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Before you begin scrolling through our list of the 75 best hip-hop and R&B albums of 2019, likely without reading any of the words we affixed to many of them, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

  1. The eligibility period for this list is December 24, 2018, through December 9, 2019.
  2. If an artist and/or their record label labeled a project as an “EP,” it was disqualified. We are publishing that list on Friday.
  3. Our entire editorial team determined the selections (and the order of the albums listed). Please don’t send Donna your nasty emails.
  4. No, we’re not on the payroll of “Insert Popular Artist Here.” But, we’d love an investment. Have them email Z.
  5. This list is our list—not yours. We don’t expect, nor do we want, you to agree with every album selection or our ordering; we do want you to discover a few great albums you probably missed throughout the past 12 months and press play.

Great, let’s begin. Happy Holidays.

75. Radamiz — Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes


Lately been accepting my mortality, nobody ever told you that your parents goin’ to get older, too,” Radamiz raps on “Shadowboxing,” the intro to his perfectly-titled sophomore album, Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes. It’s one of many lines that will jump out upon every revisit. Radamiz is a rapper who breathes universal truths, who candidly speaks of being a passion-driven and dreaming-chasing millennial fighting against the odds and the clock. Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes is East Coast hip-hop from a student of the game, who gives an honest portrait of his life with fiery rhymes, and head-nodding production that solidifies Radamiz as one of the best new rappers coming from New York. —Yoh

74. Wale — Wow… That’s Crazy

73. Lil Peep — Everybody's Everything

72. MIKE — Tears of Joy

71. Deem Spencer — Pretty face

70. Yung Baby Tate — GIRLS


Do not forget Yung Baby Tate. On the list of newcomers who released projects in 2019 that put on display their world-conquering star power, Yung Baby Tate shines. GIRLS, Tate’s independent debut, is vividly painted with shades of luscious vocals, radio-ready songwriting, and bright-colored, post-Nicki Minaj lyricism. You’ll remember Tate as the charming, Atlanta-born songstress who rapped, sung, wrote, and self-produced all 15 tracks. Tate is every woman, but also every artist, a living compilation of styles and genres. While GIRLS may be her first full-length offering, the album successfully represents her wide-ranging talents, and why Yung Baby Tate is on the road to a takeover. —Yoh

69. Baby Keem — DFMB

68. Medhane — Own Pace

67. YG — 4REAL 4REAL

66. Kaina — Next to the Sun

65. 03 Greedo & Kenny Beats — Netflix & Deal


Ever wonder what a Netflix binging session with your favorite rapper and producer would be like? 03 Greedo and Kenny Beats’ collaborative debut Netflix & Deal is the closest you’ll get this year. There’s no underlying concept about cinema’s relationship to rap or trying to create a #cinematic experience; Greedo raps about movies he used to watch in his trap house over a sampling of Kenny’s eclectic beats. Netflix & Deal is as brisk and exciting as any John Wick movie. You know bodies will be caught, but the thrill comes from seeing how they will top themselves this time. Movie magic. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

64. Big K.R.I.T. — K.R.I.T. Iz Here

63. Roddy Ricch — Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial

62. Dreamville — Revenge of The Dreamers III

61. Wiki — OOFIE

60. Malibu Ken — Malibu Ken

Malibu Ken 'Malibu Ken'

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

59. Summer Walker — Over It

58. Jack Harlow — Confetti

57. Jhay Cortez — Famouz

56. Young Dolph & Key Glock — Dum and Dummer

55. Grip — Snubnose 


Snubnose, the sophomore project by Atlanta rapper Grip, is a sneaky album. The kind of independent release that sounds major from a newcomer who could be confused as a young veteran. Where there should be kinks, Snubnose appears polished; where most artists fall into a mimicry of trends, Grip leans into original storytelling. He makes 13-tracks about gun violence feel like you’re watching a violent Quentin Tarantino film, with far-less n-words. Meticulous in form, riveting in execution, Snubnose is one rap album that you won’t forget. One of the best surprises of 2019. —Yoh

54. Roc Marciano — Marcielago

53. Young Nudy & Pi'erre Bourne — Sli'merre

52. SiR — Chasing Summer

51. Kano — Hoodies All Summer

50. YBN Cordae — The Lost Boy


YBN Cordae remembers what albums sounded like during the blog era. When Kendrick Lamar made Section.80; when J. Cole made Friday Night Lights; when Chance the Rapper made Acid Rap. Cordae channels that timeframe into The Lost Boy, his debut album on Atlantic Records. The North Carolina-born, Maryland-raised rapper weaves through a coming-of-age story with thoughtful self-reflection, pointed storytelling, and soulful nostalgia. It’s a charming, major-label effort by a developing and youthful rapper with an open, old soul. Cordae still lacks a defining identity, but at the very least, The Lost Boy proves he knows how to tell a compelling story. —Yoh

49. Flying Lotus — Flamagra

48. Injury Reserve — Injury Reserve

47. Kevin Abstract — Arizona Baby

46. SAINt JHN — Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs

45. Griselda — WWCD


Griselda’s debut album, WWCD, does not feel like a traditional debut. The record is wider in scope and sharper in presentation. Between the ferocity of Benny The Butcher, the ear of Westside Gunn, and the mighty snarl of Conway The Machine, Griselda are Buffalo, NY’s unstoppable force. As a group, Griselda have little to prove. Alone and together, the trio have gotten cosigns from some of hip-hop’s greatest writers: Black Thought, Pusha-T, and Raekwon. Respect given is respect earned and studied, in the case of Griselda. Bar for bar, WWCD is the essence of New York street rap for the modern era. Donna-Claire Chesman

44. Maxo Kream — Brandon Banks

43. Kemba — Gilda

42. Mereba — The Jungle Is The Only Way Out

41. Baby Rose — To Myself

40. Lucky Daye — Painted


Given this was his debut record, Lucky Daye could've played it safe. As anyone who's heard "Roll Some Mo"—Painted's lead single and Lucky's breakout hit—knows, there's a wrenching tenderness to his voice that fits like a glove atop stripped-back production. The risk he took to pepper his album with funkier pop cuts, then, is not one every artist would have taken. Fortunately, Lucky rises to the challenge, proving himself a dynamic enough artist to erase this risk altogether. Plus, when he breaks out those vocals, they're all the more affecting because they've been used sparingly. Hershal Pandya

39. KOTA The Friend — FOTO


No album warrants a tracklist of 19 songs. Yet, in crafting a worthy spiritual successor to the Rawkus Records era of music that many fondly romanticize, KOTA The Friend comes as close as humanly possible to justifying this run-time on FOTO. The album personifies the term “easy-listening,” maintaining a consistent mood throughout between KOTA’s strikingly unaffected delivery and the delicate, jazzy production on which he raps. No slouch on the mic, KOTA possesses a rare gift for situating bravado alongside vulnerability. He conjures favorable similarities to Phonte at his best, but not so much that FOTO ever suffers for these comparisons. —Hershal Pandya

38. Future — Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD

Future 'The WZRD'

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. Still, it stands alone as a fresh glimpse into Future’s rockstar world. —Yoh

37. Quelle Chris — Guns

Quelle Chris 'Guns'

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 twisted 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

36. Toro y Moi — Outer Peace

Toro Y Moi 'Outer Peace'

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

35. James Blake — Assume Form

James Blake 'Assume Form'

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 reminds you of the artist who first grabbed your attention years ago. —Hershal Pandya

34. Bad Bunny — X 100PRE


I’m in love with the way Bad Bunny says his name. I’m a sucker for a good self-reference, but I’m even more of a sucker for the way Bad Bunny bets on his longevity. With that, X 100PRE, Bunny’s debut album, is about being everlasting in a microwaved music industry. The record covers all adjacent hip-hop genres—which, at this point, means all genres—from pop-punk to trap, to lighter fare, and ballads with fine attention to getting our hips moving. You hear Bad Bunny, and you dance; you sing your heart out; you weep, and you celebrate. In one record, Bad Bunny captured every mode of human living. —Donna-Claire Chesman

33. Kyle Dion — SUGA

Kyle Dion 'Saga'

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

32. Kehlani — While We Wait

Kehlani 'While We Wait'

While We Wait isn’t the full entrée, 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. Kehlani bares her soul as staunchly 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 small project. —Kenan Draughorne

31. 2 Chainz — Rap or Go to the League

2 Chainz 'Rap or Go to the League'
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Twenty-three years after the late, great Notorious B.I.G. rapped, “Either youre 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

30. slowthai — Nothing Great About Britain


An agile storyteller, Northampton’s slowthai expertly mixes elements of UK grime and drill while unpacking the micro and macro of his British upbringing. Carrying no pretensions and seamlessly style-shifting across genres with his frenetic cadence, the singular rapper makes you move and listen simultaneously. In a year that has seen British rap dominate—from DAVE and Little Simz to Skepta and Octavian—slowthai’s versatility and poignant messaging set him apart. He’s funny while commanding attention, hilariously painting stark portraits of British classism, racism, and abuse in an ultimately gripping and focused fashion. —Zach Miller

29. Maxo — LIL BIG MAN

Maxo 'Lil Big Man'

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 traditional boom bap structures and methodical writing to deliver a 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

28. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You


Equal parts bold, sexy, and witty, Cuz I Love You is a commanding listen that features Lizzo at her best. Harnessing her confident mic presence and ear for massive hooks, Lizzo creates a genuinely urgent body of work. A showcase for her eclectic sensibilities, the album jumps effortlessly between the eponymous opener, which recalls the work of The Alabama Shakes, to the infectious pop stylings of “Juice,” without missing a beat. It’s a shame Lizzo infamously fixated on one mixed review because overwhelmingly, the universal response to Cuz I Love You was justifiably glowing. —Hershal Pandya

27. Anderson .Paak — Ventura


A throwback to the beloved soul music of the ’70s, Ventura is a return to form for Anderson .Paak after the mixed bag that was Oxnard. The key takeaway here is Anderson .Paak is fine when he raps, but he is special when he sings. Whether via the glorious, Smokey Robinson-assisted cut, “Make It Better,” or the disarmingly danceable, “Twilight,” Ventura is a breathing testament to this takeaway. The album offers lush canvasses to showcase the stunningly silky tone of .Paaks voice. Add to this a transcendent André 3000 guest verse, and the case for Ventura becomes undeniable. —Hershal Pandya


Subtlety isn’t a characteristic that listeners often encounter on a major label album; the machine believes in a straight line product that doesn’t require further explanation. That’s not GoldLink. The Maryland native is a master of music woven to unveil slowly. With Diaspora, his RCA “debut,” Link has created his most subtle, yet replayable work of art. Thanks to production warm as spring, Diaspora is a splash of Utopian sunshine, yet in the shadows of his lyrics, the 26-year-old is adding his mysterious life to the lexicon of Black music. It’s the mystery that endures, not the explanation, and GoldLink shapes Diaspora to be an album that lasts. —Yoh

25. Solange — When I Get Home

Solange 'When I Get Home'

Solange’s take on Houston hip-hop belongs in a museum. She treats her hometown’s “chopped and screwed” traditions 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

24. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats — Anger Management


Kenny! Rico! Together! A match perfectly made, Anger Management is a brisk concept album that captures all the stages of a temper tantrum and boasts some of Rico’s best work (“Big Titties”), and highlights the duo’s impeccable chemistry. Rico made this album from the heat of anger and the thrill of the up-and-down. She imparts boundless energy unto every cut. Kenny’s production is from another plane where music is warped and only made on acid. Their collective thump and vigor make Anger Management the pump-up album of every summer. —Donna-Claire Chesman

23. billy woods — Terror Management


You can’t eat books. You can’t rest easy at night. You can’t trust those closest to you. These are the lessons of billy woods’ second album of 2019, Terror Management. A show of strength from woods, who is writing through the apocalypse, Terror Management feels like being led down a series of jagged alleyways by a dishonest narrator. A narrator who is mistrustful in their own right. The album is knotty and internal. The album is wounded and beside itself. At times, Terror Management serenades fear. Sometimes, it merely quakes in place. Sometimes, woods cracks a joke. Most importantly, Terror Management is fucking good, man. Fucking. Good. —Donna-Claire Chesman

