The state of hip hop is forever changing, always intangible. Everything from instrumental style to lyrical content to the kinds of instruments and techniques used to produce music, hip hop has drastically changed. As music and hip-hop progress, we, as the consumers, yet more importantly hip-hop and rap fans, have grown to like and sometimes love the most the ear-catching and songs that out. Nevertheless, these are not always albums that would hold the most substance or are the most creative. Throughout the past five years, there have been many phenomenal albums that peaked the interest of hip-hop community. Here is my personal top ten Hip Hop/Rap albums released in the past five years.
10: Rodeo by Travis Scott (2015)
Rodeo is Travis’ first commercial release and he came through with quite the star-studded album. Executive produced by Mike Dean, the man behind the mixing and (some) production in Kanye West’s first two albums, Rodeo features a myriad of different artists, such as Kanye West, The Weeknd, Future, Young Thug, Justin Bieber and more. This 16-track project was filled with bangers, from “3500” and “Antidote,” the leading singles for the project, to well as incredible gems like “Maria I’m Drunk” featuring Young Thug and Justin Bieber, and Impossible. Despite Travis’s history of relying on lyrics about drug use, spending money and stunting, Rodeo is a surprisingly balanced album. From songs embodying the feeling of being shitfaced to completely turnt to moments of self-reflection, this is Travis’s most honest and personal project yet. However don’t go into this project expecting incredible lyricism. Where Travis really shines is his ability to take many of the ideas floating in the mainstream and juxtaposing them next to elements of rock and punk with an artfulness that many mainstream artists lack. There is an extremely visible presence of a Houston inspired, southern style of rap, which Travis has been known to take after, especially being a Houston native. Scattered throughout the album, there are some incredible bangers like the two lead singles and deep cuts like “Nightcrawler” with Sway lee from Rae Stremmurd and Chief Keef or “Piss on Your Grave,” the psych rock banger featuring Kanye West. However the presence of songs like “Impossible” and “90210” balance out the banger-heavy project; It is on these tracks that Travis strays away from debauchery and drugs trading them for subjects like, his meteoric rise to fame or his life before celebrity. Overall, Rodeo is a great debut project and an incredible precursor for the rest of his career.
9: Dirty Sprite 2 (DS2) by Future (2015)
Some hip hop purists would call Future the embodiment of everything wrong with the game today, however from his one liners to his incredible beat selection Future is the culmination of some of the greatest things the game has to offer. Dirty Sprite 2 represents a return to the Future of the past, the mixtape Future, the Future before Ciara. Dirty Sprite 2 even in its namesake holds true to this idea of hunger and pain. It’s why it’s named after the mixtape that put him on the map: Dirty Sprite. Led by lead singles and major hits like “Thought It Was a Drought” and “Trap Niggas”, these songs set the tone for the album and gives you an idea of what Future is all about. Future, an Atlanta-native, shows his Southern style through his trap beats and countless bars about lean and Xanax, a culture he essentially becomes the pinnacle of. Similar to Rodeo what DS2 falls short in as far as lyrics Future makes up for in incredibly rich, deep and drugged out instrumentals. What is special about future is his relationship with each beat. The way his voice sinks into every instrumental, essentially acting as another instrument. This approach to music is revolutionary and is a style much of the mainstream is beginning to copy. The themes of the songs can get tiring and old at times, but Future has a talent for bringing out the best in the producers he works with. He frequently enlists producers like Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, Zaytoven, and Southside to create a sound that cannot be ignored, the new Atlanta sound. All of the songs are fast paced and when listening to this project, you cannot help but want to have a good time. If there is some way you have not listened to this album, get out from under the rock you have been under and listen to Future’s DS2.
