Hello fellow music nerds! It’s almost 2020, which means it’s time for our year-end music list!
Keeping in line with last year’s criteria, we’re basing our 2019 list off of work released during the 2019 fiscal year (October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019) — qualifying them for nomination in the 2020 Grammys.
Let’s start things off with our list of 2019’s best songs!
Note: We will not be repeating any songs from last year’s list.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know my tastes are simple, yet particular: I love solid production, vocal delivery, and lyricism — primarily in hip-hop, R&B, and soul. Songs can be earworms, but if they have little purpose beyond that, they’re not typically my vibe. This year, soundtrack albums took a page out of the Black Panther playbook and leveled up, delivering some of the top tracks of 2019. On top of that, rappers old and new delivered some classic tracks, while some had underwhelming “debuts” (I’m looking at you, Chance). Still, this was a good year for music, and we’re sending off the decade with a good list.
“Sunflower” — Post Malone & Swae Lee (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
First things first: I was totally right about Lord and Miller being great for superheroes. I expected Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to be good, and it ended up winning an Oscar! One thing I didn’t expect, however, was the dope soundtrack. While “Sunflower” is a small representation of the album, it is one of the most iconic tracks of both the compilation and the film. I’m not a huge fan of Post Malone, but this song slaps in all the right ways. The hook perfectly encapsulates complicated “love”, with the titular metaphor representing undying loyalty.
“Juice” — Lizzo (Cuz I Love You)
I’m not usually a fan of pop rappers. They tend to have similar gimmicks, trying to appease the masses while preaching empty platitudes that are vague enough to sound “true” while collapsing under the weight of any level of scrutiny. Lizzo, however, just gives me good vibes, and I love her sound. “Juice” is a fun, confident song that shows her talent for both singing and rapping, something that is rare for folks who dabble in both. Many singers are not very good at rapping, and most rappers have been terrible singers. For now, I like what Lizzo is putting out. Even so, I’ll still be skeptical of pop rappers.
“Make It Better” — Anderson .Paak Featuring Smokey Robinson (Ventura)
Let me be clear in my biased opinion: Anderson .Paak is the best artist out right now. He can easily change genres on the fly, transitioning from hip-hop to R&B to funk to jazz, all while maintaining the level of quality and energy expected of each. He is also a workaholic: “Make It Better” is a single off Ventura, his second project this fiscal year (the other being Oxnard). The Grammy Award-winning artist teamed up with the legendary Smokey Robinson to craft a beautiful song about repairing fractured relationships.
“Power Is Power” — SZA, The Weeknd, & Travis Scott (For the Throne: Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones)
Oh, Game of Thrones. The only thing that could defeat the most popular show in the history of television was itself. Despite the disappointment of the final few seasons, the soundtrack to season eight was dope. In hindsight, “Power Is Power” is actually a song that foreshadowed the season. The Weeknd plays Jon Snow, SZA plays Daenerys Targaryen, and Travis Scott plays medieval Travis Scott. The combination reunites some of the most popular artists of the decade — and some of the best from the Black Panther album — to deliver a banger for the Thrones finale.
“Talk” — Khalid Featuring Disclosure (Free Spirit)
Khalid has been on my radar for the last few years now. The kid’s gifted, and his ear for beats is as remarkable as his voice. He also has a knack for choosing the right collaborators, and that can make all the difference. “Talk” partners him with Disclosure, and brings out the best aspects of his music: his simplicity, emotional honesty, and truth in his depictions of modern love. Open and honest communication is important in relationships, and that’s exactly what this song champions.
“WATER” — Salatiel, Pharrell Williams, & Beyoncé (The Lion King: The Gift)
Beyoncé did for Lion King what Kendrick Lamar did for Black Panther, and I can’t be mad at that. But, where Lamar focused on black experiences around the world, Beyoncé tapped into the African continent itself, and worked with Afrobeat producers and artists to make a load of jams. “WATER” is one of those, seeing her work with Salatiel as well as Pharrell Williams in this fantastic dance track.
“Panini” — Lil Nas X (7)
As much hype as “Old Town Road” has gotten, I’ve got to give it up to Lil Nas X for following it up with a song that has more substance, even if it continues to be minimalist in approach. “Panini” tackles the idea of old friends and loved ones who are unsupportive of one’s success. “Thought you wanted me to go up,” he raps on the song. “Why you tryna keep me teeny?” For a teenager to have this level of success so soon is cool. For him to deliver two popular songs varying in both tone and subject matter so soon is the gift that keeps on giving.
“Under the Sun” — Dreamville Featuring J. Cole, Lute, & DaBaby (Revenge of the Dreamers III)
J. Cole has been on fire lately. Between “MIDDLE CHILD” and his consistent solo reboot, he’s been on a journey that continues with his label, Dreamville. “Under the Sun”, the intro to Revenge of the Dreamers III, features a deadly combination of Cole, Dreamville’s Lute, and XXL Freshman DaBaby. A good posse cut, Cole masterfully maneuvers his flow while joking about a million dollar minimum wage, Lute makes a great Liam Neeson reference, and DaBaby shows his penchant for punch-lines with a Jiffy Lube simile and his glock with a, um, “extension” we’ll call it. Also, an uncredited hook from Kendrick Lamar is always a bonus.
“Money Good” — Megan Thee Stallion (Fever)
Despite being a XXL Freshman, Megan Thee Stallion is completely new to me. I had no idea what to expect from her music, but I was excited when I heard her freestyle (alongside DaBaby). That, combined with recommendations (AKA Chris and my sister), prompted my decision to give her a listen. And I’m glad I did, because she has a future in the game if she plays her cards right. “Money Good” is my favorite song from her much buzzed about mixtape, Fever, and is probably the best track as well. It shows her ferocity on the mic as well as making an effective assertion of her independence and staying power. I’m looking forward to her first LP.
“What’s Free?” — Meek Mill Featuring Rick Ross & Jay Z (Championships)
Meek Mill’s meteoric rise from street rapper to criminal justice reform activist has been an interesting story — something I’ve witnessed over the last decade, from his Flamers mixtape days until today. His adjacency to Rick Ross and Jay Z — a former corrections officer and drug dealer, respectively — have granted him the platform and opportunity to advocate his positions. Regardless of Rick Ross’ controversial lyrics and Jay Z’s verse seemingly laughable in hindsight, “What’s Free” is the perfect expression of Mill’s state of mind after his recent experiences with the justice system in Pennsylvania. The sample is fantastic, Jay’s verse slaps, and Meek comes through with the necessary emotions to make you nod your head in understanding even as you ruffle your brow at Officer Ricky.
My taste is mostly reflecting one thing: the hot girl summer, started by Megan Thee Stallion (more on her later). There have been a lot of female led tracks this year that have continued to stick to me, looping in my mind. With that, here’s my selections:
“MIDDLE CHILD” — J. Cole (Revenge of the Dreamers III)
Truthfully, J. Cole is like a musical love child of early Kanye West and Nas. The lyricism and imagery he builds is constantly strong, matched with original beats and minimal collaboration, be it because he wants to stand or he’s actually a threat. “Child” is a declarative statement by the North Carolina rapper/producer, making it known the smoke is for anyone willing to come to the table. As well, in a world where some rappers are putting up a front like a 6ix9ine, it is nice to have a man still out here telling his truth.
“My Type (Remix)” — Saweetie Featuring City Girls & Jhené Aiko (N/A)
Listen, I’m going to keep this very simple: Jhené Aiko been telling you how she likes it, so if any of you are surprised and don’t deliver, that is on you. Saweetie has been on a tear this year and #FreeJT, but y’all know Aiko bodied this, so we had to add it.
“Tempo” — Lizzo Featuring Missy Elliot (Cuz I Love You)
Listen, this has been a banner year for Lizzo. Eight Grammy noms for the Houston rapper/singer/flutist, mainly based on an older song. However, this has been her year, and it has been a long time coming. I first heard about her in 2015–2016 and thought she was amazing. “Good as Hell” is an undeniable jam. “Tempo” is now probably my favorite from her, mainly because of the bounce it just easily brings out of me. Also, Missy Elliot is an indisputable joy on the track. The way she just sways into the song and uplifts it, without overpowering it is amazing and reminds you of her peak, when every other song on the radio was Missy Misdemeanor Elliott. Oh, what a time.
“Intro” — Meek Mill (Championships)
Meek Mill has a thing for album intros that can double as album singles. Brandon is more closely affiliated with the rise and fall and rise of the Philly rapper. Nonetheless, to see someone succeed when the system is utterly committed to locking them away is always inspirational. This is his victory lap: the kind that not being in prison provides. He’s celebrating freedom how he wants, by not getting girls pregnant and running around his city on a dirt bike. For Meek, life is changing, but he’s still trying to keep some things similar.
“Sucker” — Jonas Brothers (Happiness Begins)
Not being fake Disney robots suits the Jonas Brothers. Seriously, they were once the most annoying band around, mainly because they were everywhere: they had the TV show, the movie, the tour. And then they weren’t. Sure, Nick Jonas was thrist-trapping gay guys and getting buff, while Joe was getting high and Kevin started a family, but they weren’t together. They did grow up though, and Sucker is a reflection of that. When they talk about being in love, it feels realer than that old shit they used to bop about. It’s refreshing to go from being annoyed by these Jersey boys to respecting their chart topping bop. Kudos.
“Be Honest” — Jorja Smith Featuring Burna Boy (N/A)
Listen, if Jorja Smith keeps dropping bangers, we’re keeping her on these lists. It is really that simple. The song adds a British flavor to the hot girl summer we had this year, and it was very needed. That said, the sly slide in of Burna Boy is very welcomed. He’s not trying to take you away. The Nigerian is just admiring and asking for a little time. Got to respect a man’s hustle, jumping onto a summer bop, in the middle of a career year for himself. An African Giant indeed.
“Hood Rat Shit” — Megan Thee Stallion (Fever)
When I say that this entire year I have been telling people about Megan Pete from Houston, I’m serious. “Big Ole Freak” is a carnal jam. “Cash Shit” with DaBaby is some real hot girl shit, with DaBaby along for the ride. The 24-year-old rapper never forgets a chance to remind you she’s about her cash and down to party, which is where “Hood Rat Shit” comes in. The sample alone is an internet classic that deserves to remain in all of our memories for the rest of time, and I say that on my momma. Megan constantly reminds me of a young Pimp C, with her drawl and sex talk ever present, but always capable of a surprise when you least expect it. Now if only we could become friends and talk My Hero Academia, life would be perfect.
“Shea Butter Baby” — Ari Lennox Featuring J. Cole (Shea Butter Baby)
In a very simple way, Ari Lennox is a neo-soul disciple. Her album takes from all over, with elements of jazz, funk and R&B all intertwining to make a strong experience. “Baby” is sensual and soft, enticing you in and seeking your desires, while you’re in bed. It makes sense that the first time I heard it was during a love scene in Creed II.
“Motivation” — Normani (N/A)
Before I say anything on Normani I have to say something very important: Camila Cabello is wack. If you need a very overstated romance to entice people to your music, then you’re wack. See Normani, the true member of Fifth Harmony worth stanning, as Blue Ivy probably taught us a while back. That said, the former X-Factor contestant’s slowburn to solo fame has been well worth the work. “Motivation” is a strong track you always want to dance to. In addition, with a music video that celebrates the Black women in music who came before her, Normani really knew what she was going for: people’s necks.
“Dancing with a Stranger” — Sam Smith & Normani (N/A)
I’d listen to an entire album of Sam Smith and Normani. The way their voices sync up on this song is smooth, melodic, and makes me want to sway everytime I hear it. It really is that simple. Someone call their people and get them in the studio for a seven track EP of soft, danceable songs. The internet will eat it up.
“Juicy” — Doja Cat (Amala)
Obviously, this list wouldn’t be complete without a booty track. What’s a good music round up without one? A farce, I tell you. So, we look to Doja Cat, who some may write off as a troll because of “Mooo!”, but truthfully, she’s hilarious and connects with her fans on a strong level. “Juicy” is a confidence boost for thick ladies everywhere. She just wants people to be comfortable in their skin and shake it to; is it that hard?