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Swagazine’s Picks: Top 10 Beats of 2015

I wasn’t procrastinating, I was just waiting to make sure I didn’t miss anything. 2015 has been a magnificent year for Hip Hop (even up until the last minute). Albums, collaborations, performances, cultural domination… you name it. So without further ado, lets look back on the best beats of the year, starting the list off with:

10. Lil One – Future – Prod. Metro Boomin, Elijah Sacii & Southside

Remember how 2014 was the year DJ Mustard was everywhere, and every rapper was trying to hop on his analog bass and finger snap beats? Well this year, that was Metro Boomin. As the mastermind behind countless nightclub-trap bangers, the lead producer for Future & Drake’s collaborative mixtape What A Time To Be Alive, and the king of the “hard-808 + complex hi-hats + siren sample = success’ formula, Metro Boomin is a clear front-runner for the breakout producer of 2015. Future’s DS2 saw critical acclaim for it’s trap sound that hid a dark and depressed core; this aesthetic is only possible with a shared vision in the production. “Lil One” is just one of the many greats that Metro Boomin, in conjuction Elijah Sacii and Southside, contributed to Future’s sound.

9. Scarface – Jaden Smith – Daniel D’artiste

There’s a pretty big problem in Hip-Hop these days: nobody takes Jaden Smith seriously. It’s hard to blame the haters though; Jaden’s twitter, interviews, and videos don’t really suggest that we should. His track “Scarface” however, does. A fellow MSFTS, Daniel D’artiste provides an intricate instrumental, led by its intricate drum pattern, wailing ambulance siren, laid back keys and bells, and hard-hitting 808 bass line. All these elements come across to build a modern theme song for a police-drama TV show. To say the least, it’s an impressive beat that encourages us to not discredit Jaden Smith, and his band of misfits, from the rap game.

8. FUCK IT – Tyler, the Creator – Prod. Tyler, the Creator

Production-wise, Tyler the Creator had a tough year. His third studio album Cherry Bomb was universally panned by critics, with most of the criticism centred around the idea that the project was very-poorly mixed. It’s hard to disagree, as on a first-listen level, the album comes off completely inaudible. However, as a devout Tyler fan, I gave Cherry Bomb more listens that lead me to the realization that Tyler still knows how to construct a beautiful instrumental, they just didn’t come out properly on the album. “FUCK IT”, that came out as an independent release well after Cherry Bomb, is a clear demonstration of this. It is the diamond in the rough; it is Tyler proving he still knows how to build an incredible instrumental.

7. Know Yourself – Drake – Prod. Boi-1da, Vinylz & Syk Sense

When was the last time Drake didn’t dominate the music world? Although his February mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late sounded like an album of 9-10 remixes of “Started From the Bottom” with a few original cuts thrown in on top, there was still a lot to remember about it. For example, the clear stand-out on the album, was “Know Yourself”. Boi-1da, in conjunction with Vinylz and Syk Sense, came through with a skeletal beat, with an incredible switch-up for the hook, that served as one of 2015’s staple bangers. I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a Friday since it’s release where it wasn’t played in every club. Because of this (and because I couldn’t find a good version on YouTube) I’ve decided to attach ya boy Big Quint’s first reaction to the track. Enjoy

6. Twist My Fingaz – YG – Prod. Terrace Martin

YG is a disciple of the golden era of west coast gansta rap. Although his comfort zone seems to be the Bay-sound, in July YG showed the world just how well he fits on the G-Funk sound. Part of the reason YG excels on this track is that the beat, on its own, is so great. Terrace Martin, most well known for his extensive work alongside Kendrick Lamar, blessed YG with this masterpiece, perfectly crafted for summer cruising. The track’s focus around a Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio sample takes us back to the roots of old school G-Funk, and has listeners more than excited for YG’s sophomore album Still Krazy.