8: Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples (2015)
Vince Staples’ sophomore studio album is fucking great. Summertime ’06 boasts a whopping 20 tracks, filled with eerie interludes and animated songs, that spread across 2 discs. Each disc is a window into Vince’s perspective, his opinions on what’s going on in society and stories from his life before rap, stories from his life as a gangbanger. The melodic album definitely has some fast and slow points, yet somehow it all meshes together well, in some twisted yet beautiful way. Executive producer No I.D. manages to create an incredible grunge yet melodic vibe and still manage to maintain some aspects of traditional hip-hop. Following the first track “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1”, an ode to Vince’s home in Long Beach, California, the album’s true opening song “Lift Me Up” sets a haunting, exciting tone for a roller-coaster ride of an album. Other songs like “3230” and “Summertime” seem to be very beachy hip-hop songs that brighten up the mood of the album. When listening to the album from being to finish, the listening experience feels like Vince is telling you the story of him growing up. He also touches upon his Californian roots and his experience of growing up in the hoods Long Beach. Vince has a penchant for telling the stories of his hometown. It is that that makes this album so great. Give it a listen.
7: Acid Rap by Chance the Rapper (2013)
Every artist has a moment clarity in their career, a redefined sense of self. Acid rap is one of the clearest examples of that refound sense of self. Not only is it one of those career defining mixtapes but it’s also one of the most beautiful coming of age pieces of artwork of our generation. From the painfully honest, introspective tracks like Acid Rain when he raps about his steady rise, the uncomfortable pains of growing up and the suffering of seeing his “My big homie die[d] young; just turned older than him” to the bittersweet ode’s to the days of smoking weed and burnt holes in his hoodies. Acid Rap is a startlingly honest portrait of the youth, from exploring themes of his own struggles with pills to overwhelming themes of nostalgia; And the music seemed to reflect this juxtaposition, in this, there is an overarching powerful gospel influence always parallel to ideas of youth and joy. It is clear that Chance identifies powerful feelings of happiness with the Church. However on tracks like “Paranoia” (the second half of “Pusha Man”), all elements of the Church are gone. Instead are Nosaj Thing’s eerie synths paired with Chance’s own melancholy bars about the harsh realities of gun violence. This mixtape is one of the most honest projects since College dropout. It is the in the almost direct influence of Kanye’s early work. It is a project that took over at a time where Drill music was at the forefront of Chicago hip hop. Chance represented the experiences of a generation of lost youths, caught up in a world they might not be quite ready for.
6: Piñata by Freddie Gibbs (2014)
Piñata is already a contemporary classic, one that holds its own among the likes of legendary gangsta rap albums like 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying or Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury. From Freddie Gibbs’s incredible performance to Madlib’s astonishing beats, an album of this caliber is a rarity. Piñata is an album that explores Freddie Gibbs’ own life and experiences selling crack from a deeply personal level. He raps about a life full of crime, misery and darkness but despite acknowledging these aspects of his life he takes pride in his place in the streets. On songs like “Thuggin’” Freddie Gibbs’s grim reality envelops him as he revels in the darkness of belonging to the streets: He mentions a having to “serve my own fucking family members” while still “Straight thuggin’ And it feels so good, uh and it feels so right uh.” Though having to come to grips with harsh realities like family members hooked on crack he still loves his lifestyle. Freddie Gibbs creates a sonic painting of a world all too real while still reveling in his own infamy. He, however, does not neglect to explore the changings in his life due to his fame and recent wealth. On songs like “Deeper,” he tells a story about his relationship with his high school sweetheart and how his thuggish lifestyle affected their relationship, especially after he returned from jail. But as time goes on he becomes more and more popular and his wealth increases their relationship begins to change again. Where Gibbs’s sometimes repetitive flow and content fails, Madlib makes up with some of the most intricate and dramatic beats of the past ten years. Madlib is able to perfectly capture a different moment in each beat, while still perfectly complementing Freddie Gibbs. This is a masterpiece of an an album and a must listen for any gangsta rap fan.
