One of the main reasons I didn’t want to do a simple list this year is that number one has been so obvious all year. Why bother if there’s no suspense?
To Pimp A Butterfly blew everything else away so hard that it might as well be the top 20, and the rest is just pretty good. Especially after you go on a preposterous Bowie binge, you realize how boring almost everything else is, but not TPAB. Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece is like a modern-day Revolver, but only because Revolver is probably my favorite album of all time, and it’s the only album I can definitively say I like better than TPAB. Okay, and maybe, like, Aladdin Sane through Lodger (if you look at those seven records as a single work, which I'm starting to do) (not including Pin Ups of course). It's exciting to think there could be something as good as this yet to come along in my lifetime. Not holding my breath, though.
But we also had Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples, which is amazing. The second most preposterous binge I had this year involved the song “Dopeman”, which elicits a two-minute full-body tingling sensation every time I listen to it. You can take the whole album as a treatise greater than its parts, but it has so many best parts that for me they do overshadow some of the lesser songs through their sheer brilliance—“Norf Norf", "Lemme Know", "Jump Off The Roof", "Summertime", "Surf", "Get Paid", all highlights of the year. Sure, not as ambitious as Kendrick, but Staples still left most of the other rappers in the dust with this album.
Evidently I’m the only person who hasn’t forgotten about Death Grips, which means releasing one of their best albums yet was actually a backfire for them. Or, maybe that puzzling, patchy first disc of The Powers That B, Niggas On The Moon, released out of the blue in 2014, dragged the whole project down a bit. I get that; being a Björk fan (every track is based on hyper-chopped samples of her vocals), I probably dug it more than most, but on its own it’s easily the least engaging album Death Grips have made. Jenny Death, though, is everything a Death Grips fan could’ve hoped for and more, Ride’s classic profane abstractions blared atop the most far-reaching and acerbic music Zach Hill has dreamed up yet. It's very fringe stuff, barely rap I suppose, but I can't figure out why nobody's into this shit.
Finally, while Open Mike Eagle didn't put out an incredible full-length in 2015 like he does most years, I still have to give him his due here. His EP from last winter, A Special Episode Of, is a fully-realized little slice of reactionary and progressive commentary and humor concerning the shitty state of our country, and I don't think I made a mix since its release that didn't include either "Dark Comedy Late Show" or "Raps For When It's Just You And The Abyss", two of his best songs ever. There was also the four-song stealth release Catcher Of The Fade, an unofficial last gasp from the now-dispersed Hellfyre Club. It's a weird mixed bag of beats and verses that also features milo (You’ve been listening to his so the flies don’t come album, right? Eagle is on that, too, and it would be on this page if I hadn't already put it on the MKE list.), Busdriver and a handful of other people. It’s by no means accessible rap music but it’s worth seeking out for all you nerds out there. Then last fall, out came his collaboration with Serengeti under the moniker Cavanaugh. Time And Materials is Eagle's first stab at producing an album, and it’s solid, an appropriately low-key, mildly psychedelic backdrop for his and Serengeti's loosely conceptual working-class musings, but in lyrical and vocal terms it does come off as two buddies freestyling. Not a bad thing, but I'm more stoked for OME’s upcoming collaboration with Paul White, which I imagine will be a more focused endeavor. When he puts all of his art and craftsmanship into a rap, he's still my favorite MC in the game.