The past year has been an incredible 12 months for hip-hop. The entire year has been bursting with quality tracks, mixtapes and albums. It seems almost all of the big names dropped at least something, if not multiple projects. There's been quality from the mainstream and the underground, from trap rap to more experimental sounds. Many critics proclaimed 2015 to be one of the best years for rap music in years, and some have even went as far as saying it's been one of the best years ever.
With everything that has been released in 2015, it's hard to narrow the year down to a list of individual songs. After careful deliberation, we managed to come up with 20 different songs that we believe sum up the year in hip-hop music.
Songs were chosen for a variety of reasons. Some of them were put here because of their huge amount of commercial success. Others didn't chart as high (or maybe not at all), but their pure quality made it so people were still talking about them throughout the year. We also limited it to one appearance per main artist. Some rappers could show up multiple times on the list because of features, but to get a diverse list that reflects what has come out this year, it's only fair that the main artists get just one shot to make the list.
Just like any list, there's room for disagreement. When narrowing lists down, some sacrifices have to be made and that means there's not always room to cover everything you want to talk about. The 20 songs we did choose had some stiff competition, and that says even more of their success and quality.
Here are our picks for the Top 20 Hip-Hop Songs of 2015.
"Clubhouse" was the third single from Mac Miller's GO:OD AM. The album as a whole deals with some of the changes Mac has made in his life over the past few years, including his struggles with depression and drug addiction. This single reflects a lot of that. He's reflecting on everything he's been through to get to the point he's at now. He talks about his past and present drug use, his questioning of being a role model for younger generations and his hustle to become the rapper he is today. Mac's only 23 years old and he's discovered a lot about himself and his demons. "Clubhouse" is just one of the steps in his journey of self-discovery.
"White Iverson"Post Malone
Post Malone was one of the most polarizing figures of the year for a few different reasons. A white rapper wearing gold teeth and braids is almost always going to raise a few eyebrows. That look inspired his breakthrough single "White Iverson," a Drake-esque hip-hop/R&B hybrid with plenty of references to Allen Iverson and other basketball stars throughout history. "I need that money like the ring I never won" is one of the most memorable lines, bringing up AI's failure to win an NBA title. That song alone got Malone signed to Republic Records. It's always questionable when an artist gets a major deal based on the strength of one song, but it's hard to deny something that got people talking like "White Iverson." Whether or not you take Post Malone seriously, this catchy, quotable track had people talking for months.
"M'$"A$AP Rocky featuring Lil' Wayne
"M'$" is a track off of A$AP Rocky's great album At. Long. Last. A$AP., but make no mistake: this track belongs to Lil Wayne. Rocky is great on the track, and shows the progress he's made as a rapper since his last album in both flow and lyrics. He's just fine, but once Weezy's verse hits, he takes over. Wayne's quality as a rapper has been up and down for a few years now, but you'd never be able to guess from the way he snaps over this beat. If you've heard a Wayne verse, you're familiar with the drill. Tunechi is bragging about money and drugs, but the way he delivers this often-treaded territory is what makes it. "M'$" is the most inspired Weezy has spit in years, and maybe the best argument for Birdman to stop holding Tha Carter V hostage and release it, especially if he's rapping anything close to how he is on this track.
Earl Sweatshirt's excellent album I Don't S---, I Don't Go Outside was announced a week before its release along with its one and only single, "Grief." The track was a perfect preview of what listeners had to expect from the album. Earl had occupied a dark place in his prior music, but this was something entirely different. The track had a sparse, dark beat, and Earl was rapping about his spiral into drugs. As the track goes on, Earl becomes more and more under-the-influence, and on the second verse his flow becomes slower and lazier as his high hits him harder. Earl's last album Doris focused a lot on the rapper's ability to craft insanely dense verses and intricate rhymes. That's still present on "Grief," but the track (and the entire album) are more focused on the darkness he's experiencing and therefore more straightforward. It's less about being a lyrical miracle-type rapper and more about sharing his pain with the world.
