The Best Hip-Hop Tracks of 2015 » VSB

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The Best Hip-Hop Tracks of 2015

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It’s tough being a hip-hop fan in your mid-30s.

Your formative years took place entirely during the genre’s “renaissance” – roughly 1992-2000, when classics dropped weekly and before ringtone rap, singles-driven albums and J-Kwon came in and stunk up the whole joint. You know what quality and effort sound like.

Some hip-hop heads – the portly dudes rocking the graying dreads with the bald spot in the middle who haven’t let go of military fatigues and actually wear backpacks to shows – don’t wanna hear shit about shit when it comes to rappers born during the Clinton presidency. But I can’t play The Infamous Mobb Deep on repeat forever, which is why I’m glad I can adapt to the genre’s changing landscape.

There will always be shitty mainstream rap (Nicki Minaj and her girlfriend Meek Mill still have careers, after all). But things have gotten better; a decade ago, there were no Kendrick Lamar types in contention for Album of the Year. Skilled rappers who routinely crack the Top 40 these days openly genuflect to their predecessors – J. Cole made a whole track knob-polishing Nas; Drake (whose “singing,” which sounds like a sack of kittens being passed through an industrial-grade wood chipper, belies a decent flow) admitted there’d be no him without Phonte.

The genre’s improvements have made my annual tradition of shoehorning the best tracks of the year onto an 80-minute CD-R a little harder. Digital players have obviated the need for discs, but I still use 80 minutes as a guide so no trash sneaks in. Since I’ve bumped 243 rap tracks from 2015 at press time, whittling them down to 17 of my favorites was hard.

Some years I struggle to fill the playlist; this year, I could actually create two equally good ones. Pusha T’s Dec. 18 album could make me rethink everything, but I doubt it.

  1. “Mural” – Lupe Fiasco: Considering the amount of energy Wasalu has sunk into online bitchery, it’s astounding that dropping his best album in eight years is the quietest thing he’s done. Tetsuo & Youth is criminally underrated, and “Mural” is an 8-plus-minute, hook-free tour de force that might be the best album-opening salvo since “Triumph.” Logic also flipped this sample of Cortex’s “Chanson D’Un Jour D’Hiver” a while back, but Lupe rendered it obsolete.

  1. “The Blacker the Berry” – Kendrick Lamar: K-Dot’s third album was easily the year’s most disappointing; the dopest flow and most resonant lyrics in the multiverse can’t make up for Ambien-esque production. The only reason this edges out “How Much a Dollar Cost” is because it’s one of two beats this year (with “Lift Me Up”) that made me wanna curb-stomp someone’s grandmother like dude in American History X.

  1. “Come and See Me” – Ludacris (feat. Big K.R.I.T.): When I dropped about $2,500 on an after-market stereo system for my new SUV, I used the dope bass lines on this Mike Will Made It track to tweak everything just how I like it. As far as popcorn rap is concerned, Luda’s comeback album Ludaversal could’ve been a lot

  1. “Canal St.” – A$AP Rocky (feat. Bones): The guiltiest inclusion on this list. Rocky’s the most basic rapper in his basic crew, and I’ll likely never check for his flow. Bones’ (another basic rapper) “Dirt” sample is the reason this was in rotation for so long – neither rapper really deserved Klimeks’ moody, piano-driven production.

  1. “Suicide Doors” – Skyzoo: I’ve been stanning for Skyzoo since his 2006 debut with 9th Wonder, Cloud 9: The Three-Day High. He’s one of the most consistent proletariat emcees in the game, and I purchase a hard copy of everything he puts out. Definitely peep all of Music For My Friends. (N/n: I enjoyed Rick Ross’ “Crocodile Pythons” better when Sky did it the first time.)

  1. “On Me” – The Game (feat. Kendrick Lamar): As is the case with most double albums, The Documentary 2.5 would’ve been much better if the fat were trimmed and the best tracks from both discs were placed onto one. “On Me” gets high marks mainly for that sample of Erykah Badu’s “On & On.”

  1. “Latino Pt. 2” – Joell Ortiz (feat. Bogeda Bamz, Chris Rivers & Emilio Rojas): Great posse cuts are few and far between these days (“Banned From T.V.” was a long time ago), so it’s refreshing to hear a bunch of underground Boricuan spitters bodying an !llmind beat. Also, !llmind is the dopest Pinoy since Pacquiao in his prime, before the homophobic bullshit.

  1. “Chicken” – Mark Battles: Indie Indy (see what I did there?) rapper Battles released his first proper album Numb after a prolific mixtape output starting in 2011. Dude has bars, but “Chicken” has a warm place in my heart for the looping sample of Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds.” I’ve rocked with Phil hardbody since the 1980s, and I’ll accept no slander for it.

  1. “Cars” – Curren$y: I ignored Curren$y as lazy New Orleans rap for the longest, but “Pot Jar” from Pilot Talk III album made me dig into his considerable oeuvre, which consists of 214 albums, 580 EPs and about 34,594,273 DatPiff mixtapes. The inky-dark melody on “Cars” was like audio crack, making it my most-played track in 2015.

  1. “Lift Me Up” – Vince Staples: Staples made some distressing comments about 1990s hip-hop that I forgave because: a) he’s been of legal drinking age for about 17 seconds, and b) he’s a pretty talented young scrub. I didn’t like his debut album Summertime ’06 as much as critics did, but “Lift Me Up” is solid stab-a-nigga music. It’s been a minute since I caught myself singing a repetitive hook to myself. “Liftmeupliftmeupliftmeupliftmeuuuup.”

  1. “Tuxedos” – Benjamin Starr (feat. Mile): Another great 2015 discovery, the South Kakalak rapper is more beastly on the mic than most of his peers, and his debut album Free Lunch is a more palatable version of To Pimp a Butterfly.

  1. “Paper Trail$” – Joey Bada$$: Joey gets a lot of props for having a throwback NYC sound without being a complete anachronism, and DJ Premier is my personal G.O.A.T. producer. They do great work together (see: “Unorthodox”), and “Paper Trail$” has a fantastic beat that builds.

  1. “Deep Water” – Dr. Dre (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Justus & Anderson .Paak): If you told me last spring that I’d be nodding to a 2015 Dr. Dre album, I would’ve bust you in the head with a sack of bottle caps, a la Homey the Clown. But Compton was one of my favorite LPs this year, despite useless weed holders like Justus & King Mez. K-Dot snapped on “Deep Water” and every other track on the album he features.

  1. “Rearview” – Freddie Gibbs: Gibbs (HO!) gets eternal props for growing up in Gary – the dingleberry hanging off the taint that is Indiana – and crafting a respectable underground career. Dude flows like he’s connected to an IV full of Lean, but he does it over Madlib and other hot producers. Also, check out “Diamonds.”

  1. “The Future” – Kirk Knight (feat. The Mind): Knight is part of Joey Bada$$’s Pro Era crew, so his debut album Late Knight Special – which Knight produced in its entirety – features that old-new-school New York sound. “The Future” sounds like something from Blue Sky Black Death, and I dig it.

  1. “Neighborhood Dope Dealers” – Durag Dynasty: Just Blaze is a top-five G.O.A.T. producer (the Nag Champa-burning set hates it when I say he’s better than J. Dilla), and Planet Asia’s been extraordinarily underappreciated for a decade and a half. Justin is one of few producers who can body a beat-free track.

  1. “Do What I Do” – Scarface (feat. Nas, Rick Ross & Z-Ro): ‘Face is better at dropping individual gems than he is at full albums. The first half of Deeply Rooted is full of heat rocks, but it falls hard in the second. It just beat out “Steer” because Nas swooped through and murdered everyone else on the track, as he’s wont to do.


SIXTH MAN: “All Good, Pt. 2” – Illa J (feat. Moka Only & Ivan Ave): We’ve absolutely hit critical mass with folks rapping over ancient Dilla beats. (Blame Nas for jumping on “Gobstopper” to create his most unnecessary track ever.) But I don’t mind Dilla’s little brother rapping over a Dilla-esque beat in 2015. This is a better Slum Village track than anything on Slum Village’s incredibly weak album from June.

Dustin Seibert

Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavy weights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. He writes like the English language is going outta style because the steaks in his freezer are dependent on it.

  • Evil Genius

    To me this list is for people who actually know and understand the difference between pop rap and true rap. Give me bars over auto tune and dancing give me artist i can actually understand what they are saying in the lyrics and not just the hook.

  • TJ

    I listened to Future too much this year, because I haven’t heard anything but Black Butterfly and On Me. Lmao. I’m too ratch for this list. I’m going to do better in 2016…promise!

    • Evil Genius

      LOL its all about balance my other half has taught me to enjoy some pop rap again and she is listening to some of my type of rap now good stuff.

  • 2011k

    I’m not a hip-hop head, and I haven’t heard most of the songs on the list. I do have a few artists I check for though. Like, I’m waiting for Isaiah Rashad’s new project. I fuxs with A$AP Rocky, Schoolboy Q, and Chance the Rapper. Kendrick is dope but TPAB was a bit too much for me.

  • Really hammering down the fact that you’re a grumpy old dude.

    • Lea Thrace

      Have I told you lately that I love you…

      BWAHAHAHA

    • Evil Genius

      Naw he just pointing out the fact he doesn’t listen to pop rap and there are way better artist out their than just the radio.

      • I bet you tell people you like “real hip hop” all the time.

        • Evil Genius

          Actually i understand the need for pop rap,but its not what i like to listen to. To me pop rap is just a sub set of rap in general.

          • Pop rap isn’t the devil. It’s just like fast food: a fun treat, but it should not be your diet.

            • Evil Genius

              Exactly pop rap is not always my cup of tea if you have a passion for music what ever the genre most likely you get a lot of your music for the internet and not the radio.

    • This is what happens when back packers/real hip hop people get old. They and classic rock people are the music fan equivalent of the greatest generation who think everyone after them is just wrong, lacking creativity, or lazy screaming “you’re doing it wrong!”

      • miss t-lee

        In total agreeance.

        • I just have to admit that these kids music isn’t necessarily “for me”

          • miss t-lee

            Totally. Which is why I’m glad I love pretty much all genres of music, because it it was only rap/hip hop, I’d be oh so sad.

      • I agree, and I’m a backpacker.

      • Oluseyi

        Hip-Hop Rockism.

        • Good point. I like that. It needs to become a thing.

      • I just had a thought: I wonder what the Black equivalent is to calling someone “a hippie”?

        One of my colleagues is a 49 year old white man, and despite the fact that it means he was only a toddler in the late 60s, he sure enough will call someone a hippie derisively.

        • I’m not sure what the black equivalent would be for that. I know with a lot of white folks who weren’t old enough to be active in the 60’s they just use “hippie” as a catch-all for any ultra-liberal.

        • JamesInstagram

          A…hippie. Black people, or any other people of color are not excluded from generational terms. Preppie, hippie, yuppie, douchebag, etc.

          • I mean, I get it, intellectually speaking. I just don’t know if I’ve ever heard a Black person of a certain age and worldview lob “hippie” at another Black person the way white folks or a certain age and worldview will toward other white folks.

  • miss t-lee

    Only song I’ve heard on this list is the Scarface track, and that’s because I listened to his album, as a Scarface stan.
    As far as the rest of this? Meh.

  • Kat

    I’m reading this like I’m white and lost cause my GPS said turn here for the best chicken and watermelon. Just lost.

  • Leggy

    I can’t stand to read any list created by “music is dead” people. Music is extremely subjective. If people are dancing and being moved and are being made happy by “nicki and her girlfriend meek”(I’m not even going to go into how sexist this sh it of a sentence is) then IT IS MUSIC.

    Original comment stuck in approval.

    • I honestly zoned out when he called an album hat featured George Clinton, Isley brothers, and aggressive jazz “ambient music.” Completely through out your music opinion. Clearly has no idea what any of that means.

      • Tdoteaglefan

        yeah that was the exact moment the grain of salt dropped on my expectations for this list..still gonna check out the songs listed though..

      • I’m actually in Accord with you on this. It was wonderfully produced. I’m surprised a deep head didn’t feel it. *shrug*

    • Um, a Meek Mill diss track is up for a Grammy. Nuff said.

      • Leggy

        Your point being? Who makes you the judge of whats “good music”? Did people love that track? Yes. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it bad music. YOU JUST DIDN’T LIKE IT. YOU!!

        • Evil Genius

          Who judges what comes out on the radio? The people or the CEO’s

          • Leggy

            i don’t understand people who try to make their points with questions. Get to it.

    • Samantha

      The amount of head nods I did after I read this SPECIFICALLY THE SEXIST COMMENT THAT WAS MADE is too real.

  • We should all remember that hip-hop is a culture and not a list of rappers. Heck, arguing about your favorite rappers is another part of the culture. You can not like anything on this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t like the people, the fashion or the way we communicate with each other.

  • Dustin, do you have a lawn? If you do, are you always yelling at the chirruns to get off of it? :)

    • LyricMeThis

      Bwahahahaha!!!

    • Dustin John Seibert

      Sorry…too distracted by the image of your thiiiiiiiiighs to answer, yo. Ask me later.

      • 1. I was inspired by Serena.
        2. Don’t change the subject.

        • Dustin John Seibert

          Fair enough.

          I very much am the embodiment of “get off my lawn.” I’m gonna be a dirty old man grabbing the asses of 20-something girls as they pass by and pretending it wasn’t me, while hitting e’eryone else upside the head with my cane. #Stinkmeaner

          • I can respect that embodiment.

            I’m more of a “get them trousers up, young man” type of old guy

          • Lol. I think we’re about the same age, but you sho nuff are the “Back in my day, I had to walk 10 miles to school in the blizzard. You don’t know how good you got it” type.

  • I’ve only heard the Kendrick and Face tracks before. Oddly enough I like some of the dudes on the list like Ortiz and Freddie Gibbs but I’m just not eager about finding new hip hop. Nice to see a cat from SC doing something on the mic too.

    • miss t-lee

      I like Ortiz, been listening to him for a whole minute. I just wonder why he hasn’t hit it big.

      • He is a hard guy to market to a more mainstream audience. His appeal is that he’s that underground dude.

        • miss t-lee

          I can see this, however if Fat Joe and the rest of them kats made it…

          • kid video

            Joe didn’t go mainstream until Pun made his big hit, Not a Player.

            • miss t-lee

              I know.
              I remember him with DITC., and I owned Represent…lol

              • kid video

                Cuse me…didn’t know u followed him back then.

                • miss t-lee

                  That’s a common attitude with you guys towards us ladies who love hip hop.
                  I’ll give you a pass because I know you’re good peeps. :)

              • DITC was a group of cold cats.

                • miss t-lee

                  Indeed.

              • kid video

                Duly noted…

      • uNk

        He refused to join Terror Squad….nah idk he has bars on top of bars but I get the feeling he really wants to stay underground as long as the mainstream rap is the way it is right now

        • miss t-lee

          Oh word? He probably should’ve went with Terror Squad. He could’ve took Triple Seis’ spot…lol

      • Pinks

        A lot of Slaughterhouse is good but just under the radar enough to not generate a significant buzz. If he even still part of Slaughterhouse?

        I always wonder about the battle rap cats and that transition into the mainstream, if there ever is one. My boy put me onto it and now I find myself checking youtube for some new rounds to see if my favorites have made a come up.

        • uNk

          I remember watching battles and when Jin was the biggest battle rapper for a hot sec, then came out with one song and just flopped.

          • miss t-lee

            That “Learn Chinese”?
            Poor guy. Sh*t went gum wrapper.

          • Pinks

            Some folks just have to pick a lane and stay in it. Going on 106 and Park is what did him in.

          • Evil Genius

            Whats really crazy is the person that “Jin” beat in that rap battle is Skyzoo and he has been putting out quality music every since then!

            • uNk

              Oh dam I do remember this Lol…funny how things play out

        • miss t-lee

          I’m not sure. I didn’t check much for Slaughterhouse as a whole because Joe Budden makes me wanna hit him with my car.
          Yeah, I can’t see doing much as a career battle rapping. Unless you’re writing rhymes for kats behind the scenes?

          • Pinks

            I can’t stand Joe. Like to even hear his name. There’s battle rappers who are content to do just that forever. I think Tsu Surf or Loaded Lux was talking about some mixtape at one point, or I made that up totally.

            • miss t-lee

              I can’t either. Ugh.

              • htxgoodfella

                Slaughterhouse made great mixtapes but bad albums. Their current effort is indefinitely shelved right now, so they’re all doing their own solo things. Just in case yall cared enough to know…

                • kid video

                  I copped the first one…their just not gimmicky enough for a mainstream fanbase.

                  • htxgoodfella

                    That first one was good, but that “our house” or whatever it was was a complete waste of money. But the mixtape before was fire.

                • miss t-lee

                  I believe it.

      • I like Ortiz too. I don’t know why he never blew up because he can rap. He and the rest of Slaughterhouse (never was a Budden fan) just didn’t find a place in modern rap.

        • miss t-lee

          “I like Ortiz too. I don’t know why he never blew up because he can rap”

          Yeah, it’s really strange.

          • Evil Genius

            I think his subject matter isn’t radio ready.

            • miss t-lee

              Radio isn’t the be all, end all it once was.
              You got folks making whole careers out here that I ain’t heard on the radio once.

              • Evil Genius

                LOL you sound like me i don’t even listen to the radio my rap interest are totally different from what radio offers. I don’t like listening to the same flow and beats on every song i need variety.

                • miss t-lee

                  Indeed. Variety is key.

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