Many great Rap and R&B albums were released in the past year. Music came from a variety of artists. Decade defining superstars such as Tyler the Creator and Kanye West, or newer artists such as Rich Brian or IDK all released projects this year, and with the new decade beginning it is the appropriate time to rank the 10 best Hip-Hop and R&B records of the year.
10) “Is He Real?” - IDK
Many artists today often bring their faith into their music. Specifically artists such as Chance The Rapper and Kanye West often intertwine the two commonly. IDK took a new approach to the idea, and instead of praising God, he questions the existence of God. IDK ponders on ideas of sinning and atheism, questioning the reality behind the afterlife, and if any higher power is existent at all. ‘Is He Real?” moves through hard hitting beats and interesting skits over the course of 3 minutes, and never once does IDK lose your interest. This album feels fresh, and talks about themes not commonly discussed in rap music, making IDK’s already great rapping ability all the more impressive.
9) “The Sailor” - Rich Brian
Rich Brian’s backstory is one of the most interesting of any current rapper. Brian grew up in a lower-class home in Indonesia, and started his career as a satirical rapper, often mimicking American rappers in a negative way. He went on to release his debut album, “Amen”, which featured artists like Joji and Offset, which charted well and received mediocre critical reviews. No one would have expected Brian to drop his act, and create a seriously great rap album like The Sailor. Brian deals with themes of racism and stereotypes towards the Asian community on the entire album, and showcases his singing ability which goes over really well. Brian constructs an incredibly cohesive album that plays through very well, and feels like a legitimate experience. From front to back, “The Sailor” is leagues above Brian’s previous work, and features some of the best rapping of the year.
8) “The Lost Boy” - YBN Cordae
Warm, Rich, and Old School are three ways to summarize Cordae’s debut album. After making waves as an impressive young lyricist, Cordae had a lot to prove with this album. He needed to assert himself as a promising artist in rap music, and debunk claims that his style wouldn’t work in an album. Cordae did just that and more with this excellent 45 minute project, where he raps over soulful beats to talk about his life, family, and experiences as a musician. Cordae also provides an excellent list of veteran artists as features, including Chance The Rapper, Anderson Paak, and Pusha T. Even with all these featured artists, he manages to stay the highlight of the album. YBN Cordae already stirred conversation about being the best young artist out, and “The Lost Boy” does nothing but support his case.
7) “CASE STUDY 01” - Daniel Caesar
Daniel Caesar broke through in 2016 with his debut album Freudian. The album put him in the top tier of R&B musicians across the globe and showcased his incredible songwriting talent on soothing beats with great instrumentation. CASE STUDY 01 allows Caesar to become a little more experimental, and dance into different sounds and styles. Songs like Entropy and Superposition are a few examples of the shining vocals that Caesar uses on the album. Themes of self confidence and individuality are prominent throughout the album and are explored beautifully across the 10 tracks on the project. Daniel was one of Apple Music’s Up Next Artists in 2017, and he delivered on the assertion that he would become a star in the industry.
6) “THE PLUGS I MET”- Benny The Butcher
In just 7 tracks, Benny The Butcher concocted one of the most lyrically complex and purely hip-hop records of the year. The Buffalo rapper, along with the help of legendary MC’s like Black Thought and Pusha T, Benny raps dense lyrics packed with detailed accounts of street life, drug deals, and infidelity. Benny has the ability to perfectly capture the darkness of the topic he raps about through his tone and words, and over the soulful beats on the project, every line hits a little harder. Benny was previously considered to be an underground rapper, but the critical and commercial praise this project has received has pushed him into the limelight. Songs like 18 Wheeler, Crowns For Kings, and Sunday School each are some of the best works of lyricism this year. Benny’s stardom has just begun, and hopefully he will only go up from here.
5) “So Much Fun”- Young Thug
Young Thug is one of the most influential artists of the past decade, yet he never had released a full album until this point. Everything from Slime Season to Jeffrey was either a compilation or a mixtape. Due to his lack of a deep catalogue there was a lot riding on So Much Fun, and boy did Thug come through. Young Thug’s brand of quirky, rhythmic, and catchy rap is common, but his voice and delivery makes his songs instantly recognizable. The songs on this album are produced to sound super fun, features like the bird sounds appearing on What’s the Moves and the tribal chants on Ecstasy, the album never fails to keep your attention. The guest list is very impressive as well, with huge artists like Gunna, Travis Scott, and J. Cole all making appearances on the album. The album runs for an hour and 5 minutes but feels half that. Young Thug’s debut album is a great collection of energetic songs, and truly feels like so much fun.
4) “Revenge of the Dreamers 3” - Dreamville
2019 was the year of the compilation album. Pivot Gang, Beast Coast, and Quality Control are just a few of the labels that released compilation albums this year. None of these however, were anywhere near Dreamville’s third installment of the Dreamers series. Recorded in only 10 days, J. Cole and company made an album featuring 35 artists feel like one completed album by one person. The chemistry on every song is impeccable, and allows for an easy listen the entire time. In an era where features are the reason a song tops the charts, this album pulls them off better than most others have this year. Dreamville goes through many flavors of rap and R&B on the album, but the project still flows song to song very well. Posse cuts like Down Bad and Costa Rica are shining examples of the camaraderie and chemistry that make this album feel like a team working as one for a bigger purpose. The Dreamville camp shined on this album and has an incredibly bright future.
3) “ZUU” - Denzel Curry
Breaking on the scene in 2015 with his smash hit Ultimate, Denzel Curry quickly became one of the most talented rappers in the mainstream. His 2016 project, Imperial, turned even more heads his way, and his 2018 concept album, Taboo, solidified him as a top tier artist. Denzel is experimental, dark, and intelligent. The sheer ferocity in his voice and lyrics are terrifying and the typically dark beats that surround his vocals only magnify the effects. Denzel took a different route when recording his 2019 release, he decided to take his sound back home to Carol City, Florida. The album carried the bounce and brightness of Florida rap, and was a new lane for Curry. He no longer was stuck to ominous, dark rap, he traded it in for the fun beats and catchy hooks of his hometown, all the while keeping his same intense delivery and flawless lyrics. Lead singles Ricky and Speedboat capture the Florida sound perfectly, and ZUU does the same thing for it’s half hour of run time.
2) “Bandana”- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s first joint album in 2014 was met with excellent reviews, and called by many the best rap album released that year. 5 years later, the rapper-producer duo announced their second album was releasing, and the excitement was through the roof. The music community was ready to hear another album with flawless production and top tier rapping, and the MadGibbs duo delivered on every aspect with Bandana. Over soulful beats featuring incredible samples from all ages of music, Gibbs raps about the darkest of topics, a true testament to the statement that opposites attract. These opposites seem to go hand in hand, with the luscious and beautiful beats melding seamlessly with Gibbs’ grimy stories of drug deals and life on the streets of Gary, Indiana. Every feature from the album, coming from the likes of Killer Mike, Pusha T, and many more legends, all fit into the track list perfectly. While the features are exceptional, nothing outshines the production from Madlib. The producer who many consider to be one of the greatest ever creates a surreal landscape of sounds with his signature use of obscure samples and strange sounds, all while one of the best rappers alive flows effortlessly on each song. The confidence is evident on this album. On the first project many were skeptical if the duo would mesh together well, and after proving that, they return sounding bolder than ever. Songs like Crime Pays, Palmolive, and Massage Seats are the pinnacle of rap perfection. Bandana isn’t just a sequel, it’s a statement.
“Igor”- Tyler the Creator
Tyler has shown more growth over the past decade than possibly any other artist. With his early work like Goblin, Tyler rapped about incredibly controversial topics, was accused of being a homophobe, and was essentially the 2010’s version of Eminem. He seemed like he was sent here to make everyone mad. Tyler came from that, a juvenile instigator who everyone’s parents hated, to who he is now, an incredible artists who bares his raw emotion on his sleeves through music and the creative process. Igor isn’t really a rap album, or an R&B album, or even a pop album. Igor is simply indescribable by genre because it encompasses so many in such a perfect way. Igor shows Tyler’s progression and emotions throughout a break up, and through little rapping describes perfectly the feelings he had the entire time. The lush production is incredible, each song has a very ethereal feel to it, like it’s from another planet. Tyler’s singing is great on the album, songs like “EARFQUAKE” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” highlight his dramatic improvement vocally. There are very few rap songs on the album, but the ones that are there, like “NEW MAGIC WAND”, fit into the album perfectly and add to the story very well. Tyler’s Igor surpasses all albums from this year in quality, and is easily his greatest work thus far.