The critical consensus is that Kendrick Lamar made a masterpiece. Sometimes consensus happens for good reason.
Depression and self-doubt are difficult subjects to address in pop music, and Lamar wrote about both with candor and humor. It’s an album that plays like a novel, with a title that nods to Harper Lee and Tupac Shakur. President Obama announced that “How Much A Dollar Cost,” the album’s Miles Davis-meets-Radiohead centerpiece, was his favorite song of 2015. “Alright” became a protest anthem. The record is a juggernaut. If there was any better release this year, I didn’t hear it.
Many of Kendrick Lamar’s collaborators scored big in 2015 as well. Ronald Bruner Jr., Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner), Bilal, Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison), Terrace Martin, and Robert Glasper all had a tremendous year. It was more than simply a case of the rising tide lifting all boats. To an outsider, it felt like an extended circle of long-time running partners had all hit their stride in synch.
Dig on in, and here’s to more ear-tickling, brain-massaging sounds in 2016.
1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dawg Entertainment)
2. Thundercat, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)
3. Adele, 25 (Columbia / Sony)
4. GoldLink, And After That, We Didn’t Talk (Soulection)
5. The Foreign Exchange, Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey (Foreign Exchange Music)
6. A.D. TeamFishkale, Darkness Before the Dawn (bandcamp)
7. Faith No More, Sol Invictus (Reclamation Recordings)
8. Watsky, All You Can Do: Live from the Regency (Steel Wool Media)
9. Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder)
10. Leon Bridges, Coming Home (Columbia / Sony)
11. FKA twigs, M3LL155X (Young Turks / Beggars Group)
12. Bilal, In Another Life (eOne / Purpose Music Group)
13. Dominique Leone, San Francisco (bandcamp)
14. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone (Motown / Universal)
15. Aramis, Sleight of Hand (bandcamp)
16. Jamie xx, In Colour (Young Turks / Beggars Group)
17. Squeeze, Cradle to the Grave (Virgin EMI / Universal)
18. Sha Bless, 361 (Syrius Entertainment)
19. Dizz1, In Sickness and in Health (Tru Thoughts)
20. Animal Eyes, Ursus (bandcamp)
21. Paul Siemer, Scrap (CD Baby)
22. Azad Right, For the Hopeful (Azad Right LLC)
23. David Bowie, Blackstar (single) (ISO Records / Sony)
24. Medusa the Gangsta Goddess, Whrs the DJ Booth? (One Wise Studio)
On Da One
25. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)