22. Ari Lennox — Shea Butter Baby


Ari Lennox blessed my new apartment during our interview; her soul is kind, and her music is knowing. Her musings on the failures of modern dating sound scrumptious with her silky vocal texture. The beauty of Shea Butter Baby is in the way Ari captures minutiae and makes it sound regal. She does not pull from the abstract, and it’s the rootedness of her art, the humble quality of the content, that makes the album such a triumph. Ari’s professing that this record is for Black women, too, is triumphant. The beauty and love of community permeate the work. —Donna-Claire Chesman

21. Polo G — Die A Legend 


Polo G isn’t waiting to receive his flowers. At just 20 years old, the Chicago rapper’s debut album, Die A Legend, reads like a breathless statement of purpose. Life has taken too much from the rapper, born Taurus Bartlett, for him to quit now. Across the album’s 14 tracks, scars created by loved ones lost (“Deep Wounds”) and a corrupt police system (“BST”) compel his meticulous croons. Even a banger like “Pop Out” mixes the spoils of victory and pained reflection with dizzying ease. Die A Legend maintains this balance throughout, finding energy in the melancholic. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

20. Snoh Aalegra — -ugh, those feels again


Often, you'll listen to a modern R&B record, and sandwiched between trap concessions and crossover attempts, will be a bare and emotive track that'll make you wonder, “why isn’t this the album?” On - ugh, those feels again, Snoh Aalegra took this approach and ran with it, constructing an album composed entirely of these deep-cuts. The effect is 14 organic songs, across which Aalegra shows remarkable restraint. Though her vocals are as lush as the production, she's careful never to over-sing or push for the emotion. As she acknowledges via the album's title, the "feels" are more of an inevitability than anything else. —Hershal Pandya

19. DaBaby — Baby On Baby

DaBaby 'Baby on Baby'

DaBaby’s Baby On Baby is 32 minutes of exhilarating trap sermons. He builds the church of Baby On Baby upon confidence pure as cocaine, a charisma so contagious it could charm the Halliwell sisters. The lively, dynamic production 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, we will remember 2019 as the year that DaBaby broke out and began his hip-hop takeover. —Yoh

18. Burna Boy — African Giant


With African Giant, international Nigerian superstar Burna Boy created more than a masterpiece. He created a social statement and global experience. Burna paints a spiritual picture, one that is uniquely his own, yet still feels like it belongs to all of us. African Giant is undeniably Naija, dipped in history and Yoruba dialect, leaping over language and cultural barriers. Burna’s lyrics are poignant, coasting over production charged with Afrofusion anthems, dancehall riddims, and hymns. The 19-track album is not just a vibe; it’s a victory. —Ronnia Cherry

17. Boogie — Everythings For Sale

Boogie 'Everythings For Sale'

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, Boogie brings the specificity of his lyricism to life with pretty production, alliteration-heavy flows, and an effortless knack for melody. All of these come together to create a surprisingly pleasant listening experience, despite the album’s undeniably dense subject matter. —Hershal Pandya

16. Little Brother — May The Lord Watch


That North Carolina duo Little Brother’s May The Lord Watch exists is a blessing. It was unclear if we’d ever see Little Brother—currently comprised of rappers Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh—on a record together again, but they pulled it off. On their fifth album, they sound like they’re happy to be together again. Phonte and Pooh appear rejuvenated, modernizing The Minstrel Show’s aesthetic while still dropping jewels that rap fans of any age will find relatable. The beats shimmer, and the rhymes are funny and poignant. Let’s be thankful that UBN’s hiatus was only temporary. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

15. EarthGang — Mirrorland


EarthGang’s Dreamville debut, Mirrorland, doesn’t stop moving. The motion of each song is exuberant and dynamic, a result of multi-flavored carnival production paired with WowGr8 and Olu’s animated storytelling. How the creative West Atlanta duo stretch and morph their voices to match a variety of styles and sounds make for an exhilarating debut album. It’s a Crayola box wrapped in dynamite. Mirrorland explodes from start to finish. —Yoh

