In no particular order. List consists of albums, mixtapes and EP’s. No distinction. The position of any project on the list doesn’t matter. It is my rating of it, and ultimately, my thoughts about the tape you can question.
RAPSODY – EVE
One word I can use in describing Rapsody is quality. She’s a certified spitter and an emcee, not a femcee.
I’ve been riding with her since the Idea of Beautiful and its great watching her become the powerhouse she is now.
Eve is a collection of songs named after some of the most influential women in black history: Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Serena Williams, Afeni Shakur, Queen Hatshepsut, Sojourner Truth, Myrlie Evers-Williams, etc. Rapsody channels their rage, pain, emotion, sorrow, energy, strength and fighting spirit into some of the best dedication tracks you could find.
This is a history lesson in that it makes the listener research the stories of these amazing women.
Honestly, I had never heard of Sojourner Truth or Myrlie Evers until this album.
Let me add that Rapsody had the best verse on “Sojourner”, not J.Cole.
Essential Tracks: Nina, Serena, Cleo, Maya, Afeni, Hatshepsut, Myrlie, Iman, Sojourner, Ibtihaj, Cleo.
LITTLE BROTHER – MAY THE LORD WATCH
This is Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh sans 9th Wonder.
However, even if 9th is M.I.A, the Soul Council is very much represented by Producers Khrysis and Nottz.
Phontigallo and Pooh trade bars about everyday life, the goings-on in their respective lives, experiencing poverty and having to resort to driving uber without being recognized by fans, gratitude, thankfulness and the gift of having family and God.
Real life raps about grown stuff. And there are really creative interludes on there too.
Essential Tracks: The Feel, Everything, Black Magic, Picture This, Work Through Me, All In A Day, Good Morning Sunshine, Sittin Alone, What I Came For.
PETE ROCK & SKYZOO – RETROPOLITAN
This project is so goshdamn good. The name gives an idea of what to expect from the parties.
Retropolitan – a throwback project to a point in time, reminiscent of Nas’ Memory Lane song, yet steeped in the concrete jungle metropolis that is N.Y. I think Pete Rock is a top 3 producer all time, he links up with Skyzoo who has flow, and bars for days.
It is his strong point, and the result is a near classic album.
There is an all star posse cut featuring Benny The Butcher, Elzhi, Conway The Machine and Skyzoo himself.
Guess who got the best verse? You’d have to check it out to know.
Essential Tracks: Truck Jewels, Carry The Tradition, The Audacity of Dope, Eastern Conference All Stars, Richie, It’s All Good, Glorious.
FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA
Who owns and has completely mastered the coke rap genre? Pusha T, Young Jeezy, Freddie Gibbs, Benny The Butcher or Jadakiss? I think Pusha T currently holds the top spot, but Benny and Freddie are coming.
They both have Pusha on their projects released this year.
Both have stellar Black Thought guest verses too. Madlib’s production is some of the best you’d find in 2019.
They topped what they did on 2014’s Pinata; and Freddie Gibb’s energy is felt throughout this smooth and sometimes bumpy ride filled with cocaine on the dashboard. The guy can ride a beat.
Essential Tracks: Education, Half Man Half Cocaine, Cataracts, Situations, Palmolive, Soul Right.
LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA
Little Simz has come a long way. The British/Nigerian has been rapping for some years now.
I got to know about her in 2016 from her ‘Stillness In Wonderland’ album which was maad nice.
It dropped around the same time her American counterpart, Noname, dropped “Telefone” And I listed to both projects side by side.
I wondered what was going on with her and why it took her so long to follow it up, especially after Noname’s 2018 critcally acclaimed “Room 25”.
With ‘Grey Area’, This album is worth the wait. Her British accent makes it interesting.
When it got nominated for the Mercury Prize, I was rooting for her to win… Because it deserved to. But it didn’t. I would complete that story on the album that actually won the Mercury Prize later on this list – Dave’s “Psychodrama”.
Essential Tracks: Venom, Offence, Boss, Pressure, Wounds, 101FM.
