Yes we know it’s pointless to recap what has been an incredible year for music with an ‘end of year list’, but just, y’know, indulge us this once.
Here’s the twenty albums that this year had a significant impact on us and why they might matter to you.
Anyways, to the list…
20) Knxwledge – Hud Dreems
Beat king Knxwledge has had a particularly incredible 2015. His Bandcamp has lit up with tape after tape of straight fire, his collab project with Anderson .Paak “Nxworries” released an EP, and he featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Not bad.
In between all this was a worldwide tour (including us being lucky enough to book him for a Brighton UK show in November) and putting out his own album “Hud Dreems” on Stones Throw.
The album itself is exactly as you’d expect from Knx: short running time with a long track-list, songs that weave, blend and stab into each other, keeping their experimental edge whilst having that Dilla-esque neck-snapping quality we all love.
Drench it in that lo-fi sheen and trippy atmosphere that ’60s Woodstock hippies would have used as bath oils (if they bathed) and you have a blueprint for Hip-Hop’s deeper side sneaking it’s way into 2016.
19) BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
These boys done good. Hip-Hop/Jazz trio BadBadNotGood have been absolutely everywhere this year, touring constantly, featuring on Kali Uchis’ album “Por Vida”, even Gilles peterson snapped them up for a Boiler Room session in his own house.
So, when you throw legendary Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah into the mix for an album, you know you’re in for a treat. It’s a very raw, live-sounding project that showcases both Ghostface’s impeccable lyricism and BadBadNotGood’s genius instrumentation, giving us that very MF DOOM-like comic book feel, Saturday morning cartoons on acid if you will.
Features from Danny Brown, Elzhi and DOOM himself popping up on single “Ray Gun” only add to this fantastic project’s merit. 2016 will be a massive year BadBadNotGood.
18) GoldLink – And After That, We Didn’t Talk
The Soulection crew have been the talking point of the underground scene for the last few years, and are now making major leaps forward into mainstream consciousness, with producers like Sango, Oshi, Mr. Carmack, PYRMDPLAZA and Waldo all getting snapped up to produce for some huge names… but this has been GoldLink’s year.
The Washington rapper has shone through consistent hard-work and amazing tracks with the likes of Kaytranada, Anderson .Paak and more, his album “And After That, We Didn’t Talk” is the pinnacle of his work and maturity this year.
This project contains 11 beautifully crafted tracks that showcase his amazing vocal range and ability to seamlessly ride a beat singing and rapping, creating catchy hooks and quotable lines all over the place.
We predict 2016 to be the year where GoldLink becomes a star.
17) Clear Soul Forces & Nameless – Fab 5ive
If you’re looking for straight Hip-Hop, look no further than Clear Soul Forces’ “Fab 5ive” project.
In collaboration with Nameless, this album shows why Clear Soul Forces are one of the best groups in Hip-Hop right now. Tight rhyme-play, impeccable timing and fantastic beats make this no-frills album a winner.
Future legends at work here people.
16) The Game – The Documentary 2
One of many surprises this year, The Game came back into Hip-Hop firing on all cylinders, bringing stars aplenty with him to solidify his return.
Kendrick Lamar? Check.
Diddy? Q-Tip? Future? Check 3 times.
Following up the classic “Documentary”,this album is a dream-like welding of old-meets-new styles: 80’s throwback crashes into trap music via way of edgy pop circa 90s-2000s. Biggie’s “Kick In The Door” gets a makeover thanks to Jahlil Beats on “Standing On Ferraris”. DJ Premier brings the boom-bap on the title track and Johnny Juliano works with Cardo to provide one of the best beats of the year on “100”.
Everything you could want from a big money album is on here.
15) Logic – The Incredible True Story
Logic surpassed everyone’s expectations on this one. Debuting at No.3 on the Billboard 200 Album chart with first week sales of 135,000, the album also topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Chart with a world tour pending. Not bad for the 25 year-old Maryland native.
“The Incredible True Story” is a wonderfully creative piece of work. Unfolding like a sci-fi movie, it chronicles the journey of the Aquarius III and it’s crew, with Logic providing the score. 18 tracks of solid Hip-Hop teasing light and dark shades with cinematic sampling, all thematically adding to the story being told, creating a “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” vibe.
Logic is well on his way to cementing his place as one of the greats.
14) Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
If you look up the term “Hood” in the urban dictionary… Freddie Gibbs will probably beat you over the head with the urban dictionary.
This is the sort of album you’d listen to at 2am whilst slingin’ crack on a street corner under a flickering orange light. The production values on this are absolutely incredible and really suit that dark vibe this album is on (also having Freddie flip a George Michael sample into a hook on “Careless” is friggin’ genius) .
As for Gibbs? He’s as menacing as ever, never straying from his own real-life experiences of homelessness, paranoia and illegal activities, with singles like “Fuckin’ Up The Count” displaying Gibbs’ autobiographical lyricism over an evil piano beat.
“Shadow Of A Doubt” is Gibbs’ rawest album to date. It’s also his best and it’s exciting to see where he goes next.
13) Denzel Curry – 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms
Another young man with a massive future, Denzel Curry made it big back in 2013 with underground hit “Threatz”, breaking free of the Raider Klan and SpaceGhostPurrp’s shadow.
With “32 Zel/ Planet Shrooms”, Curry delves further into his sound, crafting an exciting brand of wavy experimental Hip-Hop that will please both the backpack kids in the mosh pit and the snobbish music critics.
Broken into two parts, “32 Zel” contains rapid-fire trap beats that are executed in a fresh new way, with “Ultimate” being our pick. “Planet Shrooms” then delves deeper, bringing in shoegaze, drone and IDM influences, even a flaming guitar solo to cap the album off.
Fearless and individual, 2016 needs Denzel Curry in it’s life.
12) The Internet – Ego Death
Odd Future’s ‘band’, The Internet’s unique brand of neo-soul have gained them a sturdy following amongst fans, and “Ego Death” was their most mature and polished album to date.
Syd’s fragile vocal performance really is subtly stunning, and combined with her pastiche tales of heartbreak and confused sexuality, her writing is entering into it’s strongest phase yet, accompanied by the band’s syrupy basslines, off-kilter drumming and hazy melodies.
This is a different kind of break-up album.
11) Mac Miller – GO:OD AM
Mac Miller’s always had something about him you can’t quite put your finger on.
The Pittsburgh rapper has worked his butt off to stay in Hip-Hop’s top tier and stay relevant, and “GO:OD AM” is as solid a statement as any to show he can do that with his eyes closed.
Filled with solid production from DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Thundercat and features from Little Dragon, Ab-Soul, Chief Keef and Miguel amongst others, Miller has called in all the favours to get his album, ahem, on fleek (and i hate myself for saying that, but it does kinda sum it up).
Vocally Miller is stronger than ever, his playful lyrical style is totally at ease and he bounces off of every beat trampoline-like. Stand-outs for us include singles like the early-rising “Brand Name”, the edgy pop of “100 Grandkids” and “When In Rome” for the one that will completely destroy festivals.
10) A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
Clown Prince of Hip-Hop A$AP Rocky has turned himself into a worldwide brand in a very short few years (if you remember the now legendary 2011 mixtape “LiveLoveA$AP” was his starting point).
Since then he’s always been his own man, with 2013’s “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” being immediately recognisably as Rocky’s sound, albeit more mature and thought out.
This new project completely trumps that one.
You can hear Rocky’s input all-over this, his varied music taste finding it’s way into “At.Long.Last.A$AP” , from the northern soul do-over “Everyday” courtesy of Mark Ronson and Rod Stewart , to the My Bloody Valentine-esque “L$D”.
For a major album, this no-fucks attitude is why Rocky should continue to push his own boundaries and his audiences’, becoming more than a cookie-cutter artist and becoming a unique voice within Hip-Hop.
9) Bryson Tiller – T R A P S O U L
Internet sensation Bryson Tiller will be on every major Hip-Hop album in 2016, mark our words.
An outstanding talent, Tiller’s vocal control and stand-alone flow make him an instant star, as smash single “Don’t” has proved.
Having the Soulection crew producing the majority of the album (along with Timbaland lending a hand, no biggie), this album is a brilliantly solid collection of songs that showcase Tiller in all his glory, from the passionate “Exchange” to the energetic “502 Come Up”, Bryson absolutely owns this album in every way, shape and form.
Armed with co-signs from Timbaland, Drake, The Weeknd, Travi$ Scott and Odd Future, Tiller looks set to take over the world next year.
8) Oddisee – The Good Fight
What a hero.
Jack of all trades, master of all, Oddisee is a legend, one of those rare artists that is respected by both underground and mainstream just because he’s that frickin’ good.
“The Good Fight” came out in April, and was immediately praised by critics for it’s completeness in all aspects of the production process, pretty much all done by Oddisee himself.
Lyrically, the man is a poet, expertly flicking one-liners off his cuff and into his intended target’s soup bowl, before garnishing it with double-entendres, clever-wordplay and discussing life as a musician without succumbing to the traps of hedonism, avarice, and materialism.
He deserves his mainstream attention and we’re more than confident he’ll do his best to change the Hip-Hop landscape whilst he’s in there.
7) Tuxedo – Tuxedo
The most fun we’ve had listening to an album in ages.
Hip-Hop supremo Jake One and vocalist Mayer Hawthorne team up for their nu-funk project “Tuxedo” and produce banger after banger after banger, transporting you back to the days of Parliament, Roger Troutman and synthesised Disco.
Every song is put together with such love and knowledge of the production techniques used to create these iconic sounds, and Mayer Hawthorne sounds like he’s time-warped from the 1970s just to provide vocals.
In fact, this whole project is like roller-skating through an early Michael Jackson video high on coke with George Clinton.
We’ll leave it at that. Essential.
6) Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
The enigma that is Earl continues to grow. Prodigiously foretold by Tyler himself that he would be the biggest star out of Odd Future, Earl seems to be taking that baton and strolling at his own pace towards the finish line.
“I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” reminds me of a soundtrack to a beautifully weird indie movie that you watch at 4am when a house party is dying down. The ones left are all weary and coming down, cuddled up on sofas in blankets watching “Garden State”. Imagine all that, on horse tranquillisers.
The beats are minimal and lo-fi. Very lo-fi. The snare on “Grief” is so trippy it actually takes your ears a second to adjust to it. But once you do it’s inescapable. Much like the whole album.
It’s dripping in this mood that is so consuming that everything about the album melts together. It’s like staring at static on a television when you’re stoned. You have no idea why it’s so hypnotising, it just is.
5) Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
The biggest star to maybe never make it, we might not even see Vince Staples in 2016 after his latest interview claiming he’ll probably quit music.
If “Summertime ’06” is his swan-song, then what a swan-song it is.
It’s seriously dark and industrial, emotionally draining at times, with warped bass-lines slithering like electrical currents along a base of subs, metallic percussion and melodies filled with dread. Trent Reznor would be proud.
The images conjured in your head with each passing track are so bizarrely vivid, and Vince’s vocals sink into them like they’re one collective unit, sometimes pummelling you into submission (“Senorita”), sometimes providing oxygen (“Might Be Wrong”), and a lot of times filling you with a sense of unease.
It’s such a distinct, vibrant style, like a Nine Inch Nails fan fucked a Future fan whilst the guys in Death Grips watch whilst giving Nicolas Winding Refn a handjob in the corner.
Please don’t leave us Vince, there’s so much more for you to do here.
4) Dr. Dre – Compton
16 long years the world waited for a new Dr. Dre album. 16 years we wondered if “Detox” would ever be finished, only to find out it had been scrapped… to be replaced with “Compton”.
The album was killer. It actually reminded me a lot of the new Star Wars movie.
Old faces returned (Ice Cube, Xzibit, Eminem), new faces introduced (King Mez, Anderson .Paak, Asia Bryant), we heard those classic Dre kicks and snares, but put into modern context. It had been 16 years after all and opening with a gnarly orchestral trap beat (“Talk About It”) was clearly a statement of intent.
Dre hand-picked the best of the best (DJ Premier, Bink, Cardiak, DJ Dahi etc) to produce alongside his own band of musicians and we get a album that definitely feels like a soundtrack to a movie, cinematic breaks and dialogue sequences et al (this came out before Logic’s LP mind you). Classic boom-bap got a bit of a face-lift in “Animals”, trap was intelligently structured (“For The Love Of Money), and R&B was almost a prelude to violence in the context of the story going on (“Darkside/Gone”).
It was a stunning return and at the same time a classy way to bow out.
3) Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$
Young Joey Bad and the Pro Era crew are a prime example of why the stereotypes surrounding Hip-Hop fans are utterly false.
From teenagers they were working to buy studio time, to create music and release mixtapes, applying and improving on their craft day after day. Yeah they may have skipped school a few times, but to kickstart their now blossoming career is an acceptable excuse.
Joey’s first mixtape “1999” is a modern classic (released only 3 years ago), and showed that golden-era Hip-Hop was alive and well within the 17 year-old Brooklyn-ite, whose lyricism was beyond his years, and whose voice was grained and matured like a veteran who’d been spitting for 30 years.
Since then he’s been on world-tours, co-signed by the likes of Nas and Kendrick Lamar, and even felt heart-break after losing fellow member Capital Steez to suicide.
“B4.DA.$$” deserves it’s place as a world-beating album. It’s like Rocky in the first Apollo Creed fight. A true underdog album in every sense.
It’s incredible when listening to this album you realise how strong it actually is, especially coming from someone who’s only just hit their twenties, you have to be reminded Nas was only 21 when he dropped “Illmatic” so Joey may actually be a bit ahead of him.
Now, i’m not comparing him to Nas at all, they’re very different people. Joey has more in common with Black Moon and Das EFX in terms of style and delivery, and he carries these tracks on his shoulders like a seasoned rapper, knowing all the ins and outs, vocal inflections, hooks. He’s very much teaching a rap class on “B4.DA.$$” he’s that good. MC’s can greatly learn from this performance.
Production-wise, Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight, Premo etc all need to take a bow. There’s some seriously strong work on here, from Basquiat’s sub-burning “Christ-Consciousness” to Selektah’s ATCQ homage in “No. 99”, and Kirk Knight even turns “Big Dusty” into a something that wouldn’t be out of place in James Bond movies.
This is the dark horse Rocky story in all it’s glory. No frills, all substance, fighting it out amongst the big boys… And winning.
2) Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
We can’t deny the cultural impact this album and this man has had on 2015.
Facebook, Twitter,various memes and gifs, even certain phrases becoming part of daily vocabulary at times… and it kicked off with this album.
Originally, it was put together as a mixtape, given out for free, until 2 months later was available to buy due to huge popularity.
Love him or hate him, you have to agree that Aubrey “Drake” Graham is a very talented and very smart individual who can craft pop hooks out of thin air over Hip-Hop beats made by the Gods themselves (in this case Partynextdoor, Boi-1da, Noah Shebib and more). And on this album he’s crafted pop-culture out of almost every song on “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”.
“Know Yourself” became an anthem overnight thanks to the false start and build into the now legendary second part with that line.
“Legend” cemented Partynextdoor as a production force to be reckoned with, “Energy” was harder than we thought Drake could go, and “6 God” was the harder track we all knew Drake had in him.
Jungle was the sadder Drake that the guys could dig, and “Used To” gave Lil Wayne a chance to show us why he was once considered great. He even did a track about Madonna kissing him. I mean…
And after all this came Meek Mill, ghostwriters, diss tracks and the Hotline Bling video.
1) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
What else could have been number one? Honestly?
Powerful, relevant, thought-provoking, controversial, TPAB was a talking point as soon as it came out and it will be a talking point for years to come.
Kendrick took a big risk on this album. So many people wanted “good kid, m.A.A.d city part 2”. He could of given them that in his sleep, made a load of money, job done. He had enough b-sides to make sure. “Cartoons & Cereal” was a fucking awesome track.
Instead, Kendrick recruited Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Robert Glasper, the heroes of underground Hip-Hop, to engineer a very special album that would probably piss his casual listeners off. When people say Hip-Hop is untalented, that they could make this beat in 5 minutes, these are the cats you bring in to prove them wrong.
The album itself is a masterpiece. It’s insanely creative, imaginative and honest. It has a narrative that carries you half-way, but you must decipher the rest yourself, and you’ll decipher that based on your own prejudices. Will you agree with what he’s saying by the end? Will you be offended? Lamar wants you to think, really think about it. Has anything really changed in the battle for equality?
“Alright”s call-to-arms hook was chanted religiously during protests against police harassment. Kendrick filmed “King Kunta” at an old Compton swap meet he used to attend as a child, and used all the local residents as extras. On “u” he actually breaks down trying to spit out these verses regarding parental abandonment. He himself abandoned the mainstream to bring in people like Knxwledge, Rapsody, Bilal, Anna Wise, artists well respected within the underground to make this album what it was.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” was made for the people. From including musicians who deserve more exposure, all the way to giving regular working class people a voice to stand up against corrupt government. I don’t think he even realises what a powerful album this is, and what he’s done for the culture yet…
But he’s definitely sparked something positive.