Late last year, after the world buckled with disgust over the acquittal of the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown & Eric Garner, Questlove put out a call to musicians far and wide, demanding that someone, somewhere finally revive the movement’s most powerful tool: anthems of protest and unrest. We may yet look back and recall that tweet as a watershed moment in the evolution of pop music. Whether by reaction to the suddenly well-publicized slayings of our nation’s black youth or to what was something of an off year in 2014, this cycle of 365 days has offered more to enrich hip-hop and r&b as we hear them in its first six months than all of last year’s contributions combined–with the possible exception of D’Angelo’s 14-years-in-the-making comeback piece Black Messiah, which we will contend is the record that sounded the avalanche of musical magic this year. Black Messiah would be an immediate call to arms, but also arguably the sonic catalyst for records like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose Your Weapon, Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper & The Social Experiment’s Surf.
But even with all of the socially-sharp commentary and elevation of the musical game, 2015 hasn’t been driven by those sentiments alone. There’s been plenty of genuinely stellar releases that have arrived this year, some as introductions, others as continuations of an already strong legacy, that have managed to do right by listeners without taking themselves too seriously. Take for instance A$AP Rocky’s At.Long. Last. A$AP or Action Bronson’s major label debut Mr. Wonderful or Snoop Dogg & Pharrell’s Bush; all party records that stand alone and choose specifically to remain outside of a political context, while still managing to be as earworm-y as anything the last few years have seen or heard. And that’s ok. But it’s certainly made things difficult for us in the year-end superlative conversation. So this year, we’re recruiting your ears to decide which record was the year’s best. We’ve narrowed it down a bit, but there’s certainly a hearty debate to be had, that we’ve tried to hash out in our own camp, but the sheer magnitude of 2015’s top-shelf releases have us at a loss, not even counting how prospective submissions from Frank Ocean, Kanye West and potentially both Nas & Drake will change (or end) the conversation. So without further ado, these are this year’s hottest records…so far. Now get to listening, y’all.