In the latter part of the closing decade, much has been said about hip-hop’s undeniable profitability and how it has influenced the direction of pop culture. And rap in 2019 wasn’t necessarily prolific, but it was still rewarding all the same. Rapsody established herself as an all-time great with her conceptual, womanism creed Eve, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib somehow exceeded expectations with their sophomore joint album Bandana, and Little Brother reunited for the first time in a decade while sounding closer than they had ever been. Dreamville united artists from around the country to fellowship and create a once-in-a-lifetime project in over two weeks. DaBaby emerged as one of rap’s rookies of the year, showing he can actually spit just as well as he can provide theatrics and laughs.
While hip-hop became the most popular genre, R&B was arguably the most vibrant and dynamic in 2019. A roster of brave, unique newcomers and established veterans are taking the music itself into one of its most creatively prosperous eras in years. Ari Lennox infused neo-soul back into the larger conversation, Summer Walker gave us vulnerability that made us willingly uncomfortable, and Lucky Daye is basking in romance at a time where singers are accused of going after rap machismo. Meanwhile, Raphael Saadiq tackled addiction and sought closure with an album that pays homage to his fallen brother.
The year also saw further globalization of music from different countries. Nigerian singer/songwriter Burna Boy had a star turn with his African Giant LP along with placements on the soundtrack for Queen and Slim, and Beyonce channeled the sounds from Africa for The Lion King: The Gift. Latinx artists like Ozuna, Anuel AA, and Bad Bunny continue to bring Spanish-speaking hits from across the spectrum, while lending assists to their English-speaking counterparts. Listeners’ tastes are growing, and artists are keeping up by making great music to serve them with.
Below, see VIBE’s top 30 albums of 2019.