Slept-On Gems: 15 Incredible Albums That Might Not Make Most Year-End Lists
December 22, 2015 - 4:37 pm
15. Jadakiss, 'Top 5 Dead Of Alive'
Release Date: Nov. 20
Sandout Tracks: “Critical,” “Confetti,” “Jason”
The Yonkers emcee brings raw, flashy and trap sounds throughout TFDOA, a move that many weren’t ready to accept. The album starts off strong with the fiery intro “First 48,” and continues with the hilarious-yet-uninformed skit, “Shop Talk.” For his first album in six years, Jada can and will always stand on his own, but it’s great to see the crafted collision of hip-hop’s world of yesterday and today.
The Future-assisted “You Can See” is a balanced collab that will grab both fan bases while “Synergy” puts his core fans right in the midst of a familiar rap session with Styles P.
Sadly, some rap fans are embedded with so much loyalty to an artist that they don’t give others a chance or even worse, they don’t expect them to step out of the norm. Jada doesn’t deserve a petty listen, but a standing “O” should be warranted.
14. Scarface, 'Deeply Rooted'
Release Date: Sept. 4
Standout tracks: “God,” “Anything,” “Rooted”
The theme of broken hiatuses continued this year with Scarface’s release of Deeply Rooted. The southern legend returned after declaring his retirement in 2008, but dropped an album that is just as consistent as his 20+ career. Each track serves as a chapter in the book of his past, from “Dope Man Pushin” to “Do What I Do” with a scene-stealing Nas. The rapper’s somber sounds (and traditional beats) helps fans understand his mindset today without denouncing the movements that made him a legend.
True storytelling was hard to come by this year, since a majority of Billboard hits were all about the turn up. Like Face mentions on “God” with John Legend, “Some dollars in my pocket ain’t the topic, y’all need to stop it.” A true Aesop-like journey into the past will enlighten any listener more than a quick party record ever will.
13. Jamie Foxx, 'Hollywood: A Story of a Dozen Roses'
Release Date: May 15
Standout Tracks: "In Love By Now," "You Changed Me," "Ain't My Fault"
Yes, Jamie Foxx is still making albums and yeah, they’re pretty amazing. The singer-actor’s Hollywood is simply that. The sultry vibes help set a sensual aura that can be enjoyed through “Like a Drum,” featuring Wale and “Vegas Confessions.” Not all trips to Hollywood are expected to be a good time. For those moments, there’s the vulnerable, honest, autotune-free “Jumping Out The Window.” Filled with emotion, Jamie declares his love for a special someone he’s prepared to put it all on the line for tonight.
You would swear Jamie is trying to keep us in lounges with unwanted hookahs two-stepping in 6-inch heels, but the calls of lust (or love, depending on the feels) will convince you to ditch your Tinder date and head home with something real.
12. Ne-Yo, 'Non-Fiction'
Release Date: Jan. 27
Standout tracks: “Run,” Time of Our Lives,” Religious/Ratchet With Yo Friends (Interlude)”
Ne-Yo’s sixth album takes him to a level of story telling outside of his norm. Non-Fiction grabs the attention of those eager to hear the talented singer-songwriter conceptually tie an album together, but it’s easy to get lost in sauce when you’re trying to understand someone else’s feels. This is more than likely why the album wasn’t praised as much as his previous efforts.
11. Lianne La Havas, 'Blood'
Release Date: July 31
Standout Tracks: “Wonderful,” “Unstoppable,” “What You Don’t Do”
If love is a battlefield, Lianne La Havas shows us how easy it is to keep the peace. Her second album Blood isn’t as funk-inspired as her debut, but soulful chords on the parallels of love found and lost keep you in the groove. “Tokyo” reveals what happens when ambitious love misses its counterpart while “Unstoppable” holds the idea of a power couple attainable.
There are levels to love and they’re not all understood on the first go around. Now that the singer has scored a Grammy nomination, maybe the naysayers of love will open up their hearts.
10. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, 'Surf'
Release Date: May 28
Standout Tracks: “Sunday Candy,” “Warm Enough,” “Go”
Surf fits into the moments of the year when you weren’t happy, yet weren’t sad. It’s more of the organic ones, such as that one week where it didn’t rain during May or when you stole glances with that quirky girl at Afropunk. Donnie Trumpet, with Chance The Rapper, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr. and Nate Fox, pulls us into a variety hour of sorts with the extraordinary opener “Miracle” to the Big Sean and Jeremih assisted “Wanna Be Cool.”
Chance’s gang of lovable misfits gives the listener a variety of sounds, thus fulfilling their social experiment. The artist also got to play a fan favorite, “Sunday Candy,” for one of the biggest audiences on television, Saturday Night Live. If the performance didn’t catch you, then it looks like you might’ve missed the wave.
9. Joey Bada$$, 'b4.Da.$$'
Release Date: Jan. 20
Standout Tracks: “Big Dusty,” “Escape 120,” “Teach Me”
It’s not easy trying to explain the rules of life when no one is open to hearing the youth. The Brooklyn rapper’s debut is just that, a 20-year-old wise beyond his years speaking on his own prison-pipeline relationships with close friends, maintaining sanity through creativity so much so you have to replay every tune. Bada$$ takes the personal route on many of tracks, leaving the listener to nod in agreement.
Beats provided by Hit-Boy, DJ Premier, The Roots and his Pro-Era crew provided a healthy balance of Bada$$’s nostalgic tone but it’s understandable for those who get caught up in the 90’s very minimal haze.
Kanye said to listen to the kids of a reason, though.
8. Logic, The Incredible True Story
Release Date: Nov. 13
Standout Tracks: “Like Woah,” “City of Stars,” “Never Been”
Creative markers like skits, interludes and integral concepts helped make up hip-hop’s triumphant air. Logic joins the crowd with his sophomore effort, The Incredible True Story. The sci-fi journey helps you understand the Maryland native’s message: he doesn’t care if he sounds like “insert rapper here,” because he’s literally in another world. The spacey beats of “Like Woah” pair well with the blended lyrical love jam “Paradise” with a very underrated Jesse Boykins III.
Logic is still growing and has hit a level of brutal “f**k your opinion” honesty which isn’t bad at all if there isn’t a glass ceiling in his spaceship.
7. Chvrches, 'Every Open Eye'
Release Date: Sept. 25
Standout Tracks: "Leave a Trace," "Empty Threat," "Afterglow"
Lead singer Lauren Mayberry knew Chvrches wouldn’t fall into a sophomore slump. The band’s second album, Every Open Eye isn’t remotely far from their usual messages of love, perseverance and encouragement with synth beats, but seems to bring the listener to a point of clarity the band hasn’t achieved before. More instruments were used in Every Open Eye and the band worked together to formulate every confident song without any help from the outside.
The icy “Never Ending Circles” closes the gates to bullsh*t in a dwindling romance, as does “Down Side of Me” by pushing the singer to find meaning within doubt. Chvrches scored a No. 1 position on the Billboard Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts, respectively, but with a push of major pop stars (cough Adele, Taylor, Bieber) filing the mainstream, it’s a given Chvrches would be lost in the pop stratosphere.
6. Tamia, 'Love Life'
Release Date: June 9
Standout Tracks: “Love Falls Over Me,” “Nowhere,” “Sandwich And a Soda”
Growing up, there’s always that one family member outside of mom and your sisters you want to get love tips from. That person should be Tamia and her sixth album, Love Life. R&B jams often capture the moment of hello, the grind session, and goodbye, but Tamia proves love can last and be just as hot as it ever was.
“Sandwich and a Soda” keeps it real with a haunting, yet stimulating beat while other tips (tracks) focus on appreciation and joys of companionship (“Chaise Lounge”, “Like You Do.”)
Stability and maintaining love will always be more than sex. After all, the singer has the know-how: a nearly two-decade marriage to NBA star Grant Hill, beautiful kids and a creative mind.
5. Hamilton, 'Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording'
Release Date: Sept. 25
Standout Tracks: "Wait for It," "Alexander Hamilton," "My Shot"
The stories of American’s early presidents and heroes share similar stories, but none have been told like this. Creator and musical mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda helps lure non-Broadway lovers into Hamilton, a hip-hop spin on the life story of Alexander Hamilton. The two-part soundtrack (46 jams in total) infiltrates the sounds of the 90’s-2000’s and brought Miranda and his crew to easily flow into the urban world. The effortless artists nearly stole the show at BET’s Hip Hop Awards’ cypher series and opened up a new audience to Hamilton.
You don’t have to see the play to love the musical masterpiece of the soundtrack, but it will definitely entice your curiosity.
4. Tyrese, 'Black Rose'
Release Date: July 10
Standout tracks: “Prior To You,” “The Rest of Our Lives,” “I Still Do”
Tyrese proved everyone wrong who doubted the force of R&B with the help of social media. After declaring Black Rose would be his final solo album, he made sure to go out with a bang. His first single, “Shame,” was a hit and helped the album reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200. When you push away all of the PR stunts for Black Rose (like swimming in a pool in a velour suit because Will Smith wanted him to), what lies beneath is a solid album that showcases the singer’s ability to bring the groove back to the debatably soul-less genre.
The ballads with Brandy (“The Rest of Our Lives”) and Chrisette Michelle (“Don’ Wanna Look Back”) show growth within embattled relationships and hope for the future. A few albums on this list share the main topic of love and trust, a move many of us just aren’t ready for.
3. Jill Scott, 'Woman'
Release Date: July 24
Standout Tracks: “Wild Cookie,” “Beautiful Love,” “Fool’s Gold”
Yes, we’re beating a dead horse here, but how many of your friends gave Jill Scott’s extraordinary album a listen this year? Her fifth studio album, perfectly titled Woman, is all the elements of funk, soul, jazz and belting the truth (we all steal recipes off the internet, don’t front).
Exceptional loving given to you by you is the overall theme of Ms. Scott’s eloquent LP. Sensual, candlelit piano riffs flow through tracks like “Prepared” while modern blues can be attributed to the stand out track and lead single, “Fool’s Gold.” The nighttime lullaby, “Jahraymecofasola" helps round out an album full of classic R&B influence while still holding onto the sassiness that made us fall in love with Ms. Scott in the first place.
2. Lupe Fiasco, 'Tetsuo and Youth'
Release Date: Jan. 20
Standout Tracks: “Mural,” “They. Resurrect. Over. New.” “Adoration of the Magi”
Chicago’s own Lupe Fiasco released the album nearly everyone wanted him to make: an abundance of lyrical gold with sarcastic truth bombs about America’s ugly past and present. But to the rapper’s dismay, there was no Grammy nomination for Tetsuo and Youth.
Regardless of lost nominations and “L’s” the rapper sarcastically gave himself on Twitter, fans enjoyed the LP. Those who vied for The Cool Lupe essentially got him. A focused Lupe points at the troubled school–to-prison pipeline (“Prisoner 1 & 2”), an issue the nation is finally taking a stand on. He also reminds listeners why he’s the king of symbolisms and thoughtful references with “Dots & Lines,” with religious and philosophical odes that would make any truth seeker swoon. The electric bluegrass feel is also a plus.
Lupe‘s raps on Tetsuo & Youth were well worth the wait. Between fights with labels and the every-changing sounds of rap music today, the rapper has the best vote there is: the people’s choice.
1. Wale, 'The Album About Nothing'
Release Date: Mar. 31
Standout Tracks: "The Intro About Nothing," "The Need To Know," "The Matrimony"
Wale returns to the familiarity of life lessons seen on his debut album and beloved Seinfeld mixtapes with the release of The Album About Nothing. Like the classic show, the LP was about almost everything: childhood memories, fights, love, friendships, breakups, and self-loathing. You know, the things we as millennials deal with on the daily. Wale paired up with best human being, Jerry Seinfeld, to candidly discuss whatever came to mind. The beauty of it all was the D.C. rapper’s ability to channel his tracks with their honest conversations.
In the realms of great gems from both entertainers, Wale can come across as jaded, yet confident and sometimes a villain. Whether or not that was his intention is up for debate, but the ability to draw those talking points shows his elevation. It may not be what we all want, but that shouldn’t matter since it’s his journey.
Listeners are pulled into Wale’s world with life hacks like “The White Shoes” (and a very fitting video), familiarity with “The Bloom”—an attribution to his “Ambition Girl” tracks—and peace of mind with “The God Smile.”
When asked why the album wasn’t as received as well as he hoped during another clap-worthy The Breakfast Club interview, the rapper expressed it wasn’t pushed the right way. “If it was Kevin Hart, it would have been received a lot better,” he said in October. “There’s been a lot of talk amongst the people in the industry that the album could’ve been something more special.”
It’s easy to say that the rapper gets in his own way since he’s very vocal about his career. His honesty and optimism seems to pour into the minds of listeners and can prevent them from taking in the full message. All in all, The Album About Nothing is a standout in the rapper’s discography. It’s lyrical, creative and at the end of the day, it’s essentially Wale. What’s wrong with that?