The Best Albums Of 2015

These are the top releases of the year.

2015 destroyed 2014 musically. We said as much all the way back in March, and while we were talking specifically about rap in that instance, it became a cross-genre proclamation as the months unfolded. Whether you're into rock, rap, EDM, pop, R&B, or other, there were so many great new albums to choose from this year that we had serious trouble deciding what to cut or keep on this final list of 50. But we're not complaining.

Making the midyear list presented enough of a challenge, and at that point, we had yet to hear many of the most anticipated projects of the year (and we are still waiting on a few). Some of these albums have been with us all year, while others have had less than a month to cook (though 3.38 million in sales shows some staying power, no?). There is still a full month left in the year, so who knows what else 2015 could bring us (ANTI?​). But barring any big surprises, here are The Best Albums Of 2015.


50. Drake and Future, What a Time to Be Alive

Label: A1, Cash Money, Epic, Freebandz, Republic, Young Money
Released: Sept. 20

Sometimes learning that a work of art was created in a short amount of time can be impressive. “Wait, 80 percent of The Blueprint was created in two days? Oh my god!” Other times, instead of being awe-inspiring, it just...explains a lot. Learning that What a Time to Be Alive was made in six days isn't so surprising, because guess what? The mixtape-but-they-sold-it-so-not-really does indeed sound like something made in a week. Across six days Champagne Papi and Future Hendrix created nine tracks that varied in enjoyable mediocrity (“Change Locations”), blatant simplicity (“Big Rings”), and fleeting flashes of genius (“Jumpman”), and on the seventh day, enjoyed a cup of lean at Follies. It's a disappointment that quickly extinguishes the initial excitement that an impromptu collaboration from the Best Rapper in the Game Right Now and the Hottest Rapper of the Year naturally garners. And yet, even on cruise control the flame still burns bright enough to keep you warm on a turnt night.

It’s fitting that WATTBA was made in Atlanta—Drake is literally living in Hendrix’s house, feet up as Future and regular collaborators Metro Boomin, Southside, and few others prepare the party. At 11 tracks, the sound is cohesive, the songs breezy and fun, if a little too lean, but nary a skip. Sonically, it’s an unofficial sequel to Dirty Sprite 2 co-starring Drake, where Future is the commanding presence, expounding further on the themes of addiction, loneliness, and solace in the trap found on DS2, and sometimes downright out-rapping Drizzy. It's not marathon-listening Watch the Throne, just a light digital dash. —Frazier Tharpe


49. Meek Mill, Dreams Worth More Than Money

Label: Maybach Music Group, Atlantic
Released: June 29

Meek Mill had a rough year. Before he'd even finished rolling out the biggest, best-selling album of his career so far, Meek launched an ill-fated feud with Drake. Setting Meek's severe loss of that battle aside, we can alternatively appreciate 2015 as the year in which Meek Mill rebounded from prison, recovered his solo stride, launched his first No. 1 album, and threw a handful of successful singles to the ceiling. "All Eyes on You," "Bad for You," "Monster" (a DWMTM promo single), "Lord Knows," "Jump Out the Face," and (gulp) "R.I.C.O." effectively expanded Meek's horizons, with a mix of R&B crossover and signature trap. For an album plagued by delays, false starts, and burned bridges, Dreams Worth More Than Money is unexpectedly better than his circumstances might've otherwise allowed. —Justin Charity


48. Brodinski, Brava

Label: Parlophone, Warner
Released: March 2

The EDM bubble hasn’t burst, but the electronic juggernaut hasn’t been nearly as impactful on its own in 2015 as it was even a year or two prior. Albums like Brodinski’s Brava highlight where the scene’s been moving, where hip-hop swagger is thrown head first into the darker techno and trap sounds that have festivals turnt. This is a lane that Brodinski has operated in for years, and 2015 was the year where it all started to make sense to the rest of the world. Standouts like the Slim Thug-featured “Warm Up” and Bricc Baby Shitro’s “On Me” would ring off in any traphouse and don’t sound out of place against anthemic numbers like “Can’t Help Myself.”

If you’re looking for a way to properly introduce a trap-loving electronic music fan into the fold, this would be the album to throw on. —khal


47. Dr. Dre, Compton

Label: Aftermath, Interscope
Released: Aug. 7

When Dr. Dre announces that he has an album on the way, the world practically stops. The long-rumored, highly-anticipated Detox is a project he’s finally laid to rest, but in its wake was Compton, an intriguing project full of features and trap drums that all sound pretty dope. You can’t front on it being a solid project, with Dre spitting with veracity about “getting money before the Internet” and truly soundtracking the city that he’s helped bring to the forefront ever since he got on.

Compton wouldn’t be a Dre project without bombastic feature performances. Shooters like Kendrick Lamar (“Genocide”), Snoop Dogg (“One Shot One Kill”), and Jon Connor deliver, but it’s the leftfield gems (like the DJ Premier-produced “Animals”) that really show us what we want to see from Dre: his timeless vibe siphoned in new ways. It’s not an album that you’re going to bang for a few days straight; Compton is one of those CDs that never leaves your chamber and will live as a great project to ride to, front to back. —khal


46. Wale, The Album About Nothing

Label: Maybach, Atlantic, Every Blue Moon
Released: March 31

Wale has tried it all: go-go, pop, bombastic trap, soul samples, braggadocio, introspective soul-bearing. And through it all the DC native has never felt quite at home as he does on his fourth album. With a title that harkens back to the mixtape that helped him catch fire, The Album About Nothing finds Wale at a place of peace. He’s not Zenned out like Rick Rubin; his problems haven’t all fallen away, but instead he seems to have come to grips with the realities of his career. Maybe that’s helped along by his idol Jerry Seinfeld who acts as a sort of polestar for the album. The production here is fresh and urgent, giving Wale’s staid flow more grunt and his melodic choruses more of a lush boost, such as on album standout “The Need to Know” featuring SZA. “Still know what my core needs, so f*ck who ignores me,” he raps on “The Helium Balloon.” Let’s hope Wale holds steady to that epigram. —Damien Scott


45. Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer

Label: Carpark
Released: April 21

“I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” Does Sadie Dupuis have bars? Many have likened her cheeky wordplay to rap lyrics, and though she’s not throwing around Big Sean-style puns, she does have a way with her words. Speedy Ortiz's chunky, sideways guitar rock is indebted to Pavement and the Breeders, but on their sophomore album, Foil Deer, they cut the fat from their references; every sound is tighter and sharper, not a note wasted. Dupuis chooses her words just as carefully: “I go riding in cars/But you’re not the driver,” she says on “Mister Difficult.” Dupuis is a feminist, and you can see that all over her lyrics if you look, but her elevation of women in these songs does not necessarily come at the expense of men; it’s simply about elevation to equality. Sound reasonable? Well then congrats, brah: You might be a feminist too. —Christine Werthman


44. Neon Indian, VEGA INTL. Night School

Label: Universal Music Australia Pty. Ltd., Arts & Crafts Mexico, Transgressive, Popfrenzy, Mom + Pop
Released: Oct. 16

A cinephile and movie school dropout, Alan Palomo, a.k.a. Neon Indian, uses his filmic sensibilities to execute a grand vision of New York on his third LP, VEGA Intl. Night School. The chillwave progenitor blends '80s funk, italo-disco, acid house, Latin cumbia, blue-eyed soul, and more to set a dizzying, nocturnal scene, taking us through a nightmarish evening in a city boiling over with “schmoozing and f*cking and boozing.” Bad impulses are acted upon, worse choices are made, and redemption for Palomo’s characters is often hard to find. But such is life as a 20-something making his way in the world, trying to figure out who he is, occasionally at the cost of others. Night School is a noirish re-imagining of that ever-complicated enterprise of growing up. And by the end of the album, you realize that few are better equipped to capture every uncomfortable angle than Palomo. —Gus Turner


43. Bryson Tiller, Trapsoul

Label: RCA
Released: Oct. 2

Bryson Tiller is R&B’s latest upstart rookie, and his lead-off single “Don’t” has racked up over 17 million plays in the first 10 months of its release, inspiring hilarious memes and catching the attention of Timbaland and Drake, among others. On his debut album, Trap Soul, with public expectation high, Tiller follows through. As a singer, Bryson is unabashedly influenced by Drake, but his vocal ability without special effects confines that comparison to topic choices and beat selection. He delivers polished pop sensibility with subject matter focused on the jealousy of fake friends, losing his girl, and/or stealing yours. He simultaneously plays the jilted loverboy and the cocky Casanova. Somehow, the duality strikes as sincere; a portrait of the pathological dude a girl’s friends tell her to stop giving multiple chances to. It works because you either know someone like this or you are that someone.

As a rapper, Tiller jumps between infectious, sing-songy lines and clever wordplay, delivered with charismatic flare. The machine gun flow on "Ten Nine Fourteen" is enough to make a skeptic respect it, even if they’re not a fan of Drake-wave. Trap Soul seems engineered for that certain brand of chill made popular by SoundCloud favorites Soulection and Beathaus. It’s a smooth listen: filtered '90s R&B samples glued together with deep bass and hi-fidelity drum kits. —Jonathan Fouabi


42. Beach House, Depression Cherry

Label: Sub Pop, Bella Union
Released: Aug. 28

Listening to Beach House feels like someone wrapping their arms around you in a warm, cocoon-like embrace and cradling you until you have no worries left in the world. Kind of like wearing those "hugged sensation" Lululemon leggings, except way less depressing. This is a Beach House album, which means you know exactly what you're getting. Every song on the Baltimore duo's fifth LP is impossibly pleasant, but its bliss is braided with a hushed strain of melancholy, giving emotional layers to the already instrumentally layered tracks on which synths and strings are married in achingly gorgeous harmony.

Beach House would go on to release another full-length record just a month later (Thank Your Lucky Stars), but the first of the two is more superior. (Though, honestly, what did we do to deserve two such beautiful gifts in one calendar year?) Depression Cherry feels grander, more lush, with orchestral openings laying down a carpet of feels before Victoria Legrand sweeps in with her husky whisper. And everything will feel alright with the world again. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


41. Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION

Label: Interscope, School Boy
Released: June 23

2015 was an easy year to justify being a Carly Rae Jepsen fan: She did after all give a standout performance on SNL of her left turn of a song, "All That," while flanked by two talented cool kids, Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid. But for the CRJ noobs who stopped there, I encourage you to go deeper and listen to E•MO•TION, Jepsen's third album, her best yet, from start to finish. With songs about unrequited love—"Your Type"—and media vultures—"LA Hallucinations"—the LP skews a little darker than usual, though that just means Jepsen is about as somber as a My Little Pony in a mourning veil. Still, the emotions offer a more varied look at who she is. There are saxophones, sparkling synthesizers, woozy bass lines, and blastoff percussion, and Jepsen waits around each corner to grab your hand and lead you into another black-light-shining, confetti-filled room.

Admittedly it's not for everyone (i.e. the joyless), but for those who get it, those indulgent enough to seek happiness in happy art, my god, does it feel good to give in. —Christine Werthman


40. Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap

Label: 300 Ent.
Released: Sept. 25

Fett the Hitman Hart, Fetty Vandross, Fetty Jackson, Fetty Gill are just a few of nicknames bestowed upon the one-eyed song craftsman who took over the industry this year. Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" is wack, they said. He'll never make another hit, they said. Well, the kid from the streets of Paterson, N.J., is platinum all off of his debut album. "679," "My Way," and "Again" are smash hits and there isn't a radio station on the East Coast that doesn't have them in constant rotation. "Juug," "Trap Luv," and “No Days Off” are worthy sequels to the greatest hood love song of all time. "Boomin," "RGF Island," and "Couple Bands" are the street singles you can sing along to as you tear your respective city up.

Fetty is the hero we didn’t know we needed, a true underdog with vocal contortion and insane melodies being his super powers. The album sales stalled a bit, but he’s had four singles on the charts at the same time, making him the first rapper to do so. With 80 percent of the songs off his EP on his SoundCloud for about a year, the album still debuted at No. 1 so it's clear Fetty isn’t going anywhere. —Angel Diaz


39. Fifth Harmony, Reflection

Label: Epic, Syco
Released: Feb. 3

Fifth Harmony, the teen-girl pop quintet formed from a season of X-Factor, has released more anthems than their median age (18) might suggest. "Boss," for instance, is an ode to Oprah and Michelle Obama that makes a point of dissing Ray J in favor of Kanye West. Reflection is full of such neck-rolls and snappy confidence, with an even balance of nostalgic R&B licks ("Like Mariah," "Everlasting Love") and big, modern pop ("Worth It," "Sledgehammer"). Fifth Harmony may have more essentially in common with Meaghan Trainor than Destiny's Child, but the group's pop gloss hardly masks the girls' bravado. "We Know" sounds like Glee, if Glee had guts. —Justin Charity


38. Kelela, Hallucinogen EP

Label: Cherry Coffee, Warp
Released: Oct. 9

Why hasn't Kelela blown up yet? "A Message" and "The High" are hits, and the D.C. native's sounds are reminiscent of a Control-era Janet Jackson. That's high praise and she deserves it. Her voice is magical, her beat selection is impeccable, and she sounds even better live. There aren't too many singers that are able to pull that off. Never mind that two of the songs on this six-track EP have been out for months before its official release, Hallucinogen still managed to be one of the best of the year. “Rewind” is the ultimate crush anthem, and the video with Kelela floating through flickering hallways like she’s in a classic Spike Lee movie is breathtaking. —Angel Diaz


37. Bjork, Vulnicura

Label: One Little Indian, Megaforce, Sony
Released: Jan. 20

Bjork has never been easy listening. That speaks to her avant-garde arrangements as well as her lyrical flair, each peculiar word hitting each peculiar melody in an asymmetrical matter. But even her coded method of expression can't conceal the pain that comes through on Vulnicura, the breakup album that got us through the cold months of early 2015. For her, the record marked the end of her longterm relationship with artist Matthew Barney, and while that makes it deeply personal, there are moments any one of us can cling onto—moments that change with every listen. Whether that kind of pain is real for you at this moment, it's impossible to ignore the Icelandic singer's moment of vulnerability on yet another masterfully crafted piece of music, on which she did most of the writing and production. Bjork operates on a different plane than most of her contemporaries, and Vulnicura—her ninth solo album—proves that she continues to be a visionary, on every level of her artistry. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


36. Travi$ Scott, Rodeo

Label: Epic, Grand Hustle
Released: Sept. 4

The thought was once Travi$ Scott released his debut album, we would know more about this mysterious artist out of Mo City, one virtually unknown when he received a major co-sign from Kanye West back in 2012. That notion never comes to fruition on Rodeo, but it’s not that big of a distraction. What Travi$ provides here is what he always has: a soundtrack for the restless youth who live off an emotional high. “Antidote” is the perfect anchor for this feeling, while “Nightcrawler” and “Maria I’m Drunk” balance out the rager bravado that Travi$ pocketed from Kid Cudi’s earlier years. The music is overly aggressive, and rarely detailed, with tracks like “Pray 4 Love” and “Wasted” feeding into the shadowy aura that’s present throughout. We’re no more closer to the man Jacques Webster on Rodeo than we were when he set the streets ablaze with “Upper Echelon.” His mythical story continues. —Edwin Ortiz


35. Diddy, MMM

Label: Bad Boy
Released: Nov. 4

"Don't be afraid to get old, man.” That's how Puff Daddy—as he will forever be known above all other monikers—begins “Big Homie,” the severely underrated 2014 banger from last February that served as the harbinger for Money Making Mitch, in terms of theme if not sound. Sean Combs is old (by hip-hop metrics), and instead of being embarrassed about it, it re-energizes him. No wonder he dropped it on his 46th birthday. MMM, as inspired by Mekhi Phifer's Harlem treasure Money Making Mitch in the hood classic Paid in Full, is somehow many things at once: a “New York” album that also works in current sonic trends and alongside throwbacks to the No Way Out mind state Puff is currently in; you can dab to “Workin” and the title track, then hit a classic Diddy bop to “You Could Be My Lover” and the especially jiggy “Auction.”

Future appears. So does Lil' Kim. Somehow, nothing feels incongruous or forced. Puff sequestered old friends, stalwarts, and new talent and acted as if, as he says on “Workin,” he and “The Family” are a new independent group. It's a dedication that his fellow Forbes list veterans could stand to take a few cues from. —Frazier Tharpe


34. JME, Integrity

Label: Boy Better Know
Released: May 4

One of the more interesting trends of this year was that America was finally getting into grime. Diddy tried to get people into the sound almost five years ago, but it was the viral nature of Skepta’s “Shutdown” (which played into a number of Drake co-signs) that turned it around, at least for a time. One would have hoped that Integrity, the latest project from Skepta’s younger brother Jme, would have made more noise, but you know how that goes.

Sure, Jme isn’t the most lyrical one out the bunch, but he’s got bars. On the Giggs-featured “Man Don’t Care,” Jme even talks about how the ultra-lyrical-for-the-sake-of-being-lyrical sounds bore him, but he has punches for days, and over Integrity’s 16 tracks, there are no wasted lines. There’s also an intoxicating mix of the more quirky, hypnotic grime sounds pushed up against some more accessible bits, making this truly Grime 101 for mans who want to know. —khal


33. Future, 56 Nights

Label: Freebandz
Released: March 21

Michael Jordan in '93. Kobe and Shaq in '02. The three-peat. Something you rarely see in sports and the ultimate sign of a winner. After his reign in 2015, you can officially add Future to that list. The Atlanta rapper has straight up dominated the year, with his own mixtape three-peat on the release of the highly-touted mixtape, 56 Nights.

Titled after those 56 nights that Future's right hand man, DJ Esco, spent in a Dubai jail, the project is the home of the insanely popular song “March Madness.” The reach and impact of 56 Nights goes way past just one song but it more so proved that Future is unstoppable. Whether it's “Trap Ni**as,” which might just be the best song on the tape, or the super-confident “Never Gon' Lose,” Future hit a zone that we just haven't seen in the rap game for quite some time. Future went on to release DS2 and What a Time to be Alive with Drake to only further drive home his greatness in 2015. But like Shaq, Kobe, and MJ before him, he'll never forget that first three-peat. —Zach Frydenlund


32. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell

Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Released: March 30

Sufjan Stevens is the kind of songwriter who creates empathetic listeners; you might not have experienced his exact loss, but by the end of his list of painful details, you feel as though you have lived it with him. Carrie and Lowell is named for Stevens' mother and stepfather, though Carrie, who suffered from drug abuse and died of cancer in 2012, is the focal point. Some songs reference moments unique to Stevens' life (“Some part of me was lost in your sleeve/Where you hid your cigarettes”), but a lot more of them deal in universal urges (“Everything I feel returns to you somehow/I want to save you from your sorrow”).

Behind the muted piano and the feathered guitar strings, Stevens quietly unloads feelings of regret, loss, and emptiness. It's all done in a hush, and when you lean in to hear better, the shock of the lyrics may make you jump. What else are you supposed to do when someone whispers “We're all gonna die" in your ear?Christine Werthman


31. Vince Staples, Summertime '06

Label: ARTium, Def Jam
Released: June 30

Vince Staples is a real one. On Twitter and in a seemingly endless run of interviews he espouses a blunt worldview informed by very real matters of life or death from his home, Long Beach, Calif. But where that voice has come through strongest, where it matters most, is on his debut album. Summertime ‘06 fully immerses us into its namesake, the summer of his 13th year when his youth was stolen by Long Beach’s rampant gang violence, drug addiction, and police brutality. His portrait is detailed but not beautiful. It’s vibrant but not bright. Brevity is Vince’s strong suit, cramming power into as few words as possible. Prospects are bleak in Long Beach, and he tells each story with striking frankness. “In the Planned Parenthood playin’ God with ya mom’s check, you ain’t even been to prom yet,” he raps on “Surf.” Earl Sweatshirt declared Vince the best rapper more than a year ago. The rest of the world is finally catching up. —Ian Servantes


30. FKA twigs, M3LL155X EP

Label: Young Turks
Released: Aug. 13

Working with BOOTS, of Beyoncé's Beyoncé acclaim, and day-one producer Tic, FKA twigs put out her best work yet with M3LL155X. This EP crystallizes everything great about the UK-born experimental electronica/trip-hop/R&B/[Insert another genre here because why not] artist into a five-song set. She growls and moans and mewls and, at times, belts in her thin falsetto. She serves sexy, creepy, maybe queer realness—there’s even a bizarro-world club banger with “In Time.” Heavily influenced by twigs’ recent interest in (and bona fide study of) vogue and ballroom culture, M3LL155X is another leap forward for one of the most idiosyncratic artists fluttering at genre’s edge. —Ross Scarano


29. Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color

Label: ATO, MapleMusic, Rough Trade
Released: April 21

Alabama Shakes set the bar very high with their 2009 debut album, Boys and Girls, which was nominated for three Grammy awards and sold over 700,000 copies. The bluesy retro-soul album was carried by its obvious hit, “Hold On,” which expressed the full force of the five-person band, led by the powerful voice of Brittany Howard. Sound and Color, by contrast, expresses range more than force, and it’s an overall better album than its predecessor because of it. Wide-sweeping comparisons to artists like Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Prince, and the Strokes remain par for the course when listening to the music of Alabama Shakes, yet these comparisons also reflect the more varied references on Sound and Color overall. —Cedar Pasori


28. Grimes, Art Angels

Label: 4AD
Released: Nov. 6

Art Angels is an explosion of color, energy, and attitude that no one saw coming. While traces of Visions’ ethereal glow remain, you could never mistake these songs for “Oblivion” or “Genesis,” two tracks that powered Claire Boucher's (a.k.a. Grimes) breakthrough in 2012. In their place we find blood-curdling screams (“Scream,” “Kill V. Maim”), production that invokes Like a Prayer-era Madonna (“Butterfly,” “Artangels”), and a club anthem for anyone who wants to make it clear that they will not be messed with (“Venus Fly”).

Then there's the lead single, “Flesh Without Blood,” a track that couldn’t be further from the whispered, bedroom recordings of Art Angels' predecessor. Pop-punkish and sprightly, the song was our first signal of Boucher's new direction, far away from the sound that engineered her rise. Though this decision was initially polarizing among critics and fans, the 180 freed Boucher from pandering to the underground’s critical taste (while ultimately earning the approval of the underground) to instead reimagine the pop landscape with her singular, manic vision. —Gus Turner


27. Towkio, .Wav Theory

Label: N/A
Released: April 28

Towkio was a refreshing new artist to hit scene this year with his .Wav Theory project featuring a plethora of Chicago MCs like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Leather Corduroys—artists we can just call his friends. The young MC looked to developed his own sounds on the 12-track project alongside his already famous cohorts, something he referenced on “Clean Up” with the line, "I get it get it, your friends did it, they famous/And you rap, too, so when you gon' make it?" And this year, he has.

.Wav Theory is a fun ride from front to back—each song more and more upbeat than the last, with clever rhymes and an interesting array of production from FKJ, Kaytranada, and executive producer Peter Cottontale of the Social Experiment. It’s a jubilant sound that comes from working around close friends, which would soundtrack plenty of people’s summers in Chicago, and everywhere else. —Lauren Nostro


26. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Label: Mom + Pop
Released: March 20

Courtney Barnett lives that hashtag no filter life, which is realized through her ranting style of speak-singing. The Australian singer-songwriter's appeal is that she sounds like she's word vomiting from ripped-out pages of her diary, but it's never sickeningly sentimental (as perhaps some of our actual diaries would read). Not that she's all jokes, either. Barnett's a poet—there's no doubt about that—but she's not afraid to play up her humor, and it never gets in the way of her art. She's also one hell of a crafty guitar player, calling on grunge gods of the past. Barnett's been garnering buzz for a good year before releasing her debut full-length, and its release this year has certainly confirmed one thing: She's the real deal. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


25. Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC

Label: Atlantic, Taylor Gang, Pu$haz Ink
Released: Nov. 13

That it took Ty Dolla $ign—excuse me, Atlantic Records—over a year to deliver Free TC is nearly unforgivable. In the time that passed between him mentioning the album in interviews back in early 2014 and its actual release on November of this year, the buzz he’d built with his charting single “Paranoid” and songwriting credit on smashes like Chris Brown’s “Loyal” all but evaporated. (Misbegotten attempts at crossover success like “Drop That Kitty,” with Charli XCX and Tinashe, are best never mentioned again.) Free TC only moved a little over 21,000 units in its first week and it would be a dirty shame if it didn’t reach many more listeners than that.

On paper, Free TC looks a mess—guests on 14 of the 16 songs!—but the actual product is unified by Ty’s ear for arrangements. It’s a musically rich, at times moving, ode to Los Angeles, family, and relationships that are better left undefined (Ty is not looking for anything serious). “Miracle/Wherever” exemplifies what makes the album work. With verses from his incarcerated brother phoned in from prison, the song starts out as a celebration of survival before turning into an orchestra-backed hymn to sex in unlikely places and at a moment’s notice. There’s no indication that Ty treats one subject more seriously than the other. With R&B, anything and everything is possible. —Ross Scarano


24. Tinashe, Amethyst

Label: N/A
Released: March 16

Aquarius is admirable. Amethyst is exciting. On the latter tape, Tinashe is maximally playful and, coincidentally, at her most confident. She rejects boys left and right. She fuels a summertime siren on “Wrong,” with a voice that slithers through Auto-Tune refraction. At Jezebel, the critic Julianne Escobedo Shepherd cast Amethyst as "g-funk for a new, womanist Los Angeles," and indeed, Amethyst is one of the year's strongest coming-of-age R&B projects, second only to Bieber if we expand that distinction to include pop. Given the singular, streamlined cockiness of Amethyst, you'd maybe never guess that this seven-track mixtape employed nine producers, including DJ Dahi and Ryan Hemsworth. —Justin Charity


23. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness

Label: Republic, XO
Released: Aug. 28

Beauty Behind the Madness marks the Weeknd’s transition from cult favorite to legit mainstream star; four consecutive million-plus-selling singles and a No. 1 album that sold four times as much first week as its predecessor, Kiss Land, indicate as much. What’s more impressive is that the Weeknd made the move without completely sidestepping his original agenda. He’s still explicit about his vices of lust and drugs; peep “Tell Your Friends” and “The Hills” as evidence. But the backdrops are more lush and accessible. He even delivers his best Michael Jackson impression on “Can’t Feel My Face,” an incredible pop anthem that finds the Weeknd matching up with producer/songwriting wizard Max Martin. Other collaborations alongside Ed Sheeran (“Dark Times”) and Lana Del Rey (“Prisoner”) shine through and round out Beauty Behind the Madness as a project that seemed unlikely from a man who dropped House of Balloons four years ago. —Edwin Ortiz


22. Shamir, Ratchet

Label: XL
Released: May 19

Ratchet is an eclectic debut, a showcase for Shamir’s wide range of tastes and talents that will sound familiar to fans of Grace Jones, DFA Records, and ’90s house music. The crackling, helium-pitched voice that caught our attention on the Northtown EP is used to distinct emotional effects here, sounding by turns triumphant and effervescent (“Make a Scene,” “On the Regular”) as well as anthemic, introspective, and heartbroken (“Demon,” “Darker”). Just 21 years old, Shamir’s growth as a musician and a human being is laid bare on Ratchet, taking us on a winding tour of his identity, all sides of it humming, brilliant, and thrilling. —Gus Turner


21. Mac Miller, GO:OD AM

Label: Warner Bros.
Released: Sept. 18

Mac Miller's career is one of remarkable development. The woozy, Madlib-inspired MC that he’s become bears only a faint resemblance to the Frat Pack party rapper who once soundtracked pre-game parties on every college campus across America. The strides Miller took between Blue Slide Park and Watching Movies with the Sound Off only became more confident and sure with his Faces mixtape. And with GO:OD AM Miller has fully transitioned from one end of hip-hop’s spectrum to the other. His preoccupations (life, death, loneliness, depression, addiction) have matured, his delivery has sharpened, and his ear for beats is as strong as it’s ever been. Even on “Cut the Check,” the album’s standout track (thanks to an exceptional—and unexpected—guest verse from Chief Keef), Miller can’t spend without begging to be saved. A song ostensibly geared to celebrate his wealth proves to ring hollow by the end of the hook: “I'm way too young to be this rich/I don't know what to do with all this sh*t/I'm out of control, Lord, can you save my soul?” Best Day Ever-era Miller wanted us to “look at all this money” as a badge of honor. Now he wants us to look at the monster it’s created. —Gus Turner


20. Tame Impala, Currents

Label: Interscope, Modular
Released: July 17

Kevin Parker’s kaleidoscope vision is as rich and vivid as ever on Tame Impala’s third release, Currents. While InnerSpeaker and Lonerism used thundering guitar work to create shimmering, multi-colored psychedelia, Currents trades them for expansive synth riffs to explore a range of emotional highs and lows. Parker's melodies evoke mythic, desert landscapes, open roads, and lonely nights, while his lyrics describe trepidation, frustration, an overwhelming present, loss, and bitter acceptance. This is music that, no pun intended, washes over you, pulling you from shore to shore, from one station of your life to the next. —Gus Turner


19. Hudson Mohawke, Lantern

Label: Warp
Released: June 16

Lantern is a brutal parade of drums that are real, even when they aren't. Here's an album where steel and sticks might carry a melody just as well as any of the vocalists, who are few and far between. "System," "Very First Breath," and "Warriors" are the big, clean dance bangers, but here Hudson Mohawke is good for several messier, idiosyncratic compositions; note the sugar-plum bassoon of "Kettles," the Roc-A-Fella-styled sample ecstasy of "Ryderz," or the fact that "Brand New World" sounds like a Journey song that I'd actually want to hear. This isn't just EDM, or VG music homage, or post-Yeezus glow, or trap ballet, or harsh ~experimentation~; Lantern is the layered bliss that Antony Hagerty describes in "Indian Steps:" "Look at the sky/Now look through my eyes/Swim up from the deep/Dance in a field of weakness." Hudson Mohawke set out to transcend rap, and here he exceeded with such a wide variety of influences and sounds in excellent concert. —Justin Charity


18. Earl Sweatshirt, I Don't Like Sh*t, I Don't Go Outside

Label: Tan Cressida, Columbia
Released: March 23

To put out his most transparent piece of work yet Earl Sweatshirt had to shed nearly everything surrounding him. I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside is a work in isolation, from its sonics to its subject matter to its collaborators. What’s left is a photograph of his mind during a grim period marked by a breakup, a dangerous lack of self-care, and rampant hedonism inside his apartment, 3-7-6. It’s dark, but somehow clarity remains.

The lethargic, sparsely melodic production is entirely handled by Earl, save for one track from Odd Future’s Left Brain, and across it the 21-year-old rapper vacillates from self-effacing to cocksure. And often on the same song. On “Grief” he raps, “Lately I’ve been panicking a lot/Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop,” only to declare later in the same verse, “I was making waves, you was surfing in ’em/Dealing with the stomach pains just from birthing n**gas’ sh*t.” This dense, intricate wordplay that Earl’s mastered has put him at the top of his craft. But if you’re not careful his latest effort can also bring you into his pit of despair. —Ian Servantes


17. Skrillex and Diplo, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

Label: Atlantic, Mad Decent, OWSLA
Released: Feb. 27

Without Jack Ü, you’d still have an accurate argument for why Skrillex and Diplo are the most important producers in EDM today. They’re working with a cavalcade of artists that collectively features everyone from Chance the Rapper to Madonna, and they know how to morph festival-ready anthems into what pop music’s been missing—just look at “Where R Ü Now,” the Justin Bieber-featuring single from their debut album as Jack Ü. While Bieber was already showing the world that he’s turned a new leaf, it was this song that said much more than any apologies or soul-bearing interviews could. That’s the power of Jack Ü.

Dropped Beyonce-style in February, Skrillex and Diplo’s long-awaited Jack Ü project made excellent use of their Rolodex—not too many projects can boast features from 2 Chainz, Bunji Garlin, and AlunaGeorge without totally shifting their sound, but the beauty of two of the biggest DJs in the world is that they know what will get asses on the dancefloor AND on the Billboard charts. Name a duo that could make better use of their skillsets in multiple arenas on the 2015 musical landscape. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. —khal


16. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show

Label: RCA
Released: Jan. 13

Jazmine Sullivan returned from a five-year hiatus with an album that showcases her gorgeous, heartfelt vocals while going deeper lyrically than she has before. Though 2008’s Fearless and 2010’s Love Me Back felt as emotionally real as it gets, Reality Show is undoubtedly a more personal album for Sullivan without coming off as alienating or self-indulgent to listeners. Songs like the opener, “Dumb” (which features Meek Mill), encapsulate the anger of a scorned woman dealing with her partner’s infidelity; Sullivan sings directly at the man she’s mad at and confidently warns, “I know you gon' miss me.” Others like “Forever Don’t Last” take on the more mournful side of love lost, and her raspy, tear-filled lyrics are all too believable and relatable. Reality Show is Sullivan watching the TV series that represents her recent past and asking herself if she was ever the one to blame. In the end, her questioning, alongside production by Key Wane, Salaam Remi, Da Internz, and others, results in a kind of strength and self-appreciation that one can only truly feel after realizing that enough is enough and moving on. —Cedar Pasori


15. Jamie xx, In Colour

Label: Young Turks
Released: May 29

People have been familiar with Jamie xx’s production since the release of the xx’s debut album in 2009, but it wasn’t until this year that he formally put out a solo debut album. In Colour could technically be considered Jamie’s second album, since he released a 13-song remix LP of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here, re-titled as We’re New Here, in 2010. We’re New Here was the first total effort to showcase Jamie’s pairing of minimal, garage- and dubstep-inspired production with re-arranged, re-pitched vocals. In Colour is similar in its inclusion of steel pans and as a nod to the music that came before (and inspires) the young English producer. With samples ranging from the Persuasions (“Good Times”) to an un-aired BBC Radio 1 program, One in the Jungle (“Gosh”), Jamie masterfully found a way to adapt sounds and vocals from the past to fit the present. He also looks to the future, through collaborations with his xx bandmates, Young Thug, Popcaan, and Four Tet. The generational jumps make In Colour feel refreshingly timeless, a project from an artist aware of what is behind him as he moves forward. —Cedar Pasori


14. The Game, Documentary 2

Label: eOne, Blood Money
Released: Oct. 9

The Game always finds a way. Despite having one of the most turbulent careers in contemporary rap, the rapper/reality TV star somehow manages to corral a who’s who of producers, rappers, and singers. Peep the tracklists for each of his albums, and you’re guaranteed to see whoever is popping at that given moment—50 Cent, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, J. Cole, Rick Ross, etc. The same goes for his sixth album, which for some reason was split into two CDs and released on different days. But let’s focus on the first. That’s the one with Future, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Diddy, Ab-Soul, and Drake. And the one that, thanks in large part to a new producer named Bongo, is the best-produced Game project since The Documentary. The samples are well-worn but appear in fresh guise here, beautifully bleeding into one another much in the way they did on Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. That album casts a heavy shadow, as the Game works to paint a vivid panorama of Compton and manages to pull it off much better than a certain album that dropped earlier this year. How? No clue. Game always finds a way. —Damien Scott


13. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, Surf

Label: N/A
Released: May 28

There are few albums that make me want to go call my parents to tell them how much I love them, hug my grandma, and drive around my hometown with childhood friends. But then Chance the Rapper, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment dropped Surf, the product of having a ton of creative friends who make music that’s fun for them, and everyone else. This is a big band album at times—heavy brass, lush melodies—but in its more minimal sounds, it thrives—like the second half of "Slip Slide" or the breathtaking "Caretaker." The features are strong—heavyweight verses from Busta Rhymes, Big Sean, J. Cole—and stunning cameos from Erykah Badu, D.R.A.M., and Janelle Monae, among plenty others. Surf is an album made by friends who love making music and, at the end of the day, are fans of music, just like the rest of us. And the result is timeless. —Lauren Nostro


12. Kehlani, You Should Be Here

Label: N/A
Released: April 28

Album intros tend to be corny these days, but there’s something genuinely heartwarming about the start of Kehlani’s second mixtape, You Should Be Here. On it, she narrates how, before even turning 21, she’s been through it all, and the rest of the album is spent explaining those struggles. There’s the title track, which soundtracks a relationship on the edge, and a shimmering middle finger up to her haters on “How That Taste.” There are the love songs—“The Way” featuring Chance the Rapper is a standout, along with “Down for You” with BJ the Chicago Kid—and the doo-wop-tinged “Bright” about self love. This is her coming of age album that takes fans through the heartbreak, the bitterness, the love, lust, and hatred, immaturity, and forgiveness. And then there’s “The Letter,” a goosebumps-inducing ballad about her broken relationship with her mother.

Kehlani’s down-to-earth personality shines through the album’s themes, and her vulnerability is clear through her lyrics. But it’s the marriage of jazz, R&B, pop ballads, and bare-boned confessionals​, thanks in part to her right-hand producer Jahaan Sweet, that carries the project. It’s a supportive backdrop for a young woman learning about herself all while life happens, and her honesty and transparency serve almost like a self-help guide through 15 stunning tracks —Lauren Nostro


11. Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo and Youth

Label: 1st & 15th Entertainment, Atlantic
Released: Jan. 20

Arguably, Tetsuo and Youth is Lupe Fiasco's best album. It may lack the Hot 100 hits that decorated Food and Liquor (“Kick, Push”) and The Cool (“Superstar”), but Tetsuo and Youth also lacks the pop-rock schizophrenia that unfortunately dates those earlier albums upon scrutiny. Tetsuo and Youth is all strong song concepts, wordplay sans pretense, and rapping so vivid that it belatedly justifies his core fanbase's having long regarded Lupe Fiasco as an incomparable, all-time great. “Mural,” “Little Death,” “Prisoner 1 & 2” are the best rapping that anyone's done this year, and “Deliver” is the strongest contemporary rap single that Lupe's made since "Paris, Tokyo" in 2008. Tetsuo and Youth is narrowcast in its appeal but a coup for one of the most divisive rappers of his generation. —Justin Charity


10. The Internet, Ego Death

Label: Odd Future, Columbia
Released: June 26

The Internet are the best R&B artists you’ve never paid attention to. The Odd Future offshoots have been around since 2011, but they finally arrived this year with their third album, Ego Death. All of the beats were recorded live, which explains the exemplary soul this album has. This is the best R&B album of 2015. Their form of rhythm and blues is traditional compared to the druggy, oft-petty sounds we’re used to hearing these days. It’s not all about the rhythm section, though. Their lead singer, Syd the Kyd, has grown vocally since their debut, Purple Naked Ladies. Her voice floating through the odes to the women in her life carries the album. Her efforts on “Get Away,” “Gabby,” “Just Sayin/I Tried,” “Girl,” “Special Affair,” and “​Penthouse Cloud” are all filled with lines you will want to reuse on a significant other. —Angel Diaz


09. Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Label: Cash Money
Released: Feb. 13

Drake has reached the point in his career where he can do whatever he wants, like drop a fully formed project and insist it’s not his fourth album. The real one is still coming, he tells us. It feels like a cheat, but how can we complain when his “mixtape” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late blessed us with a five-song opening flourish, five songs you’ve undoubtedly stood on an elevated platform and rapped along to (if you’re doing it right, that is).

