There has been some amazing music released in 2015. It’s pretty difficult for me to rank my favorites, but here are my personal top 25 favorite releases (albums, mixtapes, EPs) of 2015. Just a reminder that although this is my top 25 overall, it’s mostly hip-hop since that’s what I listen to most as hip-hop director here at KZSC! Please comment how I left off your favorite album (I know I probably did). It’s hard to keep up with everything!
25. Young Thug – Barter 6
Young Thug’s stock continued to rise in 2015 with several mixtape releases after a breakout year in 2014. This album had some controversy surrounding it due to Thugger’s initial announcement that the album would be called “Carter 6,” an homage to Lil’ Wayne’s Carter albums. Lil’ Wayne, whose The Carter V album has yet to come out due to conflict with Birdman, took the album name as disrespect. The album really showcases Young Thug carving his own lane in today’s rap game, embracing the weirdness in his persona. Tiny Mix Tapes describes Thugger’s voice as “foreign, strange, and even entrancing to the primarily hetero-normative discourse of rap through his sheer alterity.” His voice has such a stark contrast compared to most rappers today, such as T.I. featured on “Can’t Tell.” The fluidity in his delivery makes for many different emotions and feelings in the songs. Overall the album is just solid with bangers throughout such as “With That,” “Can’t Tell,” “Never Had It,” “Halftime,” and “Check” (which is one of my favorite songs of the year).
24. Bones – Powder
2015 has been a massive year for Bones and the Seshollowaterboyz. Following a feature on A$AP Rocky’s new album, Bones performed with A$AP on Jimmy Kimmel Live. After a year filled with sold out show after sold out show, many begin to wonder what’s next for Team Sesh. Powder goes against the typical structure of a Bones mixtape, totaling 28 songs. There are a lot of different sounds Bones plays with throughout the tape: using a more meditative tone on songs like “TheHealingFields” and “HimalayanSalt”, showcasing his influence from 2000s alternative rock and metal on “ICanSeeMyHouseFromHere”, channelling his inner Elliot Smith as his alias surrenderdorothy on “ItAllComesTogetherInTheFinalAct” and displaying the trap-influenced cloud rap on “D-19”. Bones has one of my favorite verses of the year on “Neoprene” describing the rap industry. His opening line, “They just some old men taking young ideas,” is too true about the rap game today.
23. Czarface – Every Hero Needs A Villain
Every Hero Needs A Villain is the second installment of the Czarface collaboration between Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan and East Coast duo 7L & Esoteric. They’ve really established their comic book style sound. With their samples and lyrical imagery it really makes you feel like you’re listening to a comic book. It makes sense that the album includes an original comic book with the deluxe version. “Ka-Bang” is the highlight of the album for me, featuring a crazy verse from MF DOOM.
22. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
He’s been in the game for years, but Freddie Gibbs might have had his biggest year last year with his album Piñata, produced in its entirety by Madlib. Gangsta Gibbs has proven he can rap over any kind of beat, from Statik Selektah’s classic New York sound, to a Young Chop drill beat, to Madlib’s experimental sampling style. Shadow Of A Doubt further shows his consistency to describe his gangster lifestyle over anything. “10 Times,” which features a verse from E-40, has a bay-area influenced beat, and with Gucci Mane on the hook, it makes for a great collaboration between the Midwest, ATL, and the Bay. “Packages” featuring Man Man Savage is a total trap banger as the hook is Gibbs repeating “Wrap it and package it up.” “Careless” and “McDuck” are a more chilled out sound I’ve come to really enjoy from Freddie.
21. Cashy – Holographic Art EP
2015 was a productive year for Cashy Kesh Dolla. His following grew rapidly as his song “Playa Pimpin” was featured on Drake’s OVO Sound show on Apple Music. Holographic Art was his only release in 2015, and with only 5 songs, it leaves us wanting more from Dolla. Completely produced by Purpdogg the EP has party bangers such as “Who You Wanna Be,” “Here I Go,” and “Dejavu.” Cashy pays homage to the 90s and early 00s Cash Money and No Limit sound on “Soulja Rag P. 2.” The song really takes you back to the days of Juvenile, Soulja Slim, and Master P. It’s such a different vibe from the next song on the EP “Virtual Void,” which embodies the internet cloud rap sound popularized by Yung Lean and the Sad Boys. Cashy really shows versatility on this tape.
20. Tree – Trap Genius
Chicago’s Tree released Sunday School 2: When Church Let’s Out in 2013, and it is still one of my favorite albums to come out in the last few years. Trap Genius is a solid follow-up. Tree’s “soul-trap” sound is still very present in this release, though he did not produce any of the songs himself. It’s clear he is enjoying the success he has attained so far on celebratory songs such as “Betta than Eva” and “Look at Me Now.” While it seems like this album is supposed to be a take on trap music popularized by Atlanta rappers T.I. and Young Jeezy, Tree’s delivery is not typical of the ATL trap sound. He really does a great take on the trap vibe on “Red Yella,” which is a standout track for me. “Trapper’s Delight” is a interesting mesh of a trap beat with Tree’s raspy yet melodic delivery. The album touches on important themes, such as violence in Tree’s home of Chicago, coming from the perspective of a man who’s lived in the city for decades. The album closes out with the bonus track “Milkchin,” a confessional song, the title referring to the birthmark on Tree’s chin, while still in the celebratory tone of the rest of the album.
19. Goth Money Records – Goth Money Trillionaires
The collective of Black Kray, MFK Marcy Mane, Kane Grocerys, Karmah, Hunned Mill, and Luckaleann, known as Goth Money Records has been prolific for years in the depths of the underground internet rap scene. Though you can buy all of their music on bandcamp, Goth Money Trillionaires is the first official album for Goth Money, with a release by Break World Records. Marcy Mane and Kane Grocerys appeared on Vice’s show on Beats 1 Radio this year before the release of this album. It is fitting for this to be their debut, as it is some of the best work I have heard from Goth Money. It’s clear they draw influence from many different genres while still being very plugged into rap music coming out today. Standout tracks for me are “Hell Is You Doin’,” “Gucci Racks,” “Vice City,” “Cuban Links,” and “Movie.”
18. Cyrax – Lone Bwoy
Divine Council, the Richmond, VA collective of Cyrax, Lord Linco, $ilkmoney, and ICYTWAT, has been on the rise in 2015, and I expect 2016 to be a huge year for them. While they are talented and their lyrics seem personal at times, it’s clear through their beats, rapping style, and visual aesthetic in their videos that they like to have fun with the creative process as well. The beats are reminiscent of internet rappers Yung Lean and Bones, which is clear through songs produced by Drip-133 and F1lthy. Cyrax has a very distinct-sounding voice, but he is versatile how he can put out bangers like “I Like” and love ballad R&B songs like “True.” This project is very short, but I expect many more great songs from Cyrax and Divine Council in the future.
17. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Joanna Newsom has created another masterpiece with her newest album Divers. Not unlike her previous works, the lyrics to this album could be written and read as an amazing epic poem. Her syntax and imagery are unparalleled in modern music, in my opinion. I feel Divers has more of a universal appeal than Joanna’s previous albums, primarily due to its length. Her vocal inflection and range are penetrating at times, but I believe the arrangement of her harp playing with instruments coupled with her lyrics, makes for an amazing listening experience. I highly recommend listening to this album in order, as it is a cohesive story, but my standout tracks are “Leaving the City,” “Divers,” and “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive.”
16. Drake & Future – What A Time To Be Alive
Drake and Future blew everyone away with their surprise collab album, and I think they surprised themselves at how successful it was. Every song on the album charted with Billboard in the same week. Drake is objectively the most popular rapper right now, but Future subjectively outshined him on this album. “Diamonds Dancing” is a pop R&B ballad produced by Metro Boomin; it’s best moment being Future delivering in falsetto, “I don’t want that liquor ’cause I’ve been drinkin’ that dirty.” Other highlights of the tape are “Scholarships,” “Plastic Bag,” “I’m the Plug,” and “Change Locations.”
