Tag Archives: top 10

Urban Astray’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

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-social-experiment-surf-coverThe 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

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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Year in Review: Jesse’s Top 10 Projects of 2014

Graphic By Han Mahle
Graphic By Han Mahle

2014 was a wild year for hip-hop/ rap and we were here to document almost all of it. The following ten projects are my favorite of the year, in no particular order.


Ab-Soul, These Days…, TDE

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Photo by Jesse Wiles

These Days… is Ab-Soul’s best project to date, slightly edging out his 2012 debut album, Control System. The album never really seemed to garner much attention outside of Ab’s fan base, and most blogs overlooked it on their top albums of the year list. However, it is deserving of much more praise. With jazz-influenced songs like “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” and bass-heavy, street bangers like “Nevermind That,” featuring Rick Ross, the album has something for everyone. From the impressive list of featured artists, to the slightly controversial album artwork, everything was well thought out and executed perfectly by TDE. Ab gave us exactly what he wanted, and it was beautiful.


Kevin AbstractMTV1987, N/A

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Kevin Abstract took the internet by storm in 2014. Going from an artist who was well known in the smaller, underground blog community to being posted on Complex, Billboard and Pigeons and Planes regularly. Even more impressive than his rise to stardom was his debut project, MTV1987. The 12 track tape paints a vivid picture of what growing up and coming of age in an era dominated by social media is like. With only 3 features, MTV1987 gives new listeners an idea of how versatile Kevin is on the mic, being both a rapper and a singer. This is a project that will be relevant for years to come. The influence of MTV1987 can be seen everywhere, ranging from Twitter to Soundcloud. A new generation of young people armed with ideas and MacBooks are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art and music.


Theophilus London, Vibes, Warner Bros Records

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Vibes is, in Theophilus’ own words, a “real Palm Springs, smoke a joint, hit some mushrooms, go to Joshua Tree, bathe in some motherfuckin’ volcano water… shit like that.” He doesn’t lie, the album is, for lack of a better term, incredibly vibe-y. The whole thing is a hodge podge of different sounds, hitting different ranges of music, from vintage 80’s inspired disco and psychedelic pop, to contemporary hip-hop. This is largely in thanks to the flawless executive production of Kanye West. It’s not everyday that the presence of Kanye West isn’t overwhelming, but on Vibes, he takes a step back and allows London to shine. London’s camp took a huge L in first week sales, barely pushing 2,800 units. However, this isn’t something that’s going to take over the radio and mainstream music. Vibes is a work of art, wonderfully ambitious and experimental.


Mick Jenkins, The Water[s], N/A

Photo by Jesse Wiles
Photo by Jesse Wiles

Chicago was the hottest city of 2014 for hip hop, followed closely by Atlanta. Chief Keef, drill music, gun violence, GBE, Lucki Eck$, Chance, Alex Wiley… the list of prevalent artists and themes goes on and on. With all of that going on, and all of the artists trying to follow in the footsteps of musicians like Chief Keef and Chance the Rapper, it’s hard to differentiate real talent from those biting off of pre-established talent. Enter Mick Jenkins. I could say a lot about Mick: how socially conscious his raps are, or how progressive his sound is, but I’m not going to say anything about that. I’m going to say one thing. Take an hour out of your day and listen to The Water[s]. If you don’t want to take the time to listen to it all, at least listen to “Dehydration” and “Martyrs.” You can learn something from Mick, and not many rappers teach with their words anymore.


Mac Miller, Faces, Warner Bros Records

mac-miller-4Faces is the sound Mac Miller has been searching for for most of his career. He became successful with the frat-rap style that spread like wildfire through college campuses across the US and then ditched that, going after a different sound. However, there was still too much of a college influence on his music, and for a few years he had only mediocre releases (see Blue Slide Park and Best Day Ever). Then, Faces dropped, a tape that seemed, at first, to hold too many songs–24 in all–with no real theme or a unifying sound. And that’s exactly what Mac Miller is, an artist that you can’t label. He’s going to give you laid back songs about drugs, “Angel Dust,” and then 17 songs later he’ll randomly drop a banger with MMG’s Rick Ross, “Insomniak.” Faces is one of the few projects that dropped early on in 2014 and remained relevant after countless listens.