5: So it goes by Ratking (2014)
Raking is one of those rare jewels that only come around once or twice a generation. The already defunct hip hop group was able to single-handedly redefine what it meant to be a New York Hip hop group. Coming through with a style unheard of in the history of hip-hop, pulling from countless sources of inspiration from Cam’rom to Hardcore rock; So it Goes is like a sonic love letter to the city that birthed them. Sporting Life’s production is noisy and cacophonous, layers on layers of obscure samples, almost impossible to pull apart. His production takes after traditional boom bap while simultaneously mixing elements of noise and hardcore music. Though similar to the likes of Death Grips, Massive Attack, and Clipping Sporting Life’s production is in a vein of it’s own. Sporting Life’s genius come from the way he kneads the spirit of the city into the music. Wiki one of Ratking;s two vocalists has one of the most distinctive flow’s in the game, not to mention he’s one of its best lyricists. His delivery is raw, gritty aggressive constantly shifting to match the beat’s eccentricity, without sacrificing his own style. On standout songs like “Canal”, his flow embodies the overwhelming experience of Canal St. during rush hour. He raps about the “thug uptown, comes down To hustle on Canal” and his own experiences traveling making moves in the city. Hak, on the other hand, does everything Wiki couldn’t. Hak’s flow is laid back, his cadence taking a stronger influence from grime acts like Dizzy Rascal while also switching up his style to sing against these beautiful trumpets like the ones on Snow Beach. So it Goes is an incredible piece of New york Hip Hop history. From the beats to the flow’s there’s something about this project that is so New York, In a way that no one has ever managed to do. It’s an incredibly forward thinking and original album and one that’s going to be remembered for as long as hip hop exists.
4: The Money Store by Death Grips (2011)
Right of the bat, The Money Store Kicks of with one of the of the most powerful and almost unsettling songs I’ve ever heard. Like like the infamous cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson this is an album that radiates with aggression and violence, and a surrealism never before seen by the hip hop community. This is Death Grips phenomenal debut album and (as of right now) my favorite project from them so far. On this record Death Grips creates a maximalist sound, one that has already left its fingerprints on much of the underground and progressive/experimental hip hop world at large. The lyrics are ferocious yet strangely poetic, though you might have to pull up the lyrics to understand them considering they are often screamed at an almost deafening level. These lyrics are often dark tales of lives addled with drug addiction and pain. Listening to this album cover to cover to this album is quite the ride, one that is almost indescribable. It is intense, powerful and strangely psychedelic but truly hit or miss. The Money Store is definitely one of the most uncommon releases in Hip Hop ever.
- XXX by Danny Brown
Danny Brown is the wildest rapper since Old Dirty Bastard and XXX is his 36 Chambers. XXX is a perfect picture of modern day Detroit, from the vulgar, filthy, hilariously violent wordplay to the harsh realities the listener is forced to listen to, XXX is a wild ride from beginning to end. What makes this album so great however is the concept behind the album. Like much of Kendrick Lamar’s work you won’t truly be able to appreciate the album as a whole until you listen to it from beginning to end. From track to track to track Danny explores the idea of morbid drug use and violence, by taking these ideas and raising them to an almost nauseating volume (similar to death grips). From a lyrical standpoint, Danny Brown is hilarious, bringing bar after bar about anything from shitting “all on yo mixtape naw literally shit all on yo mixtape” to an entire song dedicated to eating pussy. Danny Brown’s music is violent, wild and dark while simultaneously hilarious. Another example of this is the song “Pac Blood” where he rhymes about having a rhymes so infectious it can “Make Sarah Palin deep-throat ’til she hiccup” or a “Flow can make Gandhi grab the burner, wanna shoot the shit.” Flow-wise Danny takes heavy influence from Old Dirty bastard, bringing much of the same energy and charisma, however, Danny takes this flow and raps in a very distinctive high pitched voice (One that may take some getting used to.) The instrumentals on this project manage to take the Detroit’s “Motown” sound and pervert and corrupt it to reflect Danny Brown’s dark drug-filled reality. This is Detroit from Danny Brown’s perspective. This violent dark drug-fuelled side of Danny brown disappears in the second half of this LP, As Danny’s eccentric flow is replaced by a deeper more sober sounding voice. The first half of the record was like Danny’s perspective while under the influence of his morbid drug use while the second half is like the morning after. Danny takes the second half of his LP to explore the downsides of being a drug dealer as well as the pain of addiction. On songs like DNA, he raps about his family and their history with substance abuse and his disposition to the addiction he struggles with. The humor is gone from his voice as he raps about selling cocaine to addicted college students. The final phases of the album are the most provocative as we see both worlds collapse into each other. This is where we see the addicted Danny brown as he struggles to find the high he once had, doing anything he can to not just to get high, but to survive. XXX is an incredible album featuring unmatched lyricism an eccentric flow, the kind of flow that hasn’t been seen the days of Wu-tang. It’s an overall a great project and definitely worth a couple listens.
2: Yeezus by Kanye West
Yeezus was Kanye West’s sixth studio album and was by far his angriest most abrasive released LP yet. Yeezus reflects much of the anger and frustration he felt because of his feud with Nike because of the lack of royalties Kanye received for the sneakers he had released with Nike. He was on a warpath (google the “you ain’t got the answers sway” interview) to find someone to finally fund his ideas and creativity, something he eventually found in Adidas. His inability to create created this incredible internal struggle an experience he describes as being “suffocated.” This album is also a reflection of his own struggle to acclimate to a life of commitment: “Got the kids and the Wife life / but can’t wake up from the night life” he raps on “I’m in it,” one of the most provocative songs on the album. Even among Kanye’s previous work, this album is easily the most experimental and unique of his portfolio yet. This 10 track project samples various artists from various genres taking influence from everyone Death Grips to Chicago drill. Kanye masterfully weaves in samples from people like Nina Simone on “Blood on the Leaves” to the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family [A church’s chorus] on the album’s opening track “On Sight”. Engineered and executive produced by Rick Rubin, the album is host to a wealth of contributors from FKA Twigs to Arca to Travis Scott and Mike Dean. The instrumentals are dark and abrasive implementing heavy basslines and dark booming synths. Kanye masters the art of taking samples and molding them to the point where they are unrecognizable, creating something entirely new. Songs like “Black Skinhead” and “I’m In It” are emblematic of this idea. On “Black Skinhead” he takes a Marylin Manson song and flips, it creating the bones of what is “Black Skinhead.” Yeezus is not only possibly the most polarizing album of our time, but also one of the most ahead of its time albums. It’s an album that won’t be truly appreciated until we hear the echoes of it in the future.
1: To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Last year Kendrick Lamar’s Album dropped in the heart of winter, it was mid-February and somewhere in California Top Dog was cursing out whatever label exec fucked up the rollout for TPAB. However fans were ecstatic to finally receive Kendrick’s new album, an album that Peter Rosenberg called Kendrick’s best album yet, an album said to be the key to ending gang violence. TPAB is the greatest hip hop album since the Illmatic, it an album that is able to capture the black experience in such a deep and personal manner, in a way that is unseen in today’s hip-hop landscape. Kendrick raps about his own experience with poverty and fame, the relationship he had not only with his family but with his people as a whole. Like most of his LPs, this is an album designed to listen to from beginning to end. The album opens up with “Wesley’s theory” an ode to the danger and temptations of fame and Hollywood in juxtaposition to race and stereotypes. It is a song laced with self-hate emblematic of his own place in Hollywood in the context of his race. Each song shows a progression, each a different piece of Kendrick’s experience, from the shame and suicidal thoughts expressed on “u” to the feelings of elation, hope, and self-worth expressed on “i”. The instrumentals are built of off elements of jazz, funk, spoken word, even some rock and (of course) classic Cali gangsta rap such as Tupac or Ice Cube. Executive produced by Top Dog and Dr. Dre, TPAB features a legendary line-up of jazz and hip hop artists: including Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg, Thundercat and legendary funk artist George Clinton (Of parliament) The album has tremendous fluidity, from song to song, and makes the whole album feel like a masterpiece from beginning to end.
This is an option based piece and does not reflect the views of the entire UNCOMMON publication.