What a year 2015 has been. We’ve seen classic albums from several heavyweights. We’ve seen politics sneak its way back into song. And we’ve seen people play with sound in a way that simply hasn’t been attempted for a long long time. It’s a celebration right now. A forest of dense, lush project making juxtaposed with turn-up tunes in a breadth and variety not seen since the dance heavy 80s.
But while the landscape has been great for albums as well as the album cut, things have not been so profuse for singles. The lead single is all but on its way out as albums that have largely been considered flawless can’t get folks to play one song until their shit eats tapes. It’s a conundrum because of the general quality of the work, but what is hot in the context of a glowing body of work has been dull on radio. Instead, we’ve gotten a potent mix of one-off radio hits and choice album cuts creating a dense mixture of complexity and light-heartedness. There’s something for everybody out there as the audience clones and splinters itself into categories and moods. What’s good for the hipster isn’t necessarily good for the ratchet and vice-versa.
Radio or no radio, that doesn’t say anything about their quality. And so we give you our top 25 songs of the year in an attempt to create some sort of continuity between camps, if not to soothe the ache between all our fractured ears.
Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker The Berry”
Loud, opinionated, boisterous and layered, “The Blacker The Berry” sent the Kendrick Lamar hype into the stratosphere. If you weren’t enthralled by what the third K. Dot album could be before you heard it, you certainly were now. This came on the heels of his controversial commentary on police brutality. With Kendrick referencing his own biases and those of the community-at-large in the same breath.
Young Thug F/ Birdman – “Constantly Hating”
In what stands as, most likely, the best Birdman verse of all time, “Constantly Hating” oozes over you like a damp mist over a grassy field. Thugger is doing what he does best here, though with a slightly more audible cadence, and Birdman doesn’t destroy anything this time, creating a small marvel masterpiece out of the sparse beat.
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”
Fetty Pendergrass, Fetty Vandross, or just Fetty Wap if you’re on your square shit, the New Jersey native’s straight up singing over trap beats is such a logical extension of Drake’s boozy version of Hip Hop that it’s astonishing no one thought of it sooner. Then there’s the object of his crooning: his trap queen. How many of us have harbored thoughts of our ride-or-die in such a way, but without the bando to express it? As wonderful songs tend to do, “Trap Queen” addressed a longing that we didn’t even know we had.
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”
There’s something about “Sunday Candy” that sums up exactly why Surf is equally loved and hated. It’s bright, cheery and full of color that’s missing in the over seriousness Hip Hop has indulged in recently. Chance The Rapper & The Social Experiment manage to blend late 90s era Kirk Franklin gospel rap and Chicago Footwork for an ode to the biggest supporter of his movement. That’s right, Chance’s grandmother.
D.R.A.M. – “Cha Cha”
Every year a song or two come out of nowhere that find a way to be as catchy as humanly possible. When you listen to it the formula seems so simple that you can’t help but wonder why your favorite emcee can’t catch the fever. But it’s more complicated than that. Often these things bubble quiet at first until they hit some hot social-media-vein that sprouts oil. Such was the case here, as “Cha Cha” actually dropped last year to little fanfare. But a Beyonce Instagram post can do wonders for even the quietest of songs, and “Cha Cha” has taken off from there.
Tech N9ne Featuring Krizz Kaliko & Eminem – “Speedom (WWC2)”
Three double-timing emcees on one track is usually a recipe for trouble, but not here. “Speedom (WWC2)” grabbed Eminem and brought him together with Tecca Nina for speeding train ride of superior wordplay set over a galloping beat. Who won the mini battle here is anyone’s guess. But the combination of these three sent this song into the stratosphere.
Rihanna – “Bitch Better Have My Money”
This song works because every single person on earth can see Rihanna actually saying this to someone. The stories of her willingness to get down and dirty are just about legendary, and she usually handles herself in the gulliest ways possible. So it should come as no surprise that after sneak-dissing lames on that campfire anthem she dropped with Sir Paul and Ye´ that she followed up with a straight up punch in the face in “BBHMM.”
