Somewhat alphabetical, somewhat grouped by genre, just go with it.
Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Incredibly smooth and multi-talented, Anderson .Paak was nearly fully-formed way before Dr. Dre took him under his wing. As one of the most charismatic figures in music today, .Paak’s talent has manifested itself in his singing, rapping, and drumming, and he churned out two amazing albums over the course of just six months. Where Oxnard was grittier and more experimental, Ventura was a true sequel to the loved Malibu, and featured amazing collaborations with Andre 3000, Lalah Hathaway, and Smokey Robinson.
Ariana Grande – thank u, next
It always feels like we’re about to enter the collapse of Ariana Grande, and yet she consistently continues to rise, not because we doubt her ability, but simply marvel at her success. Like Anderson .Paak, Grande released two albums in just six months, and in that time she might’ve been the most popular artist on the planet.
With Ariana Grande’s stack of Grammy nominations, however, comes criticism of appropriating what black female artists have been doing for years. What SZA’s Ctrl captured in 2017, artists like Doja Cat and Summer Walker have broken through in the last quarter of the year, but the conversation of Grande stealing the spotlight (and the music), is always the shadow to her success.
Big pop hits in 2019: Doja Cat – Hot Pink, Summer Walker – Over It, Jean Deaux – “Whatever,” Kehlani and Musiq Soulchild – “Footsteps,” and Normani – “Motivation,” which also had a very noteworthy music video.
Beyoncé – Homecoming
You would be hard-pressed to not find Beyoncé on any Year-End list for the past four to five years in some form, whether it be an album year, awards cycle, or starring movie role. This year had all three, as the queen celebrated her success in Homecoming, a tour documentary and live album, and her appearance alongside Donald Glover in the 3D-animated remake of Disney’s The Lion King. Some artists have off-years, but Beyoncé keeps on shining.
Burna Boy – African Giant
A Nigerian singer, Burna Boy really blew up in 2019 with his record, African Giant, featuring big-name guests such as Jeremih, Damian Marley, Future, YG, and Jorja Smith, whom he also worked with on her single “Be Honest.” African Giant was an amazing display of an artist breaking into the mainstream without compromising their sound for a new audience, and he flowed seamlessly with his features, though most often stood out on his own.
Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Most presumably the largest contender for Best New Artist at the upcoming 2020 Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish infuses her Gen Z angst with a cocktail of comparisons from Tyler, the Creator to Lana Del Rey, creating pop in uncharted waters and laying the groundwork for a new sound. Arguably, no one has altered the sound of music as much as Billie Eilish in 2019, and at just 17 years old, her debut album provided solid groundwork for her to begin framing and building her future.
Bon Iver – i,i
He went on a cabin retreat following a break-up in late 2006, and in the process of recording an unplanned album, found himself in a time when a good review from a indie-music site like Pitchfork could boost your following tenfold, if not turn you into the “next big thing.” Even with Forever alone, Bon Iver had completely changed the landscape of singer-songwriter music of the late-2000’s, and with his experimentations with Kanye West and electronic production into 22, A Million and now i,i, it wouldn’t be outlandish to say that Bon Iver has had a massive effect on the music of today, everywhere from folk to rap.
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER
The greatest boy band since One Direction, Kevin Abstract and his rag-tag group are back after a stellar trilogy of releases and the post-Ameer Vann exit record iridescence, with GINGER. Working off what we already love about the boys, as well as an amazing feature from Deb Never on “No Halo,” they’re still as adventurous as ever, especially when you look at Arizona Baby, the solo project Abstract dropped this year as well.
BTS – Map of the Soul: Persona
The other greatest boy band in the world, BTS made waves for non-English music breaking through the Billboard charts in 2019, along with Spanish-language music. Unlike the former, however, K-Pop was completely snubbed from the Grammy nominations. Their latest record, Map of the SoulL Persona, featured all of their talents, from pop sensibilities, to singing, rapping, and dancing, and they’ve been able to connect with US artists to break the wall between the American market and the rest of the world.
Other big K-Pop hits in 2019: BLACKPINK – “Kill This Love,” TWICE – “Fancy,” 1TEAM – “Vibe,” Hwa Sa – “TWIT,” MINSEO and Paul Kim – “2cm,” Taemin – “Artistic Groove,” GWSN – “Night Aviation (The Interpretation of Dreams),” Park Yu Chun – “Slow Dance,” and fellow BTS-label newcomers TXT with “Blue Orangeade.”
