MY Top 100 Hip-Hop albums of 2015
A hundred good hip-hop albums? Is he for real? well, to help hammer home the point that 2015 has been a strong year for the genre, i thought i’d piss my wife off and compile an unnecessarily long list that has taken many an evening to bring together. i’ll admit, i’m burnt out on rap music at the moment, having listened to 300-400 projects this year. spotify may be the bane of many artists but it will probably be the death of me. thankfully, there has been plenty of quality to match the quantity, so join me as we count down the 100 best hip-hop records of 2015. This is of course an opinion, so let me know if you there’s any exclusions or entries you disagree with.
100. Large Professor – Re:Living
99. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
98. Kooley High – Heights
97. Verbal Kent – Anesthesia
96. CZARFACE – Every hero needs a villain
95. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife
94. Murs – Have a Nice Life
93. Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die II
92. Red Pill – Learning To Punch EP
91. Abstract Rude – Keep the Feel: A Legacy of Hip-Hop Soul
90. Ludacris – Ludaversal
Ludacris is now at that awkward age where rappers have to decide whether to do an LL/Ice Cube, or continue balancing a rap career with acting (Common). It’s clear from “Ludaversal” that he’s still capable of crafting bangers with that unique Luda sense of humour, even if he admits to being conflicted numerous times throughout the album.
89. Snoop Dogg – BUSH
Some of this record could be perceived as corny, but I really enjoyed it. My favourite Snoop album is actually “Tha Last Meal” because of how ridiculous some of those Kokane hooks are, and Snoop is crooning his little blackened lungs out here. This is Snoop just having fun.
88. Royce Da 5’9” & Nottz – The Lost Files
Nottz is hugely underrated, and this record is a nice reminder why he is held in such high regards within Hip-Hop circles. Given how “Lost Files” isn’t a standard, physical release, it’s well worth lining up on your streaming service as it will open up some of Royce Da 5’9”’s more obscure songs from a decade ago, proving that his music is more timeless than he receives credit for.
87. Logic – The Incredible, True Story
Logic’s sophomore LP was a little sickly for my tastes, sounding markedly softer than last year’s lyrical attack that was “Under Pressure”. Songs like “City of Stars” and “Never Been” were very Drake-ish and gave this story a sleepy feel that, while still full of solid enough songs, fails to leave the impression Logic’s debut did.
86. Redman – Mudface
Once you accept that this isn’t the oft-hyped “Muddy Waters 2” and that Red is using more modern production these days, there’s some decent songs here. Granted, the outdated references and corny lines are sadly still present, but Red’s latest isn’t the disaster it could have been. Unfortunately, it’s another dent on what was arguably one of the best discographies in Hip-Hop.
85. The Purist – Pyrex Scholar
There’s been a distinct lack of Roc Marciano these last 12 months, and one of the few times he shared his effortlessly extensive vocabulary was on The Purist’s “Pyrex Scholar” – “Patina” to be precise. This EP (it’s 25 minutes) is tied together by similar emcees (Freddie Gibbs, Westside Gunn…) and the criminal theme is just as much 70s cop show as it is The Wire.
84. Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
There are times during “Darkest Before Dawn” where King Push spits pure vitriol that I just wish the whole album was on that vibe. “Untouchable” and “Keep Dealing” are Pusha T at his vicious best, so while the rest of the record is digestible street rap, it lacks the ugliness of them two tracks.
83. Nick Wiz – Cellar Sounds Vol. 4 (1992-1998)
There’s unearthing gems, and then there’s barrel-scraping. Nick Wiz’ first two compilations in the “Cellar Sounds” series were solid, often interesting glimpses in to obscure boom-bap from twenty years ago. There was the occasional high-profile name thrown in too. The third volume offered little different and nor does the fourth, but for Hip-Hop historians and hardcore fans of East Coast rap music, this is worth checking out. For everybody else, it can probably be ignored.
82. Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz – Home Sweet Home
The monstrous “300z” single aside, “Home Sweet Home” was underwhelming when put up against Pooh’s “Words Paint Pictures” released earlier in the year. Don’t get me wrong, I liked listening to Pooh and Nottz and there’s some good moments here, but it lacked the impact of their previous work and ends up little more than a sturdy collaboration that never really gets going.
81. Cappo & DJ Nappa – Rebel Base
Cappo delivers yet another solid album bolstered by Phi-Life Cypher’s DJ Nappa, who has crafted some of the best work of his career. This record will hold up better than any of the Phi-Life Cypher records will, and not just because Cappo’s presence is superior to Si Philli or Life MC – Nappa’s quirky, barebones instrumentals give “Rebel Base” its own identity, lending extra credence to Cappo’s intense, relentless rhymes.
80. STS & RJD2 – STS & RJD2
STS may not be as captivating as Blueprint or Aceyalone, but this self-titled collaboration with RJD2 is as solid as anything released in 2015. Solid being the keyword here, as this didn’t leave much of an impression on me earlier in the year, and still doesn’t.
79. The Game – The Documentary 2
“The Documentary” is not the classic that The Game will have you believe. It was a good, major-label album boasting some stellar production from A-listers such as Dr. Dre and Kanye West, but 2005 had plenty of better albums. Doing a sequel to his debut then is odd as the sequel phase in Hip-Hop has been and gone, with Raekwon being the only one to really make a record even close to the original “classic”. As you’d expect, “The Documentary 2” is similarly impressive on the musical front, and even though I’m not a big Game fan, it’s the first album from him that I’ve enjoyed since “Doctor’s Advocate”.
