Top 25 Albums of 2015

As the year comes to a close and with the Grammy’s coming up, there’s no better time to make the list of top albums of 2015. 2015 has been a great year for music (rap in particular) so it was really hard for me to narrow it down to just 25. After tons of deliberation, here’s my top 25.

25. Wildheart – Miguel

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Miguel’s third studio album was largely overlooked this year when it was released in June. Bold, lustful, and detailed, this album highlights Miguel’s desire for pleasure between him and lovers. The fused elements of rock and RnB provide a backdrop for the lyrics of love and thrills that he desires. A lot of heart is in this album and it broadens Miguel’s diversity even more. Underrated album of this year for sure.

24. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence & The Machine

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Florence & The Machine’s new album is powerful to say the least. Her inner conflict is transferred into loud, bold new songs that reflect maturity and subtle awareness to life’s obstacles. Radio friendly singles like “What Kind of Man” and “Ship To Wreck” propelled this album to spotlight where it was well received by critics everywhere. Thunderous and reflective, this album clearly deserved the praise for its writing, cohesion, and sound.

23. Summertime ‘06 – Vince Staples

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Who releases a double album on their debut? Vince Staples apparently. Sometimes called the “more enjoyable TPAB”, Summertime ‘06 mixes a dense and conscious insight into the life of Vince Staples. His inner life is reflected through his lyrical tales of gangbanging backed by unpredictable production. Not only that but there are moments where the album loves to have fun and creates an enjoyable but thought provoking experience. It spins a fresh new perspective on social problems today.

22. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt

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Earl’s second studio album is as honest and raw as it can possibly get. It’s a record that focuses on the darker sides of the human psyche and depression which allows Earl to delve further into his own mind. Clocking in just under 30 minutes with little help from features and production, Earl takes a minimalist approach in coming to terms with both sides of his fame and IDLSIDGO becomes a chaotic form of art. It’s amazing something this lo-fi, busy, and claustrophobic can sound this good.

21. B4.Da.$$ – Joey Bada$$

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Joey might not be reinventing the wheel but he brings a certain element of nostalgia that follows 90s hip hop heads wherever they go. The production on his debut album is solid and his lyrical skill is asserted well throughout. Often overlooked for trying too hard to bring back the 90s golden age feeling, critics tend to miss Joey’s insight and his vision of social problems today. It’s creative, confident, and intelligent. It doesn’t really matter what sound he tries to emulate because he succeeds what he set out to do and cements his place in hip hop today.

20. Fetty Wap – Fetty Wap

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Say what you will but Fetty Wap’s debut album at the very least, has the coolest album art of this year. He had a stellar year as well going from soundcloud rapper to global phenomenon starting with the blow up of “Trap Queen”. With that one viral hit, Fetty’s ad libs and strange voice began appearing on radios everywhere. A lot of people called him a one hit wonder but he proved them wrong on his debut album. His songs are all hit wonders. Literally every single one. It’s insane how catchy his hooks are and how many hits are littered throughout the album. You can try to resist but no matter how hard you do so, Fetty pulls you in and this album is just bangers all the way through.

19. Sometimes I Just Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett

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It’s really weird how Courtney Barnett can turn non-sensical ramblings and deadpan delivery into something enjoyable. But she does it well on her debut album (I’m not typing the name out every single time). It’s refreshing and a new outlook in rock and roll, something rarely done. It’s compulsive, strange, morbid, and funny all at the same time and it’s an experience that is difficult to put into words. The only easy thing to say about this album is that it’s really good. Really damn good.

18. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

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GYBE is always a pleasure to listen to and their newest album is no different. They capture the essence of music like no one else can ever hope to and transform feelings into genuine music. It’s amazing to listen to and an experience you can only have by listening to them yourself. There’s only 4 songs and it clocks in at about 40 minutes. It’s compelling, vivid, and imaginative in so many ways. This is the very basis of music that this band is able to produce. Listening to the whole thing from front to end is a must.

17. Ego Death – The Internet

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The soul and hip hop collective “The Internet” released their new album Ego Death in June. Quirky explorations of sex and love are scattered throughout singer Syd Tha Kyd’s vocals. It branches out in different genres like funk, jazz, and rock while retaining crisp hip hop production. The lightweight instrumental always gives way to display Syd’s songwriting and she has a lot to say about love and loss. Ego Death is a definitive moment for The Internet, one that pulls us into the real concept of soul and hip hop.

