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Don Data's 10 Favorite Albums of 2019

Don Data, host of No One Man, shares his ten favorite albums of 2019.

Was 2019 a little different for anyone else? Music sorta came and went; and before I knew it, it was already December. New music is still coming out and we are only weeks away from 2020. Groups like The Free Nationals are making their studio debut. Rumors of a Jesus Is King prequel Jesus Is Born featuring the Sunday Service Choir litter the Internet. I’m hoping either D’Angelo or Frank Ocean drop a cover of “1999” to close out the year, because at the rate we’re going, anything is possible. So, going back through my rotation. I found ten of my favorite albums, albums that shook me on my first listen, or albums that took me back to places where memories share a more colorful haze then the often pale reality. So without trying to bum you out, these are my ten favorite albums of 2019. - Don Data

10. Ari Lennox - Shea Butter Baby (neo-soul)

Growing up in the '90s, there were a few albums I would imagine all my friends’ moms had in the back of their car. Maybe Janet Jackson’s self-titled release or the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, or my personal favorite (the one which pulls on my memory’s strings most) Baduizm (Live). Erykah Badu’s Baduizm was a raw and new take on the soul genre for the time. Using elements of hip-hop production, with live soul and funk instrumentation, Badu brought new life to the genre. In 2019, Ari Lennox’s Dreamville debut also does just that. Shining amongst a sea of incredibly talented rappers, the lone soul singer finds her lane combining a familiar neo-soul with Dreamville’s in-house production team, and 21st Century tools of storytelling—Instagram Live—take us along the singer’s journey.

9. BROCKHAMPTON - GINGER (boyband rap)

After over-saturating the industry, and the Internet, with a television series on Viceland, hyperactive music videos, and a three album release in the summer of 2017, American boyband BROCKHAMPTON was on pace to dominate the latter years of the decade. However, faced with allegations of sexual misconduct by emcee Ameer Vann, the group took the summer of 2018 to regroup, ultimately delaying the release of PUPPY. What came next for the group, iridescence, felt rushed and uncertain. Fast forward to the summer of 2019, the boyband has all but separated from one another to process their success and shortcomings since the removal of Vann. This time away from each other shows the group at their most cohesive since 2017’s SATURATION trilogy. Handling themes of loss, disappointment, fear, and anger, BROCKHAMPTON’s GINGER is their most mature release to date.

8. Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA (psychedelic folk rock)

This self-titled studio record continues the collaboration between the London singersongwriter and Gnarles Barkley’s Danger Mouse, making KIWANUKA a successful and thought-provoking followup to 2016’s Love & Hate. Tracks like “Hero” and “You Ain’t the Problem” double down on the psychedelic combination of soul and folk. Imagine Withers meets Hendrix, or Marvin Gaye covering Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited with the Family Stone as the house band and Sly writing the arrangements. The songs stretch across the genre spectrum with such ease that we can only hope the collaboration between Kiwanuka & Danger Mouse continues, as the sky’s the limit for this duo.


7. Channel Tres - Black Moses (groove house dance)

In 1971, Isaac Hayes released Black Moses. A double LP complete with a full-size, cross-shaped poster of the soul artist. A collection of covers with longer musical arrangements than their predecessors, sonically, Isaac Hayes was solidifying his mythic stature to the masses. In 2019, California producer Channel Tres releases the EP Black Moses. The five-track release shares a similar sentiment. Still relatively underground to the mainstream, Channel Tres has found a lane within the house music audience. Tracks like “Raw Power” and “Brilliant N****”, shows the producer’s rich sonic history of funk, disco and house music. Combining luscious synths, gritty drums and the deep frequencies of the 80s club scene, the EP will be heard in many backyard summer parties as well as warehouse parties in futures to come. Black Moses is Channel Tres bringing us to his vision of the West Coast G-funk house party.

6. Steve Lacy - Apollo XXI (funk r&b)

Following their recruitment into Bay Area band The Internet, Steve Lacy began to explore the industry on their own two feet. After the release of the iPhone-recorded EP, Steve Lacy Demos, Lacy would find collaborations with singer Ravyn Lanae and Brooklyn-based indie rock outfit Vampire Weekend for the band’s fifth studio record Father of the Bride. These collaborations gave little insight to what Lacy was getting into behind their own studio doors. This studio debut is reminiscent of Prince’s Sign of the Times. Imploring elements of funk and soul, themes of sexuality and the fluidity of gender lay heavy throughout Apollo XXI. Be on the lookout for Steve Lacy.

