2015 has been an impressive year for Hip-Hop, and we’re just halfway through. Even though this list will focus primarily on this year, it must be mentioned that J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive helped to set in motion a tidal wave of good, quality releases from the most popular form of music in the world. 2014 was, quite honestly, a mediocre year for Hip-Hop after 2013 delivered one of the most star-studded musical years across the board. Thankfully, Cole crafted his best work and helped, along with Nicki Minaj and The Pinkprint, to usher in 2015 Hip-Hop. From the club anthems of newcomers Rae Sremmurd, to the hypnotizing sounds of A$AP Rocky, Hip-Hop in 2015 has been masterfully showcased across many spectrums. Since we have succesfully completed six months of this year with no sudden world-ending event, I countdown 2015’s Best Hip-Hop albums, so far.
10. CHERRY BOMB
Artist: Tyler, the Creator
Release: April 13, 2015
Cherry Bomb isn’t terrible, it’s just not memorable. When I heard of the impending release a few days before, I was excited. I’ve been following Tyler, the Creator’s career since he entered the game, for the most part. After stirring up some controversy with his outspoken personality, and his menacing voice, and delivered three solid albums over the course of three years, Tyler has created an impressive resume. Unfortunately, Cherry Bomb slips through the cracks, and is all over the place. With Wolf, Tyler showcased his growth as a writer, producer and arranger, but for some reason, Cherry Bomb doesn’t click with me, and I failed to see the cohesive nature of his previous efforts.
9. BARTER 6
Artist: Young Thug
Release: April 16, 2015
Barter 6 was born out of controversy between Young Thug, and former Cash Money artist, Lil Wayne. Obviously there’s name resemblance to Wayne’s Tha Carter series, and thus, legal proceedings followed. So, in-line with Blood Gang practice of replacing “C” with “B” the Barter 6 was born. Young Thug’s third solo album is his definitive work, so far. The hits are consistent here. Thugger’s unique voice inflections and manipulations make him an attraction worthy of attention. The production from Wheezy on Barter 6 is smooth and laid-back. It’s not Thug at his most frenetic, but it adds some depth to his growing music library.
Artists: Rae Sremmurd
Release: January 6, 2015
The debut album from the Mississippi Hip-Hop duo, Rae Sremmurd, is a ton of fun. The album was preced with four singles four of the biggest Hip-Hop singles of the past year, by the way) - No Type, No Flex Zone, Throw Some Mo with the Queen of Hip-Hop, Nicki Minaj, and This Could Be Us. Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are two of the most charismatic rappers out right now. Maybe it’s their youthful exuberance, or maybe it’s they’re at the forefront of the Hip-Hop industry. Nonetheless, SremmLife is an exhilarating album that is still being played faithfully at clubs and parties, six months later.
7. DREAMS WORTH MORE THAN MONEY
Artist: Meek Mill
Release: June 29, 2015
After a stint in prison that delayed his second studio album, Meek Mill went back to the drawing board for Dreams Worth More Than Money. What we got is a solid follow-up to his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, that enhances the story of Meek Mill, and sees the rapper more focused and driven as ever. Mill’s new-found clarity can be seen throughout this album. He’s dedicated to inspiring others, and telling his story as a source of motivation to those who struggle. With a larger than life cast of features from the likes of Drake, Future, Diddy, Rick Ross, and girlfriend Nicki Minaj, Mill still shines through as the centerpiece of the album. Dreams Worth More Than Money is the Meek Mill album that we’ve been waiting on since 2012’s Dreamchasers 2.
6. TETSUO & YOUTH
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Release: January 20, 2015
Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth is full of imagination. His best album since The Cool, Lupe has finally returned to form after the extreme disappointing of 2011’s Lasers, and the okay effort in the obnoxiously long-titled Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1. Finally, it seems as if Lupe is free from the binds of his disputes with label, Atlantic Records. Tetsuo & Youth is daring, bold and creatively charged. I’m sure that this album surpassed many’s expectations after his previous, mediocre efforts. Luckily, Lupe has grown and matured into an individual who poured his rich talent and story into an album that exudes ingenuity.
