2015 has been a fruitful year for hip-hop, with many excellent releases from artists both high-profile and under-the-radar. With still more songs to come, here are five great songs from a genre that has churned out plenty of quality music this year.
NOTE: Some of these songs contain explicit language.
Lupe Fiasco, "Mural"
Here’s how you make a good first impression. Lupe Fiasco’s opening act on the career-reviving “Tetsuo and Youth” is the jaw-dropping “Mural,” a no-hook barrage of heady rhymes over a lush backdrop courtesy of producers The Buchanans.
Lupe’s always been a free thinker; “Mural” leaps from idea to idea like its namesake, but the language remains beautiful. “We’re all chemicals, vitamins and minerals,” he opens with and closes with “defeat Samsara, achieves nirvana and brilliance” seven and a half enthralling minutes later. It’s fair to say he earned his arrogance.
Tyler, the Creator, feat. Kanye West and Lil Wayne, “SMUCKERS”
Tyler, the Creator is extremely talented, but often gets so wrapped up in his overwrought ideas that he forgets to make his music sound good. Put him on a track with some real competition, however, and he becomes a rap superhero. On “SMUCKERS,” he growls “put that f***in cow on my level, cause I’m raising the stakes,” after 21 ferocious bars over his own excellent production, and it’s meaningful rather than cringe worthy.
Who’s challenging him here? Lil Wayne, sprier than ever in the midst of a spirited comeback, and Kanye West, delivering for once during a year where he’s fired mostly blanks. “You can’t lynch Marshawn if Tom Brady throwing to me,” West declares, the type of reference-laden social observation that helped make him compelling.
Earl Sweatshirt, "Grief"
Many of the instrumentals on Earl Sweatshirt’s superb recluse album shrink down to match his depressed mood, but the hypnotizing distorted noises on “Grief” tower over him at first. In response, he sounds more confident and a bit peeved when he enters with the line “Good grief, I been reaping what I sowed.”
By the end of his final verse, Earl’s been beaten back again. “I just want my time and my mind intact/When they both gone, you can’t buy ‘em back,” he laments. The outro promptly switches the beat out for something more cheerful in an attempt to save face, but it’s too late. “Speedom (Wwc2)” by Tech N9ne featuring Eminem and Krizz Kaliko, off the album “Special Effects”
“It’s one of my dream collaborations that I’ve been trying to get for over a decade,” Tech N9ne said about working with Eminem in a July interview with “Huffington Post”. At first, it looked like he was too late: Marshall Mathers’ world-class technical rap skills don’t seem to appear very often these days.
This made it all the more refreshing to hear the relentless “Speedom.” After excellent spitting from Tech and his frequent collaborator Krizz Kaliko before the first chorus, Eminem enters with a bang and outraces a rapid set of guitar chords at a skillful pace that puts fan favorite “Rap God” to shame. In retrospect, it’s shocking that Mathers took this long to declare that “Eminem is a nemesis to a feminist,” but at least picked a memorable place to do so.
Meek Mill, feat. Drake, "R.I.C.O."
When the hip-hop historians look back dismissively on the The Drake/Meek Mill Beef of 2015, it should be clear what set Meek off. Halfway through his album, an ominous beat heralds the entrance of a sneering Drake, who shouts out his own upcoming album before quickly reminding the listener that “the girl of your dreams to me is probably not a challenge.” A minute later, the fire is still coming at that level, and the listener is thinking: ‘isn’t this is a Meek Mill song?’ Yes, but as Aubrey reminded us on his 2013 freestyle “5 AM in Toronto,” “every song sound like Drake featuring Drake.”
Tyler Keating is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.