AJ Tracey – ‘AJ Tracey’
The arrival of the vibrant ‘AJ Tracey’ back in February more than delivered on the hype that had been building around the Ladbroke Grove rapper for the past five years. No genre was off the table in the construction of this bold self-titled record, from the surprising country twang of ‘Country Star’ to the fizzy throwback garage that powered stand-out cut ‘Ladbroke Grove’. As a statement of intent, AJ Tracey certainly got off on the right foot with his debut album.
Our review said: “As a document of British rap’s indefinable present – a snapshot of a time that’s seen UK rappers springboard from grime’s international explosion, and warp sonic expectations at every opportunity – AJ Tracey’s debut is perhaps the best of the current crop; twisted, vibrant and ever-shifting, but linked with that confident voice.”
Offset – ‘Father of 4’
The Migos rapper paid tribute to his four children with the title of his debut solo album, which also marked the final part in a trilogy of releases from the three members of the globe-conquering Atlanta rap trio. Offset’s, though, was the best: ‘Father of 4’ boasted a raft of strong guest features, tight and inventive production, and a refreshingly candid narrator in Offset. Going solo doesn’t always pay dividends, but the strong quality of this record ensures that this almost certainly won’t be the last time we hear Offset sans Quavo and Takeoff.
Our review said: “‘Father of 4’ is a fine body of work that builds a convincing case that Offset is currently best-placed to be Migos’ break-out solo star: once again, the final act of a trilogy proves to be the finest.”
Czarface & Ghostface Killah – ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’
Most Ghostface-affiliated projects are well worth your time, and the Wu-Tang man’s link-up with hip-hop supergroup Czarface (made up of producer 7L, rapper Esoteric and his fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck) was no different. This heavily comic book-influenced album comprised of 12 brilliantly bizarre soundscapes — featuring audio samples from wrestling monologues, film clips, old films and classic cartoons — which Esoteric, Inspectah Deck and Ghostface tagged in-and-out of to devastating effect.
Our review said: “Opening with a (very good) impression of the ‘80s wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage outlining an upcoming bout, ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’ makes its anachronistic approach clear from the start: this is gonna be some weird Wu-Tang-flavoured shit.”
Dave – ‘Psychodrama’
Already a surefire contender for the best album of 2019, ‘Psychodrama’ devastatingly demonstrated just how good Dave actually is as a solo artist. The Londoner is renowned as a man of many, many talents, and if we had to pick just one from the album to highlight here, it’s his intricate and affecting mode of storytelling: you won’t be able to shake the memory of hearing the emotionally charged and 11-minute-long ‘Lesley’ for a long, long time.
Our review said: “In exploring himself on ‘Psychodrama’, Dave has produced a masterpiece. This 20-year-old has lost in some ways and won in others, and asks us to listen as he tries to find some answers. The lessons you learn with Dave are sure to live long in the memory.”
Little Simz – ‘GREY Area’
Hailed by NME as “the best rap record of the year so far”, Simz’s astonishingly good third album could prove to be her most vital album yet – especially if it helps her music receive the wider attention it deserves. Still something of an underrated force in rap, ‘GREY Area’ packed enough punch to win over anyone who has still not given her talents the appropriate time of day.
Our review said: “Across these 10 tracks, Simz utilises her most valuable commodity: honesty. Having stripped away the narrative cloak that shrouded the highlights of ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, she’s crafted a knockout record – and finally come true on her early promise. This is the best rap record of the year so far.”
Juice WRLD – ‘Death Race for Love’
Chicago rapper Jarad Higgins – AKA Juice WRLD – solidified his reputation as one of the leading figures in the emo rap movement with ‘Death Race for Love’ back in March. Lots of rap fans, particularly young rap fans, found that his music resonated with their own experiences, just as Juice intended. “I don’t just [make emotional music] for myself,” he told NME. “I do it to help other people through their situations. I guess I supposedly save lives. People tell me all the time that I save their lives. All the time, brother.”
Our review said: “Juice WRLD’s colourful ‘Death Race For Love’ takes emo rap to inventive new heights.”
2 Chainz – ‘Rap or Go to the League’
2 Chaaaaainz is well-versed in making commanding guest features on other people’s tracks, but could he go it alone successfully with his latest solo project? ‘Rap or Go to the League’ suggests that, yes, yes he could. The album (which, rather brilliantly, gives NBA star LeBron James an executive producer credit) is a well-organised and engaging creation which doesn’t pander to its superstar contributions from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott. Make no mistake, 2 Chainz is the boss here.
Our review said: “Even though 2 Chainz has been prolific as a guest rapper, he’s yet to release the kind of classic solo album that will truly solidify his status as a top-tier rapper. This is something he’s hoping to change with ‘Rap Or Go To The League’, a record that suggests that his talent is finally starting to catch up with all his hard work.”
Tyler, the Creator – ‘IGOR’
Tyler – sorry, Igor – returned in May with his largely rap-light but still very spectacular sixth album. Now a seasoned producer and musician in his own right, ‘IGOR’ served as further proof of the Odd Future founder’s continuing growth as one of the most engaging and uncompromising songwriters around. Additional rap pedigree, for anyone still counting, came from guest verses by the likes of Playboi Carti and Kanye West, while an unrecognisable Lil Uzi Vert sang the hook on ‘Igor’s Theme’.
Our review said: “’As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own,’ Tyler added in his pre-release note to fans. Whether or not you choose to take his advice with either your first or your 51st listen, ‘IGOR’ is an accomplished and evergreen record that’s well worth putting your phone down, turning the TV off and devoting your full attention span to.”
Giggs – ‘Big Bad…’
Has Giggs finally transcended his revered command over the UK music scene and achieved superstar status further afield? His blossoming friendship with the deferential Drake in recent years has certainly helped elevate the reach of the Peckham MC’s music on the other side of the pond, but the blockbuster ‘Big Bad…’ proved that Giggs is intent on staying true to his roots when it comes to album time.
Our review said: “Giggs maintains his singular vision and doesn’t set out to try to please everybody — a trap that catches out so many of his UK peers. From start to finish, this is the Giggs we know and love.”
Anderson .Paak – ‘Ventura’
Following up 2016’s sublime ‘Malibu’ was always going to be a tough ask for .Paak, and so the underwhelming ‘Oxnard’ proved. Thankfully, the multi-talented Californian quickly brought out ‘Ventura’ in April to help us forget all about that lumpy, A-list-heavy third album. Drawing inspiration from 70s soul and the golden age of R&B, cuts such as the André 3000-featuring ‘Come Home’ and the smooth closer ‘What Can We Do?’ (which includes a posthumous verse from Nate Dogg) prove that, thankfully, .Paak’s still got it.
Our review said: “The Californian rapper and crooner continues his series of brilliant, self-mythologising records, and there’s a distinct sense of a chapter coming to a close.”
Slowthai – ‘Nothing Great About Britain’
A lot of people are putting their faith in Northampton newcomer Slowthai as one of the few emerging voices worth listening to in this depressing and shambolic Brexit-y era. ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ does far more than just brazenly lash out at Farage and Boris, though: it’s an authentic, honest and at times deeply emotional portrayal of the disenchantment and disgruntlement which pervades much of 21st century British living. This much is clear: when Slowthai has something to say, you listen up.
Our review said: “Guiding you on a whistlestop tour of his life, community and resultant beliefs, the record serves not only as a statement of identity, but also an indication of the sprawling possible paths for his career to grow into.”
Skepta – ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’
How could Skepta follow up his Mercury Prize-winning ‘Konnichiwa’, a reinvigorating and career-revitalising creation which propelled the Tottenham MC to music’s top table? Thankfully, the focused and actually quite fun ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ proved that the Tottenham MC is still very much a creative force to be reckoned with. Skepta’s Second Coming is in rude health, it seems – and we haven’t even mentioned his brilliant sample of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ yet.
Our review said: “Where ‘Konnichiwa’ seemed determined to become a seminal grime album – taut, tense and monochrome – this record is colourful, kaleidoscopic and loose.”