We count down the 25 hottest hip-hop albums of 2019.
Yesterday, we debuted our contenders for the Top 15 Hottest R&B Albums of 2019. Today, we're continuing to pick up where we left off with the Top 25 Hottest Hip-Hop Albums of 2019. The past year introduced us to several new faces, who came out the gate with exceptional albums, while some of our now-elders returned to the fold, only to broad their sound and push their artistry even further. The list below is a reflection of both, some more eclectic in taste than others, but all are albums that we've been listening to consistently since they released, ones that we're still excited about, and ones that have us even more excited for what the future may hold for the respective artists.
This was a group editorial effort, with contributions coming from:
25. Young Nudy - Slim'erre
While Young Nudy’s proved in the past that he’s just as adept at rapping over menacing horror-movie beats as his cousin 21 Savage, Slim’erre suggests that maybe he’s better off rapping over beats that sound like blunted 8-bit video game levels or stoned picnics. On the collaborative Slim’erre, hyper-talented producer Pi’erre Bourne tweaks the formula— but only slightly— that made Playboi Carti’s debut a classic, lacing Nudy with sunnier, more happy-go-lucky fare. It may seem an odd pairing, a Slaughter Gang-affiliated rapper calling himself “Mr. Dopeboy” over fluttery flutes that would make Zelda swoon, but lead single “Mister” rides that formula to infectious success. Standout cut “Sunflower Seeds” goes even further, with weightless, swooning keyboard and guitar parts… and it somehow still works! Slim’erre is real magician shit, proving that Bourne’s versatility knows no ends and that Nudy can make tough talk sound great over any mood of music. My vote’s for his next one to be really angry and aggro.
24. JPEGMAFIA - All My Heroes Are Cornballs
JPEGMAFIA’s best trick is how he plays with tension. He brings together juxtaposed elements to create the most absurd product possible. All My Heroes Are Cornballs is a sentence that doesn’t end how you’d expect. The same remark could be made about the title of the first single off this album, “Jesus Forgive Me, I’m A Thot.” The song captures how the rapper-producer puts as much effort into crafting an interesting clash sonically as he does linguistically. It opens with the shattering of a glass and the cacophony of a crowd before all the noise is absorbed into a progression of pretty piano chords. Little eruptions continue below the soothing surface though. JPEGMAFIA is not as interested in beauty as he is innovation and texture.
Forcing discordant things together for shock value isn’t a clever concept in itself. The way JPEG bridges these things to make them seem like they belong in the same vicinity is what he deserves to be commended for. All My Heroes has an undulating quality, so even when its moving parts come into contact with one another, they merely produce a pleasant splash. Beats are constantly switching up, his delivery is constantly switching up and something about the chaos of it all resonates deeply with our current climate. JPEGMAFIA is one of the most exciting artists right now because he’s one of the few trying to juggle all the burning heaps being thrown at us. That’s the only way we’re going to form connections and create something genuinely novel.
23. GoldLink - Diaspora
It’s quite clear that Goldlink takes his time with his music. The DMV native first broke out in 2014 with The God Complex, resulting in much online chatter and critical interest (as well as praise). The rapper, who kept his face and persona under wraps for much of his come-up as well, has kept the full-length releases to essentially every other year, since then. He’s not as prolific or heavily embedded into our daily online space (whether that be your streaming service, your Instagram feed or your Twitter feed) as some of his colleagues. Much like his decision to keep his face a mystery at the beginning of his career, this seems like a concerted effort.
Diaspora served as his second studio album with RCA Records. As the album title alludes to, the project collected sounds from across different borders, as well as collaborators from around the world, to create an entirely fresh experience with each. GoldLink masterfully created a cohesive listening experience despite diverse inspiration, and equally, showed another dimension of his artistry, beyond what he explored in releases like At What Cost.
22. Burna Boy - African Giant
When Coachella announced the 2019 line-up, Burna Boy was written in small letters three rows down. He asserted, “I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means.” This point was only solidified with the release of African Giant. With the rise of afrobeats in pop music, Burna Boy’s idea of “crossing over” is rooted in his versatility as an artist. He still grounds himself in African music, but he adapts different sounds and incorporates it into his world of afro-fusion. Artists like Jorja Smith and Jeremih bring R&B elements, while Future and YG find their own rhythm over afrobeats-influenced production. Even Burna Boy’s penchant for reggae and dancehall creates standout records, with assistance from Jamaican heavyweights Damian Marley and Serani.
Burna Boy’s African Giant solidified him as one of the leading voices in afrobeats internationally, but his ability to bring artists from various genres together, and immerse them into his world, is a strong indication of what we can expect from Burna Boy in the future.
21. YBN Cordae - Lost Boy
Leading up to his debut project The Lost Boy, hip-hop fans were excited to see if YBN Cordae could live up to the hype fleshed out by some of his singles. It was becoming quite clear that Cordae wasn’t your average Gen Z rapper. Instead, Cordae demonstrated tremendous songwriting potential which included attention to bars and smooth production.
With The Lost Boy, Cordae more than lived up to the hype and delivered a phenomenal body of work that has resonated with fans. Recently, the project was nominated for a Rap Album Of The Year Grammy and it’s easy to see why. Songs like “Have Mercy,” “Thanksgiving,” and “Broke As Fuck” show Cordae at his most introspective. The young MC discusses the struggles of growing up and wanting to work your way out of poverty. Cordae does this while backed up by impressive guest verses in Chance The Rapper, Anderson .Paak, and even Pusha T on the gripping “Nightmares Are Real.”
On this project, Cordae subverts expectations while also allowing plenty of room for growth. If there was one artist to be excited about going forward, it would have to be him.
- Alex C
20. Boogie - Everything's For Sale
There’s a certain charm in the everyman. Especially in the context of a hip-hop landscape in which extravagance is celebrated. That’s not to slap Boogie with the blue-collar label and call it a day. But his relatability remains his greatest asset; his status as the hopeless romantic, the one who might pull lint from his pocket. Though he’s prone to the occasional fit of “Self Destruction,” the Compton-based Shady Record signee comes through as a man simply trying to get by. A single father who listens to his baby mama, even if he does so reluctantly. Networking is a chore to him.
His slice of life tales, delivered beautifully on Everything’s For Sale, combine to form a lush, intimate, and sincere piece of autobiography. The production is mellow, with acoustic guitar, piano, and restrained percussion. Melodically, Boogie’s approach reflects his maturity, delivering his vocals with a weariness beyond his years. Even when he allows himself room for ignorance, it’s done so with a self-awareness not often seen among his peers. Standout offerings like “Silent Ride,” “Tired/Reflections,” and the J.I.D.-assisted “SoHo” seldom make the highlight reel; instead, they’re closer to strong defensive play, the likes of which can secure a championship if properly coached.
19. Dave - Psychodrama
Dave has been championed as an underdog for so long, but this year he finally came up on top with the release of Psychodrama. The Streatham-raised rapper’s vision for this concept album was executed with clarity. The project is broken down into three acts: Act I: Environment, Act II: Relationships, and Act III: Social Compass. Stringing together the eleven tracks with therapy sessions inspired by his older brother’s visits in prison, Dave delivers a sobering body of work detailing the complex Black experience in the U.K. Appearances from J Hus, Burna Boy, and Ruelle lend unique perspectives throughout the project that enforce Dave’s mission statement.
Psychodrama was a long time coming but the release of a project couldn't have arrived at a more opportune moment, when a voice like Dave is necessary. Dave touches on a lot of heavy subject matter throughout the project but he still sprinkles in bangers and infectious melodies. J Hus, who was incarcerated at the time of the project’s release, joins Dave on “Disaster,” a melancholic record detailing the struggles of balancing fame without losing sight of where one came from. “Location” ft. Burna Boy might be the sole record that’s meant for the parties but even then, the two rappers still cleverly address colorism and systemic racism.
Dave’s debut album set a high bar for himself as he makes the transition from the young boy to a bonafide star with a message to get across.
18. Megan Thee Stallion - Fever
Megan Thee Stallion started stunning people with her rap prowess in cyphers. The fact that she honed her skills in these arenas explains why her freestyles – whether uploaded to her YouTube channel or performed on a radio show – were a major catalyst in her rise to fame. She was and continues to be hailed for her unfaltering cadence, her exquisite breath control and her Southern swagger. These characteristics all fuelled the Megan-worshipping of 2019.
Her dedication to the fundamentals of hip hop became weaved into her image, but people were equally drawn to her personality. Everyone wanted to hop aboard the boat Meg was steering this summer because she seemed to be having the most fun. Luckily, she was incredibly welcoming. Her catchphrases were all-inclusive and her booty-bouncing anthems empowered all to feel as if a Hot Girl Summer was theirs for the taking. While there are many directions left for Meg to explore, Fever was exactly what the time called for and a scorching assertion that Meg is here to stay.
17. Kevin Gates - I'm Him
Kevin Gates is a wild card. In more ways than one, you never know what to expect from the Baton Rouge rapper. Musically though, he’s one of the most consistent artists doing it right now. His lyrical matter may switch up from time to time but one thing has remained constant throughout the years: the man knows how to craft a solid body of work. I’m Him is yet another strong addition to Gates’ discography, serving as his first full-length release since he got out of prison.
On the day I’m Him dropped, Gates came through with “RBS Intro,” a perfect example of what we could anticipate from the record. The album opener sets the pace, letting the listener into a man’s mind who has just spent a decent amount of time in prison, reuniting with his family and realizing what’s truly important around him. This doesn’t necessarily mark a departure from the streets for Kevin Gates but it is the first “family man” album we’ve gotten from him. Hopefully, it isn’t the last.
- Alex Z
16. Maxo Kream - Brandon Banks
Though commercial hip-hop was undoubtedly thriving this year, so too was the gangsta rap movement. In fact, some of the year’s best albums came courtesy of the streets, with Maxo Kream’s Brandon Banks cutting an imposing figure among them. In many ways, Maxo’s brutally honest major label debut reveals the depth of his character; a surprisingly frank sensitivity working in tandem with his intimidating persona and flair for brutal gallows humor. Together, they help solidify Maxo as a layered antihero worthy of spending forty-seven minutes and forty-five seconds with.
Boasting production from Mike Dean, D.A. Doman, Zaytoven, Chasethemoney, Supah Mario, and more, Brandon Banks manages to sound polished while retaining its inherent grit. Stories unfold with no stone unturned (“Meet Again”), crossover bangers flirt with commercial viability (“Change”), and bold statements leave little room for misinterpretation (“Drizzy Draco”). Across the board, Maxo has cemented his presence and his artistry appears to be honing with every release. There’s little to fault on Brandon Banks, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this album remembered all the more fondly under the microscope of hindsight. The perfect album for someone looking for a middle ground between old-head energy and premium contemporary hip-hop.
15. Young Thug - So Much Fun
This is the victory lap. So Much Fun doesn’t bring the earth-shattering weirdness of past Young Thug projects, although this being Thug, we’re speaking relatively here. That’s not the point though— by summer 2019, every rap listener knew who Young Thug was and had already formed an opinion about him (many hated him when they first heard him then fell in love at sometime before or right around when Jeffery dropped). So Much Fun wasn’t out to raise eyebrows, it was out to do what Thug should have been doing with every album since Barter 6— succeed commercially. It did that, marking Thug’s first #1 album and giving him his first two Top 20 singles as a lead artist, but that’s not why it’s a good album.
While Thug’s more relaxed and less free-associating throughout, he also uses the album as a chance to show his many sides song-to-song. Just look at the first four tracks. On “Just How It Is,” he’s reflective almost somber (maybe a first for him); on “Sup Mate” he’s clowning around and bro’ing out with Future; on “Ecstacy” he’s wide-eyed and zany; on “Hot,” he’s in pure flex mode. Thug’s not experimenting— he’s showing mastery, and one could easily draw the comparison to Future’s WIZRD in that regard.
As a longtime fan, I love So Much Fun and have kept it on repeat as much as I have any other Thug album, but what’s best about it to me is that it feels like a palate cleanser for Thug. He’s talked about it as a “lighthearted work” in comparison to the music he’s currently working on. At the time of an August interview, that was an album entitled Punk that was supposed to be released two months later, but as you can see, Thug’s never been one to stay true to his word when it comes to release dates or album titles. Whatever comes next, I bet it’ll be more divisive and out-there than his most mainstream success to date.
14. Skepta - Ignorance Is Bliss
Skepta released a few EPs in between the release of Konnichiwa and its follow-up, Ignorance Is Bliss but they never really tapped into the depth of Skepta’s artistry or character. Thankfully, all the questions that were left unanswered throughout the years have been addressed on Ignorance Is Bliss, from the birth of his daughter, becoming chief in Nigeria, and his highly-publicized romance with Naomi Campbell. He settles into his position as an elder statesmen without sounding dated or compromising his own artistry. He enlists emerging stars from the grime and UK Drill scene like Lancey Foux, Nafe Smallz, and J Hus and highlights the younger talent. As much as he gives them a platform to shine, he brings them into his world of music without having to compromise his own vision. In a way, that’s what the project is about -- Skepta’s interaction with the world around him while trying to stay grounded in his own reality.
13. Calboy - Wildboy
Meek Mill has always proven himself to have a unique ear when it comes to prospective talent and his recent Dream Chasers Records signee, Calboy, is an example of that. Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Calboy had been bubbling for a while but with Wildboy, he cemented himself as one of the best young melodic rappers in the game.
With the opening tracks “Envy Me” and “Adam & Eve,” Calboy establishes that he’s different from his peers. Every line is dedicated to storytelling all while delivering melodies that act as an earworm crawling through your head. His posse cut “Chariot” with Meek Mill, Lil Durk, and Young Thug is yet another standout that offered one of the most compelling crossover tracks of the year. Last but certainly not least, "Caroline" is perhaps the best track on the project as he receives aid from his equally-bubbling contemporary, Polo G.
Calboy’s Wildboy, in its cohesion and simple tracklist, is one of the most compelling listens of the year.
- Alex C
12. Lil Durk - Love Songs 4 The Streets 2
Lil Durk has continued to navigate the music industry all the while keeping a perhaps too-close affiliation with the streets that raised him, and the streets that he’s continuously dedicated his music to. The Chicago rapper has been a force to be reckoned with for anyone attempting to dabble in the melodic trap pool-- it’s an arena he’s got on lock.
After being released from jail earlier in the summer, Durk would soon follow that up with his latest serenade to the streets, Love Songs 4 The Streets 2. The album is packed with Durkio’s usual array of mesmerizing flows and harrowing beats, slowing down only when he opts to channel his odes from the streets to women, as he does with the perfect trio of back-to-back records “You Said,” “Prada You,” and “Extravagant” featuring Nicki Minaj. Elsewhere, though, he’s only concerned about three things: his friends in the streets, his checks, and the luxuries said checks afford him (and ostensibly, also distancing him from the streets he’s so in love with). On the emotional “Locked Up,” Durk falls into the former category, as he delivers story-telling verses about friends turned foes and, in contrast, friends who remain loyal in the face of it all. The operatic, piano-laden “Bora Bora” is a fan-favorite thanks to Chopsquad DJ’s beat, where Durk details his routine, which includes lavish trips to Bora Bora and some Percocets, and pays no mind to what anyone else is doing. Later, on the urgent “Wooh” with Key Glock, Durk succinctly details the many ways that his rap career has affected his life, the changes therein.
Durk’s project is a perfectly-paced tracklist that you can vibe with, regardless of your street status.
11. Griselda - WWCD
If the recently-invented idiom that an album is as good as it’s ad-libs hold true, than Griselda’s WWCD is a damn near classic. Beyond Westside Gunn’s destined-to-be-iconic cries of “BOOM BOOM BOOM” and endearingly off-key singing, Griselda’s major-label debut album is the epitome of the modern-day gangsta rap spirit. Gunn, Conway, Benny The Butcher, Daringer, and Beat Butcher linked up to bring see a vision come to fruition, reinventing their sample-heavy style by way of live instrumentation. And yet the integrity of their sound was never compromised; in fact, it was arguably enhanced, spurring ferocious performances from the already stellar Buffalo emcees.
While more specificity can be found in my recent review of the project here, WWCD deserves its flowers as one of the year’s truest embodiments of raw hip-hop energy. When people lament the death of “real hip-hop,” it’s likely they’re referring to music like this - even if they don’t know it. For Griselda, there’s nothing fabricated about the vibe. The fact that they can translate their authentic nature into cohesive and well-structured songs speaks to their unique, and undeniably refreshing, skillset.
10. Denzel Curry - ZUU
ZUU may be a “transitional” project for Denzel Curry, but it succeeds where lesser acts would’ve floundered. Having emerged intact, if mentally beleaguered, from South Florida’s underground hotbed, Curry explores the concept of what “home” means in the wake of irrepressible trauma. He wields a musical dialect that is both parts private and shared, submerging himself in the spectacle of his environment without ceding ground to the forces beyond his control. “Trina, Trick, Rick, and Plies” are invoked as part of the region’s rich history, and Curry does well to draw connections between the touchpoints of his hometown, from Bushy B and Ice Billion Berg to Blackland Radio 66.6. Autobiographical details come in blinding spurts, all the while wrapped in Curry’s panoramic urgency. Heat waves festering from the concrete are the musical accompaniment to his memories. He pays close attention to the story that he tells, but does not dawdle in the details, the margins of his recall seemingly unperturbed by the passage of time. ZUU ultimately retains the incisiveness of TA13OO, albeit in a more concise packaging. It is sentimental without losing its piercing gaze, ephemeral if lived in. There’s an underlying will to belong and a complicated, defiant pride that unfolds at the heart of it all. Said Curry in an interview with Mass Appeal, “home is where the heart is, but it’s also where the hate is.”
09. Tee Grizzley - Scriptures
It was difficult to imagine what a modern-day collaboration between Tee Grizzley and Timbaland might have sounded like, at least on paper. While Timbo is easily one of the greatest producers in the culture’s history, his recent sound has skewed closer to pop than rap -- let alone Detroit gangsta rap. That’s not to say he was rusty, but it’s been a minute since Timbo has thrown his weight behind a hip-hop presence. Moving into the release of Scriptures, his partnership with Tee Grizzley was among the project’s biggest question marks. Upon the release of “God’s Warrior,” however, it became abundantly clear that both men had found creative kinship in the studio.
Tee Grizzley has always been unapologetic in his delivery; the rapper has remained situated in Detroit, retaining his authenticity as a mouthpiece for the streets. Songs like the somber “Sweet Thangs” and the storytelling cut “I Had To” reveal the depth of his pen, vignettes lifted from gritty and morally complex personal experiences. The title track finds him deftly riding a percussive banger on a braggadocious flex, while climactic “Young Grizzley’s World” blends triumph and tragedy in an uplifting final statement. Insofar as street-centric hip-hop is concerned, Scriptures is elite in its execution on nearly every level.
08. Dreamville - Revenge of the Dreamers 3
What more can be said about Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 that hasn’t already been written? The mere fact that J. Cole and his squadron of artists -- J.I.D, EarthGang, Bas, Cozz, Ari Lennox, Lute, and Omen -- actually managed to construct a coherent body of work in such a magnificent fashion speaks to the project’s otherworldly creation process. A creative camp in which healthy competition and budding friendships sparked studio sessions to be remembered, it became difficult to imagine a singular narrative manifesting from the two-hundred-song-plus final tally. And yet Cole and Ibrahim H managed to pulled it off, the wily devils, earning its lofty position here off the strength of the music found within.
While the album serves as a showcase for the label’s rising stars, it would be remiss to ignore Cole’s own elite work across the board. Taking to eclectic instrumentals with a diabolical swagger, Cole exudes dead-eyed charisma on “Sunset” before filling his soul with light on the heart-wrenching “Sacrifices.” Leading by example, Cole’s man-possessed work-ethic is mirrored by J.I.D, whose star-marking presence manifested in a handful of standout placements. But more importantly, Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 is a team affair, one in which the participation medal is as valuable as the gold.
07. EarthGang - Mirrorland
It’s no secret that J. Cole’s Dreamville roster had a major look this year with Revenge Of The Dreamers 3, cementing the label’s next-up as viable voices to watch. For many, Atlanta duo EarthGang stood among the most promising, madcap and eclectic as they were soulful and approachable. Fueled by a series of conceptual EPs, a raucous live presence, and a loyal cult following, the buzz for MirrorLand carried well into the Dreamers 3 sessions. When “Swivel” was ultimately unveiled, it provided proof that the Gang would not be playing around on their major-label debut.
One of the rare crossovers between hip-hop tradition and the literary realm of magical realism, EarthGang’s musical odyssey lives up to its once-touted Oz comparison. There are moments of introspection, debauchery, pain, lust, and free-spirited love. Never once do Olu nor Wowgr8 portray themselves as anything other than themselves. A feast for the senses, MirrorLand and its many whimsical roadblocks, from “LaLa Challenge” to “Up,” “Tequila” to the breakneck groove of “Stuck,” make for one of the year’s most well-rounded road trips.
06. Tyler, the Creator - IGOR
The emotional vulnerability that has emerged in Tyler, the Creator’s songwriting in recent years bears fruit on IGOR in ways that no one could have imagined. Certainly his artistic trajectory has been one of the most refreshing arcs in all of music. But the manner in which the edgier blemishes and antagonism of his earlier work have shriveled up to make way for more poignant moments is truly marvelous to behold. Over impeccable production inspired by the works of Kanye and Pharrell, Tyler explores the outer limits of his vocal range, paying no mind to even the most pitched performances that he turns in. Squeaky neo-soul musings and harmonies as warm and full-bodied as honeycomb are the vehicle for his heartbreak, the many twists and turns of a volatile relationship coming to a head in various ways as the album progresses. He snaps in and out of an achy-breaky, lovesick stupor from one song to the next, his voice undulating between flattened volatility and ill-tempered rapture (see “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”). Tyler’s pursuit of fulfillment leads him to measure the distance between affection and addiction, denial and acceptance. Send-off “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” doesn’t come to a resounding conclusion so much as it digs deeper into the motivations we indulge for the sake of preserving our ties to the ones we hold dear. The transitions between these revelations are just as essential to Tyler’s agony and resolve, as he pours his heart out for all to hear.
05. Polo G - Die A Legend
Debut albums like this don’t come around every day. Polo G started releasing music just three years ago, and didn’t evolve past his heavier drill approach until mid-2017, but you’d be forgiven if you heard Die A Legend and assumed this dude had been singing like this for years. Polo’s forlorn vocal stylings suggest pain and experience beyond his resumé and age (he’s 20), hearkening back to blues music just as much as melodic drill forebears like Lil Durk. Although there’s a million and a half rappers currently crooning threats over minor key piano licks, none of them sound quite like Polo G. On paper, nothing about him is particularly unique; it’s his intricacies— the tiny details in his stories, the honesty in his tone— that separate him from the pack.
The Lil Tjay-assisted “Pop Out” is Die A Legend’s bonafide hit, and it’s an effective introduction to Polo’s ability to sound teary and also like he wants to beat the shit out of you and also like he’s rapping on a party song, but the album’s main strengths lie elsewhere. As the single proves, Polo’s perfectly capable of making a banger, but he truly shines when he’s baring his soul on songs like “Through da Storm” and “Deep Wounds.” Almost without fail, he selects beats that are just as heartstring-tugging as his words and melodies, and as a result most of Die A Legend exists in the cathartic space of newfound success that’s clouded by regret and choked-up reminiscence. Polo’s first full-length feels so pristine that it could just be a lucky, unlikely convergence like a solar eclipse. Either that, or Polo’s arrived on the scene as one of the most complete, well-rounded newcomers hip-hop has seen in a few years. Only time will tell.
04. Da Baby - Baby on Baby
It was without a doubt DaBaby’s year. The Charlotte, North Carolina rapper became our latest “overnight” success shortly after the release of his debut major label album, Baby on Baby. I say “overnight” with quotation marks (cautiously) because it often feels that way in a climate when things do go viral literally overnight, but, to be sure, Baby has been working on his career for several years prior to finding his audience. First known as Baby Jesus, DaBaby found some success at a national scale due to outlandish behaviour, like wearing a diaper in public. However, we’re sure he’s much happier in his current situation: his success clearly credited to his trademark flow, sense of humour, unique music video production and wordplay-riddled bars.
Baby on Baby had a snowball effect on DaBaby’s career, resulting in, not only a series of co-signs and non-stop touring dates, but eventually, another album. While KIRK is still a very strong release, Baby on Baby is clearly ~the one~. The album that started it all, the album where most of us really got to know Baby, and realize: goddamn we enjoy him (I speak for everyone). DaBaby has a rare talent of making you smile and laugh while listening, with carefully placed ad-libs and punchy, captivating rhymes. The moment the tracklist starts, with DaBaby’s loud-mouthed “I’m thinking about taking it out…” you’re invested. It’s hard not to be. Every song on the album is upbeat and memorable in its own way, there’s not one blemish on the project.
