Rap’s ability to disrupt and revolutionize eras must never fizzle out. There is hope that rap will continue to spit in the face of the status quo and keep ruffling the feathers of reality. Our favourite thing about hip-hop in 2019 was how clashing and disruptive it was to the root of Hip-Hop. These are some of the albums that shone the best in the past year! (although they may have some rap traditionalist clenching their teeth 😬)
Malibu Ken is unadulterated fun for all! With its cartoon cover art, its 34-minute runtime, and the pervading humour of Tobacco’s beats, this album may seem at first like a minor work; But there’s nothing minute about a record this intricately written. It’s a side project every bit as real as Aesop Rock’s proper albums. Malibu Ken is evidence that abstract hip-hop is very much alive. While trap beats and cloud raps keep on grabbing headlines and garnering streams, the potential of experimental rap may lie within the union between two ageing and well-established artists. Go on a psychedelic audio trip that transports you to the beyond. This album is what you would imagine the future would sound like.
clipping. has done an amazing job at creating a masterpiece that shows that hip-hop is not constrained to conventionalism to be gripping yet still deep-rooted. Rejecting to be stagnant for the sake of being a chart-topper, this group has earned all the success that is coming their way. This album invites you to dive into horror and horrorcore with a double entendre that speaks about black fear and courage in the new age. Horror movie themes float amidst the background, but this is hip-hop, riddled with allusions to classics of the past while living in a now setting of vampires, zombies, and ghosts. With singles like ‘La Mala Ordina’, ‘Hauntin’, ‘Possession’ and ‘Blood of The Fang’, this is the perfect album for Halloween. The album ends with the track ‘Piano Burning’ - an 18-minute song that is literally the sounds of an actual piano burning….for 18 minutes.
Undoubtedly one of the best freestyle rappers out there - Marlon Craft is proven to be a viral star with skils. This album proves that he’s more than wordplay and punchlines - influenced by jazz sounds and filled with evocative narratives - Funhouse Mirror explore topics such as gang mentality among the police force as well as Craft’s own coping mechanism. Besides that, tracks include ‘Word To My Mother’ and ‘Family’ where he pays homage to his support system and show us what a wholesome man he is. This is Craft’s most complete work and has managed to come on top of the crowd of rappers trying to look for a way to break through today’s scene.
Gang Starr, is comprised of DJ Premier and rapper Guru - one of the best hip-hop duos ever. The group famously split in the early 2000s without given clear reasons, the world thought this was the end of the duo’s music yet, in 2019 they made a comeback and even included appearances from other hip-hop legends like Q-Tip and J. Cole. The merge of Guru’s husky vocals and Premier’s spot-on percussion and exquisite melodies divine. Two standouts from this album are “Family and Loyalty” and “Business of Art”. Both contradict each other, the first one tugging at your heartstrings while the latter foreshadows creative danger.
Houston born rapper Megan Thee Stallion may be the hardest MC of 2019. Her realness is never in question, as she connects the feminist rap tradition of Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte to the pulsating sounds of her Houston hometown. Her hip-hop credentials are concluded on the first track, “Keep it realer than real”. The anthem for self-love, self-praise and being the baddest chick of the block, this record is a banger that all the bad a** people can relate to. The album towers with trap-induced 808s and the H-Town Hottie exposed her unrestrained anger and libido with a skilful delivery. With tracks like ‘Ratchet’, ‘Hood Rat S**t’ and ‘S*x Talk’, this album brings out the inner boss a** b**ch vibes of anyone who listens to it.
On this opaque 16-track concept album that outlines around paying homage to the diverse strands of black womanhood, a carelessly-relaxed intricate masterwork that nonetheless feels like her most confidential offering to date. This traditionalist challenges a music industry that remains aggressive to voices, like hers, that refuses to conform. Rapsody inhabits the spaces between titles and lyrics with revealing intelligence, dexterity, and wit. Guest appearances are also quite legendary - with a wise and battle-ready Queen Latifah (‘Hatshepsut’) along with K. Roosevelt (‘Maya’), GZA and D'Angelo (‘Ibtihaj’) and even a raw sample of Tupac quoting a line from his hit "Keep Your Head Up" (‘Afeni’). You’ll be enjoying every track in this album, with samples that range from Björk to Phil Collins to GZA.
This 16-minutes, 10-track record defines Chris Crack - the absurdly prolific surrealist artist from Chicago - perfectly. This is a piece of weirdo-rap brilliance executed effortlessly. In this era of minimalism that’s catching up to hip-hop music, less is more and Chris Crack is making every little minute count. Don’t let the controversial record title fool you though; With long song titles that approach important topics such as ‘Education Is Not Intelligence’ and ‘Repair for Character’, Crack is definitely a master at storytelling.
