A few of my favorite things from 2015!
I picked the albums I feel most connected to this year, and that I could play all the way through over and over. Check it:
2014 Forest Hills Drive — J. Cole
I was about to go to sleep when I played the first song of this album on my speakers in my room… Immediately I was hooked, and curious… the album was already beautiful, the strings pulling at my heart. It finds J Cole at a plateau, looking out at his surroundings and back on his upbringing. When he looks back in time, it’s with Love, which is at the core of the album; love and gratitude for family, friends, and experiences. I found myself turning to “Love Yours” and “Intro” in moments of beauty and anxiety (I did a freestyle to it, check it out on the dance page). This is truly an album you can play right through, all the way to the 10 minute outro of J. Cole thanking everyone in his life. It’s the album I listened to most this year.
Beat Tape 2 — Tom Misch
2015 saw a burst of popularity for Tom Misch's unique brand of groovy, jazzy hip hop. Rightly so, this stuff sounds like heaven! It’s so warm to swim around in. The album has a diverse list of features, but its purely instrumental moments are the ones I find myself sinking into most deeply. Play this album in a cabin by a fire, when you’re getting ready to go out, or in the background while eating dinner with your family, and infuse your life with a little heaven.
To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar
I was Kendrick-obsessed coming into the release of this album. I’d spent the past 2 years devouring good kid, m.A.A.d city and Section. 80. I was apprehensive, especially after hearing the album’s single, “i”, with its radio friendly groove. I was slapped in the face when the album dropped. It’s unlike anything I had imagined, diverse in musical inspiration, from west coast hip hop to jazz, funk, and R&B, with Kendrick just as diverse in his flow. This is pain, joy, confusion, the complications of power, politics, sex, racism, and gang violence filtered through an ultra-conscious human. It’s hard to absorb it all. I may spend the rest of my life learning more about this album. I’m grateful to be alive to be a part of it.
Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes
When this album came out in April, my friend Mcabe told me I had to listen to it. “Album of the year, calling it right now,” he said. It turns out a few people agree, it’s nominated for the Album of the Year at the Grammys.
A former librarian’s jam band, Alabama Shakes are a passionate, raw group. Brittany Howard’s powerful vocals tear at you, often bursting out in screams and cries. My favorite track from the album “Gimme All Your Love,” switches off between a slow, rippling groove and a howling chorus, finishing off with an organ fueled jam that makes you want to get up and run. The contrast between the albums soft and intense moments makes the album a rewarding ride, by the time you hit the second to last song “Gemini,” you’ll be led to tears. Take a night drive with this album, it’ll have you howling out your window at the moon.
Soul Rebel — John Givez
I just want more people to know about this album! A young “gospel rapper” from California, his debut is honest and personal. While it flew under the radar, I played it a lot this year, feeding on his stories of childhood and the lessons of growing up. There’s something beautifully childlike about this album, and by the time you get to the anthemic-pump of “Will Not Be Televised” you feel like you’ve been friends with John and you’re chanting together. I want his talent to be recognized!
“Antidote” — Travis Scott
I’m not sure I’ve ever been as obsessed about a song as this one. I first heard it on a Soulection radio show. I’d performed in New Jersey and had hopped in a cab to go see a girl in NYC. 3AM, cruising the streets of Brooklyn, the song came on, it felt right. Whenever I felt hype for the rest of the year, I’d throw it on and go bezerk (ala Travis’s performance of it on Jimmy Fallon-check it out).
It’s a turn up song, but has moments of deep, synth driven come down. The production is insane. Play it on nice headphones and close your eyes; you can hear the vocal and synth parts sliding in and out as if they have they’re humans sliding themselves into conversation. Thats what I love about this song- nothing feels stale, every part is brimming with life and movement. You can tell just how much attention was payed to every little piece. Pretty funny that the song feels so full: Lorde had tweeted that its basically the same 2 seconds of melody for the whole song, and playing it again, I realized she was right. But when you put that with Travis’s ad-libs, the dense production, and a Brooklyn night, it sounds like a dark lit house party, with you sitting, dizzy, in the corner of the room.
Child of Light
I bought a Playstation Vita this year to play some games on the road, and Child of Light was the first one I downloaded. It’s a side-scrolling rpg (2D role playing game) with turn based combat, like Final Fantasy. You play as Aurora, a princess sucked from her home to another world, full of creatures and magic. It’s visually stunning; a watercolor painting you can move around in. Each character you come across has a unique point of view on life and expresses it in rhymes, so that the whole game is a poem. The soundtrack, by French-Canadian singer-songwriter Cœur de pirate, is what strings all of the pieces together into a beautiful, unforgettable experience.
The Wicked + The Divine
I started reading more comics this year… My favorite is The Wicked + The Divine. Here’s the premise: every 90 years, a set of gods are incarnated into the world to live along side humans. They remain on earth for 2 years, after which they die. Oh, and they’re pop stars. What seemed like a silly idea became engrossing as I found myself fascinated by the human characteristics of these gods as they try to come to terms with their short lives, their power and responsibility. Filled with color, sarcasm, violence, and beauty, it’s easy to tear through it’s pages and want to start again. It was great to read while on tour, as I strove to embody the same godly presence that has the humans infatuated and obsessed with the pop star gods. There’s actually a page where they’re performing at Hyde Park, and it looked exactly what our festival performance in Hyde Park felt like… color everywhere and a sea of people that never seemed to end. I would LOVE to see The Wicked + The Divine as a movie. I think book 3 is about to come out. Check it out!