Who Had The Best Rap Album Of 2019 (Championship Round): Freddie Gibbs & Madlib vs. Gang Starr

Over the last couple of years, Ambrosia For Heads has asked our readers to help us determine the Best Rap Album for 2017 and 2018, respectively. In looking at the top music of 2019, we believe that instead of letting the Grammy Awards—a committee who does not know anything about the culture—tell us what the “Best Rap Album” is, Hip-Hop Heads should raise their voices at the exact same time.

We have chosen 15 albums that we think represented the best Hip-Hop of 2019. Inevitably, we left off some LPs that you believe should be included, so, we held a wildcard round (with a write-in option) where readers picked the album they feel most deserved a spot on the list.

The bracket-style competition among the final 16 albums has begun. Every day between January 9 and January 24, albums will face off against one another. The tournament winner will be announced Sunday, January 26, the same night as the 2020 Grammy Awards. In the case of each battle, voting will close after 24 hours. The competition will go from the Sweet 16 to the Elite 8 to the Final 4 to the Championship Finals, with one album emerging as the victor.

The championship battle is between Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Bandana and Gang Starr’s One Of The Best Yet. “MadGibbs” has defeated YBN Cordae, Little Brother, and Benny The Butcher to make it to this final level. Meanwhile, DJ Premier and Guru’s first album in over 15 years bested Murs, 9th Wonder, and The Soul Council’s record, Skyzoo & Pete Rock’s LP, and Rapsody to get to this stage. Now, only one can take the crown. Voting ends Sunday at noon EST. This battle ballot is on AFH‘s Facebook page in the video. Make sure your opinion is heard. Vote there to be counted. UPDATE: Madlib & Freddie Gibbs’ Bandana has defeated Gang Starr’s One Of The Best Yet, 55% to 45%.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

(Defeated Benny The Butcher’s The Plugs I Met 66% to 34% in Round 3)
(Defeated Little Brother’s May The Lord Watch 60% to 40% in Round 2)
(Defeated YBN Cordae’s The Lost Boy 90% to 10% in Round 1)

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
(Defeated Rapsody’s Eve 63% to 37% in Round 3)
(Defeated Skyzoo & Pete Rock’s Retropolitan 61% to 39% in Round 2)
(Defeated Murs, 9th Wonder & The Soul Council’s The Iliad Is Dead… 87% to 13% in Round 1)

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

So which is better?

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

Add-2 – Jim Crow The Musical
Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met
Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. IZ HERE
Boogie – Everythings For Sale
Dreamville – Revenge Of The Dreamers III
EarthGang – Mirrorland
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet
Griselda – WWCD
Little Brother – May The Lord Watch
Murs, 9th Wonder & The Soul Council – The Iliad Is Dead And The Odyssey Is Over
Rapsody – Eve
Skyzoo & Pete Rock – Retropolitan
Smif-n-Wessun – The All
YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy