#5EUK Top 20 Albums of 2019
So ladies & gentlemen... We have finally reached the final list of the year and my final written piece of the decade. And boy is this going to be a juicy one.
As you have gathered, I have decided to double my list from 10 to 20. My reasoning for this is because I have had a great year for music! All I have heard in the dying months of this year is that 2019 has been a terrible year for music.
Without spoiling another article I'm thinking of writing, you're wrong for saying that. Well, not wrong but it can easily be remedied. But as you can see from me doubling my list, I disagree with everybody saying that.
This list is ranked, I have spent weeks going over my list, moving stuff around, listening back to everything. It's a fun but time consuming experience! A little "behind the curtain" talk for those that are interested. I've mentally split up my list into tiers, some albums I could easily chop & change with the ones below or above them. I won't say where one tier ends & one begins, but it's an interesting quirk I've realised when writing this list up.
If you're like me and you try to listen to as much as you can, there won't be many moments you wheel up an entire album. I tend to listen to something once, grab some tracks for my Regular Rotation and then move onto the next one. Think of a buffet, I take a bite of some Chinese, then Italian, then BBQ. Now times that by 172. (As of 18th Dec)
So when talking about criterion, especially for albums dropped earlier in the year, I have to have a good memory of it. When I see the artwork or the title, do I go "That was a great listen."? That's why it was very easy for me to pick a shortlist of about 35-40 but the more I cut, the harder it got to rank.
It's probably not the best method, I don't consider myself a music reviewer by any means because I don't stew with every album I listen to, (At least I don't skip tracks 30 seconds in and call that 'listening' like a lot of you do...) but I love what I listen to, I love exploring and these lists that I do is an expression of that love. I wouldn't dare act as if I'm a pro at this.
Before we begin, thank you so much for reading. Whether it's your 1st or 100th article by me, I really do appreciate it. I'm finding less and less time to do these but I love it and will always find time for these lists, even if I don't do so for articles that could be written during the year.
But anyways, enough chatter... LET'S GET THIS LIST GOING!
No.20 - The Hoodies - Blood Thicker
There will be a few albums on this list that I guarantee nobody will put on their lists. This is one of them.
I was IG one time earlier in the year and I peeped a Funk Flex freestyle featuring this dude and this young kid. I was initially like "That kid can't be older than 12". And then I peeped the freestyle. E Class & Young Poppa traded bars like vets. I was hooked.
Soon after that I peeped this album and was blown away. Not just because Young Poppa is a damn pre-teen dropping heat, but because this is a genuinely boss rap album that is unmistakably New York. The beats hit, the wordplay is tight. I was genuinely surprised at how good this album was. This manages to be classic 90s NY rap with modern beats and I for one don't mind that at all.
Favourite Tracks: I Came Up, It Don't Stop, Take It
No.19 - Sampa The Great - The Return
Zambian native, Botswana raised, Australian resident. Just think about the amount of experience those three countries house, especially the stark opposites that the first two African nations have compared to a place like Australia.
Just on the face of it you could imagine how disorientating it could be for a 26 year old such as Sampa The Great.
But you don't have to imagine, you can just listen to "The Return", an album clocking just over 1 hr 15 minutes that takes you through a journey of finding inner peace & solid ground in an industry known for it's constant fissures.
Sampa as a performer is a fascinating one to listen to, considering her unique tone of voice and how she likes to play around with said voice. Then combine that with production that is Hip-Hop in essence but takes plenty of elements of classic Soul, R&B, even Jazz at times, but more in execution than sound. Then you get to the plethora of features that all serve their purpose to whatever song they're on. This is a unique album simply because Sampa has a unique background. You just don't find many Hip-Hop artists like this, and that, along with the constant shift in sounds & important lyrics deserve attention.
Favourite Tracks: Final Form, Summer, The Return
No.18 - Emeli Sandé - REAL LIFE
If you know me, you know I love Queen Emeli. She's one of my favourite singers, not just of the decade but ever. She had to fend off a lot of competition but I'm happy that I found a place for her on the list.
Her 3rd studio album, whilst it's not my favourite work from her, (That goes to her previous album that was No.1 on my first ever album list in 2016) you can't deny that Queen Emeli is one of the UK's greatest songwriters of the Century so far.
And above all of that, the thing that puts her over the top for me is her emotional range. A few examples I can pick from this album; "You Are Not Alone" is a hope personified. You feel a type of way? You aren't alone in that. "Shine" is joy personified. It's a glorious celebration of life and shining the light that we all have in ourselves. The final track "Free As A Bird" is freedom personified. Every time I go outside and see birds flying over me, I always hold the ambition to fly. This track really holds that ambition for myself.
Queen Emeli's ability to emote in every facet of singing & songwriting is so genuine, so authentic. This album really shows that. And the background singing/instrumentation behind her just gives me chills several times over the course. It's clear that Queen Emeli has found a good place in her life and gives us something to help us find that good place we all strive for. I for one appreciate that. All hail.
Favourite Tracks: Human, Shine, Free As A Bird
No.17 - Mereba - The Jungle Is The Only Way Out
Listening to this album was the first time I listened to Mereba. I went in not really knowing what I was in for.
And as you can see by being number 17 on my list, I enjoyed it a lot.
As I was listening, I was initially surprised how the songs were flowing so well, even though the genre of said songs weren't always pin-point. Take "Kinfolk" for example. Mereba floats on a super deep acoustic guitar. It sounds like the song you end a Western film on.
Then a song later you get "Black Truck" which sounds like a subdued Electronic/Neo-Soul track. And if that wasn't enough, Mereba raps on the back end of the track!
AND THEN she gives Spoken Word on "dodging the devil". She does a little bit of everything, experimenting whilst sounding very familiar. Rapping, Spoken Word, singing, stacking vocals. In anybody else's hands this would be a mess. But she manages to make this ride brooding yet airy.
Favourite Tracks: Kinfolk, Get Free, Stay Tru
No.16 - Gang Starr - One Of The Best Yet
I don't know how DJ Premier does it man... Doing an album like this, with a name of such substance like "Gang Starr". This couldn't be trash, but as we know with many posthumous albums, it's so easy for that to happen.
Premier nailed it. He did what a legendary producer could only do. He had some Guru bars and created a cool 37 minutes that didn't seem like it was flooded with features.
Although there are some on here, like MOP, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Royce Da 5"9 & J.Cole, (who said he's retiring from features after being on the same track as Guru) it's Gang Starr through & through. It's unmistakable. It sounds like Guru was here to help record. Premier didn't stretch too thin, he kept it simple and in my opinion, did Guru justice. I didn't expect a Gang Starr album when coming into 2019 but damn am I happy this not just came, but is genuinely a great album to spin. RIP Gifted Unlimited, Rhymes Universal.
Favourite Tracks: Bad Name, Family And Loyalty, Bless The Mic
No.15 - Megan Thee Stallion - Fever
For years I've been wondering why I couldn't vibe with the likes of Minaj, Cardi, Kim.
Don't get me wrong, I can listen to all of them, but they never got me hooked. (Not that I'm their target audience, but still.) Until Megan Thee Stallion dropped this dumb fun Mixtape.
THIS is a bop from start to finish. Thick bass, Southern AF, and bars that'll make you scrunch face. This woman's confidence on a mic is off the charts, she fears nobody and come on, the artwork is a homage to Blaxploitation! Her authenticity is infectious, her rhymes are scalpel sharp & she empowered all women this past summer. If she said she moves mountains, I would believe her.
Favourite Tracks - Realer, Cash Shit, Rachet
No.14 - Yugen Blakrok - Anima Mysterium
So last year we were blessed with the Black Panther OST. I loved it of course, but there was one artist on there that I never heard of but really caught my ear with her deep voice. Similar to MC Lyte, but just more, mythical.
Enter South African artist Yugen Blakrok & her album "Anima Mysterium".
I haven't been able to get this album out of my head for months. It's sounds so familiar with it's Boom Bap beats but her lyrics & delivery are so far from the origins of Boom Bap. She raps like she's not from here. Not in flow or anything like that, but just in what she says, I've never heard lyrics like this.
It's convenient that Kool Keith features on this album because I would've referenced him as one of those artists I've never been able to pin down. Rappers like these are a rare breed. I love this album for it's pure mystery, as a body of work and her as an artist. If you're looking for a challenge, give this album a listen and help me break the lyrics down.
Favourite Tracks: Obsidian Night, Morbid Abakus, Monatomic Mushroom
No.13 - Alfa Mist - Structuralism
Not to spoil the list, but this is the only Jazz album on my list. The reason for this is simple. There were many Jazz albums that I loved this year (I'm proud to say that it's the first year I can say that with confidence.) but this one has no lulls for me.
Every other Jazz album I spun this year had lulls. I can say for sure that there were Jazz albums with higher highs than "Structuralism". But I like consistency and this album by Keyboardist Alfa Mist is great from start to finish. The key ingredient for this album is the way Alfa & his band build tension without trying to blow my ears off. Some crescendos can be a bit too much, the climaxes on here have weight but don't turn the level to 11, to quote Spinal Tap.
Another thing I love about this album is that Alfa as a Keyboardist sets the tone an allows for others to shine. The drum & bass on ".44", the trumpets on "Jjajja's Screen", Jordan Rakei on "Door" and of course Kaya Thomas-Dyke on the wonderful "Falling".
It's taken a few attempts for Alfa Mist to find his sound, but he's got it now and I'm gassed to see what he's got in mind next.
Favourite Tracks: .44, Falling, Door
No.12 - Ocean Wisdom - Big Talk Vol.1
It's an appearance for one of the four best pens in the game & a former holder of my No.1 Album of the Year spot!
Even though this isn't "Wizville" level for me personally, I can't knock the evolution that Wizzy has during this album.
The Mixtape houses a really interesting concept that rings true in many walks of life. The further you go into the Mixtape, the more you realise that it's semi-autobiographical. Ocean has a manager that hears the music at the same speed we do. We know this because now & again his manager rings him up to discuss the previous track. Some he loves, some he doesn't. Ocean gradually gets more agitated with his manager and by the end of the tape (Spoiler alert) he goes independent.
Why does that ring true? Because this tape is his first project under his own label! Story-line aside, the bars are silly as always, especially when there's a feature with him. He steps it up when he's collaborating and as always, I struggle to keep up! Can't wait for Vol.2!
Favourite Tracks: BLESSED, BREATHIN, YUNG BOY
No.11 - Apollo Brown - Sincerely, Detroit
I was listening to an interview with the aforementioned DJ Premier a while back and he was talking about being a producer. He likened it to being a coach for a sports team. Coaching, advising the people that are on his tracks, on his album, making sure that they all give their best.
Take that concept and then take a look at the track list of "Sincerely, Detroit". How many features do you think are on this? I got the answer for you...
FIFTY-SIX! This guy brought 56 artists to help him create this love letter to Detroit. Speaking of Detroit, every sing one of those artists are Detroit rappers.
I just want to say that even though this is 11 on my list. The creative feat achieved here by Apollo Brown demands applause. Imagine a love letter like this to LA or NY? You can't because it'll never happen. Apollo Brown got it done for Detroit though. Salute to him and this boss piece of Detroit Hip-Hop art.
Favourite Tracks: Thought In Mind, Stopwatch, Dominance
No.10 - The Alchemist - Yacht Rock 2
This album has been so slept on in my opinion. How nobody is putting this on their lists is baffling.
In fact, The Alchemist in general, is one of the best producers in the game right now. He's consistently been a quality producer, with smooth beats, fun skits (See: "Lamb Over Rice") & great samples. This is a great example of ALC at the top of his game. If you spin this from start to finish (like you should for every album...) and not look at the track listing you will struggle to notice when the song you're listening to ends and when the next one begins.
This album has some of the most buttery smooth transitions you will hear this year. And the summer, on a yacht vibes that the artwork holds are exactly what you get. Pop some sunglasses on and vibe out.
Favourite Tracks: Stugots, Boat Shoes, Sand Castles
No.9 - Villain Park - The Recipe
Shout out to my boy Josh for putting me onto these three West Coast beasts. From first listen I got some of the best bars, some of the best beats & some of the best throwback vibes this year.
If you like Classic West Coast Hip-Hop, listen to this, especially "Cold Game" & "Thang On Me". But if you just like some aggressive Hip-Hop, you got that as well.
Listening to this album makes me think "was 90s West Coast the best Hip-Hop sound ever?" It's something worth thinking about! Because this album BUMPS in so many different ways. The only thing that would make this album better is if some songs had West Coast legends on them. Listen to "Thang On Me" and then imagine Nate Dogg on the hook. Peep "Smoke Break" and then imagine Snoop dropping a verse. These guys got potential, I hope doors open for them because they're repping the West Coast so heavy with this and it makes me wish that TDE would rep West Coast more sonically.
Favourite Tracks: Cold Game, Thang On Me, Rare Form
No.8 - Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning
At 8 we have another member of my four Best Pens in the Game, the wordsmith Loyle Carner, back with another album full of wonderful Hip-Hop sounds that are accessible to all and lyrics to make mother cry.
The album is book-ended by two Spoken Word pieces, one by Carner, talking to his mother & the other, his mother talking to him. Everything in between is just as idyllic.
Obviously this album is great from start to finish but I just want to highlight that the four song stretch from "Angel" to "You Don't Know" is on of the best stretches this year. The features are perfect for every track that has them. This is just another amazing album from Loyle Carner that I'll praise forever. He's that rare voice that has the skill of being one of the Best Pens in the Game but doesn't sound extravagant. He's just a regular dude that happens to spit amazing bars. So refreshing.
Favourite Tracks: Ice Water, Ottolenghi, Loose Ends
No.7 - Choosey & Exile - Black Beans
So congratulations are in order! Exile is the first person to have a song on my songs list, an EP on my EP list and an album on my album list! All in the same year.
And obviously I think it's well deserved because Exile is, like The Alchemist & Apollo Brown, one of the best producers in the game but rarely get the credit.
His work with Choosey on "Black Beans" is excellent. Not because of the quintessential soulfulness that Exile manages to do every time his name is on a project, but the samples on here are so true to the concept. When the concept is Choosey reminiscing on his Afro-Latin heritage & upbringing in Los Angeles, any old producer would just make it "sound Latin" and call it a day. Exile goes that step further and digs for amazing classic Latin records and weaves them into the music.
And as the source for all of this, Choosey creates an album that is firmly Hip-Hop but is so personal in every facet, it makes you feel that Afro-Latin heritage. His stories are very rooted in childhood & teenage memories and those are mixed with Exile's beats that create a sense of childlike wonder. This partnership is so magical and is another album that sets itself apart from the rest.
Favourite Tracks: Low Low, You Got It, Brown & Beautiful
No.6 - HARRIETT - HARRIETT
Damani Nkosi & Ill Camille are two heavily slept on lyricists. They're both top tier in their own rights. But as a duo, the quality of bars from song to song is actually quite absurd.
The hook are great, there is NO LOW QUALITY VERSE on here! And the beats... Oh my days the beats that are on here are right up my alley. Think ATCQ, (Can also say that about the artwork.) Native Tongues. That's what I get from this.
You wouldn't think these two are West Coast but when I tell you that they recorded in Brazil & South Africa as well as the US, you start to understand more what these two are gunning for. Freedom, systemic oppression and music that is black AF. True Hip-Hop that really digs into the roots of not just Hip-Hop, but Afro-American music of yesteryear.
Favourite Tracks: Alkaligned, Alive, Here We Go
No.5 - Dave - PSYCHODRAMA
The Mercury Prize winning "PSYCHODRAMA"... I listened to this when it dropped on midnight and I haven't had such a visceral need to not listen to anything for a day.
I don't mean that in a negative way, I just needed a day to absorb the ice cold & unforgiving nature of this album. The pianos in several tracks felt like death to me. The 11 minute epic "Lesley" was so moving, I kind of wish there was a short film to go along with it.
Even though this is only number 5 on my list, I want to state clear that this is a seminal album for UK music in every sense of the word. Never has there been a UK Rap album with such depth & detail. And on top of that, has plenty of Regular Rotation worthy material. I knew Dave had this kind of album in him, I was just thinking it would be a few years down the line until we'd receive it.
No time like the present I guess.
Favourite Tracks: Streatham, Black, Screwface Capital
No.4 - Rapsody - Eve
I knew from first listen that this album would be in my Top 10. Like "PSYCHODRAMA", I peeped this when it dropped at midnight and was sent to a place.
Unlike my No.5 though, I went back to this album way more often. Rapsody has been growing from strength to strength for years. "Eve" is a celebration of the black woman. From Nina Simone to Michelle Obama to Hatshepsut, (Google it...) Rap took the essence of black women and created a whole album that does everybody mentioned justice.
And it's not just the concept that is perfectly executed. If "Laila's Wisdom" didn't convince you that Rapsody is one of the best lyricists out right now, "Eve" definitely sealed the deal. And I'm not talking the horribly antiquated "female rapper" 'category', I'm talking anybody. Rapsody is Top 5 right now. This album showed this.
Favourite Tracks: Nina, Ibtihaj, Iman
No.3 - Lowkey - Soundtrack To The Struggle 2
There has not been many albums where you can genuinely say the artist behind it has made a clear effort to highlight wrongs in their country. Some have songs here & there and do a great job of it. Lowkey has been doing it his entire career.
I won't say this is his best yet, simply because this is the first time I've listened to Lowkey, but from what I've read, I'm in for a treat once I dig into his back catalogue.
This album is 1 hour & 30 minutes of the most razor-sharp political commentary on modern Britain you will ever hear. Neo-liberalism, Islamophobia, racism, war economy, Palestine, Trump, Grenfell (covered twice) and to top it all off, two tracks of Lowkey just straight BLACKING OUT lyrically. This is sobering, eye opening and in my opinion, is one of the most essential albums of the decade. Everybody in Britain should spin this, regardless if you have differing political leanings.
Favourite Tracks: The Return of Lowkey, Ghost of Grenfell, Goat Flow
No.2 - Add-2 - Jim Crow The Musical
As you can imagine, since it's the end of the year & the decade, I've been having many conversations recently about Kendrick's "To Pimp A Butterfly". It's an album that I consider one of the best of All-Time for all the reasons that you have read about since it dropped.
The reason I mention that album, is because I haven't seen many artists try to tackle what Kendrick tackled with such nuance. Add-2, who I've only heard of for a month (as of writing) gets very close to that abstract level of nuance.
I've listened to a lot of albums this year that tackle blackness in all its forms, but none that does it in this semi-satirical way. The skits on here that are peppered throughout the album are funny but depressing at the same time. It's like watching old Stepin Fetchit videos, you can see the comedy in it, but you can't help but be uncomfortable for how dated it is and comparing it to the modern day. (Or... How we'd like to see the modern day...)
Add-2 does all of this. The satire, love, the brutal reality of being black in America but also delivering bars that'll catch you off guard. This is an outstanding example of Hip-Hop. I put this album in my Top 5 off first listen and it rose to 2 once I listened again.
Favourite Tracks: Git Your Hand Out My Pocket, Hashtag, Nappy Hair
No.1 - Little Simz - GREY Area
In past years I have been disingenuous in some of my picks for many reasons. To say that this is the album I've listened to the most this year. To say that its 10 tracks & 35 minute run time, while it may be short for the average album, packs so much heat that it would clock nearer to 50 minutes for some artists. To say that Little Simz is my favourite rapper not named Kendrick Lamar right now.
To say ALL of that and not put "GREY Area" as my Album of The Year, would be a complete and utter lie. This is a clean album in every way. No time wasted. Not here to talk your ear off. Give 35 minutes of your time and you will witness an artist reaching her peak lyrically after over 10 years of experimenting and working at her craft.
Inflo, who's had a great year in his own right, delivers a stripped back production that hits you when he bloody well feels like it. The features from Cleo Sol, Chronixx, Little Dragon & Michael Kiwanuka are superb.
This album to me, is a testament to those that don't like to shout their presence, but whenever they're listened to, people realise that that the loudest in the room is never the smartest. This album covers a lot of ground, but above all else, shows that Simbi Ajikawo is a Top 5 lyricist in the game right now, you just don't want to admit that from the fact that she's got ovaries...
Favourite Tracks: Offence, Venom, 101 FM
So... That's 2019. Below are my (many) honourable mentions. Be sure to look them up as well as the albums that made the Top 20. They're all brilliant bodies of work in their own right. Don't let the fact that I didn't have them on the list say that you shouldn't listen to them. You really should. If you're unfamiliar with an artist and you have questions before you invest time, hit me up ! You know where to find me. Remember, exploration is fun!
With that said... 2020... Whatchu got?
Theon Cross - Fyah
Blu & Oh No - A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer
Anderson .Paak - Ventura
Erick Sermon - Vernia
Ari Lennox - Shea Butter Baby
Jamila Woods - LEGACY! LEGACY!
Poldoore - Mosaic
Tank and The Bangas - Green Balloon
The RISE UP Project
Jordan Rakei - Origin
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
SOL Development - The SOL Of Black Folk
The Good People - Good For Nuthin
Lyric Jones - GA$ MONEY
BJ The Chicago Kid - 1123
Rich Brian - The Sailor
Nerija - Blume
Sye Elaine Spence - More
Kano - Hoodies All Summer
The Lost & Found - Alternate Ending
Skyzoo & Pete Rock - Retropolitan
Ashley Henry - Beautiful Vinyl Hunter
Brandee Younger - Soul Awakening
Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble - Where Future Unfolds
Robert Glasper - Fuck Yo Feelings
Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA
#5thElementLists #Music #EmeliSande #TheHoodies #SampaTheGreat #Mereba #GangStarr #MeganTheeStallion #YugenBlakrok #AlfaMist #OceanWisdom #ApolloBrown #TheAlchemist #VillainPark #LoyleCarner #Choosey #Exile #HARRIETT #DamaniNkosi #IllCamille #Dave #Rapsody #Lowkey #Add2 #LittleSimz