For folks who think that rapping is a lost art in the era of Autotuned harmonizing and viral country-rap tunes, 2019 was considered a “slow” year in hip-hop. Fortunately for those people, Uproxx is here to remind them of all the perfectly good — even great — rap music that they overlooked while waiting for well-established superstars to drop new projects.
Rap fans sleeping on dope stuff is nothing new, nor is it constrained to either side of the mainstream/underground split that arose in the genre in the late ’90s. In fact, it’s probably even more common nowadays just because there are so many projects releasing on such a regular basis that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. When even Billboard favorites like Schoolboy Q only give two week lead times to release their projects, even hardcore fans can get left in the dust.
That’s why this year’s Best Hip-Hop Albums list is packed to bursting with projects that fans may have overlooked, from West Coast turn-up purveyors to Midwestern street gospel singers — there’s even a little Nigerian Afro-fusion thrown in for rap fans whose taste has expanded to include international stars. Consider this one your wake-up call to all the great hip-hop that you might have slept on this year. Stay woke.
40. Choosey And Exile — Black Beans
Flying low under the radar just like the subcultures of the city it celebrates, Black Beans is a poignant and personal ode to self-actualization from a rapper with a foot firmly planted in two seemingly disparate cultural traditions. Choosey wrestles with reconciling his Latino and Black American roots, ultimately coming to an assured mixture of the two that reflects an important and sometimes overlooked aspect of Angeleno life. With Exile providing the versatile and eclectic backdrop from a variety of traditional sounds from LA, Choosey paints a portrait of a rich heritage that he proudly carries forward on tracks like “Familia,” “Brown & Beautiful,” and “Low Low.”–Aaron Williams
39. Rucci — Tako’s Son
For some reason, projects from LA-based artists not named Kendrick Lamar tend to get overlooked by the mainstream populace. No matter how visceral, how personal, how intoxicating, or just downright catchy Los Angeles County artists can be, it’s like the whole, sprawling cityscape, with all its enclaves, communities, and sections gets reduced to a single artist, who does his best to put on for Compton, but can do little for the South Bay, for Slauson, for Crenshaw, for the Westside, or for Inglewood. Rucci does his absolute best to scratch that last one of the list with Tako’s Son, which, in a just world, would set him up for the same kind of superstardom as Compton’s favorite son.–A.W.
38. Mustard — Perfect 10
If ever the condiment-monikered producer had a shortcoming on his projects, it was a lack of cohesion, a sensible, concise thesis that tied the whole thing together. Here, he so thoroughly redresses that flaw that the album lives up to its name. Whether it’s the party-time posse cuts like “Pure Water” or the unimaginably poignant Nipsey Hussle tribute “Perfect Ten” or the triumphant, Grammy-nominated Roddy Ricch joint “Ballin’,” there’s never a moment that seems out-of-place.–A.W.
37. Kemba — Gilda
On the second leg of his suddenly sprawling rap career, the rapper formerly known as YC The Cynic tackles some heavy content, from the death of his mother to the cynicism — no pun intended — that faces us all in these dark times. He’s more vulnerable than ever, but just as incisive, witty, and thorough in his exploration of his emotions and mental health, meaning he — and we — have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future.–A.W.
36. Maxo Kream — Brandon Banks
So often, confessional street albums delve into an artist’s desire to fill a role that absentee fathers left. But Maxo Kream’s Brandon Banks album takes a different approach, as it’s framed by Maxo reckoning with lessons and judgments from his father. Maxo is true to the reflective, “two sides of the game” narratives of Houston stalwarts like UGK and Scarface, but tells his story on an updated soundscape of immersive, trap-infused production.–Andre Gee
35. Pivot Gang — You Can’t Sit With Us
Sounding as much like a 13-song cipher session in the studio as a musical thesis on any particular subject, the Chicago collective’s debut album joins an ever-growing list of similarly-conceptualized group projects and distinguishes itself by a sense of fun. These guys had a ball making it, whether menacing challengers on “Bad Boys” or “Jason Statham, Pt. 2” or fleshing out their “Studio Ground Rules,” the overwhelming sense is one of camaraderie, bringing the listener into their inner circle — at least for a little bit. Remember, you can’t really sit with them.–A.W.
34. Brockhampton — Ginger
Ginger helps Brockhampton leave Ameer Vann in the rearview and continue their ascension via a major-label deal. Ginger is a departure from traditional hip-hop albums from the likes DaBaby and Young Thug, instead finding space for the Odd Future-influenced “boy band” to reveal their true potential.–Joshua Kellem
33. Burna Boy — African Giant
For better or worse, the American music industry has a fascination with the red hot music scene in various African countries. Enter African Giant, a loftily-titled album that Burna Boy lives up to with what he calls Afro-fusion: a blend of hip-hop, R&B, grime, and more elements. The album has its fun moments (like “Omo”), but he also amplifies Nigeria’s problems on songs like “Wetin Man Go Do” that affirm his refusal to be marginalized to mere dance fodder.–A.G.
32. Big KRIT — KRIT Iz Here
Big KRIT got deep on his last album — his first to be released independently on his own Multi Alumni imprint, but here, he expands his musical palette, bringing in collaborators and producers you might not expect from his prior output, such as Saweetie and Lil Wayne on “Addiction.” However, this full-circle moment still remembers exactly where KRIT comes from and who he is, delivering updates on his fan-favorite formulas (“My Sub V“) and long-awaited collabs (J. Cole on “Prove It“) as a nod to the supporters who sustained him for nearly a decade.–A.W.
31. Polo G — Die A Legend
There’s a troubling fatalism apparent in the title of Polo G’s latest work. But the hunger to make his mark against dire odds is what fueled Polo to create one of the most gripping offerings of street rap all year. He’s just 20-years-old, but unfortunately, that’s been more than enough time for him to see the grim reality of his native Chicago and tell his story on tracks like “PST” and “Though Da Storm.”–A.G.
30. Travis Thompson — Reckless Endangerment
Seattle, Washington isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of hip-hop activity, but local rapper Travis Thompson makes a strong case that perhaps it should be. The onetime Macklemore protege has plenty to say and some slick ways to say on his debut album, rattling off verses at a breakneck speed but never losing the plot as he gives us a tour of his Pacific Northwest stomping grounds and introduces us to his city’s hip-hop standard bearers on “Glass Ceiling.”–A.W.
29. Damian Lillard — Big D.O.L.L.A.
Rappers want to be hoopers and hoopers want to be rappers. It’s a cliche, but it’s long been a cliche for a reason: Most rapping hoopers weren’t very good at it. Not only does Damian Lillard break the mold, becoming an all-star in both categories on his third independent release, but he also proved that he was willing to take on all comers with a series of battles with other rapping ball players throughout the year, including the original and longtime best, Shaquille O’Neal. Sorry Shaq, but it might be time to come up off that throne.–A.W.
28. Jaden Smith — Erys
Cleverly reversing the themes of his debut album Syre as well as its title, Jaden Smith puts on a punk rock, devil-may-care alter ego. Spitting anxious raps addressing social ills with a “burn it all down” mentality and a fearless approach to sonic experimentation, Jaden proves his debut’s standout qualities were no fluke. He may not be a “fresh prince” like his dad, but he’s willing to delve deeper into heavier topics and get lost in the haze of his more pliable personality.–A.W.
27. Kash Doll — Stacked
As much noise as rap blogs and music publications alike made about 2019’s explosion of female rap talent, it didn’t seem like too many outlets were actually checking for individual projects and that’s a shame because Kash Doll’s long-awaited debut album certainly justifies the hype. While plenty of attention was lavished on the Big Sean-featuring single “Ready Set,” Kash offered up a well-balanced first effort with confessional jams like “No Lames” featuring Summer Walker and chin-jutting jousts like “Mobb’n.”–A.W.
26. 03 Greedo — Still Summer In The Projects
Greedo might currently be incarcerated, but his team is working hard to keep the LA native’s name alive. That task gets easier when he has music in the stash like Still Summer In The Projects. Mustard handled production duties on the 11-track project, offering Greedo some lush synths and deep 808s to ply his compelling trade of off-kilter rhymes and crooning about living and dying in LA.–A.G.
