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afropunk approved: 2019’s best albums

December 20, 2019
88 Picks

It has been a banner year for Black music. We’ve seen genres like hip-hop and dancehall continue to flourish and mutate while others like jazz and R&B have been revitalized by boundary-pushing new blood. Africa has risen. From the afro-fusion of Burna Boy to the gqom and amapiano of artists like Sho Madjozi and Kabza De Small, the global impact of the continent’s sounds are undeniable. In the U.K., British rap is finally getting the respect it deserves and its stars are using their platforms to tell the truth about the Black Brit experience. This year Black power was expressed not only through protest but reclamation as well; in Brazil we saw artists like Aya Bass take back Axé music for the Black population who created it.

Back in the States, we’ve crowned outliers-turned-mainstream stars like Lizzo and Lil Nas X pop music royalty, remaking the mainstream in our image. This year was also defined by defiance as hard-to-neatly-categorize artists like FKA twigs and Tyler, The Creator showed us that Black genius is meant to be felt, not contained. And of course, there’s a revolution going on underground led by Black punks like Soul Glo and Afrofuturist iconoclasts like Moor Mother.

Before we ring in 2020, we’re taking a look back at this year and presenting our favorite albums from the diaspora  — across and beyond genres. You’ll see some familiar names and you’ll learn about some new acts but they’re all worthwhile and representative of the irrepressible AFROPUNK spirit.

Anderson Paak, Ventura

The gift of creating timeless music is rare AF — more so, when that music’s words, sounds and power, can speak as clearly to a single moment as to an entire era. So it’s beyond curious how .Paak plays fast and loose with that gift. Which is a long-ass way of saying that Ventura, the SoCal polymath’s second album in less than six months, is a wall-to-wall wonder, beyond genre and time, the kind of long-player almost no other current artist is capable of creating. When he’s not philosophizing like a rap Jimi, or connecting civil rights struggles then and now like Curtis, .Paak is trading verses with 3000 and sexy croons with Smokey, or making soulful boogie jams that sound as perfect on a throwback playlist as in a Detroit house DJ’s 4a set. Maybe it’s best .Paak doesn’t take the gift too seriously, so more of this timeless music can continue pouring out of him. — Piotr Orlov

Ari Lennox, Shea Butter Baby

Smokey, soulful and sexy — we love an old school R&B vibe. Shea Butter Baby is a blue-light-in-the-basement masterpiece of moods, moments and movements that make you feel good. Ari Lennox’s debut is decidedly a throwback to a mid-’90s neo-soul soundtrack, but it is updated, nuanced and executed with precision and passion. Reminiscent of the emotive vocals and lush instrumentation of artists like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, Donell Jones, and Groove Theory, Lennox reimagines the Black love narrative sung from the depths of her soul. On the lead single with J. Cole, Lennox sang, “Touch me, take me, kiss me. Love me, depress me. Pull up, black truck, ganja.” Irresistible. “Shea Butter Baby fucking up your sheets.” Indeed. – Emil Wilbekin

BaianaSystem, O Futuro Não Demora

BaianaSystem is a Brazilian group that mixes rock, Bahian guitar riffs and drums, with Jamaican soundsystem culture and powerful, political lyrics. They specialize in making huge crowds shake their asses and go wild, especially at Salavador’s Carnaval. On BaianaSystem third studio album, O Futuro Não Demora (The Future Doesn’t Wait), the group connects the Earth’s elemental past to Brazil’s present — from the opening track (the “Água (Water)” of life), to the closer (“Fogo (Fire)” and its destruction). There’s a corresponding sonic throughline as well, between the group and the heritage of Caribbean and Latin American music, reinforced by guests like Manu Chao, Curumin, and dub producer Adrian Sherwood. The twin narratives constitute a beginning, middle, and an almost dramatic end. But the drama does not overwhelm Futuro’s vibe, because BaianaSystem can make people dance even when they are burning down the status quo. Free your ass, etc. Bahia-style. — Luciana Paulino

Brittany Howard, JAIME

As the driving force behind Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard was already rock royalty. Now, her solo debut Jaime cements it. The record is full of indelible hooks, introspective lyrics about family, small town life and faith, and features a vibe that’s equally indebted to Memphis soul, Nina Simone, and ‘90s alt-rock. On Jaime, Howard channels the sonic playfulness and lyrical honesty that’s always been at the heart of her music into a singular mission statement, that’s almost startling in its hopefulness. Come for singles like “Stay High,” but stay for epic deep cuts like “13th Century Metal,” and the devastating rumination on the contradictions of race in America, “Goat Head.” Jaime is an album we’ll likely still be talking about well into the next decade. — Nathan Leigh

