Finally. As I belatedly promised on my last post, I wanted to share my top five albums of 2015. It was a solid year, with a range of quality listens from Grande Marshall to Omen. Did I fail to include some amazing mainstream gems, including To Pimp A Butterfly? Absolutely. However, my year-end round-up aims to include hip-hop music that often falls under the radar and rarely makes it on the mainstream music sites. For that, these albums may not have crossed your desk but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of your eardrums. Some of these will cost you the effort of opening your wallet while others are free downloads. However, I assure you that even the paid albums are worth your hard-earned beer money and will not disappoint. Moving forward, April showers will bring hip-hop flowers. Get it.
“The Good Fight”
The Brooklyn via D.C. producer and emcee Oddisee has consistently crafted quality, conscious hip-hop music. In the spirit of transparency, Oddisee is the primary reason I started this blog specifically after he dropped his 2012 album People Hear What They See. After countless spins, it’s invariably entered into the realm of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time. That album plunged me back into searching out quality, underground hip-hop. On The Good Fight, Oddisee goes back to the basics and continues to distinguish his spot in the game by embracing the power of love and the creative process of making hip-hop music. The holistic quality and richness of Oddisee’s music lends itself to incredible replay value, and often will leave you scratching your head in intellectual exhaustion. Standout tracks include “Belong To The World”, “That’s Love” and “Contradiction’s Maze”. Show your support and cop it below.
“My Brother’s Keeper”
My Brother’s Keeper, GrandeMarshall’s debut release on Fool’s Gold Records, finds GrandeMarshall even more laid back and cooly confident than he was on his original mixtape, casually riding over beats and repping North Philly harder than ever. The lead single, “PullUp’s Theme”, captures the spirit of his self-assuredness as he belts out “Don’t sit with me if you can’t stand up/This shit reserved for the family/You aint gon get it with yo hand out/We put in work and made it happen.” As the album title suggests, GrandeMarshall understands that beyond the confines of his homies, his family, his neighbors, that he’s also the keeper of his hood of North Philly, and Philly in general. We all come from somewhere and although he may not constantly shout out the 215, you can feel his energy and pride as he rhymes over fourteen stellar tracks. This album has been stayed present in my iTunes feed for nearly five months now, and has certainly earned its place in the best of 2015. And be sure to check out the dope video for “PullUp’s Theme” on YouTube.
Omen’s Elephant Eyes, released this past summer, damn near blew up the hip-hop blogosphere and plunged me into some digital digging. Omen resides on J. Cole’s Dreamville label, which as many know, is a quintessential hip-hop factory that includes the likes of Baz and Cozz. Although I initially missed the Omen train, I quickly played catch-up to recognize that the Chicago emcee/producer has quite the canon of music. Omen blends beautiful lyrics and beats together seamlessly, delivering a unique message on each track; or as a friend put it eloquently: “each song has a theme! I love it!” Elephant Eyes explores issues from fatherhood to love, reflecting on his time in the limelight and his Chicago community. There’s a humility and honesty to Omen that feels familiar, and the project has clearly received the J. Cole polish, sounding remarkably well-put together. Nearly 9 months after I initially downloaded it, the album continues to be a worthwhile listen that hasn’t sailed off into the sunset of hip-hop memory. It marries both creativity with refinement and earned its spot in the top five albums of the year. Note: The album is nowhere to be found on iTunes, so I’ve included a dubious link below. Hope it works!
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Donnie Trumpet has been a long time friend of Chance the Rapper, and from the background, has fueled some of the more musically impressive tracks from the Chicago native. The free album from Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment is one of the most versatile and musically profound projects to have dropped in 2015. Like any good vacation or escape from the the day-to-day, the album strives to provide an adventure into musical joy and honesty, that at its heart, embraces Chance’s larger community of supporters & friends. Building off of Acid Rap, he stretches his vocal chords substantially, pushing the boundaries of his rap to touch something deeper inside himself. The project also happens to feature major guest spots from the likes of Busta Rhymes, J. Cole and others. Despite the powerhouse backing, the Social Experiment never falls into commercial predictability. For the most part, it stays true to its jazzy, funky and R&B sounds, distributing the talent across the member artists. At the end of the day, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment only seem to concern themselves with making uplifting, honest and alternative music that deviates from the mainstream. No matter the weather, this album is totally fun to jam to and seems to be a natural mood elevator.
“BeFor Our Time”
Jay Prince is an East London producer and spitter that came across my radar via SoundCloud and works heavily with Soulection. After the beginning of last year, I stumbled across his popular track “Polaroids” which harks back to the soulful choruses of old-school Outkast while still delivering, a bouncy, roller coaster ride of a flow that waxes nostalgic on his struggles coming up. There’s a lot of nostalgia on this project, both with production and content, the former being reminiscent of the early 90s, while the latter conveying his challenges growing up in poverty while trying to blow-up in a big way. Since the release of the album, I can attest that Jay Prince has made countless cameos on tracks and solidified his status as one of the most influential rappers from across the pond. His November release Beautiful Mercy builds off of the creative energy of BeFor Our Time and leaves me salivating for future releases from the London artist. BeFor Our Time continues to find its place into my weekly listening, and will not disappoint first-timers. Grab the tape below!