25. Guapdad 4000 — Dior Deposits
Guapdad is on the fast track to being the Bay Area’s newest star after a year that included prominent placement on Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III, a timely assist from Chance The Rapper and Charlie Wilson on “Gucci Pajamas,” and an absolute flurry of blog love praising his charismatic, scammy ways. Dior Deposits was the icing on the cake, solidifying Guap’s ability to stand on his own, crafting catchy hits and spitting head-spinning bars with the best.–A.W.
24. Little Simz — Grey Area
Little Simz’ Grey Area is one of the year’s most candid, vulnerable works. The talented 25-year-old from the UK explored gun violence on “Wounds,” and her status as a woman in rap on the freewheeling “Venom.” Those qualms alone justify the mental health issues that she explores through the rest of the 10-song soundscape produced by Inflo.–A.G.
23. Chance The Rapper — The Big Day
The most misunderstood album of the year had fans cracking on Chance like the only kid who dressed up for Halloween. But really digging into his debut project, the themes ranged much further than tracks about loving his wife. Addressing everything from legacy to family ties to all of Jay-Z’s financial independence seminars rolled into one, Chance put out what might well be the most well-rounded project of his career. Consider this: Chance has played a different song from the album on each of his fifty-eleven television performances this year and they all banged. If every song was good enough to be a single, how could the album be all that bad? This is definitely one of those albums we’ll all be looking back at and kicking ourselves for sleeping on — except me, of course: I’ll be holding open the bandwagon door.–A.W.
22. Gang Starr — One Of The Best Yet
Who says hip-hop is dead? Even when the genre’s greatest stars pass away, they leave behind legacies that include both “Family And Loyalty” and piles of incredibly well-crafted songs that can become timeless remembrances. Hip-hop may have garnered something of a “Bad Name” among a certain group of fans, but rest assured that there will always be those standing ready to pick up the torch and carry it through the dark times.–A.W.
21. Rexx Life Raj — Father Figure 3: Somewhere Out There
Rexx Life Raj is not yet a household name, but his three Father Figure projects have laid sufficient foundation for him to become one of rap’s brightest stars in relatively short order — especially the last one. Finding the perfect balance between elegant crooning (“new Bay Area wedding anthem” “Your Way” with Kehlani) and sharp-tongued rapping (“Moonwalk“), Raj covers topics that many rappers warily avoid, from self-determination to responsible drug use, all with confident poise and a little of the “me against the world,” chip-on-the-shoulder sneering that has marked many of the modern generation’s more multi-syllabic spitters. Rexx Life Raj delivers smart rhymes that never talk down to or about their audience, which may be his most audacious move — and one that pays off in spades.–A.W.
20. DaBaby — Kirk
DaBaby isn’t just a throwback for his lyrical sensibilities or his tongue-in-cheek videos. He also duplicated the most impressive feat of one of hip-hop’s elders by debuting both of his first two albums in the Billboard 200 Top 10 just months apart. While other artists aimed for similar heights in recent years — most notably Lil Baby in 2018 — DaBaby is the first to see his second album not only top his first, but also the chart. While Kirk plays in the same spaces as Baby On Baby, it also notably features more mature subject matter, particularly on its “Intro,” and branching out sonically on “Gospel.” It also contains even bigger hits than its predecessor in the form of “Bop” and “Vibez.”–A.W.
19. Dreamville — Revenge Of The Dreamers III
Dreamville had the rap world buzzing during their Revenge Of The Dreamers III sessions, inviting a who’s who of hip-hop stars to collaborate on their compilation album. The weeklong session resulted in 2019 favorites like “Self Care,” “Down Bad,” and “Under The Sun.” It turns out that the gamut of guests wasn’t a crutch, but a luxury for a crew already equipped to take over the world.–A.G.
18. Juice Wrld — Death Race For Love
Building on the success of 2018’s Goodbye & Good Riddance, the 20-year-old Chicagoan crooner leans even more forcibly into raw, emo tunes that will resonate with the lovesick 14-year-old inside all of us with tracks like “Robbery,” “Hear Me Calling,” and “Fast.” And while such tracks may sound saccharine to more experienced, jaded ears, on back-end tracks like “10 Feet” and the Pharcyde-sampling “Make Believe,” he proves that he can generate some intergenerational sympathy with smart old-school references and the legit rhyme skills that propelled his viral hour-long freestyle session last year.–A.W.
17. Danny Brown — U Know What I’m Sayin
Executive produced by Q-Tip and featuring Run The Jewels, Blood Orange, and Jpegmafia, Danny Brown’s first album in three years treads some broad artistic territory. From comedic trips to take care of some “Dirty Laundry” to soulful recollections of his “Best Life,” Brown puts his full arsenal on display. He’s become a much more well-rounded artist, but his battle-ready bite is still main draw after his manic-sounding bark of a voice.–A.W.
16. Kevin Abstract — Arizona Baby
Even the Brockhampton frontman seems conflicted about releasing his solo album when he did, amid a still-swirling controversy involving the band’s break with Ameer Vann. It was right on time, though — and timeless. As Kevin speaks to his troubled upbringing as a queer Black youth in “Corpus Christi” and “Mississippi,” his story is alternately heartbreaking and uplifting, as it’s a familiar story that rarely resolves as triumphantly as the singalong chorus of “Baby Boy.”–A.W.
15. Post Malone — Hollywood’s Bleeding
A year after Beerbongs & Bentleys, Post Malone doubled back with Hollywood’s Bleeding. One of the few rivaling Drake’s streaming numbers, Malone does everything not to box himself in the hip-hop genre. Malone says not to listen to hip-hop if you want to feel something, but Malone’s vision of hip-hop makes you feel regardless. Leaving his “White Iverson” gimmick behind, Malone successfully blends all of his musical interests together on Hollywood’s Bleeding tracks such as “Take What You Want” and “Circles.” Yes, this is Malone’s hip-hop, and the music world is evolving because of it.–J.K.
14. Goldlink — Diaspora
Goldlink’s At What Cost was a portrait of a rapidly changing “DMV area” that won the Virginia native a new plateau of fame. And from there, he vied to take a snapshot of the whole world on Diaspora, a gem of an album that exemplifies the universality of Black music. But the album, chockful of musicians from all over Africa, isn’t obnoxious in its ambition. Our diasporic ties have always been apparent in rap music, Goldlink was just proactive enough to celebrate it.–A.G.
13. Earthgang — Mirrorland
Highly anticipated and not at all disappointing, Earthgang’s long-awaited debut drew comparisons to their fellow ATLiens Outkast with its groundbreaking blend of modern sounds and throwback, Southern-fried soul. However, in reality, Mirrorland is its own unique thing, wildly creative and original, a sonic tour through Olu and Wowgr8’s fantasy land — a twisted version of the city they shares with Big Boi and Andre 3000. “Proud Of U” is the most obvious banger, but the punishing bounce of “Bank” and the murky crooning of “Stuck” are tourist traps no one should miss.–A.W.
12. Freddie Gibbs And Madlib — Bandana
In 2014, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib linked up to create one of the best albums of the 2010s with Cocaine Pinata. Then they did it again five years later. The MadGibbs pairing is one of hip-hop’s most trustworthy. In a climate where boundary-pushing and genre-blending are arbiters of rap genius, Gibbs makes a claim for the best rapper alive by simply ripping a suite of soulful Madlib beats to shreds. It’s classic. It’s refreshing. It’s one of the best albums of the year.–A.G.
11. Boogie — Everythings For Sale
Even when letting his boss have a guest spot on the album centerpiece, “Rainy Days,” Boogie’s debut album is a fitting introduction for new fans and a smooth continuation of his established M.O. of pouring out his emotions with his pen. “Soho” tackles his newfound fame, while “Silent Ride” sees him once again sabotaging a romantic relationship with his wandering eye. The title may well be a misnomer — Boogie refuses to sell out his integrity or his artistic vision, no matter how much bigger his stage gets.–A.W.
10. 2 Chainz — Rap Or Go To The League
An underrated gem from the early part of the year, 2 Chainz’s latest examines the opposing paths that face so many Black, urban youth. But what may seem like a worn justification for his own illicit activities quickly becomes an indictment of the exploitative systems preying on young Black people throughout American society, from the “NCAA” to the tax time predation of good old Uncle “Sam.” In the end, it turns out that 2 Chainz isn’t crazy — life is.–A.W.
9. 21 Savage — I Am > I Was
I Am > I Was is an affirmation of evolution. On tracks like “All My Friends” and “Monster,” he gets vulnerable about his life, family, and career. He goes toe-to-toe with J. Cole on “A Lot,” showcasing his underrated lyricism over a gripping soul loop. He even delves into relationship woes on “Ball W/O You.” I Am > I Was was released in a no man’s land of December 2018, but it’s dynamism allowed it to shine all year.–A.G.
8. IDK — Is He Real?
DMV native IDK followed up 2017’s autobiographical IWasVeryBad with an even more deeply personal meditation on the nature of religion and faith. Throughout the album’s 14 tracks, IDK works through his spiritual beliefs and contrasts them with the lectures from the pulpit, trying to reconcile his observations of a broken world with promises of God’s love and understanding. The album closes with “Julia…” a heart-wrenching remembrance of his late mother and a poignant affirmation of his belief.–A.W.
7. DaBaby — Baby On Baby
DaBaby doubled up on album releases this year, but it’s his first project that made him one of hip-hop’s brightest new stars. Spurred by singles like “Suge,” the self-titled-ish debut is a compelling mesh of bravado, humorous quotables, and “don’t f*ck with me” that has made him one of the game’s brightest young stars.–A.G.
6. Megan Thee Stallion — Fever
Megan Thee Stallion is one of 2019’s breakout hip-hop stars. The Houston hottie had the world driving the boat and in a frenzy over her mixtape Fever this summer, which contains her platinum-selling hit “Cash Shit” featuring DaBaby. On each track, Meg’s vigorous raps take the lead in how to walk, talk and breath with confidence while dealing with men who want to do nothing but waste time.–Cherise Johnson
5. Denzel Curry — Zuu
A paean to the South Florida native’s hometown of Carol City, Zuu showcases Curry’s wordplay at its most blunt, painting stark images of a rough upbringing that nevertheless taught just enough of life’s hard lessons to make him a star. “Birdz” reflects the rags-to-riches tale of two generations thanks to a stellar appearance from Rick Ross, while “Wish” invokes a sunny, seaside drive through the city, a shot of brightness among the dark, bruising beats. “Speedboat” is as clear a bridge between the two as the ones that crisscross Miami’s waterways.–A.W.
4. Tyler The Creator — Igor
Earlier this year, Tyler The Creator called his 2011 Goblin album “trash.” The statement exemplified a musical evolution that’s pleasantly apparent on IGOR, his Grammy-nominated opus. Tyler crafted a soundscape that fused hip-hop with R&B, electronic music and other genres. He offset his boundary-pushing sonics with lyrics that reflected on everyday qualms such as heartbreak, outgrowing one’s past, and staying afloat during life’s trials.–A.G.
3. YBN Cordae — The Lost Boy
An album that surprised all but a few of the YBN clique’s sharpest observers, Cordae harnessed the strength of his old soul and youthful energy to craft a crystal-clear, nostalgic window into his family, influences, and early life. At times heartbreaking, confessional, and vulnerable, as on tracks like “Bad Idea” and “Thanksgiving,” The Lost Boy can also be rowdy, confrontational, and keenly self-aware on “RNP,” “Broke As F*ck,” and “We Gon Make It.” Cordae think he’s lost, but he knows exactly who he is and where he’s been. Wherever he’s going, he’ll be great when he gets there.–A.W.
2. Rapsody — Eve
Rapsody’s Eve is a cohesive hip-hop masterpiece celebrating the lives of Black women who have been tremendously influential throughout the years. Rapsody carefully and accurately portrays the sound of each song to the persona of each woman it’s named after. “Aaliyah” sounds like the late R&B singer and “Cleo” sounds just as rambunctious as Queen Latifah, and the North Carolina MC makes it work in a collection that somehow holds a candle to legendary subjects it evokes.–C.J.
1. Young Thug — So Much Fun
An album that lives up to its title, Young Thug’s first-ever Billboard No. 1 is a showcases the Atlanta trap surrealist’s scintillating way with words over a scaled-back musical palette that lets his voice take center stage. It also shows off just how influential Thug has been to the modern generation of warbling wordsmiths with features from Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Keed, and Lil Uzi Vert, with yet another one of J. Cole’s standout 2019 guest verses thrown in for good measure. Thug’s career accomplishments are far too long to list here, but we can add “best hip-hop album of 2019” to his impressive resume.–A.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.