20 | Drake
Unsurprisingly, I’m not a huge Drake fan. Maybe back in his “Marvin’s Room” or Take Care days, and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was a great song, but where Drake rises on everyone’s charts in 2015, he’s just gone down for me, from rapper to pop star to dancing in a cube to the Wii Channel Music. As VICE writer Robesman put it perfectly:
“Ever since then he’s mainly just rapped about how dope it is to be Drake. Which I sort of get—every rapper raps about how dope it is to be himself, but when Drake does it, it’s like he’s emphasizing how dope it is to not be you. Which is kind of this shitty psychological warfare waged against everyone who isn’t Drake. I already can’t afford to get my car washed; I don’t need Drake telling me every 30 seconds that he’s going to steal my girlfriend. He used to be the greatest rapper in the world because he was relatable, but now he’s just sort of a dick.”
19 | Kanye West
“When’s Kanye West going to drop SWISH?” is probably one of the highest searched questions in rap for 2015. We haven’t really heard that much rap from Kanye this year, as he works on his fashion lines and sneaker releases, but what we did get was a seemingly finished “All Day,” some more productions credits, a promise of Pusha T’s next project, and an album title change from So Help Me God, a name he forgot in an interview later, to SWISH. We also got a lot of Kanye singing on tracks like “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds.” Plus, as dumb and ridiculous as it might be, his verse on “Jukebox Joints” was straight hilarious. Here’s to hoping we see SWISH and a return to rap Kanye in 2016.
18 | Action Bronson
Action Bronson’s a tough pick, because he’s got the voice of a rapper, like a white Ghostface Killah, like a whole white Wu-Tang Clan, but his material is just so odd. There’s also a weird novelty to him, especially with things like his “Fuck That’s Delicious” food blogging outlet, or obsession with food-based lyrics in general. Bronson has the talent, it just hasn’t shown as brightly through or created a giant impact in his followers since Mr. Wonderful was released in March. If Bronson can learn to balance his storytelling with his want for humor, maybe the next release will be what I’ve been waiting to see come from him, because he has the potential.
17 | Lil Dicky
A scrawny, Jewish, white guy from Philly in his twenties, adding “rapper” to his description, you could say I found some similarities. His approach is humor, a kind of awkward humor, like anxious situations type comedic rap. When Snoop Dogg asks him why he wants to be a rapper, since he hadn’t had the harsh life or upbringing as most rappers have had, Dicky responds: “Oh my god, it’s the best / Bitches let me draw up on their breasts / Literally I can reinvent myself / I get a forum to project myself / It’s never boring, every morning I wake up and try to best myself / I never got to be suppressed or stealthy to express myself / It’s kinda healthy.” And, “I love to rap, it’s fun and kind of therapeutic for me,” is an awesome response. “I wanna do this whole thing different,” he explains, and I think, with time, he can.
16 | Audio Push
Oktane and Price, the rap/R&B duo signed to Hit-Boy’s HS87 label under Interscope as Audio Push, rose seemingly from out of nowhere in 2013 with their release of Come As You Are, an ambitious and classically West Coast produced game pauser of a mixtape. Sure, The Good Vibe Tribe is no Come As You Are, but Audio Push are still just having their young fun, with no “official release” announced yet. One of my favorite things about Audio Push is their ability to fuse rap & R&B so seamlessly. Besides the genius of Hit-Boy, who seems to never do wrong, with his classic horns and portamento’d synths, Audio Push match his production with their incredible flow control, song entrances, and amazingly catchy hooks. I still stand completely behind how huge Audio Push could be.
15 | Vince Staples
Breaking away from being known as an Odd Future featured guest, twenty two year-old Vince Staples, from Long Beach, California, tapped into his dark and anger filled lyricism, to produce what I’d call “Music for Sub-woofers” on 2015’s Summertime ’06. Young and ambitious, Vince is another hopeful to release their big debut in 2015 and leave me pleased, but not yet sold. Staples’ confidence and determinism set him apart from the rest: it’s that Odd Future mentality; the young hit-makers, the go-getters.
14 | Mac Miller
Being a white rapper is tough, there’s a lot to prove. Eminem and the Beastie Boys might have broke their way in, but it’s even a struggle to succeed as a white rapper today in 2015. Despite this being Mac Miller’s 3rd record, “Who is Mac Miller?” is still a question heard round fairly often, especially in the rare instance when Mac Miller is mentioned in conversation that isn’t just, “oh look, Mac Miller has a new record.” Mac’s a decent rapper with good flow control, emphasized on “Brand Name,” and wit along the lines of artists like Lil Dicky. His production team for GO:OD AM, ID Labs, is insanely talented on this record, and I can honestly see him doing something real big sometime soon.
13 | Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt might just be the greatest rapper to come out of the Odd Future family. Besides the violence and blatant homophobia, EARL, his first mixtape, was an insane debut, and one of the best. After turning 18 and returning from the boarding school his mom sent him to after hearing the mixtape, Sweatshirt returned with Doris, a more personal telling, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile (his real name)-type album. Released around the same time as To Pimp A Butterfly, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, his 3rd record, at the time received harsh reviews, even from me, and it was just poor timing. Earl may sound a bit non-emotive or too ethereal, stuck spinning into the cracks of his own mind, but his flow is unbelievable for someone his age.
12 | Rapsody
Rapsody was the one who killed the end of “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s pretty much that amazing verse alone that’s landed her here at the 12 spot; 2015’s version of Nicki Minaj on “Monster”. Other than wanting to hear more and excited for the future debut album, which we all know has to be coming, that verse on “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” was just fantastic.
11 | Talib Kweli
Fuck the Money, though self-explanatory in title, isn’t just about Talib Kweli rejecting the idea of rap as simply a path towards money and fame, but also explores the corruption in the rap game, and the changing ideologies towards hip-hop music. “You will need to find your passion,” speaks Randy Pausch on the intro track, “but you will not find it in things, you will not find that passion in money.” Released for free even, Fuck the Money not only contains great lyricism, but a great ideology on how rap and rappers have been conceiving the art, and the message is fantastic to hear from someone who is so respected in the rap world as Talib.
10 | Ludacris
Luda dropped one of the hottest rap albums of the year. It might not be the most inventive or original records to come out recently, but if there’s anything impressive and noteworthy about Ludaversal, it’s that Ludacris is, and has always been, a textbook for southern double-time flow. The intro to Ludaversal hits and it’s like, damn, Ludacris, I’m sorry we ever doubted you. While some have joked and panned him, like Kevin Hart at the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Beiber, saying that he was, “one of the most successful rappers of 2001,” or that he’s too much of a rap traditionalist, 5-years since his last release, Ludaversal isn’t anything if not a well deserved slap back.
09 | Oddisee
Why haven’t more people heard of Oddisee? After some research into who Oddisee is, and after listening to the record, I truly do believe more people should know who he is. He’s a clean rapper, for one, and he’s got great control. The point is I guess, that I can preach here about how I liked the record, and how I think Oddisee should be more well known, and maybe that’ll work a bit if you check out the record after reading this, but it really comes down to Oddisee’s marketing and advertising. I’m just saying that I really enjoyed The Good Fight and he, at the very least, deserves more recognition then he’s been given.
08 | Freddie Gibbs
Freddie Gibbs has been around longer than one might think, since his 2014 album with Madlib, Pinata, was what really brought him out into the mainstream. Releasing two projects this year, Pronto EP & Shadow of a Doubt, Freddie Gibbs looked to make 2015 something big for the name. Where songwriting might not have been his greatest strength, on these two 2015 projects Freddie Gibbs really showed his strength as an MC, especially on Pronto and “Extradite (feat. Black Thought)” off of Shadow of a Doubt. Gibbs has fantastic control and interesting flow, making east-coast gangsta rap a force to be reckon with.
07 | Czarface
Czarface, the Brooklyn rap trio of Inspectah Deck (of the Wu-Tang Clan), 7L & Esoteric, formed along the method’s of MF Doom’s Operation Doomsday, Mm.. Food, & Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, to make comic character sampled, boom-bap produced, hip-hop. “The whole Czarface thing was supposed to be a hero to save Hip Hop,” said Inspectah Deck, “I really don’t think there were a lot of goals or things like that. For me right now, it’s taking off better than anticipated because I guess I underestimated the people’s need to hear something worth listening to.” Groups like these make rap seem easy, and most importantly, fun.
06 | Joey Bada$$
Jo-Vaughn Scott, a.k.a. Joey Bada$$, a young, now 20-year old Brooklyn rapper has been both praised and written off for rapping over old beats by MF Doom & J Dilla. He’s conservative where young artists are expected to challenge tradition, but, over time, the newcomer with the unsightly name has turned out to be less of a nuisance and more of a serious prospect. He’s still young though, and his “holier than thou, Christ conscious,” bit is hopefully not an actual representation of his attitude. Whether you’re a fan of his vintage-yet-new style or no, he won’t be just another fleeting MC.
05 | Ghostface Killah
Who else slides down in their seat and sighs one of those good sighs of relief/relaxation when they hear Ghostface Killah on the mic? It can’t only be me. He has one of those voices that was made for rapping. Wu-Tang might have made their come-back by having every member release a solo project that year, but where others failed or showed their age, Ghostface Killah succeeded. Releasing an album with Toronto-jazz outfit BadBadNotGood & the follow-up to Twelve Reasons to Die, Ghostface Killah has had a busy year. As Josh Kennedy of Billboard put it, “age can wear you down, but Ghost remains as strong as ever.” Reason enough to face the prospect of Ghostface in second gear.
04 | The Game
Sure, The Game still name drops a hell of a lot, sometimes sounds like he’s learning new flows on the fly, or relies heavily on where he’s from and his Blood affiliation, but to me. The Documentary 2 did something that The Game albums haven’t done in a very long time – surprise me. For one, he double times on “On Me,” something I never thought I’d hear The Game do well. Though it might be a “old-school, cash-flush, crowd-pleasing, too-big-to-fail hip-hop album,” as Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen put it, The Game surprised me by making an album I could fully enjoy for once, and a record that actually lived up to its name. The Documentary 2 sounds great right off the bat by having us remember “what The Game is good at: making West Coast gangsta-rap records.”
03 | Chance the Rapper
Although 2015 might have been The Social Experiment’s year and not Chance himself, he still held a huge presence on the record, on social media, and on where his Acid Rap follow up was. I think it’s safe to say that Surf was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Besides his Surf contributions for Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Chance also got around to a couple of features, most notably, on “Baby Blue” by Action Bronson, where he delivered one of my most favorite verses to come out of him, where his humor and relatable sincerity come out in the best light. Chance is fun because he’s so genuine, he purely just enjoys making music, and he’s charismatic and charming as hell.
02 | Lupe Fiasco
“I’m not as relevant as I was before,” Lupe says, “I think I had my peak and now I am coming down in relevancy. It’s not a sad thing for me. I don’t want to be the go-to guy for the club song or to speak on all the dumb shit that’s going around. I’m happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention. There is a new generation speaking to a new generation… I can’t compete with a Wiz Khalifa for the attention of a 12-year old.”
Although it’s somewhat humbling, it still takes nothing away from the power, talent, awe, and performance Lupe Fiasco still commands in 2015. Known for being one of the best socially conscious rappers inventively and lyrically, Lupe isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels. Lupe said in an interview earlier this year, and what inspired Tetsuo & Youth, was a moment when two teachers came up to him and said, “We are grading essays about your music and teaching you in our class,” and Lupe thought, “Oh maybe I do have a little more fight, a little more gas in the engine.”
01 | Kendrick Lamar – 2015 Rapper of the Year
“King Kendrick and I meant it,” how could he not be on top? Kendrick Lamar did the impossible in 2015: follow-up Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. It wasn’t gonna be good, everyone said, how could he do it again? Kendrick Lamar took a left turn by teaming with bassist/producer Thundercat and made one of the greatest rap albums ever.”It’s thought-provoking — and I miss that in music,” said frequent collaborator, Bilal.
Equal parts black pride and self discovery, To Pimp A Butterfly was incredibly powerful and honestly, important. Kendrick puts meaning to his music, and his incredible mind for flow and intensity is always surprising and yet refreshing at the same time. I have no idea where he’ll go next, but what I do know is that I sure as hell won’t ever doubt him again.