I think most people can agree that 2015 was a really great year for music and especially for hip-hop. I’ve read through many top albums of 2015 and while I’ve enjoyed a lot of the choices others have made I’ve noticed that many of my favourite releases have gone mostly unmentioned. Because of this I really wanted to put together my own top releases of 2015 (and chose 40 because I spent my youth watching Top Of The Pops) to give some of those overlooked artists some appreciation.
If you’ve been following my posts over the last year you’ll know just how much music I’ve been listening to which has made it very hard to narrow this list down. I’ve never done a ranked list like this before because it’s always so hard and usually just makes people angry when they don’t agree, but I’m sure this list will get people riled up anyway so I’m going for it.
Remember, these are my favourite releases of 2015, I’m not trying to tell other people they’re wrong, I’m just trying to show some love for the artists that have provided the soundtrack to my 2015. I’ve decided to write this article later than most other media outlets have because I wanted to give some late entries a chance and let the dust settle before I made my mind up. I didn’t mean to publish the article quite this late though, I’ve just been busier than I expected.
So here it is, probably the last best albums of 2015 list that you’ll read. I hope you enjoy the read, find some new favourites of your own and try not to get too mad that you’re favourite album isn’t included. Oh, and try not to lose your minds over the fact that I haven’t even even included ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’.
Here’s a Youtube playlist with a track from each release to make listening easier.
40. Busdriver – Thumbs
Busdriver rarely disappoints with his albums, always giving us something interesting, unique and cohesive. After his mostly upbeat and playful 2014 release ‘Perfect Hair’ Busdriver has delivered a much more serious album with ‘Thumbs’. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t your hard hitting political rap but Busdriver seems to have been somewhat affected by all the horrible events that plagued 2015. This is very evident at the end of the track ‘Species of Property’ which he says he wrote for Baltimore. The beats support this melancholy turn as they plod along, driven by heavy synths and at times descending into drum filled chaos.
39. Tuxedo – Tuxedo
I spent some of my favourite evenings of 2015 sat in the garden on one of our rare sunny days, and this album was the perfect soundtrack for it. Mayer Hawthorne has one of the most soothing voices in modern music and hip-hop producer Jake One really brings the funk with the instrumentals, creating an album that feels like a really happy head massage. Every song on this album brings a smile to my face and I think the world needs more music like that.
38. Clear Soul Forces – Fab Five
Underground hip-hop group Clear Soul Forces have been making a name for themselves since the late 00s and have refined their sound to produce their best album to date. The album is produced entirely by Nameless who takes the art of sampling to another level, cutting up soul tracks and transforming them into knocking beats. The 4 MCs in the group deliver non-stop punchlines with impeccable flows. The track ‘Bpswr’; an acronym for Back Pack Sub Woofer Rap sums up the album well. ‘Fab Five’ is all the vibes of that early 90s hip-hop that everyone loves so much but updated it with a more developed rap style and really luscious production.
37. Chuck Inglish – Everybody’s Big Brother
It’s strange how sometimes music can go so old school that it starts to sound futuristic again. That’s what this album sounds like to me. The beats have that 80s gangsta rap feel, packed with simple 808 drums, deep basslines and catchy keyboard riffs. The album features a plethora of guest appearances from the likes of Donnie Trumpet, Boldy James, ManManSavage and a number of rappers I was not previously familiar with but they all deliver raps fitting of the vibe.
36. Lynx – I Am Lynx
Drum & Bass isn’t as popular as it was 5 years ago but there are still lots of producers out there working hard to keep the genre exciting. Lynx has been making Drum & Bass for over 10 years now and has always stayed original. This latest album does something a lot of dance albums don’t manage, it stays interesting throughout. I love dance music but a lot of the time tracks are made to be mixed so you wont hear the whole thing and because of this full albums can become tiresome. I Am Lynx steps away from this by delivering frenetic, complex Drum & Bass that progresses enough to stay exciting throughout. Heavy basslines, intricate percussion and unique synth sounds make for a very satisfying listen.
35. Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred
Georgia Anne Muldrow has been making music for a long time now and has stuck mostly to singing but on this album she shows that’s she actually an amazing MC as well. Georgia has one of those voices that is simply a pleasure to listen to and has an accomplished flow to match, switching between rhythmic rhymes and soulful singing. Chris Keys provided some of 2015’s best production and a lot of that is present on this album which he produced in its entirety. The album is very strong lyrically with Georgia delivering powerful lines about racism, spirituality and the mainstream media.
34. EarthGang – Strays With Rabies
I first heard of EarthGang in February last year when they released their mixtape “Torba”. I wasn’t blown away by the tape but it was easily good enough to get me to listen to Strays With Rabies and I’m so glad I did. The Atlanta duo have put together a superb album that’s easy going and accessible yet stays fresh and interesting. The beats are soulful with a bass heavy edge to them, really standing out on “Liquor Sto'” which has a crazy, unexpected drop a few bars in to the verse. I can see these guys being very popular in the near future, they have the appeal of 90s Outkast with a modern twist.
33. Father – Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?
I have to admit, I overlooked Father for quite a while. When I first heard this album I didn’t get the appeal, it wasn’t until I became obsessed with his earlier track “Look At Wrist” that I started understand. Father’s music is almost self-contradicting in that it’s simultaneously understated and outrageous. The beats are very low key, stripped down beats with repetitive samples and booming basslines. It’s Father’s personality that shines and makes his music so unique, he rambles through his bars in a monotone flow that is interrupted sporadically by odd intonations as he details his sex and drug fuelled escapades.
32. Bones – Powder
It’s amazing what you get from an artist when they aren’t restrained by a record label or even the need to sell records. Bones releases all of his music for free and this gives him an amazing creative freedom that not many musicians show. Powder is a brilliant showcase of Bones’ abilities in a variety of genres He’s basically making whatever music he feels like but his personality ties it all together to keep the mixtape cohesive. From floaty cloud rap, to jazzy hip-hop and all way through to Pavement-esque indie rock, Bones proves himself to be one of the most exciting and versatile musicians working today.
31. Billy Woods – Today I Wrote Nothing
Billy Woods has been steadily releasing fantastically dark albums for over 10 years now and he has refined his sound. Woods raps with a poetic intensity that you don’t hear very often, his flow is unique and sounds more like spoken word poetry than rap at times. His lyrics paint harrowing urban landscapes while the instrumentals complement them with jazzy, off kilter drums and melancholy piano riffs.
30. Young Thug – Slime Season
Young Thug has improved massively over the last few years and positioned himself as one of the most talked about artists in hip-hop. This is a solid collection of tracks featuring some crazy beats and even crazier flows. Thugger is the only artist to have two releases on this list so I’m saving more of my love for later.
29. Sean Price – Songs In The Key Of Price
Sean Price has always been one of my favourite rappers so I was upset when I heard he passed, my thoughts go out to his family and I can’t believe we will never again hear fresh bars from one of the best MC’s to ever do it. This EP came out soon after Price passed away and is a great monument to the man. P brings it as always, spitting his insane flow with some serious punchlines. The beats are interesting and minimal, we haven’t heard Price on beats quite like this before but it felt really natural. There was a second release of the EP, adding a lot more tracks and although there are some good extras in there I think the original is stronger. I urge you to buy this, not just because it’s a great listen but because the funds raised go to Price’s family at this difficult time.
28. Quelle Chris – Innocent Country
Quelle Chris hits us with a text book underground hip-hop album. Chris Keys produced 4 sublime albums last year (Jean Grae – iSweatergawd, Declaime – Southside Story, Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred and Quelle Chris – Innocent Country) but this is my favourite. The instrumentals are mainly repetitive and at times unsettling with a few rays of sunshine coming through in the form of beautiful piano riffs. This backdrop really lends itself to Quelle Chris’ effortless raps which cover topics from compulsive liars to conversations with God.
27. Various Artists – Iberian Juke & Friends
Including this is kind of breaking the rules as it’s not so much an album, EP or mixtape but a 3 hour long compilation. Some exceptions have to be made though and this collection is too good not to mention. Iberian Juke is a collective of juke and footwork producers based in Spain. This is their second compilation and for this one they have called in producers from all over the world to contribute. The Juke and Footwork scene is one of the most exciting electronic music scenes of the last few years, I love the complexity, progression and off-kilter grooves that the genre offers. This compilation is an amazing showcase of talent that is on the scene worldwide, delivering a taste of the different styles developing and giving us some serious bangers.
26. L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – The Night Took Us In Like Family
L’Orange has really made a name for himself over the last 5 or so years, working with some gifted MCs as well as putting out some stellar instrumental works. Jeremiah Jae has also been putting in work over that time, staying firmly underground but making some breathtaking albums. Together we have one of the most fitting collaborations since Madvillain. This album is so cohesive, it all flows seamlessly and the sporadic instrumental breaks littered with old movie samples create an extremely cinematic feel. The old jazz samples are used in a really fresh way, forming these melancholy vibes that Jeremiah Jae uses to paint pictures of urban despair and cold-hearted criminals.
25. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow Of A Doubt
Freddie Gibbs stepped away from his usual style on the Madlib produced “Pinata” but he’s back to his gangster vibes with Shadow Of A Doubt. The soul samples are mostly gone and this album is a lot more reminiscent of “ESGN”, straight up hard flows, 808 driven beats and booming sub bass. We do see a slightly smoother Gibbs on this album as he takes to singing on a few tracks and kicks out an R&B classic with “Basketball Wives”.
24. Knxwledge – Hexual Sealings Prt.8
It was a big year for Knxwledge in 2015, he got signed to Stones Throw, released an EP with one of the most hyped up artists of the year Anderson .Paak and had a beat on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Despite all of this it was the next edition of Knxwledge’s long running album series Hexual Sealings that really impressed me. The first “Hexual Sealings” was the third of Knxwledge’s many releases and he’s kept the same unique sound running since. This album features more unhinged remixes of classic R&B and hip-hop tracks, replacing the original instrumentals with vibrant jazz samples mangled together to create beautifully messy grooves.
23. Cavanaugh (Open Mike Eagle & Serengeti) – Time & Materials
Open Mike Eagle made one of my favourite albums of 2014 and Serengeti has been putting out amazingly creative music for years so when this album was announced I was really excited. The finished product definitely lived up to expectations, the two musicians really rubbed off on each other, Serengeti has brought out the dark, moody side in Open Mike Eagle and Open Mike Eagle’s more jovial side has rubbed off on Serengeti. What we’re left with is a very atmospheric album that’s profound one minute and tongue in cheek the next. This is the first project entirely produced by Open Mike and I cant wait to hear more, he has twisted droning guitar sounds in to atmospheric marvels.
22. Dr. Yen Lo (Ka and Perseverance) – Days With Dr. Yen Lo
Sometimes in music someone comes along and drastically alters one of the defining aspects of a genre. Hip-Hop has always been very percussion driven but this album is almost entirely void of drums, and it sounds amazing. The instrumentals are stripped down to repetitive (mostly guitar) samples creating an intense feeling that sounds like a film score at times. Ka’s rapping is perfect for these sparse instrumentals, he flows in a laid back, rhythmic manner laying down complex rhyme schemes and conjuring up dark images of inner city sagas.
21. Hurt Everybody – 2K47
Chicago trio Hurt Everybody sound like the future. Switching between biting raps and sorrowful singing, vocally these guys are bringing something incredibly fresh to the table. The vibes on the mixtape vary between euphoric and introspective to menacing and violent. Most of the production is handled in house and is very exciting, mostly synth driven and scattered with intricate percussion. Fellow Chicago native Twista even drops by and gives us one of his tightest verses in years.
20. Jonwayne – Jonwayne Is Retired
I’ve been a big fan of Jonwayne’s beats for a while now and this album cements that even further. There is so much space in these instrumentals, they’re mostly simple boom bap drum loops with just a basic but incredibly high quality riff on either a bass guitar or synth. It’s a real testament to Jowayne’s production that he can make such basic beats sound so crisp and beautiful that you don’t want tracks to end. It’s not just the beats that shine on this album though, Jonwayne really brings his A game on the mic, he strongly punctuates his lines and flows fantastically proving he’s one of the best all round musicians in hip-hop.
19. Bilal – In Another Life
It’s always been hard to pin down Bilal, he’s often been labelled neo soul but has worked in and around other genres. “In Another Life” is hard to pin down too, it’s oozing with funk, his vocals are soothingly soulful and there are some heavy psychedelic rock vibes in there too. The drums on the album really stand out, slightly distorted and played to perfection, driving the tracks forward. Bilal’s voice is so serene which makes it even more shocking when he suddenly strays from his soft tones. This album not like anything else I’ve heard from Bilal, it’s not quite like anything I’ve heard from anyone but it is magnificent.
18. Lofty305 X DJ Complex – Haitian Silk
I’m sure some of you will hear this EP and not get why I would put it in a top releases list. When I first heard it myself I was a bit unsure, it’s very lo fi and Lofty305’s vocals are strange. It is these things that make this so good though, it’s raw and filthy but at the same time the beats are packed with soul and emotion. The alluring samples are beefed up with rough, distorted drum samples that you cant help but nod your head to. Lofty305’s vocals are half way between rapping and singing, he slurs his words and croons out of tune, rambling about his sexual exploits. This EP sounds weird, and it is, but Lofty pulls it off in a way no one else can.
17. Future – 56 Nights
Future is definitely one of the biggest names in hip-hop right now with a string of really solid releases, starting with his near perfect mixtape “Monster” that was out in 2014. This tape was released back in March and although he had 3 more releases later in the year 56 Nights is firmly my favourite. All the tracks on the tape are produced by Southside apart from “March Madness” which is produced by fellow 808 Mafia member Tarentino, and these dark, murky beats all sound incredibly hard. Future is one of the few guys who really knows how to ride these simple beats, many other rappers would sound boring on such sparse back drops but Future makes them come to life. Future’s vocals sound drugged out as he rambles through lines that at times don’t even rhyme, he’s not your average rapper but there is a sincerity in his voice that really shines through and his ability to convey emotion is almost unparalleled.
16. Joanna Newsom – Divers
It’s been quite a few years since we heard from Joanna Newsom and it was only when I heard this album that I realised how much I missed her. There is a magic about Joanna Newsom’s music that is hard to explain, she really is one of the best musicians of the last 15 years. Newsom’s last album album “Have One On Me” was fantastic but wasn’t quite as enchanting as her 2006 album “Ys”, the addition of other instruments somewhat detracted from the sheer beauty of Joanna and her harp. “Divers” is definitely more like “Ys” than her other albums but has just the right amount of backing instruments to create a more textured sound. Every song on the album is an intensely euphoric saga, they take you on a journey as the melodies progress throughout. As always with Joanna Newsom, this is a challenging listen, after hearing the album through at least 20 times I’m still getting to grips with the compositions and I continue to love it even more.
15. Gangrene (Alchemist & Oh No) – You Disgust Me
The best rapper/producer and rapper/producer duo since Jaylib returned last year with what I think is their strongest project to date. Both of these guys make phenominal beats and their styles mesh very well. What I love so much about this album is how cohesive it is, littered with odd samples conjuring up city images and grimy beats to match. The production is mainly sample based, using jazzy samples in their trademark fashion, layering them to create unrelenting beats that sound simple on first listen but have subtle complexities hidden in the musical depths. The duo both more than hold their own on the mic, they have steady flows that fit perfect with the overall vibe of the album and even with the plethora of accomplished guest MCs on the release they never sound outmatched.
14. Robb Banks – Year Of The Savage
There are few rappers out there that have such an amazing cadence to their voice that you could listen to them rap about anything and for me Robb Banks is one of those guys. There is a certain charisma to Banks that I’ve always found very exciting, there is an intense and unsettling character to his music that makes it stand out. I’ve been following Robb Banks’ career for a few years now as he released solid mixtapes and EPs but he steps it up a lot on this debut album. The instrumentals here are so menacing and violent yet understated; 808 drums, deep bass and discordant riffs create a seriously hard and satisfying backdrop. Banks shows he can rock a number of different styles and flows as he goes fast over some tracks but also shines when he slurs his words and slows it down to a steady, methodical delivery. Just check out 2Phoneshawty to hear how Banks can kill even the craziest beats.
13. DJ Paypal – Sold Out
There are a lot of haters out there who criticise electronic music, saying it’s not real music, it’s easy to make or that it’s too simple and I think this album is great proof of how misinformed they are. Footwork took a massive blow when DJ Rashad died, it felt like a lot of the momentum the genre had built up just disappeared, but on this release I can feel that same excitement and ingenuity that we lost. From start to finish this album is simply phenomenal, this music is rich, complicated and exudes a great variety of emotion. The album starts off with the title which works as a great opener, buzzing around and constantly building up but never quite dropping how you would expect. The following tracks are frantic and jazzy, constantly progressing and rattling around with a sophisticated groove. Moving through some magnificently soulful footwork tracks and finishing on the epically euphoric “Say Goodbye” DJ Paypal proves he is ready to take footwork to new levels.
