Ambrosia For Heads’ Top 15 Hip-Hop Albums Of 2019 List

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It is that season when “best of” lists abound and, in a year that featured some remarkable music from artists across the landscape, 2019 kept Hip-Hop fans on the edge of our seats. There were reunions, surprise collaborations, and show-stopping debut albums. The year also featured innovative label compilations, unexpected additions to highly-respected discographies, and impressive comebacks. Now is an excellent time to reflect on the best ones, as decided by the team at Ambrosia For Heads.

Stay tuned for the annual bracket-style tournament to decide 2019’s top LP next month. However, in the meantime, celebrate one incredible year for Hip-Hop with Ambrosia For Heads‘ Best Albums Of 2019 (listed alphabetically by artist):

Add-2 – Jim Crow The Musical

Chicago, Illinois’ own Add-2 (also known as Andre Daniels) followed up his acclaimed 2015 Jamla Records release Prey For The Poor with a conceptual, timely, and socially-conscious effort, Jim Crow The Musical. The 19-track, 57-minute audio adventure (narrated by A Different World actor Kadeem Hardison) takes listeners up-and-down the Mason-Dixon line with songs that touch on subjects relevant to Black folks in America. The veteran lyricist opens in such a theatrical way, not unlike Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, where listeners have no choice but to lock yourself in and get ready for the ride. Jim Crow offers life lessons that cover topics such as self-determination (“Git Your Hand Out My Pocket”), Black Love (“Jump The Broom,”), how to maneuver the streets (“Young Ni**as”), and staying alive (“Hashtag”). These songs are sprinkled with references to Hip-Hop, literature, and modern pop culture. In an age where we’re reading stories — almost in real-time — about people of color being murdered by the police, vilified in the media, and condemned by politicians, Add-2’s contribution serves as a balm on an open wound. – Kevito Clark

Released: November 25, 2019
Label: Add-2 Productions
Guests: Koku Gonza, Accapella, Andy Allo, Brittney Carter, Oliv Blu, Sam Trump, K. Love, Elisa Latrice, YAW, Point Of Realization, Natalie Oliveri, Kadeem Hardison, Phonte, Sy Messi, Emilio Al Sharief, Cam Be, Calvin Carter, Jeff Gibbs, Johndavid Provitt, Arrington Porter, John Renaissance, Kenneth Leftridge, Teo The Artist, DJ Scend, Jon Content, T.L. Williams, Jacob Thomas
Producers: Jadah Arrington, Sirplus, IIL Meel, Jeff Miller, Neak, Disrupt, Slot-A, INTL MC, J-Rell

 

Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met

Seasoning his craft for over two decades, Benny The Butcher’s The Plugs I Met is the grand culmination of a life spent balancing Hip-Hop and hustling. A veteran in both fields, the 30-something MC from Buffalo, New York has perfected the art of chronicling street-inspired tales throughout his career. No effort of his more vivid and expertly rendered than The Plugs I Met, the Griselda warhorse (and Black Soprano Family founder) is at his storytelling peak alongside some of Rap’s finest street couriers. Highlighting those choice pairings is the second track, “Crowns For Kings,” in which Black Thought accompanies Benny over ’70s Memphis Soul. In his first verse of the project, Benny delivers I’m fresh out of luck, I’m here ‘cause I deserve to be, ni**a / I sat back, a vet, and watched beginners winnin’ my belts / Burned my bridges, came back a good swimmer like Phelps.That robust self-assurance is a common theme throughout, as B.E.N.N.Y. has grasped his paid dues and demands his seat at the throne. The coveted kingship is aided even more so by enlisting street and Rap royalty in Jadakiss and Pusha-T for two separate brawny tracks. The LP benefits from a no-nonsense approach, carrying very limited choruses and focusing on tenacious wordplay. While many albums laced with unlawful subject matter can toe the line of hype, there are certainly no fabricated characters within Benny’s memoirs. That contrast of credibility is emphasized on “Took The Money To The Plug’s House,” where Benny states I damn near don’t pray no more / Only to an eighth of raw / A fork and the mayo jar / Numbers, you inflated yours, you got a created buzz / My flow got the fans rethinking who the greatest was.True to Benny and the album’s theme of keeping all operations tight and fruitful, The Plugs I Met packs in as much lyrical weight that seven tracks can possibly hold, and yields 25 minutes of the most potent musical dope that 2019 offered up. – Michael Blair

