Part 1: Albums
2015 has -mostly- come and gone, and this year has been an absolute standout in terms of musical releases. There have been so many fantastic albums, mixtapes, EPs, and side projects that have come out in the last 12 months it is nearly unfathomable – so much so that I have a hard time believing anyone can truly put together a “Best Of” with any authority or security.
So I wont, I have no idea which 10 albums are the “best” musically speaking, instead I’ll just say my personal favorite releases from the last year. My favorite upcoming acts, the releases I’m looking forward to most, and all the other things I’m excited about! So let’s do this
10. The Internet – “Ego Death”
The Internet, an ODD FUTURE side project lead by Syd Tha Kid, made waves all around the world with their rapping, soul, r&b blend album. A favorite of the slightly underground scene The Internet took the project to the streets, playing at local venues internationally, including Oakland’s very own WINE AND BOWTIES “Feels III” earlier this year. This has universally been named the vibez album of the year, so kick back with it. Extra points for getting Kaytranda, Janelle Monae and Vic Mensa into the studio for the record.
9. Gary Clark Jr. – “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim”
Gary Clark Jr.’s sophomore studio LP came out this year, with surprisingly little publicity, to the extent that many Gary Clark Jr. fans seemed to have missed the release. Whether it was a Beyonce release gone awry, or just people sleeping is unclear, but hopefully people will wake up soon on this wonderful album. Clark left a major impression on the world with his debut album Black and Blu, and was able to mostly live up to the hopeful expectations with his second project. This album is more polished – possibly too much so, but with several standout songs like Wings the album finds enough room to soar on it’s own.
8. Blackalicious – “Imani Vol. 1”
Blackalicious’ true follow up to Blazing Arrow is a dazzling production. Following their 2002 release the group released another full release, The Craft, a few smaller EPs and then went their separate ways for the better part of ten years – coming back to Oakland’s very own Zoo Labs to create Imani Vol. 1. The production and rhymes harken back to Blazing Arrow in more ways than one, while bringing in over ten years of life experiences, growth and a changed and evolved music scene. The beats are lush and reflect on the 80’s vibes that are heavily influential today, and songs like Love’s Gonna Save The Day (with another OVO fave Fantastic Negrito) perfectly show how ten years time has only brought these cats together stronger.
7. FKA twigs – “M3ll155X”
There’s not to many ways to put it, FKA twigs is haunting, her music, her performances, herself. Everything about her is wonderfully chilling, and her latest project/EP/mixtape capitalizing on that one hundred percent. If The Internet released the vibez album of the year, this is certainly the ‘creepers dancing in the club’ album oty. Special shoutout to her videos, because lord knows how they came up with any of this.
6. The Game – “The Documentary 2 & The Documentary 2.5”
So by the grace of God, somehow The Game came back in 2015 with not one, but two great projects. Aptly named The Documentary 2 & 2.5, the sequels to his 2005 release The Documentary (and the last time he was at all relevant other than when his crew was kicking white rapper’s asses), and as part of this LA Compton Renaissance that seems to be the common thread of 2015 these projects are six fire emojis level fire.
The entire double LP clocks in at 73 minutes, and honestly that’s the productions biggest weakness – this damn beast needs some editing down, but even with some of the weaker tracks and full list of features this album does a fantastic job tying off the years worth of Compton records and bringing the right kinda gansta rap back. Extra Props to Skrillex for making a song on this record I actually like. There’s also a lot of Spanish on this project, it’s rad as all fuck, everything about this double album is wickedly fun.
5. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment – “Surf”
Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment’s “Surf” is arguable the most magical album of the year, most probably because you got two of music most spectacular acts together – Donnie Trumpet and Chance the Rapper. The sounds are lush at times and harsh at others, warm and full of influences from all spectrums of black music. It is truly a marvel. The album is full positivity without being sappy, funk, soul, jazz and most notably the love that occurs when musicians come together for the sake of the sound. Thank you Chance, thank you Donnie Trumpet.
4. Dr. Dre – “Compton”
If anyone would have told me (and in fact many did) that THIS was the year that the infamous Detox would release I would have (and did) call them liars. WELL WE WERE BOTH RIGHT. Detox didn’t release, BUT MOTHERFUCKING COMPTON DID. Dre finally followed his two classics with his third (and final?) studio release, Compton.
You can check my full review of Compton on the Album Review section of the site, but in short this project was hugely inspirational for me, the production was fantastic and while there were a few hiccups here and there with Dre being a macro producer the entire project hit me deep. LA & Compton truly showed up this year, and we’ll be talking about it for a hot minute. I’m hype.
3. Alabama Shakes – “Sound & Color”
The Alabama Shakes brought it this year, and are currently the Grammy Favorite for album of the year. They’ve been around since 2009 with a heavy set of strong songs and a full length studio album, Boys and Girls released 2012, but for some reason (we know the reason) they never truly broke a boil and just seemed to simmer on our collective consciousness for the last while. Sound & Color aims to change that, and as America’s leading Black Rock Fusion group they deserve our full support, and it seems this time around they may get it. The project boasts an arrangement of immersive tracks, firmly rooted in America’s cultural history of black music, and bringing it into 2015. It is beautiful, haunting, and a graceful act of rebellion.
2. Young Fathers – “White Men are Black Men Too”
Young Fathers is a European/London based enigma. Equal parts angry punk electro grunge (?), equal parts synth pop rebel squad, equal parts lo fi R&B fuck shit up protestors and equal parts emotional up your girl’s diary rapper troupe, Young Fathers is fairly indescribable. The group put out ‘White Men are Black Men Too” this year and the projects content in undeniably political.
Songs like Shame, Sirens, Liberated, and nearly every other track rally together as protest songs for when you need to chill out but stay woke. I’m not quite sure where they’ll be going with this into the future, they’re still a fairly new act, but I’m very excited to stick around for the ride.
1. Kendrick Lamar – “To Pimp A Butterfly”
And in all things obvious, Kendrick Lamar’s third studio LP, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, takes a firm place atop everyone’s list of best album of the year. If anyone doesn’t put this album on the top of their list, you need to drop their ass immediate (unless they truly have the plug on some underground release that’s even better – hey it can happen). We will be talking about this album for a very long time, it blew everything up with a “surprise” release back in March of this year and it’s jazzy, funky grooves and unparalleled conceptual ideas and sounds have repaved the pathway for future music going forward.
President Obama has named “How Much A Dollar Cost” as his favorite song of the year, “Alright” has become a rallying cry of Black Lives Protestors across the country, “Mortal Man” has been the introspective emotional reflection of creatives working to make a name for themselves. This album has touched everyone across the the country and brought us together in ways that harks back to the true heart of the musical experience. Thank you Kendrick, we truly didn’t deserve something this special.