Before I begin, I’m sure we can all agree when I say that 2015 was a crazy year for hip-hop. Disregarding your typical (and almost expected) hip-hop songs of the year like “Hit The Quan” or “Trap Queen,” this year set a new standard for the genre.
Story by Jordan Marsh
Drake, Future and Kendrick are a few artists that really raised the bar to a level that’s going to be very hard to surpass. I will be the first to admit that I, myself, am not a fan of Drake. Some people hate on me for that, others agree. But, with that being said, it’s almost impossible to turn on the radio without hearing Drake, as well as Future. Kendrick’s latest sound in “To Pimp A Butterfly,” came out extremely unique, not being what you’d typically hear on most stations. These artists, and a couple others, claimed 2015 as their own. Although lists like these are solely from one person’s opinion, I stand my ground on the idea that it’s a list most real hip-hop fans will enjoy!
10. “Jumpman” – Drake, Future
Maybe it made top ten because it recently came out and it’s still fresh to me, but maybe it didn’t. Either way, if you haven’t heard the recent collab album of this dynamic duo titled “What A Time To be Alive,” you clearly aren’t alive. I know I mentioned above that I’m not really a fan of Drake, but it’s undeniable that the projects he has released this year are incredible. He and Future have two of the best work ethics in the game, resulting in non-stop creation of great music. This song in particular is easily one of the best songs of the year. The beat is refreshing, and of course the flow by both artists is perfectly executed on this track.
9. “U Mad” – Vic Mensa, Kanye West
Little is to be known about Vic Mensa for the time being. A young kid from Chicago, he emerged just a couple years ago and has only released a handful of singles. But, without question, his talent is incredible, and his contract with ROC Nation can only predict an amazing debut album. Produced by Charlie Heat, Kanye West and Mike Dean, the track’s lyrics pretty explicitly reveal that it’s about an ex-girlfriend of Mensa’s. On one of my favorite beats of the year, Kanye proves that although he’s focused on fashion, he can still deliver flames at any time he’s called to it.
8. “Blessings” – Big Sean, Drake, Kanye West
This pick will come as no surprise to anyone. One of the hottest songs of the year, it really set the tone for the entire summer. Produced by Boi-1da (a personal favorite of mine) and Vinylz, you had to be living under a rock to not hear this track because it was played everywhere. Even though most disagree, I think Big Sean has the best verse on this song. I might be biased because he’s a Detroit native like myself, but you still can’t deny that his flow is insane and skillful. Don’t get me wrong, Drake and Kanye bring it-I even believe they are both overall better artists-but this track goes to Sean.
7. “Energy” – Drake
I know, I know. He’s everywhere, but 2015 was unarguably Drake’s year and I have nothing but respect for his hustle. If you’re a fan of these types of beats, then this was definitely a beat that was stuck in your head for weeks after you first heard it. Not only that, but Drake has been known to have great skill with the pen. Even though the whole summer was consumed with the Drake vs Meek Mill beef over Drake’s ghost-written verse for “R.I.C.O,” his lyricism skills were confirmed years ago. Clearly a song written and directed towards his haters, he can do nothing but smile and make his millions while y’all are watching from the side.
Despite focusing much of his attention on his latest deal with Adidas and his Yeezy Season fashion line, ‘Ye still managed to make a huge impact this year without releasing an album. It’s no surprise to us that if Kanye isn’t releasing music of his own, he’s often times behind the scenes producing for other artists. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case this year. Teasing us with his seventh solo album Swish, he drops this pearl on us only for the reason that he could. Ever since “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” it seems like Kanye really elevated his flow. His latest album, “Yeezus,” featured multiple tracks where he really spit hard and meaningful verses. Although this track isn’t exactly meaningful, his elevated talent cannot go unnoticed. The beat is mind-melting, matching the intensity of all artists at the top. When Kanye is rapping his verses, it’s almost as if he’s not even taking a breath-it’s just straight bars.
5. “King Kunta” – Kendrick Lamar
“To Pimp a Butterfly” was arguably the best album of 2015. This particular track personally being the second best, only topped by “_,” Kendrick flourishes in his attempt to bring back a sound from the past. His latest achievement, with the help of Dr. Dre, was creating a melodic, rich, west coast vibe mixed with lyricism that questions, and often attacks, the US’ evident racism. Inspired by the life of Kunta Kinte from the novel (and its adapted TV miniseries) “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” the track calls to when Kinte gets his right foot cut off due to an attempt to escape the plantation. Kendricks’ tenderness with the culture erupts from a past inflicted with racism and prejudice-making him one of the most influential voices in all of hip-hop.
4. “C.N.B.” – Vince Staples
Vince Staples’ debut album “Summertime ‘06” is my personal choice for best hip-hop album of the year. Vince is a young kid hailing from the ghetto of Long Beach, California, and he has quite an interesting story. After years of gang-related activities, Vince decides enough is enough and acknowledges the desperate need for a positive change that’s later explained throughout the album. His story, mixed with the talents of executive producer No I.D. and collaborations with many other top producers, creates a masterpiece. The album consists of two sides, making it 20 songs in total. However, it’s only an hour long so we know by the end that Vince still has a lot more to say. A marathon within a sprint, if you will. This is one of my favorite songs off an album I deemed the best of the year. The track not only has amazing production and lyricism by Vince, but the message is very meaningful. This track speaks to a struggling black community and the continued destruction of black culture.
3. “Antidote” – Travis Scott
This track is one of the best I’ve heard all year, definitely earning its spot on the list. It’s simple, yet the hook and overall flow seem very hypnotizing and complex. Travi$ is heavily influenced by the style of “808’s” Kanye on this one, and this legitimately sounds like a perfect blend between that and Wiz Khalifa. Originally, “Antidote” wasn’t supposed to be on the album; so Travi$ released it on Soundcloud for his “true fans.” After it developed incredible popularity, he ultimately decided to add it to the album. This was my summer banger and has been solidified as a success.
Like I mentioned above, “Summertime ‘06” was brilliant. So, of course there would be another one of its songs on this list. This track is easily the most underrated one of the summer, and it just so happens to be one of the best of the year. Vince really brings it on the first released single for his debut album, but what makes it even better is Future’s role on the hook and what producer Christian Rich brings to the table. The lyricism by Vince as he explains life in the ghetto and his personal experience with gang violence is eye opening. This is one of the main themes of the entire album and Vince really brings alive an important story and message in a sound that’s refreshing, yet cold and bitter.
The strongest message of 2015: Black Lives Matter. Kendrick is essentially the voice of hip-hop and the lower-class black communities. Coming from the ghetto himself, Kendrick definitely has a soft spot for those being mistreated by not only their white peers, but their own government. The best part of the song is his use of the same line to begin every verse: “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015.” That’s a very strong analyzation. Kendrick is using the point of view of an African-American being angered by the destruction of black lives. The reason for the hypocrisy is simple: how can you be angered by white on black violence, then turn around and be violent within your own community? Kendrick goes on to admit that the overall plot is bigger than him, due to things such as generational hatred. You can start to see the pattern that Kendrick uses throughout his entire album and why he has become a strong role model in the process. His outspoken opinions on the touchy subject are definitely a factor for movements seen happening around the United States as he strives to create a better future for the many generations to come.