2015 was about rulebreakers and genre benders. Independent artists shined, not as notable underdogs, but as chart toppers. Established artists had a lot to prove: Bieber did it through deliberate hard work and Drizzy did it effortlessly. Vulnerability paid off and beautiful projects were born from reflections on insecurity and isolation. The best music was often hard hitting and unapologetic on addressing social issues, yet there was still a lot of room for feeling hopeful. A fresh new year is upon us, but these projects don’t need to be forgotten (unlike the time you got too drunk and threw up out the window of a cab). Cheers to 2016 while still enjoying the best of 2015.
Surf / Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
The best way to describe Surf is as a true gem: freshly cut, timeless and not to mention, literally priceless. The highly anticipated and independently produced album spearheaded by Donnie Trumpet with Chance the Rapper’s band The Social Experiment was released as a free download on iTunes at the end of May. There are many uncredited features throughout the album including Big Sean, Jeremih, B.o.B., Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monae, BJ the Chicago Kid, Raury, King Louie and many others, making it a truly collaborative effort. It’s jazzy; it’s clever; it’s positive. Chance’s unmistakable voice is essential to the record, but you can feel he doesn’t want to be the focus. It’s about what all of them love to do: make great music with their closest friends. The happiness and excitement the group has to be working together really molds the vibe of the record.
Top tracks: “Wanna Be Cool,” “Familiar,” “Sunday Candy”
Listen to Surf on Sunday nights when you start feeling sad about the weekend coming to an end.
Wave[s] / Mick Jenkins
Mick Jenkins followed his breakout and critically acclaimed project of The Water[s] with Wave[s] this year. Wave[s] continues where The Water[s] left off, with themes of truth seeking and critical consciousness, references to his home base of Chicago and ginger ale. “They say I be talking about water too much,” Jenkins says in the intro track, “Alchemy.” Jenkins is unaffected by public response to his work, whether praise or hate. He maintains the same confidence he had in The Water[s] as he delivers intricately crafted bars and essentially waits patiently to be understood by the majority of his audience. Jenkins is unapologetic, even when it comes to his followers like in “Get up Get Down”: “Came in this bitch with intentions to black out / The audience all white I thought we been blacks out.” One of the strongest tracks though, “Your Love” is a brief reprieve from hard hitting bars. Instead, sensual verses go straight into the catchiest hook of the album. Wave[s] isn’t just an album that should be heard; it’s an album that should be paid attention.
Top tracks: “Alchemy,” “Your Love,” “P’s & Q’s”
Listen to Wave[s] when you’re getting faded.
And After That, We Didn’t Talk / GoldLink
GoldLink has been making some seriously vibey music. Not even including several singles released as of late, And After That, We Didn’t Talk is stacked with quality tracks. He’s provocative and smooth at the same time. The beats on this album are major and GoldLink’s vocals are killer. Seriously, do not sleep on GoldLink.
Top tracks: “Spectrum,” “Dance on Me,” “Late Night”
Listen to And After That, We Didn’t Talk late night, drinking cheap white wine and contemplating texting an old flame.
Purpose / Justin Bieber
As soon as I heard Justin Bieber’s feature on “Where Are ü Now” for Jack ü’s (Diplo and Skrillex) album I knew they all had hit gold as far as serendipitous, symbiotic music relationships go. And Bieber remains tapped into that successful pulse for Purpose as he combines his vocal skills with sounds crafted by some of the most talented producers in the business (Skrillex, Big Sean, Travi$ Scott, Ed Sheeran, Nas) to create a vibe that even the most critical of music connoisseurs are able to appreciate and enjoy. There is a sense of earnestness and sincerity from Bieber that hasn’t been present since the “Baby” and “One Time” stage of his career. The album is filled with hits; besides the super popular singles some of the best and less overplayed tracks are “I’ll Show You”, “No Sense” featuring Travi$ Scott and “Love Yourself” featuring Halsey. Whether you publicly root for him or not, it’s hard to deny the quality of Purpose and to deny having ever gotten even a little turnt to “Sorry” at a pregame.
Top tracks: “Sorry,” “What Do You Mean?,” “I’ll Show You”
Listen to Purpose while pregaming for a night out and obviously when it comes on at the club and you have no other choice.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late / Drake
“Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago / I’m at a higher place,” Drizzy raps on the track “No Tellin’”. But his assertion is in fact “telling” of the tone of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: a confidence and calculated chill from an artist that feels completely secure about his role in the rap game. Very early on in 2015, IYRTITL set the tone for the rest of Drake’s super hot year of hotline blinging and Grammy nominated diss tracks. IYRTITL is as much about our culture at this present moment as it is about Drake becoming a fully established, well, legend to use his own term. Despite the incessant rat race of social media, Drizzy cheekily reminds us with the album title that we’re not “on it” unless we we’re actually on it; the moment the tape dropped the events of the future (probably even collabs with Future, get it?) had already been set in motion. The idea that it was supposed to be a mixtape adds to its rawness and currency. Drizzy is serious.
Top tracks: “10 Bandz,” “Energy,” “Know Yourself”
Listen to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late when you’re feeling yourself or need an attitude along those lines.
M3LL155X / FKA twigs
M3LL155X is only five tracks long, but it’s not too little of anything, in any way. FKA twigs continues to produce majorly intense, sexy vibes. Her unusually sensual vocals and heavy synthetic beats are really a treat to the ears. Like velvet for the ears. Honestly, twigs is probably one of the only people that can ask “Do you have a lighter?” and make you seriously feel some type of way.
Top tracks: “In Time,” “Glass and Patron,” “Mothercreep”
Listen to M3LL155X when you’re spending some quality time with yourself or a significant other, if you know what I mean.
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside / Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is a project that is really strong in it’s 30 minute entirety. Each track seamlessly flows into the other, creating a full dark and brooding narrative. It’s depressing and yet easy to listen to. Although the material is heavy, the delivery is casual, making it digestible. The beats are unique and interesting yet familiar; you can imagine them being made in some dingy basement on some dusty keyboard surrounded by furniture that had been there since the seventies with ancient looking half curtains only letting small amounts of light into the space. It’s an album that can’t just be listened to once. It takes time to take it all in.
Top tracks: “Wool,” “Huey,” “Grief”
Listen to I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in your headphones while commuting and avoiding eye contact with fellow travelers.
GO:OD AM / Mac Miller
Mac Miller spent close two years away from the public, mostly just making music in his home studio. GO:OD AM is one product of the nine full length albums worth of material he said he made during his hiatus. It’s a happier, hopeful Mac to add to the maturity and growth we saw from him in Faces. The final product wasn’t completely introverted; included are a variety of features from Ab-Soul to Chief Keef. GO:OD AM has Miller’s familiar lazy flows and seriously clever lines (“But what’s God without a little OD? Just a G”), but fresher. Very dope, Mac, very dope.
Top tracks: “100 Grandkids,” “Weekend (feat. Miguel),” “In the Bag”
Listen to GO:OD AM while surfing the net or hanging out on your porch or getting ready in the morning. That seems appropriate.
Blurryface / Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilots hit the complete mainstream in 2015 with the release of Blurryface and their subsequent touring throughout the year. It was wild to see the Columbus, Ohio natives performing with A$AP Rocky at the MTV Video Music Awards in September, but also encouraging that their super unique style is one that appeals to many. In Tyler Joseph’s own words in the track “Heavydirtysoul”: “This is not rap, this is not hip-hop.” Twenty One Pilots is hard to categorize, but then again why does it even matter? Whatever type of music it is, it’s good. Blurryface is brilliantly meta; many lyrics speak about insecurities Joseph has as an artist and where he feels the duo fits in the music industry and his predictions on how they will be received in general. “Tear In My Heart” is the one “love song” on the album, but it’s anything from conventional with the lyric: “The songs on the radio are okay, but my taste in music is your face.” Like, if someone legitimately said that to you, you’d have to consider marriage. I’d like to think he’s pleasantly surprised by their success, or maybe he knew all along the work he produces is music people want to hear when they had no idea they were even searching for it.
Top tracks: “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” “Tear In My Heart”
Listen to Blurryface on road trips with your best friends.
Dark Night, Sweet Light / Hermitude
The duo of Luke Dubs and El Gusto are extremely talented and innovative when it comes to electronic music and Dark Night, Sweet Light is a testament to that. The track “Ukiyo” has a super amazing sound that evokes almost euphoric feelings. Overall the album has a unique energy, while simultaneously being very laid back and calm. If Dark Night, Sweet Light was a state of mind, it would be how you feel in the first moments of being tipsy. Do you feel the buzz?
Top tracks: “Ukiyo,” “The Buzz (Mataya & Young Tapz),” “Midnight Terrain”
Listen to Dark Night, Sweet Light while working out or dancing at a house party (bonus points if some sort of light show is involved).
Written by Claire Miller