It was a great 12 months for hip-hop, with plenty of fantastic projects being released by artists across the world.
So what I’ve decided to do is open myself up to criticism and list my 10 favourites! Of course these are just my opinion, so if I missed one you loved, be sure to comment! Let’s start a discussion.
10 – Jaden – ERYS
A controversial start, I know. The follow up to 2017’s SYRE (another album I loved), the son of actor, artist and, for some reason YouTuber, Will Smith presents the alter ego of the character SYRE: ERYS. Which is SYRE backwards! Clever, I know.
Unlike his previous project that was filled to the brim with bangers like Icon and George Jeff, Jaden takes the listener on a much more emotional journey to present the dark persona of ERYS. Frequent contributor and sister Willow Smith returns to join her brother on sad and at times depressing cuts like Summertime in Paris.
It’s somewhat difficult to even count this as a hip-hop album, as it switches up the genre on almost every track. Just listen to the absolute rock anthem Fire Dept for proof of that. And yet, despite not sticking to one genre all the way through, Jaden provides a meaningful, dark and brooding album that matches the creativity and symbolism of his effort 2 years prior.
TOP TRACKS: K, Summertime in Paris, Fire Dept
9 – DaBaby – Kirk
There’s a compelling argument to be made that no rapper has had a year quite like DaBaby. From his performances to Saturday Night Live and terrifically choreographed music videos to fighting people on Instagram, the 28-year-old Charlotte native has had 12 months to remember.
Kirk was actually DaBaby’s second full length album of the year, with his first ‘Baby on Baby’ being released in March after he signed to Interscope Records. It’s Kirk that makes it onto this list though, with DaBaby’s infectious personality, hilarious verses and catchy hooks coming together to make a memorable sophomore project.
TOP TRACKS: BOP, TOES, VIBEZ
8 – Little Simz – GREY Area
It’s the first British act on the list, as Islington-born Little Simz comes through with her highly personal and almost offensively catchy third album, GREY Area.
Simz, who can safely proclaim to have the best nickname in the game (Barz Simzson), has had quite the year, with her album dropping on March 1st and hitting the #1 spot on the UK R&B chart. She also appeared in the Netflix revival of Top Boy, with some of her tracks being used for the soundtrack.
Throughout the project, Simz paints a picture of her upbringing on the estates of London, as well as giving a shout out to those who helped pave the way for her success, such as grime legend Kano. If you’re looking for an album with a great mix of emotion and tracks to bop to, look no further than GREY Area.
TOP TRACKS: 101 FM, Selfish, Sherbet Sunset
7 – Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III
An album that fans were teased with almost as long as Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V, J. Cole’s Dreamville label finally dropped their Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album.
Basically, anyone with a name and a voice who hangs around the Dreamville studio seemed to be on this thing. You name them, they’re on it. That being said, there were some incredible standout performances.
Of course, the mastermind J. Cole came through with the same fire that he brought on 2018’s KOD, but the standout was J.I.D. The Atlanta native had memorable verse after memorable verse, and brought his unique delivery and unforgettable bars to every track he was featured on. It’s an album full of in your face bangers from a collective who work very well together.
Basically J.I.D just make DiCaprio 3, I’m begging you. Thanks. Xo
TOP TRACKS: Wells Fargo, Costa Rica, Under The Sun
6 – YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
It speaks volumes about an artist’s ability when their debut album is nominated for a Grammy, and that’s exactly what has happened to YBN Cordae.
The 22-year-old rapper formerly known as Entendre only started to take his rap career seriously early in 2018 after a meeting with fellow YBN members Nahmir and Almighty Jay, and clearly it was a smart decision.
The Lost Boy boasts an impressive list of features, including Pusha T, Anderson Paak and Meek Mill. And yet even with all those recognisable names lending their voices, it’s Cordae who shines with glittering stories of his upbringing in North Carolina. The young artist displays his desires, hopes and fears in a well layered an emotional manner. Rap afficionados everywhere should be looking forward to what Cordae comes up with next.
TOP TRACKS: Broke as F*ck, RNP, Nightmares Are Real
5 – Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
2019 has been a breakout year for many young artists, including a few who’ve already popped up on this list. We’ve truly been blessed with some terrific debut albums in this nightmare of a year, and with the current social and political climate in the UK, there isn’t one that stands out quite like the debut offering of Northampton’s own Slowthai.
Nothing Great About Britain is essentially the opposite of a love letter (a hate letter I suppose) to the Conservative government, a project that is refreshing, interesting, important and most of all, necessary. There may be an almost obscene level of fury from Slowthai on this album, but underneath that is something much more memorable: honesty.
This is an utterly brilliant grime project that will have you begging for more from a soon-to-be star of the industry. It paints a picture of a country in ruin with no hope, and yet it presents the slightest glimpse of optimism that things can get better.
TOP TRACKS: Doorman, Inglorious, Northampton’s Child
4 – Boogie – Everythings for Sale
There aren’t many things in the rap game as big as a co-sign from Eminem, but after being signed to Interscope Records, that’s just what Compton rapper Boogie got on his superb debut album Everythings For Sale.
Coming off the back of three mixtapes, but not one release since 2016, this first full length venture introduces the world to a troubled young man with a brilliant mind and a compelling story to tell. This project is true to the artist, where he lays bare his emotions and problems for all to hear, even if they hurt.
It’s pretty much everything you want from a rap album: it tells a story all the way through, not one of the tracks is skippable, and it provides the listener not only with brutal and compelling lyricsm, but also catchy hooks that will keep you coming back for more and more listens. Let’s hope after this effort that we don’t have to wait another 3 years for more material.
TOP TRACKS: Silent Ride, Lolsmh, Soho, Self Destruction
3 – Denzel Curry – ZUU
Denzel Curry dropped one of the best albums of the previous year with the absolutely insane Taboo, but clearly that wasn’t enough for him.
It’s a common trope of Denzel to drop a ‘mini’ project in between two larger releases. 32 Zel dropped in between his debut effort Nostalgic 64 and his breakout album Imperial, and 13 dropped just a year prior to Taboo.
ZUU clocks in at just under half an hour, but it provides a short and sweet insight into Denzel’s incredible versatility, with a completely different sound from Taboo. Curry tapped into a much darker side on his previous effort, but with ZUU he provides a treasure trove of catchy bangers that continue to establish him as the best artist coming out of Florida.
Seriously, don’t let the short length fool you: in just 30 minutes, Denzel establishes himself as one of the most exciting artists of the current generation.
TOP TRACKS: Ricky, Birdz, Automatic, Wish
2 – Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
It’s been an unbelievable two years for the former Odd Future front man. In 2017 he dropped his most impressive project to date with Flower Boy, an album which allowed the listener into Tyler’s personal life and gave them a real first look at his versatility and true artistic ability.
Whilst not quite up to the incredibly high standard he set in 2017 (a personal preference), IGOR is still an absolutely fantastic project. It tells a cohesive story from back to front of Tyler struggling to deal with heartbreak. He goes from loving, to desperate to angry and back again all in the space of 40 minutes.
Long time Tyler fans will know that he’s never been one for typical song structure, but he still manages to surprise and amaze with the twists and turns he scatters throughout the track list. In an era where many accuse rap of being too predictable and one-dimensional, Tyler provides a truly creative and at times vulnerable album that will, much like its predecessor, stand the test of time as a truly remarkable album.
TOP TRACKS: What’s Good, Puppet, New Magic Wand, Gone Gone/Thank You
1 – BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER
The self-proclaimed All-American boyband shot to fame in 2017 with their incredible SATURATION trilogy, which flooded the rap scene with a sound you weren’t hearing from anyone else. That rapid success led to a deal with RCA, but just as quickly as they rose, they almost fell. A scandal involving now former member Ameer Vann threatened to tear the group apart, before it was decided internally he would depart and the remaining six vocalists and around 983 other members would remain.
They followed up that difficult summer of 2018 with Iridescence, their first release without Vann in the group. Whilst the album had its high points, it all seemed a bit rushed and lacking in the cohesion that made their previous trilogy so great.
On GINGER, the group is back on form and providing some of the most unique sounds you’re hearing in the industry. From heavy bangers like ST. PERCY to the insanely sweet sounds of NO HALO and SUGAR, the lyricism on the album is as concise and concentrated as its ever been. The amount of genuinely delicate moments is heart-warming, and their choice to tackle the Ameer drama head on results in one of the most unforgettable ballads of the decade, DEARLY DEPARTED. In a year where unique acts thrived, it’s the California based boyband who’s sound resonated most with me. GINGER is my album of the year.
TOP TRACKS: NO HALO, SUGAR, BOY BYE, ST PERCY, DEARLY DEPARTED
WORDS: JORDAN ROY MORRIS