GANG STARR – ONE OF THE BEST YET
If we talking some of the greates rapper/producer duos, Eric B and Rakim comes to mind, Mobb Deep comes to mind, and then there is Gang Starr.
Who could have imagined a Gang Starr album in 2019, almost 10 years after Guru’s passing? But this is not a cut and join album. It is as if Guru was right there in the studio during the recording process…
Much respect to Premier for his work here. Even the guest features such as Talib Kweli, M.O.P, Jeru The Damaja, Royce Da 5’9, Nitty Scott and others have a synergy with the record.
Royce has a standout verse on ‘What’s Real’, Talib does his thing on ‘Business of Art’, but this is a Gang Starr album, and Guru’s monotone is heard dropping jewels and life lessons in his verses, which are relevant today.
Essential Tracks: Bless The Mic, What’s Real, Business of Art, So Many Rappers, Lights Out, The Sure Shot, Get Together, Family & Loyalty, Bad Name.
MURS & 9TH WONDER – THE ILIAD IS DEAD AND THE ODYSSEY IS OVER
2019 was a good year for rapper/producer duos, especially for rappers teaming up with producers.
I mean Skyzoo-Pete Rock, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, not Guru-Premier, and then Murs & 9th. 9th Wonder sure had a great year executive producing Rapsody’s album and this collab with Murs along with several other Jamla projects.
Murs storytelling are some of the best you could find on “SIN” and “Unicorn Glitter” which I consider as one of the funniest rap songs this year.
Jamla Records artistes like Rapsody, Heather Victoria, GQ and Reuben Vincent are here.
Essential Tracks: The Hulk, My Hero, SIN, Unicorn Glitter, High Noon, Night Shift.
BENNY THE BUTCHER – THE PLUGS I MET
This is my favorite EP of 2019.
Probably contains the best verse of 2019 and the best guest verse of 2019 by Benny and Black Thought on the same song. (Crowns For Kings).
This 7 track EP is flames.
The intro skit is the most profound thing that would leave you contemplating the philosophies underlying this project?
Do you blame young black men in America for trying to eat or the system that doesn’t want them to be eat (as entrepreneurs)? Pusha T is here. Jadakiss is here.
38 Spesh, Conway The Machine and RJ Payne. Go grab this gem.
Essential Tracks: Crowns For Kings, I Took The Money To The Plug House, Sunday School, 18 Wheeler.
DAVE – PSYCHODRAMA
Dave’s Psychodrama is the album that Little Simz’s Grey Area lost the Mercury Awards to.
So I was ticked at first that her album lost. I actually had two albums that I was rooting for to win.
Little Simz and Zaki Ibrahim’s “The Secret Life of Pets”, a disco album which was the freshest thing in dance, disco and electro music I’d heard since Daft Punk.
And then both ladies lost to Dave, an album I hadn’t heard.
So I decided to listen, and when I did, I knew better. The Mercury Award is given to a novel, groundbreaking, artsy type album.
Dave’s Psychodrama ticks that box.
That’s not to say the others don’t.
Some of the finest, heart-rending storytelling of ’19 is on this album (‘Black’, ‘Leslie’); told in the form of a subject patient spilling his guts to his therapist.
Did I mention that Dave, like Little Simz, is also a British/Nigerian?
Essential Tracks: Black, Leslie, Environment, Voices, Streatham, Location, Screwface Capital.
NAS – LOST TAPES 2
Nas is gradually reclining into his seat as a vet and savouring the status. Lost tapes 2 is smooth af, and such a dope ride.
People tended to evaluate this project with the lens of the original Lost Tapes and treated it as a new album, which it isn’t.
It is a collection of records which didn’t make previous album cuts, a compilation.
Some of Nas’ exceptional emceeing are here. Lost Freestyle is my favorite.
Statik Selektah digs an excellent soul sample and Nas does what he does best.
A verse filled with head-turning quotables and lyrical acrobatics.
RZA laces ‘Tanasia’ with a Wu-type beat that is almost the best thing I’ve heard since “Ice Cream”. RZA again on “Highly Favoured” is fire.
Swizz Beatz has, what my friend and I have argued to be the best song as per production in perfect sync with Nas raps on “Adult Film”. “Beautiful Life” is straight from Life Is Good, such a brilliant song.
Nas takes the storytelling a notch with the Kanye Produced “You Mean The World To Me”.
“It Never Ends” has an eargastic Alchemist production.
‘Who Are You’ is a slow burner. Every big name producer and former collaborator is on this project: No ID, Pete Rock, Swizz, Kanye, RZA, Hit Boy, Alchemist, Statik Selektah, DJ Khalil, DJ Toomp etc.
Production and beats is 5/5. While this may not measure up to the highs of the original Lost Tapes, it is no slouch.
Some of the songs are not entirely new as they’ve been around the internet for some years now, however, its nice to hear them sequenced with these others, properly engineered, mixed and mastered.
Essential Tracks: Tanasia, Lost Freestyle, Adult Film, Who Are You, The Art Of It, War Against Love.
YBN CORDAE – THE LOST BOY
If you’re looking for the sounds of the new wave which would define the next decade in hiphop, look no further than Cordae.
He is the freshest thing I heard in 2019. Reminds me of a young J. Cole.
If there’s a Made-You-Look award for the year, I’d be rooting for him to get it. Press play and the first track is flames and he keeps it real till the closer. A lyricist with a clear eyed view for detail.
Guests include Pusha T, Meek Mill, Chance The Rapper, Anderson Paak.
He’s been showing up on Naomi Osaka’s instagram for a few. They’d make a lovely couple. Lol.
Essential Tracks: Wintertime, Family Matters, Thousand Words, Thanksgiving, Nightmares Are Real.
SMIF N WESSUN – THE ALL
Of the albums that dropped at the beginning of the year, I remember when I heard it, I was sure by year’s end, it would make my top ten list. Unfortunately, doper projects dropped this year.
But still, its hardhitting bars and realness are undeniable and could still be considered by some as a top ten project.
I could have placed it in my top ten. That is if I was ranking this list on a top to bottom basis.
Press play and the first track blows you away till the album closer. Guests include Raekwon, Rick Ross, GQ and Heather Victoria and ors.
Essential Tracks: The Education of Smif N Wessun, Dreamland, Let It Go, StahfAllah, Illusions
DREAMVILLE – REVENGE OF THE DREAMERS III
J.Cole and friends made one of the fun albums of 2019. A lot of careless, freewheeling, unserious approach to making music, but the end product is great and there’s bars too.
These kids got something to say, especially J.I.D.
Essential Tracks: Middle Child, Under The Sun, Down Bad, Self Love, 1993, Rembrandt.
APOLLO BROWN – SINCERELY DETROIT
The Producer of the decade gathers all the emcees of his hometown for an album which pays homage to the city of Detroit.
All the big name emcees from Detroit are here. Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9, Black Milk, Kuniva, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo, Trick Trick…. The only person that’s conspicuously absent is Eminem.
And Big Sean, lol. Apollo Brown’s production is his usual best. Soul samples, church organ type, brassy beats.
Essential Tracks: Stopwatch, Can’t Lose, Thoughts In Mind, Never, Dominance, All Day, In The Water, Break The Code.
BIG K.R.I.T – K.R.I.T IZ HERE
His previous album 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time is probably his best album.
At least that’s what I think. While he doesn’t improve on the former here, he’s just marking time.
Some flashes of brilliance, and some which shouldn’t have made the final cut. It seems he was copying a lot of the new sounds and styles out there. But one thing KRIT’s got on his side is consistency.
J.cole and Lil Wayne have standout verses on this album. Baby Rose’s vocals is a great discovery and the highlight of ‘Everytime’. There is a Jill Scott sample on ‘Energy’.
But KRIT is the one who makes this album a somewhat enjoyable ride.
There is a cacophony of sounds and production which is as southern as it gets on ‘MISSSISIPPI’, and the title track.
Essential Tracks: Prove It, Energy, Everytime, High Beams, MISSISSIPPI, Addiction, I Been Waitin’
DIABOLIC – THE DISCONNECT
The best hiphop lives on the underground scene and Diabolic’s The Disconnect is one of the year’s best.
His verses on “Marvel”, “Holy War” and “Lost In Translation” are some of the project’s highlights.
Essential Tracks: Marvel, Holy War, Lost In Translation, Pyrex, Dirty, Lumberjack.
BOOGIE – EVERYTHING’S FOR SALE
Few albums have the kind of honesty, enjoyable and relatable raps like Everything’s For Sale.
It’s moody, but also has a catchy vibe to it. The Shady signee’s debut is solid.
Essential Tracks: LOLSMH, Swapmeet, Tired Reflections, Rainy Days, Self Destruction, Skydive.
BROTHER ALI – SECRETS & ESCAPES
Evidence on the production and Brother Ali dropping a mix of religion, politics, life’s experiences, social commentary with some headturning brilliant lyricism.
Pharoahe Monch and Talib Kweli are featured on two tracks with standout guest verses. A super dope album.
Essential Tracks: Situated, De La Kufi, Father Figures, Red, Greatest That Never Lived, They Shot Ricky.
COMMON – LET LOVE
A deeply personal album dedicated to love. Love for his daughter. Love for his late pops, his mom, his family, his new partner, the city of Chicago, God, the game and hiphop in general.
A storytelling track here, and another one dedicated to the classic I Used To Love H.E.R
Essential Tracks: Her Love, God Is Love, Show Me That You Love, Fifth Story, Hercules, Memories of Home, Forever Your Love.
JOEL ORTIZ – MONDAY
Another outstanding album from Joel Ortiz after last year’s Mona Lisa. Some great rhyming and storytelling.
He’s got a way of making experiences of fatherhood and relationship with his family (mother) feel so relatable and understandable. Some social commentary here. A very decent album.
Essential Tracks: Captain, Anxiety, Same Time, Screens, Momma, Grammy, Jamaican Food, Before Hiphop.
INSPECTAH DECK – CHAMBER NO.9
Of the two Wu projects that dropped this year (Ins, Ghost & Czarface), I think this is better than Ghost’s.
Excellent production matched with some dope bars. It bangs.
Essential Tracks: Russel Jones, Shaolin Rebel, No Good, Chamber No.9, Certified, 24K, Na Na Na.
RAS KASS – SOUL ON ICE 2
Ras Kass is known for his lyrics. This album is lyrically outstanding. It is nowhere near its predecessor in title, only letdown is its length, however, it holds.
There’s a lot of commentary on the state of hiphop and the US government and its policies with a penchant to almost delving into conspiracy theory realm.
He brandishes his unbelief in a deity in your face. Overall, it’s a great listen with some really standout tracks.
Essential Tracks: White Power, Midnight Run, Grammy Speech, Opiod Crisis, Silver Anniversary, The Long Way, Wxt Thv Shxts
THE GAME – BORN TO RAP
If this is his last album, then its not such a bad way to close out an illustrious career.
There are quality tracks here, but at 25 songs… its length becomes boring and weighs down the project.
Some songs appear a bit gimmicky, especially Nipsey Hussle’s style and flow which he somewhat co-opted, and at other times, it appears he is just riding Nipsey’s wave to close out his own legacy.
Project would have been more solid if it was cut down to 15. Let me not even get into the name drops and mentions. The guy is just incorrigible.
Essential Tracks: No Smoke, Five Hundred Dollar Candles, The Light, Hug The Block, Gold Daytonas, Welcome Home, Stainless, I Didn’t Wanna Write This Song, Cross On Jesus Block.
ADD 2 – JIM CROW THE MUSICAL
This is the most impactful, important album I heard in 2019. Imagine Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, mixed with Martin Luther’s message of hope, the activism of Malcolm X, the militant approach of Huey P Newton, the gospel according to Nina Simone, and compare them with BLM, the shootings of unarmed black men, lynchings and cross-burnings and you have yourself 19 tracks of the most profound history lesson in black life you can ever take outside of college.
This album is heartbreaking, uplifting, sad, with emotion-tinged vocals coming at you over bluesy/jazz compositions which accentuates each message of despondency and hope.
This record is of nightmarish proportions and the pinnacle of what a conscious rap record ought to sound like.
If TPAB is the peak ‘nigerish’ record you’ve heard, then this right here might give it a run for its money.
In a fair world, it would be album of the year.
I almost forgot to mention it has some of the best creative skits I’ve heard on album.
Essential Tracks: 3 Fifs, Fear Of God, Git Your Hand Out My Pocket, Black In America Skit.
WALE – WOW THAT’S CRAZY
Wale argues that his critics just don’t understand him because they’re not ready for ‘mood raps’, that is raps about relationship struggles, mental health, therapy sessions, and being a struggling black man.
That his art is misunderstood and underappreciated for what it is.
He therefore decided to make an album clowning himself, the media perception of his art, and having fun making music on his own terms. Could he be right in his own self-assessment? Probably, but this was my fun album of 2019.
Some very brilliant songs are on here (“Sue Me”, “Set Me Free”, “BGM”), the production on “Love & Loyalty” is amazing, Meek Mill has a scene-stealing feature on “Routine”, but what drags the album a bit, is the long list of guests.
Essential Tracks: Routine, Sue Me, Set Me Free, Debbie, 50 In Da Safe, BGM, On Chill, Expectations.
CONWAY THE MACHINE – LOOK WHAT I BECAME
Griselda had a great year. This is an incredible project.
Some superior bars and dope lyricism over moody beats.
Benny The Butcher, Dave East, Elcamino and Jim Jones are the guests. Rest assured each track is bodied. Conway sure can write.
Essential Tracks: Tito’s Back, No Woman No Kids, Vino D, Half Of It, YouMadeIt
RJ PAYNE – LEATHERFACE 2
This is like watching a scary movie through your auditory nerves, no screens or visuals but you could visualize it.
A hiphop horrorcore, but done with such a mastery of lyricism that is outstanding.
Ras Kass, Che Noir and Daniel Son have memorable performances.
Essential Tracks: Silent Screams, Pennywise Vs Leatherface, Chainsaw Massacre, Spooky Shit.
BLACK MOON – RISE OF DA MOON
Excellent album with gritty bars over boom bap production.
Lyrics are fiery and would have you nodding your head.
In the same league with Smif N Wessun’s “The All” earlier mentioned on this list.
Essential Tracks: Glory, Ease Back, Impossible, Children Of The Night, Roll Wit Me.
CZARFACE – CZARFACE MEETS GHOSTFACE KILLAH
Czarface records are usually quality.
The link with GFK is another brilliant addition to their legacy records.
Two of the Wu’s best lyricists Ins and Ghost deliver dope bars over even dope beats.
If only the quality production here could have extended to Ghostface Killahs… it could have made this list.
Essential Tracks: Listen To The Color, Morning Ritual, Super Soldier Serum, Czarrade 87.
GRISELDA – WWCD
Immediately after Raekwon the chef’s intro, what hits you next are the drums on ‘Chef Dreds’ and you know this is the perfect way to start an album.
Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher and Conway The Machine are trading bars and passing the baton to each other.
Throughout the album, they are rapping non stop and taking coke rap to heretofore unseen levels.
Benny is the shining light, but don’t sleep on Conway and Gunn.
It’s always nice to catch some allusions they drop in the rhymes like: //”They play sports, I race the Porsche through the streets with choppers/You know us, we like the Bucks on the Eastern Conference/
I’m plugged on both coasts, from Long Beach to Yonkers/
So I’m somewhere in Brooklyn smokin’ weed from Compton”// (Benny on “Freddie Hotspot”) and then Conway on “Cruiser Weight Coke” be like: //”Don’t call my phone if you ain’t buyin’ ten kilos/My OG used to be the source like Benzino/
I’m like Sosa with the goons, I can send people/
Versace down, drive the Ferrari like I’m Vin Diesel”//.
Their various styles complement each other. A very superior album.
Essential Tracks: All the tracks are essential.
Written by Epsi Gabriel