Below are some of my favorite hip-hop highlights of 2019. Check the following playlists, albums, and videos for my personal run-down of the year.
The Latest Playlist: 2019
*Track listing at bottom of post
Notable Albums of 2019
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
The most universally accepted rap album of 2019 was Bandana from Freddie Gibbs & Madlib. Legendary producer Madlib brings some of his finest work to this highly active Bandana instrumental. The samples are chosen brilliantly and blended masterfully, contributing layers of drama and grandeur to Freddie Gibbs’ tales of criminal lifestyle. Gibbs raps about life struggles through the lens of his experiences in illicit activities, primarily drug dealing. He provides generously detailed stories and references of past experiences with criminal activity, women, and law enforcement. Though he raps with the demeanor of an experienced member of organized crime, Gibbs doesn’t shy away from expressing his emotional state as he describes struggles he experiences as a result of his lifestyle. It is not at all lost in his message that his involvement in criminal activity is born out of a struggle to survive in an environment that doesn’t care if he succeeds, fails, lives, or dies. With outstanding production and heavy descriptive lyrics, Bandana is already considered a classic.
Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places
For years Billy Woods has been one of the most prolific emcees in the subgenre of abstract hip hop; 2019 was his banner year. Hiding Places represents a thoroughly developed and sophisticated Woods on the dark beats and crushing drums of his perfect producer counterpart: Kenny Segal. Hiding Places from Billy Woods & Kenny Segal is not an album for passive listening. Over the course of this project, Woods weaves in and out of fragmented thoughts, metaphor, memories and tangents. This is a deeply personal and emotional Woods, as he speaks passionately in heavy reflection of his childhood and life experiences. There is a fine line between rapping and spoken word, and Woods is constantly playing with that line. The overall aesthetic of this collaboration is dark, ominous, aggressive, and a bit uncomfortable. Hiding Places can be off-putting at first, but listening to this project in its entirety is a truly captivating experience. I also recommend checking out Billy Woods’ other 2019 release: Terror Management.
Kota the Friend – Foto
The album I listened to the most in 2019 was Foto from Kota the Friend. Kota the Friend has to be the most genuinely humble emcee out. Foto is not a complex album musically, conceptually, or otherwise, but it is a true gem for fans of boom bap conscious rap. Through mellow melodic delivery Kota speaks frankly about his life, relationships, and the importance of family. Kota is nearly void of rap braggadocio. The occasional boasting is done with a subtlety that points more towards a comfort in himself rather than any self-righteous arrogance. Foto is highly optimistic from front to back, and Kota speaks from a place of content and joy, consciously leaving hardships in his past. The beats are simple but solid. People looking for more innovative styles and sounds might find the album a bit repetitive, but I personally cant get enough of it.
Below are some of my favorite hip-hop highlights of 2018. Check the following playlists, albums, music videos, cyphers, and rap battles for my personal run-down of the year.
The Latest Playlist: 2018
*Track listing at bottom of post
Notable Albums of 2018
Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club
New Zealand based rapper Tom Scott is backed by a full live band for this collaborative hip-hop jazz-fusion project. The sound is raw, high-energy, and feels completely improvisational. The tracks are very long and have multiple jazzy instrumental sections that transition from one sound to the next, making 8 tracks sound like at least a dozen songs. Scott’s ability to keep up with the band while maintaining clear vocal projection is one of his most impressive qualities. With each musical transition, Scott manages to adapt the style of his flow to the band. His lyrics are not especially complex, but they come off as commendably honest and personal. Scott raps primarily about his own personal experiences and memories, which are often accompanied by vivid descriptions. He also raps about friends, relationships, and other aspects of his life, at times progressing into unorganized contemplative tangents.
Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2
In his first major solo project, 47-year-old veteran MC and The Roots front man, Black Thought blessed 2018 with a 2-part project that made clear he is still in his prime. Thought plays the role of an elder instructor with every bit of vigor from his youth. Commanding attention with his powerful cadence, every line is delivered like it’s for a packed stadium. Vol. 1 was a June release primarily produced by 9th Wonder that served as an explosive re-introduction of who Black Thought is and what he’s about. Black Thought is uncompromisingly conscious and ultra-political, frequently referencing history, spirituality, and current events from local to global levels. Vol. 2 was a late November release produced by Salaam Remi, and debatably album of the year. With the same energy and intentions in Vol. 1, Vol. 2 was a platform for Thought to get into more specific issues, such as the pharmaceutical industry, industrial prison complex, school shootings, and gang violence to name a few. This is classic hip-hop with clean production. For any old heads in 2018, Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2 are true gems.
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Only 3 years after his last release, Earl Sweatshirt sounds like he has aged a decade. Despite the album title, this is Earl’s most stylistically and conceptually cohesive project to date. The entire album carries a lethargic dystopian energy as Earl raps with a low muffled tone over mostly uplifting, dusty lo-fi samples. Over 15 very short songs, Earl offers admirably genuine pictures of his life and psychological condition. Despite the undertones of depression, he presents himself as sarcastically optimistic or at least apathetic. Most of his expressive content is not direct, but layered in metaphor and wordplay.
Jericho Jackson – Khrysis & Elzhi are Jericho Jackson
This project is another gem for classic heads. Renowned independent rapper Elzhi flexes clever east cost lyricism over headnodic beats that feel like the cold winter streets of New York City. Throughout the project Elzhi delivers an onslaught of continuous wordplay, creative punch lines and metaphors. Despite the lyrical density, his message is crystal clear, which is in a word, ‘struggle’. He makes clear that his life has been dangerous and difficult, that he has little trust for anyone, that he is “Self Made” and as an underground veteran, has worked for everything he’s earned. Elzhi is often known for his proudly Nas-influenced style, which is expectedly evident in this project. In a way Jericho Jackson feels a bit like a classic Nas album.
It’s that time again for my review of the last year in hip-hop. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2017. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, Cyphers, and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.
The most wonderful surprise of 2017 was the trilogy of albums released by self-proclaimed Internet boy band, BROCKHAMPTON: SATURATION I, II, & III. My initial intention was to comment on just one of the three albums, but it would have been irresponsible not to address the entire trilogy as a whole, as well as the group’s overall significance in 2017. Formed by Kevin Abstract in an online Kanye West fan forum, the group consists of about a dozen members, each with a unique style, blending together in an incredibly impressive and complex dynamic. With a collective 48 tracks (only 8 of which are skits), and accompanied by about 20 music videos, this trilogy is and has everything, leaving little to be desired.
Forming a description of this music is anything but simple, as there are completely different styles from track to track, and even from section to section within each track. Some parts are difficult to digest; others contain a beautiful harmonizing of melodies, while others tiptoe into more classical rap and lyricism, and at times display styles that resemble poetry and spoken word. SATURATION pulls from a wide variety of genres and uses a plethora of sounds culminating in a project that is uniquely refreshing and absolutely genuine. The overall energy is invigorating and exiting in a way that is reminiscent of early Odd Future, but far more sophisticated.
In general, the content covers everything relevant to 2017 without beating the listener over the head with anything in particular. The message oscillates between introspective, contemplative, and outwardly conscious to a far less enlightened self-indulgence, which is clearly self-aware, dabbling in a comedic irony. The more time you spend with this music, the more there is to unpack and appreciate.
Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
2017 brought yet another magical release from the rap poet alchemist/sorcerer: Milo. With the opening track titled “Poet” and closing track titled “Rapper”, Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! Actively addresses the natural crossover of poetry and rap, particularly in Milo’s own music, which has become commonly referred to as the Open Mike Eagle coined genre of “Art Rap”.
The instrumentals on this project are mostly mesmerizingly mellow (mmm…), leaving room for Milo’s message, which is, as usual, contemplative and inquisitive on many levels. Deeply saturated with abstract metaphor and philosophical references, as in all of Milo’s music, momentary distraction is unforgiving to the listener, and understanding his messages require undivided attention.
Much of this project seems to be a path of self-discovery through music as well as observation of others, and finding his place relative to those observations. He frequently employs blatant critique of stereotypical rap clichés and shortsighted arrogance, though his disses would clearly be lost upon the targets of his criticism. Well aware of his intellectual prowess, particularly in the field of hip-hop, intelligence and vocabulary become his bragging points: “The point is my vocabulary pays my rent”.
Though I wouldn’t consider this Milo’s best project to date, it is undoubtedly successful, solidifying his place as one of my favorite artists.
lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent
Any classic head can appreciate “Due Rent”, the latest double “disc” album from lojii & Swarvy. Lojii tackles the age-old hip-hop theme of hustling for cash, striving to overcome struggle, and then rapping about it. With a low-energy Godfather/Mafioso type East Coast flow, lojii casually floats over a bed of dark lo-fi instrumentals that clearly display Swarvy’s ability to orchestrate sample mastery.
Accurately self described as “rap vintage”, each track is only about 2 minutes and is essentially a different take on the same point: lojii going about his day to day trying to find a way to pay rent and make it to the next day, with of course, a bit of classic hip-hop braggadocio peppered in. Overall the album is cohesively satisfying, with a seemingly low budget production and message, lojii & Swarvy show that they can make dope hip-hop with any budget, reminiscent of an earlier time in underground hip-hop production.
Notable Music Videos of 2017
Open Mike Eagle feat. Sammus – Hymnal
Open Mike Eagle – Happy Wasteland Day
Jay-Z – The Story of O.J.
Brother Ali – Never Learn
BROCKHAMPTON – SWAMP
Notable Cyphers of 2017
Method Man & Black Thought on Sway in the Morning
Harry Mack Freestyles in Venice
Notable Rap Battles of 2017
Bigg K vs Pass (KOTD)
Dizaster vs Oxxxymiron (KOTD)
Oops vs Xcel (KOTD)
The Latest Playlist 2017:
Brother Ali – Never Learn
lojii & Swarvy – Northern Organix
Marlon Craft – The One (Intro) / TTE 1
Milo – Sorcerer
Danny Watts – Things We Have To Do
Devin the Dude – Can I
Open Mike Eagle Feat. Sammus – Hymnal
Little Simz – Backseat
J.I.D. – General
Billy Woods – Snake Oil
BROCKHAMPTON – TOKYO
Araabmuzik feat. Illmind – Selda
Anti-Lilly & Phoniks feat. Mariel – Sunshine
Cyhi The Prynce – God Bless Your Heart
Kendrick Lamar – FEEL
Loyle Carner – Ain’t Nothing Changed
Cunninlynguists – Mr. Morganfield & Ms. Waters (A-Side)
Sampa The Great – Protect Your Queen
Homeboy Sandman – Bless Up
The Doppelgangaz feat. Tnava– Roll Flee
Kota the Friend – Lawn Chair
Joey Bada$$ feat. Styles P – SUPER PREDATOR
Smino – Spitshine
Blu & Exile – Party of Two
Quelle Chris feat. I, Ced & Mndsgn – Popeye
The Underachievers – Cobra Clutch
Statik Selektah feat. Run The Jewels – Put Jewels On It