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Our 25 Favourite Albums of 2019

Denzel Curry, Ari Lennox, Slowthai, and more of the team’s favourite records this year.

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2019 made for an interesting close to the decade, with some of the biggest names of the 2010s such as Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake missing from the running for album of the year. Instead, we made room for a new generation of stars with acts like Megan Thee Stallion, Slowthai, and Ari Lennox capturing our attention with outstanding debuts, cementing themselves as the artists to watch coming into the 2020s. We also saw some serious sound-refining, with artists like FKA twigs, Skepta, Tyler the Creator, Denzel Curry, and Octavian delivering exceptional new releases this year. So without further ado, here are the top 25 albums (or mixtapes) of 2019, as voted for by our writers and contributors. 


01. Denzel Curry - ZUU

ZUU is a sharply focused, unrelentingly fun album that flawlessly bridges the gap between the open-shirted, cigar puffing Miami rap of the 2000s and the colourfully braided, Xan-popping, ad-libbing Florida sound of today, crowning Denzel the King of The Sunshine State. ZUU is generous to his home city (the title is a nickname for Carol City, Florida) and to the listener. It’s a tightly edited 29 minutes of back-to-back single-worthy joints. The Australian duo FnZ, who executive produced the album, helped Denzel keep it all killer, no filler. It’s his best yet, and our favourite of 2019.  — Cass N.

02. Slowthai - Nothing Great About Britain

Nothing Great About Britain is a damning yet roaringly fun appraisal of a fiercely divided Britain. Slowthai’s barbs, aimed at Royals, Tories, and their devotees, are often more incisive and certainly wittier than anything found in The Guardian’s op-ed section. Delivered with a wry smile, Slowthai is a charming protagonist pitching a different kind of national pride—in outsiders, in all the Brits dealt a dud hand. The mosh-inciting Mura Masa collaboration ‘Doorman’, an electrifying marriage of post-punk and grime sounds, is a particularly riotous highlight on an album that rarely loses momentum, and earlier cuts like ‘Drug Dealer’, ‘North Nights’ and the breakout ‘T N Biscuits’, tucked at the tail end of the extended digital album, sound as hard as ever. – Joey C.


03. Tyler, The Creator - Igor

There’s perhaps no better proof of Pharrell’s influence on Tyler than inspecting the sonic make-up of IGOR, but the complexity and creativity on display in this project is a firm reminder that the former Odd Future head honcho might just have the potential to surpass the legacy of his idol. With the music he made in his teens in mind, it’s remarkable that the newfound openness he manifested on 2017’s Flower Boy has bloomed into the unmatched vulnerability he showcases on this record. Unrelentingly catchy, the contained chaos of IGOR confirms that Tyler knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing now, and it’s a beautiful thing. – Dan P.

04. Erika de Casier - Essentials

On her debut album Essentials, the Danish vocalist and producer Erika de Casier has taken an incredibly well-produced turn-of-the-millennium R&B sound and reworked it into something that feels surprisingly current. It’s very referential—Janet Jackson, Ashanti, TLC, and Craig David come to mind—but instead of letting you slip into a haze of nostalgia, Essentials makes you reflect on the way we experience life and love in 2019, particularly how enmeshed our phones are in our romantic interactions. ‘Little Bit’ snatches the crown for song of the year for me—the final 35 seconds are unbelievably perfect—but every track on this album is flawless. ‘Puppy Love’ features some of my favourite, and perhaps the most millennial sounding, lyrics of the year: “But wait a minute / I have a lot of questions / What’s your favourite colour and are you a gemini?” You can practically hear her convincing her crush to download Co-Star and call his mum to find out his birth time. And FYI, ‘Do My Thing’ should really be the Southern Hemisphere’s hot girl summer anthem, it’s that good. Listen to it alone in your room or listen to it in your room with someone else—either way, Essentials is a sexy listening experience. – Cait B.

05. FKA Twigs - Magdalene

What can I say about Magdalene, FKA twig’s first album in four years, that I haven’t already said in our exclusive feature on her earlier this month? Not much, really. It’s her magnum opus. An album so earth-shatteringly brilliant that it sounds like Kate Bush and Enya made a child and sent her back to 2019 to give us a taste of what pop music will sound like in the future. Anyway, sometimes random people on YouTube sum things up better than I can, so here’s one of my favourites from the comment section of twigs’s unexpectedly industrial sounding banger, ‘Fallen Alien’: “fallen alien??? more like fallen wig.” My thoughts exactly. – Cait B.

06. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana

TBH I’m furious that this isn’t ranked higher and am actively staging a hunger strike in protest. The problem is nobody in the office eats lunch with me anyway and so far nobody has noticed. Don’t let these jerks fool you though, Bandana is the album of the year. Pinata set the stage in 2014, and in 2019, Gibbs is tech-rapping laps around the competition (‘Massage Seats’), proving to be just as capable a coke rapper as any who came before him (‘Palmolive’) and— something he is rarely given credit for—balancing it all with candid self-evaluation (‘Gat Damn’). Oh and Madlib produced the whole thing on a fucking iPad. I don’t see how there’s even grounds for comparison here. – Steve D.

07. Skepta - Ignorance is Bliss

Grime don Skepta returned this year with his first album in three years, and while it may not have been the dri-fit clad punch in the face that Konnichiwa was, the 36-year-old showed a more refined version of the sound that took him from UK legend to the world stage back in 2016. Ignorance is Bliss is a celebration of UK rap, with Skepta shining a light on the new guard: “Shoutout Lancey, Headie, and J Hus. Shout 67, yeah you see them with us, we was on tour, bare weed on the bus.” Big Skep effortlessly switches between old-school grime joints like ‘You Wish’ and ‘Gangsta’ (featuring his BBK day ones) and dancefloor hitters like ‘Love Me Not’ (complete with Sophie Ellis-Bextor sample). Nuff love to Skepta for being of the few MCs on this list to produce almost all of his own beats, too. Greeze! – Cass N.


08. Ari Lennox - Shea Butter Baby

J. Cole discovered Ari Lennox on SoundCloud back in 2016 and, realising a good thing when he heard it, signed her to his Dreamville label. It’s taken three years for her full-length debut Shea Butter Baby to materialise, but it was more than worth the wait. Ari delivers 12 irresistible neo-soul R&B tracks in an intimate way, exploring life and love as a millennial woman—referencing Tinder, Target, and cough drops along the way—and the interludes between songs give the listener time to really get to know her. ‘New Apartment’ is my favourite, a jaunty ode to being alone in your own place for the first time: “I just got a new apartment / I’m gon’ leave the floor wet / Walk around this bitch naked / And nobody can tell me shit.” – Cait B.

09. James Blake - Assume Form

While some might find the loved-up introspectiveness of James Blake’s third outing Assume Form a little cloying, I think there’s something endearing about the unapologetic romance of it all. The genius sampling of Bruno Nicolai’s ‘La Contessa Incontro’ on ‘I’ll Come Too’, my favourite track on the album, makes the song swell with joy. It’s a song so pure in its desire to follow a lover wherever they go that it’s led YouTube commenters—my favourite way to get a read on how a song’s being received—to write things like, “I don’t fear death now.” When I played it to my friend in an Uber for the first time, she loved it so much she drunkenly declared that she was going to get married to it. Whether she meant she’ll walk down the aisle to this song or wants to legally marry it, I still don’t know. The point is, this album is so captivatingly, heart-on-it’s-sleeve romantic that it’s hard not to let your cynical self be swept up in it all. And in 2019, an album that let us transcend all the world’s shittiness and instability, even just for a brief moment, was a bit of a blessing, really. – Cait B.

010. Octavian - Endorphins

This one took me a little while to come around to because I was trapped in a cycle of listening exclusively to HP Boyz, Hooligan Hefs, and ONEFOUR. But when I deviated from my Australian drill bubble, I had Octavians’s mixtape Endorphins on constant replay. His unorthodox melodies sung with the husk of a pack-a-day smoker felt so refreshing, and Octo quickly became my most listened to artist of the year, according to my Spotify Wrapped. It gets me mad for one reason though, and that’s because the second half of ‘Risking Our Lives’ isn’t a full song. Fuck that shit. – Mustafa A.

011. Maxo Kream - Brandon Banks

In his Roc Nation debut, Houston’s Maxo Kream packs his bars with personal anecdotes over a series of bellowing 808s and eerie synths. Tracks like ‘Eight Figures’ are bound to make you mean mug, while ‘She Live’—featuring an assist from Megan Thee Stallion—brings dance-ready drops from the window to the wall. Additional features from Travis Scott, Schoolboy Q, and more ensure that Trigga Maxo is still firing straight heat. – Henry O.

012. Dave - Psychodrama

I was in the middle of a trip to London during the rollout for Dave’s debut album Psychodrama. I remember seeing some sort of promo for it at every tube station and street corner, which blew my mind, because you never see Australian rappers plastered all over public transport. I vividly recall sitting in my Airbnb listening to ‘Lesley’ for the first time, sobbing and shovelling jerk chicken into my mouth—what a time. I also spent untold hours on Genius, breaking down the intensely packed B-B-BARS ’til me brain started hurting. Madness. – Mustafa A.

013. Kehlani – While We Wait

On While We Wait, recorded and released just prior to the birth of her first child, Kehlani sings often about letting go. ‘Footsteps’ is about knowing the right time to leave a relationship, and mixtape highlight ‘Nights Like This’ is about cutting off the past and accepting the future, despite the temptation to fall back into the comfort of what’s familiar. It’s like Kehlani is saying goodbye to her old life and slowly embracing the new; a theme explored—again through the lense of a romantic relationship—on ‘Butterfly’. Or, shit man, maybe she just straight up wrote songs about breakups and I’m reaching. It’s art bro, who knows. – Steve D.

014. Megan Thee Stallion - Fever

Play any of Megan Thee Stallion’s big hits this year (‘Realer’, ‘Hot Girl Summer’) and you’ll pick up a little bit of her un-touchable, un-cuffable energy by sheer osmosis. Fever proved she’s more than a million-stream motivational speaker, with her breezing through R&B joints like ‘Big Drank’ and Billboard climber ‘Cash Shit’. She’s a chart fixture, bitch!  – Joey C.

015. Headie One - Music x Road

Tottenham’s Headie One was basically untouchable all year round; from January’s disgustingly good single ‘18Hunna’ to a standout feature on Stormzy’s early Christmas present Heavy Is The Head. Music x Road was delivered with impeccable timing in August, just as Headie was becoming a household name in the UK. The album boasts features from Dave, Stefflon Don, Krept & Konan, and Skepta, but it’s Headie that wields the Rambo here, pushing UK Drill into uncharted territories by mixing his unconcerned roadman flows and razor-sharp wordplay with trap, grime, afrobeats, and pop sounds. Decoding Headie’s bars is part of the fun. “Losing weight all last year and I ain’t ever been on no diet”—he sold drugs all year. “Me and T Buck see two opps on the mains and we ended up doing both”—things got a bit knifey on the street. Saying ‘shh’ instead of a person’s name to avoid incriminating yourself? Headie did it first. Oh, and ‘Both’, with that incredible sample of Ultra Nate’s 1997 house hit ‘Free’? Song of the year, don’t @ me. – Cass N.

016. DaBaby - Baby on Baby

Rap has changed a lot, but sometimes a hard flow and an impeccable street fighting record is all you need to crack the code. On his debut, DaBaby flexed a monstrous, unstoppable, Jason Taumalolo flow. On social media, he was trying out chins like Solomon Haumono. There’s no need to complicate things, just run it straight son. – Steve D.

017. Burna Boy - African Giant

Nigeria’s Burna Boy cemented himself as one of the most valuable features of 2019, appearing on tracks alongside Jorja Smith, Mahalia, Beyoncé, Stormzy, and Ed Sheeran. He nabbed Grammy nominations, sold out arenas, and blared over the speakers as UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman walked to the octagon. In March, Burna dropped the exceptional collaborative EP Steel & Copper with LA production duo DJDS and in July he snatched the afro-fusion crown with his fourth studio album African Giant. The title came about after Burna Boy checked Coachella for having his name too low and too small on their flyer, taking to Instagram to let them know: “I really appreciate you, but I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please.” Big up! – Cass N.

018. Daniel Caesar - Case Study 01

IMO one of the smoothest vocalists in music today, Daniel Caesar returned after a quiet two years with Case Study 01, the follow up to his debut album, Freudian. The progression in his songwriting is evident and every second of this album is a pleasure to listen to. ‘CYANIDE’ is such a blissful track and the remix featuring Jamaica’s breakout star Koffee (which unfortunately didn’t make it onto the project) is even better. – Mustafa A.

019. Young Thug - So Much Fun

So Much Fun is so much fun. Thugger and friends get in their Birkin bag over a plethora of good ol’ trap production cooked up by the likes of Wheezy and Pi’erre Bourne and executive produced by J. Cole. The result is a barrage of different flows, autotune experiments, and classic thugger one-liners: “I been with your mummy ’cause your daddy a jabroni.” The sunkissed sound of ‘Surf’ featuring Gunna, and the certified head-nodder ‘Bad, Bad, Bad’ with Lil Baby makes this album feel like a well-deserved vacation for Thug—his mission with this record was to fill it with fun music—after spending half of the last decade revolutionising rap. – Henry O.

020. Tinashe - Songs For You

Our girl Nashe returned with a much-awaited independent album that saw her finally circle back to the sound we fell in love with from her pre-Aquarius era mixtapes. It’s the same breathy vocals over crisp R&B instrumentals, but this time her experience (and baggage) puts a weight behind the lyrics that make her work all the more endearing. Plus, it features all the Ben Simmon’s subs we’d been waiting for. Tracks like ‘Hopscotch’ and ‘Die A Little Bit’ present Tinashe at her most experimental, and instil hope that she’ll be back on track and pushing the genre to its limits in no time. – Dan P.

021. Solange - When I Get Home

“I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many…” It’s a lyric that echoed through my ears after the first listen through of Solange’s third studio album, When I Get Home. It’s an album that rests unhurried in the blur that was 2019. It’s an album that sounds like a pillar: a wall of sound created from drawing on every aspect of her musical history to date. As far as I’m concerned, When I Get Home is Solange’s magnum opus. Best track: ‘Almeda’. – Laura F.

022. Gunna - Drip or Drown 2

Young Gunna Wunna! For a while there, he was essentially known as the Morty to Young Thug’s Rick, often copping heat from comment section bad boys for being a Thugger imitator. It was in 2019 that we really saw him become a superstar in his own right—coming very close to Thug’s 1.2 Billion Spotify streams with 1.1 Billion of his own—and now we’re even seeing Gunna imitators! Drip or Drown 2 is apparently his debut studio album and for me, Gunna’s ability to ride Wheezy and Turbo’s signature ATL production like a buss down steed gives it an addictive quality that gets better with each listen. Highlight tracks are ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Richard Millie Plain’. (Gunna also happens to be my favourite dressed rapper in 2019, highlight fits are this and this.) SLATT. – Cass N.


023. Blood Orange - Angel's Pulse

For Dev Hynes, his career is less a line, more a squiggle. He’s been Lightspeed Champion. He’s been Blood Orange. He’s been Dev Hynes. But it’s this chameleonic nature that’s given us his 2019 mixtape Angel’s Pulse. If 2018’s Negro Swan is a cherry pie—rich, understated, even a little tart in places—then Angel’s Pulse is a chocolate chip cookie: homely, patched together, resolutely charming. I listen to this album through headphones, flat on my back in the sunshine, and I encourage you to do the same. Best track: ‘Dark & Handsome’. – Laura F. 

024. TisaKorean – A Guide To Being A Partying Freshman

For me, music this year often felt like it delivered a more refined version of existing sounds—a good thing—rather than introducing wholly new ideas—also a good, but different, thing. Not so with TisaKorean, the Houston 24-year-old you’ve most likely encountered through his feature on the Chance The Rapper track ‘GRoCERIES’. Listening to his 2018 song ‘Dip’, which he also produced, I was reminded how hyped we all got of Carti’s early joints, which presented ad-libs and vocals more like instruments or percussion. TisaKorean’s varied voices, accents, and exaggerated intonations are really weird, but in the best way, and the super sparse, lo-fi beats on A Guide To Being A Partying Freshman let his vocal affectations really standout. – Joey C. 

025. MIKE - Tears Of Joy

Tears of Joy is Bronx rapper MIKE’s sombre ode to his late-mother, rapped over a series of sun-soaked, self-produced instrumentals—20 of them to be precise, with the majority of them coming in at under two minutes long. His baritone delivery breaks through the warped, soulful samples and each track segues into the next seamlessly, as MIKE explores vulnerability on gloomy cuts like ‘Whole Wide World’ but shows he’s still got tough bars on others like ‘Goin’ Truuu’. – Henry O.