The Rap Round-up: Best of 2019

Hip-hop will ring in 2020 with remembrance and reverence instead of bottles and pyrotechnics. The shocking loss of 21-year-old Jarad Anthony Higgins, bka Juice WRLD, in early December blindsided fans who were still grieving the senseless murder of Nipsey Hussle. Juice WRLD’s death, along the previous passing of artists like Fredo Santa, Mac Miller and Lil Peep, awakened a new awareness to the vulnerability of these idols, as well as the lack of meaningful support available to young people facing enormous pressure within the music industry.

Tragedy tinged many narratives this year. YNW Melly remains in prison, awaiting trial for crimes eerily similar to the violence depicted in his lyrics. YoungBoy Never Broke Again celebrated his first no. 1 album while on house arrest stemming from his involvement in a Miami shooting. Maxo Kream tackled the human toll of incarceration on ‘Meet Again’ and Freddie Gibbs outlined the lineage of slavery to incarceration over gritty samples spun to gold by longtime collaborator Madlib.

While the year had its fair share of open format crowd pleasers — thank Saweetie, DaBaby and Drake — some of the most popular new artists connected with audiences based on their frank and unglamorous reckoning with the realities of life on the street. Artists like Roddy Ricch, Polo G and Calboy use a flat melodic style, addressing their audiences in a direct, conversational tone. Violence, while ever present, isn’t used as a narrative device to declare our narrator the victor in a conflict; instead, it’s used to underscore illustrations of a game where all the participants lose.

Rod Wave, one of the most brilliantly self-aware lyricists of the year, captured attention for introspective lyrics that connect his anger and volatile moods with the pervasive abandonment and trauma endured throughout his formative years. The eloquence with which he describes his own toxic traits and patterns is dazzling to listeners who relate but lack the ability to form their suffering into words — much less a song.

Life isn’t as easy to categorize into comedy and tragedy and straddling the line between pain and laughter results in one of rap’s most resonating chords. Out of Detroit, raconteur Danny Brown turned his lurid life into twisted tales while Teejayx6 laid out step-by-step instructions for scamming that are so specific they verge into outlandish. Atlanta crooner KEY! lamented a lover’s infidelity with an exhaustive list of humiliating evidence: new Balenciagas, suspicious meetings and too much time at the pool.

Elsewhere, Houston’s Ambjaay broke out with a ludicrous Spanglish sing-a-long; Camp Blood’s experimental noise-rap flirted with critical recognition; Missy Elliott made an iconic return to form. While technically released in the final days of 2018, Bad Bunny’s ‘La Romana’ merits inclusion for the audacity of releasing a dembow burner this hot well after end-of-the-year coverage is usually filed.

On the final track of the playlist, one of the most recent included here, Lil Uzi Vert teases his long-awaited project Eternal Atake and takes us into the new year with the appropriately named ‘Futsal Shuffle 2020’.

Tracklist:
Nipsey Hussle – ‘Racks in the Middle’ [Feat. Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy]
Juice WRLD – ‘Robbery’
Baby Keem – ‘INVENTED IT’
DaBaby – ‘Suge’
Schoolboy Q – ‘Numb Numb Juice’
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – ‘Flat Tummy Tea’
E-40 – ‘Chase the Money’ [Feat. Quavo, Roddy Ricch, A$AP Ferg & Schoolboy Q]
Danny Brown – ‘Dirty Laundry’
Teejayx6 – ‘Dark Web’
Drake – ‘Money In The Grave’ [Feat. Rick Ross]
Polo G – ‘Pop Out’ [Feat. Lil Tjay]
Calboy – ‘Envy Me’
Lil Tjay – ‘F.N’
PopLord – ‘Cap & Gown’
Memo600 – ‘Wipe Yo Nose’
Rod Wave – ‘Heart On Ice’
YoungBoy Never Broke Again – ‘Lonely Child
KEY! – ‘MIAMI TOO MUCH’
Maxo Kream – ‘Meet Again’
YNW Melly – ‘Mixed Personalities [Feat. Kanye West]
Kembe X – ‘Voices’
Father & Zack Fox – ‘Family Function’
SahBabii – ‘Green Eggs & Ham’
Lucki & CHASETHEMONEY – ‘More Than Ever’
Valee – ‘You & Me Both’
Lil Keed – ‘It’s Up Freestyle’
NLE Choppa – ‘Shotta Flow’
Level – ‘Stomped Out’ [Feat. DJ B-Real]
Camp Blood – ‘Aerosol’
WNC WhopBezzy – ‘Wig Off’
Saweetie – ‘My Type’
Stormzy – ‘Vossi Bop’
Bad Bunny – ‘La Romana’ [Feat. El Alfa]
Missy Elliott – ‘Throw It Back’
Charlie Heat & Denzel Curry – ‘ALOHA’
Ambjaay – ‘Uno’
Ashnikko – ‘STUPID’ [Feat. Yung Baby Tate]
YG – ‘Go Loko’ [Feat. Tyga & Jon Z]
Lil Tecca – ‘Ransom’
Doja Cat – ‘Tia Tamera’ [Feat. Rico Nasty]
Lil Uzi Vert – ‘Futsal Shuffle 2020’

Lorena Cupcake writes about every facet of culture. Find their insightful coverage on music, food and more at lorenacupcake.com.

Olivea Kelly is an independent artist and designer. Find her on Instagram or at opk.studio.

Find all of FACT’s year-end coverage here.