It’s been a funny old year in rap music. A number of eagerly anticipated projects, including Immortal Technique’s The Middle Passage and the GZA’s Dark Matter, failed to drop and an array of high profile artists fell well short of the mark (Raekwon, Method Man, and The 3 LOX members come to mind). The likes of Sean P (RIP), Dave East, Huss Kingpin and Your Old Droog released quality tapes and Redman and Pusha T put out decent album preludes. However, in terms of solid albums that can stand the test of time, we weren’t particularly blessed this year. That said we’re thankful to the artists on our list for making a very difficult 2015 bearable! It wasn’t easy to compile this list (it never is), so make sure you scroll down to check out the well- deserved honourable mentions too!
10. Capone-N-Noreaga – Lessons CNN with Tragedy Khadafi.
For a full album. What more can a hip hop head ask for? While Channel 10 and The War Report 2 may not have been to every CNN fan’s liking, Lessons reminds us of why The War Report was a game changer. From the fiery opening track Future to the powerful yet humorous 7 Continents, CNN go in hard. This is the kind of album that makes you wanna see these guys live. With production credits going to the likes of Ayatollah, Large Professor, Statik Selektah, and Jahlil Beats, Lessons is one for the real heads.
9. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – 12 Reasons to Die II
In the second instalment of their highly successful 12 Reasons to Die project, Ghostface and Adrian Younge swap Italy for New York. The duo manages to execute the concept well, albeit without the novelty factor that made Part I unique. The production is still on point, but for some reason there is a slight lack of depth. Raekwon (Tony Stark’s nemesis here) and Chino XL come through strong on the feat ticket, but there was certainly space for other guest verses. None of this can take away from a masterful album by two of the finest going around. There will undoubtedly be a third episode in this saga and we’re already looking forward to it.
8. Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin
First things first. No, we aint going to compare Blade of the Ronin to The Cold Vein. And no, we aint crazy Def Jux nostalgics (well, kinda). Blade of the Ronin is simply one sick album. It’s got everything you’d expect from Vast Aire and Vordul Mega (and more). From inspired religious references to social commentary, the duo’s lyrics are on point. Bill Cosmiq (a more than worthy ‘substitute’ for El- P) also does brilliantly to capture that classic Ox sound. Tracks like Psalm 82 and Iron Rose remind you why these cats left hip hop heads dumbfounded back in 2001.
7. Apollo Brown – Grandeur
Mello Music’s in-house producer, Apollo Brown, does it again. Respectful to his boom bap upbringing, Apollo uses soul and blues loops to great effect showing incredible maturity. Arguably his sound hasn’t really evolved from his last few outings. But why change a winning a formula? With a host of A-listers dropping thoughtful verses, Grandeur does its title justice. Guests include Masta Ace, Evidence, MOP, Ras Kass, Sean Price, Vinnie Paz, Evidence, Rapper Big pooh, and Chino XL. Props to Apollo and the whole Mello Music crew for continuing to deliver such high quality products.
6. Gangrene – You Disgust Me
The Alchemist and Oh No are back in style. This will be one of the most rough and rugged projects you’ll listen to this year. From audibly friendly tracks like Reversals to the jazzy Gluttony, ALC delivers with panache. The highlight is the smash everything-type track Sheet Music featuring Havoc and the late Sean P. Oh No has earned his position as a leading figure on the mic. Together with ALC, they form one of the finest partnerships out there. You Disgust Me is one for the heads.
5. MED, Blu & Madlib - Bad Neighbour
Madlib has already cemented his place in the pantheon of hip hop. With projects like Bad Neighbour, he is approaching Dilla status. Madlib manages to mix up soul arrangements with heavy industrial sounds to great effect. MED and Blu do not disappoint either with their smooth wordplay. Guests include Aloe Blacc and Oh No. Knock Knock with DOOM is reason enough to cop this album. Go get it now.