"Hit the corner, make a dollar flipping / Split the dollars with my mama children / Folks need Porsches, hoes need abortions / I just need y'all out of my business." This is how Vince Staples starts the second verse of his brilliant "Norf Norf." The track is a tribute to Vince's hometown of Long Beach, Calif., and his experiences in the city of gang-banging. With a smooth, continuous flow over a sparse Clams Casino beat, Vince dances all over the track and shows why he's one of the year's most-talked-about rappers. He's one of the best young rappers working right now, and he has a ridiculous confidence for a 22 year old. He says "f--- gangsta rap," even though he's one of the examples people make when they refer to modern gangsta rap. Between this and his comments on '90s hip-hop that got him criticized by tons of people in the community, Vince shows a sort of fearlessness. That's no surprise, since he "never ran from nothin' but the police."
"Throw Sum Mo"Rae Sremmurd featuring Nicki Minaj and Young Thug
Released in the first week of the year, Rae Sremmurd's SremmLife was 2015's first high-profile hip-hop release. Just about anything from the album could have probably made this list. "No Flex Zone" and "No Type" were the biggest hits, but they weren't included because they blew up in 2014. "Throw Sum Mo" was a stretch itself since it was released as a single last December, but it got most of its airplay this year so we felt it counted. When it comes to the realm of hip-hop that overlap with pop music, it's hard to think of a better combination right now than Rae Sremmurd, Young Thug and Nicki Minaj. Slim Jimmi, Swae Lee and Thug have just the perfect amount of energy for the beat and a hook from Nicki helped propel the track to No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The only problem is that she's only on the hook; a full verse from Nicki could have demolished the track.
"Downtown"Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz
Macklemore's place in hip-hop has been criticized perhaps more than any other rapper, and there are few better ways to combat that than getting three of hip-hop's originators on your track. Admittedly "Downtown" is goofy as all hell. It's a damn song about mopeds, and it's an amalgamation of about ten different things. Macklemore's rhymes are reminiscent of what he was doing on "Thrift Shop." Foxy Shazam's Eric Nally is doing his best Michael Jackson impression. Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz have their old-school rap. Ryan Lewis' beat sounds like "The Safety Dance" during the verses and like Mark Ronson's brand of retro-soul at other points. Yet while the song could easily be messy, somehow it all works. The end of the song is surprisingly triumphant for a song about mopeds. The track may be silly, but it's silly in the best possible way.
"3500"Travi$ Scott, featuring Future and 2 Chainz
For better or worse, Travi$ Scott is all about style. His music is more focused on the atmosphere and the sound than the lyrics. It's what makes him a divisive person in the hip-hop community. A main criticism of him is that he focuses more on borrowing others' styles than developing himself as a unique. I wasn't a fan of Rodeo partilly because of those reasons, but there were a few songs that resonated with me because of the style. "3500" is an epic track that lasts nearly eight minutes with three rappers and production credits from five people. It's more than just a brag-rap song, because the grandiose nature of the track carries it and turns it into one of Scott's best releases yet. It helps that Future and 2 Chainz are here to carry some of the weight as well.
"IDFWU"Big Sean featuring E-40
Big Sean is a corny dude. For a while, that label was there to insult him, but I'm not sure about it anymore. There's something genuine about how corny the man can be at times, and there's no better example than "IDFWU," (short for "I Don't F--- with You"). The song calls out an ex of Sean's (probably Naya Rivera), but some of the ways he does it come off like he's in middle school. One of the main insults Sean uses is that she's "dumb" and says there are a "million trillion" things he'd rather do than be with her. He also has a few puns in his raps, including a punchline where he says the girl has a "bird brain." Sean is about two seconds away from saying the girl has cooties and smells like doo-doo. Yet the song resonates. Breaking up sucks and can make a person say some juvenile stuff. Who hasn't wanted to call out an ex or somebody else who hurt them and just vent whatever frustrations, even if it sounds like they're on some 5th-grade s---? The song's great beat (courtesy of DJ Mustard and Kanye West) and the ease that anyone can yell along with the chorus made this a number one hit on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and almost cracked the top 10 on the Hot 100. It's just a fun song about a breakup and moving on.
