[Welcome to the 2015 edition of the Best of the Booth Awards, DJBooth's annual selection of the best music of the year. For a more detailed explanation and a full list of all the categories and winners, click here.]
2015 was the year that the lines between indie and major label, hip-hop and every other genre, became blurrier than ever. When you discover that seemingly indie rappers are secretly signed to major labels, when indie rappers are getting played on the radio next to major label artists and doing it by adopting a style closer to R&B than rap, what does indie hip-hop still mean? How does indie hip-hop hold true to the best parts of itself without becoming shackled to the past.
Ask Killer Mike and El-P, they know.
2013 was the year Run the Jewels first broke into the public eye, but 2015 was the year they truly became a force to be reckoned with, and "Close Your Eyes & Count to Fuck" exemplified everything we loved them for. It was simultaneously aggressive and thought-provoking, rock solid and sonically adventurous, capable of both soundtracking a turn up session and the revolution.
This was always the potential of hip-hop, what we wanted from hip-hop: actively engaged in the world, unafraid to take a stand, impossible to ignore, and all with stellar musicianship. In a year in many ways both defined and scarred by police brutality, "Close Your Eyes" was first released in 2014 as part of the duo's second album, its outstanding video was released in 2015 and planted the song's importance firmly in this year as it stands as some of the most powerful and nuanced takes on the seemingly endless, deadly and exhausting struggle between the people and the police.
Both El-P and Killer Mike were never ones to hold their tongues, but it's in this later stage of their careers that they have seemingly found in each other the courage and support to truly push the limits of hip-hop, and a musical partnership founded on the kind of skills that ensure the music always sounds dope. They're independent in every meaning of the word, not just in the contracts they've signed but in their thinking and in music, and we dare you to tell the duo that they're not hip-hop. Those who try to run up on the duo often find themselves with a close-up view of the pavement.
There was no shortage of great indie hip-hop records released this year, in particular we considered the Social Experiment's "Sunday Candy," a song that in many ways is just as powerful and revolutionary as "Close Your Eyes" even when it takes a much different musical approach, but ultimately, there was just no denying the power of Run the Jewels, especially with Zach de la Rocha riding shotgun. As Killer Mike said, "Conditions create a villain, the villain is given vision," and we support the vision of these villains without reservation.
It's official, Run the Jewel's "Close Your Eyes & Count to Fuck" is the DJBooth Best Indie Hip-Hop Record of 2015. We've also added some of our other top picks of the year, feel free to add your own selections and vote up or down. Let's see what record you got.
[By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.