2019 hasn’t been the best year for hip-hop compared to highs of 2018. Call me spoiled but a majority of records this year haven’t come close to the brilliance of works such as Daytona or Astroworld.
Despite that, much of the material we got in 2019 was still very good, despite falling short of the expectations set by fans. However, it also means that there were a plethora of albums that fell way short of the standards that were expected of them.
← 2018’s List
Steve Lacy — Apollo XXI
This isn’t a hip-hop release but I still want to mention it anyway since Steve tends to be fairly involved in the genre at times.
Most well-known for his contributions to The Internet and his collaborations with artists such as Kali Uchis and Vampire Weekend, Steve Lacy has been a silent tour-de-force in the music industry.
Instilling a sense of funk into anything he comes into contact with, fans have been clamouring for a solo album since the very impressive Steve Lacy’s Demo.
However, despite finally shining the spotlight on himself, Steve chooses to retreat into the background, allowing the music itself to do the talking for him instead. His penchant for groovy production is present for the most part, albeit much more toned down than usual. But the severe lack of energy and presence from Steve himself causes Apollo XXI to fail at justifying Steve Lacy’s attempt at being a solo artist.
10. Beast Coast — Escape From New York
An album from a supergroup comprised of the rap collectives – Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers should have blown the hip-hop world away.
Each hailing from New York, their respective discographies are exercises in bars, bars and more bars. So it should have been a no brainer that Escape From New York was expected to be a lyrical hurricane that would blow away the competition.
But in actuality, the album came and went without leaving as much of a dent.
The group still brought their A-game rapping-wise and the production is suitably grimy, perfect as a shared Beast Coast aesthetic. Yet, two elements severely hold the record back. Most of the hooks are weak and lack memorability, which in turn leads to an over-reliance on the rapping to serve as highlights.
Unfortunately, each rapper fails to distinguish themselves from one another; save for Meech (due to his gruff voice) and Joey Bada$$ (naturally, since he’s the most well-known member). Eventually the record blends into a hodgepodge of words that dulls the sharpness of the group’s lyricism and chemistry.
9. Juice WRLD — Death Race for Love
Juice WRLD is one of the biggest musicians working today. His brand of auto-crooning is an immaculate blend of Post Malone’s pop sensibilities and XXXTentacion’s impassioned delivery. His last album Goodbye & Good Riddance proved that he had found a strong footing when it came establishing a sound for himself.
Which makes Death Race For Love all the more disappointing when it’s essentially a retreading of work that he’s done better of in the past. There’s little-to-no evolution here, and worse than zero artistic progression is 22 tracks of banal pandering that plays it safe for guaranteed success.
Juice WRLD definitely has it in him to experiment with different styles, just look at his work with Ski Mask the Slump God on “Nuketown”. Still, he knows his audience given how his career growth shows no signs of stopping, so maybe hoping a significant sound change might be asking for too much.
8. Tyga — Legendary
Tyga had one of the greatest comebacks of 2018 with the irresistible “Taste” and “SWISH”. Nearly a billion plays off these two tracks alone, the Compton rapper had all the hype behind him to drop one of the most ignorant, twerk-inducing, club banging albums of 2019.
Then, he completely pissed away all the goodwill he had managed to build up with Legendary.
Tyga is a rapper that flourishes when he lands on a monstrously addictive beat and proceeds to sparsely rap over them; i.e. “Rack City”. He’s not a lyricist and he certainly isn’t the most charismatic on the mic.
Hence, his turn into making generic trap songs over club party music was a step in the wrong direction. Songs like “Lightskin Lil Wayne” are serviceable when Tyga is able to hit his stride over a certain flavour of production. But the rest of Legendary shows how desperately he needs to have quality beats behind him if he plans to craft a cohesive project.
7. Kanye West — JESUS IS KING
I’ve aired a lot of my grievances with this album before. Still, if I’m talking about disappointing albums, JESUS IS KING has to be mentioned.
A quick listen through the leaked Yandhi songs paints a fairly clear picture of why fans are upset at the record. Finished songs that were stripped back in favour of subdued worshipping, eccentric performances toned down for muted singing; the album we got is an inferior version on nearly all fronts.
Essentially a living legend, the expectations that the music community places on Kanye is staggering. Every disastrous release cycle always brings with it the hope that we’ll get the ‘Old Kanye’ again.
But JESUS IS KING is placed low on this list, because we shouldn’t expect Kanye to create another classic anymore.
6. Doja Cat — Hot Pink
Doja Cat hit a wonderous stride at the tail end of 2018. First achieving virality with her cow-inspired hit “Mooo!”, the Los Angeles rapper then followed it up with the incredible “Juicy” and “Tia Tamera” w/ Rico Nasty.
Proving that she could make both sugary pop-rap tracks and thumping trap bangers, Doja’s versatility was the key weapon that she carried into her new album.
Lead singles “Bottom Bitch” and “Rules” were also strong indicators that Hot Pink would continue her trend of producing quirky tracks that showcased her personality and penchant for alternative sounds.
Yet the album had nothing of the sorts as she spends track-to-track chasing after chart success. Generic pop tunes and indistinct singing plagues Hot Pink, thoroughly drowning out any form of individuality that Doja Cat had displayed prior.
Be it label interference or just a lack of vision, this album is a step back on all fronts.
5. Nas — The Lost Tapes 2
Showing up twice on this list in 2 years, Nas is on a significant downturn in his career and things don’t seem to be looking up for the iconic rapper.
Announcing a sequel to one of his most beloved projects, The Lost Tapes series is a collection of B-sides that failed to earn a spot on official Nas records. And given how incredible the first one was, fans were salivating at the potential greatness that had been gathering dust within the Def Jam vaults.
But after a 17-year long wait, The Lost Tapes 2 proves that Nas should have kept the vault locked and thrown away the keys.
Every beat on here dated and his bars are subpar at best. If Nasir was him on autopilot, Lost Tapes 2 is Nas on cruise control in a no speeding zone. All the heart and swagger that he had commandeered in the past was completely lost, and the plethora of legendary producers present also fail to salvage and inject life into the record.
I’d never thought I would describe a Nas album as boring, but here we are.
4. Lil Pump — Harverd Dropout
Lil Pump’s career was riding off the power of memes. “Gucci Gang” shot his fame past the stratosphere, his genius use of social media kept the hype going, and an eventual nonsensical collaboration with Kanye West himself made Harverd Dropout one of the most anticipated releases of 2018.
Still after numerous delays and singles that failed to leave a dent on mainstream listeners, the album finally dropped in 2019 to a muted reception.
The raw energy of his debut mixtape was replaced with glossy trap beats, which detracts from the amateurish charm that made him so endearing to people in the first place. It was the textbook definition of a label repackaging a young artist to prepare them for mainstream consumption.
In a twisted way, Harverd Dropout feels like Lil Pump put in too much effort in a bid to create another “Gucci Gang”, where the entire record feels much too manufactured and ends up losing sight of what made him appealing in the first place.
3. Logic — Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
This album is hot garbage. The beats are stale, the lyrics are horrendous and Logic sounds like he has his head much further up his ass than usual.
First coming onto the scene as a fresh, hopeful emcee who wore his inspirations on his sleeve, the Maryland rapper has slowly transformed into a caricature that lost all self-awareness. Slowly but surely expanding his ego over the course of each project, it’s tough to find anything at all to love about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
The reason why this isn’t higher up on the list is because the quality of his projects have been dipping ever since he dropped The Incredible True Story.
And I’m also glad that I didn’t have to write about Supermarket here (it’s not rap), if not I would have lost my damn mind.
2. ScHoolboy Q — CrasH Talk
Prior to this album, ScHoolboy Q was one of the most unique voices in rap today. Oxymoron was a tour-de-force in abrasive gangster rap. Blank Face LP then streamlined that sound better for mainstream audiences while still maintaining the rawness of his sound.
So imagine the collective disappointment when he pivoted to stereotypical trap rap on CrasH Talk. It’s not a bad record by any means, in fact, the album is pretty good. Yet given that this is the same guy that gave us the immaculate, aggression-ladled lead single that was “Numb Numb Juice”, the resulting product was confusing to say the least.
The album was extensively delayed since Mac Miller’s sudden passing, so (with no disrespect intended) it was expected that ScHoolboy would have woven his feelings of grief and acceptance into the record. Instead, what we got was a party record for people that leave 10 minutes after arriving.
CrasH Talk feels detached, like it was made by an artist that trying to fulfil an obligation rather than forming a cohesive statement. It’s disappointing as it is depressing to listen to.
1. Chance the Rapper — The Big Day
Absolutely hilarious wife-loving jokes aside, The Big Day is a prime example of having concept but failing to expand on it.
Marriage is a topic that hasn’t been explored enough in hip-hop, and hot off the heels of the endearingly wholesome Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper seemed like the prime candidate to delve deep into one of the most significant moments of our lives.
But whereas any of Chance’s prior mixtapes had the depth of swimming pools, his official debut album instead has one of a half-filled kiddie pool.
Shoddily written and atrociously performed, it wasn’t a bad idea to anchor a project around love and admiration with a significant other. However, what Chance fails to communicate to his listeners is context.
Marriage is a process. There’s a journey of getting to know someone, the process of chasing or accepting them, struggles that rear their heads at a moment’s notice and so much more. A relationship is multi-faceted but The Big Day makes it sound as flat as his singing on the album’s title track.
Not only is this the most disappointing rap album of the year, it’s also one of the worst albums of the year.
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