15 Amazing Hip-Hop Albums From 2015, So Far (Video)

2015 is not even at its halfway mark, and already has proven to arguably be even more exciting than last year. Seemingly, we are living in the era of surprise. Drake dropped If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late on a whim, Kendrick Lamar advanced the release of To Pimp A Butterfly to a Sunday night, and Kanye West has already warned the masses that whatever his seventh album is to be called, only he will call the shots of when it is available to be heard.

Major label artists are seizing the reigns from their backers, while independent labels are jockeying for a level playing field through cohesive, topical releases. To say it has been a stretch to find Hip-Hop worthy of support (whether as a free download or $15 CD) in 2015 feels inaccurate for nearly any fan. “Like we always do ’bout this time,” Ambrosia For Heads is shining a light on some releases (all of which happen to be retail album in 2015’s case) worth celebrating. Presented in the order of their release, here are 15 Amazing Albums From 2015, as of June:

Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$

Joey Bada$$’s studio debut album fulfilled a personal trajectory since the early 2010s. The Brooklyn, New York MC presented B4.Da.$$ on his twentieth birthday, the perfect album that held the freshness and energy of youth, balanced with the wisdom of a man who’s experienced plenty, and aims to prove he is here to stay. A Top 5 debut, the album served as an homage to mid-1990s album cuts from borough big brothers such as Bootcamp Clik, Blahzay Blahzay, and Group Home. With Jo-Vaughn Virgie Scott’s illuminating perspectives, and crowd-commanding routines, the album was a coming out party for Statik Selektah’s production distinctions, and Pro Era’s range. Bada$$ helped get the year started, cleverly releasing his careful debut into the dog days of winter, allowing his mixtape champions and newcomers alike to take a little “Piece Of Mind” and stay fed on “Curry Chicken.”

See: “Like Me” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

Without an album since 2012’s sequel to Food & Liquor, Lupe Fiasco forged ahead greatly with Tetsuo & Youth. With a largely new production ensemble, Lu’ returned to complex lyrical form. Dense in its subject matter T&Y employed some of those stylings that made Wasalu Jaco so unique a decade ago. Moreover, this work—pulling from anime, the violence epidemic of Chicago, and simple Everyman issues liberated Lu’ from the confines of concept albums. In many ways, T&Y invited all the skeptics that were cool on the MC after The Cool, back to the party. The album brought its own sound, perspective, and mood. A blend of nostalgic and forward-leaning, this album celebrated Lupe Fiasco’s distinct qualities, vision, and voice beyond his early benchmarks.

See: “Madonna [And Other Mothers In The Hood]” featuring Nikki Jean

Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise

For his third studio album, Big Sean found his pocket. Sean Anderson’s first #1 LP may not have the buzz of his 2011 debut, but it is arguably a much richer listen. The G.O.O.D. Music sensation secured another cohesive sound, despite a rotating team of producers. Moreover, the Detroit, Michigan MC threaded the needle with thematic subject matter, tons of bravado, and an ear for making hits. This may not be Big Sean’s magnum opus, but as Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and J. Cole made giant leaps in the last six months, the Finally Famous juggernaut proves he also belongs in the most elite class of 2010s MCs.

See: “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)”:

Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul

Less than four months after releasing 36 Seasons, Ghostface Killah returned with another album. The Staten Island, New York MC is as prolific as at any point in his career, churning out material for indie labels that feels anything but a la carte. Tony Starks teamed with Toronto, Ontario Jazz/Hip-Hop band BADBADNOTGOOD for Sour Soul. Brooding, melodic, edgy, this album carries the charms of G.F.K.’s 2000s solo catalog, almost effortlessly. Food, cornball rappers, and jux drive the conversation, as Ghostface Killah makes a strong case for 45 year-old rappers that will eat your lunch lyrically and literally, with an attitude to boot.

See: “Ray Gun” featuring DOOM

Fashawn – The Ecology

After nearly six years, Fashawn followed up his massively acclaimed (yet massively slept-on) debut Boy Meets World. The Fresno, California MC returned well dressed for success, with Nas’ backing and DJ Khalil behind the boards. While the response was still a bit tepid, this is a stone in the sand. In the moments without the profile, the 26 year-old still seems well beyond his years in perspective, introspect, and gravity. As anticipated, the album addresses poverty, fatherhood, and ambition, along with all of the updates expected from between the age of 21 and 26. With DJ Exile still close by on the album, this one did not disappoint lovers of the debut, yet still stretched for more.