78. The Shady Corps – The Shady Corps LP
The Shady Corps = Pacewon and pals. Pacewon has history with Eminem, and this “Shady Corps LP” is supposedly an album honouring Eminem’s style and how he brought something unique to Hip-Hop. In reality, it feels like a cry for help to Shady himself, as there’s very little evidence of this outside of Pacewon’s own rhymes, given the bulk of the guests are rough-and-ready unknowns. It remains a good underground Hip-Hop record however, but I think I’d have preferred it to be a Pacewon album, with less *ahem* outsiders.
77. Jadakiss – Top 5 Dead or Alive
The problem with “Top 5 (Dead or Alive)” is it’s attempts to appease all types of Hip-Hop fan, and never really rewarding any. Older heads will appreciate the nods to earlier records but simultaneously be underwhelmed at the new takes on them. New listeners will enjoy the solo tracks that showcase Jada’s lyricism and unique, nasal flow, but there just aren’t enough of them. The collaborations are too frequent and too few feel natural, leaving Jadakiss with the same problem he had before – consistent emcee but inconsistent LP.
76. King Los – God, Money, War
“God, Money, War” is a good album but it never takes the risks that are needed for it to stand out, particularly this year which has been excellent for Hip-Hop. Just as Ludacris’ “Ludaversal” was solid and ticked all the boxes, it also wasn’t all that memorable, and King Los’ major label debut suffers a similar fate. It’s certainly worth a listen, but the ferocious tracks that kick off “God, Money, War” highlight a rhyme-animal that needs to be unleashed, not consigned to doing drab Hip-Pop with Ty Dolla $ign.
75. Grand Daddy I.U. – Paper Is My Priority
“P.I.M.P.” is what you would expect a modern Big Daddy Kane record to sound like. The Grand Daddy is notably more abrasive than Kane and incredibly ignorant to boot, but as far as New York rap goes, this is a rewarding listen that’s packed with the type of character and playful attitude that you come to expect from an emcee whose career stretches back to the golden days of Hip-Hop.
74. Talib Kweli – train of thought: lost lyrics, rare releases & beautiful b-sides, volume 1
Why the f*** hasn’t there been another Black Star album? It’s one of, if not the best Hip-Hop album of 1998 and both Mos Def and Talib Kweli could garner some great press from reuniting – hey, there’s been sequels to worse albums. The inclusion of Black Star’s “Bright As The Stars” on this brief selection of hard to find Talib Kweli tracks reminds us how great some of Talib’s early work was. There’s the Kanye West, Consequence and Common collaboration “Wack Niggaz”; a pre-Black Star “Fortified Live” that was on the first “Soundbombing” record; and various bits-and-bobs from more recent times. There’s not much cohesion but there’s definitely some top rap music here.
73. Estee Nack & Purpose – 14 Forms: The Book of Estee Nack
Estee Nack’s solo debut on Ill Adrenaline Records was a pleasant surprise this year, having previously viewed him as the potential weak link in group Tragic Allies. He displays a spark on “14 Forms” that signals excellent potential, turning a tedious track all about time in to a thought-provoking piece about pondering existence, and some socio-political views mixed with black pride that reminds me of Dead Prez – particularly “Sex or Chess”.
72. First Division – Overworked and Underpaid
First Division are clearly students of the game and care a lot about its history, but with countless outdated references and name-dropping of iconic 90s rap artists, it’s all a bit backwards. Where Verbal Threat had two unique members that complemented each other and Dirt Platoon brought overblown energy to the table, First Division are more derivative and reliant on their excellent choice in beats. If you can overlook that, then there’s plenty to enjoy here, particularly at a very loud volume.
71. 9th Wonder & Talib Kweli – Indie 500
A 9th and Talib album is something I can get behind, but it should be stressed that this is more of a compilation, given the abundance of guest artists featured. When them guests include Rapsody, Slug and Pharaohe Monch (the latter two on the same track) it’s hard to criticise, particularly when these are some of the freshest 9th Wonder productions in a good few years.
70. ChillxWill – Almighty
Given how great the production is, it’s hard to ignore the lack of substance in the lyrics; the album flies by without really saying anything. And that’s the main issue with “Almighty”– as authentic and satisfying as it sounds, it doesn’t possess the quotable verses or memorable lines that your favourite ’94 record has. In that respect, it fits in more with material from Shabaam Sahdeeq and Cella Dwellas, guys delivering solid, “mighty” Hip-Hop rather than the proposed “almighty” I was hoping for.
69. Chrome & Illinspired – The All C In I
Without taking credit away from Chrome & Illinspired, “The All C In I” is a little like listening to Ugly Duckling with British emcees. Make of that comparison what you will, but that’s exactly up my street and this album is a swiftly scratched, quickly rapped jab to the chin that became one of the year’s hidden gems.
68. Yelawolf – love story
If guitars aren’t your thing and the idea of a crooning redneck is akin to setting your ears on fire, Yelawolf’s latest album isn’t going to convert new listeners any time soon. Yela will even admit that this isn’t his best work yet, and it feels more like an exciting emcee expressing his artistic freedom that was so restricted on his previous album. Even at an eye-watering 18 songs, this “Love Story” has its moments, most namely the irresistible “Till It’s Gone” and the tongue-twisting collaboration with Eminem on “Best Friend”. BONUS: some of the catchiest hooks of the year are on this album.
67. The Regiment – S.O.U.L. (Sound Of Us Living)
Another EP? There’s been hundreds of the things in 2015 and The Regiment’s “S.O.U.L.” is one of the better ones. The Detroit collective move away from their soulful sample-sound (ironically) and bless Sinitus Tempo’s organic, nostalgic style with ease. There’s a ridiculous theme to the EP (a boy’s journey to learn about his past, according to the press release) but it’s easily overlooked.
66. Fdel – Yesterday’s Now Sound
Fdel doesn’t really put a foot wrong on “Yesterday’s Now Sound” – if his next project can match his skills with vocalists that are in the same league, more consistently, I’ll be listening to his sound today, tomorrow and countless days after that.
65. Audible Doctor – Can’t Keep The People Waiting
Despite splitting his talents between rhyming and producing on “Can’t Keep the People Waiting”, the latter has not suffered. In fact, the song “Multiply” sees him outshine underground favourite John Robinson, perhaps suggesting that the Doctor could be prescribing an LP of his own in the near future.
64. Hex-One & 5th Element – Hologramz
Before the more pedantic readers highlight how this album was released in 2014, it should be noted that it falls in to 2015 automatically as the release date was 30th December, 2014. No album released in the last two weeks of December is even considered for “Best of” lists at the end of the calendar year. Fans of rap duo Epidemic will know what to expect from this project, with Hex-One’s partner-in-rhyme Tek-Nition joining him for half of “Hologramz”; it may as well be an Epidemic release. While not 5th Element’s best work (which I’m sure is still to come), he does provide some genuine head-nodders for Hex and others to weave their words around. Hugely slept on.
63. Ransom – Soul Killa
If you grew up with that gritty yet clean style of New York Hip-Hop from the early 2000s, you’ll enjoy this project more than most. Ransom doesn’t do anything special on the mic, but what he does do, he does very well over some suitably crunchy backdrops, which for the most part is very satisfying. This should come as no surprise, as 2013’s “The Proposal” was equally enjoyable, and another short, strong slice of street rap worth checking out too.
62. Dr. Dre – Compton
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that buzz you get from walking out of a record store with a new CD (and I’m not talking about shoplifting). “Compton” was first released on Apple Music and then in MP3 format, but the physical version came a month later. The hype had me caught up thanks to everybody talking about the album, and considering a Dr. Dre album is as common as rocking horse shit, it made sense to splash out on the CD. Being honest, I was hugely disappointed. It’s not a great record, but it remains a treat for audio aficionados thanks to some stellar sound engineering and blockbuster instrumentals. The Game’s “Documentary 2” is a better gangsta rap album, but I had to include it for giving me a renewed sense of enthusiasm for buying CDs.
61. John Robinson & Chief – We The Prolific
I really enjoyed this album and was impressed by Chief throughout. You know what you’re getting with John Robinson, and that’s a consistent LP that deserves to be listened to on the correct audio setup. Lyrically, it’s far from memorable, but as stated at the start of this review, he’s not here to blow you away with metaphors and delivers a simple, if unremarkable effort that has a warm, fuzzy quality to it.
60. Kingpin – Art of Survival
Imagine the silky flow of Life MC (Phi-Life Cypher) was scientifically fused with Lowkey’s political views – Kingpin would be pretty close to that fusion, and ever since standing out in UK crew Caxton Press, his formula has become more potent. It’s been a long time since an emcee’s flow was one of the key reasons to listen to him/her, but I can’t get enough of Kingpin’s, especially as he’s got interesting topics supplying the ammunition. “Art of Survival” is more than just a tightly delivered piece of rap though; it’s a remarkably strong package overall.
59. Skepta – The Tim Westwood Mix
Skepta has had a great year despite not putting out any sort of EP, mixtape or LP. The closest we came to a collection of Skepta tracks was this “mix” delivered by Tim “DROP DA BOMB” Westwood. It’s a great introduction to Skepta, starting with his huge track “Shutdown”, his pride in being unique (and not changing for American audiences) and the earlier work with his brother JME. For anybody interested in a Grime artist who is both respected and respectful, this is essential listening (even with Tim’s ranting).
58. Scarface – Deeply Rooted
There’s not many artists still releasing quality Hip-Hop in 2015 that have been recording music since the 1980s. Guys like LL Cool J and KRS-One have wilted with age, but Scarface continues to drop strong albums as he approaches fifty years old. That booming, authoritative presence is almost unrivalled, particularly on the likes of “Dope Man Pushin'”, highlighting how strong ‘Face’s hustle remains. One of his more consistent releases in recent times (since “Emeritus” at least), “Deeply Rooted” isn’t scooping up many accolades this year, but it should be in and around that discussion. Recommended.
57. little simz – A curious tale of persons + trials
Music critics love a good female rapper from the UK. Estelle, Speech Debelle and Ms. Dynamite have all been backed by awards and acclaim, but it’s not done them many favours. Little Simz is the latest to release a well-received record, particularly by non-Hip-Hop publications.”A Curious Tale of Persons + Trials” has a haunting, personal quality which combines an alternative yet accessible style with blunt, downtrodden rhymes. Definitely deserving of the praise it’s received.
56. Krept & Konan – The Long Way Home
Only time will tell how “The Long Way Home” fares, and while it’s not as groundbreaking or cohesive as key UK Hip-Hop releases by Dizzee Rascal or Klashnekoff, the fact that nobody has done an American album with British sentiments this well is shocking, and hopefully it acts as a platform to take British Hip-Hop to the next level. The longevity of their buzz will inevitably rely on whether the big names who have appeared on “The Long Way Home” are willing to have Krept and Konan on their projects. Let’s hope they do, as Krept and Konan have shown there is a place for British emcees in the pre-dominantly American, Hip-Hop charts.
55. Drew Dave – Synthbased
It’s been a good year for instrumental Hip-Hop and one of the most slept-on records from ever-consistent Mello Music Group was Drew Dave’s “SynthBASED”. The main reason why is because his name remains an unknown entity, so there was little fervour surrounding this release, which is a shame as it’s one of the label’s best releases. More cohesive than “Petestrumentals 2”, it stands out for working as both something you can create acapella-blends to, and listening to as a standalone album.
54. Fulgeance & DJ Scientist – The Soviet Tape
With DJ Scientist and producer Fulgeance coming together, we’re treated to an instrumental album that proves Hip Hop can still be rewarding without rhymes, and it’s difficult to imagine an artist spitting bars on the song “Imperialist Monsters”, because it’s so enjoyable without lyrics that it would suffer if it did. It may be easy to ignore the former Soviet Union countries like Lithuania geographically, but “The Soviet Tape” is worthy of attention for having the balls to share music influenced from a period of time many Hip Hop fans in Europe will want to forget.
53. Soulchef – Good Vibes
My main criticism of “Good Vibes” is that some of the emcees lack a certain presence needed to carry the less interesting songs. This holds back some special instrumentals (“For My People” being a prominent example) that can drown out some of the rhymes – Soulchef’s clearly a polished, professional producer who just needs a higher calibre of emcee to bless his beats. Hopefully “Good Vibes” gains Soulchef some extra exposure and attracts artists like Substantial, Skyzoo and Supastition, because he could be the next big thing in underground Hip-Hop.
52. Semi Hendrix – Breakfast at Banksy’s
To move away from the more generic gangsta rap that Ras Kass has toyed with previously, is both a brave move and a mini-revolution, at least until the album starts to dissipate after the raucous “Jesus Pressed Mute”. Jack Splash’s production has shown that there’s plenty of rhyming left in Ras Kass with the likes of “Loogies” showcasing an emcee who sounds twenty years younger than he really is. There are moments where his experience can work against him but for the most part, “Breakfast at Banksy’s” is proof that “Blasphemy” wasn’t just a return to form from Ras Kass, but the start of a second wind.
51. Honey Cocaine & DJ Carisma – The Gift Rap
Honey Cocaine is as sweet and addictive as her name suggests, but there’s a brash attitude in her music that meshes perfectly with DJ Carisma’s Hip-Pop production. “The Gift Rap” is her most accessible work and should be the crucial link between her darker mixtapes and an inevitable arrival on the big stage. Unabashed ignorance that feels wrong, yet so right.
50. Jedi Mind Tricks – The Thief and The Fallen
As far as Jedi Mind Tricks albums go, this is a good one. There’s the feeling that each of their previous albums has fed in to the sound of “The Thief and the Fallen”, lending it a ‘one size fits all’ feel that means there are songs here that you’ll enjoy whether you prefer the modern boom bap of “Violent By Design”, the polished emo hooks of “Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell” or the stabbing directness of “Legacy of Blood”.
49. Illa J – Illa J
It’s tough being the younger sibling of a Hip-Hop legend when you want to strike out a career of your own – just ask Grap Luva. Illa J’s self-titled LP feels like he’s managed to step out of J Dilla’s shadow, and taken on its own merit, “Illa J” is a rewarding listen. There’s definitely a Dilla vibe to proceedings, embraced by Potatohead People who hold down all eleven tracks with a sample-free style that gives Illa J the perfect template to lay down his playful, easy-going flow. Don’t sleep.
48. Pete Rock – Petestrumentals 2
Pete Rock’s instrumental record “Petestrumentals 2” lived up to much of the hype surrounding it. The main criticism I have of it is that it doesn’t work as well as an individual record as some of the other non-vocal LPs released in 2015 – at times it’s more like listening to a bunch of Pete Rock beats. But listening to a bunch of Pete Rock beats is always a good thing!
47. Coalmine Records – ReMINEded: A Collection of New & Old Remixes
Remix compilations are rarely anywhere near a list of this ilk (and rightfully so); but these are genuine remixes, not the same track with a different third verse. Coalmine Records snuck this 10-track collection of underground Hip-Hop out in January and it sees a selection of fresh instrumentals (from names such as Large Professor, Audible Doctor and M-Phazes) providing new re-jigged versions of some of our favourite Coalmine anthems. There’s not a bad beat here, highlighting that the forgotten art of the remix hasn’t been lost when it comes to certain producers.
46. Andy Mineo – Uncomfortable
Last year’s “Never Land EP” from Andy Mineo was a pleasant surprise given Andy is often “Cursed” with the Christian Hip-Hop label, but “Uncomfortable” is even better. Professionally produced and lyrically intricate, this is arguably one of the most accessible and easy-to-digest records of 2015. It’s made more memorable by the inventive themes behind songs such as “Now I Know” and the beautiful “Hear My Heart”, dedicated to his deaf sister.
