2015 is by far the year where I listened to the most music. I started to expand my horizons a little instead of almost exclusively listening to hip hop and began to consume most music in the context of an entire album. The following list is the 10 albums that I enjoyed the most in 2015. This isn’t necessarily a list of the best releases in 2015, as I’m in no way qualified to claim that an album was the “best”, but rather a list of albums that I had the most enjoyable time listening to.
- Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb
Cherry Bomb is probably the least well received of any project put out by Tyler, The Creator and I can definitely understand why. The album is very much inspired by Tyler’s love for Death Grips when it comes to the beats and mixing, however this can be very hit and miss. Tracks either sound incredible or just a random mish-mash of noises, which on some tracks actually drown out the vocals almost completely. Despite this, Cherry Bomb has numerous high points throughout, particularly the opening track “Death Camp” which is by far the best solo effort by Tyler on this album. “The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah” featuring ScHoolboy Q and “Smuckers” featuring both Kanye West and Lil Wayne are other real standouts, particularly the ability to get a decent verse out of Wayne in 2015. Cherry Bomb is also Tyler’s most mature release to date. For the most part the “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” and edgy rape references are gone, replaced by a much more positive and reflective Tyler. This isn’t the greatest output from Tyler, in fact it’s probably his second worst only slightly ahead of Goblin, however I still highly enjoyed this album.
- Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
I have a love hate relationship with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. On one hand it has some seriously amazing tracks, but on the other hand it has so many tracks that I either disliked or just didn’t care about. The album starts out so positively, but about seven tracks in things just fall apart. “Legend”, “Energy”, “Know Yourself” and “6 God” are jam-packed into the first half of the album, but once they finish the rest of the album might as well be white noise. The album becomes a chore to listen to and really should’ve been five or six tracks shorter. It actually feels like a mixtape release where Drake is just flinging ideas at a wall and trying to nail down the rapper half of his persona as their isn’t a whole lot of singing to be found on this. Despite the numerous flaws, the first half of If You’re Reading This… is incredible, so much so that it managed to find a place on my list.
- Adele – 25
To be perfectly honest, 25 was a little disappointing. It was always going to be a next to impossible task for Adele to follow up the juggernaut that was 21, but even with that in mind I still walked away wanting something more. While the album is full of great tracks only one or two come anywhere close to the best songs on her previous album. It also feels like it’s a little on the short side, featuring 11 tracks with a run time of 49 minutes. To only receive 49 minutes of music after waiting almost five years for a new release soured my feelings of the album, however looking at the album in isolation it is actually quite good. There were only a couple of songs that I didn’t vibe with, which can probably be attributed to the album’s length being much more compact, meaning Adele is only giving us the very best with no filler. I had extraordinarily high expectations for this album, and although those expectations weren’t met 25 is still worthy of a spot in my top 10 favourite albums of 2015.
- Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise
Big Sean is a very polarising artist and I highly doubt that many people outside of diehard Big Sean fans had this album inside their top 10. A significant amount of people find his voice and flow monotonous and at times his lyrics can be too corny for some, however I maintain that Dark Sky Paradise was one of the best hip hop releases in the past year. This is a very focused released from Sean and it’s obvious that he had a very specific story and tone that he wanted to tell with this album. Sean shows he has a deeper side to his rapping and that he isn’t just the guy releasing songs like “Dance (A$$)”, but instead has the depth to go from something like “I Don’t Fuck With You” to “One Man Can Change the World”. Combine that with really solid features from Drake, Kanye West, E-40, Chris Brown and John Legend and you have yourself an album that I was consistently playing months after it had been released.
- Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
For a prelude to Pusha T’s long awaited second solo album, Darkest Before The Dawn is actually quite a well-developed release. Push clearly put a lot of time and effort into this, despite all of the work that is being put into the main course, which is still yet to be released. The obvious intent of this release is to build hype for King Push and with features from Kanye West and A$AP Rocky this prelude has the feeling of a full-fledged album. However, being a prelude some of the tracks come across as very forgettable and definitely appear to be throwaway tracks that were rejected from the main album, but none of Pusha’s output here could be described as anything close to being bad. Darkest Before The Dawn is little more than a stopgap to keep fans entertained until King Push is finished, but that didn’t stop it for being an enjoyable short release that I enjoyed for a weekend.