16. In Color – Jamie xx

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I won’t lie, I hadn’t really listened to The xx before this album other than the infamous “Intro”. But after listening to Jamie xx’s debut album, I decided to check them out. In Color is a complex and fluid record that pieces together electronica and dance to create a stunning experience. It truly reflects the name in some ways. The deeper you listen to it, the more the sounds begin to blossom and spin back to listeners. It’s minimal approach gives listeners the chance to live the swirling amounts of color within the record. And Young Thug is on a track saying “Imma ride in that pussy like a stroller”. That alone should make it a worthwhile listen.

15.  E•MO•TION – Carly Rae Jepsen

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2015 has been quite the year for strong female artists to shine such as Adele or Taylor Swift. Among lyrics about being independent and strong willed women, it’s ironic in a sense that I found Carly’s bubblegum record about needing someone’s love much better. The formula’s been written a thousand times. Loop an infectious beat, create a catchy hook, and write about love. Yet Carly pulled off one of this year’s best pop records based solely upon that. The 80s aesthetic with her breezy pop vocals changed her from one hit wonder to solidifying her place in the music industry as true talent. It’s stupidly sentimental and the lyrics make you wanna either cringe or propose to every single stranger you pass by on the street but there’s something about her formula that drags you back in before the chorus starts up again.

14. SremmLife – Rae Sremmurd

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SremmLife is not innovative in the slightest. 11 pop rap songs. 1 album. Yet it became one of the most enjoyable records of the year to listen to. No matter what, you kept coming back for more. Rae Sremmurd’s debut album is explosive and a necessity any time you feel the need to turn up. It’s sort of like vodka or cheap gin. It kinda sucks a little at first but it gets you there and before you know it, you’re absolutely shitfaced riding a mechanical bull. They didn’t set out to be lyrical geniuses. They accomplished what they wanted. 11 songs. Some witty. Some stupid. All catchy. All a must have for any party. 

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

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Drake had a blockbuster year. From WATTBA with Future to ending Meek Mill’s career to being the face of every Hotline Bling meme on Twitter, Drake has done it all this year. It’s only fitting that his new record is one of his best. Take Care and NWTS may have given us a softer, emotional side of Drake but with IYRTITL, he brings back the braggadocio and “I don’t give a fuck” style of rapping that many of his fans have missed. He brings a sense of wisdom and self-awareness to those factors as well and that makes IYRTITL a fantastic album. The impact of Drake is insane. How many times has Torontonians said “Running through the six with my woes” with little knowledge of Drake’s music at all? His progression as a lyricist and an artist is all evident in this record.

12. The Documentary 2, 2.5 – The Game

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Rarely does a sequel live up to the hype of the original. But in the case of The Documentary 2, it lives up to the hype and so much more. Can you imagine being a hip hop fan and learning that the Game was dropping a sequel to The Documentary with 36 tracks and over 50 guest features? It was insane. And it lived up to the hype in almost every way. The Game may not have the same pull and appeal that he did 10 years ago on the original Documentary but the feelings are the same. Add that to the diverse mix of features from both old school and new school and you have one of the most diverse and exciting rap records of this year. He might never regain his status he had at the height of his career but his legacy certainly carries him to an extent and The Documentary 2 solidifies his place in hip hop.

11. VEGA INTL. Night School – Neon Indian

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Ah yes, chillwave. A captivating record 4 years in the making, this record is a dizzying display of 16bit synthesizers, tropical sounds, and reggae here and there. The 51 minute double album plays off the concept of a night school where human nature begins to reveal itself after midnight. Think 1980s New York disco clubs. The aesthetic brings the experience to a whole new level. It’s extremely addictive and the synth pop waves ride off of the listeners’ nostalgia. It’s charismatic, sexy, and a whole lot of aesthetic appeal.

10. Currents – Tame Impala

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Every song on this new Tame Impala record shows to us why Kevin Parker is so good at what he does. The display of production, songwriting, and instrumentation is vivid and complex. It weaves in emotions without ever fully revealing itself and is capable of giving listeners the peace of solitude in its sound. It never borrows cliches from psychedelic rock but instead creates its own middle ground to form intriguing melodies. If a lot of albums on this list have reflected lo fi sounds, then Currents is one that’ll hit you with how hi fi and complex it truly is. A marvelous and riveting experience to behold this year.

9. Dirty Sprite 2 – Future

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2015 was Future’s year. No one else even came close to the monster year he had. He hit the 3peat this year with Beast Mode, 56 Nights, and Dirty Sprite 2 and it places him along the greats like Michael Jordan 96′-98′ and Kobe 00′-02′. Then he dropped a collab tape with Drake and is slated to release another mixtape before this year was over. Hate him or love him, you can’t knock his grind. DS2 saw a less emotional Future but the honest and vulnerability came through on some songs. It’s miserable, depressed, and reflective of Future’s recent break up with Ciara and his dependency on lean/other drugs. It’s bleak and painfully honest to every degree. He backs these emotions up on his classic hard hitting club songs but portrays it as a distraction. Money can’t buy happiness. From “I just fucked your bitch in some gucci flip flops” to switching to “I just need a whole lot of drugs in my system. I just tried acid for the first time, I feel good”. It’s brutally honest and displays Future at his best.

8. The Epic – Kamasi Washington

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Jazz nowadays isn’t the most accessible genre of music today. It’s hard to find yourself enjoying something so repetitive when there are so many other options out there. But jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington sets out to make 21st century jazz accessible and grand as it can possibly be. In one word, it’s epic. Evoking feelings is the best way to make music great and Kamasi accomplishes that and more backed by his full band. It’s quite a long listen but well worth the experience. If jazz was ever in an uncreative state leading up to this point, then Kamasi has completely thrown that notion out the window. The three hour run time is filled by diverse instrumentation, RnB vocals, and elements of funk and soul. It’s innovative, radical, and utterly creative. It plays off listeners’ emotions so well and creates an environment that isn’t just jazz, but a frontier to fantastic music as a whole. It’s impossible not to love and it has a whole lot of creativity and heart backing it.

7. Art Angels – GRIMES

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Claire Boucher has definitely outdone herself on the new Grimes record. It’s infectious in every sense of the word. It’s full of feminism, “fuck off, I don’t fuck with you” ideals, and plenty of despising for her critics. It’s powerful, filled with rage, and even borderline misandristic. She no longer fits into the “human category” that critics have thrown her into but rather has redefined her own boundaries in her music and drags listeners kicking and screaming along with her. Her voice has expanded as well, becoming bigger and bolder with every track. Her production skills are insane and her features are always solid. Driven by a sense of surrealism, Grimes is able to create Art Angels, a deeply complex album that interweaves so many influences from k-pop to Katy Perry. Immensely enjoyable and completely thorough, this record was a pinnacle of what Grimes can do. Good luck trying to get Kill V. Maim out of your head.

6. The Powers That B – Death Grips

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The fourth album from experimental hip hop trio Death Grips is a double album released completely in March. It’s split into two parts: disc one, N****s on the Moon and disc two, Jenny Death. It’s hard to explain Death Grips without listening to them. It’s a combination of hip hop, industrial, and noise music. They are in every sense, antiheroes to the music industry. They do what they want and their music reflects utter primal rage and power within them. It’s a triumphant return from their hiatus and sounds like some of their best work in terms of production. It features diverse styles with some elements of rock but make no mistake, Death Grips are not attempting to pander to rock fans by any means. The industrial drum beats over MC Ride’s aggressive rapping has become a staple of Death Grips and on this record, the brutality begins to subside into darker and deeper emotions. It exposes Ride’s fear underneath the demeanor and showcases some of DG’s best songs to date. “Can feel him itching to take me with him, hail death, fuck you waiting for/Like a question no one mention, he turns around, hands me his weapon/He slurs, “Use at your discretion, it’s been a pleasure, Stefan”. Morbid, dark, and aggressive, Death Grips excels in this record and includes some of their best work to date.

5. Compton – Dr. Dre

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16 years is a long time. Even more so for fans of Dr. Dre. The Compton rapper and producer had announced his final album Detox years ago but along the way, had discarded it. In its place was Compton, an album influenced by the new NWA movie he had helped film. Now 16 years is a lot of time to build hype. It’s easy to listen to Compton and think to yourself that it isn’t what you thought it would be. But toss away the idea of Detox and Compton becomes an amazing album that fills out the void of where it should’ve been and more. It’s ambitious, creative, and showcases Dre’s insane production. This is the record we’ve all waited for 16 years and Dre has more than delivered. His featured list with Eminem, Ice Cube, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, The Game, newcomer Anderson .Paak, and more round off this album as the Detox album we wanted. This is Dre’s grand finale and it is so damn good. The soundscape is distinctive and more than anything, it highlights the very essence of hip hop. It might not be all G-funk and 90s inspired but Dre has found a way to create a sound that delves into the roots of hip hop music. His rapping is aided by his co-writers as always and it never fails to impress. Dre and his features are explicitly political rapping about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the injustices of today’s society. It’s impressive in every sense of the word. It’s a lot more raw and real than Detox ever would’ve been. The 16 years were worth the wait.