15. Björk – Vulnicura
“On Facebook, Björk called ‘Vulnicura’ ‘a complete heartbreak album.’ (It reflects her breakup with the artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney, with whom she had a daughter, Isadora, in 2002.) The lyrics booklet dates the first six songs chronologically, from “9 months before” to ’11 months after.’ The lyrics trace estrangement, bitter separation and resolve. They seesaw between the analytical — “Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this,” in “Stonemilker” — and the raw: ‘My soul torn apart, my spirit is broken,’ in ‘Black Lake.'”
14. Tommy Genesis – World Vision
Vancouver’s Tommy Genesis is the newest member of the very unique Awful Records, which boasts a roster of 16. Most members of Awful, such as Father, ILoveMakonnen, and Abra, are from Atlanta, but the collective has gained most of its recognition online. Tommy G has a very original style on World Vision. Songs like “Shepherd,” “Eden,” and “Execute” have a strong world influence, using many diverse instrument samples. “Bump” is a very hypnotic sounding song with heavy bass. In her interview with Complex, Tommy describes the song, “Bump is about suburban drug culture. It might be my favorite track on the album.” It’s probably my favorite track on the album as well. The album closes out with “Hair Like Water Wavy Like The Sea” featuring Abra, which serves as an outro, and its an awesome collaboration between two very talented young women. The hidden bonus track of “OG Shepherd” is a more simple bare-bones demo version of Shepherd. The different beat makes for a completely different vibe, and I really enjoy both versions of the song.
13. Meyhem Lauren & IceRocks – More Cashmere EP
More Cashmere EP is exactly what I want out of a 2015 New York boom bap album and more. IceRocks has an amazing ear for samples, such as his use of The Charmels “I’ve Done It Again” on “Fly Counterparts.” The beats are diverse, with “Fly Counterparts” and “Mind on Queens” more chilled out songs to ride to, and “Street Caviar,” “Sidewalk Etiquette,” “Black Cumin Oil,” and “Summer Squash Yellow” have Meyhem Lauren drawing from that raw 90s New York sound. “Burgundy,” which features Kassa, Kool AD, & Mr. MFN Exquire has to be the standout to me. The beat is a straight banger and the verses are all fire. It feels like you’re watching a great action movie when listening to it.
12. Black Kray – THUG ANGEL + STILL STRUGGLIN STILL SHINNIN
Black Kray has been making moves in the underground internet rap scene for years. Many have seen him eating a sandwich of hundred dollar bills in the Miley Cyrus “We Can’t Stop” video. After several successful songs and videos on Soundcloud and Youtube, Black Kray has honed his style on his newest albums. Songs like “LIL EARNHARDT” and “3RD WARD DOVES” on THUG ANGEL are the mumblier Young Thug and Chief Keef sounds we’ve come to know Black Kray for. “UZI KISS” is my favorite song on THUG ANGEL. The feeling in the song is very dark and somber. “Never wanna cry, never wanna lie… Smokin’ big blunts burnin’ up my inside,” he gargles on the hook. He doesn’t want to deal with the realities of the world, but smoking his problems away only makes them worse. I prefer the chilled out, more dark vibe of songs like this. I think this is where Black Kray excels. On STILL STRUGGLIN STILL SHINNIN, “4EVA BY MY LONELY,” produced by Nedarb Nagrom, is another laid back, introspective song. “BENNY OMAR GARCIA” has a depressed feel going along with heavy bass. “I’m posted on the block with my migos,” he chants.
11. Holly Herndon – Platform
Holly Herndon‘s Platform is wild mix of electronic music, field recordings, ASMR, and experimental avant-garde music. Herndon, who currently is a doctoral student in composition at Stanford, collaborates with a wide range of artists to create quite a listening experience. The Quietus describes the album:
“From its title upwards, the record feels like a paean to the constructive possibilities of connection. Platform represents a move away from the solitary laptop experiments of Herndon’s previous album, 2012’s Movement, to a record that’s collaborative from the outset: the players on the album come from various backgrounds, not just audio and visual artists, but theorists and writers, and include Mat Dryhurst, Herndon’s long-term collaborator and partner, whose ‘net-concrete’ online update on musique concrète was a key pillar of the album’s sonic set-up, word-colliding Twitter poet Spencer Longo and Dutch design studio Metahaven among them. (Fittingly, the full list was indexed by Herndon in a kind of emoji-gram.) With the academic eloquence of someone studying as a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, Herndon explains: ‘It’s about opening up my practice and finding ways to magnify the people whose work I really respect.'”
10. Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone
Erykah Badu surprised her fans with her new mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone initially by sharing her version of Hotline Bling. This mixtape is very enjoyable, but it’s relatively short and a lot of the songs sound similar. It leaves you wanting to hear more from Erykah. That being said every song is well done. The mixtape is Featuring Drake sound-a-like on a few songs, and a key feature from Andre 3000 on Hello. Another highlight on the tape is “Phone Down.”
9. Xavier Wulf – Tundra Boy Season One + Project X
If you listen to The Fonzie Scheme you’ve probably already heard every song on these albums. Memphis rapper Xavier Wulf has had a great 2015 touring with Seshollowaterboyz and playing several shows on his own as well. Wulf has carved his lane in the underground scene rapping about anime, cars, and his life in the last few years with a constantly growing Soundcloud and Youtube following. Tundra Boy Season One as a name really encapsulates the feeling of the album. Every song has a cold tone; I honestly picture Wulf rapping in the middle of a snowy tundra when I hear the music. Highlights on this tape for me are “Tortuga,” “Fort Woe,” and “Hollow Be Thy Name.” I have already described my theory about Project X in Volume 2 of my Don’t Sleep Recommendations. “Akina Speed Star” and “Wulf Takahashi” start out the album as more heavy bass. “1st Summer Night” we get more of Wulf’s sensitive side and hear him sing a bit. “Wulf of Akina” is a meditative masterpiece. “240s In The Sunset” is a nice instrumental leading into the very fun “Date Night.” You can tell Xavier Wulf had fun recording that song. “The Cost” and “Pedals To The Metal” close the album in a more serious yet celebratory tone.
8. Sicko Mobb – Super Saiyan Vol. 2
Chicago duo Lil Ceno and Lil Trav have really begun to craft their own style with the second installment of the Super Saiyan mixtape series. Their progression can be likened to Gohan honing his hidden potential to become a Super Saiyan 2 when fighting Cell. Dragonball Z parallels aside, Sicko Mobb made a really fun mixtape with Super Saiyan Vol. 2. Sicko Mobb’s Bop sound has similarities with Chicago drill rappers Chief Keef and Lil Durk and also pop rappers like Soulja Boy. Unlike drill, bop has a much more positive and happy vibe. On “Own Lane” Sicko Mobb are embracing the success they have achieved: “I’m in my own lane, okay. Got my own money, okay.”
7. Arca – Mutant
I’ll let Tiny Mix Tapes description of this album speak for itself:
“Is the mutant human or is it Homo superior? From its opening skirmish of moments, this Album is alive, chaosmatically enfolding its every sound with overwrite-delay, lapsing into blackout silences, restless in its constant constructive upheaval. There was no release in 2015 flexible quite like this — it wasn’t that Mutant sounded like nothing else this year; it was that Mutant sounds like it could enfoldeverything else. The elasticity of Young Thug, the dramatic playfulness of Oneohtrix Point Never, the drifting world-turns of Elysia Crampton, the deranged and immaculate and mutant sound design of Alejandro Ghersi.
To talk about Mutant as this pioneering formal entity approaches a sensationalism and boundedness that the music itself resists in its every blooming breath. And still, there’s the inescapable sense thatMutant is imploding with implications of emerging genres, a thousand tangled possibilities playing at a neofuturist fascination with the Event in all its disruptions, becomings, suspensions, compossibilities. But I think Arca is just as interested in how we’re feeling.
Man, what a time: How are we feeling? It’s been an exhausting litany of terrorisms (state-sanctioned and otherwise), ecological catastrophes, ideological undertows that felt at once apocalyptic and anachronistic, with conceptual ripplings in the music world from an increasingly cool critical animus. And here’s Arca (called wordless, alien, uncomplicated) topping a TMT list in a year that saw a greatermedia intersection of listening and politics than any in recent memory. Mutant is warmly alive, even in all its anxieties and violent animations, a sort of paradigmatic list-shift from Dean Blunt’s Black Metal (whose worlds were bridged beautifully this year by Babyfather). But, if anything, in Arca, we’re given so much information and so much silence as to be demanded to listen closely. Mutant is maybe critic-proof by virtue of its mass alone — 62 minutes stretched across 20 indivisible parts — in a virtuality that danced with a disruptively morphic energy between essential and potential. I feel like I still haven’t listened to it.”
6. Kali Uchis – Por Vida
Kali Uchis absolutely blew up in 2015, with her features on Tyler the Creator’s album, and her surprise appearance at Coachella during both Tyler’s and Kaytranada’s sets. Por Vida features production from Tyler the Creator, Kaytranda, and BADBADNOTGOOD. The thing about Kali for me is the sound of her voice; anything she says or sings I just love. Every song is very well produced and sounds great, but from Lottery to Ridin Round the album is perfect. “Lottery” is just a good vibes song I feel like I could hear on mainstream radio. “Know What I Want” has some reggae influence. “Rush” has some really great old-school vibes. The album’s best song is its last with “Loner.”
5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
To Pimp A Butterfly has been so polarizing because of how different it is from Good Kid M.A.A.D City. It’s received the number one album of the year nod from multiple blogs, and it deserves it. It’s pretty clear to me that Flying Lotus had his hands all over the production on this one. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you’ve successfully played yourself in 2015.
4. Future – DS2
Future has made it. He’s been blowing up the last few years, but 2015 has been his best. He’s gone through the phase of catering to the labels and making pop songs, and he’s now in complete control. “Tryna make me a pop star and they made a monster,” he raps on “I Serve the Base.” He really did make some great radio pop songs last year on Honest, but with DS2 Future has returned to his roots in Atlanta trap, which the name implies is a follow up to his mixtape Dirty Sprite. The only feature is the only radio friendly song, “Where Ya At (Feat. Drake).” There’s a song for everyone on this album; “Lil One,” “Groupies,” and “Stick Talk,” “Rotation,” “Slave Master,” and “Blow a Bag,” are all bangers. “Freak Hoes” and “Colossal” are great songs to get down to. “Rich $ex” and “Blood On The Money” close out the album with the sensitive side we know Future to have. The bonus tracks are some of the best songs on the album, with “Kno The Meaning,” “Trap N***s,” and “Real Sisters.” “The Percocet & Stripper Join”t is one of my favorite songs of the year. Southside made an entrancing beat, coupled with the feeling created by Future’s voice. It’s very confessional and self-aware on his drug abuse. He sings very seriously, “Treasure bring misery, codeine in my delivery.”
3. ari solus – caveman ep
You probably heard the Solus Takeover on Fonzie Scheme a few months back. ari solus completely took off in 2015 with his caveman ep. He has a very unique style that draws influence from rappers like Drake, Future, and Yung Lean, but I also hear influence from so many other genres. It’s clear ari solus’ sound was impacted by Red House Painters and The Microphones as well. caveman opens with a more sad boys sound on the title track. The second song, “marissa,” is a very real love song. “I dropped out of school, and fell on to the ground. Now I’m on the ground. Come pick off the ground,” he cries. You really hear his emotion in his words. Another highlight on the EP is “forest green,” in which which I hear influence from Drake’s R&B style, but also incorporating an acoustic guitar sound. One of my favorite songs on the tape is “walls.” Almost in an opera-style of singing ari describes, “I never thought I’d hear you say, ‘ari you’re afraid of the world. I can’t be your girl. You can’t go outside You just wanna hide away from it all. Protected by four walls,’ but baby girl heres the thing: I wanna grow wings. I wanna fly for you…Cause fuck these walls. They don’t have your eyes.” His lyrics are so poetic and the imagery so descriptive. I really love what he did with the song. Other recommended tracks are “klonopin,” “marissa part 2,” “post game update,” and “rakks.”
2. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Kamasi Washington’s debut album, “The Epic”, on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder confidently lives up to its title. Spanning almost three hours of beautifully composed work, the 3LP masterpiece operates as a stunning introduction to Kamasi’s supremely talented ensemble of musicians and a thoughtful homage to the past. Brilliant moments inundate this record but one favorite has to be “Henrietta, Our Hero” on LP2. Quiet, moody keys and strings drift behind Patrice Quinn’s haunting vocal melody and the song begins its ascent to a frantic crescendo; the poignant song serves as a tribute to Kamasi’s grandmother and the saxophonist might not rip a solo harder than he does in that song. After a year of touring heavily to a quickly growing fanbase, Kamasi’s team of friends and musicians, the West Coast Get Down, is without a doubt the band to see live in 2016; go get your mind blown.
written by Brett Fonfa
1. Future – Beast Mode + 56 Nights
He’s been named rapper of the year by a few blogs. Noisey describes this year for Future, “For longtime Future fans, this year felt like the realization of a prophecy long overdue. Future’s talent is self-evident.” It’s true. He’s been grinding for long and his vision finally came to fruition in 2015. His hooks are inescapable.
DJ Esco, resident DJ at Magic City in Atlanta and Future’s tour DJ, was incarcerated in Dubai for 56 Nights following a complication at the airport. Future discusses how 56 Nights and Beast Mode came about on his song “Kno The Meaning” on DS2. “People didn’t even understand that my hard drives that I recorded all my music on for two years straight was on this… was on this one hard drive that Esco had and he was locked up with it so I had to record new music. That’s when I did Beast Mode.” Future had to make Beast Mode in Esco’s absence. You can hear a fresh sound from Future on it. Songs like “Lay Up” and “Real Sisters” have a new dance feel I hadn’t heard from Future before. Some of the best songs on the tape are “Just Like Bruddahs” and “Where I Came From.”
Upon DJ Esco’s release, he and Future went in the studio and put together some of Future’s most sincere work with 56 Nights. “March Madness,” “Trap N***s,” and “56 Nights,” are the highlights for me. “Purple Coming In,” “Now,” and “No Compadre” are also fire. With four extremely successful releases this year, as well as many other singles and features, it’s clear Future won 2015. Drake might have been the most popular rapper in 2015, but Future made the biggest mark on the game.
There has been so much great music in 2015, I couldn’t pin it down to just 25 releases. The following are artists that did something in 2015 to deserve a mention here. In no particular order:
- julia holter
- lil ugly mane
- divine council
- yung simmie
- young thug
- young dolph
- watergate sandals
- vince staples
- mick jenkins
- kane grocerys
- sunn 0)))
- viet cong
- death grips
- hiatus kaiyote
- roots manuva
- Wolfgang voigt
- denzel curry
- gods wisdom
- mal devisa
- stretch & bobbito
- tunde olaniran
- talib kweli
- jay rock
- young scooter
- sleater kinney
- meow the jewels
- rae sremmurd
- post malone
- main attrakionz
- future brown
- nidia minaj
- nickelus f
- nacho picasso
- blue sky black death
- mr muthafuckin exquire
- chelsea wolfe
- meek mill
- maxo kream
- chief keef
- mount eerie
- lil champ fway
- corbin fka spooky black
- lil silk
- lil bibby
- lil b
- león bridges
- jeremiah jae
- kool keith
- keith ape
- slug christ
- joanna gruesome
- jamie xx
- james ferraro
- oneohtrix point never
- gucci mane
- gaslamp killler
- fka twigs
- fetty wap
- dej loaf
- cities aviv
- chimurena renaissance
- badbadnotgood + ghostface
- aphex twin
- panda bear