Our mind's all set on 2016: It’s going to be a big year for us, for herb appreciators in California and across the world, and after an amazing 2015, surely for the worlds of music, film, and sports. But here’s a run-down of how we feel about last year, what we learned, and our favorite things. In true stoner fashion, we’re a tad late from the wave of year-end lists coming out, but with all that happened last year, it’s key that we share what we discovered and hope that anyone reading can benefit from it. If you're reading it here and you haven’t heard of it, you’re missing out and you should Google it at your earliest convenience. You’re welcome, enjoy. Just to generally preface the subsequent opinions, please remember that they are that and nothing more; we don’t mean to necessarily put the law down on the best things that happened in music, film, and sports, but rather share some of our favorite pieces and moments.
To further preface this article, let it be known that we’re big hip hop heads. For music we’re going dissect the art down to a few different categories: Projects, Top Artists, Next Big Things, and Comeback Kids.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
On this one I was glad to see Kendrick pull a “Kanye” and give the metaphorical middle finger popular cultures expectations. In its essence, this album shows Kendrick as a modern day civil rights icon. The jazzy and soulful production coupled with his masterful and provocative lyrics encapsulate the turbulence in our country when it comes to race relations. Even beyond the political element, the album had a great cohesive vibe and included some amazing features from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Rapsody, James Fauntelroy, Thundercat, and even the legendary George Clinton! The juxtaposition between the songs “u” and “i” was also incredible, especially after the intro of “u” transitions into a second half drop where Kendrick spits some masterfully crafted alcohol influenced and slurred bars that paint a picture for us of what is going on in Kendrick’s head. “To Pimp A Butterfly” is firmly planted at my number one spot.
2. Tetsuo & Youth by Lupe Fiasco
A return to prominence for Lupe in an album where each song is impossible to skip. Not only was the production miles better than his previous album, but his verses and subject matter reminded me of a time where I was glad to call Lupe one of my favorite artists. I absolutely loved this album and even contemplated putting it at the number one spot. I mean if the 8 minute onslaught of lyrical fitness in “Mural” isn’t enough to put it in perspective for you, “Little Death” featuring Nikki Jean, “Deliver”, the list goes on and on. Lupe really conjured up something legendary on this album. And the seasonal progression which he uses through “Summer”, “Fall”, “Winter”, and “Spring”? Amazing. I really have no criticisms other than where was this Lupe for the past couple of years?!?
3. DS2 by Future
First and foremost, kudos to Future for absolutely owning 2015 with his musical excellence. I just could not leave out DS2 from the top 3. I cannot even begin to say enough about how much I love this album. From beginning to end each song is creates the perfect blend of production and lyrics that really encapsulates Future’s codeine haze of a delivery. The fact that this album only had one feature made it even more impressive to me. It was great to see the familiar faces of Metro Boomin and Zaytovin on the majority of the production. With each listen I have to say that I re-discover the brilliance of each track, especially in “Blow a Bag”, “Colossal”, and “Blood on the Money”. Future is the embodiment of modern day “Gangster rap”, or trap music, and deservedly so.
3. Ego Death by The Internet
Another one of those projects that I have to thank Sunny for pointing out to me. Ego Death was another shorter but sweet album that had the entire spectrum of artists on it, from Vic Mensa and Janelle Monae to James Fauntelroy, KAYTRANADA, and of course Tyler the Creator. The whole vibe of the album was very wavy, jazzy, and funky which I really enjoyed, especially the angelic voice of Syd tha Kyd that fit the vibe of album perfectly. I just had to include this in the top 5 for the year. “Under Control” is one of my favorite tracks … from the production, to the singing and lyrics, everything came together. The track with Vic Mensa “Go With It” was also another one of my favorites. The Internet has definitely gained a new fan.
5. Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Phony PPL
I’ve always enjoyed Phony PPL, in particular because of the original instrumentation on all their music. In terms of this album, I have not heard a more complete and emotional album in all of 2015. Effortlessly smooth, everything came together on this one. Not only was it a model of consistency and cohesiveness, but it was infinitely groovy and the whole album was equipped with timeless songs. Even the album cover was amazing and perfectly encapsulated the mood and tone of the album. It’s always refreshing to take a trip back to the way music used to, and should still be, with real instruments and real emotion.
6. Sour Soul by BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
In what reminds me of soundtrack of 70’s movie like that of a “Superfly”, BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface, along with cameos from artists like Danny Brown and Slum Village’s Elzhi, deliver a flawless 12 song project that is easy to vibe to. Each beat did a great job of showcasing Ghostface’s timeless flow and lyrical prowess along with the musical groups amazing instrumental ability.
7. Wave[s] by Mick Jenkins
One of my favorite up-and-coming artists, Mick Jenkins, takes us on quite the ride in his short but sweet new project Wave[s]. His range on this album and just as an artist in general are crazy, like he starts the album off with “Alchemy” which just has the hardest head knocking beat along with some crazy bars and an epic flow and delivery and then switches up half-way to an almost “Hold On, We’re Going Home” Drake vibe with the song “Your Love.” Dare I say that he can rise to the ranks of a Kanye in the future? Stay Tuned.
8. But You Caint Use My Phone by Erykah Badu
Boy do I love miss Badu, she always gives us something to vibe to. Right off the bat she grooves to a soulful beat that utilizes the "busy tone" from a phone add an interesting touch. A very unique tape, I really appreciated the whole tone and mood that Erykah expressed on the tracks, and of course through the wild and colorful cover art. In particular I really loved her cover of Drake’s smash hit “Hotling Bling” and I also loved the Afrika Bambata “Planet Rock” feel on the track “Dial’Afreaq”. I usually don't enjoy covers of songs more than the original... but "Cel U Lar Device" might be the one exception (Badu's cover of "Hotline Bling"). Badu definitely made me put my "phone down" for this one. Oh, and lets not forget to mention that this tape/album also features the likes of the legendary Andre 3000 (on the song "Hello").
9. B4.DA.$$ by Joey Bada$$
Let me start off by saying I think that this was one of the most underrated albums of the year. It was kind of unfair to Joey because I feel like this album, more than any other on the list, had insurmountable expectations especially because it was Joey’s first album. After 1999 reasonable expectations for Joey really ended. That mixtape was a masterpiece, a premier Picasso piece of art. With all that being said, after each listen I have liked the album more and more. Joey really had a song for everyone while also not leaving the hip-hop heads disappointed by showcasing his other-worldly flow and wordplay on tracks like “Paper Trails”, “Big Dusty”, and “Hazeus View”, just to name a few. It’s a shame that “Run Up On Ya” featuring Elle Varner and the always entertaining Action Bronson was only a bonus track, because I feel like that may have been my favorite song… but it is what it is, and the album was still great, all props to Joey on a job well done.
10. Documentary 2 (+ Documentary 2.5) by The Game
I don't know about you, but anytime I hear about an upcoming sequel to a truly classic and legendary album I get nervous…There’s nothing worse than failing to live up the expectations of the hype surrounding the newest installment. However, Game, in his usual fashion, said fuck it and totally ripped the album. “On Me” with Kendrick had to be my favorite song on the album besides that track “Mula” with Kanye (not to take away from the rest of the album that I thought from track 1 to track 19 was way beyond solid). Game is the only artist I listen to that could have a feature on every track and it not only not take away from his imprint on the album, but also no one will go harder than him on one of HIS tracks. In additional news, even the Documentary 2.5 was equipped with outstanding production and impressive features. Game never has a shortage of quality material for us loyal fans.
11. Suffolk County by Cousin Stizz
“Shoutout” was the song that solidified my interest in Stizz. His debut tape (atleast I think it is… is it?) Suffolk County from top to bottom has to be one of my most listened to projects of the year. “Dirty Bands”, “Fed Up”, “Fresh Prince”, “Jordan Fade”, and not to mention “Shoutout” are favorites for me not only because of Stizz and his flow, but for the quality production as well. I had such a hard time not including this in the top 10… but, I am eagerly awaiting what Stizz is going to give us next.
12. B4FRVR by Two-9
Banger after banger after banger. Two-9 came with the heat on this one and managed to create a project of perfect length for their listeners. Masterful production from the likes of Mike WiLL Made It to Metro Boomin and more, in addition to features from Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign to both members of Rae Sremmurd. All the components came together for an amazing sound. Deservedly in the top 10, this album was way more than exciting, it absolutely knocks, especially with classics like “Full House”, “Never See Me Again”, and “Money Counter”.
13. Pilot Talk III by Curren$y
The Long awaited 3rd installment of Curren$y’s legendary Pilot Talk series finally dropped this year, and man Curren$y is never one to disappoint. No matter where you would place this one on your list of favorite Pilot Talks, no one can deny that the hot spitta came through for his fans with another great project. I love that Curren$y recruited both Jadakiss and Styles P for the album, especially because “Pot Jar” and “Alert” were two of my favorite tracks from the project. Also being from Philly, I loved that he had a beat from Jahlil Beats (“Lemonade Mimosa”), which was also one of my favorite tracks Will Spitta bless us with a Pilot Talk IV in the new year?! I sure hope so.
14. Shadow of a Doubt by Freddie Gibbs
Rapidly becoming one of my favorite artists, Freddie Gibbs a.k.a. Freddie Corleone, a.k.a. Gangsta Gibbs, proved he is one of the hardest MC’s in the game with his 3rd album. How do you follow up an album produced entirely by Madlib (Piñata)?! Well, Freddie Gibbs somehow found a way in his new hard charging album. I was thoroughly surprised and delighted to see that he included Black Thought on the album and it really made for a legendary track in “Extradite”. Additionally, his flow on “Packages” was just out of this world… I will forever have that one on repeat. And being the huge Gucci fan that I am, I really loved “10 times”, and including E-40 on the same song just put the icing on the cake. Give it up to Gangsta Gibbs for continuing with his reputation for consistency.
15. AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP by A$AP Rocky
Following his usual Houston-influenced, chopped and screwed, wavy vibe, A$AP churned out what I believe is his best album yet . He recruited an all-star ensemble cast for this one with the likes of ScHoolboy Q, Kanye West, Juicy J, James Fauntelroy, and Lil Wayne just to name a few. Some of my favorite tracks were "Canal St.", "Excuse Me", "Wavybone", and of course, "M'$" featuring an absolutely timeless verse from Weezy F that really stole the show on the song. This was most definitely his best, and most consistent project since his debut tape.
Summertime 06’ - Vince Staples, Ghetto Beach Boyz - Warm Brew, Free Based Freestyles - Lil B & Chance the Rapper, Good Vibe Tribe - Audio Push, Rodeo - Travi$ Scott, Barter 6 - Young Thug, Beauty Behind the Madness - The Weeknd, Black Market - Rick Ross, Even More Saturday Night Cartoons - Curren$y, It’s Better This Way - Big KRIT, Pronto EP - Freddie Gibbs, Canal Street Confidential - Curren$y, YRN the album - Migos
I wanted to make separate list for albums, EPs and mixtapes, but the lines are so blurred these days I decided not to and just do 15 general full-length music releases. There were so many great projects this year that I wanted to do separate lists to fit more titles in. I can say with complete honesty that I don’t feel the need to skip even a single song on each one of these Top 15 projects; they’re all at least an 8 out of 10 in my mind. That alone should tell you that I think 2015 was a pretty damn good year for hip hop and music in general.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s second major label release is like a sophisticated, open-ended painting. You look at initially and confusedly think “okay… this is cool I guess,” but after staring at it for a while you start to get what it actually is and appreciate it. It’s beautiful on the outside and because it’s something that hasn’t been done before, also a bit foreign and therefore difficult to digest. On the inside it’s dense, emotional, and somewhat cryptic. Once you get past the barriers, however, you see it’s a masterpiece. With this album, Lamar proved he is the most talented emcee in the game with both the pen and microphone. Can anyone but Kendrick Lamar murder a soundscape of free jazz, or anything not in 4/4 for that matter, the way he did on this album? Whether he’s making statements on songs like “King Kunta” and “Hood Politics,” exploring humanity on “Complexion” and “How Much a Dollar Cost,” or getting introspective on “u” and “Mortal Man,” his ability to musically communicate and share stories and ideas is unmatched. The production is also a work of art and fits together throughout the album incredibly well. It’s hard to pick a favorite song because each one is great, but the direction of “Momma” and “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” was just my speed and stood out as tracks I found myself replaying more than other tracks (I’m all about soul).
2. Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Phony Ppl
I think if I had something that kept track of my musical play counts, it would show that this album got the most minutes out of me in 2015. I was a big fan of the Brooklyn band’s releases of Phonyland and nothing Special in 2012, and after hearing Yesterday’s Tomorrow, the wait for a follow-up was definitely worth it. In that time, Phony Ppl clearly matured as musicians and polished their skills as instrumentalists and emcees to create the extremely well-flowing, heavenly-sounding album. This album was far superiorly produced, engineered, and thought-out as a concept, but beyond that, it was the first time the band felt truly in balance with the vocalists. My favorite songs “Why iii Love the Moon,” “Somehow,” and “Baby Meet My Lover” are exhibitors of that.
3. Ego Death by The Internet
I honestly didn’t start listening to the Internet until last year, a few months after Ego Death came out, thanks largely to the suggestion of one of my good friends. I’m so glad I did though. I have yet to get over the vibes on this album to go check out the rest of their discography, so I don’t know much about the Internet aside from their Odd Future affiliations, but this album, from its first second to the last, is pure bliss. Syd’s soothing voice and passionate, uncompromising messages over the jazz-laden soul of her backing band sound so new and refreshing to the ears. From a songwriting perspective, every song flows extremely well, even with four songs clocking in near seven minutes long, and rides a perfect balance of lyrics that will get stuck in your head as much as make you think. And there might not be more of a cohesive project on this list than this one. Unless I’m intently paying attention, I usually can’t even tell when songs are changing over – a great sign.
4. DS2 / 56 Nights / Beast Mode by Future
Yeah I’m really just gonna jumble these three joints together. I’d put Monster in here too if its release date would’ve fell in the calendar year. I largely see 56 Nights, Beast Mode and the former as three different tentacles of the same project. Pretty sure they were recorded around the same time and divvied up from the same pot (as evidenced from cuts like “Trap Niggas,” “Real Sisters,” and “Fuck Up Some Commas” making the cut as bonuses) as DS2. And from a strategic planning point-of-view, they were perfect appetizers for the album that indisputably put him alongside the perennial hip hop heavyweights that transcend their genre into the mainstream. DS2, as much hype and praise it received, is an undeniable compilation of banger after banger. Every song hits extremely hard, thanks much to the executive production of Future’s comrade Metro Boomin and assistance from the cream of the crop of Southern producers Zaytoven, Sonny Digital, and Southside. I won’t spend too much time here as Bradley gave a spot-on detailed review of the album last year, but a few of my favorites on DS2 were “Colossal,” “Groupies,” and “Blow a Bag.” The way Future has created a craze among the mainstream audience is paralleled only by names like Drake, and Kendrick Lamar and this album solidified that.
5. Tetsuo & Youth by Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco is one of my favorite emcees of all-time. I’m a Chicago product, so I’ve connected with his music from the jump, but I was seriously close to writing off any new material until he started releasing music recorded for this album. After and including LASERS, I didn’t really vibe with anything Lupe put out, with the exception of his Friend of the People mixtape and a few songs sprinkled here and there. When I began to hear the music the rapper released leading up to the release of Tetsuo & Youth – which was a pretty drawn out period of time – I gained some hope, but didn’t mind it much thinking, “Okay he’s put out some good stuff just like that in the past, but then he’s going to drop a way too ambitious, sub-par project.” Boy was I wrong. I didn’t think he could match the great bodies of work of Food & Liquor and The Cool, but this definitely did, and even surpassed it in some ways. While the former two will always hold their weight as their own unique fixtures in Lupe’s catalog and hip hop at large, Tetsuo & Youth rightfully solidified its place right next to them. This album is, in my opinion, Lupe’s most well-produced release to date and most certainly his musically best and well thought-out album since 2007’s The Cool. Along with creative structural themes such as seasonal interludes followed by extended 8+ minute cuts, the well put together, future-sounding synth-induced beats the emcee chose made the album feel like a true experience. It felt to me like with this album, Lupe decided to finally stop trying to prove something to the world. He stopped trying to be a hero and realized he’s simply one man that can express himself through art and only affect those that choose to listen. It might just be his most dense piece of work – the amount of bars on this album is something that took me months to unpackage. Even to this day I’m learning more about each song’s meaning and hearing certain lines that passed over me. It was also great seeing some familiar names like Nikki Jean and Guy Sebastian. Tetsuo is such a whole album effort it’s extremely difficult for me to individually pick favorite songs, but ones I find myself playing more than others are probably “Adoration of the Magi,” “Little Death,” “Deliver,” “Dots and Lines,” and “Mural.”
6. But You Caint Use My Phone by Erykah Badu
The return of Ms. Badu began with her creation of a Soundcloud page laced with a seven-minute rendition of Drake’s oft-covered “Hotline Bling.” Along with Donna Missal, Badu’s version of the song of 2015 was, in my opinion, the best I’ve heard. But You Caint Use My Phone as a project is centered around that very song. Aside from making instrumental reprises throughout, it’s also the basis for the clever phone theme that Badu is able to ingeniously pull off. One of the greatest qualities of But You Caint Use My Phone is that it’s a perfect reflection of the personality she’s exuded through her time in front of a camera and social media – fun, quirky, extremely soulful, full of wisdom, old-fashioned, and just straight up bananas. The production, a mix of R&B, hip hop, disco, and trap sounds, shows the Texas influence is strong on this one, but also that Badu can get on any kind of beat and make it her own. My only critique is that she got a bootleg Drake on the records instead of just hitting the man up himself. Come on, Badu, we know you got his number.
