10. “Tetsuo & Youth” – Lupe Fiasco
- “Tetsuo & Youth” kicks off my 2015 top-10 list for one reason: lyricism. A lot of people criticize Lupe for being too political in his music, but I think that’s what makes him unique. I thought it was very interesting how he threw in seasonal sounds such as “Summer,” “Fall,” “Winter” and ends the album with “Spring.” It’s almost as if the album starts in the summer when it’s warm and people are out, having fun, goes through fall and winter and then ends in spring when everything comes back to life. It adds another layer to this album, which was already jammed packed with complex lyrics. It hits you in the mouth right away with the 8:49-minute long “Mural.” This song is laced with a smooth beat, a mass amount of lyrics and no hook. Lupe touches on some hot-button issues in the world on this album, but none greater than on the song, “Chopper.” He raps, “Filet mignon with my food stamps; car cosigned by my mama; medical card from Obama; background check for a chopper.” A “chopper" is a gun—more specifically an AK-47. Lupe is saying that you can get into nice positions as if it were handed to you, but when it comes to getting a gun, there are strict regulations to prevent them from falling into wrongful possession. It’s contradicting because Lupe is saying in the ghetto, people need to protect themselves. Another standout track is “Adoration Of the Magi,” in which Lupe talks to the youth and subliminally mentions albums like, “Ready To Die” by The Notorious B.I.G., “Tha Carter III” by Lil Wayne, “Nothing Was the Same” by Drake, “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “Born Again” by Black Sabbath and “Illmatic” by Nas. Each one of those albums has a baby on the album artwork, and Lupe pieces it all together in the song’s hook. This album also has its song that has radio-appeal in “Deliver.” Overall, “Tetsuo & Youth” is a solid album. If I had one beef with this album, it’d be the length of the songs. You need some stamina to get through all of them, but it’s definitely worth it.
9. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
- Vince Staples solidified himself in the rap game with this double-disc album. He seemed to find the perfect balance of lyricism and gangsta rap. This is highlighted on one of the standout tracks, “Norf Norf.” Vince Staples reps his city—north side Long Beach—over a banging beat but does it by painting a picture of what it’s like on Long Beach, California. He balances that rugged-style rap with some smooth, vibing songs like, “Lemme Know,” “3230,” and “Summertime.” Another thing I really like about this album was the west coast vibes embedded in the entire project. The mass appeal comes with the song, “Señorita,” which features Future, but I think he really hones his sound with songs like, “Get Paid,” “Hang n’ Bang” and “Dopeman.” If you haven’t put Vince Staples in your playlist yet, it’s about time you give him a chance.
8. B4.DA.$$ - Joey Bada$$
- Much like Vince Staples, Joey Bada$$ honed his sound through that boom-bap-rap style with great wordplay. I think it’s safe to say Joey solidified himself in the rap game with this album. He told his story and touched on some important topics with apparent Brooklyn, New York vibes. It starts out immediately with the song, “Save the Children.” As the title suggests, this song paints a picture of Joey’s hometown and preaches to young African-Americans to pull together as a race and as a generation. Another thing I really liked about this album was evident increase in production quality—a lot of which came at the hands of Statik Selektah. Some other important things Joey speaks about are his label status and him making money away from home, but coming back and making his mother proud. On “Paper Trail$,” he says, “Won’t sign to no major [label] for no wager.” I think it’s really cool how popular Joey has gotten and the quality of music he has produced while remaining independent. On “Curry Chicken,” Joey says to his mom, “I got your back, ain’t got to worry; only thing I ask is for some curry chicken when we land, we eatin’ dinner. Mama seen me on TV again, lookin’ thinner but I’m lookin’ like a winner.” Joey is saying he’s grinding and making money—maybe not always finding time or money to eat—but he’s working, which is why he looks thinner. Joey also knows he’s a winner because he’s doing something he loves and making money. Another line I really like from this song is, “You got to give to get and then you give back.” I think we can all learn from that line. Overall, Joey laid an excellent foundation with this album.
7. At. Long. Last. A$AP – A$AP Rocky
- When this album first came out, I had it on repeat constantly. Originally, I thought it’d be a top-5 album, but it seemed to lose a little bit of its luster over time, which is why it isn’t ranked higher on my list. Don’t get me wrong, A$AP Rocky did his thing on this album. I really enjoyed how dark this album was, which hits you right away with “Holy Ghost” and “Canal St.” I was also very impressed with the features on this album—Schoolboy Q on “Electric Body,” Kanye West on “Jukebox Joints,” Juicy J and UGK on “Wavybone,” Lil Wayne on “M’$” and Miguel and Rod Stewart on “Everyday.” I think one word to describe this album would be “vibes.” I found myself bobbing my head throughout the entire album. Some songs were better than others, but overall it was a good album. There wasn’t a lot of depth in Rocky’s lyrics, but the music quality was very good.
6. The Documentary 2 & 2.5 – The Game
- The Game released “The Documentary 2” and “The Documentary 2.5” separately as a double-disc album, but I’m going to combine them just for the sake of space. Ten years after the original, iconic “Documentary” album came out, The Game decided to bless us with a sequel. In 2005, “The Documentary” took the world by storm with the smash hits, “How We Do” and “Hate It or Love It.” In my opinion, the original “Documentary” album is one of the greatest rap albums of all-time, and I think “The Documentary 2” and “The Documentary 2.5” lived up to the hype. This sequel had been in the rumor mill for a long time, and, through multiple pushbacks, The Game finally gave us a double-disc with 37 tracks in October. Some people don’t like the plethora of features that comes with a Game album, but I think it’s become kind of his thing. He likes to get in the studio with his friends and people from the west coast. I think these albums did an amazing job of balancing gangsta rap with lyricism and storytelling. I think “Magnus Carlsen,” “The Ghetto,” “Gang Bang Anyway” and “From Adam” are a few songs—all from “The Documentary 2.5”—that do an excellent job of displaying that balance. “The Documentary 2” seemed to have a little bit more radio appeal, highlighted in “100,” “Don’t Trip,” “Standing On Ferraris” and “LA.” Overall, the entire double-disc was rugged, lyrical and had its west coast vibes.
5. Compton – Dr. Dre
- Just when we thought Dr. Dre was never going to put out new music again, he drops this album. It’s not “Detox.” “Detox” is a myth but “Compton” isn’t. Dre said he got so inspired by the movie, “Straight Outta Compton,” coming to fruition that he gathered his friends and created an album or a soundtrack to the movie. The hype, alone, set it apart from some of these albums from 2015 but aside from that, it was everything I wanted in a Dr. Dre album. It was rugged, violent, the production was amazing, the features were insane and there were new artists that Dre put on with this album (King Mez, Anderson .Paak, Justus and Jon Connor). You have to know what you’re in for with a Dr. Dre album. You’re probably not going to get deep, thought-provoking lyrics that will make you question life as you know it. You’re going to get hard, banging beats, amazing production quality, features and storytelling about a tough city. That’s what sets this album apart. It has it all—from “It’s All One Me”’s smooth vibes to “Deep Water”’s almost uncomfortably violent, trippy sound. “Compton” pays homage to the late Eazy-E and N.W.A., which was really cool to hear. It also brings together the likes of Ice Cube, Xzibit and Snoop Dogg, among others. My favorite feature had to have been Eminem on “Medicine Man.” We even got the classic Slim Shady on this track—so much that they had to bleep out one of his lyrics that may have been too offensive to a “reasonable audience” (I knew I learned something from media law class). Let’s also take a step back and recognize how much Kendrick Lamar killed every one of his three verses on “Compton.” Overall, “Compton” lived up to its hype and Dre provided us with an amazing project.
4. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller
- This was Mac Miller’s major label debut. He signed a $10 million contract with Warner Bros., and he said he made nine different albums until he landed on the finished “GO:OD AM” project. It’s safe to say Mac put the work in, and I think he came out with his best album yet. Mac Miller has three sets of fans—the ones who only like Mac’s frat rap style from “K.I.D.S.” and “Best Day Ever,” the ones who only like Mac’s trippy, dark style from “Macadelic” and “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” and then the ones who are day-one Mac Miller fans that will stick with him until the end. The true fans appreciate the journey Mac has gone on, and it’s displayed perfectly in this album. I like to look at albums in a big-picture sense and ask myself, “What will hip-hop take away from this?” I think the song that the genre will take away from “GO:OD AM” will be the song, “Perfect Circle/God Speed.” In this song, the cohesive story Mac is telling throughout “GO:OD AM” finally comes full circle. We can hear and imagine his struggle with sobriety, his journey with finding his place in the world and the good versus evil aspect. We hear this story through lyricism and storytelling, but don’t let that steer you away. There are also fun, turn-up songs like, “When In Rome,” “100 Grandkids” and “In the Bag.” Another feature that I really enjoyed—that I was really skeptical of beforehand—was the Lil B feature on “Time Flies.” Lil B narrates a fun but deep song about the essence of time. Mac says, “Time flies. Try to catch it.” I think that line is probably relatable to all of us. Overall, “GO:OD AM” is Mac Miller’s perfect project. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
3. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake
- First of all, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is technically just a mixtape, but it’s available for purchase on iTunes and it’s up for a Grammy, so we’re going to consider it as an album until “Views From the 6” comes out. When it first came out, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was free for a couple of hours but, as the title suggests, if you weren’t surfing the Internet the night it surprisingly dropped in February, you had to buy it on iTunes because it was too late… get it? Anyway, it has been said by numerous sites that “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was just leftovers from the upcoming album, “Views From the 6.” If that’s the case, “Views From the 6” will be on another level because “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was arguably Drake’s best piece of work yet. To me, Drake seemed to be trying to get his street cred back after “Nothing Was the Same” was criticized for being too emotional. However, I think Drake had a perfect mix of deep, lyrical songs like, “You & The 6,” “Now & Forever” and “Jungle” and more rugged songs like “No Tellin’” and “Know Yourself.” The hype surrounding this album/mixtape due to its surprise release probably helped it springboard into the top-3, but I think the music speaks for itself. Honestly, in my opinion, anything Drake touches turns to gold. As he says in his Meek diss, he has the “Midas touch,” and “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” proves that to be true.
2. The Incredible True Story – Logic
- First of all, I am a Logic fan. He’s probably my favorite artist aside from Eminem—just wanted to get that out of the way, so I don’t look totally biased. However, I’m going to put on my journalist hat because I can back up why I believe “The Incredible True Story” deserves to be this high on my top-10 list. First off, this album is the first album of its kind. It’s truly an audio cinematic experience. Logic puts together a cohesive story that’s completely separate from the musical concept of the album. I won’t go into the whole back story, but if you want to learn more, check out our podcast here and read my post about Logic here. Basically, Logic wrote a script for this album. It’s set in the future and two pilots are listening to Logic’s album in real time. It’s incredibly innovative. But that’s not the only thing that makes this album great. The music is deep, lyrical and tells mini individual stories, which creates a multi-layered album. Logic touches on some deep topics such as accepting death on “Fade Away,” making a difference in the world on “Lord Willin’” and going on a inner mission to find yourself on “Innermission,” to name a few. The music is great, the message is even better, but what truly makes this album on another level is the fact that it’s the first audio cinematic experience. There’s a story inside a story, and that is innovative and groundbreaking. Be sure to listen to this album from beginning to end to get the full experience. Some critics argue that Logic relies too heavily on his influences, but I think that’s what makes his music special. He can take what he has learned from the rap game and build his own foundation. I think he truly honed his sound on “City of Stars.” On the first half of this song, Logic sings a ballad. It’s actually a breakup song with hip-hop. In the second half of the song, Logic raps bluntly about his position in the rap game. It was very interesting to hear a different side of Logic. Overall, this album is the first of its kind and the replay value is incredible. Don’t sleep on Logic.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
- 2015 was a great year for hip-hop but it wouldn’t have been nearly as great if “To Pimp a Butterfly” hadn’t come out. I will go out on a limb and say this is my favorite concept album of all-time—it might even be the best album I have ever heard… ever. I won’t go into every detail about this album because I have already written a blog post about it. Check that out right here. But I will touch on why this album is so important. First of all, like Logic’s album, “To Pimp a Butterfly” tells a story within a story. It’s multi-layered and very deep. This is an album that you must listen to from beginning to end. You also must know going in that this isn’t an album to turn up to. This album is honestly more of an educational piece. Kendrick speaks on many topics like race, growth, temptation, struggle and, ultimately, hope. When I first heard this album, I remember feeling the same way I did after watching the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption.” The main theme is highlighted in the final song on the album, “Mortal Man.” Kendrick interviews Tupac and tells him that the “only hope that we kinda have left is music and vibrations. A lot of people don’t understand how important it is. Sometimes I be like, get behind a mic and I don’t know what type of energy I’ma push out or where it comes from—trip me out sometimes.” Tupac replies by saying, “Because it’s spirits. We ain’t even really rapping. We’re just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.” It takes Kendrick back because Tupac is obviously dead and Kendrick realizes he’s trying to live up to what Tupac has left for him. Kendrick reads a poem to Tupac and Tupac doesn’t reply, showing that Kendrick must teach this generation on his own. This album is real rap. This album can change lives. It seems like this generation gets offended if we label something “conscious rap” in hopes to justify trap rap and club banging music such as Future, Migos, Young Thug, etc., but the real term should be “real rap.” “To Pimp a Butterfly” is deep, lyrical, real rap, and it is what’s keeping hip-hop alive. This is undisputedly the best rap album of the year—it’s even up for multiple Grammys.
- To Pimp a Butterfly
- The Incredible True Story
- If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
- GO:OD AM
- The Documentary 2 & 2.5
- At. Long. Last. A$AP
- Summertime ‘06
- Tetsuo & Youth
- Love Story – Yelawolf
- I really wanted to put Yelawolf’s “Love Story” in the top-10 but it didn’t beat out any of the 10 albums, in my opinion. I thought “Love Story” was very deep and lyrical. I also thought Yelawolf really honed his sound with this album—kind of a country, southern rap vibe.
- The Album About Nothing – Wale
- Wale and Jerry Seinfeld were the perfect combo and I really wanted it to crack my top-10, but I couldn’t justify it. There are a ton of really good songs on this album, but it was missing something—I can’t put my finger on it, but it needed something more. However, I loved the new and old Seinfeld sound bites sprinkled throughout.
- Rodeo – Travi$ Scott
- Musically, “Rodeo” was on another level. The production was great and it was excellent music to vibe to, but overall, as a cohesive piece, something was missing for me to justify putting it in my top-10. I really liked the songs, “Pornography,” along with T.I.’s narration, “90210” and the hit-single “Antidote.”
- And After That, We Didn’t Talk – GoldLink
- I had never heard GoldLink’s music until “And After That, We Didn’t Talk,” but I’m definitely a fan now. This album made me want to get up and dance, which I think is what GoldLink intended. It was a cohesive, fun project but it didn’t have the overall quality to crack this year’s top-10.
- King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T
- I think the reason why “Darkest Before Dawn” wasn’t higher on my list was because it only had 10 tracks. They were rugged and lyrical but, with the hype surrounding “King Push,” I wanted more. I think the full “King Push” album will be in contention for album of the year, hopefully next year, or whenever it comes out.
Other Notable Albums (That Didn’t Quite Make the Cut)
- Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean
- Dreams Worth More Than Money – Meek Mill
- Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson
- The Free Weezy Album – Lil Wayne
- When It’s Dark Out – G-Eazy
I enjoyed all of these other notable albums, but, collectively, each of them didn’t have the storytelling or the front-to-back quality to crack my list for 2015. This year was really hard to construct a top-10 list because there were easily 20+ albums that could be in the argument. As you can probably tell, I am a fan of lyrical rap that tells a story and that was probably apparent in my list. Overall, hip-hop is in a good place and I’m excited for the future.