Haters are always going to hate, but musically 2015 was a substantial year for hip-hop. Rappers paid their pop dues (“Jump”, “Teach Me”), others wrote odes to their Grandmas (“Huey”, “Sunday Candy”), and even Vince Staples’ timeline made us all forget about the fact that Iggy Azalea is still trying to write bars for another album. All in all, it gave indies an even bigger platform for their artistic movements, so without further ado, here are our unanimous staff picks for The 10 Best Mixtapes of 2015.
FREDDIE GIBBS :: Shadow Of A Doubt
As “Pronto” showed back in March, Freddie Gibbs is on one. The ESGN czar is known for going off on an instrumental, but Shadow… finds him in “full Joe Pesci mode” — using his wordplay to impale various sections of jazz, trap, and West Coast while chopping it up with E-40 and Black Thought. It’s a less cohesive drive but rest assured, Gibbs still knows his way around [Listen: “Packages”].
FUTURE :: 56 Nights / BM / WATTBA
Even though Dirty Sprite 2 was technically a major release, Future’s mixtapes in January, March, and September blessed us with “Oooooh”, “Peacoat”, “Foreva Eva”, “56 Nights”, “March Madness”, “Never Gon’ Lose”, “Big Rings”, “Diamonds Dancing”, and “Jumpman”. Need we say more?
JAZZ CARTIER :: Marauding In…
With OVO being an afterthought, Marauding In Paradise is a debut that reps the younger echelon of Toronto’s art and party scene, and in retrospect, Cuzzi’s got hits. “Switch”, “Dead Or Alive”, and “Wake Me Up When It’s Over” are imposing rap pieces and like the rest of the mixtape, they silhouette Jazz’s flair for tweaking flows and lobbing one-liners (“My bitch so chili that she won’t let me be a scrub”). Throw in Lantz’s beats and it’s clear: this is art that sits with you for days [Watch: “New Religion”].
KEHLANI :: You Should Be Here
Kehlani Parrish isn’t a marquee name in certain circles, but that’s about to change. You Should Be Here finds the 20-year-old carving out a niche, which just so happens to be an avid mix of mid-2000s soul, Oakland swagger, and bubblegum alt R&B. There’s bits of iHeartRadio pop in her musings but her ability to challenge colleagues is what makes her a rare commodity [Watch: “The Way”].
LUCKI ECK$ :: X (Vol. 1)
Despite the swell of Chicago natives that can rap, Lucki Eck$ sticks out like a great Coldplay album. His third effort is the I Don’t Like Shit… of his catalog because it ups the intensity, forcing him to brighten its moodier waves with half baked thoughts (“She snort the right cut, her boyfriend’s scissors loose”). It sounds slacker-ish, but up close, Eck$’ is just lurking in the subtext [Watch: “Lowlife”].
MICK JENKINS :: Wave[s]
Though it’s only been a year, Mick Jenkins has come a long way since The Water[s] and his jazzy, “fuck your couch” approach. Take Wave[s] for example; the project’s full of heady conversation starters but it takes his skill tree and paints a bigger picture — floating technical theories (“P’s & Q’s”), bolder ideas (“Your Love”), and a desire to being a writer that can actually write [Listen: “40 Below”].
REMY BANKS :: higher.
In short, higher. is as New York as New York gets. The 11-track tape is another accolade for the World’s Fair collective, but it’s centered around the Queens MC and his bodega flow, which is quick to body every beat that passes by. Whether it’s on “let em know.” or “n1go.”, Remy stays laid back yet cutthroat — letting bars twist and turn before they detonate like Porzingis in MSG [Watch: “rem.”].
Like 2013’s Black Water, Tinashe’s latest escape is a reminder that she still obsesses over Pro Tools and the DIY side of R&B. The free tape was recorded in her childhood bedroom and it’s a provocative riot as it snaps into collabs with Iamsu! (“Worth It”), Nez & Rio (“Something To Feel”), and Ryan Hemsworth (“Wrong”), while offsetting Aquarius with a numbing sense of charm [Listen: “Wanderer”].
TORO Y MOI :: Samantha
Revisiting projects from as far back as 2012, Samantha finds Chaz Bundick being the curator you wish you hung out with on Friday nights. The tape glues itself to the downers that come with love, tapping Kool A.D. and Rome Fortune for reality checks before calling up Washed Out for an extended sample of The Notebook. It’s a gutsy move but it’s Toro — thrills are his forte [Listen: “Pitch Black”].
TOWKIO :: .Wav Theory
Towkio — aka Preston Oshita — is without a doubt a SaveMoney success story, but at 21, he’s still eager to share narratives that stick with you. .Wav Theory is full of them, from simple love songs (“I Know You”, “Reflection”) to bouncy house freak outs (“Free Your Mind”), and it never feels stagnant as every composition is capable of making your heart sing [Listen: “Heaven Only Knows”].