4. Tetsuo &Youth – Lupe Fiasco

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Tetsuo & Youth signals Lupe Fiasco’s return to form. His past few releases have felt confined and often seemed as if they were sticking to a script. With Tetsuo & Youth however, Lupe begins to push boundaries that redefine himself as a rapper. T&Y is the pinnacle of Lupe’s maturity and creativity. It finally opts to drop the notion of any sort of commercial radio play and instead goes back to the bar for bar style of rapping that he used to employ. No song is suited for much radio play and that is exactly what Lupe wanted. This is why ultra detailed songs like Mural are so prevalent. He pushes the envelope with his intricate wordplay, clever metaphors, and imaginative lyrics. He becomes much more emotional compared to his previous records and more than anything, it displays his skill as a musician and songwriter. We often set Lupe up to this pedestal by comparing his work to The Cool or Food & Liquor. But T&Y is in a category of its own. It’s not a matter of being better or worse than his classics. He seems to be having fun in making music again and this album is a marvel to listen to and immerse yourself in. I personally have played Mural hundreds of times and it has my vote for the song of the year. Lupe is back to form indeed.

3. I Love You Honeybear – Father John Misty

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I Love You Honeybear is Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillamn’s second studio album under the name Father John Misty. It’s a concept album that revolves around his personal life, his troubles, and his relationship with his wife Emma. The album is extremely personal and his intentions are so clear. He spills his emotions over the 11 tracks as it ranges from cynicism, love, anger, and confused. Most importantly however, is that he is honest and open. He gives these experiences to the listener through deeply complex songwriting that the listener deciphers. It’s complicated, much more than his first album but it also rewards you as a listener greatly. Tillman’s character is flawed of course but we begin to see ourselves in him as well and these lyrics are easy to relate to. The instrumentation is top notch and the production is applied well. It’s an amazing listening experience and the soundscapes he paints are so vivid. This is a must have on vinyl and a necessity to spin when you are fully concentrated on listening. His humor and skill in songwriting aid him greatly throughout the album. It’s deep, complex, and almost philosophical at some points. Most of all it’s very easy to relate to. Everyone has someone they love. Your girlfriend, husband, friend, grandparents whatever. Emotions are at the base of human emotion. Father John Misty has it all here.

2. Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

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Carrie & Lowell is Sufjan’s best work. A bold claim given his career, artistry, and previous albums. But nothing compares to him as he is at the core. A beautiful voice accompanied by minimal strings or piano. His haunting voice deeply evokes emotions within his listeners and Carrie & Lowell is no different. This album centers around Sufjan’s childhood and his mother, a woman with mental disorders that suffered from drug abuse. There’s nothing more stripped down and honest than that. This album is his autobiography and it explores a lot of different themes such as grief, depression, longing, family, and faith. All of this centralizes on Sufjan’s desire to become closer to his mother, who abandoned his family while he was a child. He interweaves his childhood with his adult life telling tales of his own alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicidal thoughts. It’s brutally open and perhaps one of the most heart wrenching records I have heard in years. Throughout the album, Sufjan does not cast blame on his mother. He wishes to find peace in the suffering he has experienced since she died. He questions his own morality and own grief before commenting “We’re all gonna die”. It’s captivating and heartfelt throughout. The soundscape is minimal but full of diverse instrumentation and haunting lyrics. It’s diverse, creative, and the production is astounding. Full of human emotion stripped bare, Carrie & Lowell is without a doubt Sufjan’s best work to date.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

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Was there ever a doubt this would be the album of the year? From the first moment I listened to it, I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped either. This is by far the most listened album of mine this year. So what makes this record so good and how does it keep pulling me and others back to it? A big factor is the timing it was released. This is an unapologetically political album, centering on social injustices, black empowerment, violence by the police, and other topics. This album became a strong backing for #BlackLivesMatter and Alright became an anthem for protesters around America. The album art features young, shirtless black men swarming over the grounds of the White House and posing with a “dead” white man, a symbol of racial injustice throughout America. Upon first listen, it becomes evident that Kendrick made this album for the black community. I can’t possibly relate to this right? The most surprising element of TPAB is that it is deeply relevant to many other people as well. Those dealing with depression, substance abuse, fame, and everything else in between can gravitate to Kendrick’s poetry as well. Kendrick’s personal issues and fears arise while he raps over jazzy/funk influenced beats. The production value is amazing. The album is so complex and is filled with a multitude of emotions from political rage, harsh self-critique, and honest confessions. He crushes whatever competition he has in the rap game thoroughly through his own lyrics but recognizes his own personal flaws as well. His talk with recordings of Tupac on “Mortal Man” is one of the most creative pieces I have ever heard. His scope of lyrics, cunning, wit, and humor provide a backdrop for his own personal struggles and the struggles of others as well. Every conscious rapper can show the political rage that they have. But very few will ever convey their own doubt and personal demons in a way that Kendrick does. It’s unapologetically political but it’s also very personal and vulnerable on many levels. It’s dense and full of lyrical mastery. There truly is no other contender for album of the year. This is music as an art form at the very core.

About the Author

Jeff

I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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