Sterling lyrical gems fell from the skies all throughout 2015. Mainstream and underground MCs alike have themselves to thank for this year’s truly robust and varied lyrical landscape, but arguably now more than ever, producers/DJs forced their way back into the conversation with instrumentals that truly emphasized the delicate double act of MC/producer.
Instrumental albums weren’t everywhere this year, but that doesn’t mean that prolific producers didn’t feel the need to drop albums that ultimately soundtracked our lives this year. Whether they’re new faces or old, boom-bap or electronic (or something in between), here are WatchLOUD’s favorite instrumental albums of 2015.
Death Grips – Fashion Week
The infamous California-based punk/hip-hop outfit has always enjoyed viciously toying with their fanbase. The band wrote a long-winded breakup letter in July of 2014, only to get back together less than half a year later and announce Jenny Death, the second half of their fabled double album The Powers That B. However, Before Jenny Death saw the light of day, producer Zach Hill dropped this instrumental tape, a collection of glitchy aggressive beats that’s as abrasive as it is energized. It hardly lives up to the skin-tearing insanity of their album no love deep web, but Fashion Week is a palette cleanser through and through.
Jonwayne – Here You Go vol. 1 & 2
This Stones Throw veteran MC/producer has quite a few projects under his belt (including three that were released exclusively on cassette), and this past October and November, he opened the floodgates by dropping not one, but two projects for free:
The beats are diverse, ranging from Kanye West-style maximal pomp (“Rap On This Kanye”) to something as skeletal as a drum track and a chain gang song sample (the below “Gold And Silver”). With both volumes of Here You Go, Jonwayne further proves his versatility.
Pete Rock – Petestrumentals 2
How can someone conceivably follow up an instrumental project as monumentally influential as Petestrumentals? Producer/DJ extraordinaire Pete Rock simply doesn’t attempt to fix what isn’t broke in the first place. What’s essentially a 20-track victory lap for a storied career still does a lot to remind us of where he’s been and where he’s going. Rock on, Rock.
Lilacs & Champagne – Midnight Features vol. 2: Made Flesh
A group that specializes in mining ambient hip-hop out of Eastern European-esque cinematic vibes, Lilacs & Champagne’s sound is sort of like a rebuttal to The Avalanches. Their project for 2015, Midnight Features vol. 2: Made Flesh, is a testament to that formula, crafting ethereal vibes that fall somewhere between a technicolor beach and “sex jams for people a little too stoned for actual sex.” The thumping drums will keep you awake for one of the year’s most mellow rides.
IglooGhost – Chinese Nu Yr
A signee to Flying Lotus’ growing Brainfeeder imprint, UK producer IglooGhost’s debut label project is a lighter-than-air 4-track adventure through the candy-colored clouds where electronic and hip-hop music collide. IGLOOGHOST’s approach may be best described as Diplo by way of Flying Lotus with a touch of Anamanaguchi sprinkled on top, but this brief sugar rush of a project is some of the most smile-inducing and fun music that will be reeling you in for more well into the new year.
The Alchemist – Israeli Salad
Uncle Al churns out more production at any given time than most other rap figureheads do drama. Before he and Oh No’s third Gangrene project You Disgust Me saw release this past August, the producer/MC put out an album of healthy greens for your ears back in May. Between this and Retarted Alligator Beats from earlier this year, don’t say The Alchemist doesn’t do anything for you.
Sporting Life – 55 5’s
Sporting Life is the person you can thank for the cacophonous soundscapes across RatKing’s discography , his eclectic tastes always leading him back to a distinctly noisy yet ethereal sound. Sport’s backlogs are already extensive, but he’s ventured forward once again on his latest solo project this year that’s jam-packed full of fast drumming synths, eerie operatic vocal samples, and a sense of foreboding that’s zoned thousands of people out since its debut. Don’t sleep on this one. GREAT!
Knxwledge – Hud Dreems
Vintage production styles have quickly become the bread and butter of the independent hip-hop scene, but even in an oversaturated year like 2015, no one sounded quite like Knxwledge. The New Jersey-born and Philadelphia-bred producer had an incredible year bringing a unique texture to his nostalgic sample flips; just go back and listen to his work on “Momma” from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Out of the truly inhuman amount of projects he’s released via Bandcamp this year alone (and his work with crooner Anderson .Paak as the duo NxWorries), his Stones Throw debut Hud Dreems stands as the young beat smith’s most cohesive and layered effort to date, a 26-track trip down memory lane that’s so much more than Madlib Lite. Knxwledge’s sheer output, glassy-eyed vintage sound, and thumping groovy quality helped Hud Dreems keep us in its slumber all year.