As we draw close to the end of the year and I’m sure you’ve seen many music sites, blogs, and magazines post their “Best of 2015” lists. Whether it’s “Best Albums of The Year” or “Best Artists of the Year,” or “Freshman 2015,” there are a plethora of lists that include familiar and/or new albums and artists. Sometimes we emphatically agree with those lists and other times we vehemently disagree. Either way, most of those lists are opinionated and dependent upon the blogger(s) that make them. Since I’ve seen everyone else put out their “Best of…” list, I thought now would be a great time to share mine.
My list is neither better nor worse than the other lists out there–well at least I don’t think it is. I’m figuratively sharing my earbuds with y’all and letting y’all hear what I’ve been listening to all year. I’ve thought long and hard about which albums will go on this list, how many albums will go on this list, and what genres should I include because a lot of great albums came out this year! I can’t say 2015 was the absolute best year in music, however some very talented individuals across genre lines dropped some dope records. Thanks to Spotify and Apple Music, I had a chance to listen to them all–of course, I did BUY the ones I enjoyed the most.
***Side-note: It’s extremely vital that we support our favorite artists by BUYING their records. While they do get money and gain records sales from streaming, it takes about 1,000 streams for it to count as an “Album Sale.” And on behalf of all artists, stop pirating music! I know we all loved Limewire, BitTorrent, and Megaupload but even if you don’t want to buy the record you can stream the album and still help a starving artist.***
From Kendrick Lamar to Adele to Alabama Shakes to JGivens and everyone else in-between, these artists saturated the music market with a wide range of LP’s, EP’s and mixtapes. Rather than listing all of my favorites from this year, I’ve decided to put together a list of 30 albums from different genres thate have gotten me through writers block and creatively inspired me this year. So without wasting anymore time, here are the Top 30 Albums That Creatively Inspired Me As A Writer In 2015:
30. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell [Singer-Songwriter]
29. Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands EP’s [Singer-Songwriter]
28. Same Henshaw – The Sound Experiment [R&B/Soul]
27. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah [R&B/Soul]
26. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]
25. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]
24. Dustin Kensrue – Carry The Fire [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]
23. Tomeka Reid – Tomeka Reid Quartet [Jazz]
22. Jill Scott – Woman [R&B/Soul]
21. Sean C. Johnson – Circa 1993 [Neo-Soul/R&B/Soul]
20. Kirk Franklin – Losing My Religion [Gospel]
19. Levv – Strange Fire [Alternative/Pop]
18. Alex Faith – Bloodlines [Hip-Hop]
17. Dre Murray – 34 [Hip-Hop]
16. Leon Bridges – Coming Home [R&B/Soul]
15. The Greg Foat Group – The Dancers At The End of Time [Jazz Fusion]
14. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble [Funk]
13. Thundercat – The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam [Funk/R&B/Soul]
12. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Stretch Music [Jazz]
11. Ben Williams – Coming of Age [Jazz]
10. Kendrick Scott Oracle – We Are The Drum [Jazz]
9. Taelor Gray – The Mocker & The Monarch [Hip-Hop]
8. John Givez – Soul Rebel [Hip-Hop]
7. Eshon Burgundy – The Fear of God [Hip-Hop]
6. Cataphant – Half Dead [Experimental/Electronic/TripHop]
5. Alert 312 – The Upside Eternal [Hip-Hop]
4. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth [Hip-Hop]
3. Kamasi Washington – The Epic [Jazz]
2. JGivens – Fly Exam [Hip-Hop]
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly [Hip-Hop]
As I said before, each album mentioned is here because of how it inspired me as a writer. Qualities such as song structure, sequencing, lyrical complexity, musicality, songwriting, storytelling, being intellectually and emotionally engaging, etc are all reasons why these 30 records helped me through writers block. Not only did it inspire me as a creative, it also broadened my musical palate. Up until this year, I never thought about checking out modern Jazz, Funk, and Soul acts. I’ve always had my ear to the artists of the past but never knew those genres were very much alive today. Jazz, Funk, and Soul are quintessential genres because all three are building blocks for Hip-Hop. It’s no wonder why they naturally inspired me as an Emcee. Rather than relegating Jazz, Funk, and Soul as genres of the past, we saw them as the main musical staple for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. On March 15th, 2015, Kendrick flooded the market with live instrumentation, jazz inspired improvisation, funky grooves, and soulful sounds. In the context of Hip-Hop history, Kendrick was not the first to do this. Hip-Hop acts like The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, De La Soul, DJ Quik, Common, Chance the Rapper, Nas, Talib Kweli, and more have always incorporated those building blocks in their music. TPAB (To Pimp A Butterfly) isn’t #1 on my list simply because Kendrick used live instrumentation–although that it was dope to hear that in the midst of Future, Young Thug, and Fetty Wap (no shade to them, I do enjoy commercial Trap music from time-to-time). No, TPAB made it as #1 on my list because it introduced me to Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Flying Lotus. All of whom had their hands in forming the jazzy, funky, and soulful musical backdrop for TPAB. Hopefully this list expands your taste in music, like some of these albums did for me. Listen to some Jazz, or Funk, or Soul, or Alternative/Singer-Songwriter if you’ve never considered listening to them before. You might just enjoy it!
On another note, I understand that the content in a few of these projects (like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly or Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth) might make some uncomfortable. That’s okay…my personal conviction when it comes to music–and art in general–is to consume it, figure out what worldview is being communicated through it, and sift through the redeemable and non-redeemable qualities of it. I tend to look at music as a conversation between the artist and the listener. Granted, that conversation is one-sided at best–it’s not like I can talk to Kendrick or Lupe or JGivens while listening to their music. With that in mind, I must be a critical thinker, an active listener; and as a Christian, I should know my Bible well enough to sift through what’s redeemable and non-redeemable…I might write a full post on that last thought someday but as of right now I’ll leave ya’ll with this list.
Now that you’ve seen my list, what were some of your favorite albums in 2015? It can be your Top 50, Top 30, Top 10, or Top 5, it doesn’t matter. Feel free to comment with your own list below, otherwise…
Thanks for reading & Have a Happy New Year!
Oh and here’s a Spotify Playlist of all 30 records starting from #1:
Part 1: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly to Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Part 2: Dre Murray – 34 to Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell