Here are KCOU’s 11 recent essential hip-hop albums, as well as the top hip-hop artist:
Kanye West. That name means many things to many people. To my mom, it means asshole. To the internet, it means G.O.A.T. To us, Kanye West means innovative. Every project he’s made has been legendary. Every track he’s touched became gold. Obama said Ye was one of his top 5 favorite rappers, even though someone said Yeezy was the abomination of Obama’s nation. It’s impossible to say which Kanye album is the best, because they’re all the best. Name one person that Kanye hasn’t made famous. You can’t.
– Trent McRae
It’s hard to give a balanced perspective on crack dealing with The Neptunes producing your whole album, but Clipse is able to tastefully intersperse some PSA’s here and there on Hell Hath No Fury. Everything else on the album has made a good number of suburban kids consider a lucrative career in street narcotic sales. This album is a Fox News shouting match bait, and If you wore Bape before Lil Wayne did, then this is the album that made you proud of that. Try walking around with this album blasting in your ears and tell me it doesn’t induce instant swagger. You can’t help but move.
– Elorm Nutakor
To Pimp a Butterfly is simply revolutionary. It is filled with passion and meaning that rap and the music industry in general has not seen in a very long time and, honestly, that alone makes it so inspiring. This masterpiece discusses prominent issues in our society regarding social injustices towards the black community through basically the entire album. Not only does he address social injustices, he also gives his fans a taste of his own conflicts, especially in his songs “u” and “i”. I remember To Pimp A Butterfly being the only thing I listened to for a good month when it was released because of how good I felt listening to it, and even though I might have overplayed it since 2014, it never gets old to this day. I still get the same feelings of relaxation, ease, and empowerment listening to “Complexion” and “Institutionalized”. Overall, I believe this album represents KCOU in a way that shows its diversity and how the meaning behind music is more important than simply its beat. This album is simply poetic, and it will never not be considered a true work of art.
– Jessica Brooks
When it comes to explaining why Madvilliany, the hit 2004 album from Madvillain (consisting of MF Doom and Madlib) is so good, there really isn’t a traditional reason one can use. Most of the songs on the album don’t have choruses. The mixing of tracks is intentionally messy. Most of the songs fail to break even two minutes in length, and at that most of the songs contain samples from shows instead of actual verses. However, these deviations from the norm is what makes Madvilliany so unique. The fact that it doesn’t try to be like everything else, but instead blasts its own distinct sound, and has its own unique feel, is what makes the album one of the greats. When it comes to explaining why Madvilliany is so good, there isn’t a traditional reason one can use. However, like KCOU, its greatness comes from the deviation from tradition.
– Trent McRae
I’ve never heard a rapper romanticize being stopped by a police officer. And as challenging as this may seem for people who aren’t even rappers, Lil Wayne convinces you that such an occurrence could be pleasant and/or even something to wish for. “Mrs. Officer” promoted blue lives before twitter trolls and the secretly racist white people on Facebook you went to middle school with ever did — also more convincingly, for sure. I’m pretty confident Wayne is a bigger fan of red anyway, but the point is that Tha Carter III has something for everyone. Wayne goes from track to track, shifting shapes and changing colors. “3 Peat” has you ready to shoot up a grandmother then “Tie My Hands” brings you to somber consideration and remembrance of Hurricane Katrina. Tracks like “A Milli” and “Let the Beat Build” garner the reciting of every lyric and ad-lib in between — and of course you even have to give your best effort at hitting the high-pitched note in the sample from the latter and the low-toned hook in the former. KCOU recognizes Tha Carter III as the Lil Wayne album that matters most. This is the most focused work of Wayne’s career and the album that placed him at the forefront of music. Tha Carter III sealed Wayne’s legend status and propelled rap to the highest stage of popularity. In an era where rappers are now the biggest stars, Lil Wayne was the first and the largest.
– Myles Poydras
Nothing Was the Same is my favorite Drake album simply because it is the album that made me fall in love with him as an artist. When I first listened to Nothing Was the Same, a deep connection with it formed that I never had with any album, ever, and the connection to it only grew as I went through life. That being said, this album also made me realize that Drake might actually be crazy. For instance, in his song “Too Much”, we get a nice, caring Drake vibe, while in “Come Thru” we realize Drake just might be obsessive and possessive over women along with being slightly manipulative. Nothing Was the Same, I believe, represents KCOU because many of the songs are relatable to college kids, whether it be the ones in love, the ones going through relationship problems, or the ones who just want to act on their “Worst Behavior”. Overall, Nothing Was the Same continues to prove just how emotional and crazy Drake can be, but it still made me love and appreciate him as an artist. After listening to this album, truly nothing was the same.