03. Danny Brown - uknowwhatimsayin¿
You can debate whether or not Danny Brown is one of the best rappers of the decade, but the fact that he’s had one of the strangest and most unique trajectories of the past ten years is undeniable. He blew up at age 30 on the back of the masterful XXX, made the decision to split his dour realness and more popular EDM turn up joints into Side A and Side B on Old, and then went fully down the rabbit hole on Atrocity Exhibition. Because of that eclectic path, uknowhatimsayin¿ is the most natural he’s sounded in years.
Almost entirely gone are the helium-voiced rave joints that came to be the “Danny Brown caricature” in the early 2000s. Instead, executive producer Q-Tip succeeded in his goal of getting Brown back to his roots, specifically referencing 2010’s The Hybrid as a building block. The weirdness is still there, and seems as inextricable from Brown as ever, but it doesn’t feel as forced as Atrocity Exhibition’s bad-trip pysch dirges often did. Instead, Brown surrounds himself with a group of like-minded talents, hones his bars, and focuses on consistency and brevity, which are arguably the two most glaring absences from his previous albums. Brown said he studied a bunch of stand up comedy in preparation for uknowhatimsayin¿, but it feels more like an impeccably-scripted TV comedy series.
02. Future - The WIZRD
Since he revamped and restructured his career with 2014’s Monster, Future’s been unstoppable. Sure, there have been dips in quality here and there (looking at you, EVOL and WRLD On Drugs), but the overall consistency throughout— deep breath— six studio albums, four mixtapes, and four joint releases— is astounding.
With The WIZRD, the Atlanta titan does an about-face and surveys his recent achievements. In a couple of interviews, Future refers to the album as the “final chapter” of this act of his career and fittingly, it’s filled with retrospective moments and callbacks to previous material. From his come-up (“Came from whippin’ out the bowl to Tom Ford suit and tie”) to the rocky transition between Honest and Monster (“I done been considered a failure, it don’t faze me”), Future spends the album hovering above his stint in the rap game like the omniscient wizard that’s implied by the title. He even splices in snippets of 2014’s “Honest” (on “Temptation”) and “Slave Master” (on “Baptiize”).
The WIZRD doesn’t exactly mark a full page turn for Future, and it remains to be seen if his future work will be that much of a departure from his existing catalog, but it’s yet another example of his astounding ability to craft a exemplary set of bangers that still leave ample room for reflection, regret, and unabashed emotion.
01. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
It’s very rare that a sequel will exceed the standards set by its predecessor, but Freddie Gibbs and Madlib are masters of their craft. Five years after the release of Pinata, and the two set out to claim the title of Album Of The Year which, clearly, they've accomplished. Bandana is less cloudy than Pinata. Gibbs’ pen is razor-sharp, as is Madlib’s production. The harrowing tales of the Gary, Indiana natives past looms over the jazzy, left-field production of Madlib. Gibbs and Madlib bring out the best in each other and push each other to their limit. Not many would expect Madlib to dive into the world of trap, but he did it in a way that’s still rooted in the fundamentals of his own production style while still leaning heavier into the cocaine-fueled world of Freddie Gibbs. Flashes of murder haunt his sleep on the cleverly put-together “Fake Names,” while on “Massage Seats,” Freddie finds his groove on the off-kilter production of Madlib.
Pinata found Gibbs mainly going bar-for-bar with rappers in his peer group, on Bandana, he carefully curates the features. There’s a specific purpose for each one of them. “Palmolive” is up there with some of the most elite coke raps in the history of hip-hop. Killer Mike glazes the soulful production on the hook with his bluesy baritone voice while Pusha T and Freddie Gibbs swap politically-charged bars about the cocaine trade from both a historical and personal perspective. Even the collaboration with Anderson .Paak on “Giannis,” which is the closest thing to a radio-friendly single on the project, has Gibbs’ on his offense lyrically while bringing Anderson .Paak into his own world.
As Freddie Gibbs has proven throughout time that he’s a force to be reckoned with, the release of Bandana only solidified Freddie Gibbs and Madlib as the cream of the crop of their respective fields. The oddball duo have now delivered two defining hip-hop albums of this decade.
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