Burna Boy, African Giant

There were a few great musical celebrations of the African diaspora in 2019, but none of them embodied its real-time cultural power and reach quite like King Burna’s international breakthrough. Damini Ogulu’s pidgin-accented afrobeats spoke as clearly to listeners in Kingston, London, Brooklyn — and, as we personally witnessed, in Paris — as they did at home in Nigeria. Yes, he had help from all around the Black Atlantic, and a cast that includes Future, Jorja Smith and Damian Marley can make anyone seem a world-beater. But the greatness of African Giant was not a reliance on Western stars, but on including them into his own royal constellation. It was Kel P’s next level “vibes” that produced the album’s best beats, Zlatan who held down its best feature, and the most intriguing stories that Burna told in his wonderfully low-key, quiet-storm-dancehall delivery, remained the continent’s. A giant knows his kingdom’s inherent value. — Piotr Orlov 

Danny Brown, uknowhatimsayin¿ 

Danny Brown has come full circle. After raging against aging and testing his own mortality on his 2011 breakthrough, XXX, this year’s uknowhatimsayin¿ shows him maturing into an alt-rap elder statesman, relying more on his skills than shock value. Though Danny is still the horny, outrageous, unfiltered bruiser we know and love, he’s set aside his party-hard, Peter Pan syndrome to flex his gifts for confessional rhymes (“Best Life”) and clever storytelling (“Dirty Laundry”). The tone of the album is still as gritty as ever, yet there’s also a hopefulness present in songs like “Belly Of The Beast” (see: hookman Obongjayar’s “I don’t have skin, I just shine/They can’t contain me, I’m free”). It’s proof that growing old doesn’t mean growing bitter. — Timmhotep Aku

Denzel Curry, ZUU

Denzel Curry’s ZUU, is an irresistible tribute to his Miami roots that reflects both the good and bad of everyday Black life in working-class South Florida. At times, Curry paints a stark, unglamourous picture of violence in his Carol City neighborhood (“Speedboat”) where they “put a red beam to your head like Arby’s” and you “either go to school, go to jail or the army.” But It’s not all gloom and doom as he shows hometown pride on “Carolmart,” shouting out 305 legends like Trina and Trick Daddy, and symbols of South Florida culture like donks and gold teeth. A versatile and formidable MC, Curry is as adept at conveying aggression (“P.A.T.”) as he is earnest emotion on tributes to his parents (“Ricky”) and dead homies (“Wish”). — Erin Elyse

FKA Twigs, Magdalene

Even at the dawn of Tahliah Barnett’s career it felt reductive to call her merely “a singer,” or “a writer,” or “a dancer.” From the get-go, FKA twigs was an artist with a capital A, demanding that the audience ascribe to the fullness of a very personal vision. On her sophomore album, that vision pursues (mostly) meditative introspection, where the intimate mix of alienated electronics and cathedral choral music stretches the canvas for personal confession. Think of it as a raw reveal spread out over 39 minutes, at once erotic and heartbreaking, intertwined for her own private eternity at the heart of a public moment. By taking on an outsider holy woman as her patron saint, while creating a body of work about movement, Twigs found even more outlets to encompass her ideas about love and pain, ones that went far beyond the album itself, fashioning a creative space that continues to keep expanding. — Piotr Orlov 

Flying Lotus, Flamagra

Clocking in at over an hour, with 27 tracks, Flying Lotus’ magnum opus is an actual feast. The master beatsmith’s record was reportedly inspired in part by a conversation with weirdo film director David Lynch, which sounds about right for the brain-melting sonics. Conjuring images of recent California wildfires, FlyLo envisions a world ablaze on every song. Each deconstructed instrumental is its own micro-universe, equally cerebral and kinetic. Clipped beats and surreal synth lines melt in the flames, before a who’s who of FlyLo collaborators each drop in to deliver their take. It’s no surprise that many of the features on Flamagra appear elsewhere on this list: Anderson .Paak, Solange, Denzel Curry, and Toro Y Moi all drop in to add some heat to the mix. Curry’s contribution alone would qualify both for inclusion on a year-end list. — Nathan Leigh

