by Reed Lawson, Guest Contributor,
Hi, I’m Reed. I am a graduate student at Wake Forest School of Medicine, and am currently studying to attain a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Structural Biology. I am married to the lovely Elizabeth Corney, who you may have heard of before. I like all things regarding pop culture and entertainment, and enjoy playing trivia and sports in my free time.
Recently, I came across and read a fascinating book, quite possibly the best book to be released in 2015. The name of this book is The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed. The author of this book is Shea Serrano (recently from Grantland, RIP), who IMO is one of the funniest and most insightful writers on the Internet. This book has a foreword by Ice-T (who you may have heard of before), and is illustrated by Arturo Torres (who I had not heard of before, but who it turns out is an excellent artist). In this book, Shea selects one rap song a year from 1979-2014, and does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. Each chapter is woven with detailed analysis, personal and historical anecdotes, and Shea’s signature brand of humor and relatability. Since I enjoyed this book so much, I figured I’d try the same thing for 2015 (albeit at a much smaller scale) up to this point.
(Disclaimer: I am most certainly not as good of a writer and/or student of hip hop as Shea. If you think this is bad, please immediately head to amazon.com and buy Shea’s book, it’s pretty dope.)
I have four honorable mentions, followed by my selection as the important rap song of 2015.
“Grief”: A paranoid, jittery dagger of a song, “Grief” is performed and produced by Earl Sweatshirt, off his album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. This song is notable for its insular nature, a sharp contrast to earlier work done with the rap collective OFWGKTA. Now, this certainly is not the first example of a rap song focusing inward; that’s been done quite successfully since the early 90’s. Here though, Earl does a hell of a job emoting an intense personal turmoil, turning his usually silky, freestyle-like flow into pointed barbs over a droning, sludgy beat (from Earl himself, it should be noted), before brilliantly transitioning to a slower, more hypnotic delivery (likely from the “Xanax out the canister to pop”). This song is important because of the complexity of that turmoil. Earl’s grief and paranoia can be attributed to many sources: illness, fear of betrayal, fear of police, his grandma’s death, resurfacing addictions etc etc. The dedication to which Earl bares himself, combined with the excellent technical aspects of the song, makes it one of the most important rap songs of 2015.
“i”: This song, the first single off Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, was a considerable mood whiplash from his previous release, the sobering, stone-cold classic Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The impact and importance of the transition from the life-spanning scope of that album, to saying “I love myself” over an Isley Brothers sample, cannot be understated. King Kendrick simply cannot lose here. He ducks enemies, the police, Satan, his past, gang violence, and even the end of the world, with a smile on his face, buoyed by his own self-affirmation. His struggles with mental illness are explicitly referenced and triumphed over, and his own confidence is imbued to his community by the starkness of his origin story (“everybody lack confidence, everybody lack confidence / How many times my potential was anonymous?”). He takes this a step further on the album cut of the song, bestowing black royalty directly from historical Ethiopia on himself and his company, in an amazing spoken-word segment. Despite the longstanding and ever-present racial issues in America, and considering his own personal struggle, Kendrick Lamar, a black man in 2015, says he loves himself. Thus, a very important rap song in 2015.
“Trap Queen”: Fetty Wap was undoubtedly the biggest breakout hip hop artist, and arguably of all music, in 2015. His album, coincidentally titled Fetty Wap, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 this September. It was supported by four Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “Trap Queen (#2, 25 consecutive weeks in the top 10)”, “My Way” (my personal favorite, jumped from #87 to #7 after Drake added his buttery smooth verse to the radio release), “679” (#4), and “Again”(#33). Fetty Wap, both personally and professionally, is an immensely likeable dude, and this likability shines through most on Trap Queen, an amazing earworm of a song with an instantly captivating bridge and a hook so good it should be preserved in amber. It also presents an interesting take on authorial intent/consumer interpretation. The universal nature of the song is apparent upon first listen, and it can be easily re-directed to your love object of choice. However, in an interview with Maxim, Fetty himself describes it as “It’s not like, ‘Oh, babe, I love you, let’s work for this,’… No, we’re about to go break the law, and we’re gonna have some fun.” It’s this contrast, and the fact that it’s the most successful representative of everything Fetty Wap has accomplished to this point, that makes it an important rap song in 2015.
“Back to Back”: Let’s get something out of the way here first. This isn’t necessarily a historically great diss track. If Jay Z vs. Nas is the William Faulkner over which all other feuds must cower in futility, then Meek vs. Drake is more like John Grisham. Grisham will obviously never write anything as good as Faulkner. However, let’s say in 2015 Grisham drops a good book, a tight thriller that subverts expectations and cements his reputation as the master of his genre in the present age. That’s Back to Back. After this song dropped, there was no question about Drake’s position as the Best Rapper Alive, if there was one to begin with. To me, this isn’t about ghostwriting or disses or destroying careers (Although, that picture of Joe Carter on the single cover was, my goodness, another level of cold-blooded. Maybe it is about the disses a little. Just a little.). This is about Drake, at the height of his powers, with hip hop at his feet, somehow ascending even higher. Thus, a very very important rap song in 2015.
“Thought It Was a Drought”: This is the most important rap song in 2015. Drake may be the Best Rapper Alive, but no one in hip hop today has so thoroughly mastered and embodied a genre as well as Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn. Future has perfected trap rap. This is his year. DS2 and his portion of WATTBA are staggering portraits of lean-fueled verisimilitude and regret from rap’s most singularly talented artist. This track, the first one off DS2, is brilliant from beginning to end. It opens with the sounds of codeine and soda crackling in a Styrofoam cup. The beat is distorted and creepy in a sing-songy type of way. Future’s Auto-Tune-tinged boasts are empty, with the darker truths of drug addiction and the hauntings of past actions carrying the real weight. Hip hop, perhaps more so than any other genre, has been characterized by swift change and fluidity. Future, and what he has accomplished with his prolific output (3 proper albums and 12 mixtapes in five-and-a-half-years; with 1 album and 4 mixtapes in the past year alone, and two more scheduled for the end of this year), represents this aspect more than any other rap artist today. The commercial success (both DS2 and WATTBA went #1 on the Rap, Hip Hop/R&B, and overall charts; “Where Ya At”, “F*** Up Some Commas”, and “Jumpman” all receiving heavy airplay) of this output, in this style of hip hop, only validates his pioneer status. That is why “Thought It Was a Drought”, the first and best example of what Future has done, on the best rap album of the year, is the most important rap song in 2015.
Other songs to not make the cut: “No Type”, “Know Yourself”, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”, “Live from the Gutter”, “Alright”, and “I Serve the Base.”
Drake. “Back to Back.” Young Money Entertainment, 2015. MP3
Earl Sweatshirt. “Grief.” I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. Tan Cressida Records and Columbia Records, 2015. MP3.
Fetty Wap. “Trap Queen.” Fetty Wap. RGF Productions, 300 Entertainment, and Atlantic Records, 2015. MP3
Fetty Wap. Interviewed by Kathy Iandoli. Maxim. 7 Aug. 2015. Web
Future. “Thought It Was a Drought.” DS2. A1 Recordings, Freebandz Entertainment, and Epic Records.
Kendrick Lamar. “i.” To Pimp A Butterfly. Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records, 2015. MP3.
Serrano, Shea. The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed. New York: Abrams, 2015. Print.