As the Earth finishes yet another trip around the Sun, here we are at another Thanksgiving. It’s a time to celebrate, reflect, and maybe even debate the 2019 state of music. With many of our superstars opting to take the year off, or possibly planning to bless us in December, a new wave of talent burst onto the scene and gave us a glimpse of our future.
With Thanksgiving, conversations about the necessity of turkey have grown very much over the years. People have long chosen jerk turkey or tofurkey, but it seems now that the dish could be altogether abandoned by some. Not to worry though. On this Thanksgiving table of Hip Hop & R&B, tradition shall be respected.
Turkey — Revenge of The Dreamers III by Dreamville
Like it or not, when people think of Thanksgiving one of the first things to come to mind is the turkey. It’s the main event, staple, and centerpiece. In a wide-open year for Hip-Hop and R&B, there was a dearth of “event albums” that shut the industry down. Honestly, only one candidate comes to mind when considering what people will remember 2019 music for down the road.
Back in January, J. Cole and friends gathered in Atlanta for a ten-day rap camp that had social media blazing with rumors, theories, and questions of where people’s golden tickets were. Fans waited six months to get the compilation, and Revenge of The Dreamers III surely did not disappoint. Aside from displaying how packed the Dreamville roster was, we got to see some fantasy collaborations of sorts. Cole, DaBaby and Kendrick Lamar on the introduction “Under The Sun” or Ari Lennox and Ty Dolla $ign on “Got Me.”
Bubbling talents like Buddy, Guapdad 4000, Baby Rose and Deante Hitchcock also showed out. Everybody won here, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving as now a lot of these artists are appearing on each other’s individual albums after the fact. It’s like when you eat the turkey on Thanksgiving, and then repurpose it for soup and sandwiches over the weekend. With news of a deluxe album coming, there’s no sign of when the leftovers will stop.
Stuffing — Shea Butter Baby by Ari Lennox
What goes hand in hand with turkey? Stuffing. While to some it seems unavoidable and in the way, others prefer it to the main dish. When it’s made right, stuffing can steal the show. Did Ari Lennox steal the 2019 spotlight from her own label? Debatably, but she definitely commanded the attention of many with the smooth sounds of Shea Butter Baby.
She has a voice that is impossible to ignore, and relatable lyrics for the black women navigating life, love, and the pursuit of security within themselves all over this album. Appearances from J. Cole and J.I.D boosted the effort, but make no mistake about it — Ari holds her own. The fact that she was part of one of the biggest albums this year and then released her own is a testament to how calculated Dreamville is. Like stuffing to turkey, you can’t think of Dreamville without her. And when people come back for seconds, they just might throw a bit more stuffing on their plates than the turkey. Dreamville wins in the end.
Ham — IGOR by Tyler, The Creator
The anti-turkey folk always need their substitute. Ham may not always be on the table, but it’s much appreciated for those who see turkey as dry or played out. And when it’s dressed up with a honey glaze and pineapple slices? Whew.
The non-mainstream rap fans need something for their own ears. While last year’s Ham was the timeless lyricism of Pusha T’s Daytona, this year we’ve got the emotional shrieks of the eclectic Tyler, The Creator. IGOR was an experience like no other. Deviating from the typical rap, he played around with a lot of different voice filters and instrumentation to create a unique listen for us all. He brought along Solange, Lil Uzi Vert, and Playboi Carti though their voices were equally difficult to make out.
Tyler has never been “normal” and though he appeared problematic earlier this decade, the world has grown to love him for being himself. Ham isn’t turkey, but it provides a different flavor and can exist in the world of traditional Thanksgiving spreads.
Sweet Potatoes/Yams — Ugh, those feels again by Snoh Aalegra
It’s the dish that tastes like dessert but has a place in the main course. Sweet potatoes, also referred to as yams, are an elite side dish. The type that people always leave room for because they never let you down. With marshmallows and cinnamon, you can’t go wrong.
Snoh Aalegra may not be one of the biggest stars, but the timeless sound of Ugh, those feels again made it an album worth putting into your daily rotation. How can anyone possibly get tired of tracks like “I Want You Around” or “Love Like That”? She gave us a treat back in August that tastes just as sweet to this day. A silky voice, powerful writing, and a remix alongside 6LACK (more on him later).
The fact that she is 32 may surprise many who see her as a newer face in the game. She’s had an impact for a while though, delivering “Time” back in 2017 which was later sampled by Drake for “Do Not Disturb.” If this album is any indication, we may be leaving room on our plate for whatever she delivers until she calls it quits. Yams Aalegra for the win.
Macaroni and Cheese — The Lost Boy by YBN Cordae
Who can mess up pasta and cheese? Many, surprisingly. At their core though, the combination of the two is delightful. The dish gets taken to the next level when people start adding bread crumbs, meats, vegetables or other items. And when you get some cheesy Mac on your fork at the same time as the yams? My my my.
YBN Cordae is hands down one of the most skilled young rappers with an extremely high ceiling. Branching off from his crew, he released his debut album The Lost Boy to an overwhelmingly positive reception. Through freestyle videos and word of mouth, we already knew what he was capable of. Seeing him put together an album featuring Chance The Rapper, Meek Mill, Pusha T, Anderson Paak and Arin Ray provided a tangible example of him possessing a polished ear and not being afraid to step into the ring with some heavyweights.
The album provides a good glimpse of his life leading up to stardom, and how he balances it all. There are hunger and passion within him that makes all of this feel as if he cares about way more than money and fame. He’s here to give us something. He’s the Mac and Cheese with bread crumbs and bacon bits of 2019.
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy — Baby on Baby, KIRK by DaBaby
Trust and believe that you can have too much of a good thing. Mashed potatoes on their own are hearty. With gravy, they’re delectable. However, when someone’s got a heavy hand that gravy can overwhelm the side dish and turn you off.
It feels like slight writing this about DaBaby because he really didn’t do any wrong this year. All of the music has been good at a minimum. Debut album Baby on Baby was great, starring songs like “Suge” and “Baby Sitter”. He rode the wave of those tracks all through the summer, teaming up with Dreamville, Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion along the way. His attention to detail in his self-funded music videos made his MVP campaign almost a shoo-in, but he decided to pour some gravy on the way by dropping KIRK just six months after Baby on Baby.
KIRK wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t provide anything different from Baby on Baby aside from the introspective musings on his father’s passing. Being a new artist, perhaps he should be given some leeway with the expectations. Yet having debuted as strong as he did and dropping not a single bad verse, it was hard not to anticipate excellence here.
Baby on Baby would have been more than enough this year. His attempt to hit us with a 1–2 is commendable, but there was just a bit too much sauce. Easy on the gravy next year, DaBaby!
Vegetables/Salad — Wow…That’s Crazy by Wale
Progressive adults and youths understand the value of vegetables and salad on your plate during the holidays. Sure, you can gorge on all the good stuff but you shouldn’t lose yourself completely. Clear a little room for some broccoli, you’ll appreciate it later.
These days, mental health conversations are becoming standard. It’s amazing to see as just a decade or so ago, people were made fun of for their illnesses and ailments out of their control. Now even though many of us are coming to terms with our anxiety and depression, still people find ways to pick and choose who gets sympathy and who is shunned. Wale is one of those people.
Wow…That’s Crazy was an extended therapy session for an artist who has been both loved and hated throughout his career. Wale is one of the most vocal artists when it comes to the things he struggles with on a mental level and how fame only adds to it. He tackles love, lust, manhood, blackness and the complications of having money all through this album. It’s authentic expression to the fullest and he almost contradicts himself on a few occasions through the album. In the end, rather than focusing on the inconsistencies you can come to appreciate the fact he is human and we need more people like this in the game.
Much like vegetables, you don’t have to like Wale. It’s about making the effort to understand the good he provides. We all battle demons, and hearing someone else deals with the same things you do can make it all better. Just like your friend who told you to try Brussel sprouts and now you can’t get enough.
Dressings — Drip or Drown 2 by Gunna, and every Gunna feature
Now, just because vegetables and salad are good for you doesn’t mean that they are always good. Dressing enhances the blandest vegetables. Beyond that, they work pretty well with other types of food. The only issue is that they can’t really standalone and be consumed. Unless you’re really into that type of stuff.
