We’re halfway through 2019, exactly the right time to evaluate what the year has brought us so far in terms of Hip Hop releases. 2019 up til now has been good, but not great – a lot of dope projects will have to drop in the second half of this year if by years-end we want to be able to compare 2019 favorably to 2018, or to years like 2014 and 2015. There are still enough albums that are slated to be released in the coming months to whet our appetites – Run The Jewels’ Run The Jewels 4 first and foremost, but we are also excited about expected new projects by R.A. The Rugged Man, Skyzoo with Pete Rock, De La Soul, Compton’s Most Wanted & MC Eiht – amongst others.
But even if the output in these first six months of 2019 has not yet been stellar, there have been plenty of really dope releases. To round up the past half-year, we’ve compiled a list with our favorite albums of the year so far. Not included are instrumental albums, mixtapes, and EPs (otherwise Benny the Butcher’s excellent The Plugs I Met would have ranked high here). With that said – let’s get into to it!
1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
Released just in time to be included here, Bandana is sure to be a contender for the Album Of The Year accolade. The first full-length collaboration album of the Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 2014‘s Pinata, is a modern classic. The question was if they could do it again – the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Bandana is cut from the same cloth as its seminal predecessor and is just as good, if not better. With Pinata they showed their apparent differences only served to create a result that was bigger than the sum of the two parts; with Bandana they prove it was not a fluke.
2. Epic Beard Men - This Was Supposed To Be Fun
This Was Supposed to Be Fun, the debut LP (and second ofﬁcial offering) from Epic Beard Men, is an indie-rap tour de force by two of the underground’s ﬁnest; Sage Francis and B. Dolan.
On March 29 this gem of an album was dropped with little fanfare. That’s a shame because This Was Supposed To Be Fun is dope a hell and easily one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year up til now. Fun and clever lyrics (full of references to Golden Age classics) and sonically knocking – This Was Supposed To Be Fun is a must-listen.
Download This Was Supposed To Be Fun
3. Czarface & Ghostface Killah - Czarface Meets Ghostface Killah
Much like 2018’s Czarface Meets MetalFace with MF DOOM, the collaboration of Czarface with Ghostface Killah makes perfect sense. Thematically and stylistically of course, but also taking into account the shared Wu-Tang history of Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck. Rebel INS has always been of Wu-Tangs best lyricists, and together with Boston underground legends 7L & Esoteric he is the process of putting together a pretty impressive series of albums as Czarface. Who better to recruit than Ghostface Killah to ensure the creation of another potentially timeless Hip Hop record?
Czarface Meets Ghostface Killah is top to bottom quality, most excellent from start to finish.“Czarrade ’87″, ”Morning Ritual,” “Super Soldier Serum,” “Listen to the Color” (6 minutes of lyrical brilliance over changing beats), “Masked Superstars” are standouts, but the whole album slams. Dope bars and excellent boom-bap soundscapes – for HHGA this is a 2019 favorite which will remain on heavy rotation no matter what else will be released later this year. Forget mumble rap, trap, autotune and fake singing – this is real Hip Hop right here.
Download Czarface Meets Ghostface Killah
4. SOL Development - The SOL Of Black Folk
Crossing genre-boundaries sonically, spiritually this album from Oakland’s SOL Development is Hip Hop to its core. Emcee Karega Bailey, together with singers Brittany Tanner, Felicia Gangloff-Bailey, and Lauren Adams drop an important album with The SOL Of Black Folk. This is powerful music with a message – reminiscent of Public Enemy and Ice Cube in their best days. Don’t sleep on SOL Development.
Download The SOL Of Black Folk
5. Dope KNife - Things Got Worse
This is a great album by an underrated artist. Dope KNife, hailing from Savannah, Georgia, has been making a bit of a name for himself in the underground in the decade past but he hasn’t had much of real spotlight yet. That might, or should change with the release of this album, his fourth solo project. Sonically and lyrically Things Got Worse is deliciously dark and gritty and it gets better with every listen. This is one of those rare albums that is totally consistent throughout – no skippable tracks at all. Check out this album, you will not regret it.
Download Things Got Worse
6. Yugen Blakrok - Anima Mysterium
Yugen Blackrock is a female emcee from South Africa, who stepped on the international scene with a high-profile appearance on the Black Panther movie soundtrack. Anima Mysterium is her second album and one that should be her international breakthrough. Dark, brooding and atmospheric beats, with Yugen Blakrok’s abstract lyrics laced with mysticism and sci-fi like subject matter – this album will not be for everyone, certainly not for the mainstream rap listener. But for those who are a little more adventurous in their Hip Hop tastes, Anima Mysterium will be an easy favorite.
Download Anima Mysterium
7. Blu & Oh No - A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night
Blu’s best release since his astonishing 2007 debut Below The Heavens? We think so. For A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Blu teamed up with Madlib’s younger brother Oh No to deliver an album that will especially appeal to those who feel a disconnect with today’s mainstream rap (let’s not call it Hip Hop) and yearn for that real Hip Hop from back in the day. A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer is a long album at 17 tracks, but not a second is wasted or out of place.
8. billy woods & Kenny Segal - Hiding Places
Always consistent in creating Hip Hop for listeners with an acquired taste, billy woods once again does not disappoint. Hiding Places has him collaborating with producer Kenny Segal – a partnership that results in another typical billy woods release. Deep lyricism, sometimes bordering on surrealism but always intelligent and with substance – this is Hip Hop for grown-ups.
Download Hiding Places
9. The Good People - Good For Nuthin'
Good For Nuthin’ is an album that will be ignored by most people, and that’s too bad. Of course, HHGA is prejudiced – but Good For Nuthin’ is exactly the kind of Hip Hop we like: throwback Hip Hop done right. Sounding like it came straight from the Golden Age of Hip Hop, this album will satisfy any listener who fell in love with Hip Hop back in the day.
Download Good for Nuthin’
10. Your Old Droog - It Wasn't Even Close
It Wasn’t Even Close is Brooklyn’s Your Old Droog third full-length project, and his best up til now (even if the previous two were pretty damn good too). Droog (which means friend in Russian, Your Old Droog is of Ukrainian descent) is a dope emcee, with personality and wit – which makes his lyrics more than worth listening to. There are a few features on the album, most notably of Roc Marciano and MF DOOM, who drops a sick verse. Dark boom bap beats and great lyricism – this is a fine project from one of the most interesting personalities in the game today.
Download It Wasn’t Even Close
11. Little Simz - Grey Area
UK’s Little Simz dropped a true gem with Grey Area. Grey Area is her third album after the release of four mixtapes and five EPs, and her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015) and her second studio album Stillness in Wonderland (2016). Grey Area is her best effort yet, and a career-defining one. Nice and tight at ten tracks, Grey Area is utterly consistent and cohesive: all killer and no filler. Smooth, atmospheric production, poetically beautiful lyrics, and great flow and delivery. This is an excellent album that should appeal to almost anyone.
Download Grey Area
12. Papoose - Underrated
Mixtape king Papoose returned this month to drop his 3rd studio album, aptly titled Underrated. An LP with two distinctively different sides, but both hit hard and make for an overall excellent album. Papoose has always been a top-tier emcee with way above average intelligence and bar-writing ability – and he shows off his lyrical skills all over this album: on the raw boom bap tracks that start of the album and on the mature and more emotionally-laced songs that make up most of the second half of this album.
“Golden Child”, the ode to his and Remy Ma’s child will strike a chord by other young parents, and tracks like “Precious Jewel” – an articulation of his love for his wife Remy Ma -, “Discipline” and especially “Time Is On My Side” are strong tracks that deserve a close listen as well. Other favorites are the hard-hitting opening track “Underrated” and the DJ Premier-produced “Numerical Slaughter”, a sort-of sequel to Papoose’s own legendary “Alphabetical Slaughter” track. Make no mistake – Papoose’s Underrated is a dope-as-hell album.
13. Clear Soul - Forces Still
Clear Soul Forces are a quartet from Detroit, Michigan consisting of E-Fav, Ilajide, L.A.Z. & Noveliss. Forces Still is Clear Soul’s 5th full-length album and their best in our opinion. Jazzy, funky and soulful boom bap – with relentless flows from the four emcees: Clear Soul deserves more recognition as one the finest acts to come out of Detroit.