14. Rapsody — Eve


Rapsody’s life music has evolved. Where 2017’s Laila’s Wisdom saw Rap focusing inward and weaving a gorgeous tapestry of the Black woman’s experience, Eve features Rap looking outward in all directions. With her most enlivened performances to date, Rapsody honors the Black women who came before her, all to the point of creating opportunities for the Black women who will come after her to take up space. As an album, Eve is lively and emboldened. As a mission statement, Eve is admirable. Rapsody’s deep love of history and Blackness make this the most excitable album in her deep catalog. —Donna-Claire Chesman



I remember falling in love when I first saw the HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM during a live screening of Coachella. Beyoncé has always been a great performer, but this album is more than just a performance. HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM pays homage to the Black artists that came before Beyoncé, it acknowledges how her Blackness has shaped her, and how she has shaped her Blackness. When she decided to share this moment of brilliance with the world, there was one word that came to mind: thankful. HOMECOMING is a replica of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance. It doesn’t just take us back to the moment; it fully placed us in it, as if we were there with her witnessing her at her peak. —Simi Moonlight

12. Danny Brown — uknowhatimsayin¿


Even at its darkest, Danny Brown’s music is bunches of fun. He gets immense joy from rhyming words together over the weirdest beats he can find. His traditionalist methods and gonzo music preferences meet halfway like never before on his fifth studio album uknowhatimsayin¿ The conceptual bombast of previous projects is thrown out the studio windows for thoughtful raps over zany beats. Executive produced by Q-Tip, the project is loose and punchy, chock full of vignettes as suitable for an open-mic standup set as they are for a rap album. At 38 years old, Danny has little left to prove. uknowhatimsayin¿ makes every word count. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

11. Megan Thee Stallion — Fever


The rise of Megan Thee Stallion is a blessing to witness. With her formal 300 Entertainment debut, the “1501 Queen” establishes herself as one of the most charismatic forthright rappers working. Her energy is explosive. Her writing is bombastic. Her deliveries are bursting with conviction and swagger. Megan Thee Mack is unchained and unstoppable on Fever, a celebration of her Houston roots and flair for spending another man’s coin. Megan is a dominant force in hip-hop, and considering the sheer strength of Fever, she does not seem to be slowing down. —Donna-Claire Chesman

10. Young Thug — So Much Fun


So Much Fun is a safer work than some of Young Thug’s more elastic, head-spinning offerings. Across 18 songs, the long-awaited debut uses shoulder-shaking trap rhythms and ear-candy melodies to deliver his most accessible work since Rich Gang’s 2014 mixtape, Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1. It’s still Thug, though. He provides humor and hits, thrilling bravado, and infectious style, all while being the original nucleus that inspires many of his contemporaries today. So Much Fun is the commercial oeuvre for an artist who was always a star but never shined in the mainstream. —Yoh

9. FKA twigs — MAGDALENE


Heartbreak can be oddly beautiful. Rarely do people experience the depths of human emotion as fiercely as when they’re cocooned in its all-consuming agony. If this sounds at all like bad teenage poetry, trust me when I say FKA twigs mines this territory much more gracefully on her transcendent sophomore album, MAGDALENE. Listening to her sing tortured lyrics like, “Were you ever sure? No, no, no, not with me” in her painfully pretty falsetto, it’s hard not to luxuriate in her—and, by extension, your—palpable anguish. Musically, the album conveys the same message more viscerally. It envelops you in asphyxiating production, delivering pockets of euphoric catharsis in the form of cinematic instrumental flourishes and twigs’ gorgeous, boundless vocals. —Hershal Pandya

8. MAVI — Let the Sun Talk


MAVI wants us to understand him on his terms. At just 20 years old, the Charlotte, North Carolina native is capable of bending words to his will, a Sorcerer Supreme in the making coming to grips with his Infinity Stone. On his debut album, Let the Sun Talk, MAVI’s words exist on the borders of Black thought, spirituality, and raw honesty; they are puzzles revealing different configurations with every listen. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, MAVI’s technical skill and ear for beats are enough to pull in weary travelers. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

7. billy woods & Kenny Segal — Hiding Places

Billy Woods 'Hiding Places'

billy woods and Kenny Segal are not scared; they are not in hiding. Instead, 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 quietly cacophonous and cloudy, while woods presents his most direct and open writing to date. The pair belongs together. —Donna-Claire Chesman

6. Denzel Curry — ZUU


Denzel Curry is proof you can always go home. His latest album, ZUU, is a testament to home as the ultimate battery charger. Curry sheds the conceptual bombast of his last album, TA13OO, in favor of a non-stop thrill ride through the streets of his native Carol City, Florida. The sun-drenched comforts and drawbacks of home, along with clanging production from longtime collaborators FnZ, help him paint some of the most vivid images of his career. These are top-down bangers baked in the 98-degree sun. With ZUU, Denzel Curry found freedom in his backyard. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

5. Little Simz — GREY Area

Little Simz 'Grey Area'

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

4. Dave — Psychodrama

Dave 'Psychodrama'

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

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — Bandana


Good rap sequels are hard to come by. Thankfully, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib aren’t your average rapper-producer duo. Their debut album, 2014’s Pinata, recontextualized their respective sounds while cross-pollinating with each other’s audiences. This year’s Bandana is more holistic in form, its creators in sync for the first time. Their camaraderie strengthens Gibbs’ elastic flows (“Situations”) and storytelling (“Fake Names”) as much as it pushes Madlib to embellish his trademark samples with trap hi-hats (“Half Manne Half Cocaine”) and crisp kick drums (“Gat Damn”). Trust and freedom embolden this latest chapter in the MadGibbs Cinematic Universe. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

2. Jamila Woods — Legacy! Legacy!


Jamila Woods makes eternal music. Her runs, her inflections, and her writing are all meant to stand the test of time. On Legacy! Legacy!, Jamila performs a time-bending act, bringing her literary heroes back to life and keeping them squarely in our thoughts as she carries their poetics into her classic album. Legacy!’s success is rooted in a fullness of life and self-love. There is so much agony in the world, but there is still so much love to share. Jamila Woods is in the business of spreading love. Plus, the record also doubles as a great reading list. —Donna-Claire Chesman

1. Tyler, the Creator — IGOR


IGOR was a new dawn for Tyler, The Creator. A heartbroken and deluxe dawn. A funky and riveting one. IGOR covered the whole spectrum of heartache. From urgency and helplessness to naming, to pining, to grieving, to coming into yourself. Every step of nursing our lost souls was found on IGOR. The operative question of this epic album is: Who do we become when the rug is pulled out from under us, and our hearts break? The answer is multiple, and each thread of reply makes up the fabric of IGOR. We became angry. We become obsessive. We become deranged. We become desperate, at first for the past, and finally, for peace.

We’ve lived with IGOR for seven months. In those seven months, new meanings have continued to reveal themselves as the album gets uninterrupted play. I heard IGOR at a taco spot in Philly. I hear IGOR in my sleep. The ubiquity of its themes makes it an easy record to latch onto, sure. But the sparkle of its static, the grandiosity of its arrangement, and the needling melodies and vocal performances make IGOR a sonic marvel, too. Let’s also not forget this album is a queer triumph.

IGOR is the album of the year because it was the most ambitious and wrenching record of 2019. IGOR is an album you hold tight and play deep into the night and then play again when the sun comes up, and your eyes are crusted. It’s the album you remember during your last fight, and the album you play when you’ve achieved apathy in the face of pain. It’s the album for when you care too much, and for when you sincerely hope they’re happy. IGOR is as spectacular as the heartbreak itself.

In a world committed to making us all feel like tiny performers on tiny stages, dancing for imaginary currency, IGOR expands our universes. Suddenly, our every move feels precious, purposeful. Our feelings become valid; our hopes and dreams become imperative. Who we are is imperative. Tyler may be wearing a pressed suit and wig, but he is unmasked. Thanks to IGOR, we follow suit. Donna-Claire Chesman



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