7. Sour Soul by Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD
As surprised and satisfied I was when I first heard this collaboration had occurred, it was honestly pretty inevitable when you think about it. The classically trained jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, one of the most exciting and boundary-challenging acts out in music, obviously has a knack for hip hop, and I’m sure after hearing them cover “The World Is Yours” and “Brooklyn Zoo” and among other classic cuts, Ghostface Killah became a fan himself. The backing layer that BBNG provided to Sour Soul created an unparalleled canvas for Tony Starks to paint his stories and deliver wisdom through witty rhymes in only a way Ghost can. A match made in heaven by the hip hop gods, the deep bass and eerie strings and drums sounded right at home along with key guest verses from Danny Brown, Elzhi, MF DOOM, and Tree. If you haven’t heard this album, it stays true to the GFK standard; there’s a lot of mobbing, pimping, and crackheads, but it’s over a sound and in a way you haven’t heard before. And the great thing is that it’s as much of a BADBADNOTGOOD album as it is a Ghostface album.
8. B4.DA.$$ by Joey Bada$$
I originally had mixed feelings about this album, but after listening to it more consistently, I’ve developed an appreciation for it over time. It’s certainly not anything like 1999, which is still to this day my favorite piece of work from Joey Bada$$, and I thought the production wasn’t all around my favorite, but Joey has clearly been continually refining his maturation as an emcee and that growth is on display on B4.DA.$$. Tracks like “Piece of Mind,” “On & On,” and “Curry Chicken” touch the soul while those such as “Big Dusty,” “Hazeus View,” and “Christ Conscious,” all of which are some of my favorites, move the mind. Although there were some weaker songs that didn’t live up to the standard set by those, the emotion exalted and thoughts conveyed on the project as a whole are worthy of making anyone run it back a few times.
9. Coming Home by Leon Bridges
When I first heard Leon Bridges I thought I was listening to Sam Cooke. Bridges seems to effortlessly spew the essence and vibrations of the very beginning of soul recordings on Coming Home, and as a lover of greats of the era like Cooke, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye, I thought it really did those guys justice and was a big fan of this album. Coming Home is sonically one of the warmest albums I have heard in a very long time and mentally in puts me in a great place. Very excited for what the future holds for Bridges after this project and a 2015 saw that saw him receive plenty of attention.
10. Barter 6 by Young Thug
The “album” (it felt a lot more like a mixtape to me) initially started off a little questionable to me with the Birdman track (I appreciate it more now in the context of the project as a whole, but it’s still not great), but it’s a straight set of bangers for a healthy portion of the project after that. From “With That” to “Halftime,” Thug delivers his usual melodic flows and clever rhymes over a great selection of mesmerizing and minimal, bass-heavy beats. “Halftime,” “Dome” and “Check,” which are all contained in that stretch, are a few of my favorite songs. Although, the tape gets less “turned down” and more serious after that point, it fits into its bigger picture and displays rather plainly the duality of Young Thug. Songs like “OD” and “Just Might Be” are feats that very few, if any, emcees in the game would be able to pull off as well as Thug. With Barter 6, Young Thug really proved that he can make a clean, cohesive, and more focused project. Although it kept in line with his previous work in that it sounded rushed, it was less so than usual and not the biggest detractor. Even with that, the quality was present and the content was rather original in the sense that it doesn’t sound like anything else; Thug would clearly rather set the trends than follow them. Young Thug is hated as much as he is loved, and it seems like most haters don’t understand or “get” him and overlook his talents, but as he continues to refine his sound and delivery, I feel like that will change.
11. Documentary 2 by The Game
I came into listening to Documentary 2 without very high expectations, thinking that Game would be trying too hard to reflect the sound of his original classic and therefore limiting its greatness as a standalone project. I was extremely pleased to find that the opposite was true. He totally turned the page and was able to craft an outstanding body of work that could stand on its own and still fit the bill as Documentary 2, which considering the magnitude of the original, was likely not easy. It came off sounding pretty effortless though from a listening perspective; I love how the songs on the project were tied together by bleeding into each other to give it a sort of mixtape vibe, but moreover the feeling of being one complete experience. Along with the skits from Game’s comrades, it also made the relatively long Documentary 2, which clocks in at 1 hour and 15 minutes, feel more bearable and maybe even shorter. On the emceeing side of things, the lyrical content and flows show Game’s growth and refining of skills in the 10 years since the release of The Documentary.
12. At.Long.Last.A$AP by A$AP Rocky
The first five tracks of this project are incredible. This is A$AP Rocky’s best work since his debut mixtape Live. Love. A$AP. I wish this album was a bit shorter; it felt a little drawn out to me and I end up at times skipping a few tracks on the second half. In terms of a sophomore album, however, it’s worlds better than its predecessor: The themes are consistent, the production is unique and cohesive, and most importantly, this album feels unforced and as a result we get a fresh, emotional piece of art that lives up to, and possibly even surpasses, the precedent set by the Harlem native in 2011 when he came gunning out of the gates.
13. Summertime '06 by Vince Staples
This album doesn’t sound like any other album, and it doesn’t follow the rules of a traditionally structured album (including ending the album abruptly 48 seconds into a song) (and it kind of reminds of Danny Brown’s Old, where it’s two “sides” that could standalone as separate units). I love both of those things about this, but furthermore, all these shits slap son. The first half is what I’d envision would be the perfect soundtrack to riots if they broke out in Los Angeles today. It’s extremely dark, but the amount of energy that darkness is wrapped in is unparalleled and quite a unique combo sonically. The second half is just as much of a statement as its complement, but it’s a little more upbeat and slightly more forgiving. This album perfectly depicts the dark side of a summer in Los Angeles – the less glamorous side that, with the exception of say, a Kendrick Lamar, no one really cares to focus their music on because it doesn’t bring in sales (unless, again, you’re Kendrick Lamar). Staples does though, and in a manner that is similar to Kendrick in that it is unconventional, but almost on the opposite spectrum in terms of its attitude and musical attributes. The Long Beach Snapchat legend (add him, thank me later) comes off as more of a pessimist and that is evident not only through his words but the production on the album. I see Summertime ’06, in some ways, to parallel To Pimp a Butterfly in a similar way to how I saw YG’s My Krazy Life to be a more “street” version of Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.
14. Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes
I’m so glad I decided to give this album and the Alabama Shakes a chance. I had wrote them off because of their name and the terribly wrong assumption that they made dry ass country music, but I was pleasantly blown away when I gave Sound & Color a shot. This kind of music - which is rooted in blues and rock but quite hard to put a straight label on – is lowkey what I’ve been unconsciously looking for to hold me over from new Black Keys music. But the Alabama Shakes’ sound in Sound & Color is rooted in the R&B and soul of the 60s and 70s as much as it is in blues and rock. Compared to the Keys, their songs boast diversity and are less grungy and more soulful. Brittany Howard, the Shakes’ lead singer (I thought it was a dude until I found that fact out), has such an amazing and unique voice that is very reminiscent of an Aretha Franklin and cuts through songs like warm butter. Definitely made a new fan out of me.
15. 90059 by Jay Rock / King Push by Pusha T
I was very conflicted on whether this last spot would go to Jay Rock for 90059 or Pusha T for King Push. I think both albums are their creator’s respective best release yet. Moreover, the case with both happens to be that they’ve carried mountains of potential and great non-album material yet had been unable to craft a quality, single body of work worthy of listening to, until now. Both of these albums are amazing; short, but sweet. If I had to choose, I’d go with 90059 but since it’s so close, and there are many parallels between the projects, I decided to make it a tie. One of the big problems for both emcees in being able to construct a quality album was the lack of production to complement their incredible emceeing skills. Both being artists renowned for their lyrical prowess, 90059 and King Push saw Jay Rock and Pusha T find their comfortable homes sonically without sacrificing what we love them for: bars. And there are plenty bars here. The lyrical content of 90059 spoke to me more. It’s a lot hungrier, grittier, and more cautious than King Push, which is more proud, shiny, and hasty.
Other projects I really liked in 2015 (sort of in order from most to least)
You Should Be Here (see below), The Epic, B4FRVR, Good Vibe Tribe, What a Weird Day, Shadow of a Doubt, PT3, Compton, Surf, YRN The Album, Ghetto Beach Boyz, Lucky 7, Slime Season, It’s Better This Way, SremmLife, Rodeo
I couldn’t resist. While the distinction between mixtapes and albums has totally been eroded, I think there’s enough of a recognizable gap to separate EPs (even though that’s beginning to shrink as well as this format for music releases is becoming more popular with the death of the traditional album life cycle). I had these EPs on repeat in 2015 and still do, so it’s not fair that I don’t mention them:
Mick Jenkins – Wave[s]
NxWorries – Link Up & Suede
Soulection White Label Series: Chris McClenney – 14, Louie Lastic – 15, Monte Booker – 16
Zhu – Genesis Series
Freddie Gibbs – Pronto
Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
Esta – etc.
Smino – Blk Juptr
Lil’ B & Chance the Rapper – Free
Big Grams – Big Grams
2015 was _____’s year
Kendrick Lamar – The fact that Kendrick Lamar has been able to create pure, unfiltered art and be embraced by the masses the way he was in 2015 is single handedly the most encouraging thing about an otherwise lifeless and mechanical music industry. Everything he released in 2015, from the near-instant classic sophomore album and plethora of line-crossing music videos to the late show appearances and guest verses, was wholly original art. I can give a shit less about awards, but the fact that he won Grammys for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “i,” and now is up for eleven more awards, for the same album, two years in a row, that’s saying something.
Drake (Honorable Mention) - I originally chose Drake for this category actually. He technically didn’t drop an album in 2015 (but I think that regardless of what you want to call it, if it’s being sold, it’s an album) and I didn’t think If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was great, but he managed to keep his name afloat in virtually everyone’s life with viral instances by totally taking ahold of the reins of social media, dropping a select few quality songs throughout the year, and managing to be in the press all the time. He’s now at the level where anything he does can and will go viral. Along with Future, he’s made the internet his biggest fan and, with the clever use of memes and emojis, has everyone at his mercy. Crazy thing is, that’s not even why I put him here in this category. It’s because of the tremendous leap and shift he made from how he was perceived just one year ago. Dudes who loved Drake records would never admit it in public because of his soft image and strong association with young girls. Utilizing records like “Know Yourself” and “0 to 100,” seizing numerous press opportunities, and “winning” a “beef” with Meek Mill, Aubrey entirely painted a new image for himself without people even realizing it was happening. This shift is truly what led to an incredible 2015 and a new mass appeal that is not limited to a certain demographic and puts him among the Mount Rushmore of the biggest artists in America.
Young Thug (Honorable Mention) - Say what you want about Young Thug, but you cannot deny the fact that the man makes great songs. I’ve encountered endless people that will put his music down the gutter because of their perception of his personality as portrayed through social media, interviews, videos, etc., but anyone that I’ve talked to whose opinions on music I respect have admitted (usually with either with shame or pride, but not in between) that the rapper simply makes good music. He knows, from a songwriting perspective, what a good song sounds like, and he delivers on that more often than not. Barter 6, although it feels like Thug may not have totally expended himself to make the record, is a display of the potential for him to create a full album of those. Hype and storylines aside, it’s as simple as this: Thug has the formula and artistic tools to churn out hits. His first “album” Barter 6 is a signifier of this – put any one of those songs on at any public place and people will move. Following those up with two stellar, albeit scattered and unrefined, mixtapes in Slime Season and Slime Season 2, Thug, in my eyes, has given critics enough reasons to not doubt his ability to create good songs. My main critique is his lack of control of the quality-vs-quantity factor. However, with his unconventional studio tactics, witty rhymes, and original flows, Thug has become the weirdest, but hottest, commodity bubbling on the edge of the mainstream music world.
