As promised, my favorite albums of 2015. Releases marked with an asterisk [*] are honorable mentions.
Case – Heaven’s Door
I learned of this album after watching Case’s Breakfast Club interview and was pleasantly surprised. In a musical landscape that mourns the “death” of R&B once a week, Case delivered one of the genre’s better releases this year. While the album is unapologetic standard R&B for mature listeners, the music doesn’t sound dated, nor does it reach too hard to appeal to a younger audience.
Why I Loved It: Heaven’s Door is an easy listen; grown folks’ music that doesn’t make you feel like the old head at the cookout.
Skyzoo – Music for My Friends
I could write an essay on my love of Skyzoo’s music, but I’ll keep it brief. Since his 2011 release The Great Debater, he’s upped the ante on complex, layered lyrics over rich jazz- and soul-inspired instrumentals. Music for My Friends finds the rapper using this winning formula to wax nostalgic about coming of age in 90s New York City.
Why I Loved It: Lyrics, storytelling, intricate rhyme schemes, and entendre that takes two-to-three years to discover.
Compton – Dr. Dre
After scrapping Detox and approaching a project through the lens of his Straight Outta Compton beginnings, Dr. Dre FINALLY gave us his third studio album. (We don’t count that Presents the Aftermath album, do we?) Like all Dr. Dre parties, you come for the dee-jay and stay for the guest verses. Everybody shines on this effort; veterans (Snoop, Ice Cube, Eminem, The Game, etc.) and new jacks (Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Jon Connor) alike.
Why I Loved It: There’s something incredible about a 50-year-old Dr. Dre behind the boards, reminding us of his 30-year legacy as the ultimate maestro and innovator. Listeners are also gifted with “Animals,” the long-awaited Dr. Dre/DJ Premier collab.
Rashad – The Quiet Loud
Best known for his production for fellow Ohio native Stalley (the single “Slapp” describes Rashad’s music to a T), Rashad makes sonically perfect R&B. For those unaware of his sound, think The-Dream with less bravado, more soul and introspection, and a whole lot of bass.
Why I Loved It: Lush, speaker-knocking instrumentals (seriously, it’s made for a Bose), reverence for R&B predecessors, and heartfelt, thoughtful lyrics.
Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
Do I need to explain? Can I just say “King Push” and trust those with good taste to understand? While I enjoyed My Name is My Name, Darkest Before Dawn feels like Push finally stepping out of The Clipse’s shadow and into his own as an MC who can deliver a complete album.
Why I Loved It: It’s dark, gritty, and witty in ways that recall Reasonable Doubt era JAY-Z. As icing on top of an already delicious cake, Pusha welcomes the Broadstreet Bully, Beanie Sigel, back to the rap game with a chilling feature on “Keep Dealing.”
*Bridget Kelly – Summer of 17: Technically, this isn’t an album, but this R&B ode to passion and throwing caution to the wind was a fun listen that got lots of spins. Standout Tracks: “Not Afraid,” “Act Like That,” “Head Over Heels”
*Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly: This album was like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; brilliant but heavy. I only listened to the entire project three times this year, but it’s so well done, I couldn’t leave it off my list. Standout Tracks: “u,” “Alright,” “King Kunta” [A dope writer friend of mine wrote an incredible analysis of this album that’s worth checking out: On Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly by Lauren Chanel Allen]
Most of the “standout tracks” mentioned in this post can be found on my Spotify Playlist, SBG’s Songs of the Year: 2015. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include tracks from Compton, as it is not available on Spotify.