Drake has never been more prophetic than when he declared on his 2014 single, “0-100/The Catch-up,” that “We already got spring 2015 poppin’.” He was referring to his October’s Very Own labelmates, but he could well have been talking about hip-hop as a whole.
After a year that saw few high-profile rap releases, 2015 already appears to have surpassed it. Drake put out a mixtape in February that broke the Internet and is currently prepping an album, Kanye West finally looks ready to follow up “Yeezus,” and three of the most talented young rappers currently working released new albums in the span of one week.
Kendrick Lamar, 27, has been near the top of the list of best rappers in the world ever since 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” a remarkable record that followed Lamar through a day in his hometown of Compton, Calif. He toured the festival circuit, rapped a few guest verses, and began the daunting task of following up an album that is already considered an all-time great.
With his new record “To Pimp a Butterfly,” released a week earlier than expected on March 15, Lamar did the only thing that one can do when following up a classic — make an album that is impossible to compare to its predecessor. The album is a remarkable piece of work: dense and difficult, although ultimately incredibly rewarding. While “good kid” leaned toward more traditional beats and features, “Butterfly” goes off the wall with Flying Lotus and jazz fusion influences that blend in with one another seamlessly. One song begins as another ends, and before you know it, nearly 79 minutes have sped by.
The overarching theme is a response to the perceived increase in race-based violence and conflict of the past few years. It is important and necessary.
Best listened to as one body of work, Lamar ties “Butterfly” together by revealing bits and pieces of his own poem at the end of almost every track. The full poem is spoken on the final track, “Mortal Man,” and the unifying theme is revealed.
If you have not listened to “To Pimp a Butterfly” yet, stop what you are doing and listen to “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
The momentum continued on Monday when Earl Sweatshirt released his album “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.” Earl has one of the most fascinating backgrounds in music today: He was sent to a reform school in Samoa just as he was beginning to gain fame, and returned to find himself already a star. His official debut, “Doris,” was released in 2013, but the rapper told NPR’s “Microphone Check” that his latest record is “the first thing that I’ve said that I fully stand behind.”
“I Don’t Like Shit” feels like it was something cooked up by Earl in his bedroom — and it may well have been. The album is almost entirely produced by Earl, without samples, and features minimal guests. His lyrical genius shines through on the record, over grimy beats that prove he is to be taken seriously as a producer as well as a rapper.
Many fans will reminisce over the pre-Samoa Earl, a 16-year-old who rapped nonchalantly about violence and sex, but “I Don’t Like Shit” is not meant for them. Hopefully, those who have followed him throughout his career grew up along with him. If that is the case, they can enjoy this distinctly “grown-up” album.
The day after Sweatshirt’s release, Action Bronson released his first official album, “Mr. Wonderful.”
Bronson made a name for himself with a string of strong mixtapes over the past few years. “Mr. Wonderful” doesn’t stray too far from what Bronson made his name on — lyrics about food, drugs and women, over beats by the likes of the Alchemist, 88-Keys and Party Supplies. “Mr. Wonderful” is not exactly on the same level as the other albums, but it is a solid record and a lighthearted break from the heavy topics covered in the two other high-profile releases this month.
Only three months into the year, 2015 has racked up an extraordinary amount of great rap albums. With high-profile releases still expected from ASAP Rocky, Young Thug and Chance the Rapper, as well as Kanye and Drake, this year looks to be setting the new standard for quality records.