This year was definitely an eventful one in hip-hop. There was some good with the bad, and we wouldn't have it any other way for this mercurial genre.
Like in previous years, the south and west coast ruled the hip-hop conversation. Kendrick Lamar and his mentor Dr. Dre returned with two of the best albums of the year. Future ruled the summer and topped the season off with a collaboration that immediately steered the conversation.
Miley Cyrus saw what little cred she had torpedoed and Meek Mill went from Man of the Moment to the butt of all jokes within months.
It's a lot to keep up with, so here's the Best and Worst Hip-Hop Moments of 2015.
Worst: Hip-Hop Gets Mad at Vince Staples for Criticizing the '90s
As if Nas didn’t drop Nastradamus or Diddy didn’t brick with Forever, hip-hop conservatives have this idea that the ’90s was this flawless era. In an an interview with Time magazine, Vince Staples' frank rhetoric about the "Golden Era of Hip-Hop, infuriated rap purists. The California rhymer felt the '90s was overrated and that he was more influenced by Bow Wow, but his comments didn’t go over too well. “The ’90s get a lot of credit, I don’t really know why,” he said. “Biggie and 2Pac, those are the staples of the ’90s, I think that’s why they get the golden era credit.”
It was an innocuous quote that led to him trading jabs on Twitter for more than a few weeks. Staples, who released Summertime ’06, one of the finest hip-hop albums in 2015, was suddenly at odds with a loud fraction of rap fans and N.O.R.E, who called him out on Twitter. This was the same fanbase that criticized Joey Bada$$ for sounding too ‘90s.
Best: 'What a Time to Be Alive' Brings Drake and Future Together
Future was on an impressive streak with the south’s hottest producers behind him. Drake was still on top after Meek Mill sabotaged his career. The two were in each other’s orbit, but it was a surprise that a collaboration mixtape like What A Time To Be Alive came to fruition. As expected, WTATBA debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and became Future’s second char-topper after DS2. It wasn’t a unanimous success, though; WTATBA didn’t go gold yet and its 81 percent second-week sales drops is one of the hugest in hip-hop history. However, “what a time” is a common phrase because of this project.
Worst: R.I.P. Sean Price and The Jacka
Sadly, one of this year’s major deaths came from gun violence. The Jacka, a respected Bay Area rhymer, was shot to death in East Oakland last February. Born Dominic Newton, the Jacka rose to prominence as a member of the ’90s crew Mob Figaz before standing on his own in 2005’s The Jack Artist. He was 37 years old.
Another death the broke the hearts of many rap fans was the untimely passing of Sean Price in August. Known as a member of the Boot Camp Clik, Sean P (aka Ruck of Heltah Skeltah) became known as one of the most lyrically muscular rhymers to touch the mic. He died in his sleep at the age of 43. Both rappers will be sorely missed.
Best: Kendrick Lamar Releases 'To Pimp a Butterfly'
D’Angelo finally released Black Messiah because he felt that he needed to make a statement during what was a tumultuous year for Black America. Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly is the hip-hop equivalent in two ways: It was a liberationist’s manifesto drawn from a period of deep hurt, and it mixed past influences (mainly funk and jazz) to create a cross-generational stew. Because TPAB came from an artist as visible and renowned as Lamar, it became a moment.
Worst: Drake Destroys Meek Mill in Rap Feud
Rap beef in 2015 starts on Twitter. In July, the hip-hop world collectively gasped as Meek Mill accused Drake of not writing his own rhymes. This is a grave accusation not only because that’s severely frowned upon, but also because Drizzy is undeniably the biggest hitmaker in hip-hop.
So Drake responded in kind. He released the jab-hook combo of “Charged Up” and “Back to Back.” Meek Mill responded with “Wanna Know,” which succeeded in nothing but inadvertently launching a petition against Funkmaster Flex and putting the nail in the coffin. It was a huge disappointment because Meek Mill came up in Philadelphia's battle rap circuit.
It was a weak beef. Drake finished him off by performing OVO Fest with a slideshow of Meek Mill memes backing him. In 2015, you can win a rap battle even if you may not write your own rhymes, as long as the internet backs you up.
Best: Nicki Minaj Calling Out Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus was a big reason for the joylessness at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The skits were unfunny and the entire thing ended up being promo for her free album. What’s telling is how the highlight of the night came at her expense. Days earlier in a New York Times interview, Cyrus made comments where she condescendingly poked at Nicki Minaj's criticism against black women’s representation in videos. Cyrus' answer was spurred by how Minaj thought “Anaconda” was snubbed for Video of the Year at the VMAs.
The Queen Barbz read that piece and didn't like the comments. So while accepting a moonman trophy at the VMAs, Minaj called Cyrus. “And now back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press -- Miley, what’s good?” she seethed. Cameras caught Cyrus visibly shaken. In two sentences, Minaj made two things clear: She’s a black woman and don’t ever forget that she’s from South Jamaica, Queens.
Worst: A$AP Yams Passes Away
Nobody could question A$AP Yams' dedication to hip-hop culture, whether as a businessman, a curator or a fan. That's why it was a terrible loss when he passed away from an accidental overdose back in January. He was just 26 years old. The visionary leader founded A$AP Mob, the A$AP Rocky-fronted collective that blew up in 2012. After months of griefs and tributes, Rocky finally released his sophomore album, At. Long. Last. A$AP, which doubled as a tribute to his fallen brother.
Best: Kanye West Announces His Presidential Run in 2020
The best part of the 2015 Video Music Awards was Kanye West’s Vanguard Award acceptance speech. It was an off-the-cuff speech that shimmied self-reflection and incoherence. Then he ended his monologue with a bomb: “And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.” West did admit he smoked some weed beforehand. But Yeezy lives under the influence of his own hype, which is why a Kanye 2020 campaign attempt isn’t an absurd idea.
Worst: TIDAL Struggles to Gain Subscribers
Jay Z spent a large part of his career being lauded for his artistic and business acumen. But this year was one of the few times he truly shot himself in the foot. TIDAL’s altruistic intentions was to steer power and profitability back to the artist. The spring press announcement — attended by share owners Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kanye West, Alicia Keys and others — inadvertently said, “Hey. Please help make us richer.” TIDAL has since struggled in between getting drubbed by Apple Music and only recently getting 1 million subscribers. Rumors say even Jay Z is looking for a way out.
Best: Dr. Dre Returns With Final Album 'Compton'
It’s rare that the soundtrack and film are held in similar regard. Prince's 1984 film Purple Rain doesn’t work if the soundtrack isn't a classic. Waiting to Exhale’s soundtrack is far more essential than the film. You could say Boomerang accomplished that same balance, but even that doesn’t hold a candle to the significance of Compton and Straight Outta Compton.
It looked like a severe undersell that Dr. Dre’s final album doubles as a soundtrack, yet it ended up matching the film scope. And it also bears mentioning that this is a superb album. Compton took us through the mortal streets of Los Angeles (K.Dot rhyming his ass off on “Genocide” helps) to the notepad of a multimillionaire brand staring from a distance.
BONUS: Check out the 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2015