5. Brittany Howard - Jaime (soul)

Back in September of 2013, Mumford & Sons came to Guthrie, Oklahoma on the "Gentlemen of the Road Tour." Bringing along with them Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, but more importantly, the rock ’n’ roll outfit Alabama Shakes. I missed this show. I hated myself for it as I would later find out that Brittany Howard was a voice I didn’t know I needed in my life. After two studio albums, the band took a hiatus as Howard pursued their debut solo release. Enlisting jazz heavyweights Robert Glasper (Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def) and Nate Smith (Vulfpeck, Jose James), Jaime shows Howard’s exploration of the self and ultimately the definition of that self. On “He Loves Me”, Howard produces a psalm for the God who loves you when you’re smoking and drinking too much. On “13th Century Metal,” Howard introduces the mantra as we leave this decade ahead of the next, with the psychedelic refrain ‘Give It Love!’ jumping out from beneath Glasper’s keys and Smith’s spastic drumming. A most solid and righteous debut. Congrats to Brittany Howard.

4. Danny Brown - uknowhatimsayin¿ (hip hop)

Back in 2016 Detroit’s Danny Brown released the experimental hip hop album Atrocity Exhibition on Fools Gold and Warp Records. The album shared features from Earl Sweatshirt, and soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar on the game-shaking single, “Really Doe.” The followup, uknowhatimsayin¿ continues to show Brown’s elite rapping ability. The album features Obongjayar, Run the Jewels, JPEGMafia, Blood Orange, with production from Flying Lotus and the legendary Q-Tip. uknowhatimsayin¿ boasts a new Danny Brown—a Danny Brown with a new smile, a fade and a mid-tempo flow from a guttural depth only a veteran in the arena could produce.

3. Solange - When I Get Home (Houston soul)

“An artist duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Nina Simone spoke those words in an interview many years ago and I believe no other artist of this decade has done that more than Solange Knowles. 2017’s A Seat at the Table may perhaps be the 21st century What’s Going On, and When I Get Home is the perfect sonic followup. Channeling her Houston roots, Solange incorporates elements of chopped and screwed, jazz, and hip-hop plus candid interviews from Houston natives Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen to the likes of Scarface and Diamond and Princess of Crime Mob. When I Get Home features production from previous collaborators Dev Hynes; Odd Future affiliates Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Steve Lacy. An ode to Houston and black people—black women in particular—When I Get Home is a fully realized and justly celebrated album. RIP DJ Screw.

2. Tyler, the Creator - IGOR (funk soul rap)

Christmas day in 2009, Bastard crept from the depths of the internet. The grimy and horror-fueled debut introduced Odd Future figurehead Tyler, the Creator. Following the success of Golbin and Wolf, Tyler’s fourth studio album Cherry Bomb began his transition from rebellious provocateur into a new voice in the world of music, fashion, and entertainment. In 2017, honing his musical ability and production chops, Tyler released Flower Boy, an album that wowed his fanbase and saw the artist shine in the mainstream light. Addressing his sexuality on the album, his prior to this success and his jazz upbringing, Flower Boy was a widely welcomed album for new fans of the early 2010s provocateur. In 2019, Igor continues to show Tyler as one of this generations greatest producers and songwriters. The album tells the story of Tyler’s male lover who also has a female ex-lover that wishes to be back in his life. Narrated by comedian Jerrod Carmichael, our hero battles for the attention his lover, ultimately letting them go and being thankful for the time they shared. A stunning album from one of the decade's most controversial artists.

1. Quelle Chris - Guns (hip hop)

My first introduction of Quelle Chris was 2018’s Everything’s Fine, a collaboration with then partner, now spouse Jean Grae. Instantly, I was blown away. The production was quirky yet polished, the lyricism poignant, witty, and thoughtful. This album had everything I’d wish an album to have. In March 2019, Quelle Chris released Guns, an absurdist parody on the American obsession, packed with catchy hooks from tracks like, “Obamacare” and “Mind Ya Business”, with production that some call Dilla-esque or relatable to that of Madlib, but we’ll just call it Hip Hop, Hip Hop. The album closes the decade out with a unique perspective of where we’ve been as a people, at times referencing real life tragedies of gun violence. Often murky—reminiscent of walks with Wu-Tang through the slums of Shaolin—the album shines glimpses of hope with tracks like “You, Me, & Nobody Else,” a love song shared with wife Jean Grae that gives us an insight on the two as they continue in this ever-changing world as two sentient beings. The album is a stand out for me, a true ten out of ten. If one needs any introduction to hip-hop and can’t find a recent starting point, I’d highly recommend this release.


More releases to check out:

  • Rapsody - Eve
  • Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
  • Prince - Originals
  • Beyonce - Homecoming (live)
  • Stevie Wonder - Additional Single & Rarities

Donald James (aka Don Data) is the host of the Hip Hop radio hour, No One Man.
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