12. Ray West & Kool Keith – A Couple Of Slices
Kool Keith is a real anomaly, he is definitely a massive weirdo (in a good way) but that’s not what makes him so unique. The majority of musicians in any genre hit their peak early in their career and while some do show a level of longevity they tend to burn out fairly quick. Kool Keith has now been rapping for over 30 years, has more than 20 albums to his name and amazingly he has recently been putting out some of his strongest work to date. Last year Kool Keith put out a collaborative album with producer L’Orange and while it was a great release it is this work with Ray West that has me the most impressed. Ray’s beats are soulful but stripped down, the samples are repeated with little variation and minimal percussion. I’ve never heard Kool Keith on instrumentals like these and I’ve never thought that it would work but on this album the production has brought out the best in him. Keith’s style is bizarre, his rhyme patterns are odd, he delivers non-nonsensical lyrics in an almost conversational manner and that works perfectly over Ray West’s instrumentals. If Motown records was based on Mars it would sound something like this.
11. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
I’ve always been a fan of a very wide range of music and I used to listen to a lot of punk, metal, indie, hardcore etc. but I have found that over the last 5 years I have become less and less interested in the umbrella genre of rock. It feels to me like “guitar music” has become a bit stagnated while hip-hop and dance music continue to evolve and stay exciting. It kind of makes sense then that the first rock album in years that I really enjoy is from a hip-hop group (kind of). Young Fathers started off making hip-hop and have moved further away from the genre with every album until we’ve got to this release which is almost unclassifiable but is definitely some kind of rock. The tracks on this album are raw and lo-fi, on tracks like “Rain Or Shine” and “Old Rock n Roll” they bring a brutal heaviness while on “Shame” and “Still Running” we see a much more melodic and heartwarming sound. If you’ve been craving some rock recently but haven’t found anything to excite then you need to get this album in your life.
10. Sir Michael Rocks – Populair
Ex member of The Cool Kids; Sir Michael Rocks got me very interested in him when he released his 2014 album “Banco”. The album was a definite progression from his time with The Cool Kids and had some really unique, inspired moments but overall I didn’t think we’d seen this guy reach his full potential. That potential has certainly come closer to being fulfilled as this EP blew me away the first time I heard it, the sound of this release is not like any other hip-hop I’ve heard. The beats are so fresh and different, they make you want to dance at times but at others instil a sense foreboding. I’ve wanted to hear someone rap over footwork beats for a long time now so I was so happy to hear the heavy influence on some of these tracks. “Come Outside” is an awesome song which I’m pretty sure samples “It’s Wack” by Rashad and Heaave D. It’s not just the instrumentals that are so good though, Sir Michael Rocks is incredibly versatile, going from a conversational style, to singing, to a crazy flow reminiscent of The Pharcyde. The last track on the album “Alone” is a melancholy and introspective track about the things Sir Michael Rocks hates in his life and is one of the most personal tracks I heard all year.
9. Cavalier – Lemonade
I had never heard of Cavalier before this album but when I saw Iman Omari took care of the production I had to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I’ve seriously enjoyed Iman Omari’s solo work, he makes complex psychadelic beats from jazz samples and is obviously influenced by the fantastic Knxwledge. Iman actually has some of his strongest beats on this release, the colourful jazz samples and staggered percussion is given an extra depth in the form of rich bass sounds, all of this combines to make a dreamy back drop. The superb production is matched by Cavlier’s vocals, he is very fluid, riding the difficult and varied rhythms with gusto. Cavaliers lyrics have that perfect mix of insight and humour, particularly shining on “Commitment” which plays on the word’s different meanings.
8. Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
Musicians don’t come much more poetic than Milo and with a few releases now under his belt the Wisconsin MC has truly perfected his style. I’ve been a fan of Milo since his 2013 mixtape “Cavalcade” but I’ve found that his overly poetic style can feel a little bit forced at times although the ingenuity definitely outweighed any of his negative traits. Milo has changed his style a little bit on this album, he’s using a more traditional flow which gives the music more of a groove but he still has that complex poetic delivery that makes him so unique. The production was handled entirely by Kenny Segal who is a magician when it comes to making beats. Kenny creates some beautiful instrumentals on this project, full of serene melodies and descending synth notes, overall the sound is very full and rich. Every time I listen to this album I notice even more of its nuances and become hypnotised by the beauty of Milo’s lyrics.
7. Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes III
The cloud rap scene that was so big a few years ago seems to have almost died out but these pioneers of the genre just created one of its best albums yet. Friendzone hold down the production and have created some of 2015s best beats on this release. Dreamy, lush and complex, the beats spiral around in to colourful kaleidoscopes of sound. Stand out track “Dip” has an intensely intricate riff played on a harp like instrument with euphoric results. As is often the case with cloud rap it is the beats that hold a lot of the importance but MCs Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. have stepped up their game, showing that they can pull off some difficult, fast flows as well as continuing their smooth, laid back style.
6. P Money – Money Over Everyone 2
Grime was going through a massive resurgence last year as MCs like Skepta and Stormzy were even getting a lot of hype in the U.S. Although these big names were making waves across the Atlantic it was London MC P Money who came with one of the most high octane and entertaining grime albums I’ve heard in years. The energy on this album is through the roof, almost every track is an absolute banger and the few that aren’t just show a more lyrically astute P Money. I don’t think I can remember a more fun release than this, from viciously funny battle raps on “Crushed” to straight up good vibes with the aptly named “On A Fun One”. It’s not all fun and games though, tracks like “Roll Up” and “Yearrrh” are the definition of gully. If you’re looking to get deeper in to grime or need a good party album then look no further, this album is so full of tunes you don’t need to make a playlist to get hyped to.
5. Tree & Vic Spencer – VicTree
Tree was responsible for one of my favourite releases of 2014 (THE @MCTREEG EP) and had me very excited to hear more of his “soul trap” style but although his next release (Trap Genius) was good it lacked that sound I was craving. When this EP came out I wasn’t familiar with Vic Spencer but knowing Tree was involved and seeing “SOULTRAP” written on the cover had me hyped. I definitely wasn’t disappointed as this is the sound I have been waiting for. The beats are more lo fi and raw than they are on “THE @MCTREEG EP” but they have the same emotive, off-kilter vibe and the rawness makes things even better. The Chicago flavour is strong on here as you can feel the footwork vibes coming through on the instrumentals, not so much in the actual style but the method in which they’re made, with beautiful soul samples brutalised by well placed 808 sounds. Vic Spencer’s vocals also continue the soul trap vibe as he often strays from the beat, verging on singing then kicking his flow back in to the rhythm. There is a real soul to Spencer’s voice that shines through, he sounds like an old blues singer with his gravely voice laying his essence out on to the tracks.
4. Van Hunt – The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets
Being as obsessed with hip-hop and other electronic music as I am it takes something really special outside of that to truly interest me. “The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets” had me mesmerized from the first time I heard it, taking so many influences from sounds I’m familiar with but combining them in to something completely unique and immensely creative. If I had to pigeon hole the album I’d say it was soul or neo soul but it’s so much more than that. The funk influences are very strong here as well as R&B, psych rock, indie rock, jazz and even a bit of Bowie-esque glam rock, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Van Hunt’s voice is spectacular, it’s soothing and pure whether he’s making you dance with a funky number or seducing you with his bizarre love songs. The lyrics on the album are often nonsensical but have a certain beauty to them, I’m not certain what he’s getting at when he sings “If I want to dance with you, I have to use my remote control” but there is something strangely poetic about. From the funky opening track to the grand, euphoric title track ender (which I’m pretty sure is about your lover being on her period, it’s odd) this album is exceptional.
3. MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Hip-hop is one of the only genres were you get so much collaboration and it’s one of the things I love about it. It’s not that rare in hip-hop that you get to hear a number of your favourite musicians together on the same track, it is rarer though to hear them make a full album, and one that sounds as good as this. Madlib is well known for putting out amazing albums and brining out the best in people, his ear for samples is second to none and he’s responsible for a number of classic albums. Blu has been putting out fantastic underground hip-hop albums for years now, spanning a number of different styles but always keeping it creative. Signed to Stones Throw record label, M.E.D. has been releasing solid work for over ten years and has one of those steady flows that works on almost any beat. Put these three guys together and you have one hell of an album. As is expected from Madlib, the instrumentals on this album are really superb but what makes them so special is the variation of sounds he gives us. Recently Madlib has been sticking more to his dusty, soulful, jazzy beats and as good as he is at that I’ve been wanting to hear him break away from that style a bit. Way back in 2004 Madlib produced De La Soul’s “Shopping Bags” and that beat blew my mind, it sounded like a raw and twisted Neptunes beat, but since then we haven’t heard much of that sound from him. It seems Madlib has answered my prayers because on this album we get more of these synth driven tracks that I’ve been craving, one of which is the obscenely good “The Stroll” which has a beat so off the wall people won’t truly get their head around it for years. Later on in the album we do hear more of the soulfulness we expect from Madlib so we really do get the best of both worlds here. Although to an extant it is the beats that make this LP so outstanding the raps are from average. MED and Blu both drop a lot of great verses. Blu has a very recognisable voice and there’s something about his delivery that I find comforting, he just has a very enjoyable voice to listen to. I know a lot of people will hate me for saying this but I think “Bad Neighor” is the best Madlib collaboration album since “Madvillainy” and although it’s not getting that much attention now, just like his legendary album with DOOM this will be one that will grow in popularity as people start to understand it.
2. Young Thug – Barter 6
As is often the case with great musicians, Young Thug was one if the most polarising rappers of 2015. Dismissed by many because of his strange delivery and obscene lyrics but loved by others for the same reasons, Young Thug definitely stands out from the crowd. After a string of decent mixtapes in 2014 Thug had been making steady improvements and this came to a peak with the phenomenal Barter 6. Few MCs have a voice as recognisable as Young Thug’s, he has a very strange cadence which can be shrill one moment but smooth the next and his delivery is incredible with his many different flows which he switches between to suit whatever beat he is on. The instrumentals on this album are mostly quite understated, off key synths dance on top of deep sub bass and crisp 808 drums, building up and dropping out as the tracks progress, creating the perfect obstacles for Thug to manoeuvre along. Lyrically you’re not going to find anything profound on this album but that doesn’t matter, the most important aspect of music is that it sounds good and Barter 6 sounds glorious!
1. Denzel Curry – 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms
Denzel Curry grabbed a lot of people’s attention with his 2013 album “Nostolgic 64” which has some amazing tracks like the violence inducing “Threatz” and the luxuriously smooth “Denny Cascade”. Although that album was very good, it felt a little bit disjointed at times and Curry was definitely still finding his feet musically. “32 Zel / Planet Shrooms” was released as a “double EP” and shows a lot of progression from the young Florida rapper as he’s created an incredibly fluid and visceral collection of tracks. The first EP “32 Zel” has a spacey feel to it, the beats are quite heavy with beeps and blips bouncing to the groove. This sci-fi journey quickly goes in to overdrive on the release’s 4th track “Ultimate” which along with being my favourite song of 2015 is one of the most aggressive songs I’ve heard. Throughout the album Denzel’s flow is relentless but he really goes berserk on “Ultimate” as he rapidly shouts his bars with an energy that is more familiar to hardcore punk than hip-hop. The first half of the release continues to flow along with the same futuristic vibe, often ending tracks with intricate little beat interludes that really tie everything together. Although this double EP is very fresh and unique there are some strong Outkast influences in there, initially showing up strongly on “Delusional Shone” which has a very “B.O.B.” style guitar solo / scratching breaking down and later the Outkast sound is also noticeable on “Past The Wudz Intro” and “Planet Shrooms”. The vibe really switches up when “Planet Shrooms” kicks in, bringing that psychedelic sound. As the name suggests “Planet Shrooms” feels like a trip, starting out with a chilled out, organic vibe which quickly gets vibrant on the excellently floaty “Captain Sea Fonk”. Things continue in this dreamy manner until the title track takes you to a darker place with its cascading synths and intense snare drums before the EP is rounded off nicely with the more settling tones of “Void”. Overall this release sounds like a lot of thought has gone in to it, the tracks follow on naturally from each other, the beats are magnificently composed and even Curry’s voice is distorted in a number of different ways to fit whatever song he is on. The hip-hop scene is full of innovators right now but Denzel Curry is leading the pack with his abrasive, high energy style that has me desperate to hear his next release.