There’s a saying that you should always expect the unexpected, but any rap fans didn’t know what the writing on the wall was coming into 2015. 2014 had been a dismal year for rap music, with few monumental albums that put fans on the edge of their seats, waiting in anticipation for their release date to come. 2015 has had no such issues, with a new high-profile album from lauded rappers being unleashed almost every other week, it seems like.
We’ve been blessed with an abundance of major releases that have gotten the people more excited about the genre in comparison to the indifference that was prevalent over the past few years.
And with good reason, being that almost every album that has touched down since Jan. 1 has been well-received and set the stage for what is sure to be an eventful year for hip-hop. Everyone from mainstream darlings to underground mainstays have contributed to this modern renaissance of great rap music and changed the narrative of “hip-hop is dead.”
This is a positive revival that bodes well for the state of the culture. The BoomBox culled through various rap albums that were released this year and picked 20 that we feel stood out from the pack.
So without further ado, here’s our list of the 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2015. Did your favorite LP make the cut? Let us know in the comments below.
Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’
We said at the beginning of the year that Kendrick Lamar was the voice that hip-hop needed to hear in 2015.
The Compton native proved us right with his magnum opus,To Pimp a Butterfly, which crash landed onto the rap world and immediately dominated the conversation.
His last effort,g.o.o.d kid m.a.a.d. citymay have been pretty straight-forward and digestible for the average rap fan, butTPAB, was the exact opposite. There were no shiny bells and whistles, just polished soundscapes that preferred jazzy horns and live instrumentation over pounding 808’s and up-tempo, synth driven productions.
And the words spoken weren’t just dope bars and the occasional cautionary tale or moment of clarity, but a look inside the tormented mind of the product of a poverty-stricken, ultra-violent environment.
The stories are more testimonials than rap songs and full of substance with style as an afterthought. From the opening monologue to the end, K.Dot presents the black experience without filter and the picture is far from pretty or easy to look at.
The Game – ‘The Documentary 2’
The Game has grown from being the new young gun from California to assuming an elder statesman role of sorts. Ten years deep into his career, the Compton native has built one of the most respectable catalogs during that span — name-drops aside.
The Game raised the stakes withDocumentary 2, his double-disc release that looks to recapture the magic of his classic debut. And overall, that mission gets accomplished over the album’s daunting 36 tracks. The sheer amount of music in one sitting may seem like a little too much for fans to stomach, but every item on this musical buffet is delicious and cooked to taste.
While the second disc is the superior portion of the LP, the album as a whole is rewind-worthy material. Song highlights include “On Me,” “Dollar and a Dream,” “Made In America,” “The Ghetto” and “Quik’s Theme.”
Aside from the incessant sampling of of’90s rap classics,The Documentary 2is devoid of many major blemishes and is sure to be remembered as one of the finest rap albums of 2015.
Future – ‘DS2’
In 2015, Future is arguably the hottest rapper in the game right now. Coming into the year riding the momentum of his classicMonstermixtape, the Atlanta rhymer ramped up his buzz by dropping two more mixtapes (Beast Mode,56 Nights), which set the stage for the release of his third studio album,DS2.
Released in July of this year, the LP was the culmination of Future’s ascension to superstardom while appeasing fans that gravitated more to his trap music than his more pop-friendly fare.
You’ll never confuse Future with a wordsmith, but he’s a master at setting moods and crafting songs with endless amounts of quotables. With bombastic beats supplied by Metro Boomin’, Future shines on offerings like “Stick Talk,” “Colossal,” “Rich $ex” and “Blood On the Money,” makingDS2a strong contender for album of the year.
Lupe Fiasco – ‘Tetsuo & Youth’
Once noted as a potential messiah for the new hip-hop, generation, that crown never quite fit Lupe Fiasco correctly.
Coming out of the gate strong with his classic debut,Food & Liquor, and its stellar follow-up,The Cool, the Chicago rhymer could do no wrong. But in the subsequent years, strife with his record label and the media put a dark cloud over his shining aura.
Albums like Lasers and the sequel toFood & Liquorwould’ve been solid efforts for most rappers, but fell below expectations.
Lupe’s fifth studio-album,Tetsuo & Youth, is reminiscent ofThe Cool, albeit slightly blended with inklings of the uptempo fair that have kept his singles in rotation over the past few years.
The epic opener, “Mural,” will make lovers of lyrics marvel, while “Little Death” will cause you to daydream, and “Chopper” will make you put on your screwface. Overall,Tetsuo & Youthis sure to make you think about life and all its wonders and idiosyncrasies.
Scarface – ‘Deeply Rooted’
If respect and reverence were currency, Scarface would have earnings in the trillions. Simply put, the hip-hop icon is known as the standard when it comes to attacking the art of emceeing from a southern perspective.
But don’t get us wrong, Scarface is by no means restricted to regional boundaries, as he is one of the best rappers of all-time regardless of distinction.
He makes that fact even clearer on his 12th studio album,Deeply Rooted, his first release in nearly seven years. His absence may have been felt, but it hasn’t affected his lyrics one bit, with the tenured ghetto griot spinning spell-bounding narratives that are so vivid the songs come off as truly cinematic.
Compositions such as “The Hot Seat,” “Steer,” “Do What I Do” and “Keep It Moving” are all fantastic songs that show Scarface is moreDeeply Rootedthan ever, even twenty-five years removed from his entrance in the rap game.
A.S.A.P. Rocky – ‘A.L.L.A.’
They say that some of the best art in the world is created in the darkness of tragedy. And there’s no other way to describe the death of A$AP Yams, A$AP Rocky’s right-hand and the mastermind behind the A$AP Mob collective, who passed away in January of this year.
The loss must’ve been unbearable for Rocky, but he eventually delivered his sophomore effort,A.L.L.A. (At. Long. Last. A$AP).
While few knew what to expect from the album,A.L.L.A.wound up being one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Featuring appearances from M.I.A., Kanye West, Lil Wayne, ScHoolboy Q, James Fauntleroy, Rod Stewart, among others,A.L.L.A.is a testament to Rocky’s diverse musical palette, which incorporates everything from punk-rock to boom-bap.
Premier selections like “L$D,” “Max B” and “Wavy Bones” help makeA.L.L.A.a can’t-miss album of 2015.
Dr. Dre – ‘Compton’
Fans didn’t know that they would have to wait 16 years to get a proper follow-up to Dr. Dre’s 1999 release,2001. In August of this year, the veteran producer announced that he would be releasing his third and final album, but noted that it would not be titled Detox and that the anticipated album would be dubbedComptonand would be released in promotion of the N.W.A.
biopic,Straight Outta Compton. Some fans may have felt cheated after anticipatingDetoxfor so long, but those feelings were soon assuaged when Compton was presented to the world and the people realized that Dr. Dre had done it again.
While not as potent as his other two classics LPs, the collection has its share of highlights, including the brutal posse cut “Loose Cannons,” the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Deep Water” and “Medicine Man.”
King Mez and Anderson .Paak may not turn out to be the next Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, respectively, but both make lasting impressions with their contributions. The wait may have been a little more than we bargained for, butComptonranks high and is sure to get finer with time.
Wale – ‘The Album About Nothing’
Wale has had one of the more pecuiler careers in rap over the first half of this decade. Despite multiple hit singles and being known as one of the brightest lyrical talents in the game, the MMG rapper has yet to release an album that is as touted across the board and regarded as a complete body of work. But Mr. Folarin’s latest effort,The Album About Nothing, brings the DMV rapper closer to the widespread acclaim he’s long yearned for. Taking his affinity forSeinfeldand incorporating it into the album, long-time fans will be more than pleased with the results. “The White Shoes,” “The Need To Know” and “The Glass Egg” are all superior tracks that will make any rap fan opposed to Wale rethink their stance and press play onThe Album About Nothing.
Drake – ‘If Youre Reading This Its Too’ Late’
It’s hard to argue that Drake isn’t the hottest rapper in the game right now.
With three consecutive platinum albums and dozens of hits under his belt, Drizzy currently wears the crown as the people’s champ.
The Toronto native tossed fans an unexpected bone in the form of his fourth studio album,If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, which moved an impressive 530,000 in its first week despite little promotion. Billed as the last album under his contract with Cash Money Records, some fans may have classified the album as a mixtape, but it is by all intents and purposes a proper longplayer. Tracks like “Energy,” “Know Yourself” and “No Tellin’” were inescapable for the first half of 2015, while selections like “Jungle” and “6 God” are simply undeniable and among his finest work in recent memory.
Ghostwriting controversy aside, the LP commands a spot on any album of the year list and continues Drake’s dominant run as the kid with the midas touch.
Meek Mill – ‘Dreams Worth More Than Money’
2014 was more of a nightmare than a dream for Maybach Music Group’s young gun Meek Mill.
After spending the second half of 2014 in prison, the Philly rapper was released in December of that year and he immediately went into the studio to finish recording the follow-up toDreams and Nightmares. Meek’sDreams Worth More Than Money, which dropped in June of 2015, was powered by the Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown-assisted lead single, “All Eyes On Me.”
The collection debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart and was considered a vast improvement from his uneven debut. The MMG artist catered to his core fanbase with street bangers like “Jump Out the Face,” the high octane “Ambitionz” and the chilling finale cut.
Meek also used his high-profile relationship with Nicki for fodder on tracks like The Weeknd-guested, “Pullin Up” and “Bad for You.” Meek may have caught endless slander after his feud with Drake, but that doesn’t negate the fact theDreams Worth More Than Moneyis a well-crafted body of work with plenty of replay value.
Big Sean – ‘Dark Sky Paradise’
Other than flopping on your first outing, there’s nothing an artist dreads more than the sophomore jinx. Ask Big Sean, who followed up his debut album,Finally Famous, with his subpar effort,Hall of Fame.
Taking note of the less than positive reviews of his last project, the Detroit rhymer dusted himself off and concocted what may be the comeback album of the year with Dark Sky Paradise.
Featuring appearances from Kayne West, Drake, Jhene Aiko and John Legend, among others, the LP contains standout tracks like “Blessings,” “Play No Games” and “I Know.” Sean has a knack for creating catchy tunes that move the needle (“IDFWU”), which makesDark Sky Paradisea gem of an album.
Drake & Future – ‘What A Time To Be Alive’
Undoubtedly, Future and Drake were the biggest winners in 2015, individually, before the release of their collaborative effort,What A Time To Be Alive. Released in September to much fanfare, the album debuted atop theBillboard200 chart, netting both artists their second No. 1 album of the year and Future’s second in within a three-month span.
WATTBAwould prove to be one of the more entertaining releases of this year. Standout tracks include “Big Rings,” “Live From The Gutter” and “Scholarships.”What a Time to Be Alivemay not beThe Best Of Both WorldsorWatch the Throne, it’s still a solid effort from two of the brightest artists in the rap game.
Travi$ Scott – ‘Rodeo’
Rebellion has always been a major calling card for new jacks in hip-hop, but it’s been some time since an artist has come along with the brash energy of a Travi$ Scott.
Making his entrance in the game as a producer, Scott transitioned to rapping and caught the ears of T.I. and Kanye West (whom he worked with on theCruel Summercompilation) with his expansive sound and innovative approach to music.
After releasing two acclaimed mixtapes, Scott dropped his anticipated debut album,Rodeo, in September of this year. The collection is a roller-coaster of various musical experiences. What Scott does would never be described as lyricism, but what he lacks in verbiage he more than makes up for with his songwriting process and zany production quirks that keep the listener on their toes.
While a tour de force from top to bottom, bangers like “3500,” “90210,” “Antidote,” and “Maria I’m Drunk” are audio crack and makesRodeoa superior rap album.