SOUTHSIDERS 2019 ALBUM OF THE YEAR LISTS

It’s that time of the year again when the writers of SOUTHSIDERS look back over the years’ toil and decide on their individual top 5 projects of the previous year.

We have also took the opportunity to collectively decide on a top 10 list this time around. This list was decided by all six of us submitting our top 20 projects of the year and calculating the winner[s] based on a points based system – the number 1 seed on each individuals repsective lists was awarded 20 points, the number 2 seed was awarded 19 points all the way through to the number 20 seed that was awarded 1 point. By doing so a top 10 was achieved and the number 1 spot was conclusive… There was no hiding from it.

Listed below is the SOUTHSIDERS top 10 projects of the year, below that, the writer’s individual picks. Enjoy.

Hit the hyperlinks for more from the site from interviews to more in depth reviews we curated throughout the year

10. Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain [Method Records]

9. Blockhead – Free Sweatpants [Backwoodz Studioz]

8. Little Brother – May the Lord Watch [Imagine Nation Music]

7. Ceschi – Sad, Fat Luck [Fake Four Inc]

6. Kano – Hoodies All Summer [Parlophone Records]

5. Gang Starr – One of the Best Yet [TTT/ Gang Starr Enterprises]

4. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

3. Brother Ali – Secrets & Escapes [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

2. Little Simz – GREY Area [AGE 101]

1. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

“billy woods wields a lexical omnipotence and effortless wit; there’s barely a drop of sweat on his genius. Segal dovetails superbly, skilfully balancing compositional diversity and relentless intensity.”

Read our review of this underground masterpiece.

Jason

5. Rapsody – Eve [Jamla/ Roc Nation]

An ambitious concept album that pays homage to the lineage of black women that is both tender and compelling. 

4. JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs [EQT Recordings]

The sonic tapestries showcased throughout Peggy’s sophomore LP solidify him as being at the forefront of hip-hop’s avant-garde.

3. Kano – Hoodies All Summer [Parlophone Records]

Kano peels back the veneer of contemporary Britain exploring the solidarity and claustrophobia experienced within close-knit communities. The way in which this grime pioneer approaches the inhumane treatment of the disenfranchised is both deeply personal and socially thought-provoking. 

2. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

Producer Kenny Segal has created a masterful, cacophonous foundation for the enigmatic billy woods to delve deep into the dark recesses of his psyche exploring what it means to hide from others but also from ourselves. 

1. Little Simz – GREY Area [AGE 101]

The confidence displayed by Little Simz throughout this album is undeniable. Whether demonstrating her vehement delivery on ‘Venom’ or subtly caressing her vocals on ‘Selfish’, Simz cadences do not falter to anything below impeccable. 

Inflo, the sole producer of GREY Area, has created the perfect foundation for Simz to showcase her talents. Previously working with Danger Mouse on Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate LP, you can hear where Inflo has taken his cues from with similar soulful, nostalgic nuances deployed throughout. 

GREY Area is an honest album full of moments of vulnerability regarding self-doubt, strained relationships and inner demons resulting in a tumultuous testament of identity-searching.


Craig Mc

5. Your Old Droog – It Wasn’t Even Close [Gogul Mogul/Mongoloid Banks]

Droog has been a busy dude this year, dropping three solid projects, but for me, his first of the year has remained in heavy rotation. On IWEC, Droog announced his dark, brooding intentions and laid his claim for the years grimiest, no-nonsense MC atop a menacing and pounding musical backdrop from a mix of the new underground’s best producers like Sadhu Gold, Daringer and The God Fahim – you won’t go wrong with any of his releases this year, but for me, this just edges out the other two!

4. Kano – Hoodies All Summer [Parlophone Records]

A veteran of the UK scene, Kano has long been holding it down as one of the most unsung and under appreciated MC’s still doing it, but on Hoodies All Summer he truly delivers one of the most insightful and important projects for years. Bringing together a mix of influences across the record – from grime to afrobeat to house to r’n’b – and spitting some of the most heartfelt and wise bars of his career, if you haven’t yet heard this album, you really are missing out!

3. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

It doesn’t get more mysterious than billy woods, a man who has managed to remain almost completely anonymous despite regularly releasing critically acclaimed projects for the past decade, which had me completely clueless as to what to expect going into Hiding Places. Lyrically the album is as esoteric as it is dense, with new concepts and details unfolding with every listen. When you partner that with the Kenny Segal production which transports me back to the late days of Rawkus and early days of Def Jux with its jagged, combative and desolate turns, it’s no surprise that this became a quick favourite for all of us at Southsiders!

