My ability to listen to, much less write about, hip-hop was severely diminished in 2015. Work and family left with almost no time to myself. I stopped watching TV and playing video games, and didn’t listen to much besides jazz and the Frozen soundtrack (which I now know by heart, thanks to my daughter’s insistence on hearing in 5 times a day).
Having no time to listen to music actually made me appreciate the music I listened to even more. It has become a lifeline to a world outside of my office and house. On the rare occasions when I had the house to myself, I’d blast “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which is the album I listened to the most this year. I’d play “Ego Death” while I was hanging out with my family, hoping my daughter didn’t pick up on the swear words. I’d sneak in “Imani, Vol. 1” until my daughter requested we listen to REAL music, like Dora the Explorer.
I completely gave up trying to keep up with what was new and hot, so there is a lot on here that was probably great that I didn’t even listen to. The only albums intentionally left off were ones by Drake and Future, who I have never built up a tolerance for, and Dr. Dre’s “Compton.” There are some good songs on “Compton,” but for the most part it felt to me like a half-assed exercise in nostalgia, and I wasn’t feeling it.
So here are my favorite albums of 2015
Lizzo, “Big Grrrl Small World,”
Freddie Gibbs, “Shadow of A Doubt”
Pusha T, “King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude”
These all came out too late in the year for me to spend enough time with them to call them my favorite.
Favorite albums of 2015:
10. A$AP Rocky, “At.Long.Last.A$AP”
9. Cavanaugh, “Time and Materials”
8. Earl Sweatshirt, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”
7. Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD, “Sour Soul”
6. Oddisee, “The Good Fight”
5. Blackalicious, “Imani, Vol. 1”
4. Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”
3. The Internet, “Ego Death”
2. Vince Staples, “Summertime ‘06”
1. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp A Butterfly”
I realize that TPAB is at the top of every single critic’s best-of list. As much as I don’t want to go along with trends, there was no other album that spoke to me as much as this one in 2015, and no other album that I listened to half as much. It’s dense musically, lyrically, conceptually. Kendrick is dealing with reconciling his religious and spiritual beliefs with his fame and with the state of the world and his community. He’s referencing jazz, African music, electronic music, funk and rock and creating an amazing sonic journey. I’ve listened to “King Kunta” several times a week since March, and the video for “Alright’ is one of the best videos I’ve seen in years. He’s making art that matters, but that also moves your ass and speaks to people.