Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Like we always do around this time of year, it’s time to look back at our favourite new releases to drop in 2019 in reflection of the year gone by!
The last year of the decade started off relatively slow compared to a busy 2018 when it comes to Hip-Hop releases. Picking up towards the end of the year though, we had a late influx of new albums to go through with little time to digest for our year-end lists. We reviewed a lot of concerts on this blog, and many of those concerts enhanced the experience of these hot new albums to drop this year. There are bound to be albums we missed and no list is perfect, but as we reflect on the year that’s gone by, here is one attempt at compiling the 15 best rap albums that stood out the most in 2019!
Common – Let Love
Haviah Mighty – 13th Floor
Little Brother – May The Lord Watch
Rapsody – Eve
Westside Gunn – Flygod Is An Awesome God
15. Sean Price & Lil Fame – Price of Fame
I know this album only came out last week, but I had to include it here out of respect for the late Sean P. Before his passing in 2015, Sean Price was working on an album produced entirely by M.O.P.’s Lil Fame, and now Fame has pulled through to complete the project. While Lil Fame does rap on a few of the songs here, he mostly limits himself to doing the hooks, making sure this remains a true Sean Price album. As such, it’s filled with guest features representing all eras in the late Sean’s career, including some of his group members from Heltah Skeltah, Boot Camp Clik, and Random Axe. As he always did, Sean Price kills every verse he spits with the ultimate confidence and attitude that fans love about him, rhyming hard as hell while letting his personality shine. While Sean’s first posthumous album, 2017’s Imperius Rex, felt like a grand celebration of the late legend’s life, Price of Fame feels a lot more simplified, as it takes you right to that Brownsville, Brooklyn neighbourhood both Sean & Fame are from and hits you in the face with that shit-talking bully rap both emcees are known for.
14. Tyler, The Creator – IGOR
Tyler, The Creator’s sixth album may be the one that gets him his first Grammy award. IGOR has brought Tyler the biggest year of his career so far, gaining the attention of the masses to top the charts and sell out stadiums, while maintaining award-worthy artistic integrity. He continues to grow as one of the most unique producers in the game, crafting an album that doesn’t sound like anything else out there. While it does see him branch as far away from traditional Hip-Hop as he’s gotten, using a lot of vocal effects that enable him to sing, the attention to detail production-wise and sonically makes this an album that commands respect. IGOR sounds nothing like the underground, hardcore movement Tyler first made his name with a decade ago, but it hits a diverse range of styles that can appeal to both his day-one fans, as well as the newer fans who got put on within the last couple years.
13. Tech N9ne – N9na
Tech N9ne has released over ten albums in this decade alone, and his latest sees him pushing his own boundaries. He’s rocked with so many styles and sounds over the years, and collaborated with a ton of other artists, but N9na has him pulling back on the collabs and only working with a select short list of guests (9 artists to be exact) while pushing himself to make songs as a true soloist. The songs here have him getting reflective on all his accomplishments over his lengthy career, while still cranking out those high-energy speed-raps he’s known for. It’s been about a decade since he’s delivered an album with so few guest features, and while time will tell if it holds up next to similarly structured albums like K.O.D., Anghellic and Absolute Power, N9na sees Tech N9ne sounding refreshed and motivated to try new things. Tech N9ne has been moving like a machine all decade cranking out new music consistently, and N9na serves as another serving of that same Tech N9ne fans know and love while trying out a slightly altered formula.
12. Beast Coast – Escape From New York
Building on the foundations that groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, Boot Camp Clik and Hieroglyphics established before them, Beast Coast have united to show strength in numbers. The timing feels right for Pro Era, The Underachievers, and Flatbush Zombies to form a supergroup together, as they have each put in the work to establish themselves individually, and now have all the hype behind them. While they’ve shown an appreciation for and influence by classic 90’s Hip-Hop, even bringing Big Tigger out of retirement during their promo run, the album itself sees them try to escape that traditional New York boom-bap sound, opting for more melodic vocals and trap beats. The result is a solid album that showcases all nine emcees well over a diverse range of sounds. There are some high-energy bangers on here as well as a couple snoozers, but the good outweighs the mediocre as Beast Coast deliver an album that appeals to both new wave fans and traditional Hip-Hop heads.
11. Conway The Machine – Look What I Became
The Griselda crew do not let up at all, bombarding Hip-Hop with a ton of releases over the last few years and building themselves up as one of the illest groups in rap today. With most of their releases being short, half-hour projects, Conway The Machine’s latest solo joint is yet another concise gem that only strengthens the Griselda brand as well as his reputation as an emcee. Serving up a pure dose of traditional Hip-Hop, Conway goes in and kills every verse he spits, and also showcases a sharp pen with the way he makes a few likeable hooks without relying on singers to give him pop appeal. From the adlibs to the WWE wrestling samples, Conway continues to utilize these small nuances to go along with the bar-for-bar lyricism that make up the Griselda brand. Buffalo, New York is now on the map, as Griselda continues to establish a rugged, hardcore sound for their city.
