Nostalgia is the easiest crutch. No matter your decade of birth, it’s scientifically proven that the best music coincided with your high school years.
You might convincingly argue that the golden ages of hip-hop, funk, jazz and soul are behind us. But years like 2015 allow you to make the opposing case.
Even if you’re exhausted by the retro-mania of the past half-decade, this year proved our enduring capacity to reinvent, evolve and expand existing forms. Between Dam-Funk, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, XL Middleton and more, L.A. produced a funk renaissance rivaling anything since Roger Troutman was laid to rest.
Kamasi Washington made the best modern jazz album since Miles Davis said his last “motherfucker.” Earl Sweatshirt is a “lyrical savior” far better than those who yearn for “lyrical saviors” deserve. Open Mike Eagle and Busdriver keep coughing out caustic tangents lampooning pop culture and economic inequity. Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs and YG proved that great gangsta rap can’t die.
See also: The Best L.A. Albums of 2015 (as chosen by L.A. Weekly writers)
In the adjacent lanes, Anderson .Paak, Ty Dolla Sign and Miguel supplied the sort of carnal soul that might as well come in the form of sex packets. Even Dre came back from his lost island fitness center/studio in the clouds (or Calabasas) to make a better album than a 50-year-old technology billionaire had a right to.
If you said that this is the best year for L.A. music in a decade, you wouldn’t be wrong. As such, the following list counts down some of the year’s finest — in haiku, as per tradition.
10. Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss (Sargent House)
Carl Jung metal dreams
Meet sleep paralysis folk
Let yourself drop, drown
9. XL Middleton, Tap Water (Mo Funk)
Backyard grill bass grooves
Pasadena next-gen swing
Funk that makes you move
8. Dr. Dre, Compton (Aftermath)
Call it a comeback
One final clean surgery
Doc did it again
7. Ty Dolla Sign, Free T.C. (Atlantic)
Don’t leave your girl around Ty
She’ll think he’s Nate Dogg
6. Deradoorian, Expanding Flower Planet (Anticon)
DMT psych pop
Dirty Projector secret
Sees wild solo bloom
5. Freddie Gibbs, Shadow of a Doubt (ESGN)
Gary gangsta cold
Steph Curry of murder raps
The most consistent
4. Miguel, Wildheart (RCA)
Prince’s lost louche son
Gunplay, coffee, pillow talk
What’s normal? Not him
3. Letta, Testimony (Coyote)
Cold Skid Row grime beats
Strike a direct mainline vein
Year’s best beat album
2. Thundercat, The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)
Bass god mourns death bright
Funk angel requiems glow
Give him the Grammys
1. Dam-Funk, Invite the Light (Stones Throw)
Glide, dip, bounce, soar, float
This is what L.A. sounds like
Funk is not a fad
Versis, Copeaesthetic; Busdriver, Thumbs; Sam Morrow, There Is No Map; Julia Holter, Have You in My Wilderness; Anderson .Paak & Blended Babies, The Anderson .Paak EP; Meg Myers, Sorry; Gangrene, You Disgust Me; Game, Documentary 2/2.5; Boogie, The Reach; Health, Death Magic; Deantoni Parks, Technoself; M.E.D., Blu & Madlib, Bad Neighbor; Tomas Barfod, Glory; Jonwayne, Here You Go, Parts 1 & 2; The Internet, Ego Death; Mark McGuire, Beyond Belief; Kneebody & Daedelus, Kneedelus; Zackey Force Funk, Chrome Steel Tiger
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The Top 10 albums from the first half of 2015:
Vince Staples, Summertime ’06; Kamasi Washington, The Epic; Earl Sweatshirt, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Nosaj Thing, Fated; Talk in Tongues, Talk in Tongues; Nadastrom, Nadastrom; Knxwledge, Hud Dreems; Colleen Green, I Want to Grow Up; Hanni El Khatib, Moonlight; Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.