Released: June 21, 2019
Label: Black Soprano Family, LLC
Guests: Black Thought, Pusha-T, Jadakiss, Conway The Machine, 38 Spesh, RJ Payne
Producers: Alchemist, Daringer, Beat Butcha, DJ Shay


Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. IZ HERE

Big K.R.I.T. began this decade with a mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, that stood as tall as that era’s best albums. To close out the 2010s, Krizzle finished strong with an LP that traces his growth and evolution in K.R.I.T. IZ HERE. In both cases, King Remembered In Time leads the Rap pack. Rather than taking full control of the production and recording process on this go-round, the acclaimed double-threat focused almost solely on songwriting. Standout track “M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I.” is a dedication to his home state by acknowledging his upbringing while showing the enduring beauty of southern simplicity. Featuring one of his inspirations, Lil Wayne, “Addiction” looks at lust and love in the same light as lean and other vices. “Prove It,” a reunion with J. Cole, shows two cult-lauded MC/producers who have become Hip-Hop front-runners through staying real with their fans. Balancing Funk, Hip-Hop, and old Soul, K.R.I.T IZ Here is about a man that can go to many different places when it comes to music. While handing production duties to Rico Love, DJ Khalil, and former Timbaland partner Danja, 2017’s “Best Album” winner uses his license to experiment with feel. However, he never loses sight of the sound that’s made him meaningful to so many, evident in opener “K.R.I.T. Here” and “Believe.”  K.R.I.T. began the decade as an underdog from the third coast underground. He enters 2020 with his own record company, a commitment to growth, and that same DIY spirit on an exponentially bigger stage. – Ms. Benzo

Released: July 12, 2019
Label: Multi Alumni/BMG
Guests: Lil Wayne, Saweetie, Baby Rose, J.Cole, Yella Beezy, Rico Love
Producers: (self), DJ Camper, Danja, Rico Love, Tariq Beats, Don Coleone, WOLFE de MCHLS, DJ Khalil, Musik Major X, Reuel Ethan, Luke Witherspoon, M Millz, Qkaution, Grant Strumwasser, Mike Hector, Wallis Lane, Ervin Garcia, Nabeyin, Uni, Rolynne Anderson, Tae Beast, Mark Byrd


Boogie – Everythings For Sale

With three years of mixtape momentum, 30-year old Interscope Records MC/singer Boogie was added to Eminem’s Shady Records roster in late 2017. For what might seem like an exciting and joyous chapter of Boogie’s career, Everythings For Saleseems coated in quite the opposite emotion. Reflective and candid since 2014’s Thirst 48, Boogie’s scuffles with his own demons are amplified on the LP, as his popularity and access to temptation inflate. Largely centered around a turbulent relationship, the Compton-by-way-of-Long Beach native created a diary, assessing his infidelity (“Silent Ride”/“Time”/“Rainy Days”) and absence of self-worth (“Lolsmh”/“No Warning”) from beginning to end. Clearly bothered by the same limelight that has brought him affluence (“Soho”), Boogie’s most endearing quality is his self-awareness, as he remains deeply in-tune with his own toxic tendencies (“Self Destruction”) throughout. Sincerity and blunt honesty prevail in the listen that also deals with fatherhood and failure. From a musical standpoint, there is no doubt that the versatile vocalist will flourish, as his beat selection, peer-backing, and lyrical cleverness are exceptional and carry no expiration. With Everything’s For Sale as confirmation, the sobering yet refreshingly truthful story of Boogie will unfold right alongside his inevitably prosperous career ahead. – Michael Blair
Released: January 25, 2019
Label: Shady/Interscope Records
Guests: Eminem, J.I.D., 6LACK, Snoah Aalegra, Shae Universe, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Producers: Keyel, Ryan Feinberg, Dart, Ashton McCreight, C. Ballin, Chris McCleaney, Fresh Ayr, James Teej, Mario Luciano, Nabeyin, Symbolyc One, Streetrunner