Gunna came off an amazing 2018 and hit the ground running with album Drip or Drown 2 in February. It didn’t have the same impact of Drip Season 3, and whether that’s due to his movement losing steam or the music being too repetitive is a matter of personal analysis. The album kind of came and went, but the melodic ATLien surely had his name called a handful of times for his ever so reliable features.
Chris Brown’s “Heat”, Moneybagg Yo’s “Dior”, Young Thug’s “Hot” and “Surf” were all elevated by Gunna’s drip. What would his dressing be? French? Ranch, cause he be dressing? Lord knows, but one thing that stands true is that few people go wrong adding the fly guy to their tracks. It’ll be interesting to see how his next solo project measures up, but as long as he keeps the fire features coming then he’ll continue to be used.
Cranberry Sauce — CASE STUDY 01 by Daniel Caesar
The name of this dish alone causes doubt because some people just don’t like cranberries to begin with. It’s misleading too because it is actually more like jello than a liquid-based option. However, upon taking that leap, you see it’s actually not so bad and a good complement to the more savory meats and options found on Thanksgiving plates.
Cancel culture has only gotten weaker as time passes, but one person who was a bit more impacted by it than others is Daniel Caesar. The man once beloved for giving us “Get You” and the HER-assisted “Best Part” made one false move in defending YesJulz and messed up his whole rollout. It’s truly fascinating that personal errors cause people to abandon one’s music or dismiss it as if it’s never been good, but that’s another conversation.
However, the Toronto crooner gave us yet another serving of evocative, heartstring-pulling R&B. He didn’t reinvent the Freudian wheel, but tapped into more instrumentation and created a true ~vibe~. The songwriting didn’t miss a beat either. You wouldn’t know though if you didn’t give it a shot. At the end of the day, for many, it’s about a lot more than the music. They feel entitled to the rollout fitting their preferences. Thus, telling someone that cranberry sauce is good may not be the best sell. Just like telling someone a YesJulz apologist put out one of the best R&B projects this year.
Dessert — HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM, The Lion King: The Gift by Beyoncé
It’s the same every year. You get one plate, see what you like, and go back for seconds and thirds. You fully immerse yourself in the succulent meats and gooey cheeses to the point of being full. Then, the pies and cakes come out. You don’t have room for it, but you make room when it’s worth it.
At this point in her career, we don’t compare Beyoncé. She sets the standard and others fall in place. She doesn’t have to give us anything anymore, but she gave us TWO excellent projects this year. A treat we may not have needed, but certainly gave our attention to. HOMECOMING accompanied her Netflix special detailing the lead up to her stellar Coachella headlining set. The Lion King showed her tapping into the sounds of Africa, bringing Hov, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Burna Boy, Shatta Wale and more along for the ride.
Afrobeats became a household genre this year, so seeing the Queen excel at it made the experience all the more special. Beyonce doesn’t need music anymore with all she’s accomplished, but we’ve got her spot at the table ready and waiting for whenever she comes with another slice of pie.
Parsley — 6LACK’s features
Some meals are good, but that finishing touch makes them great. Parsley can bring your meal from basic to exquisite, both on a taste level and the aesthetic. The same way a feature verse can elevate a song to the excellence it may not have seen otherwise. 6LACK appears on over ten people’s songs this year, bringing his signature croak and sharp quill into the world of Tinashe, Quin, Boogie, Deante Hitchcock, Guapdad 4000, The Bonfyre, Snoh Aalegra and many more.
He excels at opening up songs like Wale’s “Expectations,” but most times he’s the best fit as the closer. The brutal honesty on “How TF” and the cocky sex talk on Summer Walker’s “Like It” show his range continues to expand and you can’t go wrong bringing 6LACK onto your song. The only fear is that he may completely take it over. Worth the risk.
The Family Argument — Everything involving Lizzo
Ah, there’s always that one cousin nobody likes, the aunt that drinks too much, or the two relatives with a longstanding beef that comes to a boil when everyone is gathered. It’s not ideal and some problematic things get said, but sometimes…they’re hilarious.
Lizzo had an amazing year numbers-wise and thrust herself into superstardom, but simultaneously caught a lot of heat. Whether it was her defaming the character of a Postmates employee, besting Ari Lennox and others for Album of the Year at the Soul Train Awards, racking up eight Grammy nominations for an album powered by a song two years old, or posting her buttcrack on social media.
By being herself and succeeding at it, she’s become one of the most polarizing acts of 2019. Industry plant or not, Lizzo is the topic of conversation every day. It will be interesting to see what is to come for her in 2020, and it’s possible some families may actually argue about her during Thanksgiving dinner this year. Maybe save “Truth Hurts” for the late-night aux session when people have begun to leave.
The Holy Relative — Jesus is King by Kanye West
Some relatives you hate for simply being bad people, and others make you hate them with the things they stand for. They make every conversation related to God and judge you for living your life. It’s possible that they themselves may have done the same things you do, but because they’ve made their transformation they feel empowered to talk down.
Kanye West has seen quite a shift in his career. The man who once told us publicly on television that George Bush didn’t care about black people now dons a Make America Great Again hat and endorses Trump. Through it all, he’s tried to maintain his Hip-Hop following and Jesus Is King is the culmination of that.
The effort feels earnest, but it’s hard not to question the sincerity of it. Of course, Kanye can still produce his ass off, but how do you possibly digest this music we were presented without considering everything leading up to it? Can this holy relative really be heard with fairness?
We’ve tried. Bringing together a Clipse reunion, Ty Dolla $ign, and Fred Hammond surely aided the endeavor. Kanye may just benefit from letting his actions speak and not trying to preach the word to ears that have been tainted by his past transgressions. People can change though.
The Kids Table — Lil Nas X, Summer Walker, Lucky Daye, Megan Thee Stallion
It’s fun for a while, but eventually, you want to hang with the adults. You want to sit at the big table, have big conversations and be looked at differently. Four artists who really staked their claim for a seat with the grown folk is Lil Nas X, Summer Walker, Lucky Daye, and Megan Thee Stallion.
Lil Nas X went from Nicki Minaj Stan account to a record-breaking Country-Hip Hop crossover track and multiple Grammy nominations. His run could not be denied by the Billboard charts, homophobes and general haters on Twitter. His EP 7 showed that he could put together a solid project and stand alongside Cardi B. 2020 will be a test of his consistency and staying power, but for now, he’s welcome to the conversations about politics and taxes.
Summer Walker had a great 2018, but a Drake remix along with exceptional album Over It put her among some of the R&B greats. Usher gave her a look, restructuring his throwback hit “You Make Me Wanna” into Summer’s “Come Thru”. Vocally she’s strong, writing-wise she’s got chops, and her presence among fans has some calling her a legend. Despite the battles with anxiety and people’s inability to understand how a famous person struggles mentally, she’s pressing on and forcing us to discuss her differently.
Lucky Daye racked up four Grammy nominations. Let that sink in. Many barely knew who the guy was, but his voice and style are infectious. He’s got the energy of a Miguel, the composure of a John Legend, and the voice of a god. All this success early on makes people doubt longevity, but something about Lucky Daye feels timeless. Though the Grammy’s don’t define our culture, seeing him walk away with at least one will be special. Even if he doesn’t, he’s still a star. Pull up his chair.
Meg. Megan Thee Stallion. The creator of “Hot Girl Summer” and “Nerdy Girl Fall.” The woman that every man wants and few can get. She’s obviously gorgeous and charismatic, but then you throw in her unbridled intensity and aptitude as ax rapper? She exploded this year. Being signed by Roc Nation management so soon should really make it clear that this isn’t someone that will be around for just a year. Hell, even without them it’s likely she would have stayed relevant. Co-signs from Drake, Nicki Minaj, Chance The Rapper, Trey Songz, DaBaby and Maxo Kream are just a few of the many talents who see what she’s capable of. Brace yourself and saddle up, the stallion is going nowhere. She might deserve a throne at the adult’s table, to be honest.
Another year, another slew of great music. So much to be thankful for and to look forward to. Thank you to all who have helped these projects come to life and pushed these artists to be their best selves. As a result, there isn’t much room at the table for extras. Keep the jello green bean casseroles away, we good on this side.