By Daniel Paiz
Welcome back to the Year End Awards article!
2019 confirmed yet again that it is simply impossible to listen to every single project that dropped over the past twelve months. With that being said, it felt like there was a smaller group of albums grabbing our attention compared to 2018. The choices below for our 8th Annual Year End Awards might surprise compared to previous years.
2019 contains the same guidelines set up last year, but with a twist. The cut-off for album consideration is still from December 1st of 2018, but the cut-off in November was moved up to November 24th due to a late Thanksgiving. That’ll lead to a slightly larger period of consideration for 2020, but that’s for next year’s team to worry about.
The Seven Best albums this year are projects that didn’t grab as many highlights as one might expect, but that’s partially due to a shift on our end; underground and local acts have been matching if not outright surpassing the mainstream in the realm of Hip-Hop; 2019’s list reflects this below.
The Honorable Mentions are always full of projects that might’ve been your favorite; it happens a lot, so be prepared to be surprised. In addition to selecting our Seven Best Albums of 2019, other awards will also include the Most Underrated Artist of 2019, the Hardest Working, the Capital Steez Award, and the Next One Up Award. It’s time to reveal who created the Seven Best albums of 2019.
Our Seven Best Albums of 2019 Are:
7. Gang Starr: One of the Best Yet
This is the first album from the iconic duo since 2003. Guru puts on a clinic from the great beyond, especially on tracks Bad Name and Family & Loyalty. DJ Premier engineers a classic piece of art that both adds new artists on that classic Preemo sound, but reminds us all of how timeless Guru sounds with anyone.
6. Dag Savage: The Warning Tape
Exile has this ability to enhance talent that’s already there to that next level. The sonic foundation laid by the prolific producer/DJ is elevated by Johaz’s lyrics and rhyme schemes. Amadeus, Travelin’ Man and Reverse are three tracks that best highlight this. This project in particular tests the possibilities of what the underground can create.
5. Aesop Rock and DJ Tobacco: Malibu Ken
Always a master class in lyricism, Aesop Rock shows again how he fuses storytelling with unique lyrics. There are certain emcees that have a distinctive flow and sound; DJ Tobacco does a very good job of laying the foundation for Aesop to flex in. This makes us curious as to what Aesop has in store for 2020.
4. Rapsody: Eve
Highlighting important women in history as a conceptual compilation of rhymes could have been very academic. Rapsody manages to make it accessible. She transforms stories into verses that continually hit deep, which is a risk few others are taking. Tracks such as Ibtihaj, Myrlie, and Hatsheput are prime examples of this. At this point, it’s frankly telling if you aren’t recognizing the work Rapsody has put in.
3. Murs and The Grouch: Thees Handz
Veteran emcees Murs and The Grouch bounce back and forth effortlessly, it’s wild how natural these two sound together. The humor, their unique narratives, and a healthy helping of both LA and Bay Area beats creates some fun and intriguing hip-hop. This duo should be around awhile, as few others match their chemistry.
2. Little Brother: May The Lord Watch
Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh create timeless nostalgia that feels like LB picks up EXACTLY where they left off. Doing so despite the change in production (no 9th Wonder here, but that’s not exactly new on LB records) is impressive. Tracks like Sittin’ Alone and All in a Day remind us what we’ve been missing. Grown man rap is on the rise.
1. Big K.R.I.T: KRIT IZ HERE
This album feels like a triumphant arrival for an artist that’s been slowly learning and growing over the past decade. KRIT has grown as an emcee now that he doesn’t burn himself out both rapping and producing; this still isn’t even his peak yet. Make It Easy and Life in the Sun are two tracks that show how the production matches the storytelling. KRIT is hard work exemplified, and the right artist to be #1.
- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana
- Skyzoo & Pete Rock: Retropolitan
- CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: CZARFACE meets Ghostface
- People Under The Stairs: Sincerely, the P
- Choosey & Exile: Black Beans
- Murs: The Iliad is Dead and The Odyssey is Over
- Injury Reserve: Injury Reserve
- Brother Ali: Secrets and Escapes
- Danny Brown: uknowhatimsayin¿
- Jidenna: 85 to Africa
- Lyrical Landlordz: The R.A.P Agreements
- DJ Shadow: Our Pathetic Age
- Logic: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
This year was a bit different, because there were a couple of frontrunners and then a BUNCH of albums jockeying to fill five of the seven spots. It was surprising to me who made the Seven Best, because I thought it’d be a few others instead.
Big K.R.I.T and Little Brother were slightly ahead of the field, but Rapsody, CZARFACE, and Murs & The Grouch all were in the mix as well. The first three albums listed in the Honorable Mentions were all but in the Best Seven for most of the scoring.
The Most Underrated Artist of 2019:
Everybody listed in the “Honorable Mentions” section. Seriously! There’s a lot of talent that isn’t getting the attention they deserve; pick any of the twenty albums listed above and you likely will find more people that haven’t heard of a majority of these artists than have. 2020 is going to be different.
Hardest Working Artist of 2019:
Exile is the guy in charge over at Dirty Science, and he’s been very busy in the lab. Albums with both Choosey and Johaz (Dag Savage), tours in the US and abroad, and shows throughout the year have kept the producer/DJ very busy. He’s one of those artists that if you know about him you know what he creates and helps to build.
It’s unlikely that if you’re into hip-hop, he hasn’t come across your search in some capacity. 2019 was a year of showing how strong the underground hip-hop world is; 2020 is the year the underground has the curtain lifted again, thanks in part to Exile.
The Capital Steez Award (or, the Artist we wished we knew more about award):
Nipsey was an artist giving back to his community, growing his palette as an emcee and a community organizer. “The Marathon Continues” wasn’t just a slogan for his brand and store, but his mentality in life. While he wasn’t an artist I listened to much, I always respected his grind and his message. Like Mac Miller, Phife Dawg, and many others who have left us, he is somebody worth checking out.
The Next One Up Award:
These guys are really good, and they are nowhere near their ceiling. I’m a bit hesitant to include them because I don’t want them to go the way of Ratking a few years back. With the guests featured on this most recent album however, that hopefully doesn’t happen. As always in Hip-Hop, there are numerous new groups emerging and jostling for the top of the rap game and for attention. This group should be one of those left standing when the dust settles.
The eighth edition of the Cypher Sessions Year End Awards has come to a close.
For those who have been around since 2012 with us, we appreciate your continuous support. For those just joining us, or who started somewhere in between 2012 and now, welcome to the fun. As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Enjoy New Year’s Eve, and here’s to a Happy New Year! Look for more articles in the new year, because Cypher Sessions will continue to produce new content on what grabs our attention.