Many artists have that one iconic album that defines their careers. For Prince, that album was Purple Rain. For Marvin Gaye, it was What’s Going On. For Beyoncé, it’s Lemonade, which finds the R&B singer at her most expressive, her most nuanced, and perhaps her most experimental.
There was something refreshing about hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis back in 2012 when their debut album, The Heist, was independently released, and through sheer fortune Macklemore became a household name after the success of “Thrift Shop.” It was nice to hear someone on the radio be so genuine, even if he could be corny; Macklemore was mainstream hip-hop’s everyman. On This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, Macklemore retains that quality, but the second time around, it’s not as fresh. We saw who Ben Haggerty was four years ago: a low-key Seattle rapper with some serious demons in his past. He needed to bring something new to the table, but unfortunately, he left it at home with his broken keyboard.
As far as hip-hop instrumentals go, my tastes tend to be split between simplistic boom-bap and vibrant, natural instrumentation. A beat needs to either cut through the track, or fill it up completely, but for me, it’s gotta do one or the other. I also tend to love piano samples. These are my ten favorite instrumentals in hip-hop.
There were plenty of great music videos last year, in all genres. It seems, however, that hip-hop and R&B won out this year. These are my ten favorite music videos of 2015.
It’s been a weird road leading up to The Life of Pablo. The album was intended for a 2014 release under the name So Help Me God, but the year came and went, and no such album came out. The story was the same in 2015, when the album was renamed SWISH but still wasn’t released to the public. A release date was announced—February 11, 2016—but before that, the album was named Waves and then, later, The Life of Pablo. The tracklist was tinkered with multiple times, and the album finally came out February 14, 2016, exclusive to the Tidal streaming service.
West’s indecisiveness in regards to his album’s release date and title are echoed in the music as well, to its detriment. The Life of Pablo is good Kanye West, but not great Kanye West, its largest problem being its lack of coherence. West calls it a gospel album, but it’s not a gospel album in the same way Yeezus was an industrial hip-hop album. Instead, what we have are eighteen tracks that mimic various styles of West’s past music, with context only a minor concern.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years since Rihanna first burst onto the mainstream music scene with “Pon de Replay,” a slick, punchy dance anthem that seemed to nestle itself into the set lists of every Top 40 radio station in America. “Pon de Replay” was generic, but harmless, and in the following decade, Rihanna managed to find her unique sound over the course of six more platinum-selling albums, asserting herself as music’s number one alpha female. It’s been a little over three years since Rihanna’s last album, and while that doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time, it’s important to keep in mind that the Barbadian pop star has never allowed more than two years to pass between releases. Anti, her seventh album, brings with it a lot of hype as a result. That Anti is Rihanna’s least-mainstream release yet may explain the lengthened time gap, but unfortunately, the quality does not: this is Rihanna’s weakest effort yet.
In the year 2015, I listened to 110 new releases total, a combination of LPs, EPs, and mixtapes. It was a great year for jazz and pop, in particular, and a bad year for moody nu-metal (what year isn’t, though?). Here are my ten favorite albums of 2015 (plus five honorable mentions).