Download Forces Still
14. Erick Sermon - Vernia
Erick Sermon’s long-teased eight solo-album finally dropped in April. Was it worth the wait? The answer is a resounding yes. With 30+ years in the game and responsible for a whole bunch of classics – as part of EPMD and as a producer for others – Erick Sermon has nothing left to prove, his prominent place in Hip Hop history is assured. Nevertheless, The Green-Eyed Bandit shows he still has it in him not only to be relevant in 2019 but to be able to drop one of the best albums of the year up til now.
Vernia has something for everybody – both heads nostalgic for the Golden Age as well as listeners who are not rooted in the old days should find plenty to enjoy on Vernia. Artists like Keith Murray, AZ, Raekwon, Too $hort, Xzibit, N.O.R.E., David Banner, No Malice, Apathy, Big K.R.I.T., and Devin the Dude show up as guests to add flavor to Erick Sermon’s own rhymes and even Shaquille O’Neal drops in to do a verse on “Zion”.
Check out “The Game”, one of the stand-out tracks on Vernia, on which Eric Sermon gives his views on the current state of Hip Hop. Also notable is “Cabinet”, a dope cut on which Double-E is president and where he picks his cabinet members from the Hip Hop pantheon. Other than these two, there are 11 other great songs on the album, no useless skits, no filler – just a dose of real Hip Hop.
15. Choosey & Exile - Black Beans
The title of this album is a reference to Choosey’s mixed heritage – he has a Mexican father and an Afro-American mother. On the album, he vividly and eloquently recounts his teenage-years experiences in Los Angeles and gives us moving insights into the racial and cultural stereotypes he was confronted with while growing up. Choosey is backed up by Exile, whose soundscapes perfectly follow Choosey’s coming of age narrative. Great album!
Download Black Beans
16. People Under The Stairs – Sincerely, The P
People Under The Stairs – easily one of the most underrated duos in Hip Hop, ever. Underrated, but critically recognized and lauded by those in the know. Thes One and Double K have been dropping dope albums ever since their brilliant debut The Next Step in 1998, now they are closing off their amazing run with one last album: Sincerely, The P, the 12th and final album of the West Coast duo’s 20-year career in the Hip Hop game.
Sincerely, The P features 15 songs and clocks in at just under an hour – and it is hardly a surprise that after 11 mostly excellent albums, this one is another winner, and a great way to go out for PUTS. Much respect to Thes One and Double K for their contribution to the Hip Hop canon – be sure to check out this album if you haven’t done so already.
17. Truth – The Fight For Survival
The Fight For Survival, the follow up to his well-received 2016 album From Ashes to Kingdom Come is another certified banger. The Fight For Survival features the likes of Ill Bill, Tragedy Khadafi, Royal Flush & DJ JS-1; production by Large Professor, PF Cuttin, Da Beatminerz, JK1 the Supernova, DJ Doom and Raheem Isom (DreadInNY). Raw lyrics, dope scratches and knocking boom bap beats, reminiscent of the 1990s – this is another one of those albums that are made for the HHGA demographic.
Download The Fight For Survival
18. Diamond D – The Diam Piece 2
The second edition in Diamond D’s The Diam Piece series improves on the solid enough first release. Dope traditional boom bap production throughout and guest spots by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Fat Joe, Styles P, Xzibit, Elzhi, Boot Camp Clik, Erick Sermon, Havoc, Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, O.C., Termanology, Raekwon, and others.
19. Dave – PSYCHODRAMA
Dave is a 20-year-old talent from London in the UK, and with PSYCHODRAMA he has dropped an incredible debut album. PSYCHODRAMA plays like a kind of a cathartic therapy session, with Dave exploring issues like family, relationships, identity and life in general. The whole album is great, but be sure to check out “Lesley”, a gripping 11-minute tour-de-force that depicts an abusive relationship and its shattering fallout in harrowing detail.
In some places the hooks are bit corny and here and there the beats fall a bit flat – but these are minor quibbles. This album is all about Dave’s insights, this is an album to sit down and really listen to. Because of its raw emotional content PSYCHODRAMA is not an easy listen, but it doesn’t have to be – there’s more than enough fluff music out there, this is music with substance. PSYCHODRAMA is an album that will grow on you with multiple listens, and it may be placed too low on this list – it could very well end higher on our end-of-year round-up.
20. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken
Malibu Ken is a duo composed of left-field rapper/producer Aesop Rock and electronic multi-instrumentalist Tobacco. This is their first collaboration on a full-length project. Malibu Ken – with likely the most disgusting album cover of the year – may be little on the short side at ten tracks, but the album is packed with a masterful display of both composition and prose. If you’re a fan of either of these guys Malibu Ken is a must-have.
Download Malibu Ken
21. Injury Reserve - Injury Reserve
Maybe it shouldn’t have worked, but for us, this Phoenix trio somehow succeeded in mixing up mainstream influences with avant-garde, experimental Hip Hop. Reminiscent of (though not quite as good as) Run The Jewels in places, Injury Reserve is an album that is impossible to recommend – it either works for you or it does not. Check it out if you haven’t done so already:
Download Injury Reserve
22. The Legion – Three The Bronx Way
You may know this Bronx rap crew from their low-key but excellent 1994 debut, Theme + Echo = Krill. That album (partly produced by Showbiz and Black Sheep) received mixed reviews, mainly because critics could not fully appreciate what The Legio was trying to do: bring back that Golden Age feeling which they felt was already over and done with by 1994.
Fast forward 25 years – after some solo projects and collaborations, The Legion is back with a new album, Three The Bronx Way (an homage to the 1974 classic Blaxploitation movie, Three The Hard Way). Three The Bronx Way marks their proper return as a group, and what a return it is!
Straight from the sample-laced “Intro” cut up by DJ Eclipse to dope tracks like “Word” (featuring Sadat X), the nostalgia-inducing “1980 Something”, “Fresh”, “Three The Hard Way” to the “Outro” – Three The Hard Way is a straight-up raw boom-bap album, perfect for all those who can never get enough of real Hip Hop with that vibe of AUTHENTICITY.
23. Diabolic – The Disconnect
You may know Diabolic from his feature on the hidden track after Immortal Technique’s song “Dance with The Devil” or from battle-rap fame. The Disconnect is his fourth full-length album and arguably his best – offering a mixture of introspective storytelling and hardcore East Coast Hip Hop with Diabolic’s signature, razor-sharp lyrics over hard-hitting, gritty boom bap beats.
Download The Disconnect
24. Pivot Gang – You Can’t Sit With Us
This album may be an odd duck on a HHGA list – but despite its modern rap influences, we kinda liked this project. Pivot Gang is Saba’s crew – Saba who made dropped one of 2018’s finest albums with Care For Me. You Can’t Sit With Us works for us because of the laidback soundscapes and flows of Saba and his crew.
Download You Can’t Sit With Us
25. Blockhead – Free Sweatpants
A producer’s album is often a hit-or-miss affair as they not always succeed in finding the right emcees to rhyme to the beats provided. On Free Sweatpants, Blockhead succeeded. His beats are dope, and regular collaborators like Homeboy Sandman, billy woods, Aesop Rock and Open Mike Eagle prove to be perfect lyrical fits for Blockheads soundscapes. With a bunch of great instrumental tracks adding substance to the tracklist, Free Sweatpants is a more than solid project by one of Hip Hop’s most underrated producers.
Download Free Sweatpants
26. Zilla Rocca – 96 Mentality
Pioneering a sub-genre of Hip Hop which he has termed Noir-Hop, Philadelphia emcee Zilla Roc certainly is building a name for himself in the underground. Even if we are not sure Zilla Roc’s sound deserves its own sub-genre label, this is a totally enjoyable project nonetheless – an album that deserves more spotlight than it received.
Download 96 Mentality
27. Quelle Chris – Guns
Quelle Chris’ latest full-length solo release is not for everyone, which is par for the course with his music. On Guns Quelle Chris comes with his usual off-kilter drum patterns and heady wordplay, this time with a unifying theme: the impact of gun violence on American society and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general. Neither an easy nor an accessible listen, a few years down the road this album may turn out to be a modern classic anyway.
28. DJ Muggs & Eto – Hell’s Roof
Legendary DJ Muggs continues his strong 2018 run in 2019 with this collaboration with Rochester, NY emcee Eto: Hell’s Roof falls in perfectly with albums like Dia Del Asesinato (with Soul Assassins), Elephants On Acid (with Cypress Hill) and Kaos (with Roc Marciano) – 3 excellent releases Muggs put his stamp on last year.
On Hell’s Roof Mugg’s production is atmospheric and hypnotic as always, and Eto’s work on the mic complements Muggs’ soundscapes nicely. You could do worse than check out this album:
29. Bun B & Statik Selektah – TrillStatik
Wow – talk about a unique kind of project! UGK legend Bun B and renowned boom-bap producer Statik Selektah recorded this project in just under 12 hours, live-streaming the album’s creation. Check their whole recording session here.
TrillStatik offers the best of both worlds: Statik Selektah’s fat boom-bap beats merged with that butter-smooth UGK Southern vibe, with guests like Method Man, Talib Kweli, Fat Joe, Westside Gunn, Big K.R.I.T. and many more adding extra flavor.
30. Smif-N-Wessun – The All
On February 22nd Smif-N-Wessun released their 7th studio LP The All. Tek & Steele fuse their flows with the signature sound of producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder and his duly respected producer conglomerate Soul Council, to create a nostalgic yet contemporary and music experience. With guests appearances from Raekwon, Rick Ross, Rapsody and Musiq Soulchild we expect this to be another album that a lot of heads will keep on rotation for a good while.
The All is the duo’s sixth studio album (not counting their unreleased Rawkus effort), and a strong edition to their catalog. Sure, it’s not Dah Shinin’ – their classic 1995 debut which will likely forever remain their magnum opus – but The All is a strong album nonetheless. Solid bars, soulful soundscapes – we sure are happy with the return of Smif-N-Wessun.
31 - 40
31. Keith Murray – Lord Of The Metaphor 2
32. Big Tone & House Shoes – Big Shoes
33. Sean Strange – Street Urchin 2
34. Mathematik – ReAL/iS-HiM
35. AYOK – 2K19
36. Vinnie Paz & Tragedy Khadafi – Camouflage Regime
37. A.M. Breakups – Soldier
38. Your Old Droog – Transportation
39. Avatar – Vox Populi
40. Blackfist – World Manumission Defense
Special Mention: 8Ball & MJG - Classic Pimpin'
Released on January 2nd, this album flew way under most people’s radars. Normally we don’t include greatest hits or compilation albums in our years best lists, but this 8Ball & MJG release is a special case. 8Ball & MJG have always operated a bit in the shadow of other trailblazing Southern acts like OutKast and UGK, but over the years they have put together a pretty impressive body of work, as a duo and as solo artists as well. Classic Pimpin‘ is a collection of the legendary Memphis duo’s 12 greatest songs, recorded live – this album is mastered so brilliantly that most tracks sound even better than their originals. A mandatory listen, not just for 8Ball & MJG fans.
Special Mention 2
Four intriguing and interesting 2019 projects that are very good and need a mention here – but which are not included on this list because they cannot really be labeled Hip Hop albums since they cross all kinds of ‘genre boundaries’:
- Anderson .Paak – Ventura
- Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
- Nadia Nakia – Nadia Naked
- Tyler, The Creator – Igor
- Tech N9ne – N9NA
- Jim Jones – El Capo
- Boogie – Everything’s For Sale
- Styles P – S.P. The GOAT: Ghost Of All Time
- Lingo – Chance Of A Lifetime
- Tha God Fahim – Soul Dust
- Ankhlejohn – A-Cold-World
- A-Plus & Knobody – Grow Theory
- Tree & Vic Spencer Nothing Is Something
- MED & Guilty Simpson – Child Of The Jungle
- Suga Free – The Ressurection
- YG – 4Real 4Real
- K.A.A.N. Gathering
- Nolan The Ninja – SPORTEE
- Ca$his – The Art Of Living
- Beast Coast – Escape From New York
- Megan Thee Stallion – Fever
- Denzel Curry – ZUU
- Wilma Vritra – Burd
- Kill Bill & Rav – New Moon
- Eto & Superior – Long Story Short
- Tree & Parallel – Thought The Wild End
- Justo The MC & Maticulous – Mind Of A Man
- Crimeapple & DJ Skizz – Wet Dirt
- DJ Muggs & Mach-Hommy – Tuez Les Tous
- Touch & The Dirty Sample – Jawz
- Jack Jetson & Illinformed – Strange Cinema
- Ramson Badbonez – Mic Day The 13th