D Smoke Wins Rhythm + Flow
Netflix was very adventurous this year when they put together Rhythm + Flow, the first hip-hop-based reality competition show of its size, hosted by T.I., Cardi B, and Chance the Rapper. The show didn’t go off without a hitch, as the short number of episodes, release order, and odd elimination rules didn’t give fans a long amount of time to cheer on their favorites, who were often eliminated the same night they were introduced, or a week later.
Among the talent pool however, were 10 rappers that the Roseandblog believes have some real potential: Rae Khalil, Cakes Da Killa (who this site has covered before), Sasha Go Hard, Troyman, Kaylee Crossfire, Jakob Cambell, Old Man Saxon, Inglewood IV, Londynn B, and the winner, D Smoke, who was later revealed to be SiR’s brother. Regardless, he clearly deserved the win.
The top three songs from the show: Inglewood IV’s “Shoot Me,” Londynn B’s “I Can’t Change,” and winner D Smoke’s “Last Supper.”
D Smoke’s brother SiR had one of the only Kendrick Lamar features of the year on “Hair Down,” but T.D.E. in 2019 was generally quiet save for ScHoolboy Q’s CrasH, which had an excellent single in “Numb Numb Juice.” Zacari also had a decent single in “Don’t Trip,” and DJ Khaled and SZA connected for an interesting rework of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” on “Just Us.”
Cardi B and Bruno Mars – “Please Me”
+ QUIN & 6LACK – “Mushroom Chocolate,” two amazingly hot Valentine’s Day songs.
Chance the Rapper – “Handsome”
Christianity and marriage were two very unexpected themes to hit Hip-Hop in 2019, and from two very unexpected sources: Chance and Kanye West. While the latter is of a whole other design, there’s something about Chance’s “Handsome” that gets stuck in your head from the first line, especially with a Megan Thee Stallion verse tacked on.
The albums themselves weren’t my favorite releases of the year, but there were some other standouts from both, such as Kanye’s “Follow God,” his appearances on YNW Melly’s “Mixed Personalities” and Francis & The Lights’ “Take Me to the Light” with Bon Iver, plus Chance’s appearance on the fantastic Just Thank You – EP by fellow Chicago rapper Supa Bwe.
Where it was a critically calm year for Chance the Rapper, other Chicago rapper shone, such as the Noname, Smino, and Saba supergroup, Ghetto Sage. Their single “Haagan Dazs” with hopefully turn into a full-length project come 2020, but they each had amazing singles of their own as well, such as Noname’s “Song 21,” Smino’s feature on Kemba’s “Exhale,” and Saba’s You Can’t Sit With Us with his group Pivot Gang.
DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion, the two biggest rap stars of 2019
Undeniably the two largest breakout rappers of the year, DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion were respectively on just about every major charting rap single in 2019, and their major label debut projects, DaBaby’s Baby on Baby and Megan’s Fever, were both amazing in their own right. They both output an insane amount of infectious charisma, let alone verses, and have been able to nearly dominate the rap world since “Suge” and their collaboration “Cash Shit” dropped this Spring.
Other standout hip-hop hits of 2019 and rappers on the rise:
- Baby Keem – “Invented It”
- Boogie – “Silent Ride”
- Childish Major – “Bro”
- Dreezy and Kash Doll – “Chanel Slides”
- Guapdad 4000 – “Iced Out Gold Chain”
- Lil Baby, The Plug, and WSTRN – “Red Eye”
- Lil Keed and Young Thug – “Proud of Me”
- Lil Tecca – “Ransom”
- Maxo Kream – “Meet Again”
- Pop Smoke – “Welcome to the Party”
- Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats – “Relative”
- Roddy Rich and DJ Mustard – “Ballin'”
- ShooterGang Kony – “Off the Dribble”
- Tink – “Bad Side”
- Trippie Redd – “Who Needs Love”
- YK Osiris – “Change”
Four more amazing rising rap debut albums worth your time:
- Pardison Fontaine – UNDER8ED – the Cardi B and Kanye West ghostwriter, now signed to Atlantic, steps out and makes his solo debut with assists from New York veteran Jadakiss and power couple Cardi and Offset
- Polo G – Die a Legend – the prince of Chicago drill
- Sheff G and Sleepy Hollow – The Unluccy Luccy Kid – bringing drill to New York
- Tobi Lou – Live on Ice – the energetic, playful Chicago native
Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road (Remix) [feat. Billy Rae Cyrus]”
It would be seriously remiss, however, if I talked about the biggest songs in hip-hop this year and didn’t mention Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Possibly the biggest song of the year, “Old Town Road” took on both the norms of country music and hip-hop to a degree farther than anyone has ever done before, setting a new record for longest No. 1 single on the Billboard charts when Billy Rae Cyrus co-signed an appearance on the remix.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Continuing the coverage of rap in 2019, the second big team-up of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib produced potentially the best rap album of the year, by far. With features from Black Thought, Mos Def, Pusha T, and Killer Mike, Bandana displayed rap mastery from true lyrical legends of the art, and the release ushered in a stellar year for pros and returning veterans to show off:
- Benny the Butcher and Black Thought – “Crown for Kings”
- Gang Starr and J. Cole – “Family and Loyalty”
- Kevin Gates – “Fatal Attraction”
- Little Brother – “What I Came For”
- MIKE – “Take Crowns”
- Offset – “Lick”
- Smoke DZA and Wallo – “Harsh Reality”
- T-Pain and Booise Badazz – “R.I.P. to the Parking Lot”
- YG – “Hard Bottoms & White Socks”
- 2 Chainz – “Threat 2 Society”
Four more amazing rap albums definitely worth your time:
- Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin? – the wacky, underground Detroit MC that embraces talents from Blood Orange to JPEGMAFIA
Earthgang – Mirrorland – Heralded as the closest Atlanta has to OutKast in the 2010’s, the Earthgang duo, signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville label, have proven with each release that the strength of a rap group is still alive in a genre dominated by solo figures
IDK – Is He Real? – The official major label debut from the DMV rapper who has garnered attention from Denzel Curry, A$AP Ferg, and even Kanye West, with features on ‘Is He Real?’ ranging from newcomers such as J.I.D. to legendary rappers DMX and Pusha T
- Quelle Chris – Guns – One of most respected underground New York rappers, rapping on ‘Guns’ about the weaponization of language, in context with this nation’s gun crisis
Future – “Love Thy Enemies”
Adding melody to the grit force of Rick Ross and Atlanta rap of the late 2000’s, Future ushered in the wave of modern trap today, and it’s on new singles such as “Love Thy Enemies,” where we can see the singer continue to push the envelope even further.
FKA twigs – Magdalene
Haunting and original, FKA Twigs’ Magdalene arrives on the heels of a break-up and a personal reconnection with her catholic upbringing. Her soprano shines through cinematic production and cathedral-like echoes, hypnotically drawing the listener into five-minute tracks such as “thousand eyes.” Partnered with collaborations with Future on “holy terrain,” and production from experimental electronic artist Nicolas Jaar, Magdalene, initiates the new and solidifies the fandom of her day ones.
James Blake – Assume Form
On Assume Form, James Blake seems ready to bridge the gap between his isolated depression and newfound love, and in that process, takes control of a narrative around his mental health that the media has used to criticize his music for so long. With help and encouragement from his new partner and The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, Blake finally seems hopeful in his music, collaborating with Travis Scott, Future, and even rising Spanish-language star Rosalia.
Other great songs in the same vibe:
- JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs and “How to Build a Relationship” with Flume
- Blood Orange – “Dark & Handsome”
- Toro Y Moi – “New House”
- Denzel Curry – “ZUU”
- Matt Martians – “Off My Feet / Westside River Anthem”
- Steve Lacy – “Guide” and “Sunflower” with Vampire Weekend
- SwaVay – “Who We Be” executive produced by James Blake
- Tame Impala – “Borderline” and “Whiplash” with Theophilus London
Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy!
A long way from “Sunday Candy,” Jamila put her love of nursery rhymes and celestial themes aside on Legacy! Legacy!, focusing on storytelling and paying homage to the rich history of influential African-American authors, artists, and political figures. Nitty Scott, Saba, and fellow Chicago come-ups join her as she soars over tracks like “Giovanni” and “Sonia.”
Four more amazing albums in the same vein definitely worth your time:
Little Simz – Grey Area – the British rapper and actress blew up after ‘GREY AREA’ was nominated for the Mercury Prize, placing her in a role in the Netflix-revived ‘Top Boy.’ The record has bite, drive, and some of the best lyricism of the year.
- Rapsody – Eve – produced by the legendary 9th Wonder and Khrysis, ‘Eve’ capitalizes on Rapsody’s success off of her appearance on ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’ and her exceptional 2017 release ‘Laila’s Wisdom,’ with a theme comparable to ‘Legacy! Legacy!’ and a mind-warping sample of ‘Watermelon Man’ on “Whoopi.”
- Sampa the Great – The Return – Hailing from Zambia, Sampa traveled the world in her youth from San Francisco to Australia, and told NPR that she learned, “more about myself as an African through my travels outside of Africa than in Africa.” ‘The Return,’ her best release of her career thus far, is the culmination of that process.
- Solange – When I Get Home – Solange returns home to re-experience where she started from the ground up, and in revisiting her roots, recalls the memories and feelings of belonging to a place. If ‘A Seat at the Table’ was meant to empower her fans, and the black women of America, ‘When I Get Home’ was made for her.
Khalid – Free Spirit
To ignore Khalid’s success is to ignore what most of America listens to on their radio or in shopping malls. When Free Spirit was released, along with infectious singles such as “My Bad” and “Talk,” Khalid was reported to have over 50 million monthly listeners on Spotify, beating out Ariana Grande to become, during that time, the largest global artist on the platform.
Other great songs from pop-oriented singer/songwriters:
- Benny Sings – “Not Enough”
- Brent Faiyaz – “Demonz [Interlude]” from Juice WRLD’s Death Race for Love
- Daniel Caesar – “Cyanide”
- DUCKWRTH – “KING KING”
- Lucky Daye – “Late Night”
- Maggie Rogers – “The Knife”
- Rex Orange County – “Always”
- ROMderful – “Make Me Feel”
Lana Del Rey – Norman F**king Rockwell
A massive tome of an album, Lana Del Rey approaches Norman F**king Rockwell much like a great American novel, with winding, flourishing language and nine-minute songs like she paid per word. It was decided, before the album was even released, that if anyone could parse through the emotion of the post-Trump, disillusioned malaise, it was Lana, and her soft-rock, Hotel California-leanings have elevated her depiction as America’s last remaining singer-songwriter of the golden era.
Other great indie rock artists and singer-songwriters:
- beabadoobee – “She Plays Bass”
- Cherry Glazerr – “Self Explained”
Frankie Cosmos – Close It Quietly
- Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
- Leonard Cohen – “What Happens to the Heart” – his posthumous single
- Mac DeMarco – “Nobody”
- Maren Morris – “Make Out with Me”
- The National – “Quiet Light”
- Sharon Van Etten – “No One’s Easy to Love”
- Soccer Mommy – “Be Seeing You”
- Vagabon – “Full Moon in Gemini”
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
On a massive platform of body positivity, Lizzo was able to sell “Truth Hurts,” a two-year-old single that didn’t generate much buzz, to a new audience more liberal and supportive than ever before. Matched with flute solos and a remix with DaBaby, she doubled-up with her fantastic record Cuz I Love You, accompanied by hits such as “Juice,” “Like A Girl,” and “Exactly How I Feel” with Gucci Mane. Lizzo was able to capitalize on a world more in tune with appreciating and loving yourself for who you are, and it may just help her sweep the Grammy’s in 2020.
Mahalia – Love and Compromise
While most of these tracks, “I Wished I Missed My Ex,” “Do Not Disturb,” and “Simmer” with Burna Boy, have been ruminating for a while now, so much so that concert goers have known all the words to the former as an encore, it’s nice to have them all finally in one home, with her debut record Love and Compromise. Combining bedroom pop with modern R&B sensibility, Mahalia joins fellow British artist Ella Mai and even Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin, to sing of love and loss on the young singer’s long-awaited first big collection.
Rosalia – “Aute Cuture”
Possibly the greatest music video of the year, Rosalia capitalized on last year’s El Mal Querer with “Aute Cuture,” a biting heater with venom in her nails. If anything was to push Rosalia passed the Spanish traditional into the mainstream pop world, it’s “Aute Cuture,” and lyrics such as, (translated) “Heels, moles to kill, calm down,” and “when I call the bull, I’ve already dominated him.” Killer.
Snoh Aalegra – ugh, those feels again
A self-described “cinematic soul artist,” Aalegra is interestingly signed to ARTium, No I.D.’s label that also boasts Jhene Aiko and Vince Staples, two other artists that always try to capitalize on the idea of the “mood.” On the aptly named follow-up to FEELS, ugh, those feels again settles into a room-consuming aroma, and replay-value tracks such as “I Want You Around” provide ample easy listening.
Tierra Whack – “Only Child”
Blowing up 2018 with Whack World, a 15-track album full of one-minute songs released on Instagram live, Tierra Whack turned the streaming industry upside down, bursting in with new ideas and charisma to back. On a bit of break following her XXL Freshman placement, Whack released a bunch on songs beforehand, with one being “Only Child,” more of a full-length track that one could expect to see if she ever decided upon a more traditional release.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
On his previous record, Flower Boy, Tyler threw aside his monstrous personas and “bloomed,” with a beautiful record serving as his grand coming out moment. IGOR is a combination of the two, as Tyler goes through the ups and downs of a relationship while also confronting his greatest fears and weaknesses. His pop sensibility is matched with his aggression, and the full spectrum of Tyler as an artist is on display. Catchy, heartbreaking, and satisfyingly relatable, Tyler finally made his masterpiece, and it feels like he knows it this time around as well.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.