5. DARK SKY PARADISE
Artist: Big Sean
Release: February 24, 2015
Dark Sky Paradise, Big Sean’s third outing, is hit best and most ambitious sound yet. Stormy production, visual and aesthetic progression, and a level of honesty not seen from the Detroit rapper, catapult Dark Sky Paradise to the top of Sean’s discography. Sean expands his lyricism on Paradise, and enlists a range of contributors that bring the album to life. The album is occasionally clumsy, but Sean’s boastful and triumphant achievement is his best work to date.
Artist: A$AP Rocky
Release: May 26, 2015
AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP is a strong effort. A$AP Rocky has done a great job at propelling his image even further beyond the scope of traditional hip-hop. We need more artists like him. The ones with an aggressive taste for aesthetics who can be influential in multiple industries. The type of individual who will push the genre forward by challenging current trends, as well as developing creative ideas that will encompass an idea. Rocky is certainly an artist of the future, and ‘At Long Last’ does a good job at showing us what the future of hip-hop could sound like.
3. IF YOU’RE READING THIS IT’S TOO LATE
Release: February 12, 2015
Drake has elevated himself as one of Hip-Hop’s elite, major players. After three studio album releases since 2010, many fans were expecting his next announced project, Views from the 6, to be released in late 2015. However, in Beyonce fashion, Drake released If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late with no announcement, no press and no singles to back it. Initially planned as a mixtape for DatPiff before Cash Money Record intervened, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late popped up on iTunes for sale, making this a legitimate fourth studio album for the Toronto rapper. For an album that was initially going to be released for free, it has come close to platinum status with nearly 1 million copies sold. Though no cohesive structure or theme exists, Drake’s fourth album contains some of 2015’s biggest hits. The first seven songs prime the rapper as today’s premiere Hip-Hop artist before dipping off into less-than-stellar tracks. Drake no longer aspires to be one of Hip-Hop’s greatest current artists, with the release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, he’s proven that he already is.
Artists: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Release: May 29, 2015
Shortly before midnight on May 28, a free album from Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment appeared on iTunes after being shared from Chicago MC, Chance the Rapper. Of course, when I saw this information spreading across social media, I wondered “Is this a new solo album from Chance?” Well, not quite, but it’s just as good as anyone could’ve hoped for. The new album, Surf, highlights trumpet player Donnie Trumpet (A.K.A. Nico Segal), and The Social Experiment, which is a group of musicians consisting of Chance The Rapper, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox. With an array of talented musicians a part of the collective, and perfectly selected guest appearances, Surf delivers a unique blend of jazz and hip-hop music into one, eclectic whole. We’re beginning to see the possibilities of the what jazz and hip-hop can sound like cohesively. The album is a joyous and celebratory effort that acts as a showcase of creative talent, instead of commercial appeal.
1. TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release: March 16, 2015
The question was this: What would Kendrick Lamar do to follow-up his platinum selling, multi-Grammy Award nominated, critically acclaimed major-label debut, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. Let’s be real - Kendrick’s major-label debut is a classic album for this generation, and one of the greatest pieces of music of the past decade. The fact of the matter is that To Pimp A Butterfly is comprehensive, dense, bold, intense and black. When I say black, I mean that it is one of the blackest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Kendrick Lamar incorporates so many different African-American music styles such as hip-hop, funk, G-funk, spoken work, poetry, and jazz. At one moment, To Pimp A Butterfly is in Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye territory, and then abruptly shifts to a Spike Lee joint on record. Conversations with 2Pac, monologues from Dr. Dre, narratives from Snoop Dogg and funkadelics from George Clinton, To Pimp A Butterfly is a angry, self-reflecting and troubling. On first listen, the album will rock you. It’s like a punch to the face because it catches you completely off-guard. That’s a good thing. Kendrick wants you to feel uncomfortable. Discourse in our country for the pasty 2 years has been dominated by race and racism in America. Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore masterpiece is a mandatory listen that delivers on the promise that Public Enemy’s Chuck D stated years ago; hip-hop is the black CNN.