The year 2015 was one of the most memorable years in hip-hop, from Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly early in the year to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late from Drake. Both of these artists took hold of the hip-hop world and never let go. You also had the return of Dr. Dre after years of speculation whether he’d even release another album. Even though it wasn’t Detox, Compton was welcomed by the hip hop community and it received great reviews from tough critics, such as Pitchfork who gave it an 8.8. The year ended with the revitalization of DJ Khaled, whose annoying DJ drops are now a thing of the past as he’s welcomed us all to join him on the journey towards success. Meme culture flourished as well, with examples ranging from Drake’s dancing in the “Hotline Bling” music video to DJ Khaled’s “Another One,” it was quite a time to be alive.
Hip-hop has also never been so diverse with themes ranging from introspection, grief, depression, social commentary, and your usual music to turn up to. However, the spotlight was mostly on themes revolving the social unrest occurring in the United States and Kendrick Lamar’s efforts stood out the most.
As for 2016, I am looking forward to hearing any new music from TDE artists that include ScHoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad. After releasing Darkest Before Dawn to rave reviews, Pusha T season is in full effect and King Push is on my radar. It would also be great if his labelmate Kanye West would drop SWISH.
But, their year wasn’t as huge as Tyler, the Creator’s. As a fan of the seemingly now defunct Odd Future group, Tyler has grown over the past five years. His music improved, he’s got a clothing line and an annual carnival going for him. Since 2012, Tyler has thrown an annual carnival in Los Angeles. Camp Flog Gnaw has tons of carnival rides and games which are all fun but the real excitement happens when you get to see artists perform while you’re on a ferris wheel. Not too shabby for a 24-year-old.
So as we roll into 2016, here’s a look back on last year’s best in hip-hop. Nominees were chosen based on their popularity, influence, and acclaim.
Album of the Year
Cherry Bomb – Tyler, the Creator
At.Long.Last.ASAP – A$AP Rocky
Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
Winner: To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Without a doubt, To Pimp a Butterfly is the best album of the year. Not only does it sound amazing, encompassing genres from funk to jazz to neo-soul, but Lamar also has a powerful message. 2015 was no stranger to controversy, from repeated police shootings to the spike in racial tensions nationwide. In his single, “The Blacker the Berry,” Lamar adopts an aggravated tone, demanding listeners’ attention. He then flips things around with “u” and “i”, introspective takes alternating from the darker to lighter sides of his own life.
The song that stood out the most from TPAB is “Alright.” With Pharrell on the boards and hook, Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy nominated single became the anthem to the civil unrest spilling across streets throughout the country. “Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright,” comes the refrain. And the masses sure did hear him, drawing comfort even amid the litany of injustices. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Tupac himself made a cameo on the album in 2015? That was pretty amazing!
Winner: Alright – Kendrick Lamar
See You Again – Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth
Hotline Bling – Drake
Antidote – Travi$ Scott
I vividly remember the moment I first heard “Alright.” It was on a Sunday night, and my midterms were driving me insane. As I was studying, I caught a stream of the new Kendrick Lamar album and was instantly captivated. (I dare anyone to say they can’t groove to “King Kunta.”) Anyways, after “u,” which I would call a pretty emotional track, Alright came on, and wow did it make me feel empowered. Kendrick’s first lines hit me so deep I got goosebumps. I was struggling to memorize equations, but I was going to be alright. Pharrell constantly let me know I was going to be alright. Then you have Kendrick firing off bar after bar like a machine gun. Once I finished listening to the song, I had to give it another go just to hear the lyrics one more time. Geraldo Rivera got it all wrong. Months after the album’s release, he had the audacity to say “Alright” caused young black people to hate law enforcement. In reality, the song is about hope. Even as injustices occur, with time, unity, and empathy, everything will (hopefully) be all right.
Alright – Kendrick Lamar
Señorita – Vince Staples
Winner: Hotline Bling – Drake
Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k) – Run the Jewels
Canadian born rapper Drake had one of the best years of his career with the release of his mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, followed by another mixtape, this one a collaboration with Future, What a Time to Be Alive. Not surprisingly his videos are pretty popular, and “Hotline Bling” epitomizes 2015 meme culture. Drake must’ve known that his awkward dancing would blow up the Internet as it did. The video saw some of the unlikeliest of folks doing parodies. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made an appearance dancing in an SNL sketch to the bewilderment of … well, everyone really. I’m not a fan of Drake, but I appreciate Director X’s touch in avoiding what would otherwise have been the clichéd longing for an ex video. Just dance it off, even if it’s awkward.
Winner: Tyler, the Creator
Music wise, all the other guys I nominated top Tyler, the Creator but in spite of that, he had a much stronger year in 2015 even while remaining under the radar. Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s fourth and most ambitious album to date didn’t disappoint. It’s pretty obvious he’s highly influenced by N.E.R.D, with the opening song, “Deathcamp” reminiscent of 2001’s “Lapdance.” Cherry Bomb infuses soul, R&B and rock with some jazzy chords. “Smuckers” brings Kanye West and Lil Wayne back to their prime, and boy is it fun. Along with the album, Tyler went on a successful tour with A$AP Rocky that culminated in the annual Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival at the LA Coliseum. This year, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound headlined the main stage with the likes of Flying Lotus, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky and more, bringing out a crowd of nearly 30,000 – their largest turn out – all thanks to Tyler’s singular ambition. He also released the app Golf Media, which consists of creative content curated by Tyler, including several original series, live streaming, a 24-hour radio show in which T selects every single song that is played, tour info, photos, and his Golf Wang clothing store. He’s also immortalized in a video game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, even though the game is atrocious. And, as if that wasn’t enough, he’s involved in fashion now. VOGUE ran a Q&A with Tyler that highlighted his newest clothing line along with the process of actually creating those pieces. That’s quite a successful year if you ask me.