Dreamville – Revenge Of The Dreamers III

When the Dreamville squad invited over 300 producers and rappers to attend a 10-day recording session at Tree Sounds Studios in the Atlanta suburbs, it seemed like a Hip-Hop fantasy camp–especially to kick-off 2019. Revenge Of The Dreamers III promised to be a time capsule that showed off the label roster—founder J. Cole, Ari Lennox, Bas, Cozz, Omen, Lute, J.I.D., and EarthGang. That had been the case with the previous two volumes. However, this team, it mixed the ‘Ville talents with a cross-section of hand-picked artists and producers. DaBaby, Smino, Maxo Kream, Key!, Vince Staples, Guapdad 4000, T.I., Young Nudy, Buddy, and so many others joined the party, which eventually yielded to just 18 tracks. The end result is a diverse compilation album deserving of critical praise and multiple playbacks. “Under The Sun” sees three North Carolina natives, J. Cole, Lute, and DaBaby, spit over a Soul-soaked beat and between an uncredited hook by Kendrick Lamar. “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” pairs the silky-spitter J.I.D. with T.I. for a clever and smooth interpolation of JAY-Z’s “Girls, Girls Girls.” “Sacrifices” gives EARTHGANG, Cole, and Smino a warm and beautifully sweet song that shares an equal range of excitement and bellowing vocals. “Down Bad” sees Bas, J.I.D., and Cole flexing on the competition to a beat that feels like a 2019 take on Bomb Squad production. If label compilations felt like a thing of the 1990s, J. Cole and Dreamville reinvigorated them with creativity, chemistry, and a campaign to crown Hip-Hop’s new reigning imprint – Kevin Cortez

Released: July 5, 2019
Label: Dreamville/Interscope
Guests: J. Cole, DaBaby, Lute, Vince Staples, Young Nudy, Bas, EarthGang (Olu & Wow Gr8), J.I.D., Childish Major, Cozz, Reason, Zoink Gang, Key!, Maxo Kream, Yung Baby Tate, Guapdad 4000, Buddy, Omen, Mez, DaVionne, Ari Lennox, Baby Rose, T.I., Reese Laflare, Jace, Smokepurpp, Ski Mask the Slump God, Smino, Ty Dolla $ign, Dreezy, Mereba, Deante’ Hitchcock, St. Beauty, Saba
Producers: J. Cole, Ibrahim Hamad, Archer, Bink!, Bizness Boi, Cam O’bi, ChaseTheMoney, Christo, ClickNPress, Cubeatz, Deputy, E. Dan, Elite, Galimatias, Groove Chambers, Henny Tha Bizness, Hollywood JB, Jay Kurzweil, Kenneth Harris, Kal Banx, Keanu Beats, Lil’A, Meez, MD Beatz, Nice Rec, Nxstalgic, OZ, Pluss, Pyrex, Ron Gilmore, Sensei Bueno, T-Minus


EARTHGANG – Mirrorland

Inspired by Quincy Jones’ score for the Broadway musical, The Wiz, EARTHGANG ushered in their first full-length LP, Mirrorland. The record as a whole captures the ear with a whimsical sound and spirit as felt on cuts including, “LaLa Challenge,” while tracks like the T-Pain-assisted, “Tequila,” transport listeners to other ends of the world. Throughout, Johnny Venus and Doctor Dot’s skills behind the microphone fly uniquely far beyond the art of rapping, elevating their deft musicianship with innovative inflections, crooning, cadences, and tone to harmoniously captivate their expanding audience. In conjunction with the MCs’ inventive stretches in sound, the Atlanta, Georgia artists’ storytelling abilities are equally as potent from beginning to end. The dark and crawling emotion of their single, “Swivel,” lyrically captures the rappers’ past pain and desperation, while singles like the Young Thug-assisted, “Proud Of U,” juxtapose one another with tales bubbling in bliss and vivacity. Following the success of Spillage Village band-mate (and Dreamville label-mate)  J.I.D., it is now time for Dot and Johnny to get all the props. Overall, EARTHGANG’s inauguration into the game’s upper echelon is reflective of their passion for their craft and willingness to explore uncharted musical waters. – Jacob “34” Koertge

Released: September 6, 2019
Label: Dreamville / Interscope / Spillage Village
Guests: Young Thug, T-Pain, Kehlani, Arin Ray, Malik
Producers: Lido, Olu, J. Cole, VOU, Edsclusive, Childish Major, Big Korey, Ant Chambers, Natra Average, Bink!, DJ Dahi, Ron Gilmore, Elite, Pete Nebula, Groove, Christo, Elite, Brian Malik Baptiste, DJ Khalil, Rahki, D.K. the Punisher, Dre


Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s latest entry in their collaboration trilogy, Bandana, plays out like a fine piece of cinema. Five years removed from Piñata, the “Freddie Caine” character is a reformed drug kingpin, at least at the surface. In a Hip-Hop adaptation of Carlito’s Way, he wants the straight path, but the underbelly of his past won’t let him chill. Although a comedic portrayal in the LP’s music videos, the character’s lyrics are reinforced with Gibbs’ uncompromising stories from his life outside of Rap. He deploys the tales using various flows, sometimes jack-hammering his words into the sample-based beats. Madlib, whose soulful production (reportedly made on an iPad) creates a visual mood for Freddie Gibbs to showcase his criminal escapades within. As always, Otis Jackson, Jr. walks the line between film score and Hip-Hop through his own controlled chaos. Gibbs paints a picture of the success he’s achieved through an underworld of drugs on “Crime Pays.” He spits candidly of a secret love affair with “Practice.” The MC also reflects on how murder affects a person’s sanity on “Fake Names.” The features may be even more exciting, from Anderson .Paak’s powerful impression on “Giannis,” to stellar appearances from Killer Mike, Pusha-T, Yasiin Bey, and Black Thought on “Palmolive” and “Education,” divided respectively. Packaged with skits, obscure Soul samples, and flawless transitions, Bandana feels at home with other recent Gangsta Rap releases, yet unconcerned with competition of any kind. – Kevin Cortez

Released: June 28, 2019
Label: Keep Cool/RCA Records
Guests: Killer Mike, Pusha-T, Anderson .Paak, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought
Producers: self


Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet

Over 15 years since the iconic duo’s last release, and nearly a decade since the passing of Guru, Gang Starr resurfaced with One Of The Best Yet, the seventh full-length album in the pair’s historical 30-year campaign. While posthumous releases can oftentimes bear a stale and disconnected undercurrent, DJ Premier ingrained the spirit of Guru so tightly within this effort’s fabric. It is as if Baldhead Slick was still in the flesh, blessing the mic. Entirely produced by the legendary Preemo, it took him (along with Guru’s estate) sparring with Solar (a later collaborator of Guru’s) to obtain the rights to unreleased vocals that eventually became the foundation of this project. Part philosopher and part lyrical executioner, the unearthing of Guru’s buried words act as a grand testimony to his technique and impact transcending the test of time. These are evident in video singles such as “Family And Loyalty” and “Bad Name.” One Of The Best Yet also serves as a refreshing marriage between the then and now, with the elected features of contemporaries (Q-Tip), family members (Jeru, Group Home, M.O.P., etc.)  and modern heavyweights (J. Cole, Royce, Talib) seamlessly blending distant eras. While closure wasn’t necessary in regards to Gang Starr’s standing within the history books, One Of The Best Yet does allow for a warmer and more triumphant conclusion to an otherwise magnificent tale of Hip-Hop supremacy. As Preemo’s renowned cuts have suggested throughout the duo’s existence, we’ve been “rocking with the best” for three decades now. What a true gift it is for the Hip-Hop faithful to have the pleasure of doing so with new Gang Starr, at least one more time. – Michael Blair

Released: November 1, 2019
Label: Gang Starr Enterprises/To The Top
Guests: Q-Tip, M.O.P. (Billy Danze & Lil Fame), Royce 5’9, Jeru The Damaja, J. Cole, Talib Kweli, Ne-Yo, Nitty Scott, Big Shug, Freddie Foxxx, Group Home (Lil Dap & Melachi The Nutcracker)
Producer: self


Griselda – WWCD (What Would ‘Chine Do)

When Eminem signed Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher to Shady Records two and half years ago, the label collective was already at the forefront of a grimy, hustle-Rap renaissance. However, in recent years, highly-impressive solo work from Wes’, Conway, and Benny propelled them to the forefront of who’s next in Hip-Hop. WWCD, named after their deceased relative and rapper, Machine Gun Black, honors tradition while taking things to the highest level yet. This 13-track offering is a distillation of everything fans love about Griselda: savvy deliveries, hard Daringer beats (alongside Beat Butcha), and raw street content. Despite some of the most coveted backing in Rap, the album sounds like it could’ve been any number of the Griselda releases in the 2010s. However, it finds three Buffalo, New York MCs at the top of their game. Debut single “DR. BIRD’S” is trademark GxFR, as is “Moselle.” For those paying attention, this brick-by-brick movement dates back more than a decade. However, just like Eminem 20 years ago, Griselda represents a new underground dream come true. Without compromise, this brand of Rap carries the torch for so many Hip-Hop luminaries. – Jordan Commandeur

Released: November 29, 2019
Label: Griselda/Shady Records
Guests: Novel, Tiona Denice, Keisha Plum, 50 Cent, AA Rashid, Eminem, Raekwon
Producer: Daringer, Beat Butcha

Little Brother – May The Lord Watch

After more than eight years of separation and giving fans less than 24 hours of notice, Little Brother reunited this year and released one of the best albums in its touted catalog. May The Lord Watch sees Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh reviving the L.B. brand with conscious bars that acknowledge the past, while still keeping tensions comfortably (and maturely) in the rearview. With “Right On Time,” both artists describe the stresses and sacrifices of trying to make it in music. Pooh recalls his time as an Uber driver to supplement his lulls in his indie entertainment career, while Phonte vents on the pressures he faces to balance being a great artist and family provider at once. Video single “Black Magic (Make It Better),” Phonte and Pooh celebrate the power of their skin and L.B.’s all-time knack to be authentic rappers and human beings. Interlaced between each bouncy, snappy beat provided by producers like Nottz, Khrysis, and Focus… are hilarious skits that honor their 2005 classic album, The Minstrel Show. Hip-Hop has changed in 15 years, and so has Little Brother. However, May The Lord Watch finds the thread between then and now. Unconcerned with modernization, but never pandering for nostalgia, Little Brother has created a stellar comeback record full of the humor, self-awareness, and sincerity. This duo seamlessly fills the void they left behind with rhymes, beats, and life. – Kevin Cortez

Released: August 20, 2019
Label: Imagination Nation/For Members Only/EMPIRE
Guests: Peter Rosenberg, Questlove, Darien Brockington, Madison McFerrin, Tamisha Waden, Joe Scudda, Carlitta Durand, Blakk Soul, BeMyFiasco
Producers: Khrysis, Nottz, Focus…, Black Milk, King Michael Coy, Blaaq Gold

Murs, 9th Wonder And The Soul Council – The Iliad Is Dead And The Odyssey Is Over

Ever since he first burst on the scene with the Living Legends in the mid-1990s, Murs has stood out from the pack. The Los Angeles, California journeyman has made an impact with a plethora of labels and crews, morphing from underground road warrior to an MC hiring Snoop Dogg and DJ Quik to work on major label LPs. However, in a sprawling discography that includes side-projects like Felt, The White Mandingos, MURSDAY!, Murray’s music with 9th Wonder has been some of the best and most definitive of his career. The Iliad Is Dead And The Odyssey Is Over is buoyed by powerful and poignant songs like “My Hero,” which details the harsh reality of a sex worker and “Tony Robbins Pocketbook,” a song that is equal parts self-affirmation and invaluable advice. Other highlights include Murs’ candid relationship songs “Give Me A Reason,” “F*ck Them,” and a heavy cut that tells a cautionary tale about an extra-marital affair, “SIN.” Although Murs and 9th have said it before, this is rumored to be the last stop on the line. After approximately 75 songs together, Murs and 9th made plenty of great songs in the 15 years since Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition. However, the two albums that bookend this cross-country relationship may be the finest. – Jordan Commandeur

Released: August 9, 2019
Label: Murs 316/Jamla/EMPIRE
Guests: GQ, Heather Victoria, Pookie Blow, Rapsody, Reuben Vincent, $ilkMoney, URLACOJO
Producers: self, The Soul Council (Kash, Khrysis, Eric G, Nottz), JDEAFBEATS

Rapsody – Eve

It’s been said many times before, but this year was a tremendous year for women in Hip-Hop. From Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” campaign to Queen Latifah’s Harvard University Award and Missy Elliott’s Video Vanguard performance, women in Rap made history on and off the charts. Rapsody placed herself firmly at the head of the table with the August release of Evethe follow-up to her Grammy-nominated 2017 album Laila’s Wisdom. The Snow Hill, North Carolina MC is a veteran who got her start rapping as a member of Kooley High back in the 2000s, but for many Eve signaled her overdue acknowledgment as one of the best rappers out today, period. She did it with a serious devotion to Black femininity, choosing to title each track after her heroes, all of whom are women of color. She celebrates financial independence alongside Leikeli47 on “Oprah,” honors her Hip-Hop forefathers and foremothers with GZA and D’Angelo on “Ibtihaj,” and triumphs the women who’ve helped her along the way with Queen Latifah on “Hatshepsut.” Together with her Jamla family including 9th Wonder and Khrysis, Rapsody released a monumental piece of work that coupled discussions about undeniable lyrical talent with love letters to Black women, reminding us with the album’s title that we all come from the same, original Black woman hundreds of thousands of of years ago. And for those who may have missed the unfettered bars she spits all over the album, it only takes one spin of the opening track, “Nina,” to be reminded that Rapsody isn’t hiding behind a high-brow concept album nor satisfied with being known only as the best female rapper: “Know I’m a God MC, ’cause ni**a, I made the devil wait.” – Amanda Mester

Released: August 23, 2019
Label: Jamla/Roc Nation
Guests: Leikeli47, K. Roosevelt, GZA, D’Angelo, Mereba, Elle Varner, SiR, J.I.D, Queen Latifah, J. Cole, PJ Morton
Producers: The Soul Council, (9th Wonder, Eric G, Khrysis & Nottz), Mark Byrd


Skyzoo & Pete Rock – Retropolitan

Together with legendary producer Pete Rock, Brooklyn, New York MC Skyzoo penned a tribute to the New York City of yesterday and tomorrow in Retropolitan. Featuring verses from Styles P, Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher and Elzhi, the September release arrived just in time for cooler weather. The collaborative effort is a postcard from Hip-Hop’s birthplace, filled with S-K-Y’s reflections of life on his old block and the ways in which the city is changing. Pete and Sky’ set the conceptual tone with the artwork for the album’s lead single, “It’s All Good,” which paired a mural honoring a Black victim of police violence from decades ago with a foreground of NY’s modern-day bike-share system. Throughout the 12-track Mello Music Group release, Sky; recalls the golden age of coming up in a time when “my whole block was in Penny jerseys” while lamenting the stranglehold of gentrification that led him to see “spots get turned to croissant sellers.” On “Truck Jewels,” Heads were treated to a rare gem in the form of a Rap verse from P.R. which includes the quote-worthy “Me fallin’ off is like a Muslim at a luau.” The First Generation Rich founder carries the overwhelming majority of the album’s lyrical content on his own two (and, because he’s Skyzoo, he does it breathlessly). But on “Eastern Conference All-Stars,” a truly insane amount of lyricism packed itself into fewer than six minutes, with Conway, Benny, Westside Gunn and Elzhi joining Sky for 2019’s posse cut of the year. – Amanda Mester

Released: September 20, 2019
Label: Mello Music Group
Guests: Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Elzhi, Styles P, Raheem DeVaughn
Producers: self

Smif-N-Wessun – The All

They said, ‘Take ’em back to Dah Shinin’,’ but they don’t know the shape that my mind’s in,” Tek says under oath on “Testify,” a nod to Smif-N-Wessun’s influential 1995 debut. “The game’s different and my man’s gone,” he continues, noting the passing of fellow Boot Camp Clik member Sean Price. Whether intentional or a matter of circumstance, on an album characterized by progression, it’s almost appropriate that The All doesn’t feature a posthumous verse from S-N-W’s fallen protégé. Instead, Tek and Steele pay their respects in remembrance of their lost brother personally, referencing him or his former group Heltah Skeltah at least half a dozen times throughout the concise 12-track LP. With 9th Wonder and his Soul Council team at the helm, providing dynamic, multi-layered beats rooted by hard-hitting drums, the seasoned “rappin’ dudes” guide listeners on a biographical journey through their Bucktown upbringing and remind heads of their many contributions to the culture. The Brooklyn O.G.’s do so without sounding bitter, self-indulgent, or out of touch. Songs like “Dreamland” featuring Raekwon and Jamla songstress Heather Victoria or “Letter 4 U,” on which they pen vulnerable verses for various loved ones, offer glimpses into their personal lives. Others are more self-congratulatory, such as the album’s intro, the aforementioned “Testify” and “One Time” — which details the duo’s come-up using their own song titles, as well as their crew’s, as lyrical inspiration. About to celebrate the 25th birthday of their celebrated debut, Tek and General Steele give fans their best album since—one of maturity, evolution, and a deeper bond of brotherhood. – El Scribes

Released: February 22, 2019
Label: Bucktown USA Entertainment/Duck Down Music
Guests: Raekwon, Rick Ross, Rapsody, Musiq SoulChild, GQ, Heather Victoria, SmittytheCAINSMITH
Producers: The Soul Council (9th Wonder, Khrysis, Nottz, E. Jones, Eric G)

YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy

Like Lil Pump, Rich The Kid, JuiceWRLD, Lizzo, Nav and others, YBN Cordae is one of the relative newcomers who made a big splash on the 2019 charts. With his debut album, July’s The Lost Boy, the North Carolina and Maryland-reared rapper cracked the Top 15 with the support of guest appearances from Pusha-T, Meek Mill, Anderson .Paak and Chance The Rapper, plus a J. Cole production credit. The 21-year-old’s breakout success showcased his lyricism and his singing abilities, but also the wise-beyond-his-years approach to family, love, loss, success, death, addiction and (as the album’s title suggests) self-examination. Counting Jedi Mind Tricks and Black Star as inspirations, Cordae opted to feature the work of Gil Scott-Heron, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack on his duet with Chance, “Bad Idea,” another example of the young talent’s appreciation for those who laid the foundation. While promoting the acclaimed album since the March release of lead video single “Have Mercy,” Cordae amassed plenty of recognition as a freestyle rapper, too. While visiting Funkmaster Flex at HOT 97, he delivered three exceptional verses in which he touts reading The Qur’an at 12, toasts JAY-Z and admonishes rappers who rap for rapping’s sake. In October, he released one of 2019’s most memorable music videos, for his Paak-assisted “RNP (Rich N*gga Problems).” Again, Cordae uses Black icons who came before him as inspiration, paying homage to Shaft and Superfly. Ultimately, what makes The Lost Boy one of the best albums of 2019 is not that a young MC made an album that older generations of Hip-Hop Heads can enjoy, but rather that he reminded us we’re never too old to rediscover ourselves. – Amanda Mester

Released: July 26, 2019
Label: [email protected]/Atlantic Records
Guests: Chance The Rapper, Pusha-T, Anderson .Paak, Meek Mill, Ty Dolla $ign, Arin Ray
Producers: self, Cardiak, J. Cole, Kid Culture, Bongo ByTheWay, Terrace Martin, illuid.haller, Flippa, Nils, CoopTheTruth, Smoko Ono, Take a Daytrip, CoopTheTruth, Russ Chell, Bazexx, Slim, G Koop, Maneesh, Rasool

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