I'm always a bit torn as I try to put together these kinds of lists as there is always just so much music to go through! 2019 was a huge year for hip-hop as the genre continues to push popular culture forward here in the US and across the globe. While there were some clear stand outs on this years final chart, I am most excited about the young talent that really stepped it up this year (folks like YBN Cordae, Denzel Curry & Lizzo). I can't really remember a time where hip-hop was this popular across so many styles and sounds and I think this will only continue to build up into next year as we see more and more artists get away from the comfort zones and just make the music they are feeling.
1. J. Cole - Middle Child
J. Cole is a beast. Between rapping and producing on his own projects, his high level features on other songs and his Dreamville imprint, the guy is at the top of his game right now. The infectious "Middle Child" was J's chance to call out everybody in the game and even though it came out 11 months ago, I still hear this song everywhere I go.
2. Travis Scott - Highest In The Room
While we were all a bit hung over (in the best way) from Astroworld, Travis gave fans the slow banger "Highest In The Room," which I would say defines the vibe of 2019. Personally I'm ready for another album but we will have to see what Travis has planned for us next year,
3. Lizzo - Truth Hurts
Lizzo really was the breakout star of hip-hop in 2019. Even though folks like myself have known for a while that she was going to blow, she really took the world by storm this year and her smash hit "Truth Hurts" had a whole lot to do with that. You can't turn on the TV or the radio without hearing it!
4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Crime Pays
Freddie and Madlib continue to carry the torch for real hip-hop heads everywhere as they once again put out a strong candidate for album of the year with Bandana. The track "Crime Pays" was an obvious stand out from the minute I heard it and it deserves a spot on this list. I could honestly put the entire album on here.
Bonus: Freddie Gibbs Giannis (feat. Anderson .Paak)
5. Juice WRLD - Hear Me Calling
2019 was a fairly tragic year for hip-hop as well as we lost several very influential artists that made their marks on our musical landscape in the short time they were with us. Juice WRLD was one of those talents who I maybe didn't always appreciate at first but after seeing him live I knew that fans wouldn't be able to hold themselves back from his unique sound and energy. "Hear Me Calling" found its ways on to may of my playlists this year. The song has a vibe that puts me at ease and it's just a shame Juice wont be around to follow it up.
6. Denzel Curry - Ricky
Denzel Curry has to be my 2019 MVP of hip-hop. Everything the guy does seems to just blow up and there really is no one doing it like him in the game right now. "Ricky" was just one of the standout tracks on Denzel's album ZUU, which blended grimy beats over his energetic flows was everything his fans wanted and then some. I can't wait to see what he has planned for us next year.
7. YBN Cordae - Have Mercy
I knew after I heard this song that I might have been sleeping on YBN Cordae. His crew isn't really known for real rap or deep lyrical content but there was something about his flow that I just couldn't get out of my head. "Have Mercy" is the perfect combo of easy to digest lyrics and a catchy slow beat that just bangs on. I'm glad I gave the kid another chance because his album "The Lost Boy" was one of my favorites of 2019.
8. Nipsey Hussle - Racks In The Middle (feat. Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy)
The west coast lost a true legend when Nipsey Hussle was murdered in Los Angeles earlier this year. Nipsey was much more than a rapper to his community and it's a shame that this would happen right as the artists was really starting to hit that next level of fame and notoriety just before his untimely passing. "Racks In The Middle" was one of the biggest songs of the year. I still hear it played almost daily here in LA and if anything, the spirit of Nipsey will live on through this song thanks to the Roddy Rich & Hit-Boy assisted banger. Rest in Peace Nipsey.
9. Benny The Butcher - 18 Wheeler (Feat. Pusha T)
Personally, this is my song of the year. Benny The Butcher and his entire Griselda family is making the style of rap that I cannot get enough of. It's grimy, cold, and feels like it was ripped off the cold streets of upstate New York. Put two slow-blow-flows like Benny and Pusha on the same song and you get something close to perfection.
10. James Blake- Mile High (feat. Travis Scott and Metro Boomin)
When this track first appeared as part of James Blake's Assume Form, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What we ended up getting was one of my favorite songs of the year as James, Travis and Metro Boomin came together to create an almost emotional journey through the spacey track. It just hits in all the right places and deserves a spot on this list for sure.
11. Danny Brown - Dirty Laundry
"Dirty Laundry" was the first single from Danny Brown's latest album uknowwhatimsayin, which dropped a few months back to stellar reviews. The song was a an instant hit for thirsty fans racking up millions of streams and plays across all platforms online. With a new TV show, Danny is at the top of his game and should have a big year in store for us in 2020.
12. Lil Tecca - Ransom
While this song doesn't really have many lyrics, Lil Tecca was one of 2019's true viral sensations when he dropped his mega hit "Ransom." The young rapper used the song as a creative way to let the world know that he would be doing things on his own terms going forward.
Even though he raps about drugs and guns on the track, Tecca has been very upfront that he's just making music and not trying to be anything he's not. Regardless of what you think about him, the song is fire and continues to blow up almost a year after it was dropped.
13. Gang Starr - Family and Loyalty (feat. J. Cole)
I was a little worried when Premo announced that he would be bringing a final Gang Starr project to light after all these years but I really had nothing to worry about. "Family and Loyalty" feels like it's from a better time. Hearing Guru on a new song gives me chills and having J. Cole bring these legends up to the present speed was a wise move. Also Premo's beat here has to be top 3 on the year easy.
14. SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott - Power Is Power
Whoever put these three together on the same song was a genius as "Power is Power" was one of the biggest songs of the year. The track featured on the Game of Thrones soundtrack and on at least one national television commercial. Big Song, Big Talent, Big Things poppin for everyone involved.
15. Da Baby - Suge
I couldn't leave DaBaby off this list as he probably had one of the biggest years in all of hip-hop. While I personally think his track "Baby" feat Lil Baby was his best offering this year, the people have spoken for "Suge" which was one of the most streamed hip-hop songs in 2019. Hip-Hop is always changing and evolving and I expect to see DaBaby's style pick up even more steam next year as he continues to to get even bigger.