Riff Raff, Neon Icon, Mad Decent

Photo by Jesse Wiles
Photo by Jesse Wiles

Look past the white man with cornrows, NEFF sunglasses, vintage windbreakers, and the absurd Versace references and realize that Riff Raff had one of the best albums of 2014. Maybe it’s because of how relaxed this album is; it’s not someone flexing guns and talking street violence, but more a change of pace. The album is full of a range of music, featuring comical songs, 80’s disco reminiscent of the soundtrack for the 2011 movie Drive, rock and roll, and actual rap songs. Riff Raff takes the script, rips it up, flushes it down the toilet, and then rewrites it entirely. You probably hate Neon Icon, but that’s okay, stop being so serious.


J.Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Columbia/ Roc Nation

J. Cole photograph by Aaron SternIn a bold move, J. Cole and Roc Nation released one of the best albums of the year without dropping any singles, only alerting the public a few weeks before the release date and having no featured artists. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is Friday Night Lights J. Cole. This is what we’ve been missing from music, and Cole specifically. “You can listen to Born Sinner. You can listen to Sideline Story and hear it, coming out. I wasn’t liking it— I wasn’t happy,” Cole said in an interview with NPR on December 12. Since “letting go” of the things that were holding him back, he’s been able to reconnect with and recreate music that he’s happy with. He holds nothing back on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, being brutally honest on songs like “Wet Dreamz.” He also talks about his quest for material items and wealth on “Tale of 2 Citiez.” You can’t help but be happy for J. Cole with this release–quality hip-hop from a quality human being.


Travi$ Scott, Days Before Rodeo, EPIC/ Grand Hustle/ GOOD Music

travi-scott-uptown-upper-echelon-billboard-in-studio-performance-0If you’re looking for lyricism and content that’s on par with other albums on this list, you won’t find it here. With features from the hottest artists at the moment such as Migos, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan, Days Before Rodeo perfectly embodies the current state of hip-hop and rap. Somehow, the tracks maintain street credibility while also being mainstream enough to appeal to a wide audience. Full of overly simplistic lyrics like, “Call her ticket, cause I really want to meet her (meter),” Travi$ does the most with, well, not a whole not. Expert production and a wide array of different sounds on each track make this the best project of the year.


Childish Gambino, Because The Internet, Island/ Glassnote

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There’s not one bad song on Because The Internet. Childish Gambino has done nothing but release quality music since his mixtape days. However, with every release, he gains a new set of critics. He said it best on the song “Be Alone,” off of his first EP, tastefully named EP, “Hard for a Pitchfork, soft for a Roc-a-Fella.” What he’s saying with that line is that his raps are too raw and real for blogs like Pitchfork too handle, but too soft and not street-worthy enough for big record labels like Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records. It’s incredibly unfair that Childish Gambino is still viewed with that lens, as he’s one of, if not the most, talented artists out right now. The only other comparable artist is Drake, who seems to get praise from nearly everyone, all the time. Gambino continues to push the envelope, experimenting with different beats, themes and deliveries, while artists like Drake stay in their comfort zones, dropping albums awfully similar to their last release.


Curtis Williams, Danco James, Two-9

curtis-williams-450x300Curtis Williams and Two-9 records are going to blow up in 2015. Thanks, in part, to the fact that Atlanta is playing host to one of the biggest hip-hop movements at the moment and, because they have put together one of the more promising, young collectives in hip-hop. Danco James is one of those tapes that people are going to look back at in a few years and ask themselves, “how did I miss that?” With a smooth, stoner vibe to the project, Curtis comes correct with all 15 tracks. Only straying from the laid back mood on a few uptempo songs like “Box Logos & Box Chevy’s,” “Bong Interlude,” and “Drugs.” Look for Curtis and Two-9 to make big moves in 2015.


Written by Jesse Wiles