PRINT December 2015


Talib Kweli

NIKO IS, 2015. Photo: Todd Cooper.

1 NIKO IS, BRUTUS (Javotti Media) Born in Rio but raised in Florida, NIKO IS is the most exciting MC I’ve heard in a long time. He dropped a brilliant and sonically diverse debut album this year.

2 KENDRICK LAMAR, TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) Kendrick returned to the industry, new dreads tucked under a nondescript cap, with an unapologetically black piece of hip-hop perfection.

3 RUN THE JEWELS, RUN THE JEWELS 2 (Mass Appeal) I love what the partnership of Killer Mike and El-P does for music, for race relations, for knowledge, and for rachetness. Any album that boasts appearances by Boots Riley, Zach de la Rocha, and Gangsta Boo needs to be on everyone’s list.

4 JESSICA CARE MOORE, “THIS IS A BUS WITH WINGS” VIDEO This is a poignant poem by a legendary writer, accompanied by a great animated video on YouTube. Jessica’s innovative first album, Black Tea: The Legend of Jessi James, was released on Javotti Media in October.

5 NICHOLAS FRASER, “WHY YOU ALWAYS LYING” The best Vine of the year, this reworking of ’90s R&B classic “Too Close” by Next is the perfect response to Internet trolls spreading false info.

Cover of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/ Aftermath/Interscope, 2015).

6 SCARFACE, DEEPLY ROOTED (BMG Rights Management) The Madman returns, true to form, one of hip-hop’s best MCs ever, with a passionate, dense indie opus.

7 DONNIE TRUMPET AND THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT (SOB’s, New York, February 25) SURF, the debut album of the Social Experiment (whose members include Nico Segal aka Donnie Trumpet, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., Nate Fox, and Chance The Rapper), was such a great release, and this concert happened right before it dropped. There was so much joy in the room. I had seen Chance at a Ms. Hill gig at Blue Note and he invited me. I wasn’t familiar with the Social Experiment beforehand; after this experience I was a new fan.

8 JANELLE MONÁE AND WONDALAND RECORDS, “HELL YOU TALMBOUT” I cannot remember the last time an R&B or pop singer released such powerful protest music. Joined on the track by her Wondaland crew, Janelle drew a line in the sand with this song and let the people know she stands with them. I salute her.

9 METALLICA (X Games, Austin, June 6) I performed earlier that day, but I stayed for Metallica. Growing up as a black kid in Brooklyn, I never imagined I would experience Metallica live. But there I was, videotaping the mosh pit.

10 LORETTA DEVINE ON THE CARMICHAEL SHOW (NBC) I never watch network TV, so I missed The Carmichael Show when it first aired, but I recently watched it all at once. It’s my new favorite thing. Loretta Devine is a great actress and singer who got her big break doing Dreamgirls on Broadway. In the episode about Black Lives Matter, she sang a short hymn to show the young folks how to really protest that sent a chill up my spine.

Talib Kweli is one half of the rap duo Black Star and founder of the label Javotti Media. His latest album, Fuck the Money, was released in August, and his new project with 9th wonder, Indie 500, debuted in November.