Top 10 rap albums of 2019

Maya Nayak, A&E Editor

10. Young Thug – So Much Fun

Young Thug is instantly recognizable. Over the last decade, his high-pitched, squeaky tones have propelled trap music and inspired the new vanguard of rappers. Though Thug’s latest album, So Much Fun, is far from groundbreaking, it delivers on the fun that its title promises. Often purposefully unintelligible, Thug’s rapping incorporates more flows and substantive lyricism than in the past. The album’s grittier synthesizer-heavy instrumentation is complemented by the occasional guitar riff or bird noise. So Much Fun’s high-energy tracks cement Young Thug’s status as a skilled, eccentric rapper.

Best track: “The London” ft. J.Cole, Travis Scott


9. Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III

Hip-hop was once dominated by collectives and labels, but rap groups have been few and far between in recent years. Though it was made in just ten days, Revenge of the Dreamers III by the Dreamville label, consisting of J. Cole and a trove of talented up-and-comers, is one of the best recent rap collaborative efforts. JID’s frantic, high-pitched lyrical acrobatics populate tracks like “Down Bad” with witty bars like “Board of Education vs. Brown / I was bored of education, left the town.” Guapdad 4000’s infectious hooks cohere the many verses on tracks like “Costa Rica,” even rivaling a surprise hook by Kendrick Lamar on “Under the Sun.” Energy radiates through “Wells Fargo,” but there are also moments of softness on R&B tracks like “Self Love” with Baby Rose and Ari Lennox. Revenge of the Dreamers III brings together rising acts for a glimpse at the promising future of rap music.

Best track: “Costa Rica” with Bas & JID ft. Guapdad 4000, Reese LAFLARE, Jace, Mez, Smokepurpp, Buddy, Ski Mask the Slump God


8. DaBaby – Kirk

Though DaBaby’s debut studio album came out in 2019, he has already received extensive critical acclaim, including two Grammy nominations, and has accrued an impressive list of features on projects like Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III, Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day, and Obama’s favorite songs list. DaBaby’s sophomore studio album, Kirk, boasts impeccable lyricism and the rapper’s trademark staccato flows while establishing the rapper as an able melodist. Kirk showcases DaBaby’s silly flows and upbeat, energetic persona but also delves into the rapper’s mixed feelings of grief and happiness during his simultaneous ascent to celebrity and loss of his father. Though Kirk is a medium for DaBaby to reflect on his past, it also shows his promise for his future.

Best track: “XXL”


7. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

Rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib’s latest album, Bandana, revisits rap’s roots with socially conscious rhymes and varied production in an innovative way capable of satiating even hip-hop purists. Madlib’s frequent seamless beat switches challenge Gibbs to alter his flow mid-song, showing both Madlib’s proclivity for dynamic production and Gibbs’ penchant for rapping. The duo seems highly unlikely. Madlib’s soulful, uplifting samples contrast with Gibbs’ incisive attacks on mass incarceration, private prisons, and racial inequalities. Gibbs’ hyper-technical flow further contrasts with Madlib’s often unvarnished production. Instead of hooks, Bandana leans on this perplexing, peculiar, and unceasing juxtaposition to keep audiences engaged.

Best track: “Crime Pays”


6. JuiceWRLD – Death Race for Love

JuiceWRLD’s final album before his passing in December, Death Race For Love, is a fitting coda to a short but distinguished career. JuiceWRLD’s innovative, emo rap style on the album allows his music to be rich with emotions; even radio-friendly, pop tracks “Fast” and “Robbery” manage to feel earnest. The album is dominated by dour, introspective ballads but aggressive tracks like “Out My Way” are well-integrated and refreshing. Though JuiceWRLD occasionally stumbles during the album’s hour running time, he always delivers on consistently haunting, catchy hooks. He avoids trite flexes of wealth and fame, insistent that material success has done little to quell his sadness. Death Race For Love underscores the tragic nature of JuiceWRLD’s death, a permanent reminder of an artist committed to authenticity and genre-bending.

