This year is definitely one of the quietest years for hip hop in recent memory. Memorable albums have been few and far between. Why is this the case? What is the remedy?
So far, 2019 has been a quiet year for my favourite genre of music, hip-hop. I say quiet, as it hasn’t necessarily been bad. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib released the duo’s excellent sophomore album Bandana. Tyler, the Creator returned with the acclaimed IGOR. Dreamville and co dropped Revenge of the Dreamers III. The UK pulled no punches either with massive albums from Dave, Little Simz and Slowthai respectively.
Yet despite those gems, it’s easy to argue that hip hop has had an anaemic year so far. You can easily count this year’s notable releases on two hands. In any other music genre that would probably mark a great year, but not for hip hop. Let us take some notable releases of the past few years as an example:
2018: Pusha T, J.Cole, Eminem, Travis Scott, Drake, Mac Miller, Jay Rock, Lil Wayne, Royce da 5’9”, Kids See Ghosts, Nipsey Hussle, Lupe Fiasco, J.I.D, Meek Mill, Cardi B, Freddie Gibbs/ Curren$y / The Alchemist, Migos, 21 Savage…
2017: Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator, Jay Z, Migos, Joey Bada$$, Drake, Big Sean, Raekwon, Freddie Gibbs, Meek Mill, Big Boi, Run the Jewels, Vince Staples, Vic Mensa, Roc Marciano, 21 Savage, Rick Ross, Cyhi the Prince, Lil Uzi Vert…
Looking at these lists, what can we conclude? Freddie Gibbs raps his ass off. No, but seriously, each year has been stamped in our memories by BIG releases from hip hop giants. This year? Lacklustre. It’s hard to find another way to describe 2019 considering that Nas, one of the best MC’s ever, managed to drop an album that went relatively unnoticed. Fans are still left clamouring to hear something new from Kendrick Lamar (at least a few more verses?). And Kanye… that’s a discussion for another time. Not to mention his protege Chance released the colossal disappointment The Big Day this year. Even if we assume that this year will be rescued by a masterpiece in the last few months of the year, I think 2019 falls short for one reason. Competition.
Rap has always been about staking your claim on the microphone; lyrics, punchlines, delivery and charisma. Yet in 2019 it appears that the love for the art is dwindling. Which is unusual considering that hip hop is more prominent than it’s ever been. The competition isn’t there anymore. Rap is overdue another “Control” moment - when Kendrick “inspired” everyone else to step up their game in 2011:
I’m usually homeboys with the same n****s I’m rhymin’ with
But this is hip-hop, and them n****s should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale,
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake,
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you n****s
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n****s
They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n****s
What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high
That competitive edge has been missing for a while. Outside of last year’s quarrel between Pusha T and Drake (“You are hiding a child”) it has become the norm. I’m not calling for meaningless beef to sell records but wake your peers up. Make them work for their fans. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but we can always hope.
Meanwhile, a few months remain in 2019, and there could be some significant releases still to come. Run the Jewels may release RTJ4 before the year’s up, Kanye’s next album could be decent, and most importantly we’re getting a f**king Gang Starr album in December. If that’s not a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is. So despite the pessimistic tone present in this post, Hip Hop is most definitely NOT dead. In 2019 the UK scene is thriving, we still have elite MCs like Black Thought blessing us with verses, and hip hop is still music’s most diverse genre by a light year.
Disclaimer: There are a lot of 2019 albums I didn’t mention in this article, and for a good reason, the majority were mediocre. Disagree? Vent in the comments.