Best Albums of 2019

 Evan Dale // Mitch Dumler // Dec 30, 2018 

2019 was a phenomenal year for album releases. It seemed like every day, another innovative project came our way by an established star. But in greater measure, inventive efforts blessed us from new-comers far and wide.  Now, we take a step back and reflect on our favorites from 2019. These are the best albums of the year...

Dreamville | Revenge of the Dreamers

As a whole, Revenge of the Dreamers lll is the work of a top-tier hip-hop collective and their incredibly connected friends. But it’s also much more than the kind of project that is sure to reignite hip-hop’s storied past of collab albums. It’s an hour-long exhibition of what’s possible when hip-hop and that storied past reaches past its fading boundaries and into a surrounding framework of fierce stylistic, geographic, and experimental creativity. And though definitely a Dreamville production, it’s a more wide-spread exhibition of musical nuance and endless talent than any sole label could hope to unearth alone.

Our Original Reaction to Revenge of the Dreamers lll:
Why is Revenge of the Dreamers our Top Project of 2019
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Solange | When I Get Home

The difficulty with risk-takers is that once the risks they take become digested by their audience, utilizing similar experimentation in new music no longer counts as taking a risk at all. And yet, to it, Solange has found a way not only to continue pushing the boundaries of a series of lanes founded in a past of 90’s R&B, but has turned it into something progressively more inventive, experimental, risk-taking, and ultimately influential on music as a whole. Artists from across music, primarily in the scenes that her adjacencies near – hip-hop, R&B, Neo-Soul, jazz, funk – are applauding the genius of When I Get Home.

Our Original Reaction to When I Get Home:
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Ari Lennox | Shea Butter Baby

Shea Butter Baby is America’s greatest 2019 Neo-Soul project. The lines between the styling and that of R&B are certainly blurred and difficult to distinguish, but Ari Lennox’s affinity for organic instrumentation in opposition to an electronically-driven sound that has come to dominate R&B’s mainstream, makes her debut much more closely adhering to a project like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Solange’s When I Get Home than it is to something like Leven Kali’s Low Tide. There isn’t a superior sound, but hers gives a UK-dominated field of jazz-inspired, instrumentally driven soul music a run for its money. 

Our Original Reaction to Shea Butter Baby:
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Santi | Mandy & the Jungle

At a time in artistic and cultural history when the nuances of Western Africa – focused primarily in Nigerian and Ghanaian roots – are garnering a respect and an influence over the globe’s larger culture, Santi’s Mandy & The Jungle deserves a spot in the conversation as one of this era’s most important collective works. A West African cultural renaissance has been shaping up for years and has seemingly now bubbled over, exploding across the globe with vibrant fashion patterns, drums, jewelry, and vocal deliveries. Santi soundtracks it all with vibrancy. But he’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Our Original Reaction to Mandy & the Jungle:
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Kota the Friend | FOTO

Kota the Friend’s sonic texture is delineated third by his easy-going nature, second by the effortlessness with which he does what all of us could only dream of doing, and first by his ability to take that gift and that demeanor and make it palatable and personal through his undeniable storytelling ability. FOTO is his story in the way that all of our stories are driven by stories of others just as much as they are by our own. It’s a coming-of-age tale creatively, personally, and emotionally. And its strongest trait is its relatable recount of a complicated, mostly content life that has gotten Kota to where he is today.

Our Original Reaction to FOTO:
Raveena | Lucid

It’s not easy creating music so much bigger than itself. It’s even harder to do so while still creating something timeless, influential, and unique. Lucid is velvety perfection for any fan of R&B and neo-soul’s histories, driven by the same kind of floaty key and bass instrumentation made famous by a Motown era and forever immortalized by legends like Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell. That instrumental prowess joins with downtempo, minimal modern production to polish Raveena’s already crystalline vocals in an auditory amber worthy of her lyrical poeticism. And all of it happens amidst one of the most socially powerful albums in memory.

Our Original Reaction to Lucid:
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On August 23, SAINt JHN released his sophomore album, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs – a title in ode to his rather likeness to a young Lenny Kravitz that’s every bit as humorous and absurd as it is meaningful and oddly wholesome. SAINt JHN wields an evocative voice and is a master of emotionality. So, as somewhat of an inverse to Collection One’s primary direction being a project of absurdist, hyphy hip-hop anthems, only dotted by softer explorations of R&B adjacency and an apparent affinity for 80’s and 90’s-inspired romantic ballads, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs – as a 2019 album – is not so far removed from the very auditory aesthetic that drove Lenny Kravitz’s golden years. 

Our Original Reaction to Ghetto Lenny's Love Songs:
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SiR | Chasing Summer

As a whole, Chasing Summer is blessed with the truest mark of a TDE album: storyline. Each track is unquestionably bearing a proud identity, but together – although not as thorough and intensive as the interstellar storyline behind November – Chasing Summer comes together as a much more homegrown journey of love and life. Its tracks are, however, no simpler in their thematic discourse and musical composition. There are clear signs of growth in his artistry. Akin to November, SiR’s sophomore album is a masterpiece that is already blowing up the charts. And it deserves to. One of the most anticipated projects of the year, Chasing Summer still manages to exceed expectations. 

Our Original Reaction to Chasing Summer:
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Kojey Radical | Cashmere Tears

Through and through, Cashmere Tears is a pure display of Kojey Radical’s adherence to art and meaning. In liquid bliss, it transcends genre and stylistic preference at an even wider range than he’s shown himself capable of before. Sonically, it’s downright listenable and danceable, wavering between funk, soul, and hip-hop in a manner that is better described as Kojey Radical than any assigned variation of the three. And at its deepest, it’s a book of poetry where Kojey radical fills every moment with penmanship as fervently thought-out and evocative as has ever existed. Masterpiece. 

Our Original Reaction to Cashmere Tears:
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There is no way to pull together such a wide-ranging swatch of artistry under one common umbrella without the genius work of a producer who understands not only each musician, but how each musician’s music can be understood and celebrated next to that of another. And from top to bottom KAYTRANADA showcases the immense beauty of modern music, setting himself at the understated backdrop as a producer who has mastered – maybe even reinvented tropical house music. In a world where it’s easy for electronic producers to be overlooked, KAYTRANADA outshines a collection of some of the most important names in music as the force that brought them all together.

Our Original Reaction to BUBBA: