20 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2019 (So Far), Ranked

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20 Best Albums of 2019, so far

It's that time of year again. Yes, already.

With the first quarter of 2019 drawing to a close, we've ranked the 20 best hip-hop and R&B albums of the year, so far. Though it's been a slow start for music this year, there are plenty of worthwhile albums to check out, and with plenty of indie talent on this list—10 of our 20 selections are independent releases—consider this a great primer on great albums you may have missed in 2019. 

Without further ado, we'll see you in the comments.

[Editor's Note: Because 21 Savage's i am > i was came out so late in 2018, it has been considered for this 2019 list.] 

20. Kyle Dion — SUGA

Kyle Dion 'Saga'

Release Date: March 8, 2019
Record Label: None

There are no words to explain Kyle Dion’s amazing, stunning, arresting, becoming, disarming, endearing, charming, affirming, enchanting, beguiling, mollifying, soothing, blaring, encouraging, surprising, yearning, pining, astounding, breathtaking, stupefying, thrilling, outstanding, exciting, exhilarating, electrifying, intoxicating, moving vocal tone on SUGA. Just press play. —Donna-Claire Chesman

19. Wiz Khalifa x Curren$y — 2009

Wiz Khalifa/Curren$y '2009'

Release Date: February 8, 2019
Record Label: Jet Life Recordings, LLC / Atlantic

Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y aren’t the rapping lifestyle stoners they once were when the duo released their breakout mixtape, How Fly, 10 years ago. The long-awaited sequel, 2009, walks the thin line between nostalgia and refinement, somehow both a testament to how far they’ve come while displaying that these two haven’t burnt out after a decade of survival. Time hasn’t diluted their chemistry, nor their ears for beats, which aged without a wrinkle. 2009 is by far some of the most enthusiastic and entertaining luxury lyricism Khalifa and Spitta have rapped in recent time. —Yoh

18. AJ Tracey — AJ Tracey

AJ Tracey 'AJ Tracey'

Release Date: February 8, 2019
Record Label: None

Both AJ Tracey and I own, or have owned, goats. If this doesn’t sell you on the UK rapper's self-titled offering, then perhaps the note that he is irreverent of genre and is the UK’s answer to Jay Critch will sell you on AJ Tracey. Spanning everything from grime and garage to pop-country, the album is globetrotting without being over-burdened by potential. Where a good debut should do the work of showcasing an artist’s strengths, AJ Tracey’s forte is damn near everything. —Donna-Claire Chesman

17. YTK — Berea

YTK 'Berea'

Release Date: February 21
Record Label: None

YTK is not concerned with trends. The Maryland rapper is too busy learning to be vulnerable and carving out his own lane in hip-hop and chill-hop arenas. His debut EP Berea is an unexpectedly mature and looming affair. Warm production meets pricked jabs of truth, punchlines belie the seriousness of the matter. The matter being Berea is a tale of growing up and growing into your storytelling chops. Come for the wit and stay for the emotional range. —Donna-Claire Chesman

16. Quelle Chris — Guns

Quelle Chris 'Guns'

Release Date: March 29, 2019
Record Label: Mello Music Group

Quelle Chris is self-aware enough to know that everything in this life—emotions, money, ourselves— is weaponized. His sixth studio album Guns isn’t about physical violence as much as it’s a deconstruction of the actions we take in a world slowly devouring itself. Quelle travels the roads of Trump’s America with a crooked sense of humor and animated beats as his only sidearms, jumping between characters, ideas, and planes of existence as only he can. Guns is a polemic on reality itself, a reminder that no weapon formed against a sharp mind shall prosper. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

15. Toro Y Moi — Outer Peace

Toro Y Moi 'Outer Peace'

Release Date: January 18, 2019
Record Label: Carpark Records

What good is inner peace when the outer world is falling apart? Toro y Moi’s Outer Peace combines a sleek disco sheen with contemporary rap cadences to bring pep to an increasingly passive aggressive world. The housing market has crashed (“New House”) and sex barely sells like it used to (“Ordinary Pleasure”), but at least James Murphy is spinning records at his house tonight (“Laws of The Universe”). That cynical sense of humor alone will keep your toe tapping throughout Outer Peace, that is, if the gorgeous grooves and crushing low-end don’t. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

14. Deem Spencer — Pretty face

Deem Spencer 'Pretty face'

Release Date: February 28, 2019
Record Label: Deem Spencer & The Flower Shop

The fallout from a bad relationship can end worlds. Deem Spencer is attempting to float past that grief on Pretty face, where he walks away with mixed results. The album’s production lilts in lockstep with Spencer’s demeanor; it's muted and varied, like crisp leaves falling onto the New York blacktop in autumn. It’s a somber but hopeful project, a rapper’s rapper spinning lovelorn yarns in sepia tone for all the pretty faces out there swimming in regret. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

13. Kehlani — While We Wait

Kehlani 'While We Wait'

Release Date: February 22, 2019
Record Label: TSNMI / Atlantic

While We Wait isn’t the full entree, it’s just the appetizer. While waiting on the full-length follow-up to 2017's SweetSexySavage, Kehlani treated fans to a taste of where she’s heading next, baring her soul as strongly as she always has to provide an unfiltered look into her state of mind. On While We Wait, she’s equal parts vulnerable and commanding, struggling to move on from a complicated relationship on “Too Deep” before confidently telling off an old lover on “Nunya.” With a diverse complement of beats, storylines, and moods, there’s plenty to enjoy on this compact project. —Kenan Draughorne

12. 21 Savage — i am > i was

21-savage-i-am-i-was-cover

Release Date: December 21, 2018
Record Label: Slaughter Gang, LLC / Epic

21 Savage has leveled up, and he knows it. He says as much in the title of i am > i was, and then backs up his claim with an hour of the best music he’s ever put together. The biggest hits off his two prior albums (Savage Mode and Issa Album) have been thumping bangers in the form of “X” and “Bank Account,” respectively, but the runaway success from this tracklist highlights 21’s more reflective side, trading pensive bars with J. Cole on the soulful “a lot.” Growth is a beautiful thing, and late 2018's i am > i was is staunch proof. —Kenan Draughorne

11. Maxo — LIL BIG MAN

Maxo 'Lil Big Man'

Release Date: March 15, 2019
Record Label: Def Jam Recordings

Maxo makes growing up sound incisive and blaring. This album takes place in the crevices of the torment of maturing. LIL BIG MAN is a dusty reclamation of voice, relying on classic boom bap structures and methodical writing to deliver an solemnly eviscerating experience. The wisdom baked into LIL BIG MAN will at once inspire, surprise, and soothe you. Maxo is Def Jam’s best kept secret, but not for much longer. —Donna-Claire Chesman

10. Malibu Ken — Malibu Ken

Malibu Ken 'Malibu Ken'

Release Date: January 18, 2019
Record Label: Rhymesayers

Aesop Rock deserves to have a little fun. Teaming up with producer TOBACCO for Malibu Ken, he puts his extensive vocabulary to use, describing plants dying from neglect on tour and the inner workings of Bob Ross paintings. TOBACCO’s woozy pre-tech synths whir and click at the speed of rap, matching Rock’s saturated yellows with nauseating greens. Malibu Ken is colorful, silly, and more than just a little morbid, a perfect slice of Magic Eye playtime handspun by two of alt-rap’s most endearing weirdos. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

9. Solange — When I Get Home

Solange 'When I Get Home'

Release Date: March 1, 2019
Record Label: Columbia Records

Solange’s take on Houston hip-hop belongs in a museum. Her hometown’s “chopped and screwed” traditions are treated with elevated care throughout When I Get Home, placing it on a golden pedestal to be admired and revered. Dispersing interludes at every turn in the form of fragmented conversations and poems, she creates a linear journey that eternally builds upon itself. When “Almeda” parades into the spotlight with strutting kicks and whooping vocals, it’s impossible not to stand and salute Solange. —Kenan Draughorne

8. Future — Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD

Future 'The WZRD'

Release Date: January 18, 2019
Record Label
: Epic Records / Freebandz

Women, wealth, and worries are the three Ws found pulsing through the veins of Future’s seventh studio album, The WZRD. Lyrically, there’s nothing new under WZRD’s promethazine sun, but the magic is in his ability to resurrect old muses as revamped concepts. Future hasn’t radically changed over the years, but here the presentation is altered; WZRD is another installment of melodic confessing, hypnotic anthems, and oil-black trap production that carries the infectious torch passed down from its predecessors, but it stands alone as a fresh glimpse into Future’s rockstar world. —Yoh

7. DaBaby — Baby On Baby

DaBaby 'Baby on Baby'

