Written By: @Tia_The_Writer
The amount of music that came out this year was nothing short of amazing as it catered to any mood you found yourself in. Whether you had a hot-girl summer or a Fall full of feels, 2019 had a song for every season and every reason. For this piece, we chose to focus on music, particularly rap, that had a consistent good vibe since we’re all about making, acknowledging and preserving good culture.
In no particular order, here are the top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2019 that were either jam-packed with good energy or carried an overall good message.
Kanye West - Jesus Is King
Although Jesus Is King was initially pitched by Kanye as a gospel album, in true Gemini fashion, he followed up shortly after the release to clarify that it was indeed a rap album. Nonetheless, Jesus Is King is conceptually gospel and the uplifting spiritual presence on the album is real. Even with a heavy Christian theme and powerful choir vocals, Ye’ still manages to keep a nice balance by throwing in lighthearted lines like, “Closed on Sunday / You my Chick-fil-A / You’re my #1 / With a lemonade.” His knack for staying himself in a totally different area of music shows another side of bravery in his artistry.
Rapsody – Eve
North Carolina emcee Rapsody did her thing on her third studio album, Eve, that dropped earlier this year. For this go-round, she goes within and focuses on the experience of being a black woman while also bigging up other notable and influential Black women. Just a glimpse at the tracklist alone lets you know what you’re in for with Eve as each track is named after a black woman who made history within their own rite.
So, how does the album sound? If you’re a Rapsody fan, she pretty much delivered the heavy-hitting, clever bars she’s known for, and the production is top-notch as always. If you’re new to her music, you’re in for a variety of vibes that range from smooth and stoic (“Maya”) to cool and breezy (“Aaliyah”) to all-around turn-up (“Serena”). Described as “a love letter to all Black
women” by Rapsody herself, make it a point to stream Eve before the ball drops.
Tobe Nwigwe – Fouriginals
Houston, TX native Tobe Nwigwe’s latest album, Fouriginals, is as authentic as his own presence on the mic, and we’re glad that he’s finally starting to get recognition for his music. On the album, Tobe’s tone is demanding yet sincere as he touches on various subjects like how good it feels to be Black (“Hella Black”) and the hardships of growing up in the hood (“Kick Rocks”).
Something genuine about the album is that even if Tobe is talking about how mean his flow is or how mean the streets are, he still manages to keep the vibe purposeful which is exactly why we had to mention him.
Common - Let Love
We didn’t quite expect an album from Common this year, but we’re glad he decided to bless us with something real we can feel. Coming in as his twelfth studio album, Let Love, explores various forms of love, including love for Hip-Hop (“HER Love”), his mother (“Forever Your Love”) and spirituality “God Is Love” among others. As far as the flow, Common still has it, and the production is full of buttery-smooth live instrumentation that varies between warm and cool, depending on the topic.
Aside from the love aspect, Let Love has its somber moments as Common opens up about critical issues like molestation “Memories Of Home” and paints a vivid tale of infidelity on “Fifth Story.” These moments do not take away from the otherwise gorgeous flow of the album, and actually adds more depth and balance to the mix.
YBN Cordae - The Lost Boy
The North Carolina-born, Maryland-raised rap artist YBN Cordae made something special with his debut studio album, The Lost Boy. On the 15-track project, the young emcee with an old soul gives us an up-close and personal view of his background and upbringing through nostalgic storytelling and cunning wordplay.
Although most of the album displays his flow, he also found room for warm, soulful tracks with surprising elements of gospel like “Bad Idea” with Chance The Rapper, and on the skits “Sweet Lawd” and “Grandma’s House.” These moments are sparingly placed throughout The Lost Boy, but they show another side of YBN Cordae that we’ll hopefully see more of in the coming year.
Little Brother - May the Lord Watch
North Carolina duo Little Brother reunited this year (without producer 9th Wonder) for May The Lord Watch, which serves as one of the most unexpected yet appreciated LP’s in Hip-Hop this year. On the album, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh get together to make magic again, spitting clever rhymes that are often comedic gold, guaranteed to make you chuckle more than a few times while listening.
The pair also gives us a look into the life of being independent music artists that are 30-plus, like on “Right on Time” where Big Pooh spits, “Took some odd jobs to put salmon on the plate / contemplating moving dope just to get my pockets straight / doing Uber pickups, they don’t recognize the face.” Meanwhile, Phonte touches on his struggles with the poignant line, “Yeah I got success and the stress to match / ’cause peace of mind rarely comes with a check attached.”
Despite the personal moments on May The Lord Watch, the overall feel of the album is as warm as it breezy, and it leaves you with the feeling that everything will work out fine if you just keep going.
GoldLink – Diaspora
GoldLink’s second album, Diaspora, captures the essence of his hometown of Washington, D.C. while also incorporating distinct sounds of Los Angeles, London, and Nigeria just to name a few. Simply put, this album is a whole vibe that shouldn’t be slept on, even if you’re new to Gold’s music.
For his sophomore effort, GoldLink fuses together rap, R&B, Afrobeats, pop, and reggae that creates an international atmosphere that still feels potent and familiar. An example of this is the island-tinged “Yard” that features Haile of WSTRN.
Throughout Diaspora, Gold’s flow is comfortable as he rhymes matter-of-factly without quite telling a story, but rather making confident statements. At times, it seems like he knows how good the beats are, so he formulates his flow to match them for our listening pleasure.
Neak – KWESBAAR
Chicago-based lyricist and producer Neak delivered a pretty dope album this year by the name of KWESBAAR which means “vulnerable.” Produced by Neak himself, the 13-track project blends together elements of Hip-Hop, jazz, soul, and funk with an overall night-time feel. The album itself is a groove but tracks that can’t help but to standout are the warm and funky “Do It For Love” featuring Rita J, and the airy, spacey “Dreamer’s Sadness” featuring Taylor Iman.
When asked about his creative process for the album, Neak stated, “My goal was to design a musical platform that allowed me to discuss my greatest insecurities, agonizing internal fears, and many trials and tribulations of people through many walks of life. KWESBAAR pushes my musical prowess to a level beyond my past; demonstrating my love for retro production and true-to-life raps.”
James Gardin – Sweet Jesus
At the top of the year, Lansing, MI artist James Gardin released a solid album effort titled Sweet Jesus, via indie label Illect Recordings. While it’s not necessarily considered a gospel album, the 8-song project explores themes of hope, faith and moving through life with a sense of purpose.
The majority of tracks on Sweet Jesus find James in a mellow groove, switching from rapping to harmonizing in an almost hymnal tone which is fitting for the album’s title. However, songs like “Complaining” and “Cruise Control” reveal a livelier side of him that leaps out and grabs your attention immediately.
His duality on Sweet Jesus shines through and makes it difficult to put his style in a box, so the best thing you might want to do is just press play and enjoy.
This Life. We Lead – Drink Responsibly
Flint-born, Detroit-based emcee This Life. We Lead released his debut album, Drink Responsibly, in late March, and it still continues to make its rounds online and across Michigan. On the 11- track project, we find TLWL tackling issues of love and loss while acknowledging hard-earned lessons and growth through it all. He also takes some time out to just enjoy life on songs like the celebratory “Toast” and the stadium-status “Everything Sweet.”
Holding down the majority of Drink Responsibly by himself, TLWL also made some room for his homies to shine, including R&B vocalist Nick Wells who shows up for the super-smooth “Tropicana” and partner-in-rhyme B!Z who comes through for “Give It Up” and “Vibes” that closes out the album.
What made your 2019 list?
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