Now, I wouldn't exactly go ahead and bet my life on it, but I'm almost positive the first Hip-Hop album I ever bought with my own money was Will Smith's squeaky clean, parent-approved Big Willie Style (1997) and after that, I believe it was the slightly less embarrassing and arguably, far more genre-shaping Power In Numbers (2002) by recently reformed Los Angeles six-piece Jurassic 5. Hip-Hop, as you well know even if you just remotely follow this very publication, is by far one of my all-time favorite genres, along with Hardcore Punk and Indie Rock. Throughout the five or so years I've been single-handedly running The Witzard, I believe I've done a few of these Best of... or year-end lists (most recently, in 2013). While there were a handful of undoubtedly great Indie Rock, R&B, Punk, etc. albums released throughout the course of 2015, I've decided to compile a Hip-Hop-centric Top 10; with that said, here are a few cross-genre honorable mentions worth a spin or two, if you haven't yet:
Former Chester French frontman D.A. Wallach's nearly flawless "Soft Rock" revival Time Machine, Titus Andronicus' sprawling Punk-Rock Opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Grimes' Weezer-esque fairy-Pop Baroque Rock album Artangels, Chance The rapper's FREE-leased Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment and Lil B-assisted Surf/FREE (Based Freestyles Mixtape), Mark Ronson's retro-futuristic "Uptown Funk"-featuring Uptown Special, and Stones Throw crooner Mayer Hawthorne's triumphant independent Disco-Funk return-to-form with beatsmith Jake-One, Tuxedo. So, without further ado, here's The Witzard's Year In Hip-Hop... please feel free to read, re-read, share, and enjoy as you see fit! The only loose qualifications to specify within the ranks of this year-end list were that said album had to be Hip-Hop-centric or at least remotely Hip-Hop-tinged, have been released between January 1st and December 25th, 2015, and has to have been made available for purchase; such as the case with Ukranian-American emcee Your Old Droog's FREEleased KINISON EP, which was later re-issued and made available for purchase on limited edition white vinyl. I hope everyone out there has a safe and Happy New Year and there's a prosperous 2016 in store for all!!!
10. Travi$ Scott's Rodeo (Grand Hustle)
"JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN, HERE'S THAT VIDEO FOR "PISS ON YOUR GRAVE" WITH ME [AND] 'YE TO GET THE WEEKEND VIBES GOIN' RIGHT! DIRECTED BY THE HOMIE NABIL. ENJOY," Travi$ Scott wrote accompanying Rodeo's latest single unveiling; an Apple Music exclusive, even though Kanye is a functioning artist-owner at Watch The Throne collaborator Jay Z's newly-launched rival service, TIDAL. "Piss On Your Grave"'s befittingly eerie fog-laden "lo-fi" visuals place a monochromatic Yeezy Season 2-outfitted Travi$ Scott & Kanye in the midst of the foliage-littered French countryside, which is randomly inter-spliced with rather disturbing imagery of human skulls and skeletons pummeling down a muddy hillside. Scott is amongst the gaggle of greenhorn beatsmiths who collectively helped produce Mr. West's frantic, Aggro-Rap Yeezus album tracks "New Slaves," "I Am a God," and "Guilt Trip."
9. Puff Daddy & The Family's MMM (Bad Boy)
While MMM boasts an impressive array of talented "co-stars" ranging from Lil Kim to Pusha T, I would say the most note-worthy aspect of Puff Daddy's celebratory 46th birthday mixtape/street album is quite arguably its sheer commercial accessibility. Not entirely unlike his former Led Zeppelin-sampling hit, "Come with Me," MMM makes sonically flawless use of Middle American-friendly source material; particularly Toro Y Moi frontman Chaz Bundick's Dance-laden side project Les Sins and Italians Do It Better visionary Johnny Jewel, better known as "Chromatics." "Workin,'" in addition to Lil Kim, Styles P & King Los-assisted "Audition," was debuted on BET's annual Hip-Hop Awards show last month and makes perfect use of Bundick's infectious jittery refrain, "don't bother me... I'm workin.'"
8. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah's Sour Soul (Lex Records)
Fresh on the heels of their forthcoming collaborative Jazz-Rap album with Ghostface Killah, awesomely titled Sour Soul, Canadian-bred instrumental trio BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG) have spearheaded an unofficial GHOSTDOOM/DOOMSTARKS "reunion;" Ghostface and infrequent rapping partner/producer, [MF] DOOM have been teasing their mythical tentatively titled "Swift & Changeable" album for about 10 years now. BBNG recruited Ghostface Killah & DOOM for their third Sour Soul pre-release track, "Ray Gun," which as a recently released statement reads, "was inspired by 1960's and [70's] music, taking inspiration from the recording techniques and production of that era." Sour Soul additionally features the diverse talents of Danny Brown, former Slum Village member Elzhi, Tree, Wu-Tang-affiliated producer Frank Dukes, and frequent BBNG collaborators River Tiber, Leland Whitty, and tuba player David Lewis.
7. Your Old Droog's KINISON EP (self-released)
Following a whirl-wind year, which showcased two 2014-issued releases, Your Old Droog [LP], critically-acclaimed Your Old Droog EP, and a handful of non-album singles, Your Old Droog unleashed an 11-track Rock-themed KINISON EP late Wednesday afternoon. It's littered with inventive Rock "N" Roll samples ranging from Johnny Cash to the Beastie Boys ("Pass The Mic") and at least 40+ cleverly inter-woven references including Sam Kinison, Pornos for Pyros, Rage Against The Machine, and Sonic Youth (track titles); in addition to lyrical allusions to Blind Mellon, Crash Test Dummies, Neil Young, Misfits, The Clash, "Jethro [Tull] meets Death Row," Faith No More, Lisa Loeb, and countless wide-ranging artists. "It's kind of like useless trivia, so I'm making use of it. I just [have] a memory for useless sh*t. I remember Meredith Brooks; I don't know why," Droog told Rolling Stone.
6. Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg Ent.)
It seems as though Kendrick Lamar even recruited bass virtuosos Thundercat to add an appended Funked up bass intro onto "i" for its recent Alexandre Moors & The Little Homies directed video treatment. "Stop! Stop! We talkin' about peace... a piece of yours... a piece of mine... a piece of mind... one nation, under a groove," a dapper white suit-clad man feverishly exclaims. Juxtaposed against the impending daylight, "i" suddenly morphs into an echo-voiced almost Chopped-N-Screwed ditty, Lamar leaves an impromptu dance party and jumps into the back of Ron Isley's slick purple-hued Cadillac; wailing his impassioned verses out of the car's rear window, nearly splattering onto the freeway below. "The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs... But it can do what it want whenever it want, I don't mind," Lamar ferociously rhymes.
5. The Lions' Soul Riot (Stones Throw)
"This new batch of tunes came straight from the heart on all fronts. With everything that's going on today we wanted to make an album that speaks to peoples emotions and frustrations while also giving them a chance to dance and release some stress," Lions producer, guitarist, and master-mind Dan Ubick revealed during an exclusive interview ahead of their album, Soul Riot. "I am excited, as we've attempted a couple videos for other songs, and they didn't pan out. Even Ross' rough cut looks amazing because he brought great energy, ideas, and professionalism to the set. Super psyched to see how [our] tribute to Joe Strummer & The Clash turns out," wrote within an emailed conversation months later. It should be noted that while Soul Riot isn't technically a "Hip-Hop album," pseudo-frontman Black Shakespeare DOES technically qualify as an "emcee" and I simply couldn't assemble a year-end list without including it!
4. Erykah Badu's BUT YOU CAINT USE MY PHONE (Control Freaq)
"[Zach Witness] expertly weaves Erykah Badu's trademark soulful vocals with psychedelic soundscapes, Hip-Hop-inflected beats, smooth R&B, Jazz, Art-Rock, and found sounds into a new genre Erykah describes as TRap & B," reads a self-contained Control Freaq album press release. But You Caint Use My Phone's Todd Rundgren-sampling album closer, "Hello" employs a flawless half-sung/rapped assist from Badu's ex-boyfriend and father of her teenaged son 7 Benjamin, André 3000. Following a few since-fixed technical SNAFU's, But You Caint Use My Phone is now available to purchase for a mere $7.99 as an Apple Music/iTunes exclusive until December 4th, after which it will become available on a multitude of digital platforms. Erykah Badu is currently accepting phoned-in fan calls on her self-described "burn out" phone at album art pieced together number, (214)-374-3995.
3. Pusha T's King Push: Darkest Before Dawn (The Prelude) [G.O.O.D. Music]
"Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is merely the latest single lifted from Darkest Before Dawn, having been preceded by Biggie-sampling "Untouchable," "M.F.T.R." and a particularly hula dancer-rattling freestyle over Drake & Meek Mill's notorious feud-igniting "R.I.C.O." However, "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is likely our last neck-snapping leak ahead of Darkest Before Dawn's impending Friday, December 18th unveiling, which is accompanied by a companion 22-minute short film. Anchored by a surprisingly menacing beat produced by none other than Puff Daddy, "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is accompanied by an equally haunting Kid Art-directed video wherein Pusha T and a fleet of scantily-clad "sinful" nuns go for a ghoulish moon-lit ride on a dusty old carnival carousel.
2. Action Bronson's MR. WONDERFUL (VICE Records)
"ACTiON BRONSON JUST JUMPED TO THE TOP OF THE RAP GAME FOOD CHAiN WiTH THiS MOViE-QUALiTY ViDEO, "EASY RiDER" FT SLASH," Tweeted oddball rapper and supposed Galaxy Gladiators collaborator, @JODYHiGHROLLER aka RiFF RAFF. "DON'T LET ME DIIIEEEE!!!" Action Bronson proclaims in a black-and-white red bandana-accented clip whilst pummeling bullets out of a machine gun, which appears to be a war flashback; as "Easy Rider"'s hymn-like intro starts, we see our bed-ridden hero approached by a lieutenant, "Soldier, tell me what happened..." to which Action Bronson achingly grunts, "Where's my guitaarrr!!?" "The album is sounding incredible. The whole album is a stand-out. I don-t care about individual songs, I'm trying to make a complete, classic project," Bronson said of his then-untitled MR. WONDERFUL ahead of its world-wide release.
1. Guilty Simpson & Katalyst's Detroit's Son (Stones Throw)
"It's Katalyst [Ashley Anderson] and Geoff Barrow that produced my album. I met Katalyst in Australia and we had dope studio chemistry. Me & Phat Kat did features for the Quakers album & later, I found out they were on Stones Throw. When I met with Stones Throw, their name came up & it made sense because I really like their production. Now, here we are," Stones Throw emcee Guilty Simpson told me during an exclusive interview ahead of his Quakers-produced Psych-Rock-leaning Detroit's Son. Guilty & Katalyst first met during the recording sessions that would ultimately yield Geoff Barrow's 35-member Hip-Hop collective Quakers' self-titled Stones Throw debut (2012). Detroit's Son's introductory track, "R.I.P." is actually a vocal version of Katalyst's "R.I.P." instrumental lifted from Quakers, which seamlessly ties the two projects together right off the bat. Although it was initially billed as a "Guilty Simpson x Quakers" project upon the release of THE SIMPSON TAPE, Detroit's Son was solely produced by Katalyst, with beat-making partner Geoff Barrow acting more along the lines of a mentor and sonic advisor; "Geoff is always there to give me his honest opinion about the music. One of the hardest things as an artist is finding someone whose opinion you really value and them giving you honest feedback about your work. I can always rely on Geoff to give me that feedback," Katalyst recently revealed during our Detroit's Son-centric interview. Guilty Simpson's rhyming skills have been slept on for far too long and Detroit's Son could very well be his commercial breakthrough.