Top 25 music releases of 2015

BY ANGELIE BENN, TIA DABNEY, RIA SHARMA, DARRYL SHARP, AND STERLING G.

As the year comes to an end, we reflect on our favorite moments and experiences in music. Check out our editor's picks for the top 25 releases of this year. 

25. Sun Club – The Dongo Durango

Baltimore’s Sun Club are my favorite hidden gem. These garage rockstars are seemingly always full of energy and it shows on their debut, “The Dongo Durango.” A xylophone, lots of percussion, and a little more fun is all it takes for a great album, apparently. “The Dongo Durango” is infectious in the best possible way. Sun Club have this way about them to always stand out, let it be their zealous live shows, or the signature, quirky skits that appear on their EP “Dad Claps At The Mom Prom,” and again on this album. The only lyrics on the title track, which happens to be a skit, are “In the flesh/I want you to see me in the flesh!” accompanied by ukulele and a campy laugh at the end. Through the talent, Sun Club are weird, and I don’t think they mind it – I sure don’t. - AB 

24. Lolawolf - Everyfuckinday

Although it’s not nearly as long as it should be, Lolawolf’s latest EP “Everyfuckinday” takes you on a journey that makes you think of it as nothing less than an LP. The five-song release is everything you would expect from a Kravitz, but Zoë absolutely makes a name for herself in her own lane. Experimentalism runs rampant on the EP. Combing through elements of trap, pop, rock, and even a little classical, this is one release from this year that I can truly say cannot be put into any one genre. - AB

23. Kali Uchis – Por Vida

Colombian-bred and Virginia-raised vocalist Kali Uchis burst onto the scene with her debut EP, Por Vida. Her soothing, soulful faces resembles the late Amy Winehouse with a Latin twist. Standouts on the EP are “Call Me,” “Know What I Want,” “Loner,” and “Lottery”. Uchis had no features on the project but it was still a strong debut. The Va. singer made impressive contributions on Tyler the Creator’s latest album, Cherry Bomb, which has garnered her attention on the national stage. - SG

22. Disclosure - Caracal

English electronic duo (and brothers) Disclosure are no strangers to the industry and Caracal is a perfect reminder that they know what to do, and they do it well.  You may have caught yourself bobbing your head to their recent hits “Magnets” feat. Lorde or “Omen” feat. Sam Smith, but the real gems aren’t the singles at all. Caracal covers the spectrum of dance tunes, the 80s-feel good sensation of “Good Intentions” feat. Miguel, the R&B vibes of “Masterpiece” feat. Jordan Rakei, and the retro groove of “Hourglass” feat. Lion Babe is what makes this album a real treat. No wonder they sold out 2 shows back-to-back at Echostage. - TD

21. Chaz French – These Things Take Time

D.C. native Chaz French followed up his critically-acclaimed 2014 EP Happy Belated with a strong debut studio album in These Things Take Time. French has been co-signed by renown producer Rick Rubin for his artistry and also linked with fellow D.C. native Wale on “No Shade,” a single French dropped a few weeks before his album’s release date. TTTT is essentially an introspective look into French’s colloquial phrase “the struggle what made us,” depicting his life struggles--to include homelessness and parenthood. However, in the midst of this, TTTT has an inspiring message of never giving up hope in the midst of life’s struggles. Standouts on the album are “IDK,” “Remember,” and “Questions. - SG

20. Jeezy – Church in These Streets

With this 2015 release, Jeezy transforms himself from “The Snowman” Young Jeezy to Pastor Young, spreading the word from a disciple of the streets to a leader within it. The album connects to Jeezy’s own development as a voice in #BlackLivesMatter and his close relationship with Minister Louis Farrakhan. Jeezy presents an interesting concept of taking Christian and church euphemisms and placing them in a street environment so that the tone of the album is less preachy but instead reflective and in line with when what Jeezy expresses. From popping holy water in the club to not even taking Sunday off to hustle, Jeezy adapts these themes to street life and a trap beat to create a modern feel for his audience to vibe with. Beyond the lateral placement of these themes, Church of the Streets serves as Jeezy’s own 19-song testimony for freeing ourselves from the demons we face and choose to place upon ourselves every day under God with songs like “Scared of the Dark” and “Lost Souls.” Jeezy even discusses his own personal battles with his final song “Forgive Me.” All-in-all, Church in the Streets shows Jeezy’s maturity as not just an artist but as a man as he continues to examine, reach, and teach from his perspective of the streets. - DS

19. Frank Leone - Death Grip

An Illinois native that caught my attention this year is Frank Leone. Earlier this year, he was featured on Pigeons and Planes New 20 Under 20, and I was immediately pulled in by his visuals; he lives in a rural area, so his visuals have a genuine, earthy feel. After listening to only a few songs on Soundcloud, I was excited for his next release “Death Grip,” a seven song guide through PTSD. The theatricality alone on the project made it stand out to me more than any other one-off release of its kind this year. The production is daunting. The lyrics are, to put it simply, pretty fucked up, but thought-provoking.  One of my favorite tracks from the project actually came out after it was released, as it would be his last new song of 2015. Titled “Supertramp USA (Spread Eagle Cross The Block),” the genre-bending track ends with a subtle skit on his political stance on guns: “I don’t think anybody in this fucking country is fucking telling you that you can’t have your gun, you mother fucker!” Death Grips is the perfect Halloween soundtrack, but also whenever you’re feeling particularly dark. -AB

18. Chance The Rapper and Lil B – Free Based Freestyles Mixtape

In between the long-lasting rumor of a Kendrick Lamar/J. Cole project and the perfectly timed surfacing of a Drake/Future collaboration came news of a Chance the Rapper and Lil B mixtape earlier this year. We all scratched our heads at the idea at first, but when the based god and acid rapper meet you can definitely feel the chemistry. What makes this project work for Chance and Lil B respectfully though is that the entire mixtape is them freestyling off the top of the dome back and forth. On the mixtape Chance even refers to the project as an allegory for life because "the best things from life come from nothing and become something else.” Justly named "The Free Based Freestyles," the style matches the feeling -- free. Free and instant to the point it comes off naturally authentic, honest, and even inspiring with the raw emotion they give off. What they create together is a positive reflection of living in the moment and songs like "Amen" and "Do My Dance" go so much further impact-wise because of that than had they been written before-hand. - DS 

17. Masego – The Pink Polo EP

VA native Masego has “killed the game,” (which is a common catchphrase for the artist), with this project. The EP, which dropped in March, is a breathe of fresh air and a showcase of Masego’s undeniable talent and musicality. “Girls That Dance,” the hit single off the project, has a great message about breaking the norms of today’s social media culture and just simply having a good time--it is also a great track to dance too. Scratch that--the majority of the songs on this EP will prompt you to break out in spontaneous dance. Houston-bred producer Medasin and Masego complemented each other well by perfectly infusing house, R&B, pop and jazz music--which Masego identifies as “traphouse jazz." - SG

16. Abra - Rose

Abra’s “Rose” is my favorite album of 2015. A little loss of innocence, a little self-discovery, and a little desperation never sounded so sweet. Abra embraces her vulnerability while maintaining her completely badass demeanor on Rose. She never makes herself the victim and keeps it one hundred with her partners and most importantly, herself. On “Atoms,” she embraces that sense of self and wishes her latest an Irreplaceable-esque goodbye: “You know, you can do what you please/If leaving is your goal, then please go by all means/I will not hold you so give me back my keys/But first come get your shit and wash my bed sheets.” As if the admirable lyrical content wasn’t enough, “Rose” oozes with inspiration of 80’s pop. The self-produced album also has two versions of a few songs; “Feel” and “No Chill” get emo with their piano counterparts, “Human” and “Game,” giving each song a new listening experience. Rose filled a spot I didn’t realize was missing in music, making it an obvious pick for me on this list. - AB

15. Kehlani – You Should Be Here

As a follow-up to her 2014 mixtape, Cloud 19, the Oakland native presents a mixtape that wholeheartedly embraces her struggle and growth that has made her stronger as not only an artist but as a person. She reflects on everything that got her “here” before she was even 21, ranging from homelessness, her estranged relationship with her mother, and the early passing of her father. She extends beyond the basic "niggas ain't shit" love trope of modern R&B to bring something that has a this-is-me-so-love-me-for-who-I-am vibe that is honest, true and diverse from her contemporaries like Jhene Aiko and Tinashe. Her music is melodically transparent and even inspiring as she not only expresses empowerment, fearlessness, and self-love but encourages it to her listeners with songs like "Be Alright" and "Bright." The production on You Should Be Here, thanks to Jahaan Sweet, is mellow and in pocket to match the smoothness of Kehlani’s melodies. With this mixtape, she’s only touched the surface and she will only soar from here, especially with this project recently getting a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album. - DS

14. Raury – All We Need

19 year old Atlanta-based songwriter Raury caught the attention of many with his mixtape from 2014, Indigo Child. Earlier on in the year, he was chosen for the 2015 XXL Freshman class and since then his come up has been undeniable. He released his debut album, All We Need, in October which left his audience with a lot to admire. All We Need is a very simple yet honest project where Raury freely expresses himself. He starts the album off with the first track "All We Need," which sets the tone for the whole album while also stating that all this world needs is love. Raury creates a very distinct sound by mixing Hip Hop and Indie rock, therefore, not one track sounds alike. There is “Forbidden Knowledge” where Raury consciously raps about the corrupted world and then there is “Devil’s Whisper” which sounds like a western folk song and a parallel to “Gods Whisper” from Indigo Child. The features he chooses for All We Need such as: RZA, Big Krit, Key, and Tom Morello, really enhance the listener’s experience with this project because of how well these artists compliment the track. He ends the album with the track “Friends” proposing that the people in the future will need his music to stay aware, therefore, he is going to continue to put music out. This album altogether is well rounded, he really explores his trials and tribulations in this album giving it a personal touch with elements from his past like the radio segments at the end of the tracks. - RS

13. Rae Sremmurd - Sremmlife

We all mistook rap duo, Rae Sremmurd, composed of brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, as one-hit wonders after the drop of their popular single of 2014, “No Flex Zone”, but they kept proving us wrong after the release of each one of their songs such as: “Throw Sum Mo” ft. Nicki Minaj and “No Type”. When we realized that Rae Sremmurd couldn’t be slept on we decided to get hip to their music and to pronouncing ‘Shrem-murd’ correctly. Rae Sremmurd released their debut album, Sremmlife, early in 2015 and it is filled nothing but bangers. This is an album that you can play from beginning to end at a party because of how catchy it is and how phenomenal the production is. Don’t get it twisted though, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy do not compromise the lyrical aspect of this project. In fact, they recently released a 20 minute back and forth freestyle on Tim Westwood proving they can rap their asses off. They have toured a majority of this year and the shows they have put on from just one album were on another level. Though they are fairly new to the game, these brothers have got experience in the many different components of being an artist. - RS

12. Toro y Moi – What For?

Chaz Bundick returns with his fourth studio album as Toro Y Moi with What For?. The album is a progression of the chillwave style Chaz is known for and created with earlier albums and to become a comforting indie rock feel over pop vocals. It’s less experimental and more of a vantage point for boogie and guitar-pop music of the 70's and 80's. This album is another palette of emotion and funk that Toro Y Moi is known for with a mix of jazzy, disco dance rock to more intimate renditions like “Lilly” and “Yeah Right.” Songs like “Run Baby Run” and “Buffalo” still bring flare that is both nostalgic and contemporary to make you wonder if the album came out in 1975 or 2015. This album’s familiar yet vintage feel sheds light to a new generation with its psychedelic harmonies that makes you want to stare at the clouds pass with someone you love while laying on a hilltop. - DS

11. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth

After a few missteps in the past few years, from lukewarm albums to public disputes with his label, Lupe Fiasco returns with a vengeance with arguably one of his strongest albums since 2007’s Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. The near nine-minute track “Mural” alone will leave your mouth open in awe and disbelief like Wee-Bey from The Wire with the layers upon layers of extended metaphors over an aggressively solemn piano beat. The album’s structure is separated by four seasons to match the roller coaster of emotion and intensity and the ideas of change over time brought throughout the album on topics ranging from prison, politics, poverty, and religion. What makes these songs (and Lupe Fiasco) succeed is the light placed on these topics that is emotionally unbiased and effective for telling both sides of the matter. A good example of that is “Prisoner 1 & 2” that examines how not only a prisoner feels trapped in a penitentiary, but the prison guard as well in his/her own way. With the help of collaborators like Nikki Jean, his sister Ayesha Jaco, and gully, hard-hitting artists like Trae the Truth and Glasses Malone, Lupe is able to create a piece of work that is artistically a direct reflection of society flaws from a street perspective hidden behind endless layers of complicated messaging and metaphors that a Rap Genius contributor lives for. We’ve missed you, Lupe. - DS

10. Tame Impala - Currents

As soon as you play the opening track “Let it Happen” off of Tame Impala’s third album Currents, you immediately become entranced by dazzling swirls of synths and an angelic falsetto. Tame Impala are at their best on Currents, keeping the same rhetoric of inner turmoil and loneliness of his past albums but this time around presenting it more colorfully. Currents is Tame Impala’s most soulful effort, but still maintains their psychedelic rock aesthetic.  Front man Kevin Parker especially flexed all of his muscles by writing, producing, and mixing the album. Currents stands alone from their other work for the simple fact that very little guitar was used on the album, with more of a focus on danceable tracks. If you’re a Tame Impala fan, you know more is to come. If you aren’t a fan, now is a good time to hop on board. - TD

09. Goldlink -  And After That, We Didn’t Talk

DC’s own Goldlink has been making waves in the music scene the last two years. The “Sober Thoughts” rapper was among XXL Mag’s 2015 freshmen class and also has been in the works with Soulection, a heralded L.A. based record label. However, despite this success Goldlink admitted in a XXL Mag interview that he was anxious to drop his debut project, And After That, We Didn’t Talk. Soulection and Rick Rubin handled the majority of the production on AATWDT. The project has features from VA native Masego, crooner Anderson Paak and others. AATWDT traverses the R&B, pop and house genres--which is a testament to Goldlink’s versatility as an artist. -  SG

08. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$

Brooklyn-based rapper, Joey Bada$$, has been on the come up since his 90’s-influenced mixtape, 1999. Since 2012, Joey has been solidifying his stance in the rap game by dropping one mixtape after another. Earlier this year, Joey finally released his highly anticipated debut album, B4.DA.$$, giving his fans exactly what they have been craving for years. This album portrays the growth of this career while he embraces his influences through his music. There are many different vibes on this album which makes it really stand out. You can see Joey’s Caribbean roots through “Belly of the Beast," and on “Hazeus View,” he switches it up by introducing his fans to his singing. Then there is the return of his clever wordplay, a talent that many fans could easily recognize from 1999, on the hard-hitting track “Christ Conscious”. The albums ends with “Teach Me” a catchy track featuring Kiesza where most people may not be able to deny their urge to dance. Joey gave this song justice on his World Domination Tour by calling fans up to the stage to showcase their best moves. This debut album has created a platform for Joey where his fans are able to see him for who he is through his music. - RS

07. Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb

Tyler, The Creator came back in April of this year giving us his surprise album Cherry Bomb and like every Tyler project, fans did not know how to react at first; nonetheless, it was a musical adventure from “DEATHCAMP” to “OKAGA, CA”. This album was nothing like his previous projects, from the content to the production, this album portrayed the progression Tyler has made by trying new things. There were many standouts on this project such as: “Find Your Wings” where Tyler insists that you must find what you are passionate over a jazzy instrumental; “2Seater” where Tyler pulled a classic move by smoothly transitioning from two different sounds with ease like “Partyisntover/Campfire/Bimmer” on Wolf; Tyler satisfies his fans needs for rap with the track “Smuckers”  which features two very iconic rappers, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. This song was legendary because Tyler had the two of them throw it back to a certain way they rapped on previous projects leaving fans nostalgic. Altogether, Tyler introduced a lot to his fans with this project and has moved from being a “rapper” to being an artist who just creates the music he wants to hear. - RS

06. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf

“Surf,” next to “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” was probably the most iconic album of this year. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment came together to bless us with “Surf” earlier this year after months of anticipation, especially from Chance The Rapper’s end of things. Being the first project since his 2013 breakout mixtape “Acid Rap,” high expectations were set. In typical Chance fashion, he, of course, blew us out of the water. The album in itself is golden, but the creation makes it even more authentic. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment brought old school and new school together for “Surf.” With features from Erykah Badu and Busta Rhymes, to Kyle and J. Cole., Surf is definitely the most star-studded release of 2015. - AB

05. Jay Rock - 99059

90059 marked Jay Rock’s second studio album and it was definitely stronger than his debut. Firstly, 90059 is the zip code of the rapper’s birthplace, Los Angeles. Secondly, the tone of this album was darker and more vulnerable than his previous. Rock covers a variety of topics from vices, the social media culture, insecurities to name a few. The undisputable standout track on the album is “Vice City,” which was a lyrical onslaught from the original Black Hippy members--Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock. Features on the album include members of the T.D.E. camp, Busta Rhymes, Macy Gray, and Lance Skiiwalker. All in all, 90059 is arguably Rock’s strongest project to date. - SG

04. The Internet – Ego Death

Odd Future affiliates, The Internet, had their best year yet in 2015. Syd tha Kyd and Jet Age of Tomorrow architect Matt Martians finally found their voice on their third studio album Ego Death; a smooth and ethereal musical effort due in large parts to incorporating a full band. Ego Death is what Purple Naked Ladies and Feel Good aren’t, a focused and cohesive project that is equal parts R&B and Jazz for the modern day. Syd’s mesmerizing vocals and relatable lyrics are just the cherries on top of this standout album, which has just been nominated for a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. I think it’s safe to say The Internet is just getting started. - TD

03. Drake and Future – What A Time To Be Alive

Whether you want to admit it or not, Future and Drake owned the rap game in 2015 separately. But once they decided to join forces for the mixtape What A Time To Be Alive, it was quickly realized that together they were a force not to be reckoned with. No, WATTBA is not a complex or introspective album.  It is unapologetically boastful and flashy from cover to cover and it’s clear that Drake nor Future GAF. Each rapper brought to the table what they do best; Drake’s catchy and Instagram caption-worthy lyrics (chicken fingers and French fries anyone?) and Future’s trap-inspired persona are woven throughout this joint-album.  Bottom line: If you need a soundtrack to a turned-up night out, you will never be disappointed with WATTBA. - TD

02. Erykah Badu – But You Cain’t Use My Phone

In case you thought real R&B artists weren’t around anymore, in 2015 Queen Erykah Badu reminded us all that she ain’t go nowhere. First, she graced us with the best rendition of Drake’s heavily remade track “Hotline Bling” adding her own Badu flare to the track. Inspired by the popularity of the song, Ms. Badu surprised us with a mixtape themed around the device that never leaves our sight. The mixtape largely finds the songstress putting her signature on other artist’s songs, such as Usher’s "U Don’t Have To Call" and The Isley Brothers "Hello It’s Me," a standout track. She also incorporated original songs that compliment the seemingly effortless mixtape.  Oh,  and she even dusted off her timeless hit “Tyrone” for the mixtape as well. If you thought real R&B artists weren’t around anymore, think again. - TD

01. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

He did it again. You would think after delivering so many solid projects there would be no way Kendrick Lamar would be able to release something that could possibly be better, but you thought wrong.  Kendrick sort of went M.I.A after Good Kid, MAAD City but returned shortly with his first empowering single, “i”, from his third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Soon after, he released "Blacker the Berry" before finally releasing his album. TPAB had a musical surprise in store for everyone because no one expected it to be as distinct as it was from his other albums. Due to Kendrick’s diverse mix of genres, TPAB cannot be classified as your average rap album. Though many of us are familiar with jazz and rap complimenting each other we were introduced to soul, funk, and rock all coming together to make this project. This album has had such a huge impact on our society today, from “Alright” becoming the new black anthem to President Barack Obama stating that his favorite song of the year was “How Much a Dollar Cost.” Kendrick urges his fans not to be quick with labeling his album a “classic” but as more time passes the more this project is seen as one. - RS