By TJ Love
A decade ago, Nas declared “Hip-Hop is Dead” and a lot of heads echoed the sentiment. In the time since, we’ve learned that Hip-Hop is emphatically not dead, just not on corporate radio anymore. So if you’re looking at the playlists of media outlets controlled by conglomerates whose sole motivation is profit, who don’t care about the culture, and who beat you over the head with formulaic songs made for the lowest common denominator, you have only yourself to blame. “Real” Hip-Hop has always been alive and well on independent labels and the underground scene and 2015 was a banner year in that regard.
With so much Hip-Hop being released each year, it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of everything. Especially with the plethora of dope music being self-released. With that in mind this list is by no means comprehensive, it’s merely a compilation of joints that made some impact along with some projects that you may have overlooked or never even heard about.
Clear Soul Forces: Fab 5ive
2015 was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the year of hot takes and hyperbole. It seemed that any project that came out that was moderately good was immediately tagged with the title “Best Shit Ever.” So when I say that Clear Soul Forces’ Fab 5ive album will stand the test of time, please believe I’m doing so without any qualms. The album from front to end is A+ lyricism reminiscent of fellow Detroit emcees Elzhi and Royce da 5’9, anchored solely by Nameless’ dynamic production. This is backpack rap that bangs in the whip AND your headphones. Rappers and producers better go back to the lab, because this shit right here?? Let’s just say the bar has definitely been raised.
Sean Price: Songs in the Key of Price
Sean P’s death hit like a ton of bricks. Everybody came out of the woodwork to pay homage to the “Brokest Rapper You Know” and in Hip-Hop lore P’s passing will go down as one of those “where were you when…?” moments. Price finished Songs in the Key of Price shortly before he passed and it’s a better epitaph than anybody else could have written. Sean’s razor sharp wit, humor, and not-give-a-fuckishness are on full display over some of the most consistently good production he had in years. Illa Ghee makes numerous appearances on the project, ably complementing and holding his own with the Bar Barian and gaining new fans in the process, myself included.
Joey Bada$$: B4DA$$
Joey Bada$$ is that dude. His prodigious and unlikely rise was predicated on Golden Age revivalism in an era in which newer automatically meant better, regardless how basura some of the new shit is. Skeptics had predicted a sophomore slump after his Summer Knights EP. Instead Joey came out crushing buildings like scrappin’ Transformers with his debut studio album B4DA$$. Folks marvel at how Nas wrote Illmatic at such a young age, and Joey’s got the same kind of potential with his pen game on this album indicative of a leap from merely good, to great. The production lineup is also stellar boasting the likes of DJ Premier, Statik Selektah, The Roots, and mainstays from his Pro Era crew. B4DA$$ can be the quintessential New York album for any generation.
HUBBS: Modern Vintage III
Inexplicably I have a lot of friends on social media from Pittsburgh. I was introduced to HUBBS’ Modern Vintage I and II a little over 2 years ago and I’ve been a Stan ever since. Modern Vintage III is the latest in the series and it’s a continuation of the excellent run this cat’s been on. What makes him unique? First off, HUBBS will slow rap you to death, and it’s that relaxed flow that makes his punches punch harder, his narrative all the more engrossing, and there’s nary a word wasted for the sake of filler. His baritone voice is perfectly suited for rap and his deliberate delivery accentuates the wordplay wizardry of the Steel City representative. The production is nothing to sneeze at either, MV3 has more original compositions than its predecessors featuring beats from Nyscework, MassAppeal Beats, and others all putting in serious work behind the boards.
cop Modern Vintage III rightchea
Oh, you thought the A was just Future, Young Thug, and other autotune mumble mouth bullshit? “WRONG!”-Charlie Murphy. Monday/Friday, comprised of producer Corey Presley (Illastrate) and emcee Yamin Semali, have been putting in work on the Working Class Music Group label for a minute. Monday/Friday is their first full length collaboration; an album that was well-received critically in ATL and the indie scene as a whole. The chorus to the first song of the album “The City” describes their style perfectly, “in the city where we once seen Bombs over Baghdad/ Grandma liked Nas, Momma bought me that Ras Kass/around the same time I was bumpin’ that Labcab/I wonder will the Dirty South still get the last laugh.” Monday/Friday is soulful, grown folks Hip-Hop with insightful social commentary, reflections on life, and a focus more on the human condition than on lean.
cop Monday/Friday rightchea
Monday/Friday by Monday/Friday
The Primeridian: Da-Crack-A-Dawn
You know the old adage “quality is better than quantity?” The Primeridian basically just said “fuck it” and blessed heads in 2015 with both, for FREE. Da-Crack-A-Dawn is 28 tracks of straight piff, but perhaps even more than that, it’s a Chi-Town love-in. Race and Simeon Vitz are more than capable emcees and beatmakers themselves, but a lot of what makes this project work consistently over this many tracks are the folks they reached out to collaborate with. These cats really got Adad, Tall Black Guy, Add-2, Rashid Hadee, Pugz Atomz, and other Chicago mainstays on one project? I don’t know if there ambitions were this high when they set out working on Da-Crack-A-Dawn, but cotdman they pulled it off, while not getting overshadowed by all the guests but incorporating their contributions organically to maintain their own Primeridian sound. This joint is A-1.
cop it for free.99 rightchea