"Genocide"Dr. Dre featuring Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosias and Candice Pillay
It's hard to choose one individual track on Dr. Dre's incredible comeback Compton. The album is filled with great stuff. There's the emotion of "Animals," Eminem's best verse in years on "Medicine Man," the insanity of "Loose Cannon," Game killing it on "Just Another Day," or just about anything Kendrick Lamar appears on. Yet "Genocide" was chosen for a few reasons. First, because of the smooth beat that the rappers and singers get to glide all over. Second, because of Kendrick's show--stealing appearance ("I say 'F--- is up?' I f--- 'em up, your supper's up or something's up/I hoping all get orthotist, rope it up before the double dutch broke"). Most importantly though, it's because "Genocide" is the track that first really lets the listener know they're in for a treat. The two tracks before it are great too, but "Genocide" is the point where things really start to fall in place. Unfortunately for listeners, there aren't any Youtube links of the track to stream (Aftermath has been great at keeping iTunes the only legal source of streaming the project), but the album's quality is well worth purchasing the album or getting a subscription to Apple Music.
"Only One"Kanye West featuring Paul McCartney
Kanye West has had an interesting year. He's released a few singles with "Only One," "Four Five Seconds" and "All Day." Details about his album have changed throughout the year, and nobody knows how soon we'll see the album or if the songs he released earlier will even make it to the project. Even if "Only One" doesn't make the cut, nothing will change it as one of the most emotional songs of the year. The style is heavily Auto-Tuned much like West's 808s and Heartbreak album, though the vibe of the song is much more upbeat than what was on that project. In the song, Yeezy gets a message from his deceased mother Donda as he goes to sleep. Mrs. West is giving her son advice as he grows as a father, and it could serve doubly as him giving advice to his own daughter. "No, you're not perfect, but you're not your mistakes" in particular resonates from West. The song closes with Donda's message to "tell Nori about me." Knowing how much Kanye's mom meant to him in her life and death, that surely won't be a problem as her legacy lives on in her son's music. "Only One" still tugs at the heartstrings almost twelve months since its release on New Year's Eve.
"Hit the Quan"iLoveMemphis
Vine's influence on hip-hop really manifested itself the past few years. Vines to songs like Bobby Shmurda's "Hot N----" and O.T. Genasis' "CoCo" made them viral hits outside and became popular outside of social media. The "Why You Always Lying" meme made Next's "Too Close" relevant in pop culture for the first time in almost 20 years. One of the latest social media sensations to manifest itself on the charts was ILoveMemphis' "Hit the Quan." The dance originated with Rich Homie Quan's dancing in the "Flex" video, but this track blew up with Vine and YouTube users acting out all of the Tennessee native's words while dancing. The dancing, along with the infectious beat and lyrics, made it a huge hit in the United States.
"F--- Up Some Commas"Future
"F--- Up Some Commas" has its roots on 2014's Monster mixtape, but Future officially made it a single in March and re-released the track on his DS2 album. The turn-up album quickly became one of Future's biggest hits as a main artist and spawned countless remixes. The song is pretty straightforward. All you need to know is that we're not giving any f---s and throwing money showers. Zaytoven's keys and Future's rapping make the track keep things hyped up. There are countless tracks about turning up, getting messed up and spending money, but Future might be the king of that lane.
"Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)"Silento
Sometimes it's the simplest things that have the most success. Just ask 17 year-old Silento, whose "Watch Me" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Like songs of hip-hop's past like "Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)," "Lean Back," or "Teach Me How to Dougie," "Watch Me" is all about dancing. The song has as basic of lyrics as you can get. Silento says "Watch me *insert dance here*" and the listener is supposed to do that dance at that moment. That can mean doing the whip, the nae nae, the stanky legg, bopping or breaking your legs. The song probably overstayed its welcome on the radio, but the song was simple enough and viral enough to keep it relevant. People have loved dance songs for decades. The idea behind the song isn't much different from the days of the Twist or the Mashed Potato. Songs about teaching dances will almost always be popular, just as much as they will always be hated by many for their simplistic lyrics and repetitive nature.
"Classic Man"Jidenna featuring Roman GianArthur
"Classic Man" is one of the most unique songs of the year. It's hard to necessarily classify it as a hip-hop song, though it's not exactly R&B either. Jidenna, with his distinct haircut and beard, as well as his old-school style, is one of the most unforgettable people on the scene just based on looks. The song reworks Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and turns it into a song that's about... well, actually being fancy. There wasn't a whole lot that was fancy about Azalea and Charli XCX's original track, but Jidenna is all about being a gentleman. He keeps his gloves dirty but his hands clean. Jidenna's style, look and voice make it clear to see why somebody like Janelle Monae would sign him to her label. Whether it's the original or the remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Classic Man" is one of the most irresistible hits of the year.
Lupe Fiasco fans spent the past five-or-so years being disappointed by their hero. Lasers and Food & Liquor 2 didn't live up to the expectations he set on his first two albums and early mixtapes, and with Atlantic not seeming to care about Tetsuo & Youth, people didn't even know they'd even see another Lupe album. Even with the release, the question was if he had fallen off or if he still had it due to the mixed nature of his past few records. Lupe put those fears to rest quickly with the first full song on the album. "Mural" is almost nine minutes of pure bars. There are no hooks, no breaks. Just Lupe showing himself as one of the greatest lyricists right now (perhaps ever). It's exactly what fans needed after the inconsistent albums that came before it. Even though the beat is a basic loop that repeats, it never gets old because the sole focus is on Lupe's ridiculous wordplay and flow. It's amazing how somebody can move from topic to topic this easily. "Mural" is a perfect tone-setting for the rest of the album and the official proclamation that the rapper is back on top.
How is it that many of Drake's best songs are the ones that aren't even on his album? Last year, "0 to 100/The Catch Up" made waves as a one-off release. His diss track to Meek Mill "Back to Back" became a conversation-starter, but also got a bunch of radio airplay. Then there's "Hotline Bling," Drake's biggest hit as a solo artist that doesn't have a home on any of his albums or mixtapes. Drake might be the perfect rapper for the internet, not needing an album or much marketing to have a hit. All he needs is a debut of the track on his radio show, and maybe a goofy, meme-worthy video. The song about a former booty call of Drake's is one of the year's biggest moments, especially with such a viral video. Drake kept himself in the conversation all-year, from his surprise album release to his Meek Mill beef to this. "Hotline Bling" is another chapter in the utter dominance that Drake has over the rap game right now.
"See You Again"Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
Nothing had a hold on the summer like "See You Again." The song from the Fast and Furious 7 soundtrack was the number one song in the United States for 12 non-consecutive weeks. Part of that is due to its versatility. The track is a tribute to the late Paul Walker and played during the closing scene of Fast 7, but the song works for any loss or saying goodbye. It dropped around the time of graduations, and it's the perfect song for that occasion. Wiz Khalifa's never been the most exciting rapper lyrically, but the crossover and emotional appeal of the track made it one of the biggest hits of the year. The track is about remembering a loved one, and similarly, the song is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.
The hardest decision when making this list was trying to figure out which Fetty Wap song to include. Fetty has been all over R&B, hip-hop and pop radio with "Trap Queen," "679," "My Way," and "Again." Yet the honor had to go to Fetty's first and most memorable hit "Trap Queen." The song is well-over a year old. It was initially released in spring 2014, but the song picked up huge steam over the year, with a reign as one of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for much of the summer. The trap love song is one of the most unique songs that's blown up in a long time. There's nobody like Fetty Wap out there. His glass eye gives him a distinct look, and his voice is unlike anything else on the radio. Just one listen to his trademark "yaaaaaaah" and you'll know it's Fetty every subsequent time you hear him. "Trap Queen" is also one of the catchiest songs of the year, and it seems like over half the song is just an extended hook. The Paterson, N.J. native's rise is one of the best stories of the year, especially because he had little help from other rappers (Drake appeared on a version of "My Way," but by that time Fetty was already becoming a star). It's telling how unlike other rappers he is. Nobody outside his Remy Boyz crew even appears on his debut album and he doesn't rely on any big name producers. It's great to see a rapper/singer with a fresh style reach the top without compromising what makes him unique.
Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly is a massively dense album with heavy social and cultural themes about the nature of being black in modern America. With its heavy jazz influences, it's also a little difficult for some listeners to get into. The complexity of the album is part of what makes it so powerful, yet the most powerful moment comes from the album's most straightforward, accessible track. The song is a response to all the violence seen in the black community in the past few years. From Trayvon Martin to Ferguson and Baltimore, it's hard to stay positive around all the discrimination. Yet even though "popo wanna kill us in the street fo-sho / N---- I'm at the preacher's door / My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow," in the end "We gonna be alright." With that uplifting message, it's no surprise that the song's lyrics have been chanted at protests and rallies demanding justice for many of these tragedies. The song has come to help define an entire movement, which makes it greater than any song that got tons of radio play or blew up social media. "Alright" is not just a powerful song, it's an empowering song, and by-far the best song of 2015.