Hip-Hop’s Shining Moments of 2015: The Big, The Small, & The Revolutionary

Each and every year, there is no shortage of moments in time which crystallize the development of Hip-Hop’s growth, and 2015 is no different. Over the course of the previous 12 months, the culture played larger-than-life roles in film, health, politics, television, and of course, music history. Here are just a few of our favorites, in no particular order.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly became the album of a generation: Without a doubt, Kendrick Lamar set a new bar for contemporary, mainstream Hip-Hop albums with the March release of To Pimp a Butterfly. ‘Tis the season for year-end lists, and Heads are sure to see the album named in most, if not all, 2015 music recaps. “Alright,” arguably the LP’s most influential single, was touted as a serious contender for a “modern day Black anthem” by a handful of outlets, and for good reason. In addition to its searingly poignant lyrics about issues such as police brutality, the song became the go-to chant for many rallies and protests over the year, including the one below in which marchers can be clearly heard singing “we gon’ be alright.” As a whole, To Pimp a Butterfly has been considered by many to be the Compton, California MC’s magnum opus, a transcendent piece of music that spawned a history-making 11 nominations from the Recording Academy, setting the stage for Hip-Hop to dominate the 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony early next year.

Jadakiss & Styles P made serious moves to make communities healthier: In late summer, a series of new juice bars opening up in New York neighborhoods started to earn considerable attraction. Juice bars are nothing new in the quickly gentrifying city, but the Juices for Life chain stood out because of two of its owners, rappers Jadakiss and Styles P. The Yonkers natives wanted to do something to address the access to healthy food in their community, and invested in juice bars. In so doing, they used Hip-Hop’s visibility to bring a very serious and often ignored issue to light, combining star power with tangible progress. Check out some behind-the-scenes footage featuring the two MCs below.

Straight Outta Compton redefined the canon of Hip-Hop cinema: As perhaps the most dominant Hip-Hop story of the summer, the N.W.A. biopic generated record-breaking numbers, out-earning any other music-based biopic in film history. Furthermore, it became the all-time highest-grossing film in the United States for a Black director, giving F. Gary Gray a permanent place in cinematic lore. And, while official announcements for next year’s Academy Awards ceremony have yet to be made, it is hard for Heads to imagine Straight Outta Compton not being nominated, despite the apparent snub from the Golden Globes. And, outside of the film’s financial successes, it also received nearly universal acclaim, with fans and critics both applauding the storytelling and the acting (particularly that of O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Ice Cube’s son). And, of course, Heads were treated to a seemingly endless cycle of N.W.A.-related promotions, including one particularly memorable interview between the film’s cast and Kendrick Lamar, which can be revisited below.

Chance the Rapper made SNL history with the help of Hip-Hop: Just this month, Chance the Rapper became the first independently signed artist to perform on the iconic sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. While certainly not the first Rapper to hit the SNL stage, there is something powerful about the first indie artist coming from a Hip-Hop background. It speaks to the hard work and trailblazing attitude always associated with Hip-Hop culture, and add to that Chance being one of the foremost representatives of a younger generation of Heads, and the influence is undeniable. In fact, television in general had a very big Hip-Hop year, with Raury becoming the first artist to perform on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, Pusha T performing on The Daily Show, Kendrick Lamar as the last artist to perform on The Colbert Report and the first to perform on Colbert’s The Late Show (in addition to his rousing performance on Austin City Limits), and an appearance from Eminem in the least expected television show of the year.


Eminem and Stephen Colbert’s hilarious public-access television takeover: If there was a funniest Hip-Hop moment of the year list, this would take first, second, and third place. Earlier in the year, Stephen Colbert wrapped up his tenure as the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to fill the shoes of David Letterman as the host of CBS’ The Late Show. Along with the usual national ad campaign, the show also incorporated some seriously DIY tactics in creating buzz, and once again, Hip-Hop’s ability to engage target demographics was employed in the form of Colbert’s stint as host of a Monroe, Michigan local television program called Only in Monroe. Without any prior notice, publicity, or cryptic social media post, he appeared on set and brought in Michigan native Marshall Mathers as his special guest. As Eminem Heads already knew, the Detroit MC has a serious funny streak in him, and the two unlikely cohorts created a weird, quirky, and incredibly ridiculous moment in television. Re-watch it and thank us later.

Killer Mike x Bernie Sanders became one of the most Hip-Hop stories in politics: For many, it is hard to remember the biggest marriage of Hip-Hop and political campaigns since Diddy’s 2004 movement, “Vote or Die.” Of course, President Barack Obama is for many the Hip-Hop President, but this year, it was a story taking place outside of the White House that most powerfully showcased what happens when Hip-Hop’s influence is used in getting out a message to voters. As the presidential campaign continues to dominate national headlines, candidate Bernie Sanders has become the favored choice for millions, particularly young Americans. Rapper Killer Mike also became a very vocal supporter, putting his money where his mouth is and delivering a fiery speech for the Vermont senator at a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, the two released an hour-long conversation the two had about the most important social and political issues facing the country today. The pairing of these two outspoken Americans has left many Heads feeling the Bern.

J. Cole became the first artist in recent memory to go platinum with no features: Released last year, J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a critical and commercial success, leading many to call it his best work yet. It spawned a hugely successful international tour and an HBO series documenting the travels, trials, and triumphs of the North Carolina MC and producer in the lead-up to his homecoming performance. Most noteworthy of its accolades, however, was the April announcement that the LP had received platinum status from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making it not only J. Cole’s first to sell more than one-million copies, but also the first time in recent memory that an album featuring no guest appearances earned the Platinum recognition from the RIAA. At the time of the story’s breaking, many outlets reported that no other artist had achieved platinum status without help from guest appearances in 25 years, while others pointed to LL Cool J’s 1988 album Radio as being the most recent to do so. Either way, 2014 Forest Hills Drive helped make Hip-Hop a ruling force on the charts in 2015. The album is also nominated for Best Rap Album at February’s Grammys.

forest hills drive

D’Angelo & Bobby Seale had one of the most inspiring conversations of the year: In June, the New York Times ran a lengthy feature starring D’Angelo and Black Panther Party founding member Bobby Seale, and inter-generational look at race relations, American politics, and just all-around knowledge. The Black Messiah singer and historical icon were also captured on camera, but it’s the richly layered and no-holds-barred conversation in written form that made this a stand-out moment of 2015.

Yasiin Bey Reflected on the Paris attacks & brought it all home: The tragedy of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November spawned countless tributes from millions of people around the world, but the one which connected to Heads most directly could have been the one from Yasiin Bey (f/k/a Mos Def). The Brooklyn MC and practicing Muslim released a 20-minute audio statement in which he not only acknowledged the sadness of the attacks, but also drew a moving parallel to the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Cleveland, Ohio boy shot down by police last year. Listen below to one of 2015’s most touching Hip-Hop inspired reflections.

Black Lives Matter helped make a social movement a household name: There is likely no bigger domestic issue facing Americans in 2015 than the conversation about police brutality. The frequent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has become an ongoing statistic that has reverberated with such strength that it’s become a point of debate from presidential candidates, pundits, everyday citizens, and celebrities. In terms of Hip-Hop, the efforts of stars like J. Cole, Talib Kweli, Killer Mike, and others have made it an issue inextricably linked to much of the influence in today’s music, with many opting to address the idea that black lives matter through song. Although the driving tragedies behind the Black Lives Matter movement coming to the forefront of political and social discourse are incredibly sad and maddening, the Hip-Hop generation has much to be proud of for its powerful roles in representing a generation’s quest for justice and love. And, as Heads will likely never forget, Kendrick Lamar’s bold performance at the BET Awards brought some really powerful imagery that encapsulated the Black Lives Matter movement for a national audience.

black lives matter

As with any year before it, 2015 also brought its moments of great losses in Hip-Hop. In February, legendary Death Row Records founder Suge Knight was charged with murder and attempted murder after a fatal hit-and-run accident involving the vehicle he was driving claimed the life of Heavyweight Records co-founder and longtime friend of Knight’s, Terry Carter. Seriously injured was activist and filmmaker Cle Sloan. We share our deepest condolences with the families of Carter and Sloan and with Knight’s family, who are surely suffering throughout the ordeal, as well. Another great blow was dealt to music in 2015 when we lost the irreplaceable Sean Price. The longtime Brownsville, Brooklyn MC passed away in his sleep in August, and his giant presence is one that won’t easily be forgotten. While far from the only losses Hip-Hop has dealt with as a community, these incidents are indicative of the far-reaching ways in which the family of Hip-Hop has unified as one to help in the healing process.

As we begin to look towards 2016, we at Ambrosia for Heads continue to stand in awe of Hip-Hop’s enduring ability to challenge, inspire, and entertain us. What do you look forward to most next year?

Related: N.W.A. are 100 Miles & Runnin’…Into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame