This year’s top ten album list was a little bit of a surprise to me. If you don’t know already, I am a pretty big fan of rap music which means that most of the music I listen to during the year tends to be rap and hip-hop. In turn, this leads to top ten lists that are mostly comprised of rap albums. This year was a little different. This year’s list, although still mostly rap, branched out a bit and brings some diversity to the table. As usual, I should note that this list is my top ten albums that I listened to this year and is not indicative of the all the albums that came out in 2015. The simple fact is there was a lot of music that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time to listen all of it. I can’t speak for albums that I haven’t listened to so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception. With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…
Honorable Mentions: Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson, Ludaversal – Ludacris, Everything Is 4 – Jason Derulo, Revenge of the Dreamers II – J. Cole and Dreamville Records
10. Title – Meghan Trainor
The world was introduced to Meghan Trainor in 2014 but we didn’t get her debut album until 2015. Title is a strong debut for one of the more trending pop artists of 2015. Not only does it include “All About That Bass,” the song that put her on the map, but it also includes lesser known tracks like the album’s intro “The Best Part” and the fun “Walkashame.” Not to forget, the album also contains “Lips Are Movin” and “Dear Future Husband,” two of her other more popular songs. The album has a diverse sound and there is a lot to like about it.
9. Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean
For his third studio album, Big Sean reflects on his life and gets a little introspective. It’s a change of pace when compared to the rapper’s previous albums and this change works really well. Dark Sky Paradise was also largely produced by Kanye West, a.k.a. the album has a great sound as well. You are already familiar with “I Don’t F*** With You,” one of the album’s premiere tracks, but the atmospheric and deep “Blessings” is another song that deserves a listen. The album also has a strong introduction with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” where he reflects on some of the past decisions that he has made in his life. “One Man Can Change the World” proves that Big Sean opens up big time on his album, making it a necessary album on Sean’s discography.
8. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller
Mac Miller’s career trajectory has been a little hard to predict. He started off small with his release of Blue Slide Park and then moved to bigger and better (and profoundly different) things with Watching Movies with the Sound Off. With his latest release, GO:OD AM, Mac seems to have dipped a little bit in terms of mainstream recognition, but certainly not in quality. This also marks his first major label debut. GO:OD AM is a nice collection of tracks that mix some of the “trippy” Mac with his older sound. “100 Grandkids” is the song that I point to because it is a good representation of what you are going to get with the album. Other standouts include “Brand Name,” “Rush Hour,” and “Weekend” featuring R&B superstar Miguel.
7. At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky
2015 treated rapper A$AP Rocky pretty well…for the most part. The death of Rocky’s good friend A$AP Yams was a punch to the gut, but he seems to be doing pretty well with a starring role in Dope and a great album with At.Long.Last.A$AP. His sophomore album not only shows off the rapper’s talent, but it also acts as a dedication to his late friend Yams. The album kicks off with the deeply meditative “Holy Ghost” but then moves on to the trip-fest that is “L$D.” The album also contains “Everyday,” a collaboration between Rocky, Mark Ronson, Miguel, and Rod Stewart. Yep, you heard that right. A$AP Rocky was not afraid to experiment with different sounds and feels on the album, making it a unique experience. Finally, the project wraps up with a touching tribute to A$AP Yams. It wasn’t the best track on the album, but the energy was there.
6. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
I will never stop being fascinated with The Weeknd’s voice. It’s the single aspect that got me instantly hooked when I listened to his indie project Kiss Land. For a time, The Weeknd was mostly underground, shying away from the mainstream light. Beauty Behind the Madness is the artist’s first foray into the mainstream light, and he handles himself pretty well. There’s a little bit of everything on the album to cater to a lot of tastes. “Can’t Feel My Face” harnesses a strong Michael Jackson influence to cater to the masses while songs like “Often” and “The Hills” harken back to the artist’s previously dark sounds. The album gave us the best of both worlds on top of some of the year’s best production. All The Weeknd needs to do is just keep being himself and all will be good.
5. Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco
You’re probably looking at this album and probably wondering where the hell it came from. I am going to go ahead and declare that Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth was the most underrated rap album of 2015. I consider Tetsuo & Youth a smart man’s rap album. There is everything from instrumental melodies to nine minute masterpieces. Lupe also tackles topics like religion in tracks like “Madonna” and “Adoration of the Magi.” The album’s best track is “Prisoner 1 & 2” which provides a unique perspective on incarceration and racial profiling. These aren’t the only hot button issues that the album takes on either. There is a lot to Tetsuo & Youth and it all comes together in a well-rounded package. The album came out pretty early in the year and I knew the second after I finished listening to it that it was going to make it on this list.
4. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
When I think about it, this might be the second most underrated album of 2015, although it gained wider mainstream acceptance due to word of mouth. Vince Staples’ debut project is an interesting one because it is rooted in a story. Over the course of the album, the rapper goes into the summer of 2006, a season that really changed him as a person. Similar to some of the other albums on the list, Summertime ’06 is a reflective experience. “Life Me Up” and “Birds & Bees” are great examples of the rapper opening up about his childhood and his life growing up on the North Side of Long Beach. The double album has a cohesive theme that sticks the whole way through. Summertime ’06 came out of nowhere for me and now I am looking forward to what is to come from Vince Staples.
3. Compton: The Soundtrack – Dr. Dre
Who said the old man couldn’t hang out with the new guys? Dr. Dre, who hasn’t released an album in almost sixteen years, proves with Compton that he hasn’t missed a beat. Compton came out around the same time as the movie Straight Outta Compton, which really boosted the rapper’s resurgence in 2015. The longtime producer was dormant for the longest time but he comes back with an energy uncontested by many. Dre pays homage to his past with tracks like “Genocide” and “It’s All On Me” while at the same time looking where he has come since then in tracks like “Talking to my Diary.” There is a lot of Dre on the album but there is also a bunch of guest features including the likes of King Mez, Justus, and Candice Pillay. There is also a good bit of familiar voices like Eazy-E, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg that lead to some great collaborations as well. The album has the old school Dr. Dre sound with a modern feel. This could be the rapper’s last album, but what a way to shut it down.
2. Our Own House – Misterwives
What!? An indie pop album from a New York based band as my second best album of 2015? This was exactly the way I felt when giving this album a comfy spot high on the list. My fascination with Misterwives’ music started with a free download of their song “Our Own House,” which later led to my purchase of the entire album. It’s a really fun and energetic album. “Reflection” and “Best I Can Do” are great examples of the energy that I am talking about. The album goes to some deep places as well with “Oceans” and “Coffins.” The group is super talented, fusing the fantastic voice of lead singer Mandy Lee with a mix of different instruments, yielding a final product that is unlike anything else on this list. The album really resonated with me, making it perhaps my biggest surprise discovery of 2015. The album is also great for blasting on long drives. Trust me, it has happened.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong, right? Kendrick is probably one of rap’s hottest commodities, having himself one of the best years he has had in a while. It wasn’t going to be easy to top his previous album good kid, m.A.A.d. city but he did it. He topped that album with To Pimp a Butterfly. What an album. Kendrick Lamar is one of the best lyricists in the game right now with a deep talent for storytelling. Almost every song on the album is phenomenal, with standouts like “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” and “The Blacker the Berry.” Kendrick also dives into a bunch of cultural and social issues that have taken hold of our current society, making it one of the most relevant albums of the year as well. I’m pretty confident in saying that this relevance won’t just stay in 2015 either. I’m not lying when I say that this is an album that is going to be talked about years from now as one of the greats. Yeah, the album is that good. You should probably listen to it.