Drake – “Know Yourself”
The catchiest hook of the year is the enigmatic “Know Yourself.” As song it builds so slowly it’s hard to think of it as some kind of turn-up anthem. Then, suddenly, Drizzy’s voice becomes triumphant as he goes from 0 – 100 to bellow, “Running through the 6 with my woes!” By all standards the song is unconventional. The hook doesn’t even blare in until around the 1:48 mark. Then, in true OVO fashion, the song becomes something else entirely. By and large, the OVO crew has mastered this sort of juxtaposition, giving you some form of earnest emotion on one part of a song, and then the punch line on the other.
Tyler, The Creator Featuring Lil Wayne & Kanye West – “Smuckers”
Arguably the best Kanye West and Lil Wayne verses of the year, “Smuckers” is clanging and confrontational. Don’t believe us? Kanye’s verse starts off with, “Why, oh why, why, why don’t they like? / Nike gave a lot of niggas checks, but I’m the only nigga ever to check Nike / Richer than white people with black kids / Scarier than black people with ideas…” And those are just the first four bars. Wayne’s is equally as exciting with even Tyler claiming Wayne bodied both he and Kanye. Not only that, but Tyler finally got his idols on a track with him.
Boogie – “Oh My”
Boogie is an emcee’s emcee, but you maybe wouldn’t know it by judging him by his turn-up hit “Oh My.” But even on a song made to make you let your inner ratchet out he still puts out poignant, uncanny observations about his environment. The song even starts out like, “I was there like oh my goodness / I had to keep it pushin’ / My momma in the kitchen, ain’t no food up on the table / Used to ask her ‘what you cookin’? Like, ‘what you cookin’?” It doesn’t end there, though. The lines continue to flow, and then you realize you have before you a peculiar emcee: One that can make a party song about more than just sex, drugs and money.
Future – “Fuck Up Some Commas”
brought Future back into the conversation to be Hip Hop’s next crossover star. Honest was earnest but problematic, and largely fell flat. This, however, is the Future we all thought we’d be desperately trying to understand last year, and he didn’t disappoint. Produced by DJ Spinz and Southside off his free album Monster, this banger led to two more fantastic projects in 56 Nights and Beast Mode.Future – “F*ck Up Some Commas”
Vince Staples – “Señorita”
Summertime ‘06 is one of the best albums of the year, and one of the crown jewels of the stark project is “Señorita.” Vince, again, pulls back the veil on the hood, not only from his own perspective of an America that looks at these communities like museum pieces. In their mind, the hood is a playground of violence put in place for their own shock and entertainment. Vince cunningly exposes this in a groundbreaking video, showing a family looking on in wonder at a community vastly different from theres being torn asunder.
Lil Wayne – “Glory”
Issues with Cash Money, album delays lackluster singles, forgettable mixtapes and a host of other issues lead many to believe that Weezy F. Baby was down for the count. Then comes Tidal exclusive “Glory.” Allegedly the first single from the long awaited Free Weezy Album, the track is Wayne at a new stream of consciousness zenith. This is the emcee many have been wanting desperately since Tha Carter III.
Action Bronson F/ Chance The Rapper – “Baby Blue”
Awesome Coming To America inspired video aside, track nine from Action Bronson’s solid major label debut Mr. Wonderful is the clear highlight. Nevermind “Baby Blue”s slick horn ending, Mark Ronson creates the perfect beat for Bam Bam to air his grievances about an ungrateful woman. Adding even more comedy is Chance The Rapper’s guest verse where he wishes an ex the worst life ever.
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
To Pimp A Butterfly literally has Kendrick Lamar using the history of black music as a platform to spark a revolution. Jazz, Funk and Soul are permitted in some way throughout the TDE rapper’s sophomore follow-up to Good Kid m.A.A.d. City. However, there wasn’t anything as equally radio friendly and meaningful on the album as “Alright.” Alongside Pharrell’s anthem like hook, K.Dot spits with some of the best rhymes the album has to offer.
