As we enter the last quarter of 2019, the final year in a decade that has been defined by the popularity of hip hop and the surrounding culture it’s the perfect time to reflect on what has characterised the trajectory of the most popular genre in the world this year.
Music and rap more specifically is gravitating towards shorter, more digestible content, with attention grabbing antics and singles being the vital currency in the current market. However its clear other factors outside charting music are important to artist’s standing.
Looking at recent releases, cultural relevance and industry recognition as rough guidelines to gauge which artists are in top form we’ve listed the 12 hottest artists of the year going into the final quarter of 2019.
12. Meg Thee Stallion
In 2018 Meg Thee Stallion became the first female rapper to sign with 300 Entertainment. Off the back of this she entered 2019 with a bang, providing one of the standout XXL freshman freestyles and her debut full length mixtape ‘Fever’. Providing one of the Summer anthems of 2019, Meg Thee Stallion dropped ‘Hot Girl Summer’ with Nicki Minaj and TY Dolla $ign that peaked at eleven in the Billboard Charts.
11. Kenny Beats
The only non-rapper on the list but without doubt one of the most prolific acts in the game, Kenny Beats recently made the transition from EDM producer to hip hop instrumental wizard. Working alongside a plethora of talented people this year including JPEGMAFIA, Ski Mask The Slump God & Rico Nasty, Kenny has been behind some of the hardest beats in 2019. Hosting his own show on Youtube ‘The Cave’, he has invited numerous notable guests to his DIY freestyle sessions, including Denzel Curry, Maxo Kream & EarthGang. In a genre where many producers stay behind the scenes, keeping to themselves, it’s refreshing to have Kenny get so much shine.
10. Rico Nasty
Despite perhaps first grabbing major attention in 2018 with her album ‘Nasty’, Rico has stepped up a gear in 2019. With her XXL Freshman freestyle blowing most of the other competitors out of the water, her aggressive energy and effortless versatility has propelled her to the upper echelons of many ‘best of’ lists for 2019.
9. Denzel Curry
Having closed out 2018 with one of the best hip hop albums of that year, Denzel Curry quickly followed up ‘TA13OO’ with ‘ZUU’. Heralded as one of the most energetic performers in the genre, his aggressive delivery is never caught lacking and the Florida MC is living proof of the scope for cross-genre pollination in hip hop, delivering it expertly throughout his album and his cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’.
‘Piñata’ has been cited by many as one of the great hip hop collaborative projects of the past decade. Demand for a follow up project was satisfied this year with the release of ‘Bandana’. Featuring quintessential Madlib production and Gangsta Gibb’s trademark, gritty flow it has provided one of the standout hip hop projects this year. Following its release Gibbs exercised his rapping abilities with standout performances at a Boiler Room show and Colors performance.
Mercury Prize nominations, a critically acclaimed debut album, supporting Brockhampton on tour and a slew of frightening guest features. Northampton’s Slowthai has had a bumper 2019, he is becoming one of the most in demand artists around with his unmistakeable cadence and punk attitude being easily recognisable. Never one to shy away from saying what he thinks, in the face of Brexit he has been clear with his opinions, going as far as to name his album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’. Making some of the biggest moves from hip hop’s underground Slowthai has put himself in the perfect position to break America in 2020.
The rise of UK rap is no secret and at the forefront of that wave is Santan Dave. Winning the Mercury Prize in the face of fierce competition, independently released ‘Funky Friday’ debuting at number one and his first album ‘PYSCHODRAMA’, following suit it feels as though Dave has already etched his name in the UK rap history books. His success in 2019 isn’t limited to his musical output as he landed a huge role in the Drake initiated revamp of ‘Top Boy’. A series synonymous with UK urban culture, the role paired with his accolades this year marks the development of Dave as an ambassador of UK urban culture.
Oh and we can’t forget the viral performance of ‘Thiago Silva’ from ‘Alex from Glastonbury’ that brought attention back to the 2016 hit.
Charlotte rapper DaBaby’s trajectory has been nothing short of crazy in 2019. Having formerly releases a string of mixtapes of varying success under the name ‘Baby Jesus’, the North Carolina spitter took his bouncy flow to the charts in 2019. Dropping his debut album ‘Baby On Baby’, that peaked at number 7 in the Billboard charts followed ‘Suge’ also peaking at 7 in the singles chart. Following his appearance on the remix of Lil Nas X’s ‘Panini’ DaBaby released his sophomore album ‘Kirk’ to continue his rich vein of form.
Quite often iconic performances are dubbed so after there has been ample time for people to digest proceedings, but in the case of Stormzy’s headline Glastonbury set its importance was immediately clear as day. The grime MC used the platform to make a statement, wearing a stab proof vest he didn’t hold back when presented the opportunity to rewind ‘Vossi Bop’ so the crowd could cry “Fuck the government and fuck Boris” one more time. The first grime artist to headline the legendary festival, he followed names like Jay-Z, Paul McCartney and Adele as acts to don the biggest stage at Worthy Farm. Rather than just a huge accomplishment for the man himself it marked an important milestone for grime and MCs across Britain and with two singles under his belt this year the anticipation levels are high for his sophomore album.
J. Cole hasn’t dropped a solo project this year, potentially leading to raised eyebrows at his power ranking, however 2019 seen his influence on the genre is grow stronger than ever as he continues cementing his place as one of the most dominant players. Cole ended his hot streak of features with a bang this year, his verse on Gangstarr’s first track in 16 years was followed by news he would no longer be providing guest appearances. The features coupled with the growth of his Dreamville label demonstrated by the ‘Dreamville Festival’ , ‘Revenge of the Dreamers’ project and the subsequent documentary is evidence enough of his stature as a hip hop heavyweight in 2019.
2. Tyler, The Creator
With little promotion, Tyler reached the much coveted number one spot on the album charts with his fifth studio album ‘IGOR’, demonstrating the value in playing the long game. Following the release of IGOR the west coast rapper completed the shedding of his former skin with the announcement of his ban from the UK had been lifted and he could now enter the country. The subsequent show organised for London was cancelled due to safety concerns but his hype machine was well and truly in motion at this point. With his clothes brand ‘GOLF’ and festival Camp Flog Naw going from strength to strength it’s clear his influence stretches beyond the confines of album sales.
1. Lil Nas X
This ranking comes at no surprise with the year’s viral star breaking the record for number of consecutive weeks at number one in the US Billboard Charts when ‘Old Town Road’ sat on top for 19 weeks. Having initially been outed from the country charts for not fitting enough of the elements of said genre, Lil Nas X recruited Billy Ray Cyrus and the rest is history. His frequent use of carefully picked guest features elongated his presence in the hot 100 with the likes of DaBaby and viral yodelling star Mason also featuring on remixes of ‘Panini’ and ‘Old Town Road’ respectively. With the ‘Old Town Road’ remix sitting at over 700 million streams on Spotify alone it’s no question that 2019’s breakout star has been the name on everyone’s lips this year.