What a time to be alive — for rap fans.
2015 was another excellent year, with almost too many releases to keep track of – even with our Rap Round-up, records still fall through the cracks. Increasingly, the division between albums, mixtapes and other projects is practically non-existent (Drake released two “mixtapes,” but you had to pony-up to hear them) and, of all musicians, rappers best understand the need to feed the streets, now more than ever.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled our 20 favorite rap records of the year. It excludes those in our albums list, so there’s no Kendrick or Future here, but there is something for everyone, with Atlanta, the West Coast, various points in the South and (naturally) plenty of Awful Records releases repped.
The 50 best albums of 2015
The 20 best Bandcamp releases of 2015
The 20 best music videos of 2015
The 30 best album covers of 2015
The 25 best reissues of 2015
The 10 best record labels of 2015
The 20 best free mixes of 2015
The 15 best videogame soundtracks of 2015
The 20 best rap and R&B tracks of 2015
The 20 best house & techno tracks of 2015
20. Sauce Twinz
Don’t Let The Sauce Fool U
Sauce Twinz didn’t break out in the way we’d hoped this year (maybe dissing Drake set them back a few paces), but don’t get it twisted – we’re maintaining that they’re the best kept secret in rap right now. Don’t wait until everyone else catches on – download Don’t Let The Sauce Fool U and stick ‘Karate Kick’ on repeat immediately.
19. Denzel Curry
32 Zel / Planet Shrooms
Denzel Curry outdid himself on the eagerly-anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Nostalgic 64, the double EP 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms. Forget A$AP Rocky’s A.L.L.A.: this is the psychedelic rap record you needed in 2015.
18. Bricc Baby Shitro
On Nasty Dealer, the Son of a Bricc Lady’s devil-in-the-details street rap is bicoastal, while his beats are transatlantic: whether aligned with HPG or Pelican Fly, every producer serves the bass.
17. OG Maco
OG Maco’s a whole lot more than ‘U Guessed It’, and out of the heaps of material he lavished on us in 2015, the menacing, paranoid 15 is the record that’s stuck with us. Despite what you might think, Maco’s not a party rapper – just spin ‘Homies’ (low-key one of the year’s best tracks) and let yourself fall into a spiral of depression.
16. Lord Narf
Don’t sleep on Lord Narf: the only pure rapper among Awful’s female ranks, Narf does drug-dazed shit-talking with the best of them. Last year’s For The Funky was an appetizer, and SICK is the entree.
TeeFlii’s AnnieRUO’TAY series has been enjoyable if inconsistent, but its fourth instalment might be the best to date. He’s not doing anything new – if you’ve heard his brand of crooning ratchet before, you won’t be in for any surprises – but with tracks like ‘Been A Min’ and ‘Undressing You’ we’re not complaining at all.
14. Angel Haze
Back to the Woods
Angel Haze was the definition of a rapper to watch back in 2012, but after the “leak” of her half-baked major label debut Dirty Gold and a few years marked by overdoses and psych ward visits, the future seemed grim. Thankfully, Back to the Woods is a return-to-form for the confessional rapper: rapid-fire diary pages brought to life over industrially-charged beats by Tk Kayembe. Welcome back.
13. Travis Porter
Travis Porter’s SAQ stuck with us this year simply because it did its thing without having to resort to gimmicks, hype or unnecessary features. SAQ is a distillation of what Travis Porter do: Atlanta rap that bangs whether you’re a Magic City regular or just have the Livemixtapes layout burned into your screen. If you’re not feeling the bassline on ‘Real Atlanta’ please stop reading this column now.
12. KeithCharles Spacebar
We’re All a Little Triflin’
On the short-but-sweet We’re All a Little Triflin’, KeithCharles Spacebar walks the line between sinister and seductive, delivering an effort that drips with sex, nods to everything from N.E.R.D. to So So Def, and features two of Awful’s best songs of 2015: the Abra-featuring ‘All My Luv’ and the gorgeous ‘S.T.A.C.Y.’. By the record’s end, it’s clear that — no matter how triflin’ — everybody’s got feelings, too.
11. RJ & Choice
Rich Off Mackin’
In the last couple years the West Coast has certainly made its case for Best Coast status, with Kendrick Lamar, YG, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt and Boogie providing something for everyone. But when you just want to party, call RJ & Choice: Rich Off Mackin’ is one of the best projects in the DJ Mustardverse.
