Why not do a top 20 songs of 2019? I thought. Then I started scrolling through my Spotify and realised I’d have to bump up the total to 25… then 30. But no more! 30 songs is plenty. A few days ago, said streaming service had everyone talking as we all logged in to see our ‘Wrapped’ stats. I stand on a wobbly fence when it comes to streaming music – the artists very rarely see any decent money coming in, unless they’re a Drake or Ariana Grande. But the ease, and ability to watch trends is fascinating. I’m trying my hardest to mitigate losses to my favourite artists by buying their albums on vinyl, but there’s only so much money I can spend.
So, for now at least, Spotify Premium is my platform of choice. I’ve used it for about six years now and I’ve discovered more new artists and up and coming music acts through the app than anywhere else. Every year on January 1st I create a playlist named for that year and each week add my favourite new tracks. This list comes from that playlist, rather than my ‘Wrapped’ stats. Here we go…
Isis – Joyner Lucas (feat Logic) – Before Isis came out, Joyner and Logic were beefing pretty hard (long story, really) and people thought we’d never see the two on a track together. With Joyner’s signature drawl and talent for fast-paced lyrics his ideal partner would always be Logic purely because they could go bar for bar together. Bring them together over a crunching bassline and stabs of synth and you’ve got a hard track where both set aside their issues and tell the world how goddamn good they are. It’s an urgent, frantic swagger tune which both rappers absolutely murder with precision.
Middle Child – J. Cole – So we didn’t get a J. Cole album in 2019 (apparently The Fall Off is coming in 2020) but he did bless us with a few off-shoot tracks and a couple of features (which the rapper claims will be his last). Middle Child is typical Cole, partly braggart, partly clever lyricism and all done with his laid back flow. Middle Child switches back and forth between horn laden anthem and bass kicking ear popper. Always with Cole bringing truth about the rap game around him, and of course, a slight dig at Kanye too. Wherever you’re listening, turn the bass up and feel it crunk low as that hi-hat taps away like a machine gun percussion.
Follow Suit – Sam Tompkins – Not a Rap track! No, but still has an urban flow with a blues style underneath a genuinely beautiful voice and concept. Tompkins found himself going viral as he sang this track a capella in his car. His aching voice and performance so close to tears properly accented this song about the suicide of his friend. It’s sweet, it’s tender and everyone sadly, in some way, can relate. His whole E.P. is superb, but this track has stayed with me since seeing that first video on Twitter. It’s a very quiet and subtle melody slammed with a dirty beat as his voice takes on the part of rhythm, moving from low and pained to a falsetto which we all wish we could hit.
Run Game – Lupe Fiasco – Lupe is back? I hear you say. Indeed he is. After his last (quite experimental) album, Lupe has returned to his old style and flow which made him famous on Kanye West’s ‘Touch the Sky’. Run Game is a very bouncy club tune with some really tight rhymes. It’s reminiscent of late-90’s backing tracks, dribbled with late-2000’s vocals. The switch ups and record scratches hark to Outkast and Lupe is just having mad fun with this one. He’s dropped a three track E.P. for this and all three tracks have this same feel.
Bad Decisions – Professor Green (feat NAHLI) – Wait, and Professor Green too? I KNOW! And Green has also come back with an E.P. release, rather than a full album. Bad Decisions, in my opinion, pays homage to The Streets with the production and tale of a bad night on the lash in London. It’s a pure club banger with a running eager track boosted by honking horns and pulled back with airy vocals from NAHLI. Green’s ‘cheeky chap’ side is played out perfectly and I’m sure many of us have had similar nights out. Bad Decisions, like Run Game above, is pure fun and ridiculous swagger. It works as a single, but also as part of the E.P. which has a lot more honest and heartfelt lyrics given the rapper’s honesty about mental health and relationships.
Sounds of the Skeng – Stormzy – I had to pick at least one Stormzy track for this list (although each of his singles could be here). So why this one? I fell in love with Stormzy with his iconic video ‘Shut Up’. Stormzy can switch from beautiful heartbreaking tracks and proper street bangers about slaying others in the rap game. ‘Big for your Boots’ was also Stormzy being the baddest around and ‘Sounds of the Skeng’ mirrors that. The legend got together with perhaps my favourite UK rap/Grime producer, Sir SPYRO, to knock out this madness. SPYRO leaned into an old school Garage vibe with a kicking beat underneath haunting organs for Stormzy to just grease his way over the flow with his usual sharp lyrics and booming use of vowels. Rap/Hip Hop/Grime, is about bragging, letting everyone know you’re shutting the place down because you’re the King. And the King is back.
