And so we come to the end of 2019. Let’s be perfectly honest, in comparison to the booming years of 2017 and 2018, this year has not been a particularly great one for music. Watered-down latin trap and weak whispery indie pop dominates the landscape to make the world feel like an urban outfitters in a Middle-America mall. Thankfully there were some bright spots in this time of darkness, some areas of identity in the mist of the indistinguishable. This list features a few artists who have been recurring themes in my most-liked music over the past number of years, but also some newer artists perking my ears to their sound.
PART I: HONOURABLE MENTIONS
RAPSODY – EVE
Eve is an album inspired by Rapsody’s idols and features tracks titled after influential black women. Rapsody’s skill as an MC is absolutely undeniable as she rattles off verse after verse of amazing, thought-provoking lyricism. Adding the direct relation to the influences in her life only serves to stoke the fires as she raves enthusiastically about the intelligence, emotion and strength that black women such as her and her idols possess. The only real criticism I have is that the album can get a bit repetitive, given the old-school hip-hop feel. This is hardly a problem though if you can just sit back and enjoy a master craft her work.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Nina, Oprah (feat. Leikeli47), Hatshepsut (feat. Queen Latifah)
LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA
Little Simz herself explained the meaning of the title of this album as the period of young adulthood where everything is possible but everything is uncertain. Even the track titles of this project indicate an intimidated mindset of the world around you, expecting something to go wrong. However, Simz comes through as a confident, skilled young woman willing to stand up to patriarchy and able to clearly express herself on a myriad of issues. Her message is often honest, sometimes bordering on naïve, and yet utterly relatable. The instrumentals do not let her down either, with the exception of clear radio-single “Selfish” which I could have done without.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Boss, Venom, 101 FM
DAVE – PSYCHODRAMA
If you need an album that deals with mental and physical health as well as tough social conditions and is from a perspective OUTSIDE of an American one, then Psychodrama is likely to be up your alley. The issues I normally have with albums willing to attack such weighty subject matter is that they can often feel cumbersome and arduous in getting to their point, while maintaining a listenability and versatility to keep the listener’s attention. Psychodrama is dark in the places it needs to be, light in others and overall sets an excellent tone for Dave to portray very personal stories about growing up, all illustrating thoughts are way beyond that of his 21-year-old self. Again, similar to Little Simz, tracks like “Location” with Burna Boy could have been left off, but I appreciate their place somewhat as an authentic representation of the area that Dave grew up in.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Psycho, Streatham, Screwface Capital
KEHLANI – WHILE WE WAIT
The only time I had heard Kehlani before this year were features on Eminem, G-Eazy and Calvin Harris songs. Consequently, when a friend recommended me this project, the thoughts of this three-headed ‘edgy’ devil creature didn’t exactly leave me racing to try it out. However, what you get here is a tight, 9-track group featuring sultry neo-soul, some R&B bounce and a sprinkling of undeniably good pop songwriting. While We Wait is sweet but not quite diabetic and affectionate without being infatuated. Another great aspect of this project is the features whom all provide timely verses and duets with Kehlani, adding to some of the projects strongest songs.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Footsteps (feat. Musiq Soulchild), Nights Like This (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), RPG (feat. 6LACK)
PART II: THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
6. TOBi – STILL
TOBi is a new artist I was put onto by a friend who described him as a ‘hybrid poet’ and I can’t disagree. STILL is TOBi’s debut album and I honestly don’t even know what genre to place it in – it’s just good music all around. On the project there are your more typical hardship rap songs such as “City Blues”, edgier electronic pop joints like “Locked In”, and slow-jam R&B smoothness in “Sweet Poison.” There is bags of emotion in TOBi’s voice and the production is clean enough to allow it to flourish without sounding too polished or overproduced. Naturally, as with many debut albums, STILL can get a bit all over the place both in terms of subject matter and as mentioned with the production styles. However, it is satisfying to see an artist pushing their boundaries to improve and develop even on their debut. As he describes on the opening track “Growth,” the album sounds like a journey of “post-traumatic growth” – a situation where you may have been through traumatic situations and it is your choice where you go next. And yet, just like this idea of growth via choice, STILL feels like an ongoing process that has me intrigued to see where TOBi goes next.
STANDOUT TRACKS: City Blues, Locked In, Sweet Poison
5. MEREBA – THE JUNGLE IS THE ONLY WAY OUT
I came across Mereba in two ways this year. Firstly through a newer artist I also found out about in 2019 – Joyce Wrice. Secondly Mereba’s feature on “PTSD” from Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III album. Both intrigued me to check out her music as I saw she had released an album in February. I was delighted to hear a beautiful mixture of indie-folk, classical soul and more modern R&B tones packaged together in a rough story of love and the plight that comes with an ailing relationship. As someone in the YouTube comments of her NPR Tiny Desk Concert (highly recommended by the way) succinctly put it – “She’s like the lovechild of Lauryn Hill and Alanis Morissette.” The lyrics are as sharp as a tack, harmonies and melodies creamy smooth and serene, and rhythmic style choices on point to give the album a satisfying flow. The high point of the album comes in the song “Sandstorm” with JID which ends up being less of a phoned-in feature and more of a straight-up ballad duet. Overall, much like TOBi, with so much going on throughout the album lyrically, instrumentally and thematically, I’m fascinated to see in which direction Mereba turns.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Kinfolk, Get Free, Sandstorm (feat. JID)
4. ANDERSON .PAAK – VENTURA
Ventura is throwback in all the correct, modern ways. Coming from the excellent Malibu and the dud that was Oxnard, I had mixed expectations for this new record. I was not a particular fan, and honestly mostly bored by the singles “King James” and “Make It Better,” although I concede that the latter has much more of a place within the lore of Paak than the former. Ironically enough, the very reason I dislike these tracks and Oxnard before them are the exact changes I see within the rest of Ventura.Oxnard was too flat, too formulaic to distill a real groove or rhythm within the audience. This new record brings back the fun that was displayed on Malibu, with further layers of funk – it feels fresh again, like someone took the reigns off Paak. To me, the most important aspect of Anderson Paak’s music, visual style and personality is that it makes you want to get on your feet, smile and do silly dad dances that your body has no business doing. With the vast majority of the tracks here, he accomplishes this feat.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Winners Circle, Chosen One (feat. Sonyaè Elise), Jet Black (feat. Brandy)
3. SiR – CHASING SUMMER
This album, simply put, sounds good and makes me feel good. Are some parts drawn out and overdone? Sure. However, the majority of this project is SiR and his gorgeous voice making sensual love to your eardrums. It’s realistic questions of relationships such as relaxation and personal space on “Hair Down” or the willingness to do things you’re not in the right headspace for on “Mood.” There is a definite sense of relatability that shows off SiR’s songwriting ability and skill to take super specific situations in his own life and make them universally applicable. It’s competence and equivalence done on a beautiful, almost hymn-sounding, level. The features are a mixed bag with unnecessary appearances from Lil Wayne and Sabrina Claudio, however, the high points of the record feature Zacari’s sweet hook on the aforementioned “Mood” and an understated Kendrick Lamar on the opener which fills the space perfectly. It’s silky smooth R&B, great hooks, vibes when you are in need of them and top notch singing voices; you really can’t ask for much more.
STANDOUT TRACKS: John Redcorn, Touch Down, Mood (feat. Zacari)
2. DENZEL CURRY – ZUU
After Denzel Curry’s 2018 album Ta13oo, there was a question as to where Curry would go with future projects given the skill and execution shown on that record. The answer was to go home to Miami. I’ve seen people describe ZUU as the best “trap” record of the year. It’s incredibly ignorant to assume or insinuate that all Southern rap music is trap given that are styles from bounce-music to Travis Scott psychedelia included within the region. On ZUU, instead of trap I would argue we get a gritty, realistic view of how Curry sees his home city. Everything from the childhood stories of “Ricky” and “Speedboat” to the violent connotations on “Birdz” or the ass-shaking club anthem of “Shake 88” state a different memory of Curry’s Miami. A further example of just how close this album is to Curry’s heart is that he has stated that he freestyled almost the whole album. The production is also an admirable undertaking to fit the theme. There are features of horns, sirens, booming bounce-drums and even 80s-style triangle synths. On this album there is truly something for everyone and yet it never loses its cohesion. “Birdz” and the closer, “P.A.T.,” are also strong contenders for the hardest song of the year.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Zuu, Birdz (feat. Rick Ross), P.A.T. (feat. PlayThatBoiZay)
1. FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA
This album is featured in Part V of My Favourite Albums of the Decade post which can be found here: https://scribblic.com/2019/12/05/my-favourite-albums-of-the-decade-part-v-finale-5-1/. In short, this album takes everything I loved about Piñata and doubles it, while removing all of the parts I didn’t like. It’s a step away from perfection in my opinion and displays some of both Gibbs’ and Madlib’s best work.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Fake Names, Situations, Giannis (feat. Anderson .Paak)
Comment below what your favourite albums of 2019 have been. How did you like the year for music? What artists are you looking forward to hearing from in 2020?