10. The Outfit TX
Down By the Trinity
While plenty of rappers have made careers by pilfering the bones of Southern rap from the Satanic Bible Belt, no one is doing it quite like The Outfit TX. The Dallas crew does menace right, mixing rumbling sub-bass, horror synths, gurgling basslines and satanic choir samples into a quicksand sludge where syrup turns to mud, and Down by the Trinity is a mission statement.
9. Cousin Stizz
Boston has a complicated relationship with rap, as few who’ve experienced the city’s slightly embarrassing scene would disagree. The backpack has reigned supreme for far too long, and Cousin Stizz was an important breath of fresh air, representing a new generation of Boston artists who don’t have the same regard for genre or dying purism. He’s not only good enough to completely dominate in Boston, Suffolk County is strong enough to support Stizz on the world stage. ‘Dirty Bands’, ‘Shoutout’, ‘No Bells’ – it’s all killer, no filler.
Awful Records’ not-so-secret weapon Ethereal had a damn good year. From his jaw-dropping productions with Alexandria to his own slew of essential mixtapes, he’s proven to be the label’s most versatile artist and Final Fantasy feels like his high-water mark. It’s his breadth of influences that’s most refreshing: Ethereal manages to throw everything in the pot and end up with a record that’s endlessly re-playable, and that’s no mean feat.
7. Kool John & P-Lo
It’s all about the bass. From the stomach-churning West Coast analog line on ‘Shmoplife HBK Anthem’ to the earworm on stand-out strip club anthem ‘Blue Hunnids’, Kool John and P-Lo have a command of the low end like few others. Bay Area through and through, Moovie takes elements of ratchet, hyphy and G-funk and still manages to sound fresh. It’s enough to make you consider that 2×15″ setup in the trunk.
For someone that releases so much, Starlito isn’t half reliable. ‘Introversion’ didn’t exactly ingratiate the Cashville Prince to new fans, but those of us who can’t get enough of his throaty, reflective rhymes were happy to absorb another perfectly measured collection of tracks. A special mention has to go to the Route 94-sampling ‘My Love’, which was also sampled on Don Trip’s Godspeed. Anyone would think they were related.
5. Slug Christ
The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire
Slug Christ outdid himself on the concept-heavy The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ, bringing his based-goth unpredictability to new highs and lows. Ominous anthems like ‘They Ask Me’ and ‘Die Before The End’ are bracketed by “Jesus” and “Lucifer”-produced ambient pieces, and even freestyles like ‘Im The Ocean’ land. “If you don’t fuck me, it’s probably because you’re stuck in 2k15, or 2k16, or whatever the fuck year it is,” he says on ‘Hokay Hokay Hokay’. “So catch up, fuck boy.”
4. Don Trip
The second Stepbrother on our list, Don Trip outdid himself on Godspeed, offering a unique, deeply personal view of the rap experience that almost felt too real. ‘Medicine’ is a shot straight to the heart, as Trip recounts the touring experience with a clarity and reflection that’s rarely heard inside or outside of rap. It’s heartbreaking stuff and completely essential listening.
3. Freddie Gibbs
Shadow of a Doubt
You can always rely on Freddie Gibbs to put out great tunes, but bizarrely it feels as if wrenching himself away from Madlib for a season or two was enough to spark another wave of creativity. Shadow of a Doubt is nearly flawless as Gibbs inserts himself into more contemporary zones, while keeping a solid nod to the past (‘Careless’ is unashamed Bone Thugs worship, and all the better for it) and the retaining the kind of authentic OG rhymes that keep him miles ahead of his peers.
2. Young Thug
It was highly unlikely that Young Thug could keep up the breakneck pace that he did in 2014, but even with reduced output, he still managed to be one of the most important rappers of 2015. Of his three releases, Slime Season finds Thugger at his most expansive, contorting his voice in increasingly expressive ways. Slime Season is just beginning.
1. Archibald Slim
Don’t Call the Cops
Archibald Slim is Awful’s steady hand on the wheel, releasing album after album of polished material that even rap fans unconvinced by the label’s brilliance can appreciate. Despite the attention-grabbing title, Don’t Call The Cops sidesteps Big Statements for a half-hour of workaday trials and tribulations over the lush and patient beats of Dexter Dukarus (who quietly had the best year of anyone on the label). When Slim raps that there “ain’t nothin’ worse than a lazy bitch,” it sounds like a motto — for him, and the crew.