It’s that time of the year again; we’ve already rounded up the full AU crew’s Top 40 Songs of 2015, but here’s something a bit different. The AU’s Chris Singh looks at the best hip-hop and R&B tracks of 2015 after countless hours (probably days; who knows) of picking apart the year’s best releases and working them into a top 50. Note, as always with these lists, things have chopped and changed since our mid-year count down – sometimes tracks have a very short-lasting appeal, sometimes they get better with time – so some of those tracks may not appear here.
Artists appear no more than once each (unless featuring) and only tracks that were first released in 2015 (not including those that were on 2014 albums but released this year) have been included. Here we go; part one – 50 to 26.
50. The Internet Feat. Kaytranada – Girl **PLAYING LANEWAY FESTIVAL + SIDESHOWS 2016**
Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians chop it up with a characteristic Kaytranada beat to give us a smooth neo-soul cut that’s airy and rich, perfect for Syd to show off her relaxed vibe. For a band three-albums deep, with a variety of perspectives out there, it took “Girl” to show that The Internet are at their best with stripped-back, softer sounds.
Tour info: HERE
49. Kanye West – All Day
Kanye really hasn’t given us much this year in terms of music. He dropped “Only One” with Sir Paul McCartney on New Years Day, sprinkled a few gems with superstar guest spots here and there, but has for the most part remained fairly silent. “All Day” is the only thing even close to traditional hip hop this year, and it was debuted in a spectacular fashion, live with flamethrowers and crowded stage. This is one of those tracks that would kill it live, but sounds fairly lacking in the studio; still, it’s got those crunchy, distorted samples and musty, muffled bass that ‘Ye has been loving lately, and that’s very hard to pass up.
48. Raury Feat. Tom Morello – Friends
“Friends” embodies what Raury is all about, a positive, progressive song that’s simple in execution but much more grand in it’s idea of connecting the young, talented artist with the solid fan base he has built through his approach to social media and, of course, his music. Tom Morello doesn’t have a huge presence here, but it says a lot that the legendary musician would jump on board this song.
Honourable Mention: Forbidden Knowledge Feat Big K.R.I.T
47. OverDoz Feat. Pharrell – Last Kiss
Vibrant AF. OverDoz. focuses on the dancefloor with this funky hip hop party. The group’s hungry, diverse album earlier this year proved that they need to be in the spotlight a bit more, this track is them playfully stealing that spotlight, with the help of Pharrell Williams.
46. Problem Feat. T.I – In Motion
Low-key one of the best club anthems of the year, it’s just a shame the potency of this groovy cut didn’t reach beyond the mixtape circuit. Problem recruits tip who unsurprisingly steals the show here, crafting an infectious hook that extends to his beat-defining flow.
Honourable Mention: Hennessy Feat. T.I
45. B Wise – Lately
B Wise’s “Prince Akeem” has made him a big player on the local scene this year, but it’s a track like “Lately” which really shows off his impressive, nimble flow. It’s one of those tracks that comes after a Soundcloud session and immediately makes you take notice, giving us B’s smooth, measured rap over a soulful, bubbling beat that sticks true to current trends but is distinctive enough to stand on it’s own.
44. Bankroll Fresh Feat Jeezy, Travis Porter & Boochie Boo – Walked In (Remix)
There’s always at least one simple, hot beat that takes the local southern states by storm every year, speaking to the current trends of production and giving folk a “street anthem” to vibe to. Most of the time, it’s coming from an artist who is lesser known around the world – let alone around the states – and before you know it you have a bunch of local artists jumping on for a remix. “Walked In” is that beat, and while Boochie Boo may not be a big name – or one that inspires much confidence – Jeezy joins the already fire-spitting Travis Porter, all whom spin some tough verses; it’s enough to have us jamming “Walked In” for years to come.
43. Freddie Gibbs – Pronto **PLAYING GOLDEN PLAINS FESTIVAL + SIDESHOWS 2016**
Thought he just gave us one hell of an album with Shadow of a Doubt it’s actually “Pronto” that remains Gibbs’ best cut this year. The man can literally do no wrong, shaping his flow around the beat and absolutely tearing it to shreds, continuing his reputation as one of the most gifted lyricists in hip hop right now.
Tour info: HERE
42. Big K.R.I.T Feat Tut – Riding Dirty (Remix)
Krit is at home over the more soulful, jazzy beats that complement his deep southern drawl perfectly, and this update of last year’s mixtape highlight once again plays to the emcee’s strength. Switching up the beat, which still crews one of the best lines from his own track “My Trunk” and then bringing in Chattanooga rapper Tut was a great move for one of the best rapper’s in the biz right now.
Honourable Mention: ’86
41. Rittz Feat. Yelawolf, Royce Da 5’9 & Kxng Crooked – LAF (Remix)
Yelawolf has been putting on Rittz for a while now, so it’s only right that he step out on his own for “LAF”, though he still needs Yela to make it palatable, with both emcees working so damn well together and giving us a banging anthem to bounce around to. Add Royce Da 5’9 and Kxng Crooked to the mix for a meaty rhyme-fest and you’ve got one of the year’s best remixes, even if the hook isn’t all that. Also, Rittz’s verse has got to be the most relevant string of bars this year.
40. D.R.A.M – Cha Cha
This one was a grower. It takes a bit getting used to a style as new as this, but D.R.A.M’s charming, bizarre Super Mario World-sampling “Cha Cha” was too much of a good thing to ignore. Even Drake couldn’t resist it.
39. Meek Mill Feat. Big Sean & A$AP Ferg – B-Boy
The energy all three bring to this track is infectious. It’s style over substance of course, but each spit with such distinctive and entertaining flows, stomping over the trunk-rattling muffled bass with force. Fergie steals the show here, with a funky, unstructured verse that reminds us of the emcee’s diversity.
38. GoldLink – Sober Thoughts **PLAYING LANEWAY FESTIVAL + SIDESHOWS 2016**
“Sober Thoughts”‘ soulful bounce is the perfect platform for GoldLink to prove his worth to hip hop in 2015, delivering a chilled, head-nodding blend of rap and R&B that demonstrates yet another style that the adaptable rapper could perfect in his sleep. He released one of my favourite hip-house tracks last year with “Planet Paradise”, and this year has brought us one of the better albums of the year, with this cut as the highlight
37. Skepta – Shutdown **PLAYING FIELD DAY 2016**
One of the tracks that brought the spotlight to UK’s refreshed hip hop scene, Skepta’s grimey “Shut Down” breaks up the emcees fiery rhymes with with the blunt phrase taken from a Drake vine, keeping up this whole cultural exchange between the U.S and the U.K hip hop scenes that has been going on this year.
36. Gangrene Feat. Samuel T. Herring & Earl Sweatshirt – Play It Cool
A sample dripping with funk, Samuel T Herring bringing a slick, noir-like hook, and Oh No, Alchemist, and Earl all killing it. Perfect. The Welcome to Los Santos mixtape is full of quality, but this neo-noir caper most definitely sticks out thanks to the powerful Future Islands crooner.
35. Big Sean Feat. Kanye West & Drake – Blessings
Big Sean really came into his own with this year’s surprisingly excellent DarkSkyParadise, matching his flamboyant style with the deep, clever lyrics we never got from him when he first stepped onto the scene. This eery, darkly spirital beat gives him the perfect backdrop to hold his own with the star power of both Drake and Kanye West.
34. Pusha T Feat. The-Dream – M.F.T.R **PLAYING BEYOND THE VALLEY + FIELD DAY + SIDESHOWS 2016**
“I’m Kim Jong of the crack song/Gill-Scot Heron to the black poem”. Yezzir.
Tour info: HERE
33. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Sunday Candy
While Macklemore put out an excellent off-kilter, 80’s worshipping rap song with “Downtown” and then fucked it all up with a terrible, misplaced Broadway-inspired hook, Chance the Rapper was over in the corner perfecting his experimental approach with tracks like “Sunday Candy”. He teams up with Donnie Trumpet and the rest of The Social Experiment to wax about love with an uplifting, joyous sound that pulls on varied styles to offer something cohesive and memorable.
32. Troy Lanez – Say It
Sampling Brownstone’s “If You Love Me” and giving trap-inflected R&B one of it’s defining anthems, Troy Lanez has a certified hit on his hands. Pop-friendly and completely in-line with current trends but bringing in some softer, almost gospel like harmony.
31. John Depth Feat. Mind Over Matter & Page IV – Couches*
Sydney-based production duo John Depth crafted a hypnotic, atmospheric trap beat for this one, bringing in Mind Over Matter’s Smiles Again who sounds perfectly comfortable over the production, weaving thoughtful verses around Page IV’s infectious hook.
30. Alessia Cara – Here
Alessia Cara has the attitude in her voice down pat, jazzing up “Here” with a punchy performance that is immediately arresting, turning Issac Hayes into an anti-superficial, anti-party anthem that’s much larger in it’s scope than any club-minded R&B track this year.
29. Tinashe Feat. Chris Brown – Player
I hated this song when I first heard it. After the flawless “2 On” (which topped our 2014 countdown) this seemed like a step back, leaning more towards something that’s more dance-pop first, R&B second, rather than the other way around. It didn’t take long for the song to grow on me. Not long at all.
28. Jidenna Feat Roman GianArthur – Classic Man
Coming off of a year absolutely dominated by DJ Mustard and his “ratchet” sound, “Classic Man” came to give the sound a new twist, with Jidenna making quite the entrance with a swagger masterclass from start to finish, helped along by fellow vocalist Roman GianArthur. It came early in the year, and remained one of the catchiest R&B tracks of the year.
27. Yelawolf – ‘Till It’s Gone
It’s hard to believe Yelawolf’s delivery at times. This is an emcee who has as much technical wizadry as a rap great, and uses it, along with his warbling Alabama snare, to spin the most powerful blend of country and hip hop I think the industry has ever seen. This is what Kid Rock should have been.
26. Tate Kobang – Bank Rolls (Remix)
Tate Kobang’s “Bank Rolls” was so well received that he just had to go and remix it, giving us something fuller, more fun, and superbly infectious. The whole thing flows beautifully, even if the lyrics aren’t the most original, playing with a two-stepping hand clap rhythm that ties the soft drums from Tim Trees’ source material in with a more contemporary, vibrant style that is so damn hard to resist.
**Not on YouTube, in which case a Soundcloud link has been embedded.