September 2015: What a Time to Be Online.
September 2015 was a month full of innovation, stellar collaborations, and wonderful surprises. After lying dormant all Frank Ocean-less summer, many of the music industry's most notorious game-changers returned to the public eye as the third quarter of the year entered its final month. While most of these artists merely returned from brief hiatuses, a handful of legends such as Prince and Scarface triumphantly emerged from hibernation to stir up popular culture. Although the seasoned industry veterans released some of the year's most memorable albums, September belonged to the fresh crop of artists who successfully redefined music's golden standard. Throughout the month, the newbies consistently outshined the established acts.
Some of the most forward-thinking hip hop music in recent memory was released this past September, shifting the tides of the genre completely. Major players and notable rookies alike blessed the world with boundary-shattering production, infectious hooks, and, of course, a bottomless supply of memes (Drake and Future, we're looking at you!) The rap music released within this thirty-day timeframe was characterized by an avant-garde edge and unflinching boldness. Artists were daring in both their lyricism and conceptualism, valuing artistry over commercial appeal.
This approach was most successfully undertaken by Travi$ Scott, who set the tone for the rest of September with his 9/4 major label debut, Rodeo. Menacing, hazy, and undeniably polarizing, the critically-acclaimed album pushed hip hop into uncharted sonic territories. Far more concerned with creating ambience than with demonstrating lyrical ability, Travi$ crafted an album that evokes danger, urgency, and recklessness without explicitly prompting his audience to feel these emotions. Rodeo offers a dark, brooding, unprecedented interpretation of party rap, a welcome diversion from the snappy, uncreative odes to turning up that dominated the airwaves in 2014.
Jay Rock's tough-as-nails 90059 acts as a wordplay-heavy counterbalance to Travi$'s avant-garde vibes. The album's greatest strength is its incredibly vivid imagery, conveyed through Jay Rock's thoughtful diction and emotive delivery. In terms of production, Jay Rock interpolates hard-hitting Compton throwback sounds seamlessly with the cloudlike synths of today's underground hip hop scene. While Jay Rock has consistently been outshined by his TDE labelmates in previous years, he holds his own with 90059. His arresting vocals and devastatingly sharp lyricism capture and hold the listener's attention for the album's entire thrilling, cinematic run.
Although Mac Miller's 2013 release, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, was effective in establishing the oddball rapper's new aesthetic, it was desperately lacking in confidence. Now that Miller has been able to spend the past two years fine-tuning his new sound and image, he sounds far more at home on the experimental instrumentals he tends to favor. His latest output, GO:OD AM, showcases him at the peak of his craft, both in terms of his rapping and his producing. Forward-thinking, playful, and conceptually dense, GO:OD AM is one of the most fascinating releases of 2015. The album is clearly a passion project rather than a mess of label plugs, and Miller's enthusiasm radiates through. While the meandering soundscapes and verses of GO:OD AM may not appeal to all listeners, they are certainly commendable for their unconventionality.
On a seemingly random Sunday night in the middle of September, Drake and Future dropped an instant social media classic with their collaborative project, What a Time to Be Alive. Gloriously off-the-cuff, the album/mixtape/whatever you want to call it showcases two of hip hop's biggest stars doing what they do best: making hit singles organically and with little calculation. While Future sounds completely at home within the gritty, largely Metro Boomin-provided production, Drake struggles to keep up with his costar. Future's impressive verses on What a Time to Be Alive serve as the culmination to his year-long winning streak, cementing his status as one of 2015's biggest breakout artists. The project belongs to Future; Drake is simply along for the ride.
Who would have anticipated that a one-eyed rapper from New Jersey would be hip hop's largest crossover act of the year? Certainly not Fetty Wap himself, who has consistently showcased shock and gratitude for his newfound fame. Poised to be a one-hit-wonder after "Trap Queen" dominated the charts early in the year, Fetty Wap surprised the hip hop community by cranking out several more hits, establishing himself as a hip hop mainstay. Earnest, addictive and incredibly authentic, Fetty Wap's self-titled debut is blessedly devoid of shameless label plugs or ploys to pander to hip hop and pop radio. Instead of delivering an album of insincere posse cuts, Fetty Wap opted to feature only the artists he had been working with since the earliest days of his career. The album is a heartening display of one of hip hop's most promising newcomers' incredible talent.
Bryson Tiller closed September out with his prematurely released debut TRAPSOUL, which had initially been slated for an early October release. After exploding into mainstream consciousness with his summer smash "Don't," an incredible amount of hype had been built for the young singer's proper debut. With the help of Drake's cosign, he blossomed into a superstar seemingly overnight. TRAPSOUL exceeded everyone's expectations, proving to the world that he was capable of producing more than one hit. On the album, he switches back and forth between rapping and singing several times, showcasing his versatility. Tiller blurs the lines between hip hop and R&B with his debut album, continuing the music industry's emerging trend of blending genres.
While hip hop dominated September 2015, artistic triumphs were present in other genres as well. Troye Sivan, Kwabs, and Chvrches all released impressive albums during third quarter's final month. Although the majority of September releases were cutting-edge and engaging, artists such as Lana Del Rey and Disclosure failed to live up to the high expectations placed upon them.
This past September was a pivotal month in music's history, and the after-effects will surely shape the music industry's climate well into 2016.