The Biggest Rap Albums of 2015 So Far

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What’s up music lovers?! We are officially one third through the year, and music album releases–particularly in hip hop–have been high in both quantity and quality. The amount of ‘surprise’ drops we’ve seen already has been something special, and it can honestly be hard to sift through it all. That’s why we here at WUD Music have done our best to highlight some of the most prominent releases from 2015, with special commentary on our favorites. The following are listed in order of their release. Let’s dive in.

Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife

I heard “No Type” for the first time in a while last night, and it was glorious. A mood booster in any situation, Mike WiLL Made-It’s beats are designed to turn people up. While the duo known as Rae Sremmurd (‘ear’ and ‘drummers’ backwards)  are new to the bigger stage, don’t be deceived. These guys have an energy unlike many of their older rap colleagues, and this album reflects that energy.

Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$

You can check my review of B4.DA.$$ for Jonk Music by clicking this long ass link here.

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Year after year, Drake earns a bit more of my respect. With his shotgun drop of IYRTITL, he has finally been established in my personal lens as a legitimate hitmaker MC. Right from the opening track, “Legend” Drake uses this mixtape-album-hybrid to showcase the most boastful rap I’ve heard in recent memory. It’s confident, carefree, and chock full of lyrics ready for candid use at social gatherings (not necessarily because they’re appropriate, but because they’re fun to say). If you haven’t told someone you’ve been running through (insert your city of residence here) with your woes, you need to stop sleeping now.

Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise

I don’t really fuck with Big Sean (as he doesn’t fuck with me, apparently), buuuuut he appears to have strung together enough songs to have a notable album in 2015.  Features from Kanye, Drake, and Lil Wayne with production credits from DJ Mustard, Boi 1-da, and Mike WiLL Made-it aren’t too shabby either. I haven’t listened to it too much, so I requisitioned the opinion of a friend for this one:

Sam would also like you to know how game-changing the extended version of “Paradise” is. Sean goes in.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (By Joe McAsey)

Everyone has likely heard about Kendrick Lamar’s new record To Pimp A Butterfly, and that it is already in contention for album of the year. Any review that I can give for it would never be able to do it justice, but I hope to pinpoint at least some of the reasons why it could stand as one of the best hip hop albums of decade.

One aspect of this album that makes it so important is its cultural relevance in terms of lyrical content. With an increasing number of publicized incidents of police violence against black people, race has become a huge topic. Any given song off of the album addresses race in some way. You’ll find that Kendrick has quite a bit to say about race issues in society today.

Another interesting dimension of the record is its place in Kendrick Lamar’s discography. After releasing a classic such as good kid m.A.A.d city, it is nearly impossible to follow up and deliver. The album contains a strong funk influence, which reconnects with the some of the roots of black music and black pride. The genre also places Butterfly in a completely different realm from from his previous record. He does not try to recreate good kid m.A.A.d city, although some of the important themes carry over.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the meaning within the album, but if you have not listened to it much or at all, you need to hear it. Even if you don’t enjoy the music itself, the lyrics say a lot about society today. If you are interested in reading more, you can check out my track breakdown off of the first song on the record “Wesley’s Theory.” This track manages to pack the major themes and metaphor of a “pimped butterfly” in under five minutes.

Thanks to Joey for this contribution. You can check out more of his stuff at Cup O’ Joe Music.

Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful (By Brennan Haelig)

Back in March, gourmet chef-turned-MC Action Bronson released his major label debut LP Mr. Wonderful on Atlantic/Vice Records. After just the first few tracks, it’s clear that Bronson wrote the album as more of a cohesive project rather than focusing on individual tracks, even stating that “I don’t care about individual tracks, I’m trying to create a complete, classic project”. Overall the album favors production from live instruments over computerized beats. With production credits from Mark Ronson (of “Uptown Funk” fame) and Alchemist to Statik Selektah, Mr. Wonderful takes listeners on a journey through a variety of soundscapes. Most of the instrumentals are laced with influence from jazz, funk and blues. The lead single “Baby Blue” (featuring Chance The Rapper) stands out as one of the album’s most intricate tracks. Action Bronson tells a story of love lost, and makes his singing debut on the crooning chorus of the track. The album features various interludes and instrumental sections that add a nice flavor to the LP, seguing seamlessly from track to track. The lyrical content encompasses a lot of the same material we’ve heard from Action before, from lavish adventures to boastful metaphors, sprinkled with a fair share of references to marijuana and gourmet cuisine. The project concludes with “Easy Rider”, Bronsoliño’s bad-boy anthem to debauchery and the rock star life (“who gives a fuck? I’m a sinner”). The track sets the mood perfectly for Mr. Wonderful to “ride the Harley into the sunset”, closing out the album in true Action Bronson fashion.

Props to Brennan for this review. You can find him on Twitter.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt
(by Laura Oberwetter)

2 years after the successful release of “Doris”, Earl Sweatshirt is back with the darkly minimal I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Doris was by no means the feel good album of the year, but it’s amusing samples and features, quick verses, and lighthearted beats are now almost completely gone. I Don’t Like Shit is a deep, grim motion of poignant maturation for Earl.

The opening track, “Huey”, is as lively as the album gets with its carefree organ and bright sound effects. Following the relatively cheerful “Huey” are songs like “Grief” and “Faucet”, laden with somber and distorted noise; the tempos lumber along so slowly that it feels like these tracks could fall apart at any moment. It’s stripped down, letting Earl and his verses take the front seat before wobbling and wavering melodies. The gloomy, bare music only makes sense paired with the lyrics. Earl Sweatshirt isn’t a “pop that molly” lyricist anymore. He talks about self-medicating to cope with the loss of his grandmother, the shadows of addiction, longing for solidarity while surrounded by people he mistrusts, and the trouble that fame and attention have brought him. It’s intimate, almost to the point of discomfort.

Although it’s a move in a new direction from his past work, this may be a more accurate representation of Earl as an artist. In at interview for NPR’s Microphone Check, Earl Sweatshirt says,“[I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside] is the first thing that I’ve said that I fully stand behind”. It may take fans a couple listens to readjust their vision of Earl’s style, but the honesty and effort put into this album is salient, and likely well received. Some artists can’t pull off a dramatic shift in style; evidently, Earl Sweatshirt is not one of those artists.

Props to Lauren her contribution. She too, is on Twitter.

Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb

Announced soon after fellow Odd Future friend Earl Sweatshirt’s album, Cherry Bomb is the most recent “surprise release” we’ve seen. What’s not a surprise is how Tyler’s sound continues to evolve, slowly shifting from internet rap to heavily jazz-influenced pieces. Tracks like “FIND YOUR WINGS”, “2SEATER”, and “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT” showcase Tyler’s jazzy style, while the album’s self-titled track and “DEATHCAMP” show the rapper can still exude the DGAF attitude he’s been known for. It’s wide-ranging project, so it definitely takes a more open mind to enjoy.

Hope this puts y’all on to some new stuff. By NO means is this a comprehensive list, so if you’re looking for more I would check out Wikipedia. Brennan would have you know that list does not include MOD SUN, and I would have you know it doesn’t include CRASHprez. Until next time, enjoy the Hip Hop.

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Mod Sun Brings The Look Up Tour to Union South This Friday!

Mod Sun Flier

Tuesday, March 10th marks the long-awaited release date of Mod Sun’s debut full-length album “Look Up” on Rostrum Records!

Hailing from Bloomington MN, Mod Sun is known as the pioneer of “Hippy-Hop” – his unique blend of upbeat and colorfully flavored instrumentals in combination with uplifting, weed-laced lyrics. After a number of years playing drums in semi-successful post-hardcore bands (Four Letter Lie, Scary Kids Scaring Kids) as a teenager, Mod Sun (formerly Derek Smith) decided to pick up the mic and change his creative focus to making rap music. MOD SUN is an acronym for “Movement on Dreams, Stand Under None” – a mantra Mod embodies in all that he does. His personality is as infectious in person as it is in his songs, claiming that he “…has no fans, just friends”.

Look Up is Mod’s first official album after a slew of mixtapes and EPs dating back to 2009. The project boasts a number of heavy-hitting features including G-Eazy, Machine Gun Kelly, Dizzy Wright, Travis Barker, Riff Raff and even an unofficial interlude by Tech N9ne, a long-time friend of Mod’s. The album flows seamlessly with spacey, otherworldly interludes linking one track to the next. Keeping with the style of his last few projects, the production on this album leans more towards live instrumentation than the sample-based instrumentals common in his earlier work. Produced by Mod himself, lead single “Howlin at the Moon” is a trippy, synth-y foray into a 1970’s fever dream (seriously, check out the video below).

