Cosmo’s Top 8 Rap Mixtapes Of 2015
It’s December again, and the world is just as fucked as ever. Possibly slightly more, possibly slightly less. I guess it’s easy to lose track of these things without an ordered list to tell you what to think. Having been precariously perched on the 2015 bar stool for quite some time now, we’ll soon be staring down the menacing barrel of 2016. So how best to celebrate yet another successful orbit around the Sun?
We thought about publishing an objectively correct ranking of the year’s best records. But sadly we couldn’t get hold of any doof doof scientists to determine what the metrics should be. Instead, we’ve fallen back on our Top 8 Whatevers. You know the score – our trusted team of R$N scribes pitch in with lists of music they’ve enjoyed, petty grievances they want to air, obscure interests they want to highlight. Basically whatever’s on their mind. Let’s do this. Here's Cosmo's Top 8 of 2015…
Great music can of course be difficult, challenging, even unpleasant, but it should never be a chore to listen to. Nevertheless, I still find it easy to get bogged down in endless lists of new albums to check out. End of year list fatigue only compunds the problem ("Whaddya mean you haven't heard the new so-and-so album?" // "Here's five incredibly self-defensive reasons why it's suddenly OK to like Justin Bieber!" // "Yes, Kamasi Washington really is at #11 despite it being the only jazz album any of our writers listened to all year…")
I like to comfort myself by remembering that my favourite song is most likely one I'll never even hear. That has to be true, otherwise what's the point? Implicit in searching for new music is the thrill that the next track coming out of your speakers could be the one to blow everything else out of the water.
Critics sometimes talk about "a good/bad year for music", as though music is a singular entity that can be neatly packaged up and evaluated. When it comes down to it, whether music has had a good or bad year is entirely down to how much digging you bothered to do. There was a shit ton of incredible music in 2015, just as there was plenty of absolute dross. No doubt there's plenty of great stuff that I never got around to hearing. But these are the eight (unranked) rap mixtapes that I ended up listening to the most:
1) Boogie – The Reach
'The Reach' was Compton rapper Boogie's second project following last year's 'Thirst 48'. He's an unshowy MC whose main skills are observation and insight. He talks about his six-year-old son a lot, and has a way of drawing you into his stories. He's equally comfortable with introspective meditations as he is with turnt up bangers.
Anyway 'The Reach' was a huge step up for Boogie. 'Oh My' is the obvious standout and one of the best things I heard all year. Lord knows how that Jahlil Beats instrumental didn't get snapped up by a much bigger rapper.
I saw Boogie on Carnival weekend in a poorly attended Hoxton venue. I remember he played 'Oh My' twice through and it felt totally deserved. We chatted a bit before I drunkenly invited him to a house party we were throwing the following evening, and he awkwardly made his excuses. Actually for all I know he may have showed up, as my hazy half-memory of that party mainly involves me spinning in circles on the floor, listening to 'Int'l Players Anthem' on repeat. I'm sure 'Oh My' got a few plays as well.
2) Drake & Future – What A Time To Be Alive
Drake and Future ran the rap game in 2015. I remember touching down in Lisbon the day this tape dropped and hearing 'Big Rings' blasting out of a taxi within minutes of leaving the airport. Enough digital ink has been spilled over the two rappers and I have nothing insightful to add, so here's a GIF of Drake playing in the snow.
3) Father – Who's Gonna Get Fucked First?
Just look at that video. I wish my life was this cool. Everyone having a good time in the Atlanta sunshine, wearing all pink and brandishing guns that appear to have been liberated from a Time Crisis machine.
Awful Records are DIY as fuck. I've just about scratched the surface of all the music they've put out, but this tape is surely one of the best. It's filthy and fun and completely hypnotic. The beats are barely even there, Father's drowsy words sticking to them like skin on ribcage. The Awful crew are part of a certain strain of Atlanta rap minimalism, but they infuse it with so much more personality than anyone else.
I got to see Father along with Abra and KeithCharles Spacebar at Village Underground last month and it was pure flame emoji. Other than that I don't really have any memories associated with this record because I only put it on when I'm already too far gone.
4) iLoveMakonnen – Drink More Water 5
I love Makonnen because he does shit his own way. In 2015 he might have been expected to capitalise on the supernova hit that was 'Tuesday'. Instead he put out two low-key mixtapes that showed few signs of chasing success. The rumour is that Drake can't stand him, which might explain the lack of any OVO support, but Makonnen doesn't seem particularly bothered.
