Straight up: the UK killed it this year. We’ve finally reached a point where the best outputs of the rap scene at home is legitimately comparable to the best of the US’s. Asides from the four banging albums that make this top 10 list, this year saw the release of great UK projects like Kojey Radical’s Cashmere Tears, Dave’s Psychodrama, Digga D’s Double Tap Diaries, Headie One’s Music x Road (and of course, high expectations for Stormzy’s upcoming Heavy Is The Head too). The US on the other hand was quieter this year, following a stellar 2018.
10. Diaspora - Goldlink
This album, though not Goldlink’s best, was a refreshing balance of high-energy, attention-grabbing, and undeniably groovy. Props must be given to some on-point features that each seemed to bring an appropriate reaction out of Goldlink – from his brooding bars coupled with Khalid’s delicate hook on ‘Days Like This’ to his mean demeanour following Pusha T’s bodying of the beat on ‘Cokewhite’ (can’t wait for that collab album).
9. uknowhatimsayin¿ - Danny Brown
uknowhatimsayin¿ is probably Danny Brown’s least manic-sounding project. He chooses to replace that aesthetic with a certain shininess – something between a light-hearted disposition and grounded self-observation. Short songs with distinct, albeit less experimental than typical, production coupled with Danny’s unique, catchy flows and personality-filled bars make this a pretty sweet project, easy to listen to in one sitting.
8. So Much Fun - Young Thug
Thugger came through with yet another great project to add to his catalogue this year. Aptly named, So Much Fun feels lively, loose and lit. Thug fills a good number of tracks here with straight bars too, without slacking on the incredible cadences, creative adlibs and catchy hooks he has come to be known for. Almost all the features sound brilliant too, each of them perfectly complementing the production, and Thug’s chosen vocal styling. ‘Big Tipper’, featuring Thugger’s rising star signee Lil Keed, and the wavy, hypnotising ‘Lil Baby’ are two of my favourite tracks.
7. Nothing Great About Britain - Slowthai
Following Slowthai’s trail of singles since 2016, a couple of which appear on this album, Nothing Great About Britain seems that bit more purposeful. Where he could very easily have made a full body of work in line with the hazy, depressive, lo-fi, pill-popping midlands rap scene vibe heard on these singles, Slowthai chose to channel his inherent charisma into a project that is both clashingly anarchist and crushingly vulnerable. There hasn’t before been a project from the UK scene quite like it, most likely because there hasn’t before been a time in Britain like now.
6. All My Heroes Are Cornballs - JPEGMAFIA
On All My Heroes Are Cornballs, PEGGY responds to the experience of fame through a now well-established lens of aggression mixed with nihilism. PEGGY uses his new vantage point to further confront and interrogate archetypes in the weird modern cesspool of shallow thots and rappers, music industry soul-suckers, brazen bigots, and internet-dwelling, pseudo-liberal closet-racists and quasi-incels. Through this all, PEGGY grapples with his own identity over captivatingly unpredictable instrumentals – his proximity with all these groups seems to make him paranoid of losing the ability to self-define.
5. Hoodies All Summer - Kano
It makes me mad how slept on Kano is in general (“oh you mean Sully from Top Boy”), but this album was particularly overlooked considering how great it is. The veteran wisdom on this album is absolutely golden, and the immersive orchestral instrumentation that it’s wrapped in makes for an amazing, and very coherent, project. Kano’s observation of the youths cut from the same cloth he’s grown from allows him to lend mature, acquainted insight, without coming off as preachy.
4. Ignorance is Bliss - Skepta
This album is just so hard. Front to back, the beats are captivatingly icy, mean, and electronic – static-filled bass, tapping synths, and minimalistic melodies that swell under Skepta’s heavy, pronounced delivery make the project aesthetically brilliant. The content follows a tight, neat arc too – from cold to intense to vicious.
3. Bandana - Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
Madlib and Freddie Gibbs reuniting was bound to produce something as good as this, their previous collaborative output, Pinata, proving their insane compatibility. Again, soul and jazz sampling beats provide a back bone for tracks that are anywhere between gritty, dream-like, or sombre, with Freddie delivering confident, insightful, story-telling bars that are able to go each way. Freddie’s ability to move from the personal to the general in his anecdotal and observational lyrics is compounded by an increased focus on black identity’s strife.
2. IGOR - Tyler, the Creator
Tyler has always had a tendency towards concept albums. Though the blonde wig, sunglasses, and pastel suit rocking character IGOR represents was given, on the surface, less exposition than characters from his previous albums, the album’s nuanced thematic focus on obsessiveness paints the concept vibrantly. The project details the ability of infatuation to transform us into inarticulate puppets – both sonically and lyrically presenting the ugliness and the heart-harnessing of it in a rich, painfully honest manner.
1. GREY Area - Little Simz
This might be one of my favourite albums to have ever come out of the UK rap scene. Young, independent and accomplished, Little Simz’s position as one of hip hop’s living legends has been solidified by this project. Every track is so thorough: not a minute goes by where it’s difficult to be impressed. The instrumentals, which have a very beautiful, organic quality, perfectly complement Simz’ gorgeous, divulging, poetic lyrics. The emotions are emphatic but subtle, far ranging, and highly mature. Simz provides a lot of food for thought throughout the album, accenting them with the last track ‘Flowers’, a flawless full stop to the journey.