2. Mach-Hommy – Wap Konn Jòj! [Mach-Hommy]

Speaking of mysterious MC’s, another guy who’s thriving behind a mask of anonymity is Mach-Hommy. Possibly one of the most interesting MC’s I’ve heard in years. This project, although short, is pretty much perfect and really bugs me that this hasn’t blown up as much as it should! With excellent features from the likes of Quelle Chris, Your Old Droog and Earl Sweatshirt and production from Alchemist and The God Fahim, it was hard for me not to put this at numero uno, but alas, it was just edged out!

1. Ceschi – Sad, Fat Luck [Fake Four Inc.]

Yes, I know, this also topped my list halfway through the year too, but I’m a sad little emo boy deep down….well, not that deep down, but I am, okay!

Sad, Fat Luck is an album which has seemingly been brewing for years, it’s not just a collection of songs, rather it’s a picture book of a life lived hard. Ceschi doesn’t ‘bare his soul’ as much as he allows the words and melodies to help heal the wounds that we all have and are working through on a daily basis.

Ceschi maintains his unique skill for merging the personal with the societal on tracks like ‘Lost Touch’ and ‘Electrocardiographs’ and also delivers a heartwrenching punch in the form of ‘Sans Soleil’ – a dedication to lost friends.

The diversity of SFL further draws me in, with the many musical influences of Ceschi’s life really mixing together to deliver a musically cohesive yet varied project, with clear nods to folk, hardcore and even some electronica.

The first of a trilogy of albums, it’s safe to say, I’m eagerly awaiting album number three!


Tiernan

5. Your Old Droog – Transport [Nature Sounds]

Droog delivered not one but three solid albums this year. This one edges It Wasn’t Even Close and Jewelry, although honestly, do yourself a favour and check them all out. Exemplary stuff.

4. Sampa the Great – The Return [Ninja Tune]

The Zambian-Australian rapper taps into her roots to deliver a stunning debut filled with infectious rhythms and melodies while not shying away from tough topics.

3. billy woods and Kenny SegalHiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

Dark, brooding, rock inspired beats from Segal pair with the verbal imagery of woods to devastating effect. The chance to talk with woods (and Elucid) after their show in Glasgow provided insight into the mind of one of hip hop’s best writers at the moment.

2. Rasheed Jamal – Messiah Complex

I didn’t know anything about Rasheed Jamal until I stumbled upon this album while browsing Bandcamp but truthfully, this album blew me away in ways I still don’t fully understand. All I know is I kept coming back time and again (and still am). I just hope Rasheed gets his dues as he still doesn’t appear to be in the spotlight he deserves.

1. FlowFilz – Transit [Melting Pot Music]

This phenomenal tour-de-force from Germany’s FlowFilz is still unveiling new elements each time I put it on. I had strong suspicions after the first few plays of this record that this would be a contender for my AOTY.

I wrote a full review way back in July which goes into depth on the album and it felt comfortable heading my “Halfway Looks” list. While there was a multitude of incredible music released this year “Transit” has always been there to immerse myself in and this is something I have indulged in many times since its release.

I could carry on praising this album no end but to surmise concisely: listen to this album. Just do it.


Craig L

5. BONES – IFeelLikeDirt (TeamSESH)

The DeadBoy has been creeping up my ‘most-listened lists’ for about a year now. Like Your Old Droog (and, hopefully, Ceschi), he’s been a busy mother-fucker this year – releasing three albums. This one (his most recent) steals it for me. It’s more cohesive than the others, and there’s more tracks I’m returning to, rather than one or two gems from previous efforts. I’m also digging the more sombre vibe (see Sadistik, below) and the cuts of contextual voiceovers. Looking forward to what I’m sure will be much more from BONES in 2020.

4. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

I’ll admit I took a bit of a hiatus from this album for a large portion of the year: there was just so much good music this year and sometimes Aes slips into my background for a time, only to come gnawing back in with his signature voice and sick wit. This album is peak Aes, with perfectly matched production from Tobacco. ‘Suicide Big Gulp’ is playing now.

3. Brother Ali – Secrets & Escapes [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

We all love a surprise. Sometimes it’s a pair of socks, but when you open that box and it puts a smile on your face that lasts all day, you know it’s a new Ali album. Helped out by Evidence’s beautiful backdrop of beats, Ali has put together a stunning (apparently impromptu) record that I have fallen for completely. ‘Father Figures’ and ‘They Shot Ricky’ get a special shoutout: this is Ali at his effortless, faith-infused, life-loving best.

2. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

My friends are right: billy’s had an amazing year. This album is everything I’m looking for in rap – it’s fun, terse, apocalyptic, foreboding, and it makes your fucking head nod (props to Kenny). Thomas’s review says it better than I could ever hope to. That hook about Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall is stuck in my head and won’t get it out – and I love it.

1. Sadistik – Haunted Gardens [Clockwork Grey Music]

I’ve had the majority of the year to digest this masterpiece and nothing’s changed my mind on its pre-eminence. My ‘standout’ track changes monthly. ‘Coals’, ‘Eden’, ‘Saints’… As I write this I’m playing ‘8 ½’ and I’d go for its masterful, thrilling second verse as my pick of the year. The tones of this album are some of the most consistently sombre you’re bound to hear in the past decade of rap, never mind this year. More, please.


David

5. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

The fact that Hiding Places only came in at number five on my list shows what a great year for music it’s been and Terror Management could easily have taken up another spot. 2019 has been the year of billy woods and I don’t think there was ever any real doubt about the collective album of the year choice.

4. Little Brother – May the Lord Watch [Imagine Nation Music / For Members Only / EMPIRE]

This was such a delightful surprise, an album I wasn’t expecting but which struck a perfect balance between light-hearted warmth and genuine emotion. Hard to say if there will be more Little Brother on the way – for my money this did sound like something of a curtain call album – but if this is to be the last we heard from them, they’ll be leaving on a beautiful high.

3. Brother Ali – Secrets and Escapes [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

Having been a fan of Ali since Shadows on the Sun, I had started to worry he was falling into a little bit of a holding pattern with his last few offerings. The Ali personality and wit was still there but he needed to be shaken out of his rut. Working with Evidence seems to have done the trick because this album is Ali at his very best, full of verve, drive, and soul.

2. Little Simz – GREY Area [Age 101]

My biggest mistake of the year – my initial review was positive but looking back, should have been more generous. GREY Area is brash and bold, deft and subtle all at the same time. And in terms of combining lyrical artistry with sheer force of personality, ‘Venom’ is probably my song of the year.

1. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

I think there is a strong argument to be made that Aesop Rock is the most consistent rapper there is. I’ve never had an Aes album disappoint me and he seems to be ageing like fine wine, especially over Tobacco’s beats. I spent a good while deciding on my number one and ultimately, I’m just so happy that he is out there, doing something that nobody else could dream of doing.


Thomas

5. Your Old Droog – Jewelry [Mongoloid Banks]

Droog steals it at the buzzer with his third release of the year. YOD flexes all over this record, while pleasingly edging out of his comfort zone – good to the last drop.

4. Brother Ali – Secrets & Escapes [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

Out of nowhere, Ali offers up one of the best projects of his career. With Evidence in the producer’s seat, the tone is darker and all together more cynical. But an undeniable sincerity balances light and shade.

3. billy woods – Terror Management [Backwoodz Studioz]

A rapping supercomputer of literary, historical and pop culture references, billy woods’ rhymes will steal your watch and you won’t notice until he’s three streets away. Mournful lullabies, noir rap, smart-alecky witticisms; this episodic gem confirms billy woods’ invincible 2019.

2. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

Aesop Rock and Tobacco link-up for a frenetic, colourful carousel of impeccable rhyming, whacked-out beats, and stranger-than-fiction absurdity. Astounding and bizarre in equal measure.

1. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places [Backwoodz Studioz]

To call billy woods the standout emcee of 2019 feels like an understatement – he’s been killing it for close to a decade.

Releasing two top-tier projects in 2019, as well as a slew of impressive guest verses, is further evidence of woods’ status as one of hip-hop’s greatest writers. Having had the pleasure of reviewing Hiding Places earlier this year, it stands as the clear choice for my 2019 Album of the Year.

Hiding Places is a hit factory for moral quandaries. Often, the complexity of woods’ words can feel like grasping a handful of sand. But the potency of his imagery, alongside Segal’s thunder-and-lightning beats, instil an immersive cohesion that will echo after you hit the stop button.

This is shock-and-awe rap in its purest form. Hide if you will; woods is coming, ready or not.



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