How much music did you listen to in 2019?
If you want to be even somewhat knowledgeable about music in 2019, probably a lot. This is the era of gluttony, where a new song that you must hear, seemingly, drops every second.
So, how do you even construct a good, all-encompassing best song list that makes sense in this climate?
Well, you can’t.
The good thing about so much music coming out is that consensus is dead. Volume has forced fans to go into their respective corners and engage with songs that speak to them. Same goes for us, here, at Okayplayer.
When crafting our best songs of 2019, we didn’t try to think of what songs should be considered the best of the year. We didn’t try to pinpoint the narrative of 2019 or try to do something all-encompassing.
We just picked the songs that we listened to the most, honestly. Which is why our list contains a mixture of album cuts, hit songs, love songs, street songs, and more.
With that being said, here are Okayplayer’s 19 best songs of 2019.
Bitch, you better praise God or I’ma shoot, and that’s on God / I ain’t playin’ ’bout my Lord and Savior, I’m on my job / If you ain’t a Christian, I’ma stab you in the face / If it ain’t ’bout Jesus, I’ma hit you with this K.
Really, what more needs to be said? Following 2018’s “Square Up,” Zack Fox and Kenny Beats‘ “Jesus Is The One (I Got Depression)” became a success for understandable reasons. It’s essentially a Fox meme in soundtrack form, the comedian’s absurd and provocative nature pairing well with the upbeat bounce of Beats’ production. Is it a commentary on our listening habits? Or how depression can actually lead us to act in ways we normally wouldn’t? Or how religion is weaponized not just in America but the world? Or maybe it’s a satire on how meme culture has changed the way we’ve consumed music? Probably not. But there’s no denying that the track not only slaps but that it’s hilarious. — Elijah Watson
After years of being only a local phenomenon, Brooklyn drill had its first hit: Pop Smoke’s apocalyptic “Welcome to the Party,” a song that you will probably hear at your first house party in hell. The song is throwback NYC record: effortless and full of swagger. It should be no surprise to find out Pop Smoke, who is from Canarsie, Brooklyn, made the song in his house after coming across the beat on YouTube.
Pop Smoke is a decent MC with an amazing voice. His voice is gothic and sturdy — a perfect complement to 808Melo’s rubbery, constantly evolving production. — Dimas Sanfiorenzo
Polo G is only 20-years-old. You wouldn’t be able to tell listening to his heartwrenching debut album, Die a Legend. What he lacks in pure ability or lyrical dexterity, he makes up for in displaying vulnerability. Die a Legend has some of the best songwriting you’ll hear on an album in 2019 and it’s because nothing is contrived.
“Deep Wounds” is the standout track from the album. The track features a man at a conflicted point in his life. In the span of year, Polo G has obtained a lifetime of riches. And yet, the demons of the past still create a shadow. ” I swear I pop so many pills, shit got me losin’ weight” Polo G raps matter-of-factly. — DS
Rapsody is at her best underestimated. On “Cleo,” she puts aside some of the uplifting messaging featured on her excellent latest album, EVE, for some good-old-fashioned shit talking. Her opponent: the music industry, who she feels like continue to underestimate her: “Dressed too tomboy, rap too lyrical (You said it) I can say more, the pain would bring a few tears to you,” she raps over 9th Wonder’s flip of Phil Collins’ “In the Air.” (Props to 9th for finding a new way to chop such a used and abused sample.)
Later, Rapsody would display disappointment that she didn’t get a Grammy nomination for Eve, an album some have called her best. The industry still sleeps. “Cleo 2” coming soon? — DS
Sure, “Mozambique Drill” with Tha God Fahim is the clear standout from Mach-Hommy’s Wap Konn Jòj project. But there’s something strangely captivating about album’s second to last track, “Mittrom.” The entrancing and hazy production, Earl Sweatshirt’s guest feature and, of course, Hommy’s visceral, stream of consciousness verse, make for a track that merits repeat listens. It embodies the off-kilter charm of Hommy’s lyrical prowess, leaving listeners coming back for more just to so they can hear him rhyme “pusillanimous” with “caricatures.” — EW
In 2019, we saw J. Cole venture beyond his conventional sonic parameters. One of the first markers of this was his collaboration with 21 Savage, “A Lot.” J. Cole incorporates a faster flow, while still imparting his classic narrative-approach to rap. Tackling issues such as hip-hop’s trajectory, his own artistry, and incarceration, Cole quickly proves that he can stand with the contemporary musicians with ease. While on the other side, 21 Savage manifests a bolder, more nuanced side of himself and invites audiences to get to know the thoughts and fears that have haunted the rapper to date.
“A Lot” stands as one of the stronger hip-hop singles of the year and set the tone for later releases from the likes of YBN Cordae, 2 Chainz, and Dave East. In tandem, the highly political record stands as a pivotal part of 21 Savage’s career. He performed the song on The Tonight Show, criticizing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the process. Just a couple of days later he was detained by ICE himself. — Nicolas Tyrell
Seven years in the making and, somehow, not a moment late. Jai Paul staged one of music’s most unexpected comebacks in 2019. After a collection of his demos and unfinished work was leaked and put up for sale as his debut album in 2013, it was entirely possible Paul might fade into a shadow cast by the seemingly-unanimous acknowledgment of an untapped talent and a proper introduction botched before it even began.
But despite the violation — and with only a handful of Paul Institute collaborations filling the years between — the “Jasmine” singer reemerged in mid-June polished and fully-realized on the glistening anthems, “He” and “Do You Love Her Now.” The latter, a glowing and spacious spell of purple pop precision, buzzes with the panning harmonics and impossible tenderness that have become hallmarks of Paul’s sonic palette over the last decade. Intimate and heart-flooding, Paul glides in over muted guitar licks and a marching drum program with a phased falsetto, bouncing between an effected coo and a vox stripped bare.
In a personal statement released alongside the singles, Paul notes both songs had been in utero since the infamous leak. Nearing seven years since that very public derailment of his vision for his own work, both “He” and “Do You Love Her Now” are not only signals of a narrative reclaimed and an artist overcoming their earned distrust of digital spaces, but also clues as to what those revered bootlegs might have become should they have been granted a chance to grow on Paul’s terms. — Zo
Gang Starr frontman Guru passed away on April 10th, 2010. After years of feuding with his partner DJ Premier, a bizarre death bed letter was released publicly. The letter claimed that even in death, Guru wanted nothing to do with Premier and his old group. In the years since, Premier won the legal right to use Guru’s vocal recordings to craft One of the Best Yet, the album that would be their last.
“Hit Man,” the album’s standout track, is evidence that Guru and Premier’s chemistry lives on, even in death. Over a bouncy, dramatic, instrumental Guru spins a narrative about a cool-headed assassin who is so coldhearted that he’ll “smoke a nigga in the club, then dance right past niggas.”
Q-Tip’s hook is loose, and joyously chaotic. “You got the bag, pop? I got the thing-thing. It’s in the sling, here it is, let me let it ring.” — John Morrison
Interest in Lil Nas X’s history-making hit “Old Town Road” was initially bolstered by a country chart controversy and the Internet debate that followed, which sparked larger conversations on race and the rigidity of genre confines. However, the allure of the track’s twangy-trap rhythm, its Nine Inch Nails-sampled opening, and the 20-year-old’s simple-yet-melodic enunciation was enough to keep us riding until we couldn’t no more. Fellow “outlaw” Billy Ray Cyrus provides a high-profile guest feature that stays true to his country-fried roots, proving that there is at least one Cyrus who thrives on authenticity. A handful of 2020 Grammy nominations and a Diamond-certified record later, we’re sure Lil Nas X can’t even remember what all the hubbub was about. — J’na Jefferson
“Come Home,” the opener from Anderson .Paak’s album Ventura is a cool, breezy mid-tempo groove, which finds Paak playfully feigning lovesick desperation. His relationship has gone sour. His lover has left the building and there’s nothing left to do but beg with all his might. But not before he makes a point to remind her that “no one even begs anymore”
Featuring a nimble guest verse by André 3000 — who states matter-of-factly “We fightin’. We might need counseling” — “Come Home” wants to be redemptive. All the pain and growing apart is there and the listener is invited in to bear witness to a relationship post-collapse. — JM
Roddy Ricch’s voice isn’t the most commanding or malleable of the umpteen rappers trying their hand at melodies nowadays. But when you pair it with his knack for songwriting, you end up with one of rap’s most formidable hook-makers. Mustard (whose transition has been an interesting development in its own right) provides a sunny, 702-sampling soundscape, but Roddy keeps this track grounded. On paper, “Ballin” is an objectively triumphant song. It’s quintessentially rags-to-riches. However, between his voice and one clever line on the hook — ”I trap until the bloody bottoms is underneath” — Roddy manages to make the most world-weary feel-good anthem of the year. — Torry Threadcraft
“Tonight” is so much more than a song about a night you set aside with your significant other. It’s a masterful experience that exposes the topsy turvy feelings that come with being equally invested in someone. Summer Walker’s voice, alongside London On Da Track’s production, is a perfect match. Throughout the song, Walker touches on sustaining deep feelings despite being constantly on the road, wanting to spend more time with her beau and the bliss of an uninterrupted night together and how it could potentially make up for the time lost. — Robyn Mowatt
A harrowing slice of enraged nihilism, “Black Balloons Reprise” finds Denzel Curry railing at life’s inherent meaninglessness over Flying Lotus’s always future-looking production. Lotus takes a bit of the score from French jazz pianist and composer Alain Goraguer’s “La Planete Sauvage” and adds strings and a hard drum break.
We all perish, all parents, all kids, all buried
Cemetery, ceremonious, find me at my loneliest
Life is the ugliest bitc I ever messed with
The video, directed by Jack Begert is dark, minimal and full of surreal and occult-like imagery, the perfect complement to Fly Lo and Curry’s one-way trip to the darkest corners of the human mind. — JM
When Southern-bred MCs Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby fly solo, they come equipped with unparalleled confidence, top-tier braggadocio, and signature cadences. Over the summer, they joined forces for the sake of sonic shit-talkin’, resulting in a match-up that placed them in the light as hip-hop’s newest dynamic duo. “Cash Shit,” the standout track from Meg’s smoldering mixtape Fever, finds the modelesque musician in her bag while boasting about obtaining one.
The song comes strapped with a brazen guest verse by way of 2019’s Charlotte-raised rap MVP, whose spicy, raunch-filled rhymes compliments the high-energy bars laid down by the Houston hottie. They’re sharing the spotlight, not sparring for it, which necessarily abolishes the notion that female rappers are below their male contemporaries in terms of skill. — JJ
During the uknowhatimsayin¿ press run, Danny Brown talked to DAZED Magazine about stepping away from previous iterations of his music. “We weren’t gonna have the high pitched voice that’s all crazy either,” he said. This one was about stripping away everything that Danny Brown is and to see if I am still dope.” Points were made.
“Combat” is Danny Brown distilled — a grad-level rap seminar. Though his willingness to dabble in other genres played a major role in his rise to stardom, Brown is at his best leaning into his backpack-rap inclinations. Q-Tip provides a brass-heavy sample that could induce vertigo, and Danny mans the wheel in what feels like a thesis defense for his discography thus far. — TT
Freddie Gibbs hasn’t been shy about the fact his partnership with Madlib breathed new life into his career. Ever since Piñata, Gibbs has entered a space where he can experiment if he wants to. It’s for good reason — he has the perfect partner. Very few producer-rapper combos could come up with something like “Crime Pays.” Everything from the sample choice — “Free Spirit” by Walt Barr — to the video, set on a ranch in Wyoming, reflects Gibbs’ outlook at this stage of his career.
His flow is still seamless, but he has the room to relax this time around. He’s still letting shots off at former label boss Jeezy, because at this point, why not? He crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. — TT
Amongst its navigation of self-love, clarity, and independence, Shea Butter Baby holds within it a commercial-gem that’s begging for attention via “BMO.” The instantly-infectious number sees Dreamville signee Ari Lennox channel an uncompromising urge to be desired and loved. The bouncy and lustful record quickly introduces a confident and demanding Lennox, commanding consumers’ ears across the two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The “Space” Galt McDermott-sampled single is both convivial and sophisticated, complemented further by the 28-year-olds perfect display of vocals.
Part of what makes “BMO” a clear Shea Butter Baby standout lies in its racy production (co-produced by label-mate Omen). It manages to toy with both the quirky components of funk and also the rawness of neo-soul and R&B which results in a fun and relatable number for millennial R&B fanatics. “BMO” stands as one of Lennox’s most successful songs to date, managing to claw its way onto the Hot R&B and Hip-hop Airplay Charts at #17.
Ari Lennox has quickly become one of Dreamville’s most exciting acts to watch yet, and songs such as “BMO” are more reason to pay close attention to her journey going forward. — NT
Rapper, producer Tyler, the Creator may have seemingly dipped into discussions of love with past songs like the sinister “IFHY” and Goblin’s unsettling “She.” However, the exceptional “EARFQUAKE,” from the Grammy-nominated (and snubbed) IGOR, displays sincere topical growth while providing listeners with earthshaking production.
The most endearing aspect of Tyler’s novice singing abilities on “EARFQUAKE” is its rawness. The pitchiness is no problem, as his vocal tremors illustrate his earnest and relatable pleading for a relationship he doesn’t think he deserves, but can’t live without. An unintelligible-yet-show-stopping verse from Playboi Carti brings energy to the love song, while assists from Charlie Wilson and Jessy Wilson provide the master vocals that Tyler cannot. Repetition of the chorus is taken to heart-soaring heights thanks to amped up, piano-heavy production, which seamlessly switches into the album’s next track, the funkified “I THINK.” — JJ
After Solange dropped A Seat at the Table, she went straight back to the lab and came out with When I Get Home. This album relied heavily on the feelings that only funk, jazz and neo-soul can evoke. Her Houston background and upbringing is all over When I Get Home, but her eclectic inclinations shine on “Almeda.” The rich, bass-heavy song is heavy with lyrics about black and brown things like skin, leather, liquor, sugar, braids and more. Playboi Carti also offer a surprisingly nice touch during different portions of the nearly four-minute song. — RM
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