Best track: “Ring Ring” with Rvssian ft. Clever


5. YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy

YBN Cordae has long promised to bridge the generational divide in rap and his debut solo album, The Lost Boy, is his most serious effort yet to realize this aspiration. Cordae’s ‘90s flow on “We Gon Make It” coexists with the modern trap production on “Have Mercy.” Cordae’s rapping is as slick as ever but achieves greater lyrical meaningfulness than his previous projects. On The Lost Boy, Cordae explores familial themes on a gospel-inspired backdrop, balancing consciousness and optimism. Even with more earnest lyrics, Cordae injects The Lost Boy with his trademark carefree rhymes and beats. On “RNP,” for example, a funk track infused with bouncy J. Cole production, Cordae and Anderson .Paak trade often absurd lines discussing the trivial problems of the wealthy. The Lost Boy weaves jazzy hooks and golden age flows with modern production.

Best track: “Nightmares are Real” ft. Pusha T


4. Rapsody – Eve

Rapsody has always been one of the best lyricists in the rap industry, and her latest album, Eve, continues this trend. Tracks, titled after influential African women like “Sojourner,” “Hatshepsut,” and “Oprah,” teem with lyrical and sonic nods to the women they extol. “Nina,” which opens the album, for instance, is titled after the legendary singer and civil activist Nina Simone and samples “Strange Fruit,” one of its namesake’s hits. On the chorus of “Maya,” similarly, featured artist K Roosevelt sings “I can’t be no bird in a cage,” in reference to Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Birds” and book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The production is simplistic, apt for an able poet who does not need catchy beats as a crutch. Rapsody’s consistent flows also relay social commentary, offering listeners insight into America’s persistent racial and gender inequalities and their effects on her experience as an African American woman.

Best track: “Iman” ft. SiR, JID


3. Denzel Curry – ZUU

Florida native Denzel Curry’s fourth and latest album, ZUU, is a captivating homage to Curry’s home state and musical influences. Curry effortlessly transitions between the aggressive rapping he is best known for and earnest melodies, granting the album a multifaceted sound. High-energy, carefree summer anthems are punctuated with sobering commentary on the “many guns” that cause a “river of blood in these streets.” Though the entire album was freestyled, it is free of the lyrical lulls that typically afflict improvised rap. Curry frequently references his home state of Florida, even asserting that “South Florida might be the most beautifulest [sic] place in the land.” The album also spotlights Florida’s thriving local music scene, with almost all featured artists hailing from the state. On ZUU, Curry is always surefooted, confident in his impeccable rhymes and tributes to Florida.

Best track: “WISH” ft. Kiddo Marv


2. Little Simz – GREY Area

Little Simz’s third studio album, GREY Area, furthers her experimental sound and establishes her as a force to be reckoned with. The bare-bones instrumentation, often with just isolated strings and simple piano chords, is enhanced by the occasional contemporary flourish. Producer Inflo shows his production virtuosity with “101 FM,” which features commanding drums layered on an East Asian beat, and “Selfish,” which couples bass with airy, haunting Cleo Sol vocals. The minimalist instrumentation allows Simz’s dextrous steadfast and laidback flows to shine through on tracks like “Venom.” Simz heightens her storytelling prowess by relaying her personal experiences on tracks like “Wounds,” which critiques the rap industry’s glorification of violence and details Simz’s loss of a friend due to violence. GREY Area combines Simz’s agile mile-a-minute flows with crisp production for a filler-free work of art.

Best track: “101 FM”


1. Tyler the Creator – IGOR

With intricate instrumentation, insightful lyricism, and compelling hooks, Flower Boy, Tyler the Creator’s 2017 album, matured his technique and set the bar high for his future undertakings. Though less lyrically complex, 2019’s IGOR bests Flower Boy with an even grittier, more soulful view. IGOR stands out by serving not just a collection of songs, but instead a linear progression through Tyler’s meditations on heartbreak. His proclamations that “you make my earth quake” at the beginning of the album gradually devolve into half-hearted reassurances that “I don’t love you anymore” by its end. IGOR is also more cutting-edge than other 2019 projects. It fuses the flows and euphoric, triumphant synthesizers of Kanye’s Graduation era with funk and R&B sounds that are textbook Pharrell. IGOR also boasts an impressive roster of guest appearances, with vocals from the likes of Solange, Playboi Carti, and Kanye nestled in snares, distorted bass, and Tyler’s pitched-up vocals. IGOR delivers on well-incorporated A-list features and eclectic influences.

Best track: “I THINK”