45. Finale – Odds and Ends
Oddisee may well have dropped a gem on his lonesome, but did you know he also produced Finale’s new album “Odds & Ends”? A distinctly less approachable record than “The Good Fight”, it’s nonetheless a superb slice of silky flows and dim-lit head-nodders that deserves a wider audience than it received. It’s a very different animal to 2009’s “Pipe Dream and a Promise” with an earthiness that’s both pure and filthy at the same time.
44. Statik Selektah – Lucky 7
Minus “Top Tier”, the album’s best moments come courtesy of the newer, younger emcees, highlighting the different hunger levels on display. This is the one element that has altered in the past eight years, with Styles P, Talib Kweli and M.O.P. appearing on almost every LP, their tracks have gradually changed from the most to the least impressive. The ratio of veterans to upstarts has reversed, and you have to salute Statik for putting his faith in youth when it’s easy to accumulate as many recognisable names as possible to appease older listeners. I’m glad Statik has called it a day on these “compilations”, and if anything, they have proved that he is a versatile producer, but that his best projects tend to be the more focussed, collaborative ones. In fact, I believe his best work is yet to come, which is down to a decade of hard work, not luck.
43. J-Merk & BBZ Darney – Born Dead
J-Merk’s record was a pleasant surprise at the start of the year and highlights why I regularly check Bandcamp releases because it . Available in physical formats too, “Born Dead” draws its inspiration from dark D.I.T.C./Gravediggaz material from *deep breath* the 1990s! The thing is, nobody recreates that mood better than BBZ Darney and fans of last year’s “Black Rose Certificate” from uMang can testifiy to that. If that’s your favoured style of Hip-Hop, this is essential listening, even if it isn’t particularly inventive.
42. King Magnetic – Timing Is Everything
King Magnetic surprised me with “Timing Is Everything”, as he was never one of the guys I’d buy an AOTP album for. Ironically, the decision to keep guest appearances to a handful is wise, and ensures the listener absorbs Magnetic’s rhymes, and while he may not be the most captivating emcee, he isn’t boring either. Production isn’t formulaic, and only a few tracks have DJs scratching acapellas in, which is great to hear. King Magnetic has delivered a well-rounded, strong debut that knows what it is and does what it needs to in a consistently satisfying manner.
41. Knxwledge – hud dreems
Despite possessing a tracklisting that looks like each track was lazily named and saved to Knxwledge’s desktop, “Hud Dreems” is a smooth collection of snapshot, picturesque instrumentals aimed at hitting you over the head with some of the wildest pieces of music in one man’s head. It’s a logistical nightmare but it all somehow flows together to stand out and be something much greater than just another beat tape.
40. Red Pill – Day Drunk EP
EPs are all the rage these days, but “Day Drunk” has purpose. It feels like the Red Pill that was too cheerful for his LP “Look What This World Did To Us”, musically speaking at least. This explains the title “Day Drunk”, as its definitely more lively and awake, but still dulled and somber with it. One for those who may have preferred the Ugly Heroes side of Pill to his solo debut – the best of both worlds, if you will.
39. Demrick & DJ Hoppa – Stoney Point
While 2015 was dominated by the movie Compton and the Dr. Dre album that was released alongside it, and then Game’s return to form with “The Documentary 2”, Demrick quietly released three albums. The LA rapper has gradually got better and better since being Xzibit’s understudy, and while his albums with Scoop DeVille and Cali Cleve were also worth checking out, “Stoney Point” with DJ Hoppa was the one I listened to most this year. If Game’s infatuation with N.W.A. and blockbuster productions are a bit too Hollywood for your tastes, “Stoney Point” is more reminscent of Compton’s Most Wanted, with minimal beats and slamming snares giving Demrick’s unique style the platform it deserves.
38. Slum Village – Yes!
“Yes” is the best Slum Village record in about a decade. It’s easy to recommend as the production is addictive and largely accessible, but the rhymes do let the side down. Slum fans will insist that the lyrics aren’t what SV are about, not since Elzhi left anyway, and it’s easy to side with them when the soulful production from J Dilla is this addictive.
37. Blackalicious – Imani Vol. 1
Gift of Gab remains a fire-spitter but his flow has withered slightly since the immaculately delivered rhymes crafted in the early 2000s, although it’s not always noticeable. Musically, there’s some jarring moments that hold this back from being one of their best works (“Inspired By” goes off on a wild Roger Troutman-infused tangent, midway through the album), but a good Blackalicious album is still something to shout about. It will be easier to reflect on what the duo are trying to achieve once the other two installments in the “Imani” series are released next year.
36. Eshon Burgundy – The Fear of God
This album reflects the adulation, thankfulness and respect for God that the hundreds of rap albums have hinted at in the liner notes, and it is time more people chose to fear God rather than Christian hip-hop, especially when it’s executed this well. The overall output on “The Fear of God” is impressive and better than many more big-budget records – I’m looking forward to hearing more from Eshon.
35. Masta Ace – The Ace Tape
A cheeky entry, this one. Masta Ace teamed up with mixtape DJ Donnie Propa to deliver a free download of some of Ace’s best tracks, including some hidden gems. Far from just a Greatest Hits selection, the inclusion of B-sides and solo tracks from other artists’ projects make this even more essential. Each track is taken from vinyl and they are capably mixed, offering fans a brilliant blend of Masta Ace songs in one free file. Did I mention this is free?
34. Substantial & The Other Guys – The Past…
Substantial’s genuine approach and overall lack of cursing may alienate some listeners craving a bit more energy or aggression in their rappers, but as an example of mature Hip-Hop for adults, it’s hard to fault “The Past…”. Much like Finale, Substantial’s technique is intricate and one for those who understand how hard it is to write and deliver a well-written verse.
33. Open Mike Eagle – A Special Episode of
No, I didn’t include this because Open Mike Eagle name-checked me on “Split Pants”. Yes, I wish that was true. “A Special Episode” is further proof that rap is often at its best when it possesses a sense of humour, but Open Mike Eagle has the knack of not being the self-depreciative joker that some emcees veer towards. He’s very human and touches on subjects all of us can associate with, over some decidedly modern production.
32. OC & Debonair P – Dive In
2012’s “Trophies” from Apollo Brown and OC was one of that year’s highlights, but for those craving something a bit grittier and more traditional sounding, “Dive In” is that record. Sonically, it’s like listening to cutting room floor tracks from “Word…Life”. “God Praise (Remix)” is one of the best beats you’ll hear all year, it’s just a shame there’s only four tracks (and then four remixes). It feels like Debonair P is dangling a carrot to emcees to make a full-blown album, having built a reputation from projects with K-Hill, Omniscence and now OC. Whoever steps up next is likely to create greatness.
31. DJ Soko – Domino Effect
Compilations of underground hip-hop tend to be very mixed affairs, often forcing recognised names together just because the nature of Hip-Hop allows it. The best combination of various artists working together in 2015 comes courtesy of DJ Soko who first came to my attention on The Left’s 2011 album “Gas Mask”. Soko’s scratching and curative touch means “Domino Effect” effectively combines raw, street attitude with some precise (and distinctly Detroit) backdrops. Underrated.
30. Blueprint – King No Crown
Just as J-Live has, Blueprint has quietly built up one of the best discographies in Hip-Hop. His latest LP continues the throwback feel (recently heard on his work alongside Illogic as Greenhouse) and the artwork looks well-worn for a reason. There’s a timelessness to basic-sounding “Unbreakable” and the warped 80s vibe of “They Like Power” that shows how gifted Blueprint is as a producer, which is so often overlooked given how blunt and on-point his rhymes are.
29. Phat Kat – Re-Dedication To The Suckers
Detroit is still killing it. Even with a weak Obie Trice LP, nothing from Eminem or Elzhi (except the brilliant single “P.S.”) and little from Royce, Phat Kat’s latest is better than I ever expected it to be. Predictably thumping Hip-Hop with all the brash machismo you’d expect from a Guilty Simpson record without any of the quirky production. If filthy bass is your thing, this is perfect for testing the sub-woofers.
28. Pharoahe Monch – Lost In Translation
All the way back in February, Pharoahe Monch released this free (or name-a-price) download on his Bandcamp page to coincide with Valentine’s Day. It’s a collection of songs from Pharoahe’s past that all have the common theme of love, and “Lost In Translation” reflects how some fans may have overlooked these lesser known tracks. What struck me was how strong these forgotten tracks were, particularly when put up against similar collections from Talib Kweli and Masta Ace that were released this year.
27. J-Live – His Own Self
The chatty “Peace, Be Still” is an example of J-Live’s production not quite being up to scratch, but the majority of “His Own Self” still consists of good songs regardless; proof if ever it was needed that J-Live remains an interesting, and valuable asset to not just Hip-Hop music, but to the culture as a whole.
26. Kenn Starr – Square One
“Square One” is a rewarding LP that improves with each listen. Kenn Starr is certainly a unique emcee, with a presence best described as relaxed and inviting, offering an alternative approach to some decidedly hefty instrumentals. His hooks have improved since “Starr Status” and this long-awaited follow-up is certainly one of the best underground releases of the past 12 months.
25. Apollo Brown – Grandeur
Apollo Brown records are now expected to be sitting in critic’s Top 10 lists at the end of the year, and he’s set a high standard for himself which is going to be difficult to maintain, especially with an average of more than two projects dropping each year. “Grandeur” isn’t as monumental as the title suggests, but does provide some scorching collaborations and confirms that no matter how many times you repeat a formula, if it’s a great formula in the first place, it doesn’t really matter.
24. DJ Premier & Royce da 5’9” – Prhyme (Deluxe)
A deluxe version of last year’s “PRhyme”, the inclusion of four more tracks makes this the definitive version of one of 2014’s best records. The fact that Black Thought is tearing it up over a Premier beat is reason enough to include this on the list, but it is also an album that has shown that a year later, it stands up to repeated plays.
23. Substantial & Algorythm- (The Past Is…) Always EP
Go listen to “Always” from this EP. NOW. Heard it? If that beat didn’t get your blood flowing then I don’t know what will. Algorythm blew The Other Guys out of the water with this release, the second EP from Substantial this year. Along with a rare Tonedeff verse on “Tony Stanza”, Substantial has crafted his best work since 2012’s “Home Is Where The Art Is”, which may not mean much to some, but those that know, know.
22. Trademarc & DC – Black Ash Days
An emcee who has suffered depression releases an album about depression. On paper, this should be a horrible listen, but Trademarc and DC have blessed us with one of the most heartfelt, moving Hip-Hop albums of 2015, tackling the important subject that is mental illness. If you’ve ever been in a dark place or had suicidal thoughts, this is an essential listen that shows that things can get better.
21. Clear Soul Forces & Nameless – Fab 5ive
Rap crew albums are scarce in 2015 and “Fab 5ive” reminds listeners why there’s few better feelings in Hip-Hop than a great cipher-style track with technically astute emcees tearing apart a beat. Thematically similar to the guys’ previous work, Nameless’ choppy instrumentals complement Clear Soul Forces’ tongue-twisting flows better than first-listens will have you believe. A record that gets better the more you listen to it.
20. Professor P & DJ Akilles – All Year, All Weather (series)
Despite enjoying Professor P’s rhymes for what they are, what makes this collection stand out is the crisp, chunky production, which comes courtesy of both DJ Akilles and Professor P. They have blossomed from good (sometimes generic) boom-bap stylings to a versatile, vicious outfit with a keen ear for the clean, Dilated Peoples style of production that gives them an LA twist, which is more than welcome given how many tribute acts there are for New York artists of yesteryear. If you found First Division’s “Overworked and Underpaid” LP rather hollow lyrically, this will fill the gap perfectly, with a superior selection of chest-pounding beats.
19. Supastition – Gold Standard
“Gold Standard” embodies the authenticity of Supa’s persona, and thanks to a well-honed, potent delivery and some punchy, satisfying production (particularly from Praise) this record demonstrates why his discography is one that should be respected. With powerful songs like “Black Bodies” and “The Day After”, it also confirms Supastition is much more than simply a consistent, workhorse rapper.
18. Skyzoo – Music For My Friends
Skyzoo was already a well-regarded emcee, but his latest album solidifies his status further as one of this generation’s most underrated. It’s not as consistently good as “The Salvation”, but “Music For My Friends” is one of my most-listened to albums this year. It has a slow-burner feel to it and Skyzoo has mastered the art of making catchy rap music without diluting his style or message.
17. Wordsworth & Donel Smokes – New Beginning
I’ve waited years for this. A Wordsworth album that is a worthy successor to his classic (yeah I said it) “Mirror Music” from 2004. Authentic, grown-up and intricately written, “New Beginning” is an example of how to make a piece of Hip-Hop that reflects the reality of what life for a veteran emcee is actually like. Family strife, relationships and world tours are all tackled appropriately, and made all the more enjoyable thanks to Donel Smokes’ chopped-sample sound.
16. Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us
If you’re a miserable bastard, this is your album. OK, that’s a harsh analogy but an apt one, given Red Pill’s penchant for the downtrodden descriptions of being ordinary. Yet, this straight-talking honesty is why we love Pill’s appearances on the Ugly Heroes’ records, and why he’s got THREE releases on this list. His likeable persona is less digestible on “Look What This World Did To Us” due to more introspective production from Mello Music Group’s finest, but this lends Pill’s feelings more credence and is the perfect rap album to put on after a shitty day at work.
15. Fashawn – The Ecology
When folk get critical of a lack of classic Hip-Hop from the 2000s, one of the first albums I bring to the argument is Fashawn’s debut “Boy Meets World”. It remains an excellent album and proof that Exile is insanely talented, and their live show backs this up. Now signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal label, Fashawn’s return to the game after rumoured retirement is just the sort of album you imagine a young Nas would make in the modern era. Family and finance are all tackled with a maturity years ahead of his time, and when combined with Exile’s expertise, “The Ecology” is clearly a great record, packed with genuine character.
14. K-def & 45 king – back to the beat volume 2
Rap fans often boast of purity and authenticity as major features of a favourite artist or record, but there’s nothing this year that has felt as quintessentially Hip-Hop as K-Def & 45 King’s “Back to the Beat Volume 2”. Moreso than Pete Rock’s record, the urge to Google classic acapella MP3s and spend an hour or twenty rejigging a track is unrivalled – just go listen to “Right Before Your Eyes”. It’s the type of beat to make you go “THIS IS WHAT THE GAME’S BEEN MISSING!”. An instrumental record from two industry veterans that proves some older heads never lose their touch.
13. Rapper Big Pooh & Apollo Brown – Words Paint Pictures
Rapper Big Pooh has shown that he is one of the few emcees that can get his message across without forcing it down the listener’s throat, but “Words Paint Pictures” also highlights how instrumental chemistry with the production can be. Fans and writers (myself included) have lauded Apollo Brown for years now, and this album features some of his best work. Where some Apollo records can steal the shine from those on the microphone, Pooh hits home with some poignant, strong messages that feels very natural.
12. Malik B & Mr. Green – Unpredictable
Where Mr. Green laced Pacewon with piano-heavy loops that suited his light-hearted rhymes, gifting Malik B some thumping kicks and crashing snares reminiscent of The Roots’ earlier work, is a brutally beautiful (brutaful?) decision. If you wish to pick up an album that’s nothing but hard-hitting Hip-Hop and isn’t fussed with forcing authenticity down your throat, add this to your collection immediately.
11. Mick Jenkins – Wave[s]
Sonically, “Wave[s]” is a trippy, hypnotising listen not far from FKA Twigs’ infectious best. From start to finish, the stomping “Alchemy” via Sega Genesis-esque “Your Love” and the slower “Perception”, it’s further proof that the hype behind Mick is justified. The continued infatuation with water flows throughout the EP and it’s as satisfying and refreshing as a cold bottle of the wet stuff.
10. Locksmith – Lofty Goals
This album is hugely accessible and it surprises me that fans haven’t latched on to Locksmith the same way that they have with Logic or J. Cole. Perhaps some of the production isn’t as satisfying as it should be, . His formula is very radio-friendly, albeit unlikely to see him crossover like Eminem did fifteen years ago, as blunt, technically astute lyrics just aren’t what industry types are looking to push right now. Featuring “Hardest Song Ever” (arguably the Rap Song of the Year), this album deserves a much wider audience than it has received. Essential.
9. Joey Bada$$ – B4Da$$
Joey Bada$$ is one of the best in the game, and it took this album to convince me. Spending some time reading his lyrics, it struck me how dense and clever his writing really is, which is rarely discussed. Of course, the production from DJ Premier, Statik Selektah et al is excellent but never feels forced or nostalgic. Joey has crafted an album that will stand the test of time and does New York proud. Hopefully it can pave the way for more charismatic youngsters from the Big Apple to help put the city back on top.
8. Nicolay – City Lights Vol. 3 (Soweto)
Even though I’m only 29 (he says begrudgingly), I’ve grown to appreciate instrumental Hip-Hop more and more as the years go by. The focus falls solely on the mood and experience of the instrumentals and Nicolay’s “City Lights Vol. 3” is the perfect example of a record that takes you places. The album cover is the perfect representation of the music within, as late-night driving is often the best time to listen to music and here lies 48 minutes of that sense of melancholic freedom.
7. Omniscence – The God Hour
“The God Hour” may be short but ain’t nothing sweet about Debonair P’s filthy instrumentals, nor Omniscence’s muggy tones. This is that murky Hip-Hop reminiscent of Black Moon and Originoo Gunn Clappaz, where the rhymes are little more than vague street narratives set to ominous, rotten backdrops that are often imitated but rarely duplicated.
6. Guilty Simpson – Detroit’s Son
Dumb artwork aside, “Detroit’s Son” is yet another excellent Guilty Simpson project that seemed to creep out in September to little fanfare. I was a huge fan of “Ode to the Ghetto” and “Dice Game”, and “Detroit’s Son” is up there with them two LPs. An emcee who never really gets mentioned in Best in the Game discussions, his latest album lays down a statement that nobody makes albums like Guilty Simpson. “The D” goes hard, the Fat Ray collaboration “Fractured” goes different hard, “Money” is DISGUSTING. Katalyst produces the whole album and really impresses – one of the most overlooked projects of the year.
5. Scor-Zay-Zee – Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle
At half the length, you’re looking at the best UK Hip-Hop album in at least ten years. I can’t fault the decision to pack as many tracks as possible on to the album, as fans have wanted to soak up as much of Scor-Zay-Zee as they can, in case he disappears or retires, and there’s enough excellent music here to ignore the weaker tracks. It’s an essential addition to any UK Hip-Hop collection.
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Not quite the masterpiece many critics have been masturbating to, Kendrick Lamar’s latest LP is nevertheless an excellent Hip-Hop record. I didn’t find this as accessible or as enjoyable as “Section 80”, but it’s clear that “To Pimp A Butterfly” is a standout piece of art within the realms of both Hip-Hop, and black music overall. Heightened racial tensions in the United States and a warm, Neo-Soul sound (which is rare these days) ensure this album will become iconic, in a year where the message became just as important as the music.
3. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
“Tetsuo & Youth” is Lupe Fiasco’s best yet. Better than his first two albums? Yes. It’s not quite as instantly enjoyable, but if you’re growing tired of standard formulas in rap music (16-bar verses and singers on hooks) and want to see where Hip-Hop can potentially go, this record is bliss. It’s the type of music you set an evening aside for. Grab some headphones and lie on a bed; you’ll quickly forget all about his last two albums.
2. Mayer Hawthorne & Jake One – Tuxedo
Remember when Funk was the go-to resource for Hip-Hop beats? Jake One and Mayer Hawthorne certainly do and have combined to form Tuxedo, a collaboration that encapsulates an era and presents it to a potentially new audience. As a Jake One fan, it’s completely different to records like “White Van Music”, but that’s also why it stands out. It’s pure fun pressed on wax and I love it. It’s the one record I’ve recommended to people more than any other this year, with the tagline “Uptown Funk – The Album”, and for anybody who enjoyed Mark Ronson’s huge single earlier in the year (before it was over-played by radio stations), it’s an essential purchase.
1.Oddisee – The Good Fight
Amongst the critically acclaimed records released in 2015, one grabbed me more than most. “The Good Fight” is a stark reminder of Hip-Hop’s roots, instilling hope and positivity in to a genre so often associated with anger and hatred. This is all done with a maturity and an educated perspective that never patronises, but always connects. Just as Kendrick’s album injected Neo-Soul in to a passionate, emotional record, Oddisee’s versatility behind the boards lends a “live band” element to proceedings. The fact that it was written, produced and performed by Oddisee reminds us all how talented he really is.