Future - 56 Nights, Beast Mode, DS2, What A Time to be Alive - Future really snapped this year. That’s about the size of it. Not only were 56 Nights and Beast Mode amazing projects that became trending topics in the social media sphere, but all the hype and quality content culminated with DS2 and then the impeccably timed “What A Time to be Alive” collaboration with the other hottest artist of the year, Drake. If you didn't know who Future was before 2015 I can bet that you do now. While some can be taken down a peg after a split from the woman they had a child with, this did nothing but motivate Future to go even harder than ever before. If his 2016 is even half as successful as his 2015 then he is in store for legendary status.
Fetty Wap (Honorable Mention) - Big ups to my fellow New Jersey native for really taking over the radio waves this year. Literally coming from out of nowhere, now you can't listen to more than three songs on the radio without one of them having a feature from zoowap (lets also not forget about the famous "SQUAWWWW" adlib). Say what you want about his “mainstream style”, but he managed to churn out hit after hit that I like to believe everyone enjoyed. Not to mention the infamous eye that has added to his overall appeal. From “Trap Queen” to now, Fetty Wap has came a long way and has even been featured on a plethora of artist’s songs and projects. There might not be an artist today (with the exception of Drake) that can make catchier hooks than Fetty, and even his self-entitled album, Fetty Wap, was solid to say the least, definitely a surprise to most people who view Fetty as merely just a one-hit wonder. Regardless of what his future hold, you can't deny that Fetty did his thing in 2015.
Bradley and Sunny – Lupe Fiasco (Honorable mention: Erykah Badu) - I mean, it’s obviously Adele. 3.38 million records sold in one week in 2015? 7.44 million in the US alone over the course of not even two whole months? Are you fucking kidding me. This woman is a phenomenon. These numbers have never been seen, EVER. She sold nearly a million records per week after the first (a feat that has never been done), making it the top-selling album every single week it was out. Official numbers on the year in music aren’t out yet, but I’m willing to wager 25 accounted for a hefty chunk of all music sales in 2015, in just a little over one month of having been available. I need not say anymore. I honestly haven’t even listened to the album all the way through (I just can’t sit through it, not my vibe but I can’t deny her talent and recognize the qualities that make her appeal to such a large mass of people), but the year she had in just two months is remarkable. - Sunny
In a much awaited resurgence to prominence, Lupe really spazzed on his latest project. In my mind “Tetsuo & Youth” was a long overdue return to form for one of my all-time favorite artists. After his disappointing showing on Food & Liquor 2 (the long awaited sequel to his classic Food & Liqour album), it was refreshing to see him return to form. I think putting the album at #2 on my list really says it all. For the love of God I really hope Lupe continues with the momentum from this project. - Bradley
I honestly didn’t see it coming at all. I had heard, in 2014, about a new album from Lupe Fiasco that would’ve been coming out relatively soon but I didn’t care for it enough to keep up with its release. After a string of albums that left me extremely underwhelmed and confused, I kind of hung up my hat on Lupe and led myself to believe that he’d totally lost any semblance of the musical genius heard on Food & Liquor and The Cool. So I had extremely low expectations when I went to listen to Tetsuo & Youth and boy did that shit blow my brakes off. - Sunny
Honorable mention *Erykah Badu* - Not to insinuate that the great Badu has ever “fallen off”, I just was glad to see her return to the relevant musical sphere by creating a great, maybe even legendary projectThe fact that she absolutely destroyed the cover of "Hotline Bling" (The hottest song of 2015) just adds to her brilliance on “But You Caint Use My Phone”, and she's showing the world yet again not to EVER sleep on the “Fat Belly Bella”
Best new artist that will blow the f@%k up:
Kehlani - This girl can straight up sing. Her voice, sounding like she was nabbed straight off the world’s greatest gospel choir into the studio, gives me goosebumps. It has so much soul and with it, a certain quality that inflicts honesty and beauty. I first heard about Kehlani in 2014 leading up to the release of her Cloud 19 mixtape, but I honestly didn’t truly sit down and listen to her music until You Should Be Here came out in April of 2015. I was a couple months late to the party, but after a single listen I felt like I knew Kehlani personally. The album (yes I know it’s technically a “mixtape,” whatever that means), is truly an emotional journey. Apart from musically being a wonderfully refreshing work of art in the trend-feeding field of R&B, the heartfelt lyrical content is what makes this project so touching. I felt like I was riding shotgun with the young Oakland songstress as we drove through her experiences, feelings, and ideologies. I certainly wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Her “mixtape” is up for a Grammy at this year’s awards and a single look at her Soundcloud profile will tell you just how well the public has received her. I hate to make comparisons, but her music and where she’s at now reminds me of Aaliyah. Kehlani is about to blow up to that next level; I have no doubt that she won’t soon be mentioned up there with R&B top dogs like Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Cousin Stizz - As previously mentioned, Suffolk County was an amazing project as well as a coming out party for the talented Boston native Cousin Stizz. Not only was it a great first mixtape, but it absolutely was in rotation on my music playlist as soon as it came out. While not having the same knock your socks off cerebral bars of a Kendrick or J. Cole, his flow and delivery are top notch and make very catchy hooks. Not only did the tape showcase Cousin Stizz in all his glory (only having one feature), he brought it on every single track and his beat selection was flawless as well, complimenting his style perfectly. Stizz really came out of nowhere. From only my one friend from Boston bumping his shit to nearly all of my friends downloading his tape I would have to say that he was, to me at least, the best new artist of 2015 that I’m certainly expecting big things from him in this coming year and beyond.
Bradley: Best Films of 2015
1. The Martian
Matt Damon was perfect in every way in this film. In fact, despite being complete with an ensemble cast, most of the time Matt Damon was on the screen by himself! This means that he had no stage partner to rely on during some very emotional scenes with just him, alone on the planet of mars. However, this did not take away from the film in the least bit. I loved the fact that unlike the vast majority of outer space sci-fi films, “The Martian” was able to paint a positive and very optimistic picture of Mars and space in general without being cheesy or corny like in “Gravity” and “Interstellar” (not to throw shade at those films, but “The Martian” really blew both of them out of the water.) It was easy for the audience to get absorbed into the plot and actually feel like we are on Mars! This is a must see film.
In my opinion this was THE best of the Rocky films. Not only does it follow the Rockyesque pattern that we are used to from the films, but it also has the unique quality of being a film that is 100% representative of the millennial generation. It perfectly blends the new story of Apollo Creed’s son with the old school vibe of the Rocky movies that we know and love. It isn't always about winning the fight, but finding yourself, a message that we can all appreciate.
3. The Hateful Eight
Another legendary film from Quentin Tarantino, the “who did it”/ “Clue” style of the film was awesome. I also loved how old school the film was with the overture in the beginning followed by the mid-film intermission (which I especially enjoyed because I really had to use the bathroom). I also love the spaghetti western trend that Tarantino has been on. The ensemble cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and the cameo from Channing Tatum were perfect. I also thought Samuel L. Jackson’s long monologue in the film rivaled that of the one he had in “Pulp Fiction” and it was absolutely hilarious. A definite 2015 favorite.
4. Bridge of Spies
Tom Hanks does it again! What a masterful performance from the legendary actor. I usually don’t like films like this, but the amazing dialogue and constant feeling of apprehension that the film created really drew me in and kept me entertained during the entirety of the screening. It is always hard making a film about an actual historical event, especially one in which people are still alive now who experienced it, but I thought everything was done authentically (at least in terms of what I know about the time period) and you really felt like you were in the 1940s.
5. Ex Machina
This epic sci-fi thriller is truly a unique work of art. The story of the creation of A.I. is one that has been repeated over and over again in countless different films, but I would argue that none come close to matching the brilliance of Ex Machina. While only taking place in one setting with three actors, the Director (and of course the actors) does a great job of creating realistic interactions between the characters while at the same time making the audience's experience unaltered by the fantasy/futuristic elements of the film (i.e. artificially created intelligence in the form of Ava). The way that they make Ava seem so real and human throughout the film was incredible and the way the film ends leaves things open to a whole host of different interpretations which I always appreciate in a movie.
An action packed thriller that follows the story of American federal agents and their interactions with the world of the dangerous drug cartels in Mexico. Emily Blunt is brilliant in her role and the director does a great job of keeping the audience on its toes and constantly paranoid about who is trustworthy. The film also does an amazing job of capturing the bitter and harsh reality of life within the cartel crime syndicate.
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode 7)
Although not as good as episodes 4,5, and 6 I definitely thought the film was an upgrade from the disappointing trilogy of episodes 1,2, and 3. The action sequences were amazing and I enjoyed the new characters, I just wished they would have developed them a little better instead of focusing so much on the older cast of characters from the original movies.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
I’ve always been a fan of the Mad Max movies, and this one was definitely up to snuff. I really loved the decision to cast Tom Hardy as Max, I thought he did a really good job throughout the film along with Charlize Theron. I was a little annoyed with how little Max spoke in the film, and how their wasn’t as deep a connection with Max and the other characters like in the previous films. However, the action sequences were breathtaking.
Not only was this film thoroughly entertaining, but it also taught the audience about an actual period of history (the HUAC and the black listing of some of hollywood’s finest directors, screen writers, and actors). Bryan Cranston nailed his performance of famous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Louis CK’s cameo added some well-placed comedic elements to the film that made me enjoy it that much more. Although I felt it start to drag a little bit towards the end, it was still an incredible film.
10. It Follows
I have to admit that I have soft spot in my heart for horror films, but, even after saying that I can honestly admit that all bias aside this was an amazing film. The way the film was shot you had a constant feeling that someone was following you, even as the film ended the feeling of being followed stayed with you. Beyond that, the film definitely paid homage to the old horror films like “Halloween” of the slow but sure determination of the killer forever following their victims. The sound track was also legendary and very chilling, especially in a theatre setting.
A brilliant piece of stop-motion animation, Charlie Kaufmann did a great job with this film, and even though it was animation it felt more real than most films I saw this year. The whole feeling of the film was surreal, and I loved the metaphor used in having all the characters that the main character encountered (besides “Anamolisa” of course), look and sound the same. I especially liked the ending because it didn't try to be cliche and instead could be viewed as positive and negative at the same time.
12. Goodnight Mommy
This foreign language film (english subtitles, but film is in german) is a creepy horror film that leaves your skin covered in goose bumps and succeeds in keeping you guessing until the very end. A mummy looking mommy comes back to her twin children (in sort of a creepy “The Shining” like way) after going through what seems like an extensive plastic surgery operation, and she seems to be acting quite strange. If you are a movie buff then this is a must-see film.
13. Ant Man
Different from the normal annual superhero film nowadays, “Ant Man” was very unique and managed to be really funny as well (that’s expected with Paul Rudd as the lead). I heard a lot about the movie going in and I have to say I was really captivated by the story and it exceeded my expectations for sure.
A very funny and entertaining film, it’s definitely a nice modern day twist on the old-time classic “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off” high-school film. The series of events in which the main characters have to go through is absurd to say the least. With great cameo appearances from A$AP Rocky and Chanel Iman its definitely worth watching more than once.
15. The Walk
Visually stunning and masterful story telling. Going into the film I wasn't very into the whole story, but during, I was on the edge of my seat and captivated by the performance of Joseph Gordon Levitt. The film crew did an amazing job with the scenes of him walking on the high wire between the trade centers, it felt very realistic, which is a relief because it is in all of our memories that the two towers no longer stand. Throughout the whole movie, 9/11 really did not come to mind, which I thought said a lot about how well done the film was.
Sunny - Russell Westbrook -Kevin Durant is no longer the best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The power shift happened during the middle of the 2014-15 season, in February of 2015, when Durant was sidelined for the rest of the season with an injury and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, literally, took the team into his own hands. He was already having a monstrous season while Durant stagnated in mediocrity dealing with nagging injuries, ultimately having his best season yet and claiming the scoring title with 28.1 points to go with 8.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game. Just two games into Durant being sidelined, Westbrook went on an unreal tear where he posted six triple-doubles in nine games (or seven in twelve), amongst a litany of 40+ point nights where basketball’s hardest working man put on a show for the world to watch. It was some of the most amazing basketball I’ve ever watched live on television. The man broke his face while recording a third straight triple-double (against Portland), sat out one game and got surgery, and in a mere three days, came back to drop 49 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds for a fourth straight. For the entire few weeks of madness, I bypassed every game to switch to the Thunder and see what Westbrook was doing that night. The feats achieved by Westbrook join the ranks of greats like of Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Jason Kidd, and are surpassed only by his airness himself, Michael Jordan. In March and April, the last two months of the season, Westbrook posted averages of 31, 10, and 9 and 33, 8, and 8, respectively. Remember that epic Marshawn Lynch run against the Saints? Westbrook pretty much did that all through the rest of that season.
The only downside to all this: They weren’t really winning games. But to Westbrook’s credit, the squad was pretty sparse and a lot of dudes were out with injuries. Some may even say he unnecessarily over-worked himself to prove something on a losing team, but I think it just speaks to his Kobe-esque, assassin mentality. And seeing as how he’s continued this incredible level of play into the 2015-16 season, and even improving on it (averaging a career-best 10 assists and already has seven trip-dubs), he clearly wasn’t overworking himself - that’s just how hard he always works.
Bradley – Christian McCaffrey - More than just a season worthy of the storied Heisman Trophy, Christian McCaffrey set records with his weekly all-purpose dominance. Not only did he score 13 touchdowns on the year, but he also rushed for over 2,000 yards on the season in only 14 games (Not to mention that he absolutely thrashed my Trojans on two separate occasions). He also capped off his stellar year with an insane performance on New Year’s Day against Iowa where everything seemed to go right for McCaffrey and Stanford (the first play from scrimmage for Stanford, he takes a 75 yard strike from Kevin Hogan to the house). Honestly, at this point it just looks way too easy for him out there at this level, but as long as he's in college I'm sure the "he's just gonna be another Toby Gerhart" haters are going to come out of the wood work... These sentiments couldn't be farther from the truth, this dude is for real. To all the McCaffrey haters out there I'd like to quote DJ Khaled by saying, "Don't play yourself."
Athlete of the Year:
Serena Williams - The epitome of dominance. With another of her famed “Serena slams” rattling off 4 straight victories in the US Open in 2014, the Australian Open, the French Open, and then Wimbledon, and nearly completing the calendar year sweep by reaching the Semi-Finals in US Open in 2015, Serena proved yet again that she is not only the best tennis player in the world, but also one of the most dominant athletes in the world. period. - Bradley
Team of the Year:
In the year 2015 we saw the Golden State Warriors in the second half of their championship season and the first half of a follow-up season where they seem to have only improved and gotten off to achieving some pretty large accomplishments early on. What the Warriors – and particularly Steph Curry – are doing is unprecedented. As a die-hard Bulls fan, I hate to say this, but I think this team might be the best since Jordan’s team in the 90s. The Phil Jackson Lakers, Chauncey-led Pistons, and late-2000s Spurs teams certainly give them a run for their money, but the things this Warriors team is doing – and the fashion in which they’re doing – is making it so much better to watch. In head coach Steve Kerr’s rookie season, the Warriors were easily the best team in the 2014-15 NBA season. The efficiency of their game, all-around, but specifically on offense, was seamless and beautiful and proved to be able to break down a lot of great teams in the playoffs. Rings never lie. But the fact that they’ve came back guns blazing this season – jumping off to a NBA-record 30-2 start in 2015 and on pace to top the 1996 Bulls’ best-ever record of 72-10 – gives off a sense that the young team is after more than just one ring. The Warrior’s Steph Curry is currently holding what would be the highest player efficiency rating (PER) ever in a single season, topping Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. The reigning MVP is on course to shatter his own 3-point records this year en route to what might be another MVP and championship season. I would go through and list all of the accomplishments and records they’ve set, but I’ll let you Google those and leave you with this. If you’re still not convinced, just turn on the TV and watch those guys play. - Sunny
Adrian Peterson - Just when he think the sands of time are running out for the legendary work horse that is Adrian Peterson what does he do? Oh yeah, just rack up another rushing title with almost 1,500 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. Who said he would be rusty after not playing the entirety of last season (with the exception of the first game of the season)? He looked every bit as explosive as he ever has while leading his team to capture the NFC North title for the first time since 2009. - Bradley
Sunny – Jimmy “Get” Buckets - After multiple seasons in which we have witnessed the exciting and explosive all-star that is Derrick Rose go down with back to back season-ending knee injuries, it was clear that the Chicago Bulls desperately needed a new spark. It just so happens that these devastating setbacks to the bull's former workhorse proved to be a blessing in disguise for the organization in the form of Marquette standout, Jimmy Butler. His meteoric rise has culminated with the overwhelming recognition of him as being the new cornerstone of the franchise. Not only has Butler worked on his craft to add a deadly outside jumper to his arsenal, but he is also a stalwart defender and ranks among the leagues best 3-and-D wing players in the league alongside the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. The Bull's clearly showed that they recognize Butler's meteoric rise as well with the new 5-year $95 million contract they gave him this off-season.
Bradley – Todd Gurley - Even after not playing the first four weeks of the regular season while going through rehab after a devastating knee injury the prior year at the University of Georgia, Todd Gurley managed to finish in the top 3 in the league for rushing yards (behind only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin) averaging nearly 5 yards per carry and a whopping 11 carries of 20 yards or more. On an otherwise very mediocre team, Gurley was really the lone bright spot and brought back memories of when Steven Jackson was in his prime with the Rams, and when Marshall Faulk donned the famed bright blue and yellow jersey of times past. It doesn’t appear to be a one year fluke. Gurley is the real deal and in a few year could possibly overtake AP for top running back honors. With the move to LA, where all the lights will surely be on Gurley, he will try to remain as one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL.