Top 40 LPs & EPs 2015: Top 10
The list starts here.
10. So the Flies Don’t Come- Milo
Milo is a Wisconsin rapper, which sounds like a made up thing I will admit, but I liked XV when he was good and that nigga was from Kansas. So the Flies Come is produced from top to bottom by Kenny Segal who is a Los Angeles based producer whose garnered some popularity recently working with the likes of Busdriver and Mr. Carmack. The musical feel of the LP is more melodic and floaty than I originally expected considering how punchy Milo’s flow has been in the past. Milo tackles racial issues and the rap game on So the Flies Don’t Come with clever one lines and creative flows. The LP feels very influenced by his contemporaries, at times Milo sounds a lot like Earl Sweatshirt, J. Cole, or even Open Mike Eagle who was at one time–as Milo is–a member of Hellfyre Club. The LP is fantastic piece of jazz rap and lyrical prowess and it deserves a listen.
Best Tracks: Souvenir, Re: Animist, Going No Pace, @yomilo, Song About a Raygunn (An Ode to Driver)
X-Factor: Judging by the content of So the Flies Don’t Come Milo would object to the classification but it is an unavoidable truth that he is a completely unique voice in hip-hop today.
9. Time? Astonishing!- L’Orange & Kool Keith
The rapper x producer duo or L’Orange and Kool Keith have had pretty well regarded solo careers previous to this LP but this is the Mello Music Group duo’s first collaborative project. L’Orange has been long known as an experimental producer who has been celebrated for his work with other Mello Music Group members such as Jeremaih Jae, Open Mike Eagle, and Rapper Big Pooh. L’Orange’s jazz and soul influenced production is a perfect compliment to Kool Keith hectic lyricism and flow. The project is experimental and at times inaccessible but every moment is intentional and it feels like a cinematic journey through the whole LP, be that a more surreal cinematic journey than most people are used to.
Best Tracks: The Green Ray, Twenty Fifty Three, Meanwhile, Back Home, This New World, I Need Out of This World
X-Factor: L’Orange is not only the only producer out doing what he’s doing, but he is without a doubt one of the best working producers today.
8. A Special Episode Of- Open Mike Eagle
Chicago MC Open Mike Eagle dropped one of my favorite LPs from last year Dark Comedy and followed it up fairly early this year with what feels like continuation, not quite a sequel but certainly related, A Special Episode Of EP. This EP is pretty short, only about six tracks it runs about 20 minutes in full. The benefit with such an easily digestible EP is that it allows Mike to release one of the only “perfect” releases of the year, I don’t think there is a bad track or bad musical moment in the whole EP. It also allows for a lot of re-listens which is a benefit to the audience with the lofty social and personal ideas that Mike is dealing with on this EP. In particular on the opening track “Open Mike Eagle Late Show” my favorite track of the year, which deals with race issues and the current state of American culture. As well the final track “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps)” which seems to be a personal story about Mike viewing himself as an outsider, even an alien in this world.
Best Tracks: Dark Comedy Late Show, Split Pants in Detroit (or Hyrule), Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss, Trickeration, Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps)
X-Factor: Continuing with my complete disdain for baseball and all related metaphors, Mike keeps a clean sheet on this EP, which is a rarity, its one of the best 20 minutes you can spend musically this year. Maybe the best 20 minutes you can spend at all… I don’t get out much, I wouldn’t know.
