20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2019

In a year where rap’s biggest stars (Kanye West excepted) took a break, a new class of stars, from Megan Thee Stallion to DaBaby to Roddy Ricch, emerged. These are the albums that defined the year in hip-hop

20 Best Hip-Hop Albums

While 2018 was a year of titans re-entering the fray — we got albums last year from very nearly every heavy hitter, from Drake to Nicki and Kanye West to Jay-Z — 2019 was all about new names. DaBaby bookended the year with two thunderous statements in Baby on Baby and Kirk; Megan Thee Stallion established herself, quickly and confidently, as one of the most charismatic lyricists of her young generation; and Roddy Ricch broke through seemingly every month with a new hit, before dropping his uniformly excellent Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial. A new cadre of Chicago rappers emerged, led by Polo G and Calboy, who put an emotive twist on the city’s traditionally nihilistic scene, and crafted two of the best albums of the year in the process. Meanwhile, near-veterans Young Thug and Tyler, the Creator put out statements that, in retrospect, served as coronations. They, along with the chaos-courting Brockhampton, put out their most assured work to date, and established their commercial weight alongside critical consensus. These are our picks for the best hip-hop albums of the year, now that all the introductions have been made. 

Megan Thee Stallion, 'Fever'

Megan Thee Stallion, ‘Fever’

“Nine times out of 10, I’m the realest bitch you know/If you ain’t want a pimp then what you fuckin’ with me for,” raps 24-year-old Megan Pete on her first LP. Megan Thee Stallion’s realness is never in question, as she connects the feminist rap tradition of Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte to the throbbing sounds of her native Houston, putting her own intimate pleasures front and center on pointillistically detailed dirty-talkin’ flexes like “Sex Talk” and “Pimpin’.” She brags about moving to the burbs and slips into some R&B softness on “Big Drank” and “Best You Ever Had,” but still keeps it resolutely ratchet, spraying commanding verses all over every track. 

DaBaby, 'Kirk'

DaBaby, ‘Kirk’

In a normal year, having an album as good as Kirk would be enough to establish yourself as a star, and come close to topping this list. But DaBaby didn’t have a normal year. The breakthrough North Carolina star raps with a force that’s wholly unnecessary — he often sounds like he’s trying to overpower the beat — but makes him mesmerizing to listen to. Similarly, DaBaby didn’t need to put out two of the year’s best albums in a matter of nine months, but we know now not to expect anything less. Kirk is every bit as accomplished as Baby on Baby, but misses out on its ranking since, by then, it lacked the element of surprise. Everyone knew DaBaby was coming, what we didn’t expect was for him to keep that same energy. 

Tyler, the Creator, 'IGOR'

Tyler, the Creator, ‘IGOR’

When Tyler, the Creator first earned a devoted following as a member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All early in the decade, his raps were often abrasive, full of confrontation and provocation. Fast forward to 2019, and Tyler is making some of the year’s prettiest pop, often eschewing rap altogether and choosing to sing with disarming sincerity (“Don’t leave, it’s my fault/’Cause when it all comes crashing down, I’ll need you“). IGOR is idiosyncratic and surprising — “I Think” is an unexpected turn to nu-disco, while “Are We Still Friends?” pays tribute to soul great Al Green — without an obvious radio hit. In the old days, this combination would have ensured that IGOR remained a cult album. But in 2019, Tyler, the Creator managed to out-sell DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd, the expensively marketed and produced equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, and debut at Number One.

DaBaby, 'Baby On Baby'

DaBaby, ‘Baby On Baby’

Hyper-regional, blunt, kinetic, and self-assured, DaBaby’s Baby on Baby marked the arrival of a star. The North Carolina rapper with a gleaming, jewel-encrusted smile brought a myriad of skills into 2019. His singular, raspy voice boomed over simple, bass-boosted beats, and his flow contained enough gravitas to assault the senses. “Suge” became the rare 2019 rap hit that forgoes melody in favor of a torrent of bullish bars stacked atop a ceaseless, unending flow. “Walker Texas Ranger” was the funniest Western-themed hip-hop song of the year (yes, even including “Old Town Road”), while “Goin Baby” was a monument to the ability of raucous ad-libs to make a normal song seem transcendent. Baby on Baby was merely an opening salvo — nine months later, that shot is still ringing.

Roddy Ricch, ‘Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial’

Roddy Ricch, ‘Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial’

Roddy Ricch is the rare new star who sounds like he’s been popular for years. While some of the rappers that emerged this year, like Megan Thee Stallion or DaBaby, pulled hip-hop towards them, pushing denser flows than have been dominating airwaves in recent year, Roddy’s approach has been to synthesize everything that can set a room off and put it into one package. He sounds at home over a Mustard beat, who is close to fulfilling his promise to dominate 10 summers in a row; he found a crossover crowd by collaborating with the still-fanatically-popular Marshmello; his collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle on “Racks in the Middle” feels so natural, even now, that the tragedy of Nipsey’s death is further heightened. And, on top of that, Roddy was able to craft an album that encapsulates his central appeal — an unnervingly effective ear for melody and a chameleonic ability to adapt to different beats — and imbuing it with an incredibly personal body of work. The result, on Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial, is the announcement of a star. 

Young Thug

Young Thug, ‘So Much Fun’

For six years, Young Thug was an uncontainable force: The otherworldly linguistics, the riotous ad-libs, and borderless melodies, along with the dresses and skirts and gender fluidity, broke a genre in need of breaking. But after a string of critically lauded yet commercially disappointing releases, Thug’s momentum stalled. Then So Much Fun resuscitated the mercurial musician. Direct and digestible, the album is Thug at his most streamlined. There are no heady concepts or genre detours; instead, the track list is loaded with major stars (Future, J. Cole, Travis Scott), and every beat is uncomplicated and dynamic. Thug ceded the floor on “Hot” and “Bad Bad Bad” to his streaming behemoth protégés (Lil Baby, Gunna), engaged in a rare press run, and dropped video after video. After years of deconstructing hip-hop and remaking it in his image, Thug spent 19 songs playing the game, and in the process became the commercial star he was destined to be.

Polo G

Polo G, ‘Die a Legend’

“I’m a killer, girl, I’m sorry/But I can’t change,” Polo G raps in the chorus of his hit “Pop Out,” the centerpiece of the Chicago rapper’s debut, Die a Legend. In someone else’s hands, that apology would be cursory; in Polo’s, it’s a thematic concern. Chicago rap is having a moment this year — its sound is melodic, pained, beautiful — and Polo G is the emerging leader of a new class of rappers from the city. It’s easy to see why. Die a Legend is a remarkably confident full-length, marked by both a sensational ear for beats and a near-reflexive sincerity. Just as he can turn a party track regretful in a second, Polo’s delivery is perpetually nimble, always searching for the gap between rapping and singing — it’s not a new approach, but in Polo’s hands, it feels like an announcement.

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