Kanye West F/ Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney – “All Day”
This year, Kanye West delivered three for sure singles from his yet to be released album SWISH. The first two included ode to his mother “Only One” along with the Sia and Vic Mensa featured “Wolves.” Then there was the incredibly musical epic “All Day.” Not only does Yeezy spit those signature braggadocios rhymes that have come to define him, he brings along Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney. Production wise, “All Day” is jam packed with musical credits ranging from Diddy to French Montana.
Rae Sremmurd F/ Nicki Minaj & Young Thug – “Throw Sum Mo”
The Ear Drummer boys’ debut album SremmLife may as well be the turn-up album of the year. Their grand introduction with “No Flex Zone” and it’s follow-up “No Type,” took over radio and had everyone from Tracee Ellis Ross to IHOP quoting them. For SremmLife’s third single, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy recruited Thugger and Onika for strip club anthem “Throw Sum Mo.”
Big Sean F/ Drake & Kanye West – “Blessings”
Big Sean finally made good on his potential when he dropped his third solo effort Dark Sky Paradise earlier this year. Following 2014’s mega-hit “IDFWU,” the Detroit player dropped “Blessings” featuring Drake and Mr. West. Sean more than holds his own as Drizzy’s catchy “waaaay up” hook. Adding the finishing touches is another stellar verse from Yezzus.
A$AP Rocky F/ Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson – “Everyday”
A.L.L.A. represented an A$AP Rocky who went from Hip Hop notable to international model and promising actor. Then again, A.L.L.A. had plenty of tracks dedicated to straight flexing from Pretty Flocko. Bringing Miguel, Mark Ronson and Rod Steward along for “Everyday” might have been the most unique thing anyone will hear this year.
Lupe Fiasco – “Mural”
The real opening track for Tetsuo & Youth following “Summer,” “Mural is Lupe Fiasco‘s best lyrical exercise to date. Damn near nine minutes of the Chicago emcee flexing every cerebral muscle and confirming why Atlantic Records made large mistakes with handling his career there. In a world where most artists have a difficult time putting 16 bars together, Fiasco does it with so much finesse throughout its entirety.
Yelawolf – “Til’ It’s Gone”
Love Story is this generation’s millennial version of Bubba Sparxxx’s under appreciated classic Deliverance. It’s a southern gothic that Yelawolf himself described as a mix of Johnny Cash and Outkast. There isn’t a better example than “Til’ It’s Gone.” There’s a repetitive twang-y guitar lick that blends perfectly with a heart pounding bass. This is of course thanks to Catfish Billy’s go to collaborator WLPWR whose evolved past his core sound as well.
Vic Mensa F/ Kanye West – “U Mad”
The rise of Vic Mensa thought Chicago’s Hip Hop scene has been nothing short of amazing considering considering how fractured the scene is. Mr. Save Money made huge waves earlier this year when he landed a spot on Kanye West’s SWISH single with Sia. Then “U Mad” came like a successful right hook to the jaw. Those who have followed Mensa since his days with Kids These Days and 2013’s pretty amazing INNANETAPE knew what he was capable of.
Migos – “One Time”
Despite having several of the biggest hits over the past couple of years, Migos has yet to prove their worth, album wise. That chance will happen in July when YRN The Album drops. For the album’s debut single “One Time,” Quavo, Takeoff and Offset double down on everything that’s been key to their success within rap so far: an Infectious hook links verses from the trio that loosely binds Migos’ signature uniform style.
Alessia Cara – “Here”
In the age of turn-up music that’s affected both Hip Hop and R&B, Alessia Cara’s “Here” is refreshingly the total opposite. Call it the anti-social party anthem for the millennial; Def Jam’s new signee may be the most unique singer-songwriter to come from the label since Frank Ocean. Male or female, attending a party but not being there mentally is something anyone can relate to and “Here” captures those feelings pretty well.
Post Malone – “White Iverson”
“White Iverson, when I started balling I was young, you gon’ think about me when I’m gone, I need that money like the ring I never won,” may be one of the best hooks anyone will hear all year. Then there’s the dope production from popular Atlanta collective FKI who’s known for dropping beats for everyone ranging from Tyga to Key! “White Iverson” has Post Malone making music that’s very subtle for the club and Saturday night kick back.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.