens when you’re a three-piece band from Toronto and Ghostface Killah wants to work with you on creating an album? The answer is an album called Sour Soul and the band in question is BADBADNOTGOOD.
Hot off of working on collaborative experimentations with the Tyler, The Creator, the group were introduced to the legendary Wu-Tang member by producer Frank Dukes when he invited them all down to Dunham Studios in New York to work on material having formed a working relationship with Ghostface on his 2010 album Apollo Kids. Without going into any finer detail, the punchline is that they recorded and delivered a collection of tracks which simultaneously took each of the respective collaborators out of their comfort zones into brave, and sometimes weird new territories.
Ratking – 700 Fill
March 4 (Self-released)
Avoiding the kind of overtly nostalgic '90s style that many of their contemporaries opted for on their records recently, New York rap crew Ratking's latest release 700 Fill reaffirmed their role as modern-day rabble rousers of rap, and managed to maintain their own distinct style in doing so.
Following on from their debut album So It Goes which saw its release via XL Recordings around the same time last year, it sits neatly as proof of the group’s progress from that point in time, arriving with new ideas and techniques, with a refreshingly cavalier attitude to sharing their progress, and with a spit-shine finish as opposed to a polished one.
Alchemist – Israeli Salad
May 26 (via ALC Records)
Tastier than a tub of tabouleh, Alchemist is the talented producer responsible for a ridiculous laundry list of legendary beats for hip-hop’s biggest names. So of course, my friend, we highly recommend you grab a fork and dig in to his incredible collection of Mediterranean-influenced instrumentals as featured on his Israeli Salad LP, released last month.
With that laundry list including happy customers like Eminem, Mobb Deep, Fat Joe, Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, Dilated Peoples, and a plethora more, it would be fair to say that the Californian producer knows a thing or two about making a delicious salad of sounds, in this instance making the most of the Middle-East’s musical tradition and infusing it with his own flavors.
A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
May 26 (via A$AP Worldwide/RCA)
With a cover bearing a tribute to his close friend A$AP Yams, the second studio album from fashion-conscious flow master A$AP Rocky is a more visceral, contemplative venture when compared to his verses on 2013’s Long. Live. A$AP.
The album itself features 18 tracks, with a strong selection of guest spots from M.I.A., Kanye, Schoolboy Q, Mark Ronson, Mos Def, and interestingly enough Rod Stewart is on there too – the result of which has been a #1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Charts on its first week of release. The visuals for lead single "LSD" are also more than worth a look if you haven’t already taken the trip.
Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb
April 3 (via Odd Future Records/Sony)
With five alternative covers and full of moments you might not want to listen to with your mother in the room, the explosive third solo album from Odd Future figurehead Tyler, The Creator was released in early April.
Opening with the Dee Edwards regrunge of "DEATHCAMP" there’s little letting up from the get-go, as Tyler once again swings between dirges into his own demented inner visions and lifting compositions, as can be heard on tracks like the floaty "Find Your Wings," on lewd slow jam "Blow My Load," and the terrific toe-tapper "2SEATER,". Chaotic and messy at times perhaps, but Tyler is unfailing in his attempts to produce interesting music on his own term in spite of his audience’s expectations, aided by accomplished allies and personal idols Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. Cherry Bomb simply cannot be faulted for being boring.
Future & DJ Esco – 56 Nights
March 21 (Self-released)
Dedicated to his friend and close collaborator DJ Esco who earlier this year spent 56 days in a Dubai prison for marijuana possession, 56 Nights was released for free as a collaborative effort between the DJ and Atlantan rapper Future.
With the conditions of his captivity in mind, 56 Nights starts off with Eastern samplings and continues by locking down some heavy 808 heaters that touch on the fundamentals of life i.e. sex, drugs, and Instagram. Lessons learned from this album: don’t carry drugs with you on an international flight, and if you do, the only record you’ll have as a result will be a criminal one.
Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife
January 6 (EarDrummers Entertainment/Interscope Records)
Also representing Atlanta to the fullest on this list are fraternal duo Rae Sremmurd, having made their name early in the year by revealing their minimalist approach to hip-hop through their debut album SremmLife, which was released during the first week of January.
Buoyed by the breakout success of the track "No Type," Khalif "Swae Lee" Brown and Aaquil "Slim Jimmy" Brown have shown no signs of slowing down, with more recent releases from the album including "No Flex Zone" and "This Could Be Us." A bold opening statement from the brothers Sremmurd.
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt
March 23 (Tan Cressida/Columbia Records)
Full of feel-good anthems for the summer, we facetiously present the second solo project from Earl Sweatshirt. Overshadowed by a mismanagement of the release (following the somewhat ironic reveal of the video for "Grief"), the 50 shades of greyscale lyricism that lure you to join him in a room with the curtains pulled and a lit spliff while he laments life is still an inviting prospect.
However, as Earl discussed during an interview with the LA Times a little after the album’s release, there’s a distinction that he felt needed to be addressed when it comes to categorizing his outlook as a musician as "dark." “What I found to be more the theme of [“I Don’t Like …, I Don’t Go Outside”] is just.. clarity. Darkness is just clarity. And a lot of times that’s what we [name] the issues that we have: darkness, because it’s easier to not deal with them. When there’s not a spotlight on them. There’s.. that’s ‘dark’ but there’s also just like, a tone that’s dark, but it’s just me checking in at the time, being honest with myself.”
Snoop Dogg – Bush
May 12 (via Doggystyle/i am OTHER/Columbia Records)
A veteran to the game, Snoop D-O-double-G returns once again to mark his territory the old-fashioned way on his thirteenth studio album. With Pharrell on main production duties stirring up a '70s sort of vibe throughout, and an album opener featuring Stevie Wonder on its highlight "California Roll," that California soul everyone seems to love is well represented.
Perfect for a cruise along Pacific Coast Highway in your pastel green Camaro, the fusion of influences drawn from the likes of Chic, Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins makes for Snoop’s grooviest record in a while.
Drake – Views From The 6
The odds are high for repeat success for Drake if he decides to release Views From The 6 any time soon, and after recently showing support for Apple’s new streaming service that time might be very, very soon.
Kanye West – Swish
With more teasings and hashtags suggesting that a new album from Kanye West may arrive in the coming weeks, we’re eager as ever to hear what 'Ye has to say during what seems to be the busiest stage in his career as a recording artist.
Little Simz – TBA
Little Simz recently announced that she’d finished putting together her first full-length LP and in the meantime, the London-based rapper has managed to appear with a new mixtape available for free following the announcement.
Pete Rock – Petestrumentals 2
Part two of perhaps the most prolific instrumental hip-hop album ever, the Pete Rock's followup will be dropping next week and will likely be a welcome addition to any gathering involving sun-tan lotion and the smell of a nearby barbecue.
Madvillain – Madvillainy 2
Over a decade on from the original release of MF Doom and Madlib as the mysterious Madvillain, there is a possibility of a sequel to one of Stone Throw’s most significant releases arriving by the end of the year, but don’t hold your breath!
Timbaland – TBA
Tentatively titled Opera Noir, we’re excited at the prospect of hearing new material from one of the world’s most respected hip-hop producers, Timbaland. The album is said to include features from Missy Elliott, Jay Z, Andre 3000, and Drake.
Pusha T – King Push
Pusha T of Clipse fame is positioned to be releasing his followup to My Name Is My Name by way of a new album called King Push, and rarely one to disappoint we look forward to welcoming the king back to the throne.
A$AP Mob – L.O.R.D
While ASAP Yams said back in 2014 that L.O.R.D was officially scrapped and that most of the tracks would likely appear on respective future solo albums, his untimely passing may mean that the album may finally see the light of day later this year.
Skepta – Konnichiwa
After a stellar start in 2015, London’s Skepta is still set to release his highly anticipated release Konnichiwa having already delayed its release despite the success of tracks including "Shutdown" and "That’s Not Me."