We are now over the halfway point in the year, and there has been some really great music worth talking about.
Plenty of artists from a variety of genres have impressed, but if there is any trend that has stood out, it is the sudden rise of UK rap. In this list, I will spotlight 10 albums, in alphabetical order, that have really left an impact on me, and that I believe are worth mentioning to this point in 2019.
Only two of those albums are from British rappers, but slowthai’s “Nothing Great About Britain” was the last cut to miss this list. Having three UK rap albums in contention is something I would never have predicted at the start of the year, but here we are. So here it is, my list for my 10 favorite albums through the first part of 2019.
“ANIMA” – Thom Yorke
Radiohead is undoubtedly one of the greatest bands in recent memory, but Thom Yorke’s solo projects never were able to quite reach the same heights. Enter “ANIMA,” a truly spectacular solo effort that manages to wow with impressive productions and beautiful vocals all the way through. From the glitchy “Twist” to the gorgeous “Dawn Chorus,” what Yorke manages to pull off here is guaranteed to be one of the best electronic albums this year.
“Bandana” – Freddy Gibbs & Madlib
This duo wasn’t over after one critically-acclaimed collab, oh no. Five years after the success of “Piñata,” rapper Freddy Gibbs and producer Madlib combine again for a fantastic assortment of rap songs that brings the genre back a decade in all the right ways. Gibbs has terrific flow and lyricism behind all of the master producer’s incredible beats, and the few skits and features work fantastically along with it all. “Massage Seats” is a personal favorite, as well as “Giannis,” which also has a great Anderson .Paak feature along with it.
“GREY Area” – Little Simz
25-year-old Little Simz really set the rap game on fire out of nowhere with “GREY Area,” which is as solid and consistent an album as you will find so far this year. From the visceral energy of “Boss” and “Venom” to the creativity seen on “101 FM,” I love what Simz puts together on this project. This is one of those albums I was not anticipating whatsoever, but as soon as I got ahold of it, I knew it was something special.
“Heard It In A Past Life” – Maggie Rogers
“Heard It In A Past Life,” is an album that I liked when I first heard it, but have loved more with each repeated listen. Maggie Rogers’ major-label debut album uses the Pharrell Williams-discovered artist’s voice brilliantly over beats that occasionally pop, but more often than not just work to bring out her voice more and more. “Overnight,” “The Knife” and “Light On” are major highlights, but Rogers makes her voice work wonders over the entirety of this terrific debut record.
“IGOR” – Tyler, the Creator
After “Flower Boy,” his best album, I wasn’t sure how Tyler, the Creator could go up from there. While I’m not sure yet if this is up, “IGOR” is absolutely on par. With this album, Tyler makes a near-genreless album, mixing so many elements together to make this project something that is truly one of a kind. His vocals are improved, and the production is heavily distorted, but a severe improvement over “Cherry Bomb” from 2015. “EARFQUAKE” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, “NEW MAGIC WAND” is visceral and powerful, and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” is a perfect ending to the magnificently crafted story.
“Injury Reserve” – Injury Reserve
Another debut album here, this one from a rap group that has been some great EPs over the past few years. But Injury Reserve, with all the build up, managed to pull through, and in a big way. The trio benefits from producer Parker Corey giving loads of outlandish beats for Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie With a T to bring some impressive verses to the table. The trio themselves are highlighted most on songs like “Gravy n’ Biscuits,” while also working excellently together with features on various tracks with JPEGMAFIA, Amine and Rico Nasty.
“PSYCHODRAMA” – Dave
Another UK rap album that I did not expect to care about, and another one that totally blew me away. 21-year-old Dave pulls off some truly gut-wrenching stuff with “PSYCHODRAMA,” focusing on strong lyricism to stand out among some stripped back beats. From the opening and closing tracks to “Screwface Capital,” to the 11-minute track “Lesley” that left my jaw dropped, what Dave has shown here is nothing but potential, and the ability to carry a project on voice and lyrics alone.
“thank u, next” – Ariana Grande
This list ends with a trio of female-led pop albums that all stood out in very different ways. The most traditional of them was Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” an album that totally blew away my expectations. Coming off another great album in “Sweetner” so fast felt like a move to cash in on the success of the titular track. Instead, Grande found a way to make a consistently hitting, well-produced album that has some of her darkest lyricism to date. “ghostin” and “imagine both create such a spacy atmosphere that feels almost transcendent, while “bad idea” and “NASA” are just total bops that fit well within the project.
“Titanic Rising” – Weyes Blood
Weyes Blood, aka Natalie Mering, made a Titanic, get it, level shift in the pop genre with her beautiful record, “Titanic Rising.” This album, from the stunning production to amazing lyricism on every track, feels very much like the album cover would suggest. Mering brings you into her world and keeps you there for the entirety of the album, as songs like “Andromeda” and “Something to Believe” stand out. But no song stands out more than “Movies,” which is truly in the running for the best song of 2019 at this point.
“WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” – Billie Eilish
Closing out the list is 17-year-old Billie Eilish, who puts all of her angst and raspy vocals to use brilliantly in this yelly title I don’t really want to spell out again. Eilish, through a variety of instrumentals and even some samples from “The Office,” improves on her sound in ways that make her vocals work and that makes this project one that stands on its own. The lead single, “bury a friend” was a great taste into horror pop, and “wish you were gay” and “bad guy” both are songs that show the true range Eilish shows before even becoming a legal adult.