10. Czarface & Ghostface Killah – Czarface Meets Ghostface
From the time Ghostface Killah made his standout guest appearance on Czarface’s first album in 2013, on the song “Savagely Attack,” we knew we wanted more. Picking up where they left off after their 2018 collaboration with MF DOOM, Czarface Meets Metal Face, the trio of Inspectah Deck, DJ 7L & Esoteric kicked off 2019 with another collaborative album, this time with Deck’s fellow Wu-Tang general Ghostface Killah. Bringing GFK into their comic book world makes for a magical mash-up, as the man who also goes by Tony Starks comes in battle-ready to lyrically spar with the Czarface emcees. We’ve seen Ghostface and Inspectah Deck face off plenty of times with Wu-Tang over the years, but adding Esoteric into the mix brings out another layer of competition, as the three emcees drop bar-heavy verses over 7L’s cartoonish production. The envelope doesn’t feel like it’s being pushed as hard as when they collaborated with DOOM last year, but Czarface still sound in their pocket with these comic-inspired raps, and Ghostface seamlessly enters their universe, being able to thrive over any beat.
9. EarthGang – Mirrorland
EarthGang have been a refreshing presence in Atlanta’s Hip-Hop scene, releasing several independent projects leading up to their major-label debut on J. Cole’s Dreamville Records. While the duo of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot have built a reputation as two of the sharpest spitters in modern Atlanta Hip-Hop, their album Mirrorland sees them go for much bigger mainstream appeal. Experimenting with their sound and style, their introduction to the mainstream feels more like an evolution than a blatant play for the masses, as they still go in with the raps but play around with everything from their flows, cadences, and song structure. Where they’ve sacrificed in their raw appeal they’ve been able to supplement with catchy hooks, groovier production, and overall growth in their song-writing abilities. The album is filled with bangers that show a perfect balance that appeals to both their core underground fans and the newer fans being put on after their Dreamville signing. The widespread OutKast comparisons are warranted as the influence is clear, but EarthGang is able to put their own modern twist to that classic Atlanta sound.
8. Dreamville Records – Revenge Of The Dreamers III
J. Cole has been able to emerge on his own terms in recent years and snatch the throne as the world’s most popular rapper whenever he wants, and in 2019 he used his platform to showcase the talent he’s been developing at Dreamville Records. The way this album came together is fascinating, with the entire Dreamville roster uniting to create a community-like setting in the studio during the only ten days they had available between their various touring schedules. Inviting select outside guests to collaborate, the ten-day studio session drew out the competitive spirit between about a hundred artists and producers invited to participate, and the result is an album full of bangers. Along with J. Cole himself, Dreamville’s most promising prospects J.I.D. and EarthGang shine on every track they appear on, as well as outside collaborator Buddy. The album is also loaded with standout moments, including DaBaby’s introduction to the world with his closing verse on the opening track “Under The Sun,” and Dreamville’s Cozz and T.D.E.’s Reason rapping about robbing each other’s label heads on “LamboTruck.” The album holds true to its title, as not only is it filled with established heavy hitters, but it also gives completely new artists who have dreamt of an opportunity like this a shot to shine.
7. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
While this album may not technically be considered Hip-Hop, Anderson .Paak is having a similar impact on the culture to what the late Nate Dogg was doing in his heyday. He made his major label debut on Aftermath Entertainment in late 2018 with Oxnard, and followed up less than six months later with the more soulful Ventura. While Oxnard blurred the lines between Hip-Hop and RnB, Ventura has a much smoother, more romantic sound to it that made it a must-have for wedding season. That’s not to say the album completely lacks rapping appeal, as Andre 3000 comes out of hiding to deliver yet another standout verse, earning a Grammy nomination for the song “Come Home,” and .Paak himself moves seamlessly between his soulful singing and rapping throughout the album. The blending of Hip-Hop, RnB, Soul and Funk isn’t always done well by many, but Anderson .Paak makes his blending of genres sound so natural and look so smooth, without a trace of corniness.
6. Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met
Each member of Griselda has been taking turns blowing up over the last few years, and 2019 was Benny The Butcher’s breakout year. From the Scarface artwork to the drug dealing references in his bars, the theme of working hard to eat well is tied together concisely through this 7-track project. The opening skit about the wolf licking a bloody blade to death sets the tone immediately, and from there Benny consistently shines on every song. The bars, wordplay and flow are all there as he holds his ground next to some heavy-hitting guest features from Black Thought, 38 Spesh, Jadakiss, Rj Payne, Pusha T, and of course fellow Griselda member Conway The Machine. You have to be a special emcee to stand out next to those guests, and Benny The Butcher makes it clear he’s one of those. The only downside to this album is the short length, but it serves as a great appetizer for what’s to come.
5. Ghostface Killah – Ghostface Killahs
While Benny The Butcher had himself a breakout year doing hardcore street rap, Dennis “Ghostface Killah” Coles became Denny The Butcher with this album, bringing a similar rugged vibe on Ghostface Killahs. GFK has had so many styles and approaches to his solo albums over the years, ranging from that fly Pretty Toney persona to becoming a mythological phantom killer, and here we see him returning to grimy street tales of ski mask stick-ups and heists. Joining Ghost on his crime spree are of course fellow Wu-Tang members Method Man, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, and Masta Killa, but the most notable collaboration on here might be his very own son, Sun God. Proving to arguably be Hip-Hop’s best father-son duo on the mic, Sun God shows a similar attitude and swagger as his legendary father when rapping alongside Ghostface on songs like “The Chase” and “Fly Everything,” and throughout the album GFK maintains his reputation as one of the all-time great lyricists. Overall the album ties together smoothly, playing out like a high-action heist film, and makes for another great addition to a legendary discography.
4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Five years after releasing their first collaboration together, 2014’s Pinata, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib have teamed up a second time and had themselves an early contender for Album of the Year with Bandana. This may be the most recognition either of these two artists have received in their careers, as the album had a lot of buzz as one of the biggest Grammy snubs when the 2020 nominees were announced. Between the quirky samples Madlib uses and the in-your-face personality Freddie Gibbs displays on the mic, this album is entertaining from beginning to end. The chemistry between the two is top notch, as they deliver another album that bumps, and have already confirmed a highly anticipated third collaboration album together in the works. Madlib’s ability to bring the best out of Freddie, along with standout guest appearances from Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Killer Mike, Black Thought, and Yasiin Bey, make this one of the most memorable albums of 2019.
3. Griselda – W.W.C.D.
Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher have individually been building a lot of hype for this album and the Griselda brand, and with their Shady Records debut they prove they’re at their best when they unite. The team up between Griselda Records, Shady Records, and Roc Nation makes the group one of the very few major label artists that come to mind who have a refreshingly raw approach to rap in 2019. The album is exactly what Hip-Hop needs right now; it’s filled with dope beats and dope rhymes, with no melodic singing (except for comedic effect), no corny jingles or attempts to blend in with the modern mainstream sound, and no club bangers or chick joints. Where Eminem failed with Slaughterhouse at the top of the decade, he succeeds now with Griselda, allowing them to keep their authentic, hardcore, rugged style and not interfering whatsoever with the sound. While Griselda has been running the underground for years, many heads are still getting put on, and this album makes for an incredible first impression. It’s refreshing as hell to see three guys from Buffalo in their mid thirties get recognized for their raw talent and skill, and then see them nail their shot when they get the opportunity. We’re going to be hearing a lot from Griselda over the next decade.
2. Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet
The story behind the making of this album is incredible. After Guru passed away in 2010, it would take years of lawsuits and a ransom being paid for DJ Premier to acquire all the leftover recordings Guru had in the vault, and when Preemo finally got his hands on them, he was able to create a masterpiece. Bringing Guru’s ashes in an urn to the studio sessions, DJ Premier flipped his formula of lacing Guru with beats to rap to, instead having to craft the beats to the vocals already recorded, and he did an incredible job at making this a cohesive album that serves as a closing chapter to Gang Starr’s legacy. With limited Guru vocals left to use, the album is of course filled with guest features who all play their part perfectly to tie the album together. M.O.P. matches Guru’s aggression on “Lights Out,” Nitty Scott and Ne-Yo play off the romantic vibes Guru brings on “Get Together,” Royce Da 5’9″ spits a near flawless verse on “What’s Real,” and OGs Jeru the Damaja, Freddie Foxxx and Big Shug help bring a classic Gang Starr feel to the album. This is as close to perfect as an album can be given the circumstances, and it’s another classic that holds up in one of the greatest Hip-Hop discographies of all time. R.I.P. Guru.
1. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
I know at first glance this looks like another old head stuck in their old ways, but hear me out on this one. No Hip-Hop album had a better combination of greatness and impact in 2019 as the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), especially if your city had a similar Wu-Tang experience to what Toronto had this year. Between Wu-Tang’s 25th anniversary tour hitting Toronto for a second time at the inaugural MattyFest concert at Echo Beach, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah’s appearance at Toronto’s Festival of Beer, Sacha Jenkins’ Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men documentary premiering at the Hot Docs film festival, the grand opening of Raekwon’s boutique shop 611 Purple Factory, and of course the live action TV drama series Wu-Tang: An American Saga, there were plenty of reasons throughout the year to revisit this timeless classic of an album. Every quarter of the year would have a new Wu-Tang event or TV/film release that would breathe new life into their series of classic 90’s releases kicked off by this album, and there weren’t many new 2019 albums that could pull my attention away from the Wu-Tang kick I’ve been on all year. If you’re familiar with Wu-Tang then you already know, 25 years later, it’s still Wu-Tang Forever, and Wu-Tang is still for the children.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! Stay tuned for the Top 10 Concerts of the Year countdown dropping on New Years Eve!