See: “Higher”

Mello Music Group – Persona

At a time when the Rap compilation seems antiquated, Mello Music Group fights the good fight. Persona showcases the label’s extensive roster and affiliates, but welcomes in guests to the cipher. yU & Nottz made a chilly head-nodder from the DMV in the dramatic “Homicide,” while Blackalicious’ Gift Of Gab re-opens his lyrical clinic alongside France’s L’Orange on “Circles Around Circles.” The show-stopper, however, remains Phonte and Oddisee’s “Requiem.” The collaboration yields catharsis after 2014-2015’s heartbreaking trends surrounding police brutality, racial profiling, and a difficult period of time for the history books and teaching our children about the world they’re growing up in. This collaboration transcends marketing and collaboration, and truly feels like an album.

See: Phonte and Oddisee’s “Requiem” featuring Tamisha Waden:

DJ EFN – Another Time

From the same city that DJ Khaled calls home, DJ EFN is another veteran, gifted in assembling meaningful collaborations. After decades of national and global mixtapes, the Crazy Hood co-founder released Another Time, which is exactly what the LP felt like it was from. With contemporary stars such as Stalley, Troy Ave, Blu, Gunplay, and ¡Mayday! appearing, EFN also called upon artists not as currently prolific, such as Kam, O.C., King T, and McGruff. Tailor-made, this album executes creative concepts track-by-track, with the feeling that all of these artists worked together, just as they would on their own albums. EFN’s own sounds, as well as beats by DJ Premier, Buckwild, and others afforded this independent release with a ton of mass appeal. Lovers of beats, rhymes, swagger, and substance can all find common ground in this extensive work. Heads all dream of architecting a dream album with their heroes, and in the case of Miami’s EFN, he did it to death.

See: “Paradise” featuring Redman, Talib Kweli and Wrekonize:

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

With arguably the biggest follow-up album pressure of a Rap artist in the 2010s, Kendrick Lamar delivered with a dunk. To Pimp A Butterfly is as dense of a high-profile album as Heads can find. Compton, California’s latest superstar seemingly ignored hits in his sophomore major label LP. Instead, K-Dot forced listeners into his world. A powerful commentary on race, self-love, and creativity, TPAB steers its own wheel. The Grammy Award-winning TDE star even released the album early. The shy, humble kid embraces his place as Jay Z, Eminem, and Lil Wayne’s heir as a supremely lyrical rapper, who can make the mainstream yield to him. The only guiding force in Kendrick Duckworth’s latest work appears to be Tupac Shakur. Although they had different relationships with fame, fortune, and foes, Kendrick looked closely to another twenty-something taking on the world, and seemed to still come up with his own poignant takeaways, 20 years later.

See: “King Kunta”:

J-Live – His Own Self

In the 2010s, J-Live’s “triple-threat” status has come at a cost. The Brooklyn, New York native raps, he produces, and he DJs—really, really well. However, in an age where associations sell albums, Justus Allah is a lot lower profile than he was 15 years ago, kickin’ it with DJ Premier, Prince Paul, and 88-Keys. J’s seventh full-length, His Own Self, celebrates that self-sufficiency. Moreover, the former English teacher proves that he can make incredibly dope music about the Everyman experience. When rapping about rapping and loving Rap seems stale, J-Live finds new ground. This work pops, much like Vampire Hunter J’s first four LPs. At 39 years old, J-Live has been one of the most reliable voices for music that relates to the human experience, presented at a deeply-polished level.

See: “Pay It Forward”:

Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

Since 2011’s Dr. Lecter self-release, Action Bronson appeared hard-pressed to baptize the world with his style. Humorous, arrogant, self-deprecating, and highly descriptive, the 31-year old Queens, New York native had been giving the world various doses of his style, through acclaimed freebie mixtapes, a joint project with Statik Selektah, and a major label EP. Mr. Wonderful emerged, and pancaked the notion of re-treads. Instead, Bam Bam Bronson broke his own cycle, and celebrated his lyrical gifts, while looking forward, rather than back to the ’90s NYC underground. Bronson’s first Top 10 charter, this LP was psychedelic, whimsical, and substantial. Mark Ronson, Oh No, and Noah “40” Shebib brought Bronson out of his corner, while Party Supplies and Alchemist anchored this work as a creative step away from the past, but still in the right direction.

See: “Baby Blue” featuring Chance The Rapper:

Rapper Big Pooh & Apollo Brown – Words Paint Pictures

Arguably, Rapper Big Pooh was the most affected Little Brother member since the break-up. While Phonte and 9th Wonder found new niches, Thomas Jones has seemed stuck in a creative mud at times. Always prolific, Pooh’s musings seemingly missed mass appeal, aside from 2005’s Sleepers. That changed after a decade. Teaming with Detroit, Michigan’s Apollo Brown, and his Mello Music Group, Pooh appeared to be in a rapper think-tank. His Words Paint Pictures nine-song EP pulls Pooh away from production pariahs, and allows that same keen insight, pendulum-like delivery, and charm heard in his role on The Minstrel Show to grow, evolve, and be not a slot receiver, but a clutch-performer.

See: “Augmentation”:

Wale – The Album About Nothing

Rarely does an artist return to his mixtape roots as overtly (and successfully) as Wale. Almost seven years removed from The Mixtape About Nothing, Wale embraces the “Seinfeld” theme at a much higher point in his career. No longer Mark Ronson’s protege (or even Rick Ross’, for that matter), Wale has proven to be a #1 artist capable of finding the mainstream without stripping his music of message or mental fiber. The “Nike Boots” formula of 2007 still works, especially when looking at “The White Shoes.” Wale’s gift for extended metaphor, multiple-entendre, and bridging something he cares about with something his fans care about is marvelous. The second consecutive #1 is a fast reminder of Wale’s range and versatility, and fulfills a promise he made to fans when he was perceived as humble and hungry. With this low-profile thematic work, those attractive qualities return in action, not words.

See: “The White Shoes”

Oddisee – The Good Fight

For 15 years, Oddisee has been plugging away at incredible music. He’s been a producer for others. He’s released compelling instrumental projects. He introduced an exciting crew in Diamond District, and assisted a legion of label-mates at Mello Music Group. However, The Good Fight plays like a sum to all of those parts. The DMV native made an album that captures his essence, his greatness, and relates to all creatives (take “That’s Love” and “Belong To The World” for instance). Almost entirely self-sufficient, T.G.F. projects Amir Mohammed el Khalifa’s impact, beyond genre. As Hip-Hop artists step beyond simply Rap, Oddisee proved that he’s on the front-lines. Like Skyzoo, Blu, and others, Oddy’ proves to be an early 2000s hopeful making good on the promise after years of dues-paying. With J. Cole already in the District’s corner, expect this to be another staple on the playlist of Rap’s well-heeled movers and shakers.

See: “Counter Clockwise”:

A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. ASAP

After two-and-a-half years away, A$AP Rocky returns refined for his sophomore major label effort. At. Long. Last. ASAP stripped away the emulation that some criticized the Harlem, New York twenty-something for during the first go-round. This time, Rakim Mayers seemed to find his own lane, a druggy, neon corridor somewhere between Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and the trap. With Danger Mouse in the production ensemble, A$AP still provided a bass-driven sounscape that rattled the trunk, the mind, and the peer group of Rap. This time, when he worked with Juicy J, Bun B, Mos Def and Kanye West, it’s no longer the kid calling upon his influences as much as one visionary seeking out others. Like Kid Cudi’s entrance in the late 2000s, A$AP Rocky seems to have revitalized his section of Rap with a coolness combined with a synthetic sound.

See: “L$D (Love x $ex x Dreams)”:

Dizzy Wright – The Growing Process

Before we reap the rewards of growth, it often brings its own sets of trials, tribulation and pain. The process also allows for some fun as we experience new things, new people and learn about ourselves. Dizzy Wright’s The Growing Process tackles all of these themes and more on an album that is both metaphor and demonstration of the process about which he speaks. From the outset, Dizzy makes it clear he’s been going through some things, venting about fairweather fans and lack of “love” for his more substantive music, on “Higher Learning.” Without pausing for a break he delves right into some of that message music, along with Big K.R.I.T. and Tech N9ne, on “God Bless America.” Wright also showcases the side of him that is a loving father, rapping a tender song of love and support to his baby girl on “Daddy Daughter Relationship.” While growing up is hard to do, it’s not always serious and Dizzy serves up plenty of reminders of the lighter times in life, through songs like “Good Vibes” and “Floyd Money Mayweather.” As with life, The Growing Process is all about balance.

See: “False Reality”

Related: Ambrosia For Heads’ 14 Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2014 (Food For Thought)