Happy Holidays from UPC.
It’s been a wild ride of a year, but before 2015 comes to a close, we proudly present our Top 25 Hip Hop/R&B Projects below.
Maryland native Goldlink speaks his mind in a true and honest manner. He doesn’t threaten others or pretend to be someone he’s not simply to appeal to a mass audience. AATWDT pays homage to the earlier age of hip-hop, yet it stands out on its own as an innovative and diverse collection of music. – Steven K.
The youngest emcee out of Odd Future comes into his own on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (IDLSIDGO). The album clocks in at an incredibly brief 30 minutes, in which Earl refines his sound and message. The distorted, claustrophobic, jazzy production complements Earl’s signature flow.
Through the hazy beats we get glimpses into Earl’s life; verses detail his feelings coming into adulthood and dealing with loneliness. He sounds more confident than ever in his delivery, as well. This time around, the tongue-twisting wordplay we’ve come to expect from Earl is matched by a newfound energy and confidence. His hard-hitting, personal bars are a clear step up from 2013’s Doris. Combine that with the consistent yet thoroughly explored sound Earl employs on this record, and it’s apparent that IDLSIDGO deserves a spot on this year’s top 25 list. – Mihir S.
22. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
Freddie Gibbs is a serial killer. No, not a killer of people — a killer of tracks. Too corny? You’re not understanding. I don’t mean like, “Yo he just killed that beat — murdaaaaaa.” I mean Freddie Gibbs approaches a song like a serial killer approaches a murder. Methodically, single-mindedly, humorlessly, brutally. A Freddie Gibbs song is air-tight. Any slip, any hole, is a dead giveaway.
On his most recent album, Shadow of a Doubt, Gibbs continues that growth he wonderfully exhibited on 2014’s Pinata, a near-perfect album from technical and artistic standpoints. Shadow of a Doubt is not a perfect album, but it’s solid. It takes chances, but stays true. There are pleasant surprises, but at the same time, it’s tried and true Gibbs from start to finish. Shadow of a Doubt is still mean, it’s still relentless, it’s still cold-blooded.
It’s a wild ride of classic Gibbs knockout cuts like “Fuckin’ Up the Count,” “Insecurities” and “Lately,” and some great features from Black Thought on “Extradite” and Gucci Mane and E-40 on “10 Times.” There are some duds, including “McDuck” and “Freddie Gordy,” but they’re few and far between. Also, let’s be real — the wackest Gibbs tracks would be bangers on many other artists’ albums. – Zane T.
Notable Tracks: Careless, Forever and a Day, Mexico ft. Tory Lanez
21. Towkio – .WAV Theory
Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa are the two most prominent members of the Savemoney collective, but Towkio is shown that he’s next to blow up. He worked on his debut project, .Wav Theory, for nearly two years before its release in April 2015.
Safe to say it was well worth the wait. The twelve-track project is co-produced by Towkio and Peter Cottontale of The Social Experiment. The mixtape highlights Towkio’s versatility; he displays lyrical ability on tracks including “God In Me” or “Heaven Only Knows,” and shows off his vocal talent on records like “Reflection” and “Free Your Mind.” .Wav Theory is only the beginning for Towkio, and I’m sure he’ll cook something up for us in 2016. – Luka L.
Notable Tracks: God In Me ft. Leather Corduroys, Heaven Only Knows ft. Chance The Rapper, Lido & Eryn Allen Kane, Free Your Mind ft. Donnie Trumpet
20. Future – Beast Mode
Future is widely regarded as 2015’s most popular rapper. A wild, four-project ride from Fewtch began with Beast Mode and ended with What A Time To Be Alive. Beast Mode is a nine-song collaboration with fellow Atlanta producer Zaytoven, and the project captured the hearts of trap stars and suburban folk alike.
Highlighted by anthems such as “Lay Up,” “Real Sisters” and “Forever Eva,” Beast Mode was one of the year’s best. We expect Future to maintain his position at the top of the game in 2016. – Omer O.
Notable Tracks: Lay Up, Just Like Bruddas, Real Sisters
19. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
The Weeknd, everyone’s favorite wild-haired R&B star, released his highly anticipated album, Beauty Behind The Madness, back in August. Since the release of his series of critically acclaimed mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence) in 2011, The Weeknd has steadily gained a massive following. In 2014, he released his debut album Kissland, and his fan base only grew.
With Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd burst into the mainstream. In the years that followed Trilogy, The Weeknd developed a poppy, Michael Jackson-inspired sound. His sexy crooning is no longer accompanied by the slow heroine-drip sound of 4 a.m., but his new sound captures the frantic, coked-up excitement of 1 a.m. perfectly.
Singles from Beauty Behind The Madness have dominated the Billboard R&B charts for months. “Often,” “Earned It,” “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face” were staples in summer playlists. The rest of the album is just as great; standout tracks include “Shameless” and “Tell Your Friends,” produced by Kanye West. – Crystal W.
Notable Tracks: The Hills, Often, Tell Your Friends
18. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
What do you get when you combine Canada’s music trio BADBADNOTGOOD with one of hip-hop’s greatest emcees, Ghostface Killah? You get Sour Soul.
I was merely intrigued when this project dropped back in February, but any skepticism I had vanished once I heard the title-track, “Sour Soul.” The collaboration is very refreshing, as BBNG delivered stellar production for Ghostface Killah to do what he does best. Ghost’s storytelling over myriad of jazzy, funkadelic beats results in a fantastic project, which meant it was in UPC’s constant rotation throughout the year. – Luka L.
Notable Tracks: Ray Gun ft. DOOM, Gunshowers ft. Elzhi, Food
17. Game – Documentary 2
The word ‘mellow’ is not one that is normally associated with Game. Whether he’s in a shootout with 50 Cent and his crew outside the Hot 97 radio station, recording a video of himself beating up 40 Glocc, or feuding with Miami rapper Stitches, Game is known as an intense fucking dude.
In general, that intensity is always present in his music, but on The Documentary 2, Game seems to have located his chill. The result is a laid-back, feature-heavy medley with excellent production. Game sounds more comfortable with his sound than he has, well, ever – and he’s content to share the spotlight with others. No, it doesn’t have that raw vulnerability that made The Documentary a must-listen, but it has the same talented Game, telling his Cali stories with his trademark sneer – and he brought along his A-list friends for the ride.
While the ride itself has no discernible beginning, middle or end concept-wise, it’s understandable considering there are 19 featured artists and 21 producers throughout 19 songs. If you approach The Documentary 2 in the right way, taking in every song as a stand-alone single, it’s truly a remarkable and enjoyable album. Any album that features contemporary heavyweights like Drake, Kanye, Future and Kendrick Lamar is guaranteed to offer something for everyone, and Game is never overshadowed by his more popular peers.
That’s his secret – Game is never intimidated. Whatever room he’s in, whatever song he’s on, Game believes he is the top dog. Over 19 songs, that confidence has time to permeate completely until the listeners can’t help but believe it themselves. – Zane T.
Notable Tracks: 100 ft. Drake, You Ain’t Shit, Summertime ft. Jelly Roll
16. Fetty Wap – Self Titled
Fetty Wap entered 2015 like a heat-seeking missile. With a hit song on his résumé and a work ethic he developed from Gucci Mane, the 1738 frontman ushered in the new year by delivering music on his SoundCloud at an alarming rate.
Many of Fetty’s more popular SoundCloud cuts from throughout the year were re-mastered and placed on his debut, self-titled album in September, so his followers may have been disappointed at the lack of brand new material. However, the project is a stellar debut for an artist not even two years into his rap career.
“Trap Luv” is a harder version of “Trap Queen” … “Boomin'” is Chief Keef‘s best record in a minute, and Chief Keef isn’t even on it … and “I’m Straight” should’ve been promo’d as a single (steel drum – always the move). Can’t wait to see what Fetty, Monty and the Remy Boyz have got for us in 2016 and beyond. – Eli S.
Notable Tracks: Trap Luv, Boomin’, Rewind ft. Monty
15. Bryson Tiller – T R A P S O U L
Bryson Tiller gained notoriety on SoundCloud in 2014 with the release of “Don’t,” and he made an even bigger name for himself in 2015 with the release of his first full-length project, T R A P S O U L.
T R A P S O U L showcases Tiller as a rapper-singer-songwriter. The album encompasses a wide spectrum, so press play whether you’re turning up or in your feels. Tiller spills lyrics about about coming up, turning up, hooking up, making up and breaking up. The Louisville, Kentucky native set the bar high for himself with T R A P S O U L.
The rap industry took notice; in 2015, Tiller turned down an offer from Drake’s OVO imprint, instead opting for a deal with RCA. – Claire M.
Notable Tracks: Exchange, Rambo, Sorry Not Sorry
14. Young Thug – Slime Season
Young Thug‘s voice is an instrument – constantly switching notes, pitches, cadences.
Slime Season is one of several chef-d’oeuvres in Thugga’s already illustrious “rap” career. “Rap” is in quotes, because the Atlanta musician dismisses conventional genres every time he hits the studio to record a new track.
“Best Friend” is the mixtape’s best cut. Thug rides the Ricky Racks/Young Shad-produced instrumental like a power-high 16-year-old whipping around town after passing the driving test: confidently, recklessly, unconcernedly. He then shimmies into “Power,” a classic Thugga track in the same vein as Tha Barter 6’s “Check” and “With That.” The project’s final track – “Wanna Be Me-“ contains one the year’s best instrumentals, courtesy of London On Da Track.
If you’re looking for crystal clear delivery and conscious lyrics, stay far, far away from Young Thug. On the other hand, if you enjoy bangin’ beats and unique deliveries, which jump from tenor to baritone to bass, give Slime Season a full listen. – Eli S.
Notable Tracks: Best Friend, Stunna, Power
13. Drake & Future – What A Time To Be Alive
For What A Time To Be Alive, Drake and Future hit the studio in Atlanta and churned out tracks at a record pace, proving yet again why they have ruled hip-hop all year long. Shouts to Ernest Baker, who assisted the duo with the title.
WATTBA is more of a statement than an album title. The kings of modern-day rap bounce over gorgeous street production – courtesy of Metro Boomin‘ – ushering in the new era of digital consumption. Hopefully more collaboration albums come to fruition in 2016. – Jordan P.
Notable Tracks: Big Rings, Scholarships, Jumpman
12. Donnie Trumpet – Surf
Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper and The Social Experiment came together to craft Surf, which lands at number 12 on our list. The Chicago group released the album for free on iTunes in late May as a celebration of its friendship and defiance of the music industry’s status quo. The album itself is one hell of a ride, creating a fresh and light-hearted sound by borrowing from varying styles such as hip-hop, indie, gospel, funk and R&B.
“Sunday Candy” is the album’s flagship track but do your ears a favor by checking out the other notable tracks. – Mike D.
Notable Tracks: Slip Slide ft. Busta Rhymes, Wanna Be Cool ft. Big Sean & Jeremih, Familiar (ft. Quavo & King Louie).
11. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Summertime ’06 had high expectations, and the 20-song album charted at number 39 on the Billboard Top 200. However, this is not necessarily representative of its full impact. With production from Clams Casino and No ID, the project takes a dark and gritty approach in illuminating issues Staples sees first-hand on the streets of Long Beach, California. His sharp word flow combined with his playful – sometimes sarcastic – tone of voice linger in your brain.
Staples’ debut album was huge success – not only in terms of sales – but artistically, as well. He uses his voice to bring social and cultural injustices to light. He doesn’t force his views down the listener’s throat; instead, he methodically implements them throughout the album. This gave the album more of a storytelling feel, rather than the news report vibe other rappers deliver when discussing social issues. – Matt M.
Notable Tracks: Surf ft. Kilo Kish, Senorita, Jump Off The Roof ft. Snoh Aalegra
10. Justin Bieber – Purpose
With Purpose, Bieber created something that not only welcomed him back but grew his fan base. From teen pop to tastes of hip-hop, R&B and electronic, he’s revamped his whole style. Purpose is versatile – it includes heartfelt tracks like “Mark My Words” and upbeat hits like “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean.”
Bieber sets an ex-girlfriend straight on “Love Yourself,” and collaborates with an unlikely teammate, Nas, on “We Are.” On Purpose, Bieber gained respect from hip-hop heads who previously wouldn’t be caught dead listening to the Canadian pop star. – Claire M.
Notable Tracks: What Do You Mean, No Sense ft. Travis Scott, We Are ft. Nas
9. Future – 56 Nights
While traveling in Dubai, DJ Esco was arrested for possession of what he described as “crumbs of marijuana.” Esco spent two months in prison – a nightmarish situation, which inspired the name of Future’s mixtape, 56 Nights.
With street ready beats provided by 808 Mafia, Future cashed in on one of his three album-quality mixtapes in 2015. It’s no surprise that Future’s name appears twice in the top ten, as the dirty-sprite-sipper had one of the most memorable runs in hip-hop history. – Jordan P.
Notable Tracks: March Madness, 56 Nights, Trap Ni****
8. Travis Scott – Rodeo
Travis Scott generated a ton of hype after dropping his mixtape Days Before Rodeo in 2014, and expectations were even higher for the young Houston rapper’s debut album, Rodeo.
To the delight of his fans, Travis set fire to those expectations and dropped one of 2015’s hottest albums. Travis provides a mix of styles and distorted vocals to give Rodeo a unique texture. Features on the album include Quavo, Future, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, The Weeknd, Swae Lee, Chief Keef, Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Young Thug. – Mike D.
Notable Tracks: Oh My Dis Side ft. Quavo, 3500 ft. 2 Chainz & Future, Pray 4 Love ft. The Weeknd
7. A$AP Rocky – At Long Last A$AP
A$AP Rocky released his sophomore project, At Long Last A$AP, in May – two and a half years after Pretty Flacko’s debut album. ALLA earned the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 list, and the body of work has remained on the list since it dropped. As opposed to Long.Live.A$AP, ALLA has no true radio or club hits, resulting in a moodier and more emotional album. It’s clear that artistry was the sole motivator this time around.
Rocky evades the traditional hip-hop album mold by enlisting some unlikely candidates. Features include Rod Stewart, Mos Def, Miguel, Bones, as well as hip-hop heavyweights Kanye, Future and ScHoolboy Q. Previously unknown London native Joe Fox appears on four tracks. – Matt M.
Notable Tracks: L$D, Everyday ft. Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson, Electric Body ft. ScHoolboy Q
6. Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise
In early 2015, Big Sean released Dark Sky Paradise – the Detroit native’s first album to go number one on the Billboard Top 200. The project was highlighted by standout hits including “I Don’t Fuck With You,” “One Man Can Change the World” and “Blessings.” Kanye West handled the majority of the production, but the album also featured outstanding assists from all-star beatmakers such as DJ Mustard, Mike WiLL Made It and Vinylz.
Big Sean’s third studio album is now in the books. Expect a big 2016 from B.I.G. as he continues to climb into mainstream relevance. – Omer O.
Notable Tracks: I Don’t Fuck With You ft. E-40, Blessings ft. Drake & Kanye West, One Man Can Change The World ft. Kanye West & John Legend
5. Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late presumably refers to the fact that if you’re reading this in 2015, it’s too late to not be completely obsessed with Drake. He was pretty popular before, but now it’s plain socially unacceptable to not be a Drake fan. With the surprise drop of IYRTITL came proof of the theory that Drake can do no wrong.
Because IYRTITL was technically a mixtape, Drake pours his heart out less than on his albums – which is not to say emotional Drake isn’t fantastic, but every track on IYRTITL is a certified banger. Drake’s style is cooler and almost disenchanted. His songs provide a low-key foil to trap beats, making songs like “Energy” and “10 Bands” perfect pre-game music.
It feels like every party this year played at least one song off IYRTITL. Personal favorites are “No Tellin” and “Used To.” – Crystal W.
Notable Tracks: Energy, 10 Bands, 6 Man
4. Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn
With Darkest Before Dawn, Pusha T closed out 2015 in the biggest way possible. This record scraps everything that detracted from 2013’s otherwise excellent My Name Is My Name, including weak hooks and overly pandering production.
To put his clever wordplay and dope rhymes (pun intended) in the spotlight, Push nabbed some of the best producers in the game – Metro Boomin’, Timbaland, Boi-1da, Hudson Mohawke, Diddy, J. Cole, Q-Tip, Baauer, and of course, Kanye West.
The sonic landscape complements Pusha’s relentless flows perfectly. Beats are reminiscent of throwback Clipse records and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-era Kanye. Darkest Before Dawn lacks full-verse features, and those that are included never distract from King Push’s bars. The album’s only fault is that it’s too short – it clocks in at just 30 minutes. Luckily for us, Darkest Before Dawn was just a prelude; we have his next album, King Push, to look forward to in early 2016. Darkest Before Dawn is focused and masterful, which is why it’s earned the number four spot on our list in a colossal year for hip-hop and R&B. – Mihir S.
Notable Tracks: Untouchable, M.F.T.R., M.P.A.
3. Future – Dirty Sprite 2
Who had a more memorable run in 2015 than Future?
The amount of times you see his name on this list should answer that question. Fewtch suffered career doubts after Honest, an album many argued went too “pop.” The codeine cowboy realized he needed to return to the street sound that helped build his empire. With Metro Boomin’ behind the boards, Dirty Sprite 2 was formed through the muddy, dark, yet luxurious aesthetic they found in the studio. – Jordan P.
Notable Tracks: Thought It Was a Drought, I Serve the Base, Where Ya At
2. Rae Sremmurd – Sremm Life
Rae Sremmurd is the Kristaps Porzingis of rap. Just like Three 6 Latvia, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi are young, exciting and don’t give a fuck. Most importantly, the brothers from Tupelo, Mississippi, bang on wax like Porzingod bangs on opponents in Madison Square Garden.
Sremm Life is nothin’ but bangers. Eleven tracks – all clubworthy – no filler. It’s a helluva debut album – especially considering many people assumed Rae Sremmurd was a one-hit wonder after the release of “No Flex Zone” in May 2014.
Nah, son. These guys are here to stay. If you made it to Rae Sremmurd’s concert at Foellinger Auditorium in November, you got a glimpse at why: they’re energetic, they’re hungry and they make hit records. As is the case for the Knicks’ star rookie, expect Rae Sremmurd’s career to reach new heights in the coming years. – Eli S.
Notable Tracks: This Could Be Us, Yno ft. Big Sean, Lit Like Bic
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar dropped the undisputed album of the year with To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB). TPAB is Kendrick’s third LP, and the project stands out from the rest of his discography.
Elements of funk, jazz, hip-hop, and rock appear on the album, which Pharrell, Thundercat and Flying Lotus all helped produce. To fully appreciate how amazing this album is, I recommend listening front to back and/or checking out a live performance on YouTube. Tracks like “How Much a Dollar Cost” (which by the way, was President Obama‘s favorite song this year), the Isley Brother sampled “i,” and “Alright” are among the album’s standout records. – Luka L.
Notable Tracks: Alright, These Walls ft. Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat, Institutionalized ft. Snoop Dogg, Bilal & Anna Wise
Cousin Stizz – Suffolk County
Raury – All We Need
Lil Uzi Vert – Luv Is Rage
Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money
G Herbo – Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe