SPLAM: 2015 – Albums Of The Year (So Far)

After I (Lee) exposed my favourite albums, and they were all projects that came in 2000’s or 10’s – I asked Suood, Phil, Akash and Matt to recommend albums from the apparent golden era’s of Hip Hop. The twitter conversation soon led to Phil proposing a Hip Hop book club – and here is SPLAM (we struggled for a name, but using our initials stuck). Using Onyx’s S(p)lam as an unofficial theme song, we are going to take turns to recommend one another an album to listen to, and then post our opinions in a blog post. We are then to debate our opinions on Twitter, and invite other Hip Hop enthusiasts to join in the conversation using the #SPLAM.

This week, we have a mid-season, mid-year special, focusing on the best Hip Hop projects of 2015. Here are the initial thoughts of the team:

3. To Pimp A Butterfly
King Kendrick. Rap’s savior. Leader of the new generation of hip hop. Tupac Shakur II. Those were a few labels we’ve seen stuck on Kendrick Lamar over the years and they’ve been emphasized even more this year, with the release of To Pimp A Butterfly.Kendrick Lamar created a darker and more illustrative album this time, bettering his previous releases by touching on a list of matters such as greed, race, insecurity, positivity and hope. This album was clearly not made for everyone, but its artistry is above and beyond any other 2015 release except for Tetsuo & Youth, which was a strong contender for the third spot on this list.
2. B4.DA.$$
GREATEST DEBUT ALBUM OF ALL TIME. Okay, maybe not. But this was one hell of an effort for Joey’s first album. All my fears of the album not reaching the levels of his mixtapes went down the drain once I heard Paper Trail$. B4.DA.$$ saw Joey carry all the positive aspects of 1999 and explore new sounds while evolving as an artist. Collaborating with unique musicians such as Kiesza, Hit-Boy, Raury and Maverick Sabre gave B4.DA.$$ more personality than Joey’s previous releases, not that he doesn’t hold his own on the album. All Joey has to worry about now is the sophomore slump and trying to innovate more with his music.
1. Dark Sky Paradise
A lot of people saw the potential in Big Sean for a while but thought he never quite reached it until Dark Sky Paradise came along. Personally, I only heard Detroit and Hall of Fame before this, and preferring Hall of Fame seems to be the unpopular opinion. Sean then took his time, locking in and brought along his best project to date, silencing some of his critics. Dark Sky Paradise showed impressive growth for Sean as he managed to curate a cohesive album loaded with bangers like IDFWU and Paradise, with a beauty like One Man Can Change The World on the flip side. There aren’t any surprises on this album but instead Sean is getting closer to perfecting his craft and improving the lane he’s in. The cheesy bars are still evident but they’re easy to excuse to the good work put into this album.

3. Oddisee – The Good Fight
I’m more familiar with producer/rapper Oddisee’s great instrumental projects and have always found that he was better at delivering a message through music rather than words but that view changed completely on The Good Fight. Backed by stellar production that draws on soul, jazz, pop rock, funk influences to name a few, Oddisee steps his rapping game up markedly. Incredible flows, strong delivery and clever lyrics carry his message on here and result in a real feel good album that’s perfect for the summer. That’s Love gets major replays.
Check out: That’s Love
2. Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us
From a feel good album to the opposite end of the spectrum we have an album that delves into the side of rap that’s not cool enough for the mainstream. Here’s a working class hero that’s down on his luck but instead of grabbing a gun he’s just trying to live an honest life to get his way out of it. Following on from the Ugly Heroes collab album, Pill takes centre stage and delivers verses loaded with self-depreciation, sarcasm, humour and most all pure honesty over surprisingly fantastic smokey room production. I was interested in this album thanks to his appearance on Ugly Heroes but it exceeded all expectations and blows that album out of the water. It would take something special to keep this from my number one spot. 
Check out: Rum & Coke
1. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
Easy choice here because it’s by far my favourite album in about five years. I was convinced that Lupe was done for following his last albums, but songs released since F&L2 like Jonylah Forever, Deliver and Pu$$y build a bit of tentative hope. Needless to say I wasn’t prepared for what I got. 
Mural whets the appetite as an album opener with an absolutely incredible display of lyricism and wordplay that is the epitome of Lupe Fiasco, but the album gets even better from then on in. Tetsuo & Youth has more layers than the biggest onion in existence and you could spend hours, weeks, months dissecting individual songs never mind the full package. It would all be for nought if it didn’t sound good, but Lupe’s in the songwriting form of his career and has selected great production and hooks to pair it up with. This album is a genuine contender for my top ten of all time.
Check out: Body of Work


3. Integrity
JME is unquestionably one of the most creatively talented and hardworking men in music. Not just Grime, the UK or rap, but worldwide and transcendental to genres. As a part of grime’s legendary BBK crew, JME can oft be overlooked, next to his brother Skepta, but there is no denying that the That’s Not Me collaborators are cut from the same cloth. Integrity is full of hard hitting rhymes, energetic production and some of the best songs of the year – particularly Man Don’t Like. It’s not the best album from top to bottom, but there’s just the right amount of bright spots to gain the edge over Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar and Ludacris for the spot. 
2. Dark Sky Paradise
The biggest thing going against Big Sean going into Dark Sky Paradise were my expectations, set so high he could never reach them. Between Control and DSP, Sean hadn’t dropped a single bad verse. He was on fire, especially off of IDFWU but in the end, it’s rare for an entire album to carry the same quality throughout as the singles and guest verses. In hindsight, the album is pretty fucking great, with much more highs than lows, but I was expecting a classic – and whilst time may prove me wrong, I think we’re still waiting on the full potential of Big Sean to be realised.
1. B4.DA.$$
Until around October 2014, I hated Joey Bada$$’ music. 1999 was grossly overrated, he was another MC that I just couldn’t wrap my head around having the buzz that he had. And then, the singles for B$.DA.$$ rolled out, and blew me away. Every single was fire. Seeing him live was breathtaking. With the album came a full project that you could play front to back, rewind and play it all over again. It’s the type of album that transcends the era o streaming, because I know I’m not the only one who bought this digitally, on CD and on Vinyl. I don’t want to push the word classic out there just yet, but I wouldn’t argue against it either.

Akash:
3. Yelawolf – Love Story
I’ll be honest – I never expected to pick a Yelawolf album for my top… Well, anything. But Love Story was an album that took me by surprise, mainly due to the fact that after a slew of forgettable projects, I wasn’t expecting anything this good. Love Story showed how far Yelawolf has come from his Kickin’ days, how much he’s grown and it showcased his ability to adapt. Of course, a few things like Yela’s rapid fire rhymes and his love for Chevys are still the same. The best aspect of Love Story was that it showed that Yelawolf has matured and is still capable of delivering a memorable hip hop project while staying true to his country roots.
2. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
Man. This. Album. Lupe made a stellar comeback with this one after his, uh…fiascos with Laster and FnL2. It doesn’t top Food and Liquor but I think it’s safe to say that T&Y is probably his most polished work. Lupe combined his socially conscious rhymes with a more commercial, yet unconventional production to give us a beautiful project. Another reason why this album shined was due to the fact that Lupe chose to be blunt rather than preachy, which made this album all the more enjoyable.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
You shouldn’t be surprised that I chose this album for my #1 spot. Personally, I thought Kendrick outdid himself and raised the bar impeccably high. I’ll admit – It’s not an album one can bump on an everyday basis. But when one does, they play it from start to finish. Every song oozes passion, dedication and pride. His unapologetic attitude and versatile flow and song writing skills coupled with a thoughtful and brilliant concept, make this album an instant hit. TPAB is more than just an album. It’s a work of art. Congratulations, Mr. Lamar. We look forward to your future projects.

Matt: 

Unfortunately, Matt is super busy and, like most of the world who no showed buying Tyga’s album, couldn’t make this week’s #SPLAM. 


So mixed opinions on the album of the year so far, with nobody picking the same album at #1 and no album mentioned more than twice. Next week we’ll be back to the normal schedule. For Phil’s pick, we’ll be looking at Ras Kass’ Soul On Ice. Join in the conversation on Twitter using #SPLAM. 

Previous SPLAMs

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