The year of 2015 has seen the largest surge of rap success since its inception, with more artists than ever producing top quality content to release for a newly discovered mainstream audience.
The year started with a bang as within two months, projects from Nicki Minaj, Rae Sremmud, Joey Bada$$ and the incredibly successful mixtape from the godfather of rap himself, Drake. The first of Drake’s two mixtapes provided fans with an alternative sound to what they usually expect from the Canadian, almost an edginess that people haven’t seen before. With an enhanced ego from the previous projects, songs like ‘Legend’ ‘Energy’ and the pulsating ‘6PM in New York Freestyle’ were able to be released and show the confidence Drake has built and how he feels as though he is producing legendary music, calling himself “number one”. These albums well and truly set the tone for 2015, with Minaj’s Pinkprint album being Grammy nominated along with Drake’s ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ for best rap album.
The months of March and April were arguably the honeymoon period for rap, producing two of the best projects of the year in Big Sean’s ‘Dark Sky Paradise’ and the sure to be legendary ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar, which broke just about every boundary possible regarding racism and apartheid of his ancestors. It provoked so much opinion it even resulted in President of the United States Barack Obama to call ‘How Much A Dollar Cost’ his favourite song of the year. High praise from arguably the biggest figure on the planet made K-Dot’s God like status in the hip-hop industry seem all the more immortal. With Drake’s mixtape gathering pace, Big Sean topping the charts with hit songs such as ‘I Don’t F**k With You’ and ‘Blessings’, and Kendrick Lamar crushing stereotypes, March and April ensured that hip hop was announcing itself to the world for a huge year. As well as these two, a dark horse album was created by former member of Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt. His third studio album, ‘I Don’t Like S*** I Dont Go Outside’ stuck to the traditional regime of Earl and his music by showing a bleak and depressing approach to his upbringing and releasing all of his anger and frustration into his music. This type of rap can be seen as very relatable to most and this helped the album hugely as it targeted a very defined group of audience.
The months of May, June and July ensured that the pace didn’t slow as more huge names in the rap scene were producing high quality content. The controversial Tyler, The Creator released his fourth studio album as a solo artist with ‘Cherry Bomb’ which brought back the classic sounds of N.E.R.D and mixed it with the smooth jazz vibe that influenced Tyler so heavily during his youth. The highlight of his work being the song ‘Smuckers’ where he managed a collaboration with Kanye West and Lil Wayne, bringing the best out of the pair of them. From one diverse style to another allowed for Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky to release his follow up album to ‘Long.Live.A$AP’ which was hugely successful for his aggressive approach and throwback rapping style. Rocky’s new work, ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’ allowed for him to show his creativity and branch off into a new direction of hip hop. With tracks such as ‘Holy Ghost’, ‘Everyday’ and ‘L$D’, he allowed himself the freedom to flow naturally to smoother beats and thus create more meaningful lyrics, regarding love, religion and affection. Without doubt the highlight of the album was the Kanye West produced masterpiece ‘Juxebox Joints’ which mixed a jazz beat with a natural slow jam and brought the remarkable ability of Rocky and Kanye out, with a heavy fashion influence within the lyrics. The third major work to be released in this time of the year was Meek Mill’s highly anticipated ‘Dreams Worth More Than Money’ which promised many high profile features and a different approach to his usual style which was seen while he served his prison sentence. Highlights of this album included a collaboration with Drake on ‘R.I.C.O’ and joint works with partner Nicki Minaj and singer Chris Brown on the track ‘All Eyes On You’ which focused on media perception of his and Nicki’s relationship, mainly being critical of how they try to destroy his romance with Minaj.
August and September were quieter than previous months but still provided keen rap fans with high brow content and helped shine a light on rappers who would soon become global phenomenons. The largest of those being the release of Travi$ Scott’s ‘Rodeo’ album, something that artists from all over the world had been excited to listen to. It provided fans with a sound rarely heard before within rap music and appeared to be influenced almost exclusively by Kanye West’s Yeezus album, which showed brash arrogance and aggression released in heavy beats and what has been coined as ‘shouty rap’. A few gems from the album were found, including the massively successful record ‘Antidote’ which was hailed worldwide and charted in many countries. A huge step for a relatively small artist in the ever growing rap industry. Songs with Future and Kanye West allowed Scott to be more recognisable to the fan base of hip hop and gave him a stepping stone onto bigger and better things. I for one cannot wait for what he comes up with next. As well as Travi$ Scott, Future also released an album in this time period called ‘DS2’ and recieved mass population and success as a result. The album was recently ranked at number four in Rolling Stone’s Top 40 rap albums of 2015 thanks to his unique sound capturing the imaginations of any listener in his path. There are no doubts about it that his friendship with Drake has helped him along the way but now he has taken it on alone and reaped the benefits with huge hits such as ‘Where Ya At’ and ‘F*** Up Some Commas’. However, these two albums, although very successful and original, were completely pushed to one side by the return of a living legend in the rap game, Dr Dre. After becoming the first billionaire rap artist due to widespread success of his ‘Beats’ headphones, Dre decided to release a new album called ‘Compton’, 16 years after he released ‘2001’. The album as a whole was a typical Dr Dre project with a few standouts, but was never going to be an all time great. Many were just pleased to see Dr Dre back producing music after all his time away.
The final three months of the year were hectic, with late contenders for album of the year flooding in from unlikely sources. October started with Jay Rock releasing ‘90059’ which proved to be a strong album but was overshadowed by Drake’s triumphant return, this time with mixtape number two of 2015, ‘What A Time To Be Alive’, which he co-wrote with Future. This mixtape provided us all with one of the anthems of the year in ‘Jumpman’ which boasted a strong hook with high quality verses from both Drake and Future. As well as this, Drake released the newest single of his forthcoming album ‘Views From The 6’ and it turned out to be a radio smash hit. ‘Hotline Bling’ became a sensation due to its infectious beat and simple to follow lyrics. The lyrics did still provide a thought provoking meaning, allowing many to question who the lyrics were about, whether they involve Nicki Minaj or even Rihanna. What followed this project was another smash hit artist who broke the mainstream barrier and became a global star and he went by the name of Fetty Wap. Club anthems ‘Trap Queen’ and ‘679’ provided an alternative fun side to rap, showing an upbeat approach and giving people something to dance to. What made fetty was even more memorable was his appearance as he has overcome the adversity of losing an eye as a child to become a star, something he always dreamed of becoming. Just as people were beginning to think the year was over Pusha T decided he wanted his say on the matter with the critically acclaimed piece: ‘King Push: The Darkest Before The Dawn: The Prelude’. After being recently announced as the President of Kanye West’s music label ‘G.O.O.D Music’ Push created beat after beat on a mind blowing album that took everyone by surprise. The mellow approach of ‘M.P.A’ featuring West himself and A$AP Rocky provided another dimension to an already incredibly strong record.
So all in all 2015 may well have been the biggest year rap music has ever had, mainly due to the sheer quantity of artists who created strong albums and mixtapes all year round. I’m sure 2016 promises to be just as big, as we await album releases from Kanye West, Drake, Young Thug, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Ferg and of course, the legendary return of 50 Cent.