Hip-hop dominated, R&B innovated, and international artists broke through in 2019.

In the latter part of the closing decade, much has been said about hip-hop’s undeniable profitability and how it has influenced the direction of pop culture. And rap in 2019 wasn’t necessarily prolific, but it was still rewarding all the same. Rapsody established herself as an all-time great with her conceptual, womanism creed Eve, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib somehow exceeded expectations with their sophomore joint album Bandana, and Little Brother reunited for the first time in a decade while sounding closer than they had ever been. Dreamville united artists from around the country to fellowship and create a once-in-a-lifetime project in over two weeks. DaBaby emerged as one of rap’s rookies of the year, showing he can actually spit just as well as he can provide theatrics and laughs.

While hip-hop became the most popular genre, R&B was arguably the most vibrant and dynamic in 2019. A roster of brave, unique newcomers and established veterans are taking the music itself into one of its most creatively prosperous eras in years. Ari Lennox infused neo-soul back into the larger conversation, Summer Walker gave us vulnerability that made us willingly uncomfortable, and Lucky Daye is basking in romance at a time where singers are accused of going after rap machismo. Meanwhile, Raphael Saadiq tackled addiction and sought closure with an album that pays homage to his fallen brother.

The year also saw further globalization of music from different countries. Nigerian singer/songwriter Burna Boy had a star turn with his African Giant LP along with placements on the soundtrack for Queen and Slim, and Beyonce channeled the sounds from Africa for The Lion King: The Gift. Latinx artists like Ozuna, Anuel AA, and Bad Bunny continue to bring Spanish-speaking hits from across the spectrum, while lending assists to their English-speaking counterparts. Listeners’ tastes are growing, and artists are keeping up by making great music to serve them with. – VIBE staff

15/30 Jim Jones – ‘El Capo’

When The Diplomats first began to bubble in the early 2000s, many fans would never believe that nearly two decades later, Jim Jones would arguably be the most consistent and developed rapper in the group. But the self-described “Weatherman” has been making respectable albums for a while now, and his new El Capo is amongst his best, teaming him back up with Dipset’s go-to production crew Heatmakerz to revive the steely New York raps that fans love them for. And while many of hip-hop’s streaming platform favorites deliver pop-friendly wordsmithing, the Harlem native and his conspirators did not dumb down their double entendres for the sake of commercial success.

El Capo opened to the cinematic howls and coke bars of “Cristal Occasion,” a get money anthem that samples the voice of Mitch, from the ’02 classic film, Paid In Full. This nose-numbing theme is laced through head-bobbing tracks, “Love of The Hustle,” “Song Boxing,” and the Dave East-assisted, “Cocaine Dreamin.” In between the Crack Music voiceovers of Jones’ longtime production collaborators, Heatmakerz, purists are met by featured veterans like Maino, Curren$y, Fabolous, Jadakiss, and more. 

Capo’s rags-to-riches lyricism is best amplified alongside Bronx-spitter Fat Joe for their viral banger, “NYC,” and through the ingenuity of Dipset’s founder, Cam’ron, on three El Capo songs. Killah’s “Pity in the Summer” bar: “Me and Jim, we woulda made a livin’ smackin’ kufis off,” embodies the true-life humor which authenticated the hip-hop collectives’ early 2000s reign. Still, Jones’ 16-track exemplar triumphs cultural and political awareness atop 808s. 

“State of the Union” narrates drug-dealing plights within Black and Brown communities and is affirmed by Rick Ross’ and Marc Scibilia’s distinct scriptures. Notably, on “Good Die Young,” the MC pays homage to fallen artists, including the late Nipsey Hussle. Listeners may not receive a New York-based record this thorough for some time, but El Capo‘s versatile bravado will assuredly endure.

28/30 Wale – ‘Wow…That’s Crazy’

Wale’s sixth album, Wow… That’s Crazy, was propelled by the imaginative “Black Bonnie” music video. A retro-inspired visual which was centric upon the rapper’s Nigerian heritage, the movement of the Black Panther Party, and a black love that finds its way back in every lifetime. 

For die-hards, the single offered a preview of the cohesive LP en route, which placed the D.C. representer in his most vulnerable light ever. That’s Crazy lyrically pulls back the complex layers of Wale’s ascension in the music industry, lost relationships, and the healing self-awareness that led him towards therapy.

On the Issa Rae-motivated opening track “Sue Me,” Wale professed: “Womanizer, probably could’ve been a feminist/’Cause I respect ’em, but Lord, I got polygamy problems.” The MC’s synthy librettos straddle the album’s conscious effort to do right by women and on the songs that follow — including the Kelly Price-assisted “Set You Free,” and “BGM,” which tackles both the gender pay gap and parenting a daughter. 

With a Nina Simone voiceover amplified on “Love Me Nina / Semiautomatic,” and Diddy’s introduction to the danceable, “Debbie,” Wow… That’s Crazy’s cerebral gems are abundant. To add, Baba Folarin’s immaculate pen is etched across his Afrobeat-tinged, “Love & Loyalty,” and the Meek Mill and Rick Ross-backed banger, “Routine.”

Joining forces in the studio with word-slingers such as Megan Thee Stallion, Pink Sweat$, Jeremih, Lil Durk, and Bryson Tiller reaffirmed Wale alongside radio’s upper echelon. And amidst elite lyricism and the hi-hats of celebration, painful reality checks were issued through the nostalgic tune, “Cliché” featuring Ari Lennox and Boogie, and a somber 6lack collab titled “Expectations.”

From start to finish, Wale’s introspective approach to Wow… That’s Crazy’s composition personifies evolution, and if these 15-tracks are indeed Folarin’s final on wax, he exited at the top of his class.

Read Bianca Alysse’s contributions to the full story on VIBE.com

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is a creatively driven Bronx-born writer and editor. Before becoming The Knockturnal‘s music editor she served as Latina‘s creative coordinator and was a contributor at Billboard. The Boricua scribe has a lengthy resume in the music industry and has penned for Universal Music Publishing Group, Epic Records, G.O.O.D. Music, Compound Entertainment, Artistry & Récords, and Arcade Creative Group. Her work has been seen on platforms like VIBE, mitú, TIDAL, Remezcla, and behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week. As an independent contractor, she has written for Sony Music Entertainment’s global business affairs department, Warner Music Group, and currently Roc Nation.

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