Gary Clarke Jr, This Land

Not satisfied with merely being among the greatest rock guitarists alive, with This Land, Gary Clark Jr. crystallized into one of the best songwriters too. Each composition dismantles the intersection of race, class, and history from a new angle, the title track interpolating Woody Guthrie’s anti-capitalist anthem into a career-defining dissertation on defiance. Clark’s guitar work blisters throughout, angling for attention with his vocals, which feature the best lyrics of his career. It’s an album so epic, he brought in Sheila-friggin E. to play percussion. The highlights — “What About Us,” “Got To Get Up,” and “Pearl Cadillac” — all leap out of the speakers, while the stripped-down, blues-stomping closer, “Dirty Dishes Blues,” is a reminder that…yeah, he’s still the modern king of the blues as well. — Nathan Leigh

Ho99o9, Cyber Warfare

Ho99o9’s run from 2018’s Cyber Cop [Unauthorized MP3.] to this year’s Cyber Warfare is one for the ages. Already among the best live acts on the planet, Ho99o9 distilled their 21st-century tech paranoia, blistering social commentary, and unholy union of crossover thrash and golden era hip-hop into pure magic. The EP turns its all-consuming rage on the inherent racism and classism of tone police, punk police, and your local police, unleashing holy war on all of them. Running from the heavy-as-fuck “Master of Pain” to the hardcore anthem “F.O.G.” Cyber Warfare tops its predecessor with guts and gusto, muscling its way through the pit to become that rarest beast in heavy music: a perfect EP. — Nathan Leigh

Jamila Woods, Legacy Legacy

Part poetry, part prayer, and part meditation, Jamila Woods’ Legacy! Legacy! is an offering to the ancestors. Inspired by not only her personal history, but the breadth of Black cultural history, Woods dedicates each track to revolutionary creatives, like Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Sun Ra, and Octavia Butler, to name a few. With meticulously arranged wordplay, unbridled reverence, and righteous rage, Woods confronts the unrelenting appropriation of Black music (“Muddy”), or offers warm advice about spiritual contentment in a relationship (“Sonia”). A story of Black womanhood, Legacy! Legacy! Is an album that moves you on an existential level, while soaring with joy, pride, and fight. – Erin Elyse

JPEGMAFIA, All My Heroes Are Cornballs

JPEGMafia’s 2018 breakthrough Veteran, established him as a wildly irreverent, politically astute rapper/producer with a penchant for ridiculing idols and racist Internet trolls alike. But on his latest, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, he chooses to explore new territory rather than retread. Sure, he’s still fighting fire with fire, but he’s also proving that there’s more to his world than just  vitriol. AMHC features oddities like a warped interpolation of “No Scrubs,” an ode to sorrel, and a sample of someone ordering Wendy’s at a drive-thru. Instead of smoothing his musical edges, Peggy makes them even messier, foregoing polish for mood no matter how momentarily disorienting. He dabbles in styles as varied as smoked-out cloud rap (“Beta Male Strategies”), industrial music-fueled punk (“JPEGMafia Type Beat”), and Auto-Tuned boy band impressions, (“Rap Grow Old x Leave No Child Behind”) — often, all in the same song, (“Jesus Forgive Me, I am a Thot”, “Prone!”). Yet don’t be surprised if, after a few listens, you find yourself humming the melody of ‘Grimy Waifu’ while waiting for your order at the drive-thru. — Reggie Duvivier

Koffee, Rapture

Mikayla “Koffee” Simpson shook the world with positive vibes in 2019. The 19-year-old’s single “Toast” became this year’s theme song for counting blessings and suddenly the vocalist from Spanish Town became a household name not just in her native Jamaica, but all over the world. “Toast” was just the tip of the iceberg as her five-song Rapture EP confirmed that the hit was no fluke. On the project, she flaunts her vocal talents on the throwback styled “Raggamuffin” with a simile filled rapid-fire flow and taps into her church girl roots to invoke biblical imagery to chant down Baylon on “Blazin’” and call for peace in Jamaica on “Throne.” We’ll no doubt be raising our glasses to her further success in the near future. — Timmhotep Aku

Lucky Daye, Painted
It might seem like Lucky Daye’s Painted is just another well-written, well-performed, and well-produced R&B album in a year that gave us many — and it is — but it’s also a declaration of freedom. The New Orleans-born, LA-based singer captured hearts and minds with his hit “Roll Some Mo,” an ode to herb and romantic connection inspired, in part, by his use of cannabis to heal and open up after emerging from a strict religious upbringing. Before the weed, there was the secular music from Prince, Rick James, Lauryn Hill, and Stevie Wonder he snuck listens to. On Painted he doesn’t just wear those influences on his sleeve, he rocks the shit out them, creating something influenced by the greats but still very much his own. “Karma,” for example,” begins with the familiar seduction of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and then flips into Daye talking about his unchecked desire for a woman. But there’s something liberating about letting go and letting love, too; it’s evident on the album’s epic closer “Love You Too Much” that being vulnerable enough to admit you have feelings for someone is freeing in itself. — Ron Douglass, III

Mahalia, Love and Compromise

A decade after writing her first song at the tender age of 11, UK alt-R&B/soul singer Mahalia released her debut studio album, Love and Compromise. A mellow, coming-of-age take on first loves (“I Wish I Missed My Ex”), declaring one’s agency (“Do Not Disturb”), and the messiness of relationships (“Karma”), the album is an intoxicating blend of ‘90s-era American R&B and soulful pop. Sonically, it pays homage to the music she grew up on, like the reggae and Caribbean classics passed down to her by her father and brother (see: “Simmer”). Certainly not the first singer-songwriter to explore themes of young love and relationships, on Love and Compromise Mahalia manages to cast her own spell with an unpretentious relatability (see: “Sober”) and effervescent vocals. — Erin Elyse

Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka

London-born folk-rocker Michael Kiwanuka’s musical traditionalism adorns every note of his self-titled, third album; and in a year when the world was pulling the rug out from underneath our daily existence, its new take on familiar notions was a healing feeling. Kiwanuka is informed by the comforting beauty of American and British Black guitar music (think afrodelic soul from Bill Withers to Eddy Grant), filled with classic song-forms (intros, spoken word interludes, spectacular codas), and with grand narratives — heroes on quests, a belief in the gospel of justice — that Kiwanuka continues to rally round. Aided by production traditionalists (the American Dangermouse and the Brit Inflo), Michael told the tale of how we can re-energize society by adding our own details to the old stories. And while it’s easy to argue that the daily headlines offer another conclusion, Kiwanuka’s unwavering faith is a glory to behold. — Piotr Orlov

Mike, Tears of Joy

MIKE (Michael Bonema) is an introspective rapper; a young man whose poetic observations of life belie his age.Tears of Joy, a project made in the wake of his mother’s passing, could have been a morose meditation on grief, but is instead a life-affirming tribute to a mother’s love and an expression of a son’s resilience. When he talks about being an immigrant child, (“Going Truuu”), the relentless grind of survival in the city, (“Take Crowns”), or throws in an instrumental chopped-and-screwed reggae track, (“Gr8tful 2k19”) the sense of mourning is palatable but he isn’t imprisoned by the melancholy — he is propelled by it. “Stargazer. Pt 3” ends the album with a beat built around triumphant horns as MIKE repeats, “Livin’ in a no regret” before the voice of his mother fades in with words of encouragement and adoration. It’s the perfect way to end an album that celebrates a strength born of sadness. — Reggie Duvivier

Moor Mother,  Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes

Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes isn’t an album; it’s an experience. Putting on headphones to listen to it is practically a religious experience in itself. The mutated blips of noise and reverb washes create abstract soundscapes which are both threatening and beautiful. As Moor Mother finds rapture in distorted synths, Bernard Hermann strings, and industrial percussion, her vocals work overtime to calm the rage in her lyrics. Highlights like “After Images” and “Black Flight” (which also features Saul Williams) emerge like a cryptid through the fog, both a relief and a new danger. Analog Fluids makes the case for itself that noise is the new punk rock. — Nathan Leigh


Calling your punk band The Muslims should be no more a sociopolitical statement than calling your band Circle Jerks. The Muslims (members QADR, Farah Bahbah, and Abu Shea) make poignant, political punk. But they aren’t here for conversation — just confrontation. Their latest album, Mayo Supreme (a pun on white supremacy), uses its runtime to throw continuous punches at the concepts of homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry that come with living in the U.S. “America The Great” starts off like a classic grunge song that builds up to some slashing guitar work before collapsing into a high-speed hardcore stomp. “There Their They’re” has some genuinely beautifully sung moments before QADR ramps it up with a sudden exclamation of, “I am not the only faggot who will kick your ass!” and it’s back to stage diving.  While the world burns it’s easy to wallow in the idea that the bad guys will win. The Muslims make tracks that refute the idea of complacency and apathy, and with Mayo Supreme they’ve provided the perfect soundtrack for dancing on the oppressors’ graves. — Reggie Duvivier

Rico Nasty,  Anger Management

Clocking in at just 18 minutes, Rico Nasty’s Anger Management is the pithy first collaborative project from the Maryland rapper and her producer du jour, Kenny Beats. Stacked with Rico’s raspy-voiced aggression and Kenny’s rumbling, bass-heavy production, this nine-track mixtape is pure catharsis for ragers. Bouncing listeners between glitchy, metal-inflected soundscapes and an intense emotional arc, Rico feels her way through newfound success (“Cheat Code”), misogynoir in the industry and relationships (“Hatin’”). When it’s not breathing fire, Anger Management finds its zen on the self-reflective “Relative.” Basically, if you can’t make it to actual therapy, Anger Management is a more than suitable substitute. — Erin Elyse

Samthing Soweto, Isphithiphithi

On his chart-topping album Isphithiphithi, South African singer/producer Samthing Soweto joins forces with collaborators like house and amapiano super-producers DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small to help craft an album that showcases his artistic range and ample vocal ability. The results are the most pop-accessible, club-ready tracks he has recorded thus far. And it’s not just his versatility and voice that are on display — Soweto’s songwriting talents take center stage too. The wordplay on “Omama Bomthandazo,” an ode to mothers, is nimble and bright, while the urgent messages of “Nodoli” and “Uvalo” echo his high regard for women. The album features music for the heart, mind, and body: the undeniable danceability of the amapiano-infused sounds of “AmaDM,” “Akulaleki,” and “Lotto” are ubiquitous in clubs, cars, and classrooms throughout South Africa. There’s something on this record for everyone, and it is abundantly clear that the soul, insight, and musicality of Isiphithipithi will live well beyond this generation. – Shiba Melissa Mazaza

Sault, 5

Mystery as a means of introducing — or reintroducing — artists became an almost common occurrence in the 2010s. It whetted our appetites for the Weeknd in the House of Balloons era, Flying Lotus used it make his rap aspirations real with his animated alter ego Captain Murphy, and by the time we got reacquainted with Gabi Wilson we had already fallen for her as H.E.R. Enter SAULT, the mystery band who burst on the scene in spring 2019 with a sound that was a modern yet anachronistic amalgam of funk, soul, and rock. Their debut 5 isn’t just groove for groove’s sake; the music has substance to go with the style: “Foot On Necks” directly addresses police violence with sweetly distorted female singing over a hypnotic bassline while “Don’t Waste My Time” features attitude-infused vocals that would make Lyn Collins proud as they swear off a toxic relationship that could be with a lover or a homeland. Mystery as a marketing tool only works when the music presented offers something worth finding out more about and with 5, one of 2019’s best surprises has more than piqued our interest. — Timmhotep Aku

SiR, Chasing Summer

Don’t sleep on SiR. The singer-songwriter-producer has emerged from the Los Angeles underground to prove himself as one of the key figures of the past decade’s R&B renaissance. A happily married man, on his latest album Chasing Summer, SiR reminds us that he’s an artful lyricist both experienced and imaginative enough to write songs about sex-only situation-ships (“That’s Why I Love You”), flirtations with infidelity (“Still Blue”), and unrequited love (“John Redcorn”). The production from frequent collaborators D.K. the Punisher, J. LBS, Kal Banx, and Sounwave, creates a soundscape that’s as dreamy as it is emotionally evocative. The end result is a project that feels strangely enveloping, like the ephemeral feelings of love affairs it draws from. — Timmhotep Aku

Slauson Malone,A Quiet Farewell

We tend to describe musicians as artists — preceded by “recording” or “performing” — and in 2019, few embodied the idea of the musician as a fine artist as fully as producer/vocalist (and painter) Slauson Malone. Former member of avant-garde jazz/hip-hop ensemble, Standing On the Corner, Malone released an album inspired by an Afro-pessimistic take on Blackness and fugitivity (“The Flying Africans Board Mothership to Zong! …”), climate change, and the loss of loved ones (some via soured relationships, others by death). He mixes motifs: the sirens and screams (“Off Me! and or the Wake, Pt. 1 & 2”) call us to attention, while the smile (“Smile 2”) speaks to the propulsive delusion of escape, one that makes the paradox of Black life under white supremacy bearable. Though inflected by hip-hop and jazz, this music is something other; samples, manipulated vocals, live instrumentation, and abstract poetry combine to create a personal sound as surreal and human as the Black experience itself. — Timmhotep Aku

Solange, When I Get Home

There are moments when you just want to escape, chill, and be in your feelings. Solange’s When I Get Home is that emotional rescue — it’s a mood. The languid mantra-like overture, “Things I Imagined,” invites you to open up and be available for the journey; while “Stay Flo” keeps the psychological sensations and sensitivity flowing (“Take it down, make ‘em feel it on their faith”). An homage to her hometown of Houston, this album feels like liberated meditations on life, self-actualization and the idea that you actually can go home again. Her masterpiece vision is aided by a small, diverse army of collaborators — Tyler, The Creator, Panda Bear, Devin the Dude and Standing on the Corner, appear side by side with H-Town legends like Debbie Allen, poet Pat Parker, and Scarface. As Solo intoxicatingly repeats, this is the “Way to the show, candy-painted down to the floor. Uh-huh, uh-huh, you can get it.” – Emil Wilbekin

Soul Glo, The Nigga In Me Is Me

Soul Glo’s brand of shape-shifting hardcore might seem chaotic at first blush, but against the backdrop of our world on fire, what was extreme before, is simply timely now. Urgency is the Philadelphia-based band’s calling card. On TNIMIM, their diatribe against fake allies, “Track “31,” begins with guttural screams and frenetic vocals that morph into a bounce flow as the band switches from distorted guitar and live drums into programmed trap hi-hats. Those same hi-hats appear on “32,” as the backbone of a bass-heavy industrial beat that gives way to a classic hardcore breakdown. “21” is a blitz of rage and heavy riffage that can stand toe to toe with any metalcore band. This is music to soundtrack a Red Summer and violent climate change alike. TNIMIM is righteous anger, and in its brutal 18-minute run time, it rips your throat out again and again. — Reggie Duvivier

Steve Lacy, Apollo XXI

The debut album by Steve Lacy, the musician/singer-songwriter/producer who is also a key member of The Internet, manages to immediately rope the listener into a pristinely designed world. Apollo XXI is so well thought out that even the initial engagement finds a feel for each crevice, space, melody and lyric — in all their honesty. Possibly the best thing about it is Lacy’s expert-level storytelling. Apollo XXI does what all classics do: reflect the time in which it was created, and immortalized by its humanity. Lacy uses the personal to connect with the universal, normalizing the questions and uncertainty most of us constantly deal with. On “Like Me,” he shares questions that he asks himself, while inhabiting a world full of pressure to self-identify: “How many out there just like me?…work on self-acceptance like me?…face a situation like me?…How many others not gon’ tell their family?…scared to lose their friends like me? I wonder, I wonder.” – Awa Gueye

Toro Y Moi, Outer Peace

On its surface, Outer Peace is an album filled with futuristic sounds and good vibrations. Chaz Bear’s hip-hop and disco house-inflected tracks like “Monte Carlo” and “Who I Am” remind us of youthful moments, like cruising in a car at the golden hour or dancing in a park with friends. But there’s more to this project than just nostalgia. What lies beneath are the musings of an artist considering his place in a rapidly changing world. On “Ordinary Pleasure,” he ponders, “Does sex even sell anymore?/ I feel like I’ve seen it all/ Or maybe I’m just old.” On the aforementioned “Monte Carlo,” he laments that “Uber messed up everything,” while pining for the turnkey feel of the classic Chevy rather than the push-to-start convenience of a late model car. With technology mediating our everything, Chaz Bear takes solace in sounds and his creative process, that’s his path to the elusive “outer peace” we all could use some of. — Awa Gueye

Tyler The Creator, IGOR

If 2017’s Flower Boy was Tyler, The Creator’s undergraduate degree, Igor is his graduate thesis. Here, we find a matured Tyler, leaning into his authentic self as both an artist and a man. Less dependent on shock rap than he’s ever been, Igor shows the rapper/producer in a deeply introspective space, contemplating polyamory, queerness (“Gone, Gone/Thank You”), decaying relationships (“Earfquake”), and his own emotional vulnerability (“Running Out of Time”). Throughout, the former Odd Future frontman experiments with quirky falsettos, textured ‘70s-inspired funk percussion, and dreamy synthesized melodies. Defying genre conventions with its surrealist soundscape and emotional maturity, Igor is one of the most impressive evolutions in hip-hop. — Erin Elyse



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