This is Snoop Dogg’s 17th solo album and he’s included rap heavy lifters such as YG, Chris Brown and Mustard for one of his most absorbable projects in a while. You know that saying, “You can't teach an old dog new tricks”? Well, this Dogg doesn’t need new tricks to still be on top with the new hip-hop players. I Wanna Thank Me brings forward enough relevance for all of Snoop’s fans and listeners - whether he was switching up the fiesta on Jermain Dupri’s ‘Do It When I’m In It’, or saluting Nipsey Hussle’s heritage on ‘One Blood, One Cuzz’ or even reminiscing on the Death Row days in ‘Let Bygones Be Bygones,’.
The woman who went from homelessness to collaborating with Prince to winning Grammy Awards, Lizzo is a force that rocked 2019 so hard, no one could have seen her takeover coming. This artist has inspired millions across the globe with her powerful vocals, humour and basic yet even more powerful message: Be Your Best Self. ‘Cuz I Love’ You the intro track to this record sets the mood for this whole album and the listeners are in for an auditory orgasm with Lizzo’s heady vocals; ‘Juice’ will have you automatically shaking your booty; ‘Lingerie’ arouses your senses; while ‘Jerome’ is like a thorn from a rose, that hurts as it is beautiful, full of soul. Featuring legendary Missy Elliot as well ‘Tempo’ teleports you and will make you move your body in ways you didn’t even know you could go.
Mirrorland is the definition of a warped Funkadelic space with current hip-hop beats that are filled with creative energy to the brim. The Atlantic duo Earthgang painted a colourful depiction of their hometown Atlanta’s culture and community through their psychedelic lenses in their third album. The tracks on Mirrorland are direct attempts to make a map of the city’s diverse sound. They are rich while evolving and shifting constantly. Guest appearances include Kelahni, T-pain and Young Thug, just adds that extra oomph into the whole records. To add a little extra-ness into the whole thing, limited edition tarot cards were sold that accompanied this album.
The unpredictable shocking death of Juice WRLD in December 2019 impacted the hip-hop community greatly. Prior to the release of Death Race For Love, Juice WRLD told Rolling Stone “People say that they can hear the rock influence, the Blink-182 influence, the emo influence in my music, but on this album, you can hear ev-er-y-thing,”
This album contains sounds of a curious and innovative musician pushing in every direction possible. Over 72 minutes, the emo-rap star explores drugs, heartbreak, and the drugs that lead to heartbreak. He channels an open-mic slam poet in ‘Robbery’ and acts like Romeo in his song ‘Anything’ singing “I’m throwing rocks at your window, I need to go home.” This album showcases Juice WRLD for who he really was, his influences are put on his sleeves, incorporating his ups and downs into his music.
Bandana is expressed in nostalgia, transporting us back to times when MCs really rapped while producers properly alter song samples substantially. Unafraid of exploring the shadowy-side of the modern rap persona, this album becomes one of the most exceptional modern hip-hop albums of our time. Throughout its 46-minute run time, this album deals with some weighty topics, however, its impressive flow both in Gibb’s rapping and the duo’s astute tracklisting - creates a path to a compelling yet relaxed listen. As the current hip-hop culture is pounded with more rhythmic, catchy patterns rather than the meat to the bone, Madlib and Gibbs have proven again how they compete without giving up their originality and composition standards.
Tyler has managed to push the boundaries of hip-hop in 2019 with his sixth album, IGOR.
From the start till the end of the album, he achieves a happy balance by modifying his askew song structures lining on the surreal and encompasses a direct narrative arc as well as calculated shifts in texture and tone of sounds. Tyler explores the sonic grounds in Flower Boy that feels endless and all-inclusive, subsequently will be kept on replay. The lush instrumentation fused with vocal contributions from all who were involved leads to the birth of this masterpiece. Tyler, the Creator is a multitasker who is so many things at one time. Harmony and contrast, love and aggression - ‘A Boy Is A Gun’ stupefies the soul and anger while ‘Are We Still Friends’ tugs at your heartstrings and brings about a sombre, nostalgic feel.
On this album, JPEGMAFIA explores deep within his roots as he did prior, but it’s not how you expect it. All the songs on this album come from an overwhelming ejection of an illness that rises from within. Unfiltered lyrics, abandoning resentments over melodic, glitched-out beats hat are parallel to the art of discourse through memes. He even calls out racists, political extremists of both ends, groupthink critics as well as online haters on the track ‘Beta Male Strategies’
With All My Heroes Are Cornballs, JPEGMAFIA apprehends the feelings of living in an era fuelled by mindless scrolling through social media apps and compulsive tweeting, positioning himself as both a participant and vocal critic of the happenings of the current millennia. In a nutshell, JPEGMAFIA staying true to himself creates music that is superficially political as well as dissatisfies while also being, cynical, ironic and funny.
