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Editorial / Main / yearend

Special’s Top 5 Albums Of 2015

First things first, I hate lists. I’m not a fan of “countdowns” around this time of year, as they’re WAY too subjective in nature, and often result in tons of shade from other fans, writers and – well – urban Twitter on a whole. For this reason, I’ll simply be sharing a list of five albums I found significant this year. Please note, this is my personal top-five, and may not necessarily reflect the entire team. I’ll share some of the how and why along the way, as well.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

Does Action Bronson sound like Ghostface? Yes, kind of. Do I care? No! Much like Shyne, he has little control over his vocal cadence. So what other obstacles do you have blocking you from enjoying this man’s music? Exactly.

Do yourself a favour and give him an honest listen. I first got into Bronson off of SAAB Stories and then began digging through his past catalogue. More than his music, though, his overall brand is on point. From his Fuck That’s Delicious series – and – his videos in general to his upcoming book, he’s using what used to be a hobby to help him fuel his true passion, which is food/cooking.

Mr. Wonderful is a dope listen to cover to cover. From dropping salty-ex boyfriend slang on Blue Eyes with Chance The Rapper and skating the fine line of mainstream hip-hop with the 40 produced Actin’ Crazy to the dreamy flow of Terry, he delivers a well-balanced meal for the real heads –flavourful, with tons of spice. See what I did there?

Wale – The Album About Nothing

I was into this album before it even dropped, just because of the promotional campaign. The videos with Jerry Seinfeld on WorldStar, the spread in Complex – it spoke volumes about what we can/should expect from Wale. From the beginning, his affiliations always painted a vivid picture of the hype that surrounded this man, from his early collaboration with Lady Gaga (when she was at the top of her shit), to this relationship he’d seemingly struck up with one of the wealthiest and more respected comedians in the game. Wale is at that level, so not taking one of his releases seriously seems irresponsible on our part.

That’s the message he projects, anyways.

This album was underrated in my opinion. I felt like I didn’t see enough chatter about it. When I tell you that I could not stop singing The White Shoes in my head for the latter part of the year, I’m not exaggerating. The album cleverly uses monologues and conversations with Jerry, and clips from the show as a jump off points for an honest, and at times heartfelt, collection of music. Covering topics that range from marriage to police brutality, This album is another cover to cover kind of project. Recommended listening includes: The Glass Egg, The Girls On Drugs, and The Pessimist featuring J.Cole.

Joey Badass – B4D A$$

Every generation needs a Nas and Joey kind of fits that mould. It takes a special kind of artist to get DJ Premier school-girl-giddy hyped – just saying. Not that nobody else under 25 was on the wave, but Pro Era has certainly made it cool as fuck for kids to excavate the 90’s and mine that nostalgic sound into their records. From the first time you hear Waves, you just knew this kid was special. B4D A$$ was highly anticipated, and rightfully so; the album lived up to the hype, and gave fans exactly what they wanted: realness.

If you can honestly listen to Paper Trails and Big Dusty, or – shit – even Save The Children (which kicks-off the album), and tell me he isn’t talented as hell, then we can’t be friends. The album sounds like Joey built a time machine and recorded it in a dusty NYC basement circa 90’s aesthetically, yet it’s relevant, immediate and oddly innovative. This kid is only 20, wrap your mind around the damage he’s going to over the next decade.

Stop blaming kids for killing hip-hop…

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar is a difficult artist to listen to – for me anyways. I like to immerse myself in the culture but am often turned off by things that have too much hype surrounding them, à la Drake for example. Maybe it’s the perpetual hater in me. As a writer, I often feel like I don’t need to convince or cast too much opinion on universally accepted norms because yawn (what’s the point). What I’m getting at, is that I feel like not liking Kendrick means something is wrong with you, because he’s the best. It’s hard to walk into his music objectively.

This album, though, was brilliant. It was – in all honesty – a brutal listen. It was powerful, and at points uncomfortable; however, it was honest, and ridiculously well executed. He refuses to sit idly amongst the rocky climate of today’s reality on the streets of America. While some artists within the circumference of his apex may decide to make “art” that seems to serve as lifestyle branded commercials for opulence many of us will never experience, Kendrick did a great job of showing not only his artistic range but his ability to swim upstream (so to speak) and not get his crown wet. It’s a must-listen, period.

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

Lupe Fiasco has certainly had a frustrating go at music over the past few years. Honestly, I’m not afraid to say I hated Lasers. It felt very watered down and lacked pretty much everything I loved about Lupe on his debut and The Cool. He seemed to lose his way, and to add injury to insult; it sold amazingly well. This album, though, Tetsuo & Youth, was his opus – and seemed to display a Lupe that real heads who have been watching him for years knew he could be. I liken him to Goku, powering up in the mountains before becoming a super-sayan.

The album is daring, immensely detail-rich, and devoid of any overbearing need for commercial recognition. It’s artistic, inspiring and a must-listen for artists and “real” heads alike. Lupe plans on releasing 3 albums in 2016, so let’s hope he stays in this lane for the whole trip.

Early. [drops mic]


Runners-Up

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

I can’t front, this album, which Aubrey dropped out of nowhere, is hype as hell. If you exist – and like hip-hop – you’ve heard this album, and don’t require my co-sign. I just wanted you all to know that I’m not a hater, even though I fail to recognize Drake very often here on the blog.

He doesn’t need me – at all.

Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn

Just dropped a review of this album last week. It deserves all the recognition it gets, and I can attest that everything you’ve heard about it is the truth. Pusha T delivers his best project to date. Get your hands on this ASAP (like Rocky).

What were your fave albums of 2015? Tweet me and let me know!

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns