As 2019 came to a close I decided it would be fun for me to compile a list of my favourite rap albums of the year. After much procrastination, I finally found the time to get around to finishing this article during quarantine. Listening to new music is a great way to spend your newfound time during this difficult period so hopefully, I can introduce a few people to albums they may have missed during 2019.
My rankings have nothing to do with things such as sales or general popularity but rather they are based on my personal opinion and enjoyment of each album. I tried to factor in album consistency (lack of throwaway/skippable songs) as well as the strength of individual hits when making my rankings.
- Born 2 Rap — The Game
Late in November, The Game released his 9th studio album Born 2 Rap. While he has claimed this will be the last album of his illustrious career, whether he sticks to that is yet to be seen. As a fan, I certainly hope he can be convinced to put together another project at some point in the future. As with most albums of this length — 25 songs spanning a total of 90 minutes — there is quite a lot to unpack here but I will try to be as concise as possible.
Throughout his career, The Game has exhibited a very unique ability to mix a sense of raw, vulnerable self-reflection with the boastful gang-affiliated side of him that made him a star in the first place and Born 2 Rap is another glowing example of this. Throughout the album, The Game reflects on both positive and negative aspects of his life, from the life-changing moment when Dr. Dre discovered him, to his father’s death, his relationship with his brother, and of course his life as a self-proclaimed “gang banger.”
What I find most impressive about this album is the consistency. Rarely — if ever — have I found myself able to repeatedly listen to a 25 song album all the way through without skipping at least a song or two. Ultimately that is what separated this album from the other candidates and put it at the top of my list. The Game was able to mix outstanding production along with a multitude of impressive features to create an album that gives off epic vibes. If this is in fact The Game’s last album, we can be at peace knowing he left us with another classic.
Top tracks: No Smoke, Gucci Flip Flops, Welcome Home, Hug the Block, Ask for Me, Stainless, Rewind II, One Life, Cross on Jesus Back, Roadside
Top Features: Miguel, Nipsey Hussle (RIP), Anderson.Paak, Masego, D Smoke, Ed Sheeran
2. Escape From New York — Beast Coast
When The Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era — led by Joey Bada$$ — and the Underachievers came together to form the New York supergroup Beast Coast there was much anticipation and excitement from their fans. And on May 24th, 2019 the release of their first project, Escape From New York did not disappoint. With The Flatbush Zombies and Joey being some of my favourite artists in the game right now this collaboration album was right up my alley and my love for this album was solidified when I went to see Beast Coast live in Vancouver. It was absolutely the strongest collection of talent I have ever seen perform together live.
EFNY features strong production from Erick the Architect as well as Powers Pleasant of Pro Era. Together they were able to do an excellent job of providing both dark, sinister beats as well as some lighter more upbeat ones too. The production allowed the talented rappers to show their versatility throughout this project. I’ve come to expect the excellence displayed on this album from Joey, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick but I came away from this album being very impressed by the contributions from the other members of the group. Issa Gold, AK of the Underachievers, Nyck Caution, CJ Fly and Kirk Knight of Pro Era all have strong verses on the project showcasing just how deep and talented Beast Coast is.
The theme isn’t as clear as The Game’s album but on a collaboration album with so many moving pieces and differing styles that is to be expected. Rather than having a clear theme, this is just an example of a group of gifted artists getting together to talk their shit and put together an outstanding album from start to finish. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Top Tracks: It Ain’t Easy, It Ain’t Easy, Problemz, Far Away, Distance, One More Round, Last Choir
3. Revenge of the Dreamers III — Dreamville & J. Cole
Next on my list is yet another legendary collaboration album brought to you by J Cole and the array of talent that he has signed to his Dreamville label. J Cole is undoubtedly one of the top rappers in the world at the moment but what I really learned from listening to this album is just how much talent and potential Dreamville has at their disposal. Artists such as Bas, JID, Earthgang and Cozz have already established themselves as promising up and comers in the game, dropping impressive solo projects in the past. Additionally, Ari Lennox really stands out on this project as somebody who a bright future as a vocalist. Unsurprisingly combining all of these talented artists along with some very notable guest features created another classic record.
Similar to Escape from New York, there isn’t a clear theme on this album. Yet what makes it so enjoyable is how it touches on so many different themes and experiments with different sounds. The album touches on social issues, love, and the struggles of aspiring artists at different points throughout, but it also has tracks where the aim was simply to make a hit — which they also succeeded at. It is always hard for artists to put all their egos aside and collaborate on an album and that is especially true on a collaboration album of this magnitude. Considering how rare it is to have this many talented artists come together to put out an album, this is definitely one to be cherished. Check out the Director’s Cut edition of the album to hear some more amazing songs that didn’t make the original.
Top Tracks: Under the Sun, Swivel, Sleep Deprived, Costa Rica, 1993, Middle Child, Sacrifices
Top Tracks (Director’s Cut): BUSSIT, Disgusted, Revenge, Still Dreamin’
4. Heavy Is The Head — Stormzy
I have to admit, Stormzy was barely even on my radar as an artist until I heard his smash-hit single Vossi Bop last spring. Vossi Bop became one of my songs of the summer and remains one of my favourites of the year. Then in late 2019, Stormzy released Heavy is the Head to accompany Vossi Bop and I was equally impressed. While Stormzy seems to have leaned a little bit into the mainstream he doesn’t abandon his grime roots as some have suggested. In reality, Stormzy has done a great job appealing to a larger market without forgetting where he came from.
Stormzy starts the record with very high-energy boastful songs but also shows his range throughout, mixing some softer more conscious songs into the album as well. This is a very easy record to listen to all the way through with great beats accompanying whatever flow Stormzy decides to use. The London MC shows his versatility on Heavy is the Head proving that sticking to purely grime would limit his potential as an artist.
Top Tracks: Big Michael, Audacity, Rachael’s Little Brother, Wiley Flow, Superheroes, Lessons, Vossi Bop
5. The Lost Boy — YBN Cordae
In late July YBN Cordae solidified himself as one of the most promising new school rappers with his debut studio album The Lost Boy. This album was so well received that it ultimately earned Cordae a Grammy nomination. Although it only comes in at #5 on my list I was glad to see Cordae gain widespread respect and recognition for this project.
Raised on old-school rappers such as Talib Kweli and Nas, Cordae displays lyricism rarely seen from a rapper his age throughout this project. He is also able to show impressive versatility even at an early stage of his career. I enjoyed how Cordae was able to mix in some high-energy songs with some more conscious ones that touched on societal issues that he has faced in his life. Cordae is unique in the sense that his style resembles old-school hip-hop but he is able to touch on subjects that younger generations can relate to. This mix of old-school and new-school hip-hop is why Cordae believes he can help bridge the generational gap that currently exists in hip-hop. If he continues on this path I don’t doubt it either.
Top Tracks: RNP, Broke as F**k, Way Back Home, Nightmares Are Real, We Gon Make It, Lost & Found
6. Bandana — Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Caine season was in full effect as Freddie Gibbs & Madlib teamed up for what could be their most impressive record to date. Bandana showcased the undeniable chemistry between these two artists with Madlib seemingly challenging Gibbs with more complex production as well as switching beats up mid-song multiple times on the album. Gibbs proves that he is up to the challenge throughout the album, switching up flows effortlessly as well as showing off his prowess as a storyteller.
The storytelling aspect of the album is what I appreciate the most about Bandana. Gibbs does a phenomenal job of writing bars that not only sound good but also reflect on specific stories from his past as a drug dealer. Fake Names, in particular, stands out as a compelling story that Gibbs was able to transform into an outstanding song. Although the album is not feature heavy, Pusha T and Anderson.Paak’s give us very impactful appearances on the album. Although this was intended to be Gibbs’ last album, I was happy to hear that Bandana reignited his love for hip-hop to the point where he won’t be stepping away from the rap game so soon.
Top Tracks: Crime Pays, Palmolive, Fake Names, Giannis, Cataracts
7. Zuu — Denzel Curry
One of my favourite new-school rappers Denzel Curry claims spot #7 on this list with his 4th studio album Zuu. Despite being only 25 the former Raider Klan member has already put together quite an impressive discography and Zuu was another strong effort from the always-entertaining Curry. While I definitely wouldn’t call Denzel one-dimensional, it’s clear that his strongest attribute is the nearly unmatchable energy he brings to the table. Zuu is another glowing example of that, as Denzel turns his focus to his native state of Florida.
What separates Denzel from other aggressive, energetic rappers is his ability to mix in clever bars and tell a story within his hard-hitting verses. This is evident on Zuu, and although it took me a couple listens to realize it Denzel is telling his own story about growing up in South Florida throughout the album. Denzel’s ability to change his voice is also very unique and strikingly impressive on Ricky in particular. The only thing that kept Zuu in the bottom half of my list is the fact that it only runs for 29 minutes leaving many fans yearning for more.
Top Tracks: Zuu, Ricky, Wish, Automatic, Speedboat
8. IGOR — Tyler, The Creator
Coming in at #8 on my list is the Grammy’s Best Rap Album recipient IGOR. A true masterpiece, IGOR displayed just how far Tyler has come since his early days as an artist. When listening to songs like Yonkers or Odd Future’s classic posse cut Oldie it is hard to fathom just how much Tyler has evolved in his career. Very few artists have shown an ability to evolve so gracefully as they mature — Tyler’s late friend Mac Miller is another one that comes to mind — but IGOR certainly proved that Tyler possesses that rare ability.
Tyler’s production on IGOR is stunning and the fact that he produced the entire album himself completely justifies his Grammy win. The album flows smoothly and tells a story of love and lust, dealing with heartbreak and rejection. It is rare that an album can follow such a clear narrative without the quality of the music itself suffering as a result but Tyler pulls it off superbly. I am very glad that Tyler was recognized for IGOR and feel his Grammy was well deserved. The only thing keeping IGOR from being higher up on my list was that it isn’t my preferred style of rap, which kept me from re-listening to the album as much as the ones ranked above it. Nevertheless, IGOR and Tyler himself should always be appreciated and loved for what they are.
Top Tracks: Igor’s Theme, Earfquake, New Magic Wand, What’s Good
9. Chase — Aaron May
The youngest member of my list Aaron May claims spot #9 at just 17 years old with Chase. If you haven’t yet heard of Aaron May I’d definitely encourage you to check out this project, along with his single “Ride” released in 2018. What is most impressive to me about May is the depth of his raps. Unlike many popular teen-aged rappers May displays impressive lyricism throughout this project and refuses to substitute real subject matter for a catchy sound. This depth and wisdom beyond his years have already led to some comparing the promising young rapper to J. Cole.
Although this album only runs for 11 songs lasting 27 minutes I couldn’t justify leaving it off my list. May’s aforementioned lyricism is paired with impressive production to create a very easy-listening album that flows smoothly throughout. While he touches on some subjects you would expect from a rapper his age, he also explores subjects such as love, anxiety and the struggle many young African-Americans face in society. Hopefully, there will be much more to come from Aaron May in the coming years.
Top Tracks: Dreams, In Love, Focus, I’m Good Luv, Enjoy, One for Me, Closed Hands
10. Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs — Saint Jhn
Finally at #10 on my list is Saint Jhn with his latest project Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs. My experience with Saint Jhn before this album was limited to discovering a few of his biggest hits on Soundcloud. Although I wouldn’t have said I was a big fan of his before this album, I appreciated his sound and how catchy it was. The Brooklyn based rapper has mastered the art of using auto-tune to compliment his already impressive vocals and that is evident on GLLS as he uses this recipe to create a uniquely ghetto love ballad.
I really enjoyed the production on this album and thought it paired very well with Saint Jhn’s rapping/singing that he has become known for. Although there weren’t a lot of features on this album, I found that the featured artists that did appear had very impactful contributions. I also really liked how although this album is based around the concept of love, there was still a good mix of upbeat high-energy songs as well as some slower more love-focused ones. GLLS somehow is able to find a perfect balance between trap and romance. I did find that the first half of this album was stronger than the second half, which is why GLLS only finds itself at #10 on my list but nevertheless Ghetto Lenny provided us with a very catchy album that is fun to listen to.
Top Tracks: Wedding Day, Anything Can Happen, Trap, 5 Thousand Singles, 94 Bentley
Ignorance Is Bliss — Skepta: With 2 of my favourite songs of the year Skepta came very close to taking spot #10, but ultimately my indifference about many other songs on the album kept it off the list.
Top Tracks: Greaze Mode, What Do You Mean?
Life Is Beautiful — Powers Pleasant: The Pro Era producer has features from many of his fellow Beast Coast artists, A$ap Ferg, Denzel Curry and more to deliver a strong 8-track project.
Top Tracks: Vintage Chanel, Purified
I’m Him — Kevin Gates: Gates adds a layer of maturity and self-reflection and pairs it with some memorable hooks along with his usual raw, hard-hitting verses on I’m Him.
Top Tracks: By My Lonely, Walls Talking
Ventura — Anderson.Paak: Although this is categorized as R&B I wanted to show Paak some love. This album was one of my favourites of the year and Anderson.Paak continues to solidify himself as one of the most talented artists in the game. He also delivered outstanding features on The Game, YBN Cordae and Freddie Gibbs’ albums and I thought that merited him being mentioned.
Top Tracks: Come Home, Jet Black