Déjà vu – AK – AK is still breaking out in America, hailing from New York, he’s perhaps the most clever lyricist coming up in the game. Using Soundcloud to garner millions of streams and thousands of fans, he’s pretty unknown in the UK. Déjà vu is a slower track from him, because he’s discussing the idea of someone breaking his heart, dragging him along and playing him like a game. His other tracks perform lyrical acrobatics, but whether he’s spitting quick bars or aching rhymes, he’s such a talent. He’s raw, brutal, honest and he knows how good he is. Dare I say it, but AK could easily follow in the footsteps of Eminem. There are parallels in both theme and skills. Watch this guy!
Point Em Up – Kanine (feat P Money) – P Money is perhaps one of the finest Grime MCs in the UK, and has been for some time. The beauty of his skills though, is that they lend themselves very well to other genres. This Drum n Bass track crafted by Kanine absolutely batters your eardrums with heavy beats, a high BPM and then P Money spits speedy lyrics painting a picture of a night at a rave, which echoes the backing track perfectly. I don’t know why P Money isn’t as huge as some of the other Grime MCs, he has the talent, he’s versatile and Point Em Up is pure club banger which could work well without him, but is taken to a whole new level with his bars.
Wells Fargo – Dreamville – Every rap album should have a track where the artist(s) just have fun. Wells Fargo is that track for Dreamville, the collective of J. Cole and his friends, which is also Cole’s own record label. Cole gets together with JID, EARTHGANG, Buddy and Guapdad 4000 on this track which is part filth and part party tune where each rapper just lets loose with crazy lyrics over a hyperactive instrumental. It’s not a track that will be lauded for production or lyrical message, but goddamn if this played at a party, I’d be right there dancing with a drink in my hand spilling it all over myself while bouncing to this kicker.
Picasso – Hopsin – Ahh Hopsin… recently received a shout out from Eminem on the Detroit rappers latest album and in a video, you could see what it meant to Hopsin. Hopsin is usually dark, brooding, only occasionally moving into lurid humour which sort of mirrors Mr Mathers. But he’s a troubled rapper who is always honest about how he feels. Picasso is an angry tirade at the ‘Hollywood’ style of rap, told with genuinely awesome lyrical skill. This year he’s moved from discussing heartbreak, bravado, a goodbye to his fans which left many of us wondering after the rappers mental health. He’s produced some amazing work, but Picasso perfectly sums him up this year. He deserves much more success across the world, I can’t think of a bad track from him.
2AM – Isaiah Dreads (feat Eyez & Lily McKenzie) – I had a thing this year for tracks which evoked memories of night’s out as a teenager. 2AM is one of those tracks. Three great artists put vocals over an instrumental which weaves in and out of traditional UK rap and House. I’ve been a massive fan of Isaiah Dreads for a while (check out his Fire in the Booth), he’s still on the come-up and is cementing his place in the UK scene. He represents a side of UK Rap which breaks away from London and perhaps that’s why he’s still slept on by some. The boy has bars for days, with a very unique vocal style… if this track dropped in a club, I feel like everyone would whip out their phones to Shazam who he is.
Angles – Miraa May (feat JME) – Miraa is different. From many other recent female vocalists in the UK, she blends a sumptuous singing voice, with a London rhyming accent. Is she Rap? Is she RnB? Why not fucking both? Angles is such a cracking track from the opening seconds, with a two-step beat, which again throws us back to a Garage feel. Her voice oozes across the beats and breaks with ease, echoing in the gaps between beats before she drops back in with that rap edge. Then there’s JME, who frankly, is a God and I will die on the hill that he is in the top 3 best rappers in the UK right now. They make a great duo, both having fun, smiling, just easing over the music.
Every Age – Jacob Banks – Oi Jacob, can we have a new album now please, fam? What can I say about Jacob Banks? It’s like Otis Redding was born again in Nigeria, moved to Birmingham and picked up where he left off. There’s so much age in Banks’ voice, as if he’s seen decades pass while he’s sat on his porch watching the world go by. You come to his music wanting to be spoken to, preached to, loved and taught. Every Age, which hopefully is an arrow to a new album, is hauntingly simple utilising few instruments which is ideal because Banks’ voice provides the melody and depth in just a few notes. Sublime. I could listen to him forever.
Heartache – Jaykae – Ahhh, the self-titled Birmingham hooligan. You’ve gotta love Jaykae and his balls. He sways between Cheeky Blinder and bad man in the ends. Happy to throw shots at Wiley, boast about his skills (well placed) and also pop a smile and drop lyrics on bouncy club tracks. Heartache is a JayKae blueprint – beats, harmonies from a choir and his lyrics which stab like a punch to the jaw. He’s angry, aggressive, but it’s all well placed – he’s another rapper from outside of London breaking down the doors and telling everyone the scene belongs to him as well. I’m sure his appearance on the recent number One with Ed Sheeran will help him, but he doesn’t need it. He plays with rhymes like they’re toys. Go and listen to his album and await the next one. Soon I hope.
BABY – Giggs – This year we got a new album from one of the OGs. Giggs came in with another banging album and BABY stood out as a track where he just let go of everything to swag over a hard track. His gravel-laced voice compliments the air raid bass for a track that can be vibed to in a club or bedroom. His lyrical patter is fun here, stepping away from the streets to chat to the ladie, big up the guys and simply play. I mean look at the lyric “Shit’s Madagascar, when the monkey’s make the poo scatter”!
Loose Ends – Loyle Carner (feat Jorja Smith) – Whenever a rapper takes a pause between lines, they tend to drop in an ‘Oi’, ‘Eh’, ‘Yo’, etc. Nobody’s is better than Carner with his lazy drawl which amplifies his style that feels just like sitting in a pub with him as he tells you a story. Lots of beats and piano burble away under his easy voice talking of life, soul and weary years. The opening to the second verse is like an arrow to the heart and then Jorja trickles through with beautiful little falsetto harmonies which are quickly becoming her trademark. This fragment of Carner is just a crumb of his talent compared to the album which the track comes from. To me, Loyle has an aura which would sit perfectly in a Jazz club, full of drifting smoke, glasses clinking with ice as everyone nods along to his lines filled with truth and emotion.
Black – Dave – 2019 was Dave’s year, let’s be honest. The young man could do no wrong. He copped some clickbait articles after dropping this track before his album launched. ‘Black’ is a lesson. A voice from the streets talking to everyone, whether you’re black, white, old or young. ‘Black’ tells of what he feels Black is, how it feels, where the history of a race has been erased. Yes, he’s aggressive in some of his lines, but why shouldn’t he be? This is a young man who is targeted, finding his place in the world and purely wants to be honest about what he’s learned along the way. He does it with intelligent lyrics, perfectly rhymed pronunciation and a dark instrumental playing behind him. He deserves the accolades, the awards, the success. Plus, he has never made a bad song.
Wow (Remix) – Post Malone (feat Roddy Rich & Tyga) – I know, I know. But be honest with yourself, there’s a Post Malone song you like. There’s at least one of his tracks you can vibe to. It feels like it’s fashionable to hate on Post, but he developed a sound and ran with it. That’s why he’s successful, that’s why he’s one of the top streamed artists. ‘Wow’ is a great song, but the remix is better because Rich and Tyga drop in pure drip vocals about diamonds, money and success. It’s a bopping track which can get heads nodding or feet tapping and it’s one of the few tracks recently which can come on shuffle and I’ll just vibe and smile. Hate on him, but you gotta admit, he’s making bank from his own style and angle.
Homicide – Logic (feat Eminem) – Logic again? Yeah, but last time he was a feature, this one is his track and it features the GOAT, Eminem. It’s a contrast to Post Malone above who kind of cemented Mumble Rap as its own genre and in ‘Homicide’ both rappers take aim at the Mumblers and lyrically murder them. Personally, I’m not a massive fan of Mumble Rap, it has its place and some tracks kick ass, but I prefer hearing the words, the flow, the punchlines and jabs. ‘Homicide’ very much hones in on that and brings out the best in both Logic and Eminem. Logic with his ability to make fun of situations and Em jumps in at the end to blast rhyme upon rhyme in a Jenga tower of lyricism where he keeps building words, sentences and cadences until the wheels fall off. It’s one of the those tracks which just showcases two great artists doing what they do best.
Ladbroke Grove (remix) – AJ Tracey (feat General Levy & Novelist) – I’ve got a huge soft spot for AJ Tracey. He’s got a great voice and massive skills, plus he has that swagger that comes from youth. ‘Ladbroke Grove’ is a great track, but it’s elevated with this dance backing track and the addition of legend General Levy. This is a pure hype track, it’s a feel good urban banger. Novelist drops in with a great feature, bringing together the young and old (sorry Levy) for a proper dance track.
Class of Deja – Kano (feat D Double E & Ghetts) – Another OG came out with an album this year. Kano brought probably his finest body of work to the masses and on this track teams up with two other cracking MCs he came up with. Given a verse each, Kano, D Double E and Ghetts each teach a masterclass in how to pair rhymes, speak truth and generally create a great song. This is Grime at its purest, hard beats, grimy bass, MCs spitting and going bar for bar, trying to one-up each other. Class of Deja is exactly that, a class of old school lyricists taking turns on the mic, as if they were back in the garages with only a set of turntables.
That Was Yesterday – Leon Bridges – Another wonderful soul voice, which (pardon the cheesy line) drips honey into your earholes. Over a very simple guitar, Bridges opines love lost in a traditional soul/blues style. His voice cracks and aches with flair and can easily be hailed as a comparison to Gaye, Redding or Sam Cooke. There’s not much to say when such a spare and beautiful track can speak for itself purely in an echoing voice of pain.
All Day Long – Chance the Rapper (feat John Legend) – I’m always happy when Chance brings out new material. While so much of what he says comes from a harsh or truthful place, he often paints it with a smile and rapid fire lyrics which can swing from ‘feel-good’ to ‘ghetto pain’. ‘All Day Long’ is a proper fucking bop, with John Legend providing the chorus. From the moment Chance steps to the mic, I smile. The whole track has the feel of friends gathered in a studio or taking to a stage in between preacher’s sermons. Made for dancing and singing along, just turn it up and push your chest out. This is a rollercoaster track which builds slowly on a spare uphill before every instrument and voice slams the rails and runs downhill to celebratory crescendo.
Crowd Reaction – Coco (feat C4) – I love Coco’s voice. Hailing from Sheffield, he leans into his accent with such pride and style, creating rhymes nobody else can because of that accent on the words. Again I’m leaning into a more dance based track here, because it stomps all over dancefloors and begs for a rewind when it ends. Punching beats do their best to mirror Coco’s flow, but can’t compete – he dominates the track, as he should and does his home town proud.
Christ Flow – Barny Fletcher – This is the first time I’d heard of Fletcher and I hope I hear much more over the coming years. The instrumental is such a bop, with loads of beats and a funky feel through the melody. Fletcher’s slightly nasal voice is frantic and chaotic rising in tempo before slowing down suddenly to keep the listener on their toes. While lyrically it’s not going to blow some doors down, it shows some talent in playing with unusual word combos and he mentions The Iron Giant, so it’s a win!
INTRO – DaBaby – 2019 also belonged to DaBaby. At one point, every single track from his latest album was in the Billboard charts in the US. This track is, as plainly stated, the intro to that album and states everything DaBaby went through personally while his career was popping off. It’s got such a great beat, great drops and the vocal is rapid, spitting words as if he won’t run out of breath. It sets a great scene for the rest of the album, but also stands out as a great track on its own.
FATBOY – Ocean Wisdom (feat Fatboy Slim) – Ocean Wisdom is the Busta Rhymes of UK Rap, with lyrics coming at blistering speeds yet still rhyming with flair and skill. For his latest album, he teamed up with Fatboy Slim for a very commercial track which keeps hold of the style which made Wisdom such an underground success. The opening is signature Slim, sounding like a missing track from ‘We’ve Come A Long Way Baby’, at times bombastic and others dreamy. Then Wizzy unleashes those bars like a boxer practising combos in the gym, it’s a pairing that shines.
Where Do We Come From – D Double E (feat Ghetts) – What a fucking opening this track has. Beats that truly batter your ears, a bass line to electrify your veins and samples acting as the rhythm before D Double E parachutes into the track with his style and flair. A perfect track to release after D Double starred in the Xmas Ikea advert, telling everyone that he came from the streets of London. Then Ghetts backs all of this with of hard pronunciation easing over the beat, making it look easy. Bada-bup-bup!
Call Me Human – Skip Marley & French Montana – A track of two sides; one side could have come from decades ago with Marley easing that twang vocal over a clapping beat, bringing soul with a falsetto performance. Then the other side, is modern day rap as French Montana comes in with a lovely flow over the percussion of Swizz Beatz. Bringing the two together is a stroke of genius, which fades out to Marley and a piercing choral voice like an echo through the streets.
Heaven Only Knows – Towkio (feat Chance the Rapper, Lido & Eryn Allen Kane) – The last track on this list goes to another feel-good song (Though released 4 years ago, it was rereleased this year!). Opening with a fast pace of samples and plenty of voices chiming in behind Towkio, suddenly everything drops except a basic melody and the vocal. As the track moves forward, more and more is added to the ensemble, highlighting a lovely harmony from a Gospel choir. Chance appears in his usual ‘feature form’ of sitting at the same height of the main star, not overshadowing, just bringing the quality. Though his verse here is a brilliant piece of rhyming, moving through his entire range of vocals.
And that’s it! That’s my list. You can find the Spotify playlist HERE if you want to listen. Let’s hope 2020 brings some amazing music (although, it’s only a few days until Stormzy’s album and that’s gonna be an amazing album to end this year!)