Sunday, February 02, 2020

Best Of 2019: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae

For my listening, the year in hip hop was so dominated by Bandana by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib (#5 of The Top 25) and Jesus Is King by Kanye West (#24/25) that I was tempted to think it was a down year for the genre as far as quantity goes. But then I looked back and found a wealth of great records. Beyond Solange’s wonderful When I Get Home (#25/25), there were just a few RnB albums that reached for greatness. As for reggae, there was nothing that made it into the Top 25 but there were some great releases that should not be overlooked. Press play on this playlist or below and read on for all the scoop. 

Hip Hop

G&D - Black Love & War The “G” is Georgia Ann Muldrow and the “D” is Declaime, AKA her partner, Dudley Perkins. Their talents as producers and vocalists blend marvelously, with Muldrow either soulful or imperious (a touch of Grace Jones) and Declaime’s thick and gritty flow the perfect contrast. The production veers from earthy jazz to psychedelic soul, while still remaining thoroughly contemporary and 100 percent hip hop. A few lyrical infelicities and a couple of snoozy cuts kept this out of the Top 25 - but it was close. 

Tyler The Creator - Igor I’ve had a hands off approach to the Odd Future crew (except Frank Ocean) since inception, finding them - especially Tyler - unable to back up their bravado with anything I wanted to listen to more than once. But word that this album was different began creeping into my consciousness shortly after it came out and when my daughter insisted I listen I took a chance. And it’s fantastic - a self-produced and nearly seamless blend of singing, rapping, electronics, and emotional depth far beyond most hip hop. That latter point is based mostly on how the record makes me feel as opposed to an in-depth look at the lyrics. But love and loss are front and center, with some of the crestfallen bitterness explored by Andre 3000 on The Love Below. Also, as proven by his incendiary performance on the Grammys (all hail Charlie Wilson), Tyler has tapped into his creativity and talent in all dimensions. Further big things remain to come for this complex and nuanced artist. 

Danny Brown - Uknowhatimsayin While still not at the level of 2016’s pitch black Atrocity Exhibition, there’s still plenty of the outrageousness and wide-ranging musical exploration he’s led us to expect over the years. “Reliable” is not a word I would have expected to use for Danny Brown, but he’s become someone you can count on - maybe next time he’ll thrill us again, like Killer Mike does on his verse for 3 Tearz.  

Earl Sweatshirt - Feet Of Clay Rather than wondering when Sweatshirt is going to break out of what seems to be a numbed state of being, that seems to have become sort of the point. Along with smudged textures and foggy beats, whether self-produced, as most of this EP, or when Alchemist steps behind the boards for a track. If this is him coasting, still quite fascinating. 

Pusha T - Coming Home (feat. Lauryn Hill) With the world still reeling from Daytona (#3/25, 2018), perhaps it's wise that Pusha-T didn't put out an album in 2019. But he did put out two great singles and guest spots on a number of tracks. Inspired by an uplifting beat from Kanye West, et al, Coming Home is a bittersweet but still gritty track that rides the line of speaking some truth about mass incarceration while still offering hope to those affected by this national tragedy. Not coke rap! Lauryn Hill's turn is beautiful, too, much more than a mere hook. We also got Sociopath, with its great mid-song "charcuterie" skit, and a bit of catnip for Succession fans. Hear all of his work from last year in this handy playlist.


H.E.R. - I Used To Know Her Now that Gabriella Wilson is a certified Grammy fixture, inspiring awe with both her melodic inventiveness and ripping guitar solos, hopefully people are finding their way to this album, which displays more versatility than you might expect from those televised extravaganzas. And if the record could have used a little judicious pruning, consider the fact that Wilson is only 22 - she has plenty of time to figure out when less can equal more.

Burna Boy - African Giant Maybe I was supposed to put this on the Best Of 2019: Jazz, Latin, and Global, but I willed it into this category because I wish more contemporary R&B was this suave, smooth, and funky. His Nigerian roots would show through in any genre, however, and it's wonderful to see him break through outside his native land after nearly a decade of recording. 

SiR - Chasing Summer This is the longest and most clearly defined release from Top Dawg Entertainment's resident crooner. Even with starry guests like Kendrick Lamar, it's an intimate and spare affair, fully modern but with enough touches of classic soul to ground it firmly in tradition.

Anderson .Paak - Ventura It seems almost cruel to expect more from someone so talented, who consistently makes albums that go down so easily it would be easy to downplay the art and craft that go into them. But I can't help thinking that .Paak has been grooving on past glories with each album since the mind-blowing Malibu (#19/20 in 2016). Still, there is much pleasure to be had on Ventura - ignore it at your peril.

Lizzo - Cuz I Love You (Deluxe) While she's not as good a rapper as she seems to think she is (maybe leave that to Missy Elliott, who guests on Tempo), and she might sing bigger than she has to, her larger than life exuberance is impossible to deny. Even with a few dud tracks, enough of that personality comes through to make this a defining album of 2019. She's on a fulcrum point, however - any more concessions to commercialism and she will become bound to her moment rather than owning it.

FKA Twigs - Holy Terrain (feat. Future) While I didn't find Magdalene as static as LP1, the creeping Kate Bush-influenced obscurantism was a turn-off, except for this terrific single, also the best thing Future has done in a while. I know I'm swimming against the tide here, as Magdalene nearly broke the internet when it came out, but I can only like what I like. And I like this song A LOT.

Frank Ocean - In My Room Two singles, this one and DHL, are all we got from Ocean in 2019, with Blonde - one of the best albums of the century, never mind the decade - now three years in the rear view. Beautiful stuff in any case, especially the minimalist bedsit romance of In My Room. I would hesitate to make any predictions about what his next album will sound like based on these as I have a feeling it will be more full of sonic surprise than either of them.

Charlotte Dos Santos - Harvest Time I still find Dos Santos's 2017 album, Cleo, sigh-inducing, so I hope this wonderful filament of a song signals more from her in 2020. 


Lee "Scratch" Perry - Heavy Rain This album was the best of the three the 83-year-old Perry put out in 2019. Mostly made up of dubs from Rainford, which came out earlier in the year, it improves on that album either by adding the trombone wizardry of the great Vin Gordon or the studio magic of the legendary Brian Eno, or simply by swathing some of Perry's less-than-scintillating vocal moments in washes of echo and effects. Great to have Perry collaborating with Adrian Sherwood again, who steered him into waters more creative than Spacewave, who produced the mostly tedious Rootz Reggae Dub

Prince Fatty - In The Viper's Shadow In which the Brit master of roots and dub assembles a murderer's row of vocalists, from Big Youth to Cornell Campbell (who I also wrote about here), to sing or toast over his killer tracks. The biggest surprise might be the soaring vocals of Shniece McMenamin, who holds her own in this august company. More from her, with Fatty producing, would be the exact opposite of a bad thing. 

Koffee - Rapture After taking note of her excellent single Throne in January, it took Koffee winning a Grammy for Best Reggae Album - the first woman to do so - for me to even realize she had an album out. But she also kind of doesn't, as Rapture is a mere 15 minutes long. Either way, the 19-year-old shows great promise on this short showcase, whether spitting auto-tuned fire over dancehall beats or singing soulfully over rootsier tracks. Looking forward to a true long-player - soon, please.

Hollie Cook - Dance In The Sunshine Maybe now that Koffee has broken the gender barrier at the Grammys, Cook will get the recognition she deserves. Until then, we will just bask in the warmth of her presence whenever she chooses to release sweet songs like this single. If you're still unfamiliar with this wonderful singer and songwriter, start with her self-titled debut, which was my #3 album of 2011. Or you could check out Twice, which landed at #5 in 2014. Then there's Vessel Of Love, my #7 album of 2018. She's just great!

What turned your head in these genres in 2019? Let me know! There’s also more in this archived playlist - and follow this one so you know how 2020 fares.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2018: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2017: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2016: Hip Hop and RnB

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