The album opens with a trippy introduction by Mod Sun, urging listeners to “find magic in the everyday” and segueing into the first track, “Headed Home”. The album doesn’t quite gain pace until the 3rd track, the garage-rock fueled “Free Love”, a party anthem perfect for any hippy on a summer’s day. G-Eazy steps up to the mic on “Goddess”, his lady killer flow mixing well with the sing-song chorus (“I just wanna run away with you”). The interlude by Tech N9ne is surprisingly one of the highlights of the album. Tech touches on the struggle to find happiness in one of his most light-hearted appearances on a track to date. Serving the role of the ‘club banger’ we get “My Hippy”, a track that’s been out for a while but reappears on the album with a new feature from Dizzy Wright. The heavy bass and hi-hat-laden track makes for a great opener to Mod’s live set. Another highlight on the album is “Shoot ‘Em Down” featuring Machine Gun Kelly. Mod and MGK trade off rapid-fire verses while Blackbear holds it down with a chorus that threatens to “Shoot ‘Em Down with a peace sign”. The instrumental doesn’t stand out as much as others on the album, but the acoustic guitar and live drum rhythm (common in a lot of Mod’s newer tracks) lets the rappers really take the spotlight and show off their lyricism.

As far as lyrics on the album as a whole, Mod doesn’t fail to impress. Although he often gets criticized for having a simpler flow (some even denying his style is “rap” at all), he seems to really have stepped up his game on Look Up. Tracks like “My Favorite Shirt is My Skin”, “Not That Bad (feat. Jody Highroller)” and “Same Way Pt. 2” really show off Mod’s lyrical ability. His verses are peppy and upbeat, telling psychedelic stories and sharing his words of wisdom. Although they may not be as complex or intellectual as some ‘conscious rappers’, it’s impossible to listen to a Mod Sun track without leaving happy and inspired. My personal favorite track on the album is “Same Way Pt 2”, a follow-up to “Same Way” which was a track off of his very first mixtape. The track features a children’s chorus singing the hook, and one of Mod’s most personal and touching verses yet – “I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a hero, I vow to make this world a better place before my child turns zero”. It’s a perfect conclusion to the musical portion of the album, fading out with ambient bell chimes and violins accompanying the eerie voices of children singing, like waking up from a dream.

As the music fades, the album changes pace and we hear Mod Sun begin to narrate a novel. Not only does Look Up include 15 tracks (long for an LP) of new original material, but Mod also decided to include his autobiographical book “Did I Ever Wake Up..?” with the bundle in the form of an audiobook narrated and scored by himself.

The album dropped TODAY, March 10th which happens to coincide with Mod’s birthday, to be celebrated with a hometown show at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis. Last month he embarked on his first national headlining tour, accompanied by fellow MCs Dillon Cooper, KR, and Karizma, his good friend (and co-producer on Look Up) Blackbear, and DJ Gnash. The Look Up Tour brings more production than ever before to Mod’s live set, adding onstage light-up set pieces and a live band to his show. The tour comes to Madison on Friday March 13th at The Sett in Union South!

WUD Music presents the Look Up Tour featuring Mod Sun, Dillon Cooper, Blackbear and KR

Friday, March 13th – The Sett in Union South

FREE SHOW!

THIS FRIDAY: Dizzy Wright in Union South – FAQs

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Hey there music lovers! If you haven’t heard yet, we are having a ticketed show to end our Fall semester with a bang. Independent rappers Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton are coming to Union South THIS FRIDAY, December 5th, and tickets are still on sale!

I’m sure a lot of you have a lot of questions about the show overall, so we’re here to lay everything out for you (in FAQ form), so when all your friends are hearing about this show last minute and grilling you with questions, you will have the inside scoop from us and be the cool friend for knowing what the hell is going down on campus. Without further ado, here are the facts:

I hate reading unless it’s on Facebook. Where else can I find this info?

You can join our Facebook event and find most everything you need to know, but the best tidbits are below!

When is this show? Where is it?

Again, this show is Friday, December 5th. It will be taking place in The Sett in Union South. If you need to utilize Mapquest or another service to find the venue, the address for Union South is 1308 W. Dayton Street, 53715.

Wait a second. WUD Music shows are normally $FREE.99. Why do I have to pay for this one?

While we here at WUD Music strive to fulfill our mission of booking great free music every weekend, on occasion we will book an artist that takes a little more out of our budget than average. Selling tickets for these special shows allow us to present the artist to you for a price that is affordable for both you and us.

So how much are tickets?

Tickets are $15 today through Thursday. The price increases to $18 on Friday (the day of the show).

Am I eligible to purchase a ticket?

Tickets are available for purchase by any and all students in the Madison area with Student ID. UW-Madison, Edgewood College, MATC, Madison Media Institute, you name it. Members of The Wisconsin Union can also purchase tickets.

Awesome, I am eligible! So where can I purchase these tickets?

Tickets are available for purchase at the Memorial Union and Vilas Hall box offices. The MU box office is located in the newly renovated West Wing, and the Vilas box office is attached to VIlas Hall and can be entered on East Campus Mall.

You can also purchase tickets online (with fees) at http://bit.ly/DizzyTix.

Crap. I am not a student, nor am I am Union member. But I REALLY wanted to see this show! What can I do to get in?

Fortunately for you, Mr./Ms. Ineligible, there are ways to attend this show if you are not currently a student or Union Member. You can join The Wisconsin Union here, and become a Union Member today! Trust us, there are more benefits to becoming a member than just this show.

Eligible purchasers are also able to buy up to two tickets, so they can bring a guest (eligible or not) with them to the show!

What the hell? I’m trying to buy tickets online and I can’t print them off! What’s up with that?!

Because of our guidelines for who is allowed to purchase tickets, we have to check for student IDs or Union membership cards regardless of whether you purchase in person or online. All tickets ordered online can be picked up at will call the day of the show.

Where is this “will call” you speak of?

You can pick up will call tickets at the Union South box office, which is near the Daily Scoop on the first floor of the building.

Can I purchase tickets the day of at the Union South box office also?

Yes, you can! Remember though, tickets are $18 day of show, so get your rear in gear and save yourself some money! The Union South box office will be open the day of the show from 5:30PM to 10:00PM.

When is Dizzy Wright ACTUALLY going to go on stage?

The doors to The Sett will open at 8:00PM and the show starts at 9:00PM. Follow us on Twitter, to get these details of set times the night of the show. Hope this helped everyone. Thanks for reading!

Wait! What if I don’t like hip hop and still want to see something cool?

Oh, we’ve got you covered. Vinyl Theatre is showing off their indie pop sound in Der Rathskeller in Memorial Union. The show starts with The Millennium at 9:00PM. Join our Facebook Event here!

Again, thanks for reading, and hopefully this answers all your questions. If you have any additional questions, hit us up on Twitter or the Dizzy Wright Facebook event. Peace.

JUST ANNOUNCED: Dizzy Wright w/ Jarren Benton, 12/5 @ Union South

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Independent Hip-Hop heads rejoice! We are proud to present Funk Volume rappers Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton as a dynamic duo that is ready to help Madison students finish their fall semester with a bang.

Equal parts hard and chill, Dizzy Wright comes out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and has been establishing his own sound since he signed to L.A. rapper Hopsin’s independent record label, Funk Volume.Through his hustle, he earned himself a spot in XXL Magazine’s 2013 Freshman Class. His latest project, State of Mind, is a seven-song EP that dropped in April and peaked at 54 on the Billboard 200. You can listen to State of Mind via Spotify below.

Hailing from Decatur Georgia, Jarren Benton brings an entirely different vein of hip hop with his sound. With influences coming from both Eminem and Outkast, Jarren looks to maintain elements from the mainstream and inject his own element of crazy simultaneously. Benton’s hustle earned him a 2014 Freshman Class designation from XXL, and has most recently been sharing new music every week of #BlackOctober.

If you’re going to take time away from studies before midterms get real, this show is where you’ll want to be to set the weekend off right. See you at Union South!

WUD Music Presents: Dizzy Wright w/Jarren Benton
Date: Friday, December 5th
Time: Doors @ 8:00PM, Show @ 9:00PM
Tickets: $15
Day of Show: $18

Tickets are available to ALL Madison students and Union Members. They can be purchased at box offices in Memorial Union and East Campus Mall or online here: http://bit.ly/DizzyTix

Saturday in the Sett: Dessa w/ No Bird Sing

Dessa makes her triumphant return to Madison after an album tour that’s brought some of the lowest lows and highest highs of her career.Dessa

When Doomtree emcee and brilliant, whiskey-swigging lyricist Dessa played in Madison last spring, she had yet to release her most recent album. Though that show consisted mostly of well-loved tracks from her previous albums, A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin, the enthusiastic fans in attendance were teased by some new songs as well, leaving everyone with the sense that the upcoming release of Parts of Speech was going to be something special.

And whaddya know, we were right. Since that show, Parts of Speech finally dropped, charted at #72 in the U.S., was universally adored by listeners and reviewers from The Current to The A.V. Club to Mezzic, and the subsequent album tour sold out shows all across the country. Along the way, the crew’s van was robbed in Buffalo, NY and though they lost almost all of their equipment, they promptly experienced an outpouring of monetary support from their fans ($33,000 via Indiegogo in less than a day) to replace everything. And through all of this, they did not miss ONE. SINGLE. SHOW. This woman, this band, is a MACHINE. Check out this video of their one day, statewide tour of Minnesota (that’s four cities in 24 hours, folks), and just try to tell me that you don’t agree.

I don’t think I need to spend much time singing Dessa’s praises in this post (not to mention that I already did enough praise-singing to last us all a lifetime in my post from last April), but I will say this: There are few artists out there right now that work as hard or as passionately or with as much incredible skill as Dessa does. Listening to her music is an experience that affects every fiber of your being because you feel every single ounce of joy and pain that she pours into her music. Her whole ethic is pretty much summed up in this line from the song ‘Fighting Fish’, off of Parts of Speech

I didn’t come looking for love/ I didn’t come to pick a fight/ I come here every night to work/ And you can grab an axe, man, or you can step aside.

No Bird Sing, a trio of artists from the FIX Collective that also hails from Minneapolis, will open the show at 9:30. Weaving intricate guitar melodies and snare hits with stormy lyrics, their brooding, intense sound incorporates elements of rap, punk, and electronic, while still maintaining perfect cohesion. Check out ‘Don’t Think’, off Definition Sickness, which drops on November 12th.

Dessa, No Bird Sing, and the rest of this indie-rap extravaganza wrap up this leg of the tour at the end of the month, so grab an axe (metaphorically, as The Union tends to frown upon real weapons) and join us here on November 2nd. 

The Sett,11/2, 9:30 PM, FREE

Saturday Night on the Terrace: El-P and Killer Mike w/ Despot, Kool A.D.

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Tonight, WUD Music is presenting what is arguably the biggest rap show it has ever produced on the Memorial Union Terrace. Rappers El-P and Killer Mike have both gained mad respect over the years in the alternative and dirty south hip-hop scenes, respectively.

El-P is a former member of the underground group Company Flow, has produced music for a plethora of artists, and is the co-founder, owner and CEO of New York record label Definitive Jux.

Killer Mike has been in the game since he met Outkast rapper Big Boi in his college years, and has been on the grind ever since. While releasing six solo albums, he was also featured on a handful of songs in the early 2000s, most notably Outkast’s Grammy-winning single “The Whole World”.

Tonight, these decorated MCs come to you as a newly formed hip-hop duo, Run the Jewels. Their self-titled album can be downloaded for free here, and trust me when I say it is more than worth the time spent to acquire it. Clocking in just under 33 minutes, the duo brings 10 tracks with unique, hard-hitting beats and verses that seem effortlessly crafted. When El-P’s faster staccato bars mix seamlessly with Mike’s smooth dirty south flow, it leaves the listener more than satisfied. But my words alone can’t justify the album. Listen for yourself.

El-P and Killer Mike will be supported by Despot, a New York underground rapper with over a decade of experience, and Kool A.D., a former member of the New York group Das Racist.

Saturday, July 20, 8:00PM, Memorial Union Terrace
Admission: FREE

Heiruspecs

How was Heiruspecs you ask?  I’d be happy to enlighten you.

Minneapolis and Chicago natives and First Wave favorites PhoneticONE and Dizne opened up with a really fun set.  The floor was about half full, which is pretty good for an opener (putting 9:00 on all the posters and then starting at 9:40 may have helped that a bit). In an exclusive facebook chat interview with PhoneticONE he said “the show went really well and the crowd was dope.”  They seemed to be having a really good time and got bonus points for dropping references to Dizzy and Bird.

PhoneticONE

PhoneticONE

I don’t have much to say about DLO.  It was pretty standard hip-hop, nothing too exciting.  The crowd seemed to be getting a bit bored during their set, I saw more than a few people texting and talking out of boredom.  It was decent though, and a lot of people may have just been getting antsy waiting for Heiruspecs to come out.

St. Paul natives "Heiruspecs"

St. Paul natives "Heiruspecs"

Heiruspecs was as some might say (Matt Forrest) a “live ass show”.   The whole floor was pretty much full and there were quite a few people behind the stage as well. They played a good variety of old and new tracks.  People were getting really into it, but nothing got too out of hand (no drunk douchebags bum rushing the stage) and for once I don’t think we had any problem with security intruding just because it was Hip-Hop.  There were a fair amount of older people that, at the very least, didn’t leave when they realized it was a rap show.   What makes Heiruspecs so cool is that they bring so many different influences into their music,  blending elements of punk, funk, and old school hip-hop into a really distinct sound.  One of my favorite parts of the show was when Felix said that they were gonna play something for “people who are into some real ass music”, and they did a short instrumental jam with Peter and Twinkie Jiggles kickin out some funky ass grooves.

Overall I would say the show was a success.  I’d definitely love to have them again, so stay posted next year to see if they come back.

-Todd O.