I don’t know what it is about 2015, but there seems to be a surge of talent occurring in the hip-hop genre. We may not have 2Pac or Biggie around, but we have K. Dot, Drizzy, and Chance making huge impacts on the genre, who are inspiring young up-and-comers as we speak. So, in honor of a truly great year for music, here are the Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2015 So Far. This list will be constantly updated, as new music is being released every day. So, check back in a few months for our wrap up of The Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2015.
Tyler, the Creator: “Smuckers” feat. Lil Wayne + Kanye West
Cherry Bomb stands as a conglomerate of musical ideas, a disjointed gang of tracks that showcase Tyler in a variety of ways. By enlisting players like Pharrell, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Schoolboy Q, the album seems to diversify itself, lending to each of the rappers strengths track by track. In “Smuckers”, Tyler brings in Ye and Weezy to add their two sense on fame, the racial dichotomy, and starting from the bottom, all against the backdrop of a jazzy, vintage groove. “Smuckers” feels like the most cohesive song on Tyler’s Cherry Bomb. Though not every track on Cherry Bomb is solid in comparison, this year still belongs, in part, to Tyler.
Kendrick Lamar: “I”
Picking just one song from Kendrick’s second full masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly is a near impossible task. So, if he appears on this list later on, we warned you. “I”, which garnered two Grammy awards, is a surprisingly upbeat song with a message. The message being: love yourself, especially when the world wants to bring you down. The album version is meant to sound like a live track, allowing for Kendrick to break down in the middle to deliver a message about race relations and politics. The song, since its release, has become essential to understanding Kendrick’s artistic purpose of To Pimp a Butterfly.
Wale: “The White Shoes”
Wale’s The Album About Nothing dropped this year and produced several hits worth noting. One of my favorites is “The White Shoes”, a track about how clothing and personal aesthetic plays into our social pyshe. With Seinfeld coming in at the beginning with an anecdote about an old woman admiring his white sneakers, Wale cleverly introduces his concept while allowing it to grow over the course of his rap. Not to mention Wale’s musical arrangement is eerily reminiscent of early 2Pac. Overall, the song is catchy, lilting, and impressive on every front. We’re excited for what else Wale has to bring to the genre.
Drake: “Know Yourself”
Honestly, I wasn’t a big Drake fan until the drop of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. As already-Drake fans rejoiced at the surprise album release, I began to look for a song that could finally get me on the Drizzy bandwagon: and found it. “Know Yourself” is something to report home about. By stretching himself beyond the lyricism achieved on Nothing Was the Same, Drake achieved a level of depth and insight that can only come from age and experience. “Know Yourself” is about exactly that: Knowing yourself in an industry of haters, and in a world where people want to be you. This track has us really excited for the drop of Views from the 6, which should happen any day now…
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: “Warm Enough”
Not sure who Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment is? This year, Chi-Town’s famous Chance the Rapper teamed up with a talented band of rappers and trumpeters to drop a bright, jazz influenced hip-hop album. The record, titled Surf, often borders between hip-hop and pop, but for it’s standout rap lyrics and all-star cameos, it makes the list. One of my favorite moments occurs in the track “Warm Enough”, where three incredible verses are dropped by Noname Gypsy, Chance the Rapper, and J. Cole. The song is about love, respect, women and men trying to understand each other. Just about every track on Surf is worth listening to, but this one deserves a close ear.
Big Sean: “Blessings”
After the rampant spread of “IDFWU”, Big Sean had some pretty big shoes to fill, those being his own. But the task wasn’t as daunting for him as we thought, because “Blessings” arrived, and it’s amazing. Big Sean’s third album will go down as the moment where he rallied with himself, gathered the best of his material, and made his mark as an artist. Dark Sky Paradise is brimming with articulated confidence, but a confidence which exists in the realm of knowing one’s place. “Blessings” is about just that: being grateful, rising to the occasion of being a full-time artist, and enjoying work as your passion. With cameos from Drizzy and Ye, “Blessings” ascends straight into hip-hop royalty.
Action Bronson: “Baby Blue”
What happens when Action Bronson, music producer Mark Ronson, and Chance the Rapper get ahold of the same beat? “Baby Blue”, fresh off Bronson’s debut Mr. Wonderful, is a song about break-ups, moving on to better things, and a beautiful presentation of horns. Mark Ronson, who helped produced the single, ran into Chance just after it was made. And at first listen, Chance had to be on it. Now, we can’t imagine the song without it, as Chance’s comedic verse perfectly compliments the “baby I’m blue” hook. The song is anything but sad, with a tongue and cheek music video to back, but we think Action Bronson is a softie beneath his spit-fire insults. Either way, this song will be stuck in your head for days.
Rihanna: “B!tch Better Have My Money”
Rihanna makes the list for possibly the most contagious hip-hop song of the year, for being a confident female voice in a male dominated industry, and for making a high quality music video to match the caliber of her music. “B!tch Better Have My Money” isn’t so much about the message than it is about Rihanna asserting herself as an artist who can cross genres, namely into trap music. “FourFiveSeconds”, a single from the same album, couldn’t be further from Rihanna’s trap track, proving she’s maintained versatility over the course of her career (which, if you can remember, began a decade ago. Crazy right?) From “Pon de Replay” to “B!tch Better Have My Money”, it seems that Rihanna has mastered the flux of the industry with even more finesse as when she began.
Alessia Cara: “Here”
This year, breakout artist Alessia Cara made one of the most elegant debuts we’ve seen in awhile. Having only released one single, Alessia Cara has already managed to score slots in a few music festivals and perform a sold out show in NY. How could one single be good enough to warrant all of the hype? Trust us, it is. “Here” has been called an “introvert’s anthem” alongside being a frequently added track to summer playlists (which is ironic given the song’s lyrical content). “Here” is about being a wallflower at a party, wanting to go chill somewhere, and “listen to some music with a message”. Cara affirms that “Here” is a true story about herself, which makes us love the track even more.
Joey Bada$$: “Paper Trail$”
Joey Bada$$ reps the Brooklyn rap scene, but we’ll try to keep from being bias. There are several amazing tracks from B4.DA.$$, but we think “Paper Trail$” takes the cake. The track is composed of two long verses, each showcasing Bada$$’s spit fire rap style and clever wordplay. There are several standout lines, shoutouts to his fellow Pro Era members, and his rap royal predecessor Biggie Smalls. “Paper Trails” is about being a big player in the rap game while being tied down by a world ruled by money. With his Brooklyn street smarts and smooth rapping style, Joey Badass effortlessly spins us a track that reflects not only his past, but of the world’s ability to define it. If the saying “wise beyond his years” goes to anyone, we say it goes to him.
Asap Rocky: “Everyday” feat. Rod Stewart, Miguel, and Mark Ronson
The number of cameos who appear on Asap Rocky’s latest record is ridiculous, but in the best way possible. At Long Last A$AP is said to be A$ap Rocky’s biggest and most cohesive work yet, and we agree. “Everyday”, which features a hook from Rod Stewart and verses by Miguel, thrives on its hazy beat. The verses come at the listener fast, but not too fast that we don’t get a healthy dose of Miguel’s impressive plays on words. The song, alike to the other tracks on At Long Last A$AP, is primarily about sifting through his own mind, and trying to make meaning out of what he feels as a player in the industry. Sure, A$AP has some ways to go in terms of artistic maturity, but with a little help from his friends, he should be getting there soon.
Vic Mensa: “U Mad” feat Kanye West
Vic Mensa, just 22 and working with the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Chance the Rapper, dropped “U Mad” this year and it created quite an effect. We want to hand it to Mensa, Kanye was the perfect collaborator for this track, a song primarily about being better than the people you rub up against in your career, love life, the bar, etc. “U Mad” is catchy, startling, and provocative (yes, the Ray Rice line went too far), but most of all, it’s just one example of Vic Mensa’s highly quality, extremely diversified work. This guy just started out, and with a single like “U Mad” at the front of his repertoire, there will certainly be more greatness to come.
The Game: “100” feat. Drake
West Coast rap prodigy The Game released “100” feat. Drake as the first single off his highly anticipated upcoming album The Documentary 2. “100” begins with The Game’s verse, a mature ode to the careful balance between respecting your fellow rappers, keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer. From an aged perspective, The Game speaks directly to Drake before he takes off with the second verse. And boy, does he take off. Drake, in an arresting tone, calls out those who’ve faked friendships over the course of his career while noting how his circle of trustworthy supporters has grown smaller. They likely didn’t become BFFS after the completion of “100”, but a mutual respect was definitely created.
Kanye West: “All Day”
“All Day” leaked back in August 2014, but Kanye kept at it, adding and refining it for an official March 2015 release. Featuring appearances by Theophilus London, Paul McCartney, and Allan Kingdom, “All Day” resulted in the perfect balance between all of the contributing voices, an accomplishment hands down for Ye as he typically claims the spotlight. Since we are between Kanye albums, with everyone anxiously awaiting the release of SWISH, Ye knew he had to deliver with his singles: and deliver he did. “All Day” is the perfect Kanye song, as it alternates between polishing the crown which sits upon his own head, and reminding listeners as to why it was given to him in the first place. Sure, Kanye toots his own horn, but he’s earned it.
Kendrick Lamar: “Alright”
We told you there would be more Kendrick to come. And how can we help it? Kendrick came out with To Pimp a Butterfly because he had something to say. And it turns out, everyone needs to listen. “Alright” is the perfect, upbeat anthem for those who understand what it’s like growing up on the streets, and how it is to survive. Kendrick addresses the brutality which has transpired between races and gangs, the struggle of making ends meet in cities where discrimination is the norm. But with his hook, “My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright”, Kendrick reels in his brothers and sisters in solidarity, making a statement that together clarity and safety can be achieved. That with one song, just maybe, we gon’ be alright.