– Jessica Brooks
Run the Jewels 2 is not for the faint of heart. The follow up project to El-P and Killer Mike’s debut project Run the Jewels is characterized by infectious beats as well as pure, hard bars that will keep your head banging hours after the album’s 39 minutes have eclipsed. “Me and El-P got time to kill, got folks to kill on overkill. He hanging out the window I hold the wheel, one black, one white we shoot to kill,” Mike rips on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” This record comes on virtually the same wavelength as Run the Jewels and it has got to me to thinking that their next album will bring more of the same. More of the same is at the top of my wish list from this duo though and I’ll be banging Mike and El forever.
– Travis Breese
Acid Rap is Chance the Rapper’s second official release and one of the premier mixtapes of 2013, published as a free digital download when he was twenty years old. After its release he was headhunted by major labels, but he steadfastly refused their offers, instead opting to become incredibly successful as an independent rapper. It’s easy to see why Acid Rap was Chance’s springboard into fame – it combines elements of everything from soul to acid jazz to funk with a uniquely Chicagoan spirit and a frenetic joy for life. It is much more complex than his initial release, 10 Day, exploring themes of gun violence, drug use, and Chance’s witnessing of the violent murder of his close friend Rodney Kyles, Jr.. However, though the mood of the record turns from wistful to mournful, Chance’s flow never loses its upbeat energy. This is the mixtape that established Chance the Rapper as one of the most preeminent members of the newest generation of rap, one that eschews the established music industry and embraces the internet as a way of connecting with audiences.
– Amelia McEntire
Danny Brown on XXX gives an introspective, spastic, offbeat project that is truly unique to him. With his Detroit hood style, he gives a truly “genuine” project. His voice is one of the first things that grabs you; he has a whiny inflection that might make a person turn in it off at first listen, but if you stick with you have an experience that is truly exclusive to hip-hop. In some parts of this album, Danny sounds as if he is satirizing commercial rap with the repetitive, almost annoying hook on “Radio Song”, or the Waka Floka type rap on “Bruiser Brigade”. All in all, this is a very interesting album that embodies what hip-hop is about– going against the grain and doing something different.
– Daniel Arisa
Codeine has been a popular drug for rappers for a long time, but 2015 was the year Codeine became the undisputed, prime drug of choice for rap stars and up and comers. Lyrics, songs, and whole albums have been dedicated to the thick, medicinal syrup. No album captures the Codeine zeitgeist quite like Future’s DS2 (short for Dirty Sprite 2). The album drips and oozes, creating a slimy listening experience. At parties, it provides the perfect soundtrack for dewey bodies that slide and stick in a hazy room filled with loud music and people who are removed from their best judgment. DS2 was the peak of Future’s 8-month Codeine trip that produced a string of great mixtapes that led up to this classic album. The booming bass and autotune that trickles in and out of key make for late night anthems that fill a space with passionate chants that match the intensity of the instrumental. Innovators like Young Thug and Future have shifted the rap culture, creating waves that other rappers have tried their best to emulate. KCOU recognizes DS2 as the album that most completely captures the sound of the new era of rap.
– Myles Poydras
Earl Sweatshirt is an anomaly when it comes to rappers. His sophomore album Doris, released in 2013, features lyricism and production unrivaled by any artists in his realm. Off-kilter rhythms and fuzzy drums drive the hazy head-space that Earl embodies. Though the album is known for its grimy sound and mood, Earl constantly switches the momentum, be it through his own rapping, or the many features he includes. Brash and textured tracks such as “Burgundy” and “Molasses” are nicely contrasted by the dream-like vibrations from the likes of “Knight” and “Hive”. The album itself draws much of its acclaimed musicianship through the many collaborators that lended a hand in it’s construction. Hip-hop legends such as RZA, Pharrell, The Alchemist, and Samiyam all added their own unique elements to the already astounding style the Earl possesses.
– Ryan Groom
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Piñata is an essential hip-hop album of the 2010s. It is the follow up to Madvillainy that was desperately needed except without Doom. Gibbs flows are smooth as butter throughout and at the same time, his story telling comes across effortless. Madlib comes with his classic sound of 70s soul sampled instrumentals. The instrumentals themselves could stand alone as a project itself and yet be another top notch album. On Piñata, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib not only created one of 2014’s best albums but also a classic album for hip-hop heads.
– Kyle Veidt