Only one album released in 2019 has been RIAA certified platinum: Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next. Three have been certified gold: Juice WRLD’s Death Race for Love; DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd, and — inexplicably — Tyga’s Legendary. (Thank “Taste.”) It’s an astounding thing to consider when you think about how many albums drop every week.
It also speaks to what a wacky year 2019 has been. The event album hasn’t happened. Yet, at least. Sure, you got a lot of really mid-tier good-to-great albums — from the likes of Solange, Tyler, the Creator, and Flying Lotus — but nothing that stopped the world. Which is OK. It gave us an opportunity to put the spotlight on a more diverse selection of albums.
With half of the year a wrap, here are the best albums of 2019 so far.
Odd Future’s front-man gave audiences a disclaimer when releasing his latest album, IGOR: “Don’t go into this expecting a rap album.” With its minimal lyricism, IGOR feels instantly at home with prior 2019 offerings such as Solange’s When I Get Home and Flumes Hi, This Is Flume. Relying heavily on electronic foundations, Tyler draws inspiration from eras directly before him — which included the likes of Pharrell and N.E.R.D. – Nicolas Tyrell
Solange shot for an album and landed on the mood. For her much anticipated fourth studio album, Knowles took the time she needed to deliver an unhurried feel. Beyond A Seat At The Table’s wide-reaching, audience-searching voice, When I Get Home allows the artist’s audience to find the music rather than the other way around. Pushing the possibility of aesthetics, the visuals and sounds of the album are both detail-oriented and romantic in a way that 19 sketches called tracks and a visual album could offer. – Chanelle Adams
A passive listener will think Bandanna — Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s followup to their classic Piñata — is a retread: the technically gifted Freddie Gibbs spitting raps dripping with embalming fluid over Madlib’s obscure chops. But it’s the little things that really matter here. Gibbs, mixing in nuggets of wisdom with his steely raps. While Madlib, an OG, is still pulling subtle tricks out of his production bag — like using trap drums on “Half Manne Half Cocaine.” – Dimas Sanfiorenzo
Seamlessly evoking parallels to his debut LP Venice, Ventura is engulfed in both funk and jazz pallets, Anderson .Paak’s gritty runs leading the way. .Paak is confident and soothing throughout, as he effortlessly tributes these genres of the past. “Reachin 2 Much,” for example, exists in Ella Fitzgerald’s kingdom, with .Paak paying homage through his authentic scat-led vocals.
With guest contributions from Brandy, Smokey Robinson, and others, Anderson .Paak silences apprehensions about both his own curating ability and executive producer Dr. Dre’s. Ventura immediately manifests an engulfing sense of euphoria which becomes hard to escape from. – NT
In its brevity, Maxo’s Lil Big Man manages to articulate so much in a way that is captivating and relatable. The album title conveys the imbalance one may feel in their early 20s, an age that once came with expectations like marriage, family, stability, and other signifiers. For Maxo, he’s not focused with building his own family as much as he is providing for the one that already exists. But he’s also trying to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty as it pertains to his own life. “My clock been ticking, I’m just tryna get myself right,” he shares on “Time.”
A part of your 20s is coming to the realization that you don’t know as much as you think, and trying to grow into the person you believe you’re capable of being. Maxo’s vulnerability and directness in Lil Big Man is refreshing — an album that captures the myriad of emotions that one experiences as they come of age. – Elijah Watson
On Hiding Places, underground vet billy woods is cankerous and hilarious: “I don’t wanna see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall” he growls on album standout “Spider Hole.” woods is guided by another OG: Kenny Segal, who provides hefty production that sits on your chest. – DS
The Last Party shows just how much Matt Martians musical talents have grown since 2017’s The Drum Chord Theory. There were times where The Drum Chord Theory felt too muddled and incohesive, half-baked musical ideas bleeding into one another in a way that just didn’t resonate. The Last Party, however, feels more intentional and confident. From the laidback psychedelic funk of “Knock Knock” to the upbeat, N.E.R.D.-esque feel of “Pony Fly,” Martians’ versatility is on full display throughout the album. The Last Party might be brief…but you’re left walking out with an enjoyable buzz. – EW
Jamila Woods’ LEGACY! LEGACY! is an ode to black genius. Each track is named after an iconic black figure, from Zora Neale Hurston to James Baldwin to Miles Davis. She channels those figures in her music, creating an album that is as political as it is empowering. The music is lush and much more ambitious than her stellar debut HEAVN. – DS
“It ain’t like Atlanta, I came out of Charlotte, that shit took me some time,” he raps on his standout single, “Walker Texas Ranger.” The 27-year-old North Carolina rapper is older than most of his “baby” rap peers. That’s probably why he wastes no time on his debut studio album. On Baby on Baby, the high-octane hitmaker starts rapping before the 0:01 mark— literally. – Ivie Ani
Ari Lennox is one of the standout voices in contemporary R&B, ironically, because she sounds like the past. Though Shea Butter Baby is the Dreamville singer’s debut album, her silky, yet scruffy tone is seasoned. The neo-soul singer-songwriter serenades herself with tough love lessons and commiserates with listeners of the same ilk— late 20-somethings figuring it all out with sincerity, struggle, and some joy. – IA
Before a Denzel Curry was a rapper, he was a Miami rapper. And on Zuu Curry returns to his Miami roots — just a year after crafting the out-of-the-box and spotty Ta13oo. It’s exhilarating to hear how grateful Curry is: showing love to older rap mentors, like Rick Ross, Plies, and Trick Daddy; fallen comraderies, like XXXtentacion; and his actual family — his father Ricky. – DS
Though it’s been over a decade since their split, Birdman and Juvenile’s collaborative album feels as fresh as their old Cash Money music days. Tracks like “From The Block” see their chemistry rekindled, while “Dreams” revisits the somber yet hopeful stories of success from their earlier days. With Juve, it’s not so much as the return of an endeared rap voice, and more so a case of amplification of a consistent one. His releases since the 2006 departure from Cash Money have come and gone. Just Another Gangsta is well-crafted and too good to let slip through the cracks this time. – IA
When Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline Coachella in 2018, she made history. Once she hit the actual stage, she made more history. The question was posed: “Did Beyoncé deliver the greatest live show of all time?” And before we could settle comfortably with an answer, she stopped the world… again. The living legend released a documentary on Netflix chronicling the iconic performance, and another surprise, Homecoming: The Live Album. Moments as monumental as this come and go, but with this project, Beyoncé did the world the courtesy of opening the door to her archives and letting us into her world. And it sounds so good. – IA
Gary Clark Jr. goes home on This Land. The Austin artist showed his rage and range on the expansive range on the 17-track project, accompanied by impressive instrumentation and pointed commentary. Produced by Clark himself, the project allows for his full range of artistry to be displayed, incorporating all of the genres that have inspired his creation and sound — from funk to punk, to soul, to classic rock. – IA
Young rappers often have a nasty reputation for not having enough substance in their music. That isn’t the rep of Chicago rapper Polo G, who spits with a level of passion and substance that you don’t see from 20-year-old rappers with millions of streams. There are not a lot of commercial reaches on Die a Legend. The album is all heart, pain and introspective. Polo G, a talented writer, carries the production, which at times seems purposely amorphous and bland — as if the production isn’t the point. –DS
Olivia de Castro is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer. You can follow her work here.
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