Where has the time gone?
We are officially at the midway point of 2019. A lot of music has been released. And yet, it’s been challenging to come up with a narrative to describe this year. The music scene is as eclectic as it’s been in years. And it’s no longer being driven by tried-and-trued kingpins.
In previous years, you had artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Beyoncé drop albums in the first two quarters, establishing the landscape. In 2019, the hottest song in the world is from a kid who was running a Nicki Minaj fan page a year ago.
Despite these shifts, there were a lot of gems released in the first half of 2019. Some of the songs we loved the most were chart-topping hits, others were more obscure album cuts. Some songs came from grizzled legends, while others came from artists who might not be around this time next year.
In no particular order, here are Okayplayer’s songs of the first half of 2019.
Appearing half-way through Solange’s When I Get Home, “Almeda” is the anchor holding down the alchemy of laid back wayfaring drowsy with pointed purpose. Like a bottle of Florida Water left ajar in your purse, “Almeda” slowly leaks into the album, your mind, your hips, your spirit. – Chanelle Adams
Is it country or is it rap? That’s the question fans and critics posed when 20-year-old Lil Nas X burst on to the scene with a viral hit turned Billboard hit. The track soared to no. 1 when Billboard removed it from its Hot Country Chart over unclear genre specifications. With a cosign from country music veteran Billy Ray Cyrus, the song took off even further. What followed was an EP, 7, leading to more confusion. Is Lil Nas X a one-hit-wonder or music’s new wonder child? – Ivie Ani
“Mooo!” worked in both Doja Cat’s favor and to her detriment. For those unfamiliar with the LA artist, it was a successful introduction to her. But it also resulted in her meme-ification. Which is why “Tia Tamera” is important. Featuring Rico Nasty, the song showcases Doja’s confident and playful rap delivery, complemented by the menacing and bouncy production of Kurtis McKenzie. – Elijah Watson
On IGOR, Tyler merges saccharine piano from Flower Boy and disheveled beats from Cherry Bomb into an underdeveloped love triangle. And it works. “EARFQUAKE” has the possessiveness and self-reflection we’d expect lyrically from Justin Beiber and Rihanna — both turned down the song — but is redeemed when produced by Tyler. The waves of humiliation, obsession, and redemption are brought to the fore through an orchestrated performance of loops and cued emotions through sloppily sincere vocals and character commitment. – CA
“Thuggin,’” which dropped in 2011, was the first time the world got to hear Freddie Gibbs and Madlib come together. The song — still probably their best — featured Gibbs’ icy raps over one of the breeziest Madlib beats ever. “Crime Pay” is the sequel to “Thuggin” — a song that features a similar template. This time, however, Gibbs’ adds a touch of wisdom to coincide with the tough talk: “Diamonds in my chain, yeah, I slang but I’m still a slave. Twisted in the system, just a number listed on the page.” – Dimas Sanfiorenzo
“Winners Circle” feels like a 70-degree summer day complemented by a consistent, gentle breeze. The laidback, soulful pulse of the track is a fitting soundtrack for .Paak as he coolly tries to woo a woman who’s unlike any he’s attempted to woo before. It’s a feel-good song that is a Ventura standout — an ode to Motown-esque love songs with a modern touch and feel. – EW
Working with production duo Finatik N Zac, Denzel Curry turns down the frenetic energy a couple of decimeters to tell a heartwarming story about growing up in Carol City, Miami alongside his family: his mother, brother, and, of course, his father Rickey. ( Shout out Ricky for taking Curry to his first shows.) – DS
As the first single from Tame Impala in four years, “Patience” serves to remind fans why they adore the band so much. There’s the phased-out, psychedelic production; Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker’s vocals which act more like an instrument than anything else; and the feel-good and steady tempo that grounds it all. “Has it really been that long?” Parker asks at the start of the song. Yes. But the wait was well worth it. – EW
Back in March, a snippet of a Playboi Carti song leaked. Nicknamed “Kid Cudi,” it instantly became one of the most talked about leaks ever. It turns out the song was a Young Nudy and Pi’erre Bourne track called “Pissy Pamper.” It also turns out that the song would probably never be released due to the gorgeous sample (it’s taken from a Japanese singer named Mai Yamane.) Those minor facts didn’t stop a bootleg version of the track from hitting Spotify’s Viral 50 Chart. The story of “Pissy Pamper” is one that capsulizes the madness of the music business in 2019. – DS
DaBaby isn’t afraid to talk hard, back it up, act up, and throw on a costume or two for kicks. The premiere single off of his debut album, Baby on Baby, “Suge” sees DaBaby lace his real-life escapades in comedy and wit — with a video that harkens back to Busta Rhyme’s cartoonish creative era. – IA
“Toast,” by 19-year-old Jamaican sensation Koffee, spread across radio speakers, cars, and clubs since the latter part of last year. Featured on her 2019 debut EP, Rapture, the track is good, old Reggae from a fresh, new talent. What makes “Toast” so infectious? In an interview with OkayAfrica, the song’s producer, Walshy Fire, described it as “high-vibration music”— the kind that raises frequencies and resonates with the parts of our bodies and minds that, simply, makes us feel good. – IA
When Beyoncé released a cover of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s 1981 song “Before I Let Go” it warmed hearts and souls across generations. Appearing on the surprise live-album of her now historic 2018 Coachella performance, her updated version of the black musical cannon staple feels as current and classic as ever. Beverly himself described it as “one of the high points of my life.” – IA
Chicago rapper Polo G released his breakout single “Finer Things” less than a year ago. In that span of time, he’s had more success than most human beings experience in a lifetime. He tries to wrestle with the mixed feelings that sudden fame can bring on “Deep Wounds,” a track full of emotion and wisdom. “I used to hustle to survive, I found a newer way. Remember high speeds in the hot car, trying to lose the jakes. You got your life in your hands until you lose a case,” he melodically raps over D Major’s wailing guitars. – DS
After an untimely death that shook up the rap world, these posthumous verses from Nipsey Hussle felt like nothing short of closure. With cryptic and composed commentary on his family and purpose, Hussle rapped what just happened to be on his mind and what fans needed to hear to ease theirs. Atop angelic keys and vocals, courtesy of John Legend, the track, off of DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd album, was a pleasant surprise after a paramount loss. – IA
Since flaming out on a major label more than seven years ago, Chief Keef has gotten more obscure and psychedelic with his taste. In the process, he’s become a cult figure, good for two to three projects year. Earlier this year he hooked up with the legendary Zaytoven for the somewhat uneven GloToven project. The highlight of the tape is “Ain’t Gonna Happen,” a gut-wrenching tribute to friends Keef lost over the years. Zaytoven is the star here; he provides the rapper with a gorgeous pallet for the rapper to unleash his grief. – DS
Olivia de Castro is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer. You can follow her work here.
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