Let me begin by saying that every list is wrong. Their creation involves the comparison of too many subjective intangibles for them to be considered in any way definitive. Still, everybody does a top ten. Here is our version, in which Micah picks some of his favorites from 2015, and we discuss.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Micah: There’s a reason that Kendrick’s third LP seems to be everyone’s favorite album of the year. Kendrick’s vocal delivery, storytelling, and songwriting is better than ever. His influence has rekindled his desire to reach out to the tortured corners of the world through sharp bars and a flow that is constantly adapting. Backed by rich live instrumentation that weaves jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop together into something entirely new, Kendrick channels James Brown, 2Pac and mixtape-era Lil’ Wayne all at the same time. An instant classic.
Henry: It’s almost become cliche to give TPAB the number one spot but we’re gonna do it anyways. I think the biggest leap Kendrick has made on this release is his ability to really curate a collection, to assemble a who’s-who of west coast talent and to focus all aspects of the work toward a single end. He’s clearly learned a lot from Dre in this regard.
In Rotation: Wesley’s Theory, For Free (Interlude), King Kunta, Institutionalized, These Walls, Alright, Momma, Hood Politics, How Much a Dollar Cost*, Complexion (A Zulu Love), You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said), Mortal Man.
2. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
Micah: With their second effort, Young Fathers has strayed further from their hip-hop foundations and in the process found a sound and style that is succinct and hypnotic, immediately catchy, but with a depth that sustains repeated listens. This scottish Hip-Hop/Pop group gained online prominence with their first two tapes and their momentum and creativity continues to snowball, allowing Young Fathers to carve out their own weird corner of the modern music world, straddling continents and genres.
Henry: I love how noisy this album is. The production works in gritty lows, sharp highs, textural percussion and layered, effected vocals. It’s a really interesting and compelling soundscape. Part punk, part pop, part rap, a collage of darks and lights.
In Rotation: Shame, 27, Sirens, Old Rock n Roll, Nest, John Doe
3. Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$
Micah: This is exactly what I wanted from Joey. I loved 1999, didn’t hate Summer Knights, and liked PEEP: The AProcalypse well enough, so I was very curious to see what Joey was going to do with the commercial budget on his debut album. Managing to score music from DJ Premier, J-Dilla, Hit-Boy, and of course the in-house Pro Era production team, Joey really delivered. A carefully crafted collection of modern boom-bap beats, colorful verses, and poignant themes, B4.DA.$$ is sonically and emotionally balanced, making it an extremely rewarding listen.
Henry: I agree. Of these top 3, I think B4.Da.$$ is the least progressive, that is, it sticks closest to the classic boom-bap sound that Joey has always looked back to. His aesthetic has consistently been based in a nostalgia for hip-hop’s golden era since he released a mixtape titled 1999 in 2012, and the fact that he’s keeping that sound alive is why I’m a fan. I got to see him perform most of this album live and it was maybe the hypest show I was at all year. B4.DA.$$ sounds both fresh and familiar.
Micah: I remember Joey said in an interview once that he isn’t bringing the classic New York hip-hop sound back, he’s bringing it forward. And it really shows on B4.DA.$$.
In Rotation: Save the Children, Paper Trail$, Big Dusty, Hazeus View, Like Me, No. 99, Christ Conscious, On & On, Escape 120, Curry Chicken, Teach Me
4. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Micah: For me, this album is very difficult to just sit down and listen to at any time. I really have to be ready. The best time to listen to this album is, ironically, when you’re doing something extremely mundane and menial. There’s no way I could sprinkle bits of this album into playlists and shuffle them around with just anything. This album stands by itself and needs to be treated as a one-of-a-kind piece of work.
Totaling nearly three hours in length, The Epic is dreamy yet driving, spawning peak after peak of intricate interplay.
Henry: The Epic is perfect writing music for me. Also great to ski to. This album is a sonic odyssey. I feel like as I listen, whole civilizations rise, fall, rise and fall again. Whole lifetimes are lived within these songs. The title says it all.
In Rotation: Change of the Guard, The Rhythm Changes, Leory and Lanisha, Seven Prayers, Cherokee, Clair de Lune, The Message
5. Snoop Dogg & Pharrell Williams – BUSH
Micah: This album is short, sweet, to the point, produced entirely by Pharrell, and features Stevie Wonder. It sounds exactly like you think it would. Bush is the perfect summer barbeque album and Snoop’s first singing album since his questionable reggae episode. While Bush is neither Snoop’s or Pharrell’s absolute best work, it does exactly what it sets out to do and will be in rotation every summer.
Henry: The bizarre video for California Roll perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of this album. It’s like a futuristic ride through a version of Los Angeles that Snoop dreamed up after smoking a pack of blunts to the face and watching the Mummy. Conspiracy theorists eat your heart out: Pharrell lives on top of a pyramid with Stevie Wonder. The illuminati is real. Their synths are lush, bouncy, dripping, sticky-icky-icky. Oooh-wheee. Put it in the air.
In Rotation: California Roll, This City, Awake, So Many Pros, Peaches N Cream
6. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
Micah: I don’t think of this as a Donnie Trumpet album. I think of it as a Chance the Rapper and Friends album. I understand that his bandmates deserve shine, and that’s why the decision was made, but Donnie doesn’t hold my attention the way any of the vocal performances on this album do. I don’t feel like it’s his album, I’m sorry. That being said, this album is the feel good anthem the troubled city of Chicago needed this year. With great features from Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Quavo, and J. Cole (and a not-so-great one from Big Sean), this album belongs on beaches filled with happy and optimistic people.
Henry: As a trumpet player I must say that I absolutely love the horns on this album. And the steel drums. Really soulful, uplifting instrumentation. Chance’s charisma is undeniable though, it permeates this album like sun rays through clouds, like the scent of grandma’s cooking through the house. Warm and fuzzy.
In Rotation: Miracle, Slip Slide, Warm Enough, Familiar, Rememory, Sunday Candy
7. Knxwledge – Hud Dreems
Micah: This album is very different from the others in the list. Hud Dreems is a dreamy ode to J-Dilla’s soulful production style manifested in short loops and snippets of beatwork. Although this album does an incredible job and creating a vibe and setting a tone, very few individual tracks found their way into the rotation. Knxwledge is incredibly consistent. His beats are always very strangely named, wonky, but infectious from start to end.
Henry: I listen to a lot of beats. Knxwledge is fast becoming one of my favorite beatmaker/producers. Like all of the greats, the dude is incredibly prolific and is really pushing that West-Coast head-nod sound. Love them chops. Hud Dreems is guaranteed to have your neck snappin’.
In Rotation: Kometostai.Aintreallynootherwaytoputitro, Letuleave.[Geekdop], Jstowee
8. Jay Rock – 90059
Micah: This album is the first that brought Jay Rock into the rotation. After being the first member signed to the extremely high caliber and consistent Top Dawg Entertainment, Jay Rock’s sophomore album is his first to release while the crew is in the spotlight. Jay Rock delivered a project that not only took a turn for the much darker, lush and spaceous, but his lyrical and vocal delivery has become more unique and refined to match. Jay Rock is more artistic, taking more risks, flowing more creatively over more challenging production, which is why 90059 makes me very excited for Jay Rock’s future.
Henry: Jay Rock goes in. No two ways around it. A lot of the hip-hop albums on this list flirt with Jazz, Soul, R&B, even Punk in their musicality, but 90059 is a straight-up rap album. The beats have a nice variety and they all bang, but they’re crafted to emphasize the strength of Jay Rock’s vocal delivery. 90059 is as real as it gets.
In Rotation: Easy Bake, Gumbo, Vice City, Fly on the Wall
9. James Taylor – Before This World
Micah: This album might seem out of place on this list amongst all the Hip Hop, but I’ve been waiting for this album for a long time. In his first album of original songs in thirteen years, James Taylor croons over rootsy-americana reminiscent of his 70’s work. If you came to this list looking to find an album to listen to with your dad, you should probably pick this one. It’s a bit cheesy, but James’ wholesome charm makes up for it.
Henry: Aww yeah. Gotta love that Sweet Baby James. Dude is 67 and he’s still got the pipes. This album is impeccably orchestrated, classic melodies and harmonies, really clean. James is a favorite of my parents too. This one sounds like home in the wintertime.
In Rotation: Today Today Today, Stretch of Highway, Watchin’ Over Me
10. Freiddie Gibbs – Pronto E.P.
Micah: Is is cheating to put a three-track E.P. on a top ten album list? Probably. I don’t care. Pronto E.P. is the most concise and explosive trap release I’ve ever heard. A perfect combination of spaced-out and hard hitting production paired with an early 2Pac-esque aggression from Gibbs. This E.P. bumps in the whip.
Henry: Gangsta Gibbs does it again. I’ve been a big fan of everything he’s put out in the last few years, and Pronto E.P. maintains the pedigree. Of course part of me wishes it was longer, but I think there’s something to be said about a three track collection that still feels complete. You could cut this album’s twelve minute runtime with baking soda and break it down into twelve double LP’s from lesser rappers. This is that raw.
In Rotation: the whole thing
Your Old Droog – Kinison E.P.
Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
Oddisee – The Good Fight
1. King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar
2. The Season/Carry Me – Anderson .Paak
3. Like Me – Joey Bada$$
4. Norf Norf – Vince Staples
5. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
6. Suede – NxWorries
7. Bitch Better Have My Money – Rihanna
8. Animals – Dr. Dre featuring Anderson .Paak
9. Complexion (A Zulu Love) – Kendrick Lamar featuring Rapsody
10. Sunday Candy – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment feat. Jamila Woods