Release Date: March 1, 2019
Record Label: Interscope

DaBaby’s Baby On Baby is 32 minutes of exhilarating trap sermons. The church of Baby On Baby is built upon confidence pure as cocaine, a charisma so contagious it could charm the Halliwell sisters, and lively, dynamic production that perfectly fits his distinctive, Southern rap voice. There are few holes to be found in DaBaby’s artistic armor; it’s refreshing to hear a new artist sound so developed. Baby On Baby is one of the most replayable albums of the year, and at this rate, 2019 will be remembered as the year that DaBaby broke out and began his hip-hop takeover. —Yoh

6. James Blake — Assume Form

James Blake 'Assume Form'

Release Date: January 18, 2019
Record Label: Polydor Records

The most accessible of his projects to date, Assume Form is a triumphant release that marks the evolution of James Blake’s artistry, as he matures past the reductive “sad boy” label he’s famously lamented. An unapologetically romantic album, Blake sheds the claustrophobic production of his previous output in favor of shimmering compositions, genuine hooks, and winning collaborations with the likes of André 3000 and Rosalia. Retaining his lyrical flair, Blake punctuates the album with quintessential lines, like “let's go home and talk shit about everyone,” that remind you of the artist who first grabbed your attention years ago. —Hershal Pandya

5. Boogie — Everythings For Sale

Boogie 'Everythings For Sale'

Release Date: January 25, 2019
Record Label: Shady Records / Interscope

On Everythings For Sale, Boogie accomplishes the rare feat of making an intensely personal album that is simultaneously self-aware and suitably mature enough to avoid veering into the trap of solipsism. A distinctly West Coast album that borrows influences from the Midwest, the specificity of Boogie’s lyricism is brought to life with pretty production, alliteration-heavy flows, and an effortless knack for melody, all of which come together to create a listening experience that is surprisingly pleasant, in spite of the album’s undeniably heavy subject matter. —Hershal Pandya

4. billy woods & Kenny Segal — Hiding Places

Billy Woods 'Hiding Places'

Release Date: March 29, 2019
Record Label: Backwoodz Studioz

billy woods and Kenny Segal are not scared, they are not in hiding. Rather, they are affecting wordsmith and mad scientist banding together to traverse the depths of retread emotions. A record concerned with the past and what it means for an emotional space to become hollow, Hiding Places will challenge and reward you in the same turn. Kenny Segal’s production is somehow quietly cacophonous and cloudy, while woods presents his most direct and open writing to date. The pair belongs together. —Donna-Claire Chesman

3. 2 Chainz — Rap or Go to the League

2 Chainz 'Rap or Go to the League'

Release Date: March 1, 2019
Record Label: Def Jam Recordings

Twenty-three years after the late, great Notorious B.I.G rapped, “Either you’re slinging crack rock, or you got a wicked jump shot,” Atlanta hip-hop veteran 2 Chainz stands as an example of a man who had the jump shot and sold the drugs but ultimately chose rap as his escape route from poverty. His fifth studio album, Rap or Go to the League, is an opulent celebration inspired by the city that raised him and the odds he’s overcome. Rap or go to The League is a grown man still progressing as an artist, finding his most introspective voice. —Yoh

2. Little Simz — GREY Area 

Little Simz 'Grey Area'

Release Date: March 1, 2019
Record Label: AWAL Recordings

Little Simz wants you to stop fucking with her heart. She says as much two tracks into GREY Area, her boldly cathartic third studio album. At 25, Simz is approaching the threshold of adulthood with more questions than answers, armed with bars that cut to the bone. She’s been one of the UK’s best rappers for years, but her songs have never been so focused, the beats—cooked up by longtime producer Inflo—never so varied and explosive. GREY Area is her masterwork, a panoramic view of a future star fighting back a quarter-life crisis. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

1. Dave — Psychodrama

Dave 'Psychodrama'

Release Date: March 8, 2019
Record Label: Neighbourhood Recordings

Plenty of reviews have regarded Dave’s Psychodrama as an album of a generation, a landmark of UK hip-hop, and we have to agree. Dave burrows into the depths of his psyche and bravely reports his findings in an accessible and banging format. He makes the intimate aggressive and touching all at once. Psychodrama reveals Dave to be a master writer and rapper, an artist’s artist, and an artist to watch for years to come. —Donna-Claire Chesman

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