Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

10. Chief Keef
“Ain’t Missing You”
Bang 3 (FilmOn Music)
From the day he broke onto the scene as a 17 year-old, few would have guessed that the Chicago-native would blossom into one of the most consistently forward thinking artists in the country. While people were busy writing him off as a viral flash in the pan, deriding his talent, or attempting to blame for damn-near an entire city’s ills, Keith “Chief Keef” Kozart has simply gotten on with it, exploring a dizzying variety of sounds from his new Los Angeles home-base. That free-spirited creativity has produced a ton of gems, but nothing stood out like this heartfelt, country-fried ballad about his late cousin and MC, Mario “Blood Money” Hess, who was gunned down near his Southside home. The most vulnerable work of his career, “Ain’t Missing You” is both relatable and strikingly personal, detailing the importance of Hess’ presence Cozart’s his life and the depth of a young man’s pain.

9. Fetty Wap
“Trap Queen”
Fetty Wap (300)
While it dropped at the end of last year, “Trap Queen” owned 2015. The most ubiquitous single of the year (bar, possibly “Hotline Bling”), the Patterson MC’s delirious love song boasts the kind of hook that belongs in a museum and introduced us to Fetty’s beautiful, strange warbling. What’s even more impressive is that his remarkably consistent debut LP features six or seven songs that could have easily been just as big.

8. Wet
Don’t You (out 1/29/16 on Columbia)
No matter what, 2016 is going to be great, because Wet is finally releasing their debut LP. About two years on from their earliest tracks, the Massachusetts-based trio is ready for a full-length statement, and it’s looking to be worth the wait. Lead single, “Deadwater,” matches the group’s strengths — understated hooks, sparse and efficient arrangements, Kelly Zutrau’s heartfelt, plaintiff vocals — with one of the most relatable, plainly insightful relationship post-mortems you’re likely to hear. Like their best work, it may not seem like much at first listen, but its subtle, sublime power will burrow its way in and refuse to let go.

7. Carly Rae Jepsen
Emotion (Interscope)
The Canadian pop-star’s exquisite third LP is so consistently excellent that I seemed to have a new favorite track on it every week. Some days were about the disco vibes of “Boy Problems.” Others called for the jilted, moody “Your Type.” And sometimes I needed to get lost in the widescreen escapism of the towering, “Run Away With Me.” For this list, I settled on the one I loved first. The disc’s glorious third single leaked three months before Emotion’s official release, and upon discovering it on a dodgy Japanese blog, I kept a permanent window open on my phone devoted to streaming it. Simply put, it’s just about a perfect pop song on an album full of them.

6. Sicko Mobb
“Kool Aid”
Super Saiyan Vol. 2 (self-released)
After spending much of the last two years introducing the hyper-speed, optimistic world of Bop to a national audience, the Chicago duo took their game to the next level with the excellent follow-up to the genre-defining Super Saiyan Vol. 1. Its most anthemic moment is also the most anathema to the genre. Lacking bop’s ever-present beat and at a tempo more conducive to slow dancing than the genre’s frenetic dance steps, “Kool Aid” is a blissful, syrupy joyride with a hook as nuclear as anything on Fetty Wap’s album. It’s pure audio ecstasy, and driving around LA and blasting this out of my shitty Toyota speakers was as fun of a musical experience as I had this year. Skeeee-eee.

5. Kacey Musgraves
“Late to the Party”
Pageant Material (Mercury)
While the vast majority of the many words written about the Texan’s popular second LP focuses on her progressive social stances, I frankly don’t hear it. While there is a political bent to some of Pageant Material (see: “Biscuits”, “Cup of Tea”, “Somebody to Love”), those tracks tend to exhibit “to each their own/live and let live” pathos, which is actually in tune with much of the genre’s forefathers and increasingly libertarian-leaning, young right wingers. To me, Kacey’s magic is her classicism, not progressivism. Her heart-shattering voice has a timeless timbre, which is especially devastating when she applies it to the gorgeous love songs she’s so capable of writing. “Late to the Party” is the kind of song that will make you call your significant other or best friend, just to tell them how much they mean to you. That’s a plenty powerful narrative for me.

4. Skepta
Digital Single
There’s bodying a track, and there’s bodying a track. And then there’s whatever the fuck Sketpa did to “Shutdown.” Invigorated by his triumphant 2014, the North Londoner is in ravenous form here, crafting the biggest international grime record since (maybe) something from Original Pirate Material.

The best thing about its success is that this is pure product. There’s no crossover bullshit happening — no sung chorus, no verse from an American rapper, no transatlantic marketing campaign. It broke stateside because “Shutdown” is the sound of a brilliant rapper at the peak of his powers, laying waste to an gargantuan beat. What kind of American can’t get behind that?

3. Kendrick Lamar
“How Much a Dollar Cost”
To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath)
Lost in all the discussion around the complex story and themes behind Kendrick Lamar’s phenomenal third LP was how fucking great this record sounds. Don’t get me wrong, TPAB reads like a great novel and is an astounding, important piece of writing, but that’s not all it is. Its hooks, melodies, and arrangements keep the story ticking over, guaranteeing that the record is as fun to listen to as it is interesting to think about. From the damn-near religious chorus of “Alright” to the affecting “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” to the beautiful jazzy vocals on “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” the disc is filled with ear candy. For me, Lamar didn’t get enough credit for this.

And that rare intersection between storytelling and songwriting is best highlighted by “How Much a Dollar Cost” — a modern-day parable. Flanked by the gorgeous, mournful vocals of James Fauntleroy and descending piano chords, Lamar recounts a chance meeting with a homeless man — his voice rising along with the music until it gives way to the soft voice of Ronald Isley. It’s a perfectly balanced song and a reminder that TPAB is more than words on a page.

2. Stormzy
“Know Me From”
Digital Single (Self-Released)
While there might have been one or two artists that I enjoyed listening to more in 2015, nobody’s music was more fun to listen to than the South Londoner. Ebullient, personable, and legitimately funny, the 22 year-old sauntered through a handful of delicious singles, delivering an endless barrage of quotable bars with his ever-present smirk and graceful yet hard-hitting flow. My favorite of the bunch, “Know Me From,” is an absolute anthem, driven by Stormzy’s intoxicating baritone and hypnotic strings. It is teeming with the kind of palpable energy and confidence that can only be captured by a young artist with the world at his fingertips and a huge future ahead of him.

1. Future
“March Madness” / “News or Somthn”
Beast Mode (Freebandz) / Digital Single
2015 belonged to one artist and one artist alone. Faced with a tough 2014 that involved a high-profile breakup, a lukewarm LP, an uncomfortable move to LA, and slightly waning cultural relevance, the ATLien responded like the great ones do. Beginning with last Halloween’s return to form, Monster, San Nayvadius has rolled off one of the greatest hot streaks in recent memory, possibly since Gucci was at the peak of his powers.

The best part of being a Future fan this year was the versatility of his work. There were countless bangers and ballads, and I selected one of each for the top spot on my list. “March Madness” was the sound of America in 2015 — a frenetic, discombobulated country that offered equal parts excitement and chaos. It feels like speeding down FDR Drive at midnight in a Ferrari with no brakes: harrowing, dangerous, and deliriously fun. Every time we’re about to go flying headlong into traffic, Future’s weary voice grabs the wheel and shifts gears, turning sharply to avoid the crash. The reflective, evocative “News Or Somthn” captures the opposite feeling. It’s the long, slow ride home, staring out the window of the night bus as the streetlights illuminate the puddles and potholes along the way. That ability to distill, illustrate, and soundtrack life’s introverted and extroverted moments is what makes him such a special artist.

History tells us that these purple patches can’t last forever, but fucking hell, I hope this one does. Until next year, y’all.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of '15, Featured

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