7. The Powers That Be (Niggas On The Moon/Jenny Death)- Death Grips
I’m really ready to say it was worth the wait yet but The Powers That B, the album that took nearly a year to get both halves of is an excellent double LP. I really liked Niggas on the Moon the addition of Bjork was a welcome compliment to a band whose music is constantly evolving. It is very fitting that Jenny Death was a return to their completely dissonant approach to music making however. The poppy and at times even catchy nature that trickled into their releases since Exmilitary is all but lost on Jenny Death which is as violent, noisey, and loud as ever. I originally had this ranking much higher in my first rankings, actually I had it as high at 2nd but there was something about my third and fourth listens of the double LP that made me drop it lower down the ranking. The LP is as powerful and unrelenting as fans of the group have become accustomed to, but with the return to the sound of Exmilitary and The Money Store the second half of the double LP falls a little flat. MC Ride is as crazy as ever and takes the aggression and explicit uncompromising sound to a new height on The Powers That B. While I adored Niggas on a Moon I would have much preferred the more lofty musical sound to continue because as they returned to the scene of the crime so to speak it was obvious on Jenny Death that this LP was a less well-done LP than even Exmilitary. But look this shit is still 7th, the double LP is damn good I just wish it was better, especially if this really is the last the group has to offer which which Death Grips, who knows.
Best Tracks: Up My Sleeve, Billy Not Really, Say Hey Kid, Fuck Me Out, I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States, Turned Off, Pss Pss, The Powers That Be, Death Grips 2.0
X-Factor: If you love Death Grips this is Death Grips back at it… if you don’t… they’re still a hard listen, skip it.
6. Kinison EP- Your Old Droog
It’s not Nas I swear. Your Old Droog not only sounds like Nas but his lyrical prowess is right up there with ye old rap god. While most of these references are over my head, there was a lot of time spent on rap genius while listening to this EP I love what Droog is doing with the rock inspired tracks on this EP. The opening sets the tone for the EP, which is the eponymous stand-up comedian Some-Fat-White-Asshole Kinison expressing what was and still is a pretty commonly held belief about hip-hop, that it requires no skill because people don’t play instruments. Your Old Droog embraces both his hip-hop roots on this EP but also his rock roots with tracks with titles like “Rage Against the Machines” or “Sonic Youth,” references that even I didn’t have to google. It is not just the strong conceptual nature of the EP but also Droog’s unrelenting lyricism that makes the album so strong. He is clever and thought provoking throughout and uses his platform to negate the idea that hip-hop is a talent-less genre with what is some of the most skillful verses of the year and some of the most unmatched wordplay.
Best Tracks: Blood, Sonic Youth, Homicide, Freeway Fire, Gentrify My Hood, Sasquatch in a UFO
5. The Good Fight- Oddisee
DC native Oddisee follows up his work with Mello Music Group members Uptown X.O. and YU, together known as Diamond District with a full length solo LP. There isn’t much complex to this LP to be honest. Oddisee is soulful and lyrically dynamic, he’s at times clever but mostly he just remains consistent. The real power of this LP is how perfectly Oddisee, who is a very good MC, matches up with the jazzy souldful production throughout The Good Fight. I found myself at the end of my first listen not knowing what I loved so much about it but on the second listen through I realized it’s a lot to do with the accessibility of the record but it avoids being dumbed down. Oddisee is still smart and with wordplay is fun and has some pop appeal without having to resort to what many of the “radio rappers” do. In short…. there will be no twerking but you’ll still have hella fun.
Best Tracks: That’s Love, Want Something Done, Counter-Clockwise, First Choice, A List of Withouts, Meant it When I Said it
X-Factor: Oddisee is really good at what he does and what he does it make sharp, thoughtful “intellectual” rap that when paired with such strong production makes for some of the best music of 2015.
4. B4.DA.$$- Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ drops his debut full-length commercial LP B4.DA.$$, or Before Da Money after years of releasing pretty hot fire mixtapes. Joey has been at the forefront of the Beast Coast movement in recent years and for good reason. Joey continues with his boompbap 90s hip-hop inspired style and its attention to lyrical content. The production on this LP is fantastic, sporting some big names like Dj Premier, Hit-Boy, and Statik Selektah as well as some less well-known faces as well as fellow Pro Era members. But it is Joey that steals the show here. It is always a pleasant surprise when you see an artist develop as they get older, I was a big fan of 1999 but Joey Bada$$ has made big strides that debut mixtape. Lyrically, conceptually, and thematically, there is nothing in Joey’s catalog to date that can compare to this LP. It is absolutely worth a listen if you’ve been a fan of Joey’s work in the past and even if you haven’t because he just might surprise you.
Best Tracks: Paper Trail$, Big Dusty, Hazeus View, Christ Conscious, Escape 120, O.C.B.
X-Factor: More introspective and experimental that Joey’s other work this is the biggest risk he takes and it is a fantastic listen because of it.
3. Live From the Dentist Office- Injury Reserve
Arizona based based rap group Injury Reserve basically came out of no where as far as I could tell, maybe it’s because I haven’t been paying much attention to the Arizona rap scene. But Live From the Dentist Office is no joke, its a pretty great chillwave, jazz rap LP. The boys of Injury Reserve are clearly inspired by the music coming from New York in the late 90s, not to suggest that in anyway these guys are Tribe or De La Soul but they are in the same ball court, they’re at least playing the same sport which most MCs can’t really claim. They have great quotables and clever word play and the production is dynamic and daring.
Best Tracks: Yo, Whatever Dude, Friday, Washed Up, Everybody Knows, ttktv
X-Factor: A group full of serious musicians who don’t take themselves too serious. Live From the Dentist Office feels like a Das Racist LP with stronger wordplay and lyricism.
2. Evermore: The Art of Duality- The Underachievers
The Brooklyn rap duo drops their second commercial release and Issa Gold and AK are once again at peak form. As philosophical as ever The Underachievers now turn their spiritualism and theology to real life issues like poverty, race, and even their lives growing up. The LP is broken up into two sides, as the cover and the title of the LP would suggest, it has a light side and a dark side. The light side, or the first half of the LP is more positive lyrically and lighter musically. The instrumentals on the first half of the LP are more cloudy and ethereal. But the second half of the LP is darker all around, lyrically and also the instrumentals are more brutal and trap inspired. The duality of the LP and focus on choice thematically makes for one of the more beautiful and thought provoking musical releases of the year. I think this is fantastic, I really wanted to make it the #1 album of the year, if you haven’t given it a listen I really think you should, but at Issa Gold and AK would point out… the choice is yours.
Best Tracks: Rain Dance, Shine All Gold, The Dualist, The Brooklyn Way, Take Your Place, Moon Shot, Stay the Same
X-Factor: Beat coast rap, quite literally at its finest.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly- Kendrick Lamar
Could it really have been any other album? The answer is no. I’m not really happy about it, I don’t get to look super smart when you get to #1 and you haven’t even heard of the LP sitting in the top spot. But here we are, To Pimp a Butterfly, the follow up to the 2012 LP Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, an album that I wasn’t as high on as others. The people telling you that To Pimp a Butterfly is overrated are wrong, I’m not sure in what way they are wrong, I’ve had some conversation with people who think it’s not as lyrically strong as GKMC or that it’s overrated because it’s boring. They’re wrong, like really really wrong. Kendrick sheds the pop leanings of GKMC that turned me off to the LP and sticks with this deep booming produced tracks. Lyrically Kendrick is as socially conscious and clever as ever. More than anything else on this LP though I loved the concept of it. It is not the story album that GKMC was but instead Kendrick Lamar connects the tracks and introduces each thematically with a poem that he tells piece by piece throughout. As a black person in 2015 America there should be nothing more impressive to you than the work Kendrick Lamar is doing on To Pimp a Butterfly. But even not as a black person Lamar steps outside of the black experience and is expressing a truly human experience. The truth is so many people much smarter than me have talked for months about this LP so you have heard it all by now. I loved this LP, it is the Infinite Jest of albums, it might not be for everyone but the people that don’t like it also think Twighlight is a good book so… fuck ‘em.
Also Kendrick has a conversation with a dead legend on this LP… if that’s not enough to convince you, nothing is.
Best Tracks: Wesley’s Theory, King Kunta, These Walls, u, Alright, Complexion (A Zulu Love), The Blacker the Berry
X-Factor: This is the best album of the year, bar-none, there really isn’t an argument. You’d like to think something like that would be a matter of opinion, it’s not not in this case.