By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez, Heather Bushman, Thomas Holton, and Amanda Alvarez
As 2019 closes, so do the memories, both good and bad, of the year’s musical offerings. 2019 was an interesting year for music, an amalgamation of the decade’s biggest sounds and names combining with some interesting new ideas and faces. Who won the most this year? Who lost? Join us as we give awards to the most admirable and miserable musical efforts of 2019!
Overslept Award: Rihanna, R9
“Released in 2019” usually means released in 2019. It is currently December 31st, 2019. There is only one day (if that) left in 2019. I write this because I’m not entirely confident that Rihanna knows it. We love Fenty Beauty and all it’s done for the makeup world, and we love to see her pursue other creative avenues besides music, but at the end of the day, we’re impatient. It’s been three years since Anti shook the music world to its core. Not a note from RiRi since. Releasing an album like that and swiftly disappearing only left us wanting more. R9 is more. We would like to hear R9. We are counting down the minutes until the end of 2019 with the hope that the release of R9 is still plausible. Clock’s ticking. ~ Heather
(Edit: it is now 2020. No record yet. Here’s hoping that Bad Girl RiRi can stick to her time commitments within these next twelve months.)
Gym Rat: Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, Anger Management
This shit is just hard. Rico Nasty karate-kicks you in the dick for 9 songs, making it the perfect album to tap into your macho insecurities and knock out a good ole’ masculinity-defending ego-lift sesh to. Though a fair warning, if you do listen to this album as you exercise, say goodbye to any form of finesse or technique. If you’re doing curls and “Cold” comes on, prepare to impulsively do 50 straight spazzing half-curls and tear your bicep muscle in the process, leaving you sidelined indefinitely. ~ Thomas
Rock Album of the Year: Brittany Howard, Jamie
Following the success of 2015’s Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard took time off to work through a period of intense writers block. Four years later, her solo debut Jamie contains some of the best writing in recent memory, tackling race, religion, and relationships with glossy guitar licks and smooth key melodies underneath it all. Reckless when inclined but reserved when necessary, Howard’s powerful vocals add a soulful flair to a traditional rock record, a refreshing fusion that only increases the depth that the album possesses without the context of genre conventions. With wit, charm, and honesty in spades, it’s safe to say that Howard overcame her writers block. ~ Heather
South Florida MVP: Denzel Curry, Zuu
Denzel Curry’s hot-streak in 2019 hits harder than the Miami sun on a summer afternoon. A nostalgic album that addresses Curry’s history in Carol City, his musical influences, and the locales known to every South Florida resident, Zuu invokes the simultaneous chaos and ritziness of Miami. Curry channels Club Liv’s luxuries with smooth club bangers, changing lanes to address the dark side of the city with some of this year’s most terrifying bangers, all the while remaining a captivating, witty, and forceful MC. No other artist in South Florida quite captures the character of the region quite like Curry, whether he’s inspiring a twerk-session from hell or a participating in speedboat chases for survival.
And somehow, he freestyled the whole thing. ~ T-Rod
Sexiest Album of the Year: Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated
Considering that Carly Rae Jepsen’s career was thrust into the spotlight after the sugariest pop release of the early 2010’s (“Call Me Maybe”), she captured every lovesick person’s subconscious in her newest release, Dedicated. The crunchy, synthy bass that opens the album echoes a heartbeat and transforms into a funky thread of love and desire that’s woven into the album’s core. Most of the lyrics are one-sided, which could be seen as Jepsen’s typical pining, but in an era of growing self-love and confidence, it’s a testament to women everywhere that yes, we are sexy, we are desirable, and we can pursue whoever we want. ~ Amanda
Pop Album of the Year: Charli XCX, Charli
When it comes to pop music, no artist quite masters the genre like Charli XCX. Charli feels like the pop standard of the year 3000, with soaring synthesizers, loads of vocal layering and distortion, shaking subwoofers to round out the bass lines, and little electronic nuances throughout that feel overwhelmingly futuristic. It’s an album undoubtedly rooted in the evolving identity of pop music, but XCX still displays an uncanny ability to capitalize on the current trends of the industry. Charli is an absolute powerhouse of the present, drafting a dream-team of collaborators that represent what the pop genre is today. The stacked lineup of guest features includes some of the biggest names in music, ranging everywhere from Troye Sivan to HAIM to Lizzo. Charli XCX is playing the game but also staying ahead of it, and with a work that is simultaneously the definition of pop music as it currently exists as well as what it will become, it’s easy to see that she’s winning. This record was truly Next Level Charli. ~ Heather
Rap Album of the Year: Young Thug, So Much Fun
If we’re speaking on what album is a representation of the best of 2019’s general hip-hop scene, none quite captures the attention of both the snobs and the streets quite like So Much Fun. It is a southern-fried, full course meal of trap’s focus on oddity and loud volume, mixed with Young Thug’s present high class ignorance and past street experiences. It captures what makes hip-hop the highest selling genre today: it can make you laugh with “Sup Mate”, dance with “Mannequin Challenge”, get you to work with “Hot”, and even induce unexplainable feelings with the beautiful “What’s the Move”. Character, catchiness, and completeness, this is the year’s crown jewel for all ends of mainstream rap music. ~ T-Rod
Most Likely to Induce Sadness: FKA Twigs, Magdalene
Magdalene is a record that is defined by a quiet vulnerability, so quiet that it forces the listener to pay close attention to every detail. There are little to no explosive moments of catharsis, no outcries of pain or mourning, but the harmonies are hauntingly beautiful and the lyrics are dripping in desperation. This album feels fragile, like at any moment it might break, but that never happens. By the end, it’s the listener who’s broken, and what a powerful break it is. ~ Heather
Keep Your Eyes On Him: Baby Keem, DIE FOR MY BITCH
Baby Keem is in his own lane. Any 19 year old artist with cosigns from both Drake and Jay-Z has to be doing something right, and Baby Keem is no exception. Based in trap but incorporating sounds from all over the music spectrum, DIE FOR MY BITCH is one of the most charismatic records of the year. The album’s artwork is the perfect encapsulation of Baby Keem’s style, in which he takes pride in being a playboy, a dirtbag, a bighead, whatever you want to call it. However, Baby Keem has a level of self-awareness and confidence that just makes you want to root for him. While he isn’t a traditional lyricist, Baby Keem doesn’t waste a line. He has an incredible understanding of why certain elements of trap work the way they do, and he delivers braggadocio that’s purposeful – nothing feels done by chance. Baby Keem’s versatility, star quality and maturity make him a prime candidate to take over in 2020. ~ Thomas
Yawn Award: Nav, Bad Habits
We will recite our collective feelings on this record with an old poem:
T’was the release of Bad Habits, when all through the whip.
Not a rap fan was stirring, the album was boring as sh*t. ~ T-Rod
EP of the Year: Benny The Butcher, The Plugs I Met
The best EPs are potent, packing a lot of substance into a small amount of product. Benny The Butcher’s past life gave him enough experience with which to craft 2019’s best EP. One-third of the fastest rising group in rap today, Griselda, Benny snatched his flowers with this project and staked his claim as the group’s best member. Contrasted with the grimy instrumentals found across the project, Benny’s rapping is as clean as can be. There’s absolutely no fat on his verses. His ability to rhyme multisyllabic words, coupled with his stale-faced attitude towards what he’s talking about, forces you to pay attention. Every line has a gem inside it. Add guest spots from Pusha T, Black Thought, Jadakiss, and a verse of the year candidate from 38 Spesh, The Plugs I Met shows that Benny has arrived. ~ Thomas
Wait, This Dropped?!: Weezer, Weezer (Black Album)
It’s usually not a great sign when there is literally nothing to say about an album. Weezer’s latest effort suffers that fate, with a general consensus so middle-of-the-road that it faded quickly into oblivion upon release. Some songs are really nice (“High As A Kite” has a memorable soaring chorus), others aren’t so great (the rest of the album), but it’s impossible to make a meaningful comment about the project as a whole, so it vanishes. At least we got that fun “Africa” cover…which wasn’t even on this album. Huh. ~Heather
I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed: Daniel Caesar, CASE STUDY 01
After releasing the most talked-about R&B album of 2017 in Freudian, Daniel Caesar was climbing on a wave of momentum. He had essentially locked down the wedding song for the next generation with “Best Part,” as well as having another smash hit in “Get You.” He seemed primed to occupy spaces alongside Frank Ocean and The Weeknd as R&B icons of our time. However, he shot himself in the foot earlier this year in a bizarre Instagram Live, in which he drew the ire of many in the black community for his comments defending Yes Julz (among other things), as well as directly asking people to cancel him. It’s hard to find it surprising, then, that CASE STUDY 01, which arrived with little promotion or warning, sort of appeared and then disappeared without much of an impact. On the record, Daniel examines his perceptions of love through scientific metaphors, though he doesn’t flesh out this concept well enough to make it as interesting as it could have been. There are phenomenal songs on the record, including the opening track, “ENTROPY”, but when you look at how Daniel’s public perception has changed over the past year, and how little this album did to rectify that, it’s hard not to view this year as a major misstep. ~ Thomas
The Queen of Summer (and All Other Seasons): Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
It is physically impossible to talk about summer, rap, or music in general without mentioning Megan Thee Stallion. “Hot Girl Summer” was all over the internet, with Megan’s scorching debut, Fever, serving as the soundtrack to the movement. She’s unapologetically sexy, powerful, and confident: exactly the type of artist that this generation looks to lead them. “Cash Sh*t,” an endlessly catchy track that overflows with personality on behalf of Meg and rap’s newest heir DaBaby, was just the cherry on top of the Stallion Sundae. It’s Hot Girl Meg’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Queen Megan, we bow to Thee. ~ Heather
The Boomers Were Right: Logic, Supermarket
Boomers tend to not be correct in their assessments of modern music being “not as good as the old days”. Hip-hop, rock, pop, electronic, jazz, etc. all have hit some of their highest artistic points to date…but Logic’s Supermarket has made a strong case for the older generation to be correct. An effort as creative and exciting as chewing raw, uncooked ramen, Logic’s attempts to be edgy and different come off as embarrassingly surface level or simply creatively bankrupt; Logic trying to cover any A Tribe Called Quest song is like lacing a milkshake with cyanide. While the idea of combining a book soundtrack and Blink-182 worship is fascinating, the result proves that even in an era where artists are supposed to be as free as possible to experiment, sometimes their lab creation is a writhing, miserable creature begging to be put in a casket with its Smashing Pumpkin vinyls. ~ T-Rod
Fall Off of the Year: Chance The Rapper, The Big Day
I mean, it had to be this, right? The story of Chance’s decade resembles a pyramid, with 2013’s Acid Rap serving as the catalyst for his initial rise, 2016’s Coloring Book signaling his peak, and 2019’s The Big Day causing a rapid and steep decline in both critical and fan reception. On The Big Day, Chance’s eccentricities come off more corny than endearing, and he doesn’t have nearly enough material to justify 22 tracks. One of Chance’s strengths, his ability to alternate between wacky and introspective, fails to shine through on the album. Everything is painted over with a faded-out pastel brush. The tragedy of the record is that somewhere buried deep within it is enough good moments and songs to constitute a good EP or maybe even a passable, short album. Unfortunately, all the fluffy, inconsequential songs Chance included drown these good qualities out. Only time will tell whether this album will be an unfortunate footnote in his catalogue, or whether it signifies the beginning of the end for Chance’s career. ~ Thomas
Comeback of the Year: Young Thug, So Much Fun
Young Thug is more than an Atlantian staple in 2019 hip-hop: he is one of the most important figures in this decade’s music scene period. Despite his cult status and solid discography, his sales and acclaim began to wane in the latter period of 2018. Hunkering down in the studio for a year, Thugger emerged as Gohan did from the Hyperbolic Time Chamber with his highest selling, most fulfilling, and most fun project yet. Never count out a legend after a rough patch, they may just come back with a vengeance. ~ T-Rod
Teacher’s Pet: Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
If eight (count ‘em, eight) Grammy nominations isn’t enough of a confirmation of an album’s success, nothing is. Cuz I Love You was a dominant force in the music world this year, with Lizzo’s uplifting brand of self-love and body positivity reaching audiences of every age, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, anything. Lizzo has an infectious personality and charismatic nature that encouraged listeners to celebrate themselves and what makes them special. This resonated with the public so well that it is now impossible to listen to a Top 40 station for more than an hour without hearing at least one of the album’s mega-successful singles (probably “Truth Hurts”). The cultural impact is undeniable and the message is clear: everyone loves Lizzo. ~ Heather
Electronic Album of the Year: JPEGMAFIA, All My Heroes Are Cornballs
After delivering what might have been the best album rollout of the year, JPEGMAFIA failed to deliver on his promise of disappointment, dropping an album that’s impossible to nail down. As an artist, Peggy can delve into any sound he wants to and still stay on brand. He uses this unique freedom to combine worlds that seemingly have little to do with each other, while also paying little attention to traditional song structure. This album is rooted very deeply in the present, yet sounds worlds away from everything else being created in it. Peggy’s supreme confidence in his eclectic vision makes this one of the year’s most rewarding listens. ~ Thomas
Sprint in a Marathon: Earthgang, Mirrorland
Atlanta hip-hop duo Earthgang left a meteor-sized impact in 2019 for fans of left-field Southern rap music, bringing a sense of performative energy equivalent to a tornado…when they embraced their identity. Mirrorland, their huge breakthrough album, began with one of the best runs of any rap album this year, bringing a storm of wicked vocal inflections, speedy flows, and hooks that yanked my fingers to the replay button. Despite this speedy start, Mirrorland’s second half somehow morphs into a forgettable mid-tempo stupor that simply pales in comparison to a truly masterful start. Simply put, it resembles a skilled runner losing the lead because they started the race hauling ass, only to run out of energy halfway through; hopefully, Johnny Venus and Doctor Dot can come through and capitalize on their wild potential! ~ T-Rod
Breakout Album of the Year: DaBaby, Baby on Baby
A year ago, you’d be forgiven for not knowing about DaBaby (after all, almost no one outside the rap community did). Now, that’s inexcusable. He’s been involved in every avenue of the music world lately, from collaborating with Megan Thee Stallion on one of this summer’s anthems to dropping a verse on pop princess Camila Cabello’s latest record to making a holy grail of an appearance on musical rite-of-passage program Saturday Night Live. DaBaby, with his wild charisma and signature triplet flow, is everywhere, and that’s all thanks to early March’s Baby on Baby. Headed by the smash-hit single “Suge,” Baby on Baby let the rest of the world know what the rap community already did: DaBaby is an absolute superstar. ~ Heather
WTF is This? (Experimental AOTY): Tyler, The Creator, IGOR
Watching Tyler, The Creator’s evolution over the years has been one of the most rewarding things to see as a fan of music. On IGOR, Tyler takes the lessons he’s learned from both his failures and his successes to guide us on a journey of emotional devastation and eventual acceptance. The album’s sound falls somewhere in the middle of a unique venn diagram including Neo-soul, Hip-hop, and R&B, and Tyler isn’t afraid of blurring these genre’s lines. Each song is filled with character; Tyler’s obsession with little moments in songs manifests in a fully-fleshed, raw sound. Tyler, as a creative, is going to pursue what he believes is best regardless of outside opinion, and IGOR is the product of this confidence. We as listeners can only wait to see what universe Tyler creates next. ~ Thomas
Soundtrack to Drunk Texting: Summer Walker, Over It
If Summer Walker is anything, she’s ridiculously cool. Over It reflects this, showcasing Walker’s silky vocals and candid writing over some of London On Da Track’s smoothest production. It’s the type of album that makes you mad at an ex you never had, with Walker’s frustration and annoyance palpable on tracks like lead single “Playing Games” and unmistakably angry “Off Of You.” Walker also explores the other side of this infuriation: infatuation. Jhené Aiko’s feature track “I’ll Kill You” is a confident proclamation of unfaltering commitment, and Drake-assisted breakout “Girls Need Love” is a lustful plea for physical intimacy. Love, hate, desire, aggravation: Walker casually tackles all of the complicated feelings that come with the territory of an intense relationship, feelings that fuel confrontations and eventual regret when the heat of the moment passes. “Drunk Dialing…LODT” speaks for itself, but the rest of the record supports these sentiments tenfold. Over It is sensual and sultry, but also outraged and indignant. These contrasting elements lie underneath an album that, despite the heightened emotional tones, is undeniably low-key, flowing so effortlessly that it may just convince you to pick up the phone and reminisce over that one person you should’ve blocked a long time ago. ~Heather
R&B Album of the Year: Ari Lennox, Shea Butter Baby
The shining jewel of Dreamville’s impressive 2019 release roster was, ironically, its most lowkey and odd. An R&B songstress with a flair for quirky songwriting that evokes the modern era of quick love and millennial independence, Lennox managed to encapsulate the smallest and greatest of struggles any young man or woman can experience today on Shea Butter Baby. Her vocal range is downright incredible, and her sincere passion is tangible on some incredibly personal and downright hilarious stories of heartbreak and pleasure. In a year where R&B was incredibly strong, Ari Lennox managed to snatch the crown from everyone with the most powerful tool in music: heart. ~ T-Rod
Personal Favorite Album of the Year (Heather): Lana Del Rey, Norman F***ing Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey is the type of artist whose work is more an experience than a record. Her music is the embodiment of her definition of the American Dream: young girls getting into trouble and never growing up, falling in and out of love with the bad boys on motorcycles while a 70’s soft-rock standard soundtracks the brilliant California sunset. Del Rey writes within the context of her own universe, never more so than on her latest release. Norman F***ing Rockwell! is a love letter to this idealized lifestyle, a tribute to Americana imagery that transcends traditional constrictions of time. The references, starting with the title and scattered throughout, are dated, but the writing itself is fresh and modern. The result is an album with the best lyrics in the catalog of an already-prolific storyteller. Throw in Jack Antonoff’s near-perfect production and a Sublime cover that keeps up with (if not surpasses) the original, and the result is an album that will remain in the cultural consciousness for generations. Norman F***ing Rockwell! is an instant classic.
Personal Favorite Album of the Year (T-Rod): Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana
Freddie Gibbs has done something remarkable in what would typically be the end stages of a hip-hop artist’s stagnating career. He and fellow production legend Madlib haven’t only managed to release one of the year’s most well-written, dynamic, and cinematic rap albums, but they managed to achieve a level of synergy that few groups could ever dream of reaching. Over the span of a breathtaking 46 minutes, Bandana exposes the dirty past of one who seems to be living his best life, all without sacrificing the soul and realism that hip-hop was based on. It’s simply a whirlwind of soaring instrumental bliss, devastating storytelling, and true passion that makes it a defining release from two legends simply being themselves. Imagine watching Michael Jordan or LeBron James in their prime, effortlessly dominating the competition with the finesse and brute force only they would know; Bandana is the epitome of effortless perfection.
Personal Favorite Album of the Year (Amanda): Kelsey Lu, Blood
Kelsey Lu released her debut album, Blood, in the middle of Spring, and somehow everything about this dark, wintry album aligns with the springtime. Growth seems to be a central theme of the album. Outgrowing romance, familial relationships, and personal perceptions follow Lu’s voice in the album as she takes the listener on an intensely personal journey. Lu catalogues her troubled family life and her desire to escape it, with a keen focus on unfulfilled expectations on both ends of the parent-child relationship. The dark synths combined with her cello make for a haunting album, her lilting voice sometimes distorting the lyrics beyond understanding until she suddenly reels it back in, confronting the listener with her raw truth. Her cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” added a layer of feminine truth that comes with the fear of intimacy. Blood is an album that pumps through your veins and takes over your consciousness the second you begin playing it.
Personal Favorite Album of the Year (Thomas): Boogie, Everythings For Sale
Many albums this year have challenged me and opened me up to new sounds and ideas. However, Boogie’s debut on Shady Records, Everythings For Sale, is incredible for something entirely different: its feeling of comfort. Some great albums portray emotions only at their most extreme, as grand operas, depicting biblical levels of strife or joy. There’s something to be said for everything in between, though. And that’s the role Everythings For Sale plays. It’s an album about navigating daily struggles with the people closest to you, and seeing how these situations shed light on the person you really are. Boogie is even-keeled throughout the whole album, which some may see as a negative, but he just doesn’t have the time to sink under the weight of his problems. He has to pick up his son from his basketball game. Channeling the spirit of ‘90s R&B, the album flows through Boogie’s internal and external conflicts with an amazing sense of control. Boogie is much more concerned with racking up singles than he is swinging for the fences on every pitch. The result is an album that’s infinitely replayable, whose themes have a universality to them that will make the record age like wine. The day-to-day is something we deal with everyday, and Boogie gave us the perfect blueprint to navigate it.
2019 Album of the Year: Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Can we all step back and acknowledge that this year was a true moment for Billie Eilish? She stepped into the music scene and completely subverted the expectations for a young girl turned alt-pop singer with the help of her brother and co-producer, Finneas. Her crunchy, bassy tracks combined with breathy, threatening vocals create a sinister atmosphere in tracks like “bad guy” and “you should see me in a crown”. However, she turns on a dime and her voice returns to the soft caress that we knew in her debut EP paired with gentle guitars. Eilish’s writing is personal, dealing with issues like addiction, the death of relationships, and self-destruction. She intersperses these darker themes with tender, yearning lyrics like seen on “8”, where she makes a return to the ukulele and sings about unrequited love. Her perspective as a young woman rising in the music scene informs her lyrics, where she can both be utterly relatable but utterly out of reach, her experiences of sudden intense stardom slightly alienating her from what a normal teenage girl’s life is supposed to be like. Her music and voice has transformed modern alt, experimenting with sounds and her vocal delivery to create an experience more than an album. Every track is impactful and different from the last, keeping the listener on their toes as if they were the first audience for The Exorcist. And like The Exorcist, Eilish has repossessed the brutal honesty behind the now-dead true punk/emo scenes and created something raw, terrifying, and utterly real, somehow with an insanely universal appeal. ~ Amanda