Another year has come and gone, which means it’s time for us to reminisce about the music we spent the last 11 months bobbing, crying, and jumping to.
2015 saw many (too many, even) great hip-hop releases, but not all of them were by solo artists. The genre’s continued niche-based splintering resulted in plenty of experimental risk-taking across the board, even seeing many unexpected artists joining forces. These one-off groups (think along the lines of last year’s Freddie Gibbs & Madlib or the newly formed NxWorries) came together to either refine respective old sounds or create new ones we never dreamed of, leaving us wanting more. Here are WatchLOUD’s favorite One-Off Group Albums of 2015.
12. Big Grams (Phantogram & Big Boi) – Big Grams
Big Boi had a gigantic 2014 touring with André 3000 for the 20th anniversary of OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmusik, but this year he went completely left field by teaming up with electro-rock duo Phantogram for a 7-track EP. Big Boi sounds right at home over Phantogram’s booming synth and circumstance, and the addition of guests like Run The Jewels and Skrillex make for one funk blast of a marathon.
11. Madlib, MED, & Blu – Bad Neighbor
Super producer Madlib has more one-off group collaborations than you can count on two hands, but this one was spearheaded by fellow California MC Blu. Pieced together from demos created by Blu and MED and bolstered by an all-star lineup (MF Doom, Anderson .Paak, Aloe Blacc, Phonte, Hodgy Beats), Bad Neighbor is another varied – if minor – feather in Madlib’s cap.
10. Joell Ortiz & Illmind – Human
Joell Ortiz is nothing if not one of the most vicious MCs spitting right now. His fourth studio album, produced entirely by Illmind, is proof positive that he’s still got the juice.
9. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul
Let’s face it – BADBADNOTGOOD is one of jazz and hip-hop’s best kept secrets. Sour Soul, their collabo with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah, was a blaxploitation-tinged trip in the vein of last year’s Piñata brought to life by both musicians’ respective cinematic styles. Now if only they’d tour the United States…
8. Cavanaugh (Open Mike Eagle & Serengeti) – Time & Materials
Speaking of cinematic, Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti released a slow burn of a head trip this year. Time & Materials’ loose concept (told from the perspective of two janitors working in an apartment building that has both luxury condos and section eight housing), Eagle’s often lurching production and the duo’s irreverent bars makes for some of the most melancholy hip-hop you’ll hear this side of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
7. White Boiz – Neighborhood Wonderful
MC Krondon and producer Shafiq Husayn are two of California’s hardest working underground heads, so the prospect of the two of them coming together for a project was already a big deal. They both meet each other halfway on Neighborhood Wonderful, Husayn’s bold production melding with Kron’s heavily politicized bars. This was undoubtedly one of the Blackest albums in a year full of them, but the blunt and showy aesthetic of the White Boiz helped them carve out a place of their own. “Farrakhan meets Flying Lotus,” indeed.
6. Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz – Home Sweet Home
Virginia represented in a big way this year, but Home Sweet Home was a special moment for Rapper Big Pooh and producer Nottz. This is Pooh’s second one-producer project this year (the other being the Apollo Brown-produced Words Paint Pictures), and both Nottz and Pooh’s hunger is palpable throughout.
5. Drake & Future – What A Time To Be Alive
In 2015’s crowded Atlanta hip-hop scene, Metro Boomin’ managed to isolate himself with some of the heaviest bass beats of the year. The fact that the 22-year-old producer executive produced this victory lap of an album by two of rap’s heavyweights is a remarkable feat, and even if their best bars don’t always find their way onto this album, the production really is boomin’ enough to make you lose your mind.
4. NxWorries – Link Up & Suede
Boosted to insane heights off the strength of their first single “Suede,” Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s outfit has built a name for themselves with a hazy groove and vintage swagger that defies explanation. The EP is three tracks long and is nothing more than a palette cleanser for next year when their full-length drops, but “Link Up” and “Suede” unite two of rap & R&B’s rising stars for 7 minutes of bliss.
3. Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman – Lice
Two of New York’s favorite indie stalwarts Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman dropped this 5-track present full of heady bars for the holidays. Featuring production from DJ Spinna, Charles Hamilton, and Blockhead among others, two of New York’s best pure lyricists will leave you scratching your head (in a good way); and the best part? It’s absolutely *free*!
2. Semi Hendrix (Ras Kass & Jack Splash) – Breakfast At Banksy’s
What happens when a Grammy-nominated producer and one of the underground’s hardest hitting MCs come together? Breakfast at Banksy’s, a kaleidoscopic effort from producer Jack Splash and MC Ras Kass. These two just belong together.
1. L’Orange & Kool Keith – Time? Astonishing!
Kool Keith truly is hip-hop’s first astronaut, an MC whose bars continually pierce dimensional barriers to explore new worlds. He and North Carolina-based producer L’Orange embark on a trip through time (and back again) on the spacey and ethereal Time? Astonishing!, a project that skims the seas of time in haunting, surreal, and mind-blowing ways.