5. Talk About It – Dr. Dre – Free School, Dr. Dre & DJ Dahi

[Click on image to hear the song]

Speaking of Big Quint, his review of this song is poetically to the point and accurate. To quote, he says “WOOO THAT’S HOW YOU START A FUCKEN ALBUM MAN!!” The issue with this selection, is the rest of the album is filled with absolutely insane instruments (see “Genocide”, “Darkside/Gone”, “Deep Water”, “Animals”). Not to suggest that I would expect anything less from Dr. Dre, but there’s an argument to be made for just about every instrumental on this album. So then why does “Talk About It” take the cake? Well, the answer lies in Big Quint’s words: because that’s how you start a fucken album.

4. Maria I’m Drunk – Travi$ Scott – Prod.  Meneesh Bidaye, Frank Dukes & Allen Ritter

Travi$ Scott is very specific about the sound of his music. His beats are grandiose echos of Kanye that serve as an artful approach to the trap trend; like so many artists, Travi$ has a vision for his music. He has a style that other artists might find difficult to truly fit on. So when looking through the track listing of his album Rodeo, its easy to see how a track featuring both Young Thug and Justin Bieber could be nothing less than a train wreck. However, in reality the result is the exact opposite, with the track becoming a clear stand out of the album. But what really brings these three different personalities together is the instrumental. Following it’s beautiful intro, the dreary piano line and ascending bass pattern come together to create a haunting sound, that not only sounds, but also feels like its way too late and you’ve had too much to drink.

3. These Walls – Kendrick Lamar – Prod. Terrace Martin, Larrance Dopson & Sounwave

Yet another album that was hard to single out one track. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is superior to any other release this year. Fusing different historical genres of african american music, the album’s blend of 50’s Jazz, 70’s Soul, and 90’s G-Funk makes it a sonic masterpiece. Although Terrace Martin, Larrance Dopson and Sounwave are credited as the producers, the track is actually performed by a band with no credited samples. “These Walls” is like “i” without the Isley Brothers sample; it is soulful, beautiful, meaningful, and most importantly, it is original.

2. Traffic Jam – Jay Rock – Prod. Antydote, thankgod4cody & Chris Calor

In Jay Rock’s bizarre “90059” music video, there’s a snippet of SZA singing overtop an amazing sample beat that is cut short once “90059” starts. On the album, the same snippet is put at the end of “Easy Bake”, this time with an added verse by Jay Rock himself. Even at this point, the track felt hindered, mainly because the beat was so fantastic that these short snippets did not do it justice. A little while after the release of the album, the TDE YouTube channel uploaded “Traffic Jam”, and praise the lord it was that snippet new and improved with a Kendrick verse, making it just long enough to be considered its own track. Antydote, thankgod4cody and Chris Calor came through with a sample so complex and fun to listen to that even after its growth to a 2.5 min track, it still seems too short.

1. Norf Norf – Vince Staples – Prod. Clams Casino

As I said earlier, 2015 was a magnificent year for Hip-Hop. Indeed, the heavy-hitters all made sure their presence was felt, with Kendrick, Drake, and A$AP all dropping projects. However, what really made 2015 a standout year was the equally significant emergence of a number of young MC’s; namely Vince Staples. Sure, Vince has been on the scene for a number of years, but with his major label debut Summertime 06, he transcended into the public eye. Vince has a young energy, and for the purpose of this particular list, a great ear for beats. Summertime 06 as a whole is a stand out for 2015 sonic-wise, with “Norf Norf” one of the many gems. “Norf Norf” is on another level though. Its percussion is somehow both glitchy and rythmic. It is simultaneously droning and melodic. It sounds industrious, grimey, and mechanical, yet somehow suits Vince Staples. Clams Casino put together what comes across as a simple but intricate instrumental, that is without a doubt, the best of 2015.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MVPs: Metro Boomin, Dr. Dre, Terrace Martin

Honourable Mentions:
Narcos – Freddie Gibbs
Innermission – Logic
On Me – Game
Allusions –  the Underachievers
Senorita – Vince Staples
Beautiful Life – Statik Selekta
LPFJ2 – A$AP Rocky

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