I'm sure he could make another hit if he wanted to. But he seems much more comfortable on the periphery than in the spotlight, making weird bedroom pop that sometimes threatens to cross over through killer hooks and sheer force of personality. 'Drink More Water 5' swerves rapidly between fun bangers and strange insular confessionals and somehow manages to make it all sound of a piece.
At Wireless this summer, Makonnen arrived onstage super late and sprinted through a bunch of his best-known songs. As he was coming off stage his tour manager tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew where he could get some weed. I didn't have any, nor did I know where he could get some. Which was a shame, as out of all the rappers on this list, Makonnen is the one I'd most like to chill with.
5) Lil Herb – Ballin Like I'm Kobe
If a lesser rapper had released a tape with this name, I might not have given it a second thought. Thankfully that wasn't the case. 'Ballin Like I'm Kobe' is no lazy basketball simile, but a reference to Lil Herb's late friend Jacobi Herron, gunned down in 2013. One of 422 Chicagoans killed that year. Herbo crouches over his tombstone on the tape's cover.
Drill music sometimes gets written off as one-dimensional, but try peddling that line once you've heard this tape, cinematic in both storytelling and production. Herb's delivery is a thing to behold – urgent, forceful and agile, carrying a hard-earned wisdom. Lyrically the tape sees Herb distancing himself from – but still concerned with – the inner-city gang violence that saw scene leader King Louie (now reportedly in a stable condition) shot in the head just the other day.
6) Shy Glizzy – For Trappers Only
I remember an article a few years back arguing that 'Illmatic' killed hip-hop. The main reason given was that Nas' use of multiple producers – combined with the album's incredible success – gave weight to the idea that a singular vision wasn't a necessary component of a great rap album. In certain respects, this is absolute rubbish. 'Illmatic' certainly sounds cohesive enough, as do countless other albums that might have been viewed as a 'too many cooks' scenario if released in the '80s.
But imagine if RZA didn't have the confidence to helm 'Enter The Wu-Tang' all on his own? If Dr. Dre had been trawling through his inbox (alright, mailbox) for beats rather than crafting 'The Chronic'? It doesn't bear thinking about.
All this preamble is basically a way of saying that the chemistry between one artist and a single producer can spark great results. Zaytoven handles all the production here, and the way his trap wizardry dovetails with Shy Glizzy's unique sing song cadence is a true joy. While there's no breakout cut like 'Funeral' or 'Awwsome' – two street hits so big that Glizzy was able to tap up A$AP Rocky, Jeezy and 2 Chainz for the remixes – this is a very, very solid tape.
7) YG, Blanco, & DB Tha General – California Livin
With DJ Mustard soundalikes clogging up the West Coast, 'California Livin' was a breath of fresh air, full of BBQ anthems that arrived just too late for summer.
From the Doggystyle-inspired cover art to the top drawer Cookin Soul production, it's a super fun throwback to the G-funk era. Given the success of YG's 'My Krazy Life', I'm surprised this thing didn't get more traction. I guess it's a pretty low-stakes affair, but it's a great party record that deserved way more attention.
8) Young Thug – Slime Season
Elton John's favourite rapper continued his run this year with some more fully-realised projects. 'Slime Season' was the best of the bunch, although the Lil Wayne-baiting 'Barter 6' ran it pretty close. Young Thug even opened 'Slime Season' with a Lil Wayne feature, and this was at the peak of their (admittedly weak) beef. That's a pretty weird/cool move.
Generally, Thugga is important because of how he says things rather than what he's saying. He's also expanding ideas of masculinity in rap, all without ever seeming too contrived. He's totally himself – it's just that he happens to be a sharp dressing extraterrestrial ATLien.
The first time I heard 'Slime Season' in full was while exploring Norwich city centre, only taking off my headphones to flirt with a girl in the comic shop. Then I found a cool Adventure Time mug. That was a good day.
Right, that's a wrap. Special mentions to BeatKing, Curren$y, Deniro Farrar, Ethereal, Katie Got Bandz, King Louie, Lil B & Chance The Rapper, Lil Bibby, Mic Terror, Migos, RJ & Choice, Tink, and Young Greatness. See you all in 2016 when Kanye finally drops SWISH and permanently alters the world's gravitational pull x