Mad Skillz Picks Favorite 2015 Hip-Hop Albums & Discusses His Popular Annual Year-End "Rap Up" Series

Posted by Billyjam, December 9, 2015 10:25pm | Post a Comment
Mad Skillz' Top Three Favorite Hip-Hop Albums of 2015

1) J. Cole 2014 Forest Hills Drive (Roc Nation) (avail also in vinyl)
J. Cole's still quite popular 2014 Forest Hills Drive is titled after the address in Fayetteville that the North Carolina hip-hop artist born Jermaine Lamarr Cole spent the happiest years growing up in, not the year 2014. However technically 2014 was the release of this 13 track full-length (avail in both CD and LP formats) which was released exactly one year ago on December 9th, 2014 via Jay Z's Roc Nation label. But like most popular albums released at year's end, whose sales continue far into the following calendar year, it is considered by many as a 2015 release. Widely lauded as one of contemporary hip-hop's most engaging storytellers, it is not surprising that emcee Mad Skillz would chose this album as his top pick of the past year.

2) Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly (Aftermath)
Executive produced by Dr. Dre and released via his Aftermath label, To Pimp A Butterfly is universally popular Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album and follow up to 2012's breakthrough second full-length good kid, m.A.A.d city, Upon its mid March 2015 release wrote that the album, "doubles down on the idiosyncracies of good kid, eschewing club-friendly tracks in favor of those that cast a light on Lamar’s pure skills as a rapper and wordsmith—always celebrated, yet perhaps distracted by stellar production and good kid’s concept-album style—as well as his ability to put together a layered and compelling album."

3) Dr. Dre Compton (Aftermath) (also avail in vinyl)

Released as the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton arrived in theaters to widespread acclaim, the producer of the pioneering LA gangsta rap group finally unveiled Compton - his long-awaited  (as in a decade and a half!) solo release that many thought would be the long promised Detox album (now shelved). Fans were more than happy with this release that fellow hip-hop artist Mad Skillz ranks as his third fave album of the year. Upon its summer release Amoeba. com wrote of the album, "It’s too soon to call Compton a new hip hop classic, but with countless memorable moments across the album’s 16 tracks, it’s looking that way. Certainly it’s an appropriately great finale to Dr. Dre’s rap career, and along with Straight Outta Compton, nicely caps off an important part of hip hop history."

With December already in its second week, the realization that we're a mere three weeks away from 2016 has firmly set in. So too has the reminder for writers and music fans everywhere, including here at the Amoeblog, to tabulate those challenging year-end/best of lists. Someone already making notes and working on his look back at the past twelve months is hip-hop talent Mad Skillz. Also known as Skillz, the gifted emcee is the talent behind the popular annual Rap Up series that began accidently 13 years ago. Both embedded below, his 2010 Rap Up and his 2014 Rap Up are prime examples of the annually anticipated rhyme reports that the prolific and talented artist effortlessly cranks out every year's end.  As closely associated by many hip-hop fans as Mad Skillz may be with his popular Rap Ups, those yearly recordings represent just a fraction of his rich career. That two-decade career as emcee includes five mixtapes, and a slew of studio albums dating back to his stellar 1996 debut From Where???.  That recommended Big Beat Records release featured production from such revered studio technicians as The Large Professor and Jay Dee (aka J Dilla). Upon the release late last year of his album, Made In Virginia, Skillz announced that he was hanging up the mic to focus more on production and DJing. and that he was ending his career as rapper.  However his statement about ending his career as rapper did not include his annual "Rap Ups" which, due to popular demand, he continues to do with the newest one coming up in 3 weeks. Typically by December 30th he has put the final touches on that year's Rap Up and posted it to his SoundCloud page where fans immediately grab it and repost it to YouTube and others sites where it gets shared and re-shared. Why? Because really people love his humor laced rhymes that offer a nice concise summation of the year gone by

Mad Skillz "2014 Rap Up"

Witty, insightful, and all encompassing Mad Skillz' Rap Ups neatly present a balance of news stories from the previous 12 months. He'll likely reference stories from pop culture, sports, political events, attention grabbing news headlines, social media trends, shout outs to those who died over the year, and (of course) numerous nods to hip-hop music. This week the Amoeblog caught up with Mad Skillz to ask him about his ongoing series, and also to share his Top Three Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2015 which are listed up above. I asked Skillz if, for his Rap Ups, he is constantly making notes throughout the year, or if he waits until the end of each December to write them? "I don't usually even think about the Rap Up until after Thanksgiving," he said. "Most things I remember, and I just fact check when it actually happened so [that] the song can be in order." Both the 2010 and last year's Rap Ups below clock in at approximately five minutes but others have run about 3 and a half minutes. "The average length of a song is a little over four minutes. The Rap Ups don't have a hook so consequently I attempt to keep them short. Peeps don't wanna hear a long song, and I don't really wanna make one either," he said, laughingly summarizing his fine-tuned formula as, "Get to it, give 'em the facts, make it humorous, make 'em think, make 'em reminisce, and get out!" 

Skillz "2010 Rap Up"

Like many things that become unexpectedly popular, the Rap Up series began by accident thirteen years ago. "It was originally a freestyle for the end of a mixtape that I did in '02 over all Neptunes beats," he recalled of the intended one-off rap. But due to a receptive and demanding public, the Rap Ups kept going, and kept growing. "It just grew legs of its own," he said. Does he feel that the series' popularity overshadows his other work as an emcee? "No, not really; especially since I don't really rap that much anymore," he replied.  Listening back to previous Rap Ups, it's interesting to note how some things carry on while others sell-by date is limited to that specific year. At the end of 2014 he referenced both the Ice Bucket Challenge and ISIS - one of which is long gone. In 2014 he also rapped about Black Lives Matter (BLM). That activist movement has become even more present in 2015, including this week in Chicago where, following the shooting death by police of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, BLM protesters are calling for the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Also recently BLM protesters have been active at 
Donald Trump political rallies as a reaction to some of the negative statements made by the presidential hopeful. Without asking him to divulge anything, I did mention how I would bet big money on at least one Trump reference in the upcoming "2015 Rap Up." Responded Mad Skillz, "Trump will be in there for sure. He worked hard for that spot!"

In three weeks from posting this, and once uploaded by Mad Skillz, I will update this Amoeblog by embedding his 2015 Rap Up here also. Meanwhile if, like me, you think you can predict three specific topics that Mad Skillz will include in his "2015 Rap Up" please post them in the comments below.

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