Summer is almost here, so there’s no better time for a hip-hop temperature check to see just where the genre is as a whole. While marquee releases from the likes of 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, Anderson .Paak, Boogie, and Denzel Curry set themselves apart from the pack, there have still been plenty of under-the-radar and under-appreciated projects that exemplify the best that hip-hop has to offer.
In fact, there were so many great rap projects — projects that pushed the boundaries of the style in eye-popping, entertaining, or thought-provoking new directions — that narrowing it down to just ten meant that plenty of fantastic projects were left off the list. Some of those projects include the work of well-respected veterans like Bun B and Tech N9ne, some were from established hit-makers like Gunna, PNB Rock, and YG, and some were from emerging talents that are still well-worth checking out, such as Duckwrth, Injury Reserve, Maxo, and Pivot Gang. Meanwhile, the trend of women breaking into hip-hop’s boys club continued with standout projects from the likes of Asian Da Brat, Dreezy, Saweetie, Tink, and Yung Baby Tate.
But in the end, these were the ten albums that stood out the most, representing a cross-section of styles and concepts that showcase the best of where hip-hop has been in the last six months — and some pretty good indicators of where it’s going. One thing to keep in mind: these are only albums that didn’t appear on our list of best albums of the year so far.
10. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Hoodie SZN
Even before his breakthrough single “Drowning” in 2017, A Boogie was already the voice of New York’s new generation of artists. The influence of the Bronx rapper’s melodic delivery can be heard in the sound of many of the city’s rising stars. On Hoodie SZN, the Uptown crooner invites some major label friends to the party. With guest appearances from Young Thug, Offset, Nav, and many others, it’s slightly bloated, but a fun time nonetheless.–Jordan Coley
9. Shy Glizzy, Covered N Blood
On the surface, Shy Glizzy’s latest album is a collection of braggadocious, menacing bangers such as “Demons,” and “Big Dipper” over thumping, mysterious production. But listening close enough to Glizzy’s lithe, sing-songy flow reveals traumatic nuggets laced in between the boasts such as “Big Dipper’s” “I swear there’s too much pain here for one young nigga” and “Demons’” “I cut the lights off in my house and I see fucking demons.” There’s clearly a lot at play in Glizzy’s world, even amid the excess.–Andre Gee
8. DaBaby, Baby On Baby
DaBaby is undoubtedly one of the more exciting personalities to emerge in rap in some time. His cartoonish machismo has not only spilled out onto our social feeds, but is front and center on his debut Baby On Baby. From the cantankerous “Suge” to the swaggering “Walker Texas Ranger,” across the entire project, the North Carolina rapper sustains a level of constant menace like it’s one long droning chord. And it’s honestly quite beautiful.–J.C.
7. Schoolboy Q, Crash Talk
After a long delay necessitated by the untimely death of Q’s good friend Mac Miller, CrasH Talk barged into our stereos this April. The album shows Schoolboy easing into a young OG role in the rap game, getting reflective on “Black Folk” and introspective on the album’s title track. But that doesn’t mean he’s totally switched up his act, which bangers like “5200,” “Numb Numb Juice,” “Floating” and the Travis Scott-featuring “Chopstix” demonstrated.–A.G.
6. Queen Key, Eat My Pussy Again
Queen Key liberates masterful wordplay and redeems cunning, yet playful verses all over Eat My Pussy Again, making it a worthwhile one-of-a-kind listen. Womankind before mankind is the ongoing mantra divinely heard on Eat My Pussy Again. Between “Hey” and “Gimme $,” the Queen Key commandments are assertedly laid out. The Chicago royal’s versatile rap style and complete lyrical domination of the EP’s production crystallize her boost on the imperial rap throne.–Cherise Johnson
5. Young Nudy & Pi’erre Bourne, Sli’Merre
Pi’erre Bourne and Young Nudy might be the most unlikely rapper/producer pair in hip-hop. In theory, Nudy’s somnolent delivery shouldn’t work over Bourne’s ethereal sonic pastiches, but somehow it really does. In fact, Nudy even claims that he was the first person to ever rap on one of Pi’erre’s beat. Everything on Sli’merre from the lullaby-like “Sunflower Seeds” to the buoyant “Mister” buzzes with the power of this chemistry. It’s the Atlanta rapper’s most polished project to-date and further builds the case for Bourne as one of hip-hop’s premier producers.–J.C.
4. Loyle Carner, Not Waving, But Drowning
Anyone who puts his mom on his album automatically earns 1,000,000 points in my book. While Loyle Carner is far from a household name on this side of the pond and the UK isn’t especially well-known as a force inside hip-hop, he joins fellow Brit Little Simz in crafting one of the best representations of the form this year.
Not only are the songs on the album dedicated to the sort of clear-eyed reflection (“Looking Back,” “Dear Ben”) that often generates the best rap music, but Carner is both a masterful writer and a charismatic and gifted performer, weaving coolly through the complex rhyme schemes of “Sail Away Freestyle” as well. Not Waving is one of those rare projects that doesn’t demand repeat listens — it entices them with layer upon layer of narrative, craft, and emotion to delve into over and over again.–Aaron Williams
3. Choosey & Exile, Black Beans
One of the things that makes hip-hop the most engaging and entertaining genres in music is its autobiographical nature. Much of the fun of listening to rappers is the narrative quality of their lyrics, the way we relate to them and see reflections of our own lives and worlds, or how they open windows into lives and conditions other than our own.
That’s a quality shared by all of the best hip-hop albums of 2019, whether they made the overall list or this one, and perhaps there is no better example than Choosey & Exile’s masterful Black Beans. Exile tends to bring the absolute best out of the artists he does full projects with (Aloe Blacc, Blu, and Fashawn among them), and Black Beans is no exception, as Choosey relates his experiences growing up in the diverse metropolis of Los Angeles as a product of two rich but disparate heritages.–A.W.
2. Kota The Friend, Foto
Throughout Foto’s 19 tracks, Brooklyn’s Kota The Friend offers up snapshots of his childhood, his family, and his changing circumstances thanks to rap over dreamlike, jazz-infused beats that perfectly complement his heady, laid-back flow. After 2018’s Anything. introduced him as a burgeoning talent in throwback, traditionalist hip-hop, Foto solidifies him as one of New York’s best, most creative and relatable rappers.
Dotted with interludes dedicated to the tales of family members and close friends, Foto finds Kota ruminating on the nature of faith and religion on “Church,” lamenting his friends’ teases that he’s gone “Hollywood” since his rap career started to take off, and scribing insightful, urgent advice “For Colored Boys” in a world where discrimination is a near certainty and success is not. Foto speaks encouragement into a disheartening world without the glitz of materialism that usually makes such messaging ring hollow.–A.W.
1. Rico Nasty, Anger Management
Rico Nasty relinquishes pure, pent-up rage and aggression over to her emphatic Anger Management EP with the assistance of her producer (and close friend) Kenny Beats. Obviously, Rico and Kenny, as musical partners, are truly a gift sent from heaven, making Anger Management a synergetic release of Rico’s brassy, fast raps and Kenny’s high-frequency production. Together, they engage in operatic stage combat to paint a lyrical picture of who the rap star, born Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly, really is. The project’s disruptive opening cut, “Cold,” is a reminder that Rico really does this rap thing, exposing a rising, adept lyricist. While stand-out tracks “Big Titties” and “Hatin” are guaranteed to get the mosh pit going, her introspective slaps “Mood” and “Sell Out” are sure to inspire.–C.J.
Some of the above artists are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.