He has achieved ubiquity by being impossibly relatable in both his highs and lows. We relish in his triumphs and wallow in his anguish. The truth is that we’ll never have the same experiences as the 29 year old sitting on $39 million in 2015 alone, but that dirty (not-so) secret never creeps up enough to isolate us. Here we are, still screaming about bands in denominations of 10, 50, and 100 with abandon. —Ian Servantes


08. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Label: Sub Pop
Released: Feb. 10

Throughout I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, often takes the long view on our collective malaise, whether weighing existential dissatisfaction against the bigger picture (“Holy Sh*t”) or lamenting the emotional emptiness of consumerism, marriage, and this American life we live (“Bored in the USA”). He’s singing to and for a class of privileged people who cannot let an ill-used “literally” slip by without comment or silent disapproval, which happens on “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment.” In doing so, he both satirizes our trivial concerns while also admitting to the considerable real estate they account for in his own life. He’s stupid, and so are we, but, hey, we’re only human.

If there’s any relief Tillman finds from these anxieties, it’s in his wife, Emma, whom he sings of in “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” and “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” among other tracks. She's the honeybear, the one who is “something else completely,” who allows Tillman to “truly see and be seen.” Love offers a more authentic existence for Tillman, a solution to his detachment. Honeybear's genius is that it makes us wonder whether this schmuck, or any of us, deserves it. —Gus Turner


07. A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last.A$AP

Label: A$AP Worldwide, Polo Grounds, RCA
Released: May 26

I lost my mind when “Multiply” dropped. Rocky and the late, great Yams standing back-to-back in matching Avirex’s and Yung Gleesh going nuts to “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” was supposed to mark Rocky’s triumphant return. Instead the album rollout became bittersweet. “LPFJ2” dropped on the Mob’s SoundCloud on New Year’s Eve, a fitting banger for the night’s chaos, then Yams passed that next month. Still, this was Rocky’s best overall work to date. He showed growth on tracks like “L$D” and “Everyday”—both songs worked surprisingly well and proved that Rocky is a star. His tour with Tyler, the Creator gave the album new life by not only showing his evolution as a performer but also displaying his flair for style as his set was one of the best. He went from Tumblr rapper to covering Italian Vogue right before our very eyes. Rocky is the poster child for where the rap game is going in this digital age. Another take away from this album? He and ScHoolboy Q should explore making a collab project together based off of “Electric Body.”Angel Diaz


06. Big Sean, Dark Sky Paradise

Label: G.O.O.D. Music, Def Jam
Released: Feb. 24

Despite years of promising mixtapes and co-signs in the hip-hop community, Big Sean hadn't totally found his own lane. He had hits ("Dance (A$$)," "Marvin and Chardonnay," "Clique"), but he’d never fully defined himself as an artist (outside of his penchant for goofy one-liners) or delivered a project that would elevate him above the noise. Dark Sky Paradise changed that. Suddenly, all the doubt and underestimation of Sean as a skilled rapper and serious artist didn't seem to hold nearly as much weight. It's tempting to explain this away by pointing to the massive success of “IDFWU,” the song that spawned a million drunks-girl-yelling-in-the-club Snapchat Stories, but doing so ignores the album’s deep roster of solid material. The Drake-assisted “Blessings” spawned its own “Waaaay up” meme, and songs like “Play No Games” and “One Man Can Change the World” proved that Sean could blend his comedy/rap style with more serious, reflective lyrics and still make it fun to listen to. Somewhere between the anonymous radio music of Finally Famous and the dour Hall of Fame, Big Sean found the sweet spot in Dark Sky Paradise, and it single-handedly revived his career. —Chris Mench


05. Justin Bieber, Purpose

Label: Def Jam
Released: Nov. 13

Justin Bieber went through some growing pains over the last few years. It would be unfair to say he was at fault in every instance; sometimes public opinion just beez like that. But it was an uphill battle for the once-pristine pop superstar. He would eventually handle damage control by going on an apology tour and offering fans and naysayers alike a straightforward message: “I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’m ready to move on.” Which brings us to Purpose, a project that symbolizes a new chapter in Bieber’s life/career. The album-opening “Mark My Words” sets the tone for sincerity, followed by the moving “I’ll Show You” and later a powerful piano ballad, “Life Is Worth Living.” His maturity also shines through on records that highlight love and heartbreak, "Where Are Ü Now" being the obvious standout, with the tropical house blends of “Sorry” and "What Do You Mean?" being just as enjoyable though lacking in replay value. Bieber also delivers a handful of notable collaborations alongside Big Sean and Travi$ Scott, which bring back memories of his R&B-leaning Journals. The road to redemption is often hard to find, but Justin Bieber is walking it on Purpose, and we are ready to forgive and forget. Edwin Ortiz


04. Adele, 25

Label: XL
Released: Nov. 20

Break-up songs are Adele's calling card, but 25 isn't much of a heartbreaker. It's a recession, rather, from the bellicose post-romance of 21; here we find Adele sulking, whimpering, reconsidering all that hard-fought emancipation from men of her past. "All I Ask," the year's definitive ballad, is a fiend's plea for reunion, however brief. "When We Were Young" and lead single "Hello" both suggest yet-more invasive outreach. It's as if Adele, pop's reclusive wit, is capable of so much more than just barn-burner farewells, which is very much what we expected of her given certain precedents she set with 21. The solitary love songs of 25 instead suggest that maturity isn't a linear curve and that even Adele succumbs to seller's remorse. Surely Adele's having just moved 3.38 million units in first-week album sales is a cure for any such regrets. —Justin Charity


03. Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife

Label: EarDrummers, Interscope
Released: Jan. 6

Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi got bars for days. When “No Flex Zone” took the game by storm we all thought they were one-hit wonders and assumed they couldn't recreate the energy they harnessed on that record. That couldn't had been further from the truth. SremmLife is 11 tracks of high-energy party music. “Lit Like Bic,” “Unlock the Swag,” “This Could Be Us,&rdq