4. Killah Priest – Planet of the Gods
Killah Priest earned his place in the Rap Buzz hall of fame years ago. The no.1 Wu associate’s last effort, The Psychic World of Walter Reed, was a watershed moment in rap history. It was an album of unparalleled depth and beauty. While the Iron Sheik’s lyrics have always been on point, his producers have been known to let him down on occasion. Now with Godz Wrath taking over production duties entirely, this problem no longer exists. Pretty much every instrumental on this project is dope. The other-worldly cosmic loops coupled with perfectly pronounced drums are perfect canvases for KP. Seasoned Killah Priest fans know what to expect from his verses. And he doesn’t disappoint here - deep metaphysical and spiritual raps delivered in style (“My first nation is called my imagination”). Also, it might just be us, but KP goes in harder than usual. This is quite simply a masterpiece.
3. Scarface – Deeply Rooted
It takes the likes of Scarface to get heads talking about lyrics again. In an era of battle bars, punchlines and trap beats, Scarface offers us reflective verses over an incredible selection of relaxed instrumentals (by N.O. Joe). It’s as if Scarface wanted to verbalise a life’s worth of deliberations in one album. The sung hooks by John Legend, Cee Lo and Z-Ro are also inspired. If that wasn’t enough, Do what I do features a next-level verse from Nas. A great album.
2. Czarface – Every Hero Needs a Villain
The sophomore effort by the Rebel Ins and 7l & Esoteric would have made the top spot in any other year. Simply put, Every Hero Needs a Villain tops their debut and that’s one mean feat. Inspectah Deck and Esoteric bounce off each other like a permanent 4/4 freestyle battle. The ridiculously potent punchlines are interspersed with strokes of wisdom and comic references. 7L exceeds himself this time around with boom bap beats and heavy hitting guitar riifs. Every beat is on point! If that wasn’t enough, guest appearances from DOOM (our fave track on the album), GZA (!!!) Method MAN, Juju, and RA the Rugged Man make Every Hero Needs a Villain a modern day masterpiece. Already looking forward to their third instalment!
1. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$
We own this record in every possible format. We went to the legendary Hip Hop Kemp in the Czech Republic to see this kid perform. B4.DA.$$ has been on heavy rotation at the Rap Buzz since the day it dropped in late January. That is sufficient to make it our number one pick of the year. Well, where to start? The selection of beats reminiscent of the 93/94 era is simply exquisite. The masterful Paper Trails by Preemo is perfectly executed as is No.99 by Statik Selektah. This album exudes an elevated musicality of times past. The Pro Era imprint on the production side of things is also significant. The Kirk Knight produced Big Dusty and Hazeus View will go down as hardcore bangers for years to come. While Joey can (marginally) improve on his delivery, his lyrical prowess is unquestionable. He tackles rampant consumerism in the black community (“but they still planting plantations, we keep buying in”) without holding back on raw bars. B4.DA.$$ will stand the test of time and be considered a classic in years to come. Fact.
It goes without saying that there are a number of albums that would have deserved a place in the top 10. The same holds true for honourable mentions. We didn’t want to give an artist two bites at the cherry, so Ghostface’s album with BADBADNOTGOOD doesn’t make the cut. Cats like Skyzoo, Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs, Slum Village, Action Bronson, Murs, The Game, and Ransom delivered solid albums, but we expected more. So, what we’re left with is the list of the most complete albums just outside the Top 10. Go cop these now!
Rapper Big Pooh – Home Sweet
Home Locksmith – Lofty Goals
Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder – Indie 500
Bodega Bamz – Sidewalk
Kool Keith & L’Orange – Time? Astonishing!
First Division – Overworked & Underpaid
Oddisee – The Good Fight
Maticulous – The maticulous LP
Verbal Kent – Anesthesia
Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us
Semi Hendrix - Breakfast at Banksy's
The Underachievers - Evermore, The Art of Duality