As a breakthrough star, DaBaby brought a variety of skills to the stage into 2019. His main appeal fro his music is - it’s hyped up, aggressive, energetic, consumed with forwarding motion. ‘Suge’ became the rare 2019 rap hit that drops melody in favour of a flood of animated bars stacked atop a continuous, unending flow. ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ was the funniest Western-themed hip-hop song of the year (yes, even including “Old Town Road”), while ‘Goin Baby’ was a pillar to the ability of harsh ad-libs to make a normal song seem transcendent. Baby is clearly an athletic rapper who can whip songs into a frenzy through sheer force of will.
Hoodies All Summer is an extraordinary achievement, proving once again that Kano is one of the UK’s most thoughtful, versatile, and talented voices. Each track is strikingly graphic, and several are accompanied with snippets of speech as if they are intended to be experienced as intimate documentaries. Kano has taken the main themes from his last musical gig – joy and trauma, the clash of solidarity and claustrophobia of living in a close-knit community – and scoured yet deeper. ‘Trouble’ is a deceptively nostalgic tune about living in an everyday war zone that samples the late crusader Darcus Howe, while ‘Class of Deja’ finds Kano going head-to-head with veteran MCs D Double E and Ghetts in a furious old-skool back-and-forth that is proof to how thrilling a lyricist this 34-year-old can still be. Hoodies All Summer wants you to be angry, because if anything’s going to change we all need to be.
Roddy’s method has been to synthesize everything that can set a room off and combine it into one package. On tracks like his breakout single ‘Die Young’ and his featured appearance on the anthemic Mustard song ‘Ballin', Ricch served up bars about struggling through hardships to achieve wealth and greatness, all delivered in a fluid, partially sung style that melded trap toughness with slick melodies. He found a crossover crowd by collaborating with Marshmello; his collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle on ‘Racks in the Middle’ feels just right. Roddy was able to craft an album that encapsulates his main appeal — an unsettling effective ear for melody and chameleonic ability to adapt to different beats — and diffusing it with an incredibly personal body of work. The result, on Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial, is the announcement of a star.
The combination of Stormzy’s charm and his storytelling skills grants Heavy In The Head to gleam with a universal appeal that pleases both his grime fans of old as well as his mainstream audience. If there’s a merging theme to this album, it’s the infiltration of black artists—and the youth in particular, who are especially demonised and treated as insignificant in British society— on top a pedestal. On ‘Superheroes’ he rewrites the media’s outlook around young black men, calling out his peers’ successes. Although his work is heavily politicized, Stormzy still knows how to bring ‘fun’ to the table. He has that natural charismatic swagger and he skips over the beat on ‘Pop Boy’ effortlessly that there’s little to do but sit back and rave in it. Throughout this record, he wrestles with the privileges as well as the burdens of his success. The result emotionally, wittily and triumphantly confirms his position as the Alpha of the British rap pack.
In WWCD, What Would Chine Gun Do, three timeless Buffalo, New York-based rappers, Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, and Westside Gunn will have you feeling like you're existing during another era of hip-hop. WWCD opens with the legendary Wu-Tang's Raekwon and ends with the impeccable Eminem. That in and of itself proves to the audience how these three emcees are keeping the legacy of hip-hop flowing. Wu Tang’s Raekwon demonstrates his observations on the state of hip-hop. He touches on love, trust and how important reciprocation is. 50 Cent raps along with the three MCs reminding all of us his significance and how influential he is to the rap game in the song, ‘City On The Map’.
‘Bang’ features Eminem where he raps with Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, and Westside Gunn. Eminem warns others that he is nothing like this “milli vanilli hip-hop” and that the three emcees are not playing.
At only 20 years old, Dave, also known as Santan Dave, has just released one of the most influential, thoughtful, poignant but most importantly, necessary albums of 2019. In a way, Psychodrama acts as a form of psychotherapy whereby the patients role-play events from their past in order to heal and make sense of who they are. With 11 songs and hypnotic piano leads, Dave sets his conceptual limits and then packs them with an urban opera that morphs his desire to exorcise demons with old-soul musical wisdom and youthful performativity. One of his most famous tracks from the album, “Black” doubles as a manifesto for responsible phraseology, and against anachronistic stereotyping.
“A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news/
And if he’s white, you give him a chance, he’s ill and confused/
If he’s black he’s probably armed, you see him and shoot,”
Psychodrama feels less like a platform for clout than a starting point for self-help and paradigmatic change.