The streaming era brings an onslaught of music into our laps every day, often making it a chore to sift through the garbage in order to find the diamonds buried beneath the surface. Thankfully, there are a myriad of rap and Hip Hop albums that dropped this year that deserve special recognition for being a cut above the rest.
2019 delivered an entirely new Gang Starr album — yes, a GANG STARR album! — called One Of The Best Yet that resurrected the late Guru’s vocals and slid them over DJ Premier’s superior production. The creative minds at Dreamville gave us another compilation album, Revenge Of The Dreamers III, while Rapsody came through with some of her best work to date — the women-empowering EVE.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below are DX’s Top 20 picks for best rap and top Hip Hop albums of 2019, including Album Of The Year. Please, dive in.
20. Sampa The Great – The Return
Sampa The Great’s The Return might be the most fascinating Hip Hop album of the year. While artists grappling and coming to terms with their identity on a project is no new development, her debut LP highlighted a unique viewpoint that was only Sampa’s to tell. The album took listeners on her journey of finding a way to stay connected to her Zambian roots while carving out a career for herself in Australia. The Return allowed Sampa to examine what “home” really means, doing so with a mix of lyrical cuts utilizing sample-based beats and sprawling orchestrations that allow for more of a free-form approach. — Justin Ivey
19. Marlon Craft — Funhouse Mirror
Marlon Craft’s viral freestyles established his skills as a rapper, but his album Funhouse Mirror proved he’s more than just punchlines and wordplay. The Hell’s Kitchen native’s LP displayed his full artistry, showcasing a jazz-influenced sound that provided the canvas for his evocative narratives. With his storytelling getting a chance to shine, Funhouse Mirror delved into topics that allowed Craft’s pen game to go beyond writing witty bars. By exploring topics such as the gang mentality among police and his own coping mechanisms, Craft created his most complete work to date and separated himself from the crowd of lyrically-gifted rappers looking to break through today’s scene. — Justin Ivey
18. Bun B & Statik Selectah — TrillStatik
Bun B and Statik Selektah joined forces for their debut full-length collaborative project TrillStatik to flex their mutual strengths of punchy lyricism and jazzy sample-based production. As the album cover suggests, it contains 15 tracks funneling an array of rap legends and contemporaries from the UGK alum’s and DJ/producer’s respective homebases in Houston and New York. It packs heat, including the lead single “I Know” assisted by singer Haile Supreme, “Still Trill” featuring Method Man and Grafh and “Concrete” featuring Statik’s 1982 ace-in-the-hole Termanology and Westside Gunn. The joint effort suggests Hip Hop was never fractured between the North and South. Rather, it exhibits the shared respect between MCs deep in the heart of Texas and The Big Apple. — Dana Scott
17. Skyzoo & Pete Rock — Retropolitan
After teasing a collaborative project at the start of the year, Skyzoo and the incomparable Pete Rock, a.k.a. Chocolate Boy Wonda, wrapped up 2019’s third quarter with Retropolitan — one of the year’s more lyrically complex projects. It not only showcased the level of Hip Hop Super Sayen Sky has evolved into but was also a brilliant reminder of just how incredibly nasty Rock is on the beats. Serving as an ode to the pre-gentrified New York City of yesteryear, the album was dripping with jewels, but none shone brighter than “It’s All Good,” a 25-year-old instrumental that (according to Pete) was created during his sessions for Nas’ “The World Is Yours.” — Riley Wallace
16. Young Thug — So Much Fun
The timeline between Young Thug’s debut commercial mixtape Barter 6 in 2015 to his long-awaited debut studio album So Much Fun in August shows vital artistic growth as one of the leading artists of his generation. The production on So Much Fun has as much range as Thug colors it in with his genre-bending vocals. Tracks such as radio mixshow staple “The London” featuring J. Cole and Travis Scott, “Hot” with Gunna, “Bad Bad Bad” with fellow ATLien Lil Baby and “I’m Scared” assisted by 21 Savage and Doe Boy fascinates Atlanta trap devotees with his best work to date. — Dana Scott
15. GoldLink — Disapora
It’s hard to find a 2019 album that screams summer more than GoldLink’s sophomore release, Diaspora. Celebrating the influence of African and Caribbean music, the DMV rapper links with the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Pusha T and Wizkid over a wave of worldly grooves, island flavors and futuristic synths. The result is a summery Hip Hop kaleidoscope produced in a global space – far and away GoldLink’s best work to date. — Paul Dachs
14. Benny The Butcher — Plugs I Met 3
Griselda Records had itself one hell of a run in 2019. Benny The Butcher — who Westside Gunn has proclaimed to be the best rapper alive more than once — managed to follow-up the critically acclaimed Tana Talk 3 with an album that genuinely elevated his brand to the next level. It also saw him hold his own (and then some) with a few of Hip Hop’s more elite rhymers. Jadakiss and the cocaine rap capo Pusha T both slid through with monstrous features. Most notably though, “Crowns for Kings” linked Benny with one of the best pound-for-pound rhymers Black Thought, without generating any “Renegade” level debate. Ultimately, it was a sign the Butcher was no longer coming but was, in fact, here. — Riley Wallace
13. Snoop Dogg – I Wanna Thank Me
At 48, Snoop Dogg evidently still feels the need to compete amongst his peers — regardless of generation. With I Wanna Thank Me, his 17th (yes, 17th!) solo album, he called in heavy hitters such as YG, Mustard, Chris Brown (and even the late Nate Dogg) for one his most digestible projects in a while.
The Dogg didn’t need to learn any new tricks, either. Whether he was reflecting on the Death Row days via “Let Bygones Be Bygones,” saluting Nipsey Hussle’s legacy on “One Blood, One Cuzz” or switching up the fiesta on Jermaine Dupri’s “Do It When I’m in It,” I Wanna Thank Me packed enough relevance for any size Snoop fan. — Trent Clark
12. EarthGang — Mirrorland
Being heralded as the new Outkast — no matter how offended that makes some fans — isn’t something that happens every day. Amid the Twitter outrage, there was no disagreement that EarthGang’s long-awaited major-label debut hit all the right marks, satisfying the hype they built with the three EP that preceded the album. Unsettling at times, Mirrorland is a carefully worded love letter to the real Atlanta — not the glitzy one outsider’s piece together with Migos songs and reality TV. Brimming with charming harmonies and bops that offer plenty of variation, the duo channel all the elements that cultivated them, firmly planting a flag for a fresh ATL sound. — Riley Wallace
11. Megan Thee Stallion — Fever
Megan Thee Stallion had a breakthrough 2019 campaign with her brand of venomous, sex-laced rap and debut album Fever. She lived up to the album title, heating up the charts and triumphantly twerking her way onto the mainstream threshold. Similar to her imposing 5’10” presence, the album towers with trap-induced 808s and the H-Town Hottie exposed her unbridled anger and libido with a dexterous delivery. The formula was simple: hit hard with rachet panache and shake your ass only answer for men who have grips of cash. — Dana Scott
10. DaBaby — KIRK / Baby On Baby
As Hip Hop’s version of the Cleveland Indians’ former longtime Chief Wahoo logo, DaBaby had much vindication smiling his way to the top of the charts with two albums in 2019. The March release of his multiplatinum-selling debut studio album Baby On Baby was balanced with comedy, hardcore gangsta rap and his impressive range of rhyme cadences, including its smash title track and club banger “Baby Sitter” featuring Migos’ Offset. The Charlotte, North Carolina native then reloaded with his sophomore album KIRK (dedicated to his last name) in September. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 behind its elegiac single “Intro” and its apropos album cover of DaBaby as an infant being held by his late father who died this year. — Dana Scott
9. Boogie — Everything’s For Sale
Although being backed by Shady records is no stamp for success, Boogie’s debut album Everything’s For Sale set the tone early in 2019 – albeit a mostly sullen, painfully honest, introspective one. Steeped in rich melodic sadness – articulated through Boogie’s raw-yet-crafted vocal delivery – the project drives at depression with sporadic glimpses of hope, captivating what could become a cult following of young and old listeners alike. — Paul Dachs
8. Gang Starr — One Of The Best Yet
The day DJ Premier teased a new Gang Starr album on Instagram, a palpable excitement hung in the air for Hip Hop purists across the globe. How? It simply didn’t seem possible, yet here we are in 2019 with One Of The Best Yet, the first Gang Starr album since 2003’s The Ownerz. Using unreleased vocals from the late Hip Hop luminary Guru and some assistance from several special guests, including J. Cole and Royce Da 5’9, Preemo masterfully weaved together a tapestry of timeless Hip Hop that captures the magic of the legendary duo’s undeniable chemistry. From “Bad Name” to “Family and Loyalty,” One Of The Best Yet is a historic entry into Gang Starr’s storied catalog. — Kyle Eustice
7. Denzel Curry — Zuu
2018’s TA13OO may go down as Denzel Curry’s magnum opus, but Zuu made it clear the skilled MC still has lots of great music to come in his career. Despite the difficult act to follow, the Carol City native chose to rep Miami to the fullest by paying homage to the city’s signature bass and concocting new twists on the established style. Like great regional works of the past, Zuu brought listeners right into Curry’s backyard for a vivid experience of what life in the 305’s all about while showcasing the unique sound of the area. More importantly, Curry’s fourth studio album proved his music can’t be pigeonholed as there’s no formula to his sound. — Justin Ivey
6. Tyler, The Creator – IGOR
Since breaking out with the Odd Future collective, Tyler, The Creator has only improved with age. In the process, he firmly sets himself apart from the often homogenized sounds of mainstream rap — and IGOR is no exception. Tyler’s versatility and unbridled creativity are once again on full display. From the airy vocals and laid back vibe of “EARFQUAKE” to the uptempo swing of “I THINK,” his ability to set a variety of moods with his music shine. Album highlight “WHAT’S GOOD” starts off with a dark yet classic 808 Hip Hop feel before a perfectly timed switch-up hits mid-song and morphs into a whole other animal. IGOR is yet another colorful chapter in Tyler’s continually evolving artistic career. — Kyle Eustice
5. Little Brother — May The Lord Watch
Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s unexpected reunion was arguably 2019’s most pleasant surprise. Little Brother answered years of fans’ hopes and prayers by returning with their May The Lord Watch LP — and the icing on the cake was just how damn good it was. A celebration of brotherhood, blackness, maturity and everything in between, Phonte and Pooh’s comeback project was seamless. Despite the nine year gap between albums, May The Lord Watch recaptured what made Little Brother special and delivered new wrinkles that make the duo’s future as exciting as their shocking return. — Justin Ivey
4. Griselda — WWCD
Coming off an incredible solo album run and a year that included a Roc Nation signing, the starting line-up of the mighty Griselda Records — Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher — dropped off their long-awaited Shady Records debut, WWCD. Produced entirely by the architect of their sound Daringer and Los Angeles-based producer Beat Butcha, the album not only features guest verses from 50 Cent and Eminem but also serves as a proper introduction to new fans of the imprint and sincere “thank you” to the die-hard fans who have been following their ascent closely. — Riley Wallace
3. Dreamville — Revenge Of The Dreamers III
Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III proved there’s a place for compilation albums in today’s Hip Hop era – provided you’ve got an all-star roster. Spearheaded by a J. Cole in Mufasa-like form, the bevy of colorful artists, including J.I.D, EarthGang and the enigmatic Guapdad 4000, combine to create a diverse tracklist while remaining true to the art of MCing. Remarkably, ROTD3 was made in just 10 days – but songs like “Down Bad” and “Sacrifices” offer replay value to last. — Paul Dachs
2. Rapsody – EVE
Rapsody followed up her Grammy Award-nominated Laila’s Wisdom with the powerful EVE, an 16-track exploration into the strong black women who helped shape the gifted Snow Hill, North Carolina MC. From the slow, beautiful build-up of “NINA” (named after Nina Simone) to the compelling bravado of “CLEO” (named after Queen Latifah’s character Cleo Sims from the 1996 film Set It Off), EVE swells with Rap’s intricate wordplay and 9th Wonder and The Soul Council’s seamless beats. Although EVE earned a perfect 5.0 rating from HipHopDX, the venerable masterpiece wasn’t nominated for a Grammy. But Rap took the perceived snub in stride, proving she’s a cut above the rest. — Kyle Eustice
1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Hip Hop albums thrived this year in dozens of variations, melodic interpolations and such, but no other body of work matched the hollow-tip straightforward bars-and-bass approach of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Bandana.
Over the course of 45 minutes, their binary system operation — from the cinematic “Fake Names,” to the whimsical seriousness of “Crime Pays,” Soul-Glo soulfulness of “Gat Damn” — was impeccable. So much that specially invited guests such as Pusha T, Yasiin Bey and Black Thought were just garnishing to the intoxicating musical coke hill that’s, simply put, one of the best underground rap albums of all-time.
As Hip Hop continues to explores its boundaries going into the next decade, a sample-heavy, lyrically dynamite album like Bandana reminds us we don’t have to stray too far from the foundation to make a classic. — Trent Clark