- Fetty Wap – Fetty Wap
Love him or hate him, it was hard to argue against 2015 being the year of Fetty Wap. Fetty completely exploded onto the scene with hit after hit, and despite his act quickly growing stale, his self-titled album was just the right amount of Wap. The most appealing thing about Fetty Wap is his ability to nail a catchy hook on every track no matter the circumstances. Even songs that I didn’t enjoy too much like Trap Luv managed to pull me in with the chorus. The biggest problem with Fetty’s first album is the amount of Monty that is featured throughout it. Half of the 20 tracks have a featured verse from him and the overwhelming majority of these are not good and actually bring down what are otherwise perfectly fine songs. I’ll problem never listen to another Fetty Wap project in my life, but for that late period in 2015 it was almost impossible for me to take this album off repeat.
- Dr. Dre – Compton
It took all of five seconds for Dr. Dre’s long awaited follow-up to 1999’s 2001 to stick its’ hooks into me. From the intro I immediately got the feeling that Compton was going to be a grandiose piece of work, and what played out over the next hour managed to somehow live up to all my expectations. This album felt like an experience; similar to the way hearing an incredible soundtrack in a cinema feels. It was powerful and managed to strike the right notes in every way possible. Dre was his usual self with his rapping, albeit with a slightly changed voice, while the production and guest verse were almost completely perfect. Who would expect that in the year 2015 we would not only get a Dr. Dre album, but he’d also be able to get an aggressive verse out of Snoop Dogg as well as verses from Xzibit and Ice Cube that wouldn’t be out of place in their prime. What prevented Compton being placed higher on this list is solely because it doesn’t feel anywhere close to being as memorable as any of his other projects. Despite this, it was still easily one of my favourite albums of 2015.
- Jay Rock – 90059
Speaking of unexpected; I didn’t think that in a year full of amazing musical releases I would have a Jay Rock album in my top three. It took four years to get a sophomore album, but before 90059 was released I was expecting to be let down, with the track list being only 11 songs long. Instead, I was blown away by how good every single one of the songs were. Some people were weirded out by the directions some of the songs went, particularly Jay Rock’s delivery on the title track 90059 and all of Black Hippy’s delivery on Vice City, but I actually found these stylistic choices to be enjoyable. The album is slickly produced from start to finish and has a strong west-coast sound to it that you’d except from a Jay Rock project, which meshes well with his voice. There’s not much that 90059 does wrong; it simply finds itself at three because I only enjoyed it slightly less than the two albums ahead of it.
- Justin Bieber – Purpose
From the lead-up singles alone I knew that Purpose was going to be an enjoyable album. Everything Bieber released was a fun track with a killer beat to go with it, so I was expecting the album to be much of the same. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got my hands and the album and discovered just how much depth there was to this release. Purpose is such an introspective album, and it shows just how self-aware Bieber is. The illusion of Justin Bieber being someone who is so high on his own fame is completely shattered from the very first track. Most people would dismiss a pop album from someone like this as shallow and an attempt to pander to the teenage and pre-teen girl demographic, but the majority of the tracks are stuffed full of emotion and after listening to Purpose I feel like I know Bieber much more as person than I did before. Purpose wasn’t only my second favourite album of the year; it also turned me into a Belieber.
- The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
I enjoyed Beauty Behind The Madness way more than I originally expected. From the singles that were released in the lead-up it seemed that Abel was looking to expand his fan base by going in a more commercial direction with songs like Earned It from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack and Can’t Feel My Face. These songs were by no means bad and they still had the dark edge that we’d come to expect from a track released by Abel (albeit far more toned down than previous projects). I just wasn’t expecting incredible things from a Weeknd album that was targeted towards getting radio plays. So it was much to my surprise that this turned out to be my favourite album of 2015. There’s barely a week track from start to finish, and what I loved most was that despite obviously attempting to become more commercial it didn’t lose that signature Weeknd sound and atmosphere. Tracks like Prisoner, Angel and Tell Your Friends wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Trilogy and it would be hard to argue that any of the songs other than maybe Can’t Feel My Face were a big departure from what he has traditionally done. Abel should also be commended on his choice of features for the album. While only used sparingly, the features from Labrinth, Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey are all on point and all add to their respective songs, something that I was very apprehensive about going into the album as Abel has traditionally not used features on any of his songs, apart from a Pharell remix of Wanderlust. Beauty Behind The Madness only just beat out Purpose in the end and either album would have been worthy of my number one spot, however this album just pulled me in that slightly bit more and managed to surprise me with how great it was just as much as Justin Bieber’s album thanks to my worries in the lead up to its’ release.