With words like “collusion”, “impeachment”, and “snitch” everywhere you go, it’s not difficult to surmise why many are eager to close the books on 2019. The political circus created in Washington D.C. by Donald Trump permeates more lives this year than the last. Championship winning sports teams now refuse to visit a White House with the only food being served are cold fast food items, a 16-year-old teenage girl from Sweden shows more environmental concern/common sense than the people who actually head environmental organizations, the White man whose decades-long sexual misconduct sparked the #MeToo movement got only a $25 million fine for his crimes while a Black man like Bill Cosby is serving a prison sentence for similar crimes (albeit allegedly), hip-hop lost Nipsey Hussle and Bushwick Bill, and mass media outlets became erroneously speculative about the number of shootings that the highest grossing rated-R movie of all time would cause (that number was zero). But there are bright spots to this year: My New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl championship, “Avengers: Endgame” became the biggest box-office smash ever, “True Detective” made a very welcome return to form, and so did many hip-hop albums. I purchased at least 60 hip-hop albums released this year, most of them on CD (yes, I still buy and even play CDs in my car). And, as it has been for the past 10-plus years, I listened to all of them around this time to make my decision as to what I think are the top 10 best hip-hop albums of 2019. Like always, I want you readers to agree, disagree, argue with me and each other, take a colossal dump on my picks, and offer some alternatives and suggestions. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Artist: Aesop Rock & Tobacco
Album Title: Malibu Ken

Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: January 18th, 2019
Producers: Tobacco

The Mattel Company’s Ken doll is the male companion of their uber-popular Barbie doll. Together, they represent the American WASP’s ideal body image: Blonde, tanned skin, and unrealistic body proportions. However, that’s all it is in the final analysis: An image, an illusion. I suspect that’s why Aesop Rock and producer Tobacco chose to name their album after a line of Ken dolls, along with imagery in the album’s cover that goes beyond the surface of Ken’s superficial beauty to reveal a grotesque “They Live” kind of facial portrait. Some of that can be said about Aesop’s lyrics, the difference is that his rhymes have a density laced with what seems stream-of-consciousness references, but actually make sense with several listens and then some. Though tracks with not-just-clever titles like “Corn Maze” will through listeners for a daze.Tobacco’s production is of the synth-heavy electronic variety, much like the style which Aes himself has used on his last two solo albums on Rhymesayers. The Pittsburgh native’s beats have an almost vintage quality to them, like something out of a 1980s-era video game or a futuristic movie released during that period. And as with previous albums, Aesop’s lyrics have a heavy emphasis on his periodic self-imposed exiles from the rest of the world and reasons behind them. One of those reasons is disillusionment with the rap game, as seems to be the case on “Sword Box” which compares rappers (himself included) to stage magicians over bouncy electronic snares and a hook with vocals distorted by synths. The first single, “Acid King”, not only shows Aesop’s technical skill as an emcee (he flows non-stop for over two minutes), but also his ability to utilize unorthodox concepts: He compares himself to fellow Long Island native Ricky Kasso, the infamous titular Acid King.

The synth funk sounds of the last four tracks go well when juxtaposed with the black humor in Aesop’s lyrics. On “Churro”, he envisions two bald eagles (lovebirds at the start) becoming ravenous to the point where they attack and eat a cat on a live streaming video at that. Murphy’s Law is in full effect on “1 + 1 = 13”, while the album closer “Purple Moss” goes further with that concept. Being the underdog while going up against the conventional type is what Aesop Rock has done for his whole career and with Tobacco, they’ve created another album that continues to buck trends.

Artist: Griselda
Album Title: W.W.C.D. (What Would Chine Gun Do)

Label: Shady Records/Griselda Records
Release Date: November 29th, 2019
Producers: Daringer & Beat Butcha

The long-awaited group album from Griselda (Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher) may have dropped nearly three years after they established a deal with Shady Records, but it was worth the wait. Though all three members have been consistently releasing solo mixtapes and EP albums (most of which are now collectors’ items) for the better part of this decade, the anticipation for a major-label debut from the group was at a fever pitch because of their buzz: They’re a trio from Buffalo, NY who sat back and analyzed the drug raps of the mid-’90s east coast hip-hop scene and modernized it without compromise. That said, it was fitting that Raekwon, the rapper who popularized coke rhymes in his 1995 debut, shows his acknowledgment and respect for Griselda’s grind in the album’s intro. Most say that the trio are the new L.O.X. or the new Dipset, but that’s inaccurate: They’re a new breed of grimy New York street rhymers. As Conway himself boasted in one of his raps months back, “We the hardest niggas out and we ain’t from a borough”.

First and foremost, Griselda as both a record label and crew is a family affair: Conway and Westside are brothers, and Benny is their cousin. The ‘Chine Gun’ of album title is a tribute to Benny’s deceased half-brother. Additionally, the entire album is produced by fellow Buffalo native Daringer and UK’s Beat Butcha. It’s been stated that no samples were used in the production, which I find hard to believe considering the dusty drums, vinyl cracklings, vocals, and instruments which all sound sampled. Nonetheless, it’s the street sound Griselda is known for and didn’t change at all even with major label backing. The first single, “Dr. Bird’s”, has all of those qualities which work with each rappers’ tale of street crimes. Their chemistry as a group is undeniable as well. On “Scotties”, Conway and Westside tag-team bar-for-bar rhymes, and the single “Chef Dreds” showcases all three men flaunting the rap equivalent of the Freebird rule. It’s worth noting that they sprinkle their rhymes with sports and wrestling references (even the abbreviated album title looks like a wrestling promotion).

If the album has any filler material, it’s “Kennedy” where Westside and a female vocalist repeatedly proclaiming a specific type of violence; “Lowery”, the saving grace for which is the menacing production; and a remix for Conway’s “Bang”, which has the original’s spooky horror movie soundscape, features additional verses from Benny and Westside, and Eminem’s original verse. The Shady Records head honcho is the most skilled lyricist of the four, but his verse still remains out of place given the Griselda’s customary rhyme topics. “City on the Map” is worth mentioning for its head-nodding beat and featuring 50 Cent alongside Conway, the sole Griselda member on the track. Individually, they each have their own approach to writing vivid drug raps: Benny’s the cook, Conway is the muscle, and Westside is Griselda’s mastermind. As a group, they’ve taken “W.W.C.D.” to prove that the street raps of yesteryear still have a substantial market, one that grows with the right packaging.

Artist: Diabolic
Album Title: The Disconnect

Label: WarHorse Records
Release Date: June 21st, 2019
Producers: B.P., NightWalker, Shaolin Beats, Evil Genius, et. al.

Though it’s been five years since his sophomore album, “Fightin Words”, the brutal Long Island battle rhymer who goes by the name Diabolic has kept himself busy. In between projects, he whetted his listeners’ appetites with jaw-dropping cypher appearances and guest verses on albums that made his inclusion on them worth the buy. Online tit-for-tats on social media and diss tracks between him Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli also gave ‘Bolic rhyming fodder in the meantime building up to his third solo album, “The Disconnect”. The first single, the string-laden Shaolin Beats-produced “Marvel”, certainly brought nerdgasms to comic book-reading hip-hop fans. In it, Diabolic puts both The Last Emperor and MF Doom to shame by taking dozens of Marvel Comics characters and turning them into vicious wordplay and metaphors in his trademark polysyllabic rhymed form.

Even when not in battle mode, Diabolic still finds a way to incorporate similes and clever word flips in his rhymes. On the autobiographical tracks “The Story” and “Pyrex”, he slips in lines like or “Smacked the grill on my first car burning rubber / Word to mother, rolling weed on my Nocturnal cover” and “I be recruiting chicks hotter than steaming soup / to give a little head like witchdoctors in Beetlejuice”. He applies his rhyming style to storytelling and third-person narrative tracks as well. On the darkly humored “Holy War”, ‘Bolic’s soul rhymes back-and-forth with both God and Lucifer until neither wants to lay claim to him in an ironic twist ending. On the more serious “Enough”, he lays down a story about a high school girl’s transformation from model student to cautionary tale. With “Collide”, he sheds a light on his domestic frustrations as a parent.

Diabolic has proven to be a versatile emcee, despite being known for his hardcore battle raps. Certain tracks that I dismissed or wasn’t exactly feeling in my initial review of this album have made me warm up to them in the six months since. “Lumberjack” was one of those songs as I originally didn’t think NightWalker’s beat was in synch with Diabolic’s hardcore sensibilities. I was wrong after truly hearing how the beat’s sampled horns bring out the punch in lines like “Wait a sec I’m just killing time making threats / Today I get to murder these space cadets like Jason X”. He could’ve done this album completely solo and it still would’ve worked without the guest rappers, though New York emcee Taboo spits a verse on “Roundhouse” noteworthy for his breathless flow and his verse’s length. All in all, “This Disconnect” is another feather in the cap of an emcee who never disappoints.

Artist: Little Brother
Album Title: May the Lord Watch

Label: EMPIRE Records/Imagine Nation
Release Date: August 20th, 2019
Producers: Khrysis, Nottz, Zo!, Black Milk, et. al.

Little Brother’s third and sole major label record, 2005’s “The Minstrel Show”, was a hip-hop concept album which satirized trends and aspects of Black entertainment. It contained skits for advertisements from a fictional television network parodying U.P.N. called “U.B.N.” (U Black Niggas) complete with some blisteringly sharp songs which doubled as programs aimed at an African American audience. For many who listened to the album, the satire went over their heads. It certainly did over at B.E.T. when they deemed the group to be “too intelligent” for the network’s audience. But that was 14 years ago, and they’ve underwent some changes since: Producer 9th Wonder left sometime after their 2005 album, leaving the trio down to a duo that continued making group and solo projects until their breakup in 2010. But Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh reunited in 2018 and dropped a surprise album this year. “May the Lord Watch” is not just a direct sequel to “The Minstrel Show”. It’s also a statement about the group itself.

They’ve already proven that they can keep LB alive without 9th Wonder’s soulful backdrops, now they want to continue their relevance in hip-hop. Lyrically, Tiggalo and Pooh are more synchronized with one another than before. Pooh has certainly stepped up his pen game over the years, his rhyme schemes are better than before and his flow matches Phonte’s, who remains the cleverer lyricist. When topical on a track, their chemistry shines. On the Nottz-produced “Sittin’ Alone”, they’re acknowledging that they’re now older men in a youth culture and it’s a reflection of what they now see compared to back when (the whole “when you’re In your 20’s, you always want to go out” and “when you’re in your 30s, you just want to stay home” thing). In terms of production, most of the beatmakers came with it: “Black Magic (Make It Better)” by Focus”is a dope head nodder, even though it has a polished gloss to sound. Black Milk’s “Picture This” is perhaps the most soulful track on the album.

The album’s skits satirize many areas of Black culture and Black-oriented entertainment. In “A Word From Our President”, the White president of U.B.N. announces the death fictional R&B crooner Percy Miracles, all to make fun of how funerals for Black celebrities are treated as media circuses that people actually pay to be in attendance for. It also takes shots at greedy network executives. “Dyana Change My Life” parodies Iyanla Van Zant, and most likely her episode with DMX and his son. It also serves as a sequel to the father/son skit from the LB’s 2005 album. Aside from the skits, some songs have an advertisement from U.B.N. at the end of it. Additionally, “Blackness” is yelled after a line that represents a Black stereotype. Even Little Brother placed themselves in the album’s frame story, making a point about their self-awareness in hip-hop. The album is a worthy successor the “The Minstrel Show” as it ridicules the state of the culture. But as stated above, “May the Lord Watch” is a statement about Little Brother itself. In Phonte’s own words, “one-trick ponies don’t get a second act”.

Artist: Rapsody
Album Title: Eve

Label: Jamla Records
Release Date: August 23rd, 2019
Producers: 9th Wonder, Eric G., Khrysis, Nottz, & Mark Byrd

The accomplishments of Black women in America have been, more often than not, overlooked, unacknowledged, and ignored. It’s a practice that extends to any medium, no matter how meager. In hip-hop, the genre still has something of a “He-Man Woman-Haters Club” attitude with many of its practitioners and impressionable listeners. In comparison, White male hip-hop artists have an easier time in getting themselves taken seriously than female rappers do, no matter their race. One rapper has been determined to change all that and has proven to being able to hang with, and even shame, her male counterparts. Her name is Rapsody, and her third album “Eve”, is both a statement about her undeniable skills a rapper and one of empowerment for women, particularly Black women. To drive the point home, each song is named after a Black woman from whom Rapsody draws inspiration.

With 9th Wonder producing nearly half of the album’s beats and members of his Soul Council doing the rest, the album drips with soul for the most part. Additionally, Rapsody makes a point in her music about never having or wanting to show off her body to garner attention for herself. On “Oprah”, which is inspired by the world’s sole Black female billionaire, Oprah Winfrey, she parodies those strip club “make it rain” anthems over Eric G’s near-completely stripped-down beat. Eric also provided the beat for “Serena”, which was tailor-made for Rapsody’s flow as she proceeded to beat that beat apart. There’s also a subtle complexity in Rapsody’s ability to flip topics. On the smooth 9th Wonder-produced “Maya”, Rapsody took Maya Angelou’s ‘caged bird’ theme and then flipped it into a song with imagery of confinement.

The theme of the album seems to “Ladies First/Black Is Beautiful” and it’s certainly most prevalent on two Nottz-produced tracks: “Michelle” celebrates the names used in Black American culture given to their children in addition to being a tribute to the first African-American First Lady, Michelle Obama. On “Hatshepsut”, the “Ladies First” originator Queen Latifah spits a verse for the first time in more than a decade. This also brings Latifah’s appearance on the album full circle since the track “Cleo” was inspired by her character of the same name from the 1996 film “Set it Off”. In naming her third album “Eve”, it could be interpreted as either a nod to the Ruff Ryders’ First Lady Eve or the first woman ever created according to Biblical scriptures. But that’s somewhat the point, I believe: To get the listeners thinking and doing a double-take on things, the same way Rapsody feels America should do the same with its Black women.

Artist: Joell Ortiz
Album Title: Monday

Label: Mello Music Group
Release Date: August 30th, 2019
Producers: The Heatmakerz, Apollo Brown, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Nottz,
Big K.R.I.T., et. al.

From “The Brick: Bodega Chronicles” to Slaughterhouse and finally to “Monday”, Brooklyn’s Joell Ortiz’s mic skills are comparable to the finest wines: They just get better with age. It’s with this confidence that he named his latest solo album after the one day of the week that most people dread. But not Joell. Instead, he takes that day by the horns and teaches it who’s boss. He’s a pensive emcee whose ability to manipulate words and meaning in rhymed form became more honed as both he and time went on. Whether on a major label or underground, Joell has always valued mic skills over endearing himself to the wrong audience. On “Monday”, he thoughtfully raps about several topics that the general run of hip-hop either celebrates or mostly shies away from. In twelve total tracks, there are no guest stars, well none rapping, that is. Big K.R.I.T. and Blakk Soul appear to lend their vocals, but solely to certain hooks.

Many musicians have a certain angst about people despite putting themselves on display for different audiences night after night. In hip-hop, this affliction is touched upon by few, but none have been as descriptive and relatable as Joell’s “Anxiety”. Over Nottz’s frantic drums and melodic guitar strings, Joell takes a listener into his anxious mind, providing vivid lyrics of what his body and mental state are like in that condition. Even in putting himself out there like that, he still asserts himself on songs like “Captain” and “Champion”. Both tracks are produced by The Heatmakerz and the former contains the sped-up Chipmunk soul samples that they’ve often used with Harlem’s Dipset, while the latter has a head nodding drum beat with rhythmic multi-tracked vocal chanting in the background. In both songs, Joell boasts of his skills with wit and wordplay.

Some of the tracks have a certain friendly gloss to them. On “Learn You”, Big K.R.I.T. provides a melodic hook in addition to a melodic piano-driven beat. “Momma”, produced by Nottz, is also piano-driven and more soulful with Blakk Soul singing the chorus. The Heatmakerz reappear with their best beat on the album with “Jamaican Food”, providing some airy vocals and hard drum snares for Joell’s first-person narrative about hooking up. On the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced “Screens”, Joell takes a lyrical exploration on how smartphones, especially when in the hands of young children, have replaced meaningful face-to-face interactions. The title track is a vocal sample that dispels the negatives of Monday and instead highlights its positives. One of the many positives of “Monday” is that Joell Ortiz continues to shine as a rapper.

Artist: Skyzoo & Pete Rock
Album Title: Retropolitan

Label: Mello Music Group
Release Date: September 20th, 2019
Producers: Pete Rock

Described by Skyzoo himself as both “a love letter and a wake-up call to the city” all at the same time”, this collaborative effort with Pete Rock has two blood types running through its veins: The New York City of today and the New York City of yesteryear. Mostly taking their cue from the latter, the emcee/producer team-up have brought “Retropolitan” to the audience. In the same manner that Nas became known for his graphic depictions of city life, Sky also makes use of experience and observation to give both life and weight to his lyrics. Over Pete’s seamless productions, he raps tales of his own youth with a sports shirt being a key and central element on “Penny Jerseys”. Perhaps it was intentional that the cover has a blue-&-orange color scheme (for NBA’s New York Knicks, y’all) as the sports motif continues on the album’s second single, “Eastern Conference All-Stars”.

A collaborative effort between Sky, Pete, Detroit’s eLZhi, and the starting line-up of Buffalo’s Griselda roster (Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Westside Gunn), the track more than lives up to its title. So much so, that Skyzoo suffered an involuntary manslaughter on his own track courtesy of the Butcher, Conway, and eLZhi. However, he does hold his own with Styles P. on the piano-driven “Carry the Tradition”. Skyzoo raps as though he’s never lost any of his hunger on the mic, and that’s what keeps things lyrically interesting on this album. Pete Rock has been a busy man himself in 2019. Besides “Retropolitan”, he also released the instrumental album, “Return of the SP1200”, earlier this year. Despite some talk, the Chocolate Boy Wonder hasn’t lost his touch. He can still dig for good samples, then manipulate and flip them into a dope beat. “Truck Jewels” is the only time on the album where he shows his chops both on the mic and behind the boards.

When it comes to New York hip-hop of today, the term “revivalist” is thrown around with the same regularity that some soccer moms use “autism” or “on the spectrum” when describing their kids. Yes, there have been plenty of east coast hip-hop acts who hold a candle to the New York of the past. But some of them have awareness of this, and yet still maintain a keen eye for the future. Others are just simply stuck in a past that’s more inescapable than Puffy’s “No Way Out”. With “Retropolitan”, Skyzoo and Pete Rock fall into the former group. They prove this on “Ten Days”. The song contains modern synths and sounds, but it still captures the city in the manner that Skyzoo and Pete intended. Indeed, “Retropolitan” is both a homage and a dash of cold water to the city of New York.

Artist: Apollo Brown
Album Title: Sincerely, Detroit

Label: Mello Music Group
Release Date: October 29th, 2019
Producers: Apollo Brown

Some don’t know whether this album was meant to be a solo album or a group compilation. Apollo Brown’s name may be on the cover and he is the sole producer, but this album was essentially promoted and marketed as a conceptual compilation. It functions more as a showcasing for nearly every known and unknown rapper in Detroit Rock City. That and the fact that it has a consistent producer made the pros of “Sincerely, Detroit” significantly outweigh its cons. For the better part of this decade, Apollo Brown has made a name for himself in releasing collaboration albums between himself and emcees from all over (Ras Kass, O.C., Planet Asia, Joell Ortiz, Guilty Simpson, and others), providing the musical backdrops for all. But this is the first time he’s brought dozens of Detroit emcees for casting in one of his endeavors. Without being either the Beatles or Joe Cocker, Apollo Brown’s latest effort comes “with a little help from my friends”.

The album consists of 20 songs, with the production being varied forms of soul-drenched urban boom bap which Apollo chose as carefully as he did for which emcees he enlisted for verses. He gets just as much out of Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Royce da 5’9″ as he does with emcees like Paradime, Quelle Chris, and Aztek the Barfly. Apollo utilizes many sampled instrumentals, sometimes in a smooth and seamless combination with one another. He does so with strings and flutes on “Lettin’ Go”, and then goes for haunting bells and vocal samples on the stellar “Commas & Apostrophes”, which features Denmark Vessey and Quelle Chris as their Crown Nation duo. Apollo also displays a hardcore aesthetic to his beats as well in the form of “Dominance” and “Never” (featuring Paradime and Miz Korona). Mr. Brown goes further and tweaks his production to make it sound almost like a live performance on “Longevity”, which features Trick Trick, Marv Won, Moe Dirdee, & Dez Andres.

One of the biggest surprises of the album was knowing that Slum Village was part of the cast. Already one of Detroit’s most influential and groundbreaking acts, Apollo provides the part of “All Day” for the group. In doing so, he delivers a saxophone and horn sound that’s reminiscent of the group’s in-house producer, the late J. Dilla. The consistency of both Apollo Brown and all of the rappers who all brought their A-game to this album is a large part of why “Sincerely, Detroit” succeeds as it does. The Detroit hip-hop scene has been around and known about for at least 2 decades now. But with this album, Apollo presented to the uninitiated the audio equivalent of “Detroit Hip-Hop For Dummies”. For some, it may be something of a refresher course. For me, it was simply good hip-hop.

Artist: Marlon Craft
Album Title: Funhouse Mirror

Label: Same Plate Entertainment/Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: June 18th, 2019
Producers: Black Milk, Statik Selektah, DJ Green Lantern, DJ Skizz, et.

Hell’s Kitchen emcee Marlon Craft had the spotlight thrown on him after he self-released videos of himself doing impeccable freestyles over Mobb Deep beats. His freestyles were so intensely good that they overshadowed his own name (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him referred to as “that White boy who rapped over Shook Ones” on social media). The first words of his latest album, “Funhouse Mirror”, are “I’m more, I’m more”. As in, he’s more than just an NYC rapper with a slick flow and even slicker wordplay. Marlon declaring that he’s more also correlates to the album title: A mirror that distorts your reflection into something different, usually into something larger with more of your facets on full display. In “Funhouse Mirror”, Marlon Craft indeed gave more with some surprises as well.

One of those surprises was the album’s first single, “Gang Shit”. For some, the song and its accompanying cinematic video are daunting because of the imagery, word choices, and unnerving feelings they evoke. Though similar to Joyner Lucas’ 2017 single “I’m Not Racist”, Craft takes it further: He deftly examines institutional racism’s embedment in American group dynamics by rapping three respective verses from the eyes of a White police officer, a Klansman, and a jailed Black gangbanger. Apart from that, he puts the contradictions of his own nature under the microscope on “Love Hate Interlude” with clever bits like “Hate when I feel short of breath, but I love bein’ cutthroat / Hate oppression, but love feelin’ like shit’ll work out for me though”. He also shows how world-weary he can be on the bouncy head-nodding DJ Skizz-produced “(not) Everybody”.

Two dope tracks that sound like they’d be played on the radio for both their friendly melodies and lyrical content are “Shallow” and “Family”. The first has that danceable vibe to it while the second is a piano-heavy ode to Craft’s family and contains a pretty catchy hook. This was the first album by Marlon Craft I’ve purchased, and by its end, I knew it was money well-spent (I’m still waiting physical copies to be sold for collector’s sake, but alas). In “Word to My Mother”, he spits that he’s a “city boy raised by a lion”. In my previous exposures to his work, it was evident that he had the roar. When I was done with “Funhouse Mirror”, that’s when it became clear to me that this emcee also has the teeth. Sharp teeth that cut through the fog of hip-hop’s general run to make way for something of quality.

Artist: Common
Album Title: Let Love

Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Release Date: August 30th, 2019
Producers: J. Dilla, Burniss Travis II, Karriem Riggins, & Samora

I admit, even as a Common listener, I came into “Let Love” not expecting much. His last two albums weren’t bad, but I just knew right off the bat that they wouldn’t grow on me personally. Perhaps, because Common had been concentrating more on his acting career, I had become somewhat accustomed to seeing him being in just that medium at the time. Musically and lyrically, “Let Love” practically screams of Common’s dopeness. The last great album he released was 2011’s “The Dreamer / The Believer”, and “Let Love” evokes from me those same feelings in its freshness. Produced near-entirely by Burniss Travis II, Karriem Riggins, & Samora Pinderhughes, they’re pretty versatile in their collective sound. On “Good Morning Love”, they bring forth the Soulquarian sound from Common of the early 2000s while on “Hercules”, they make use of wild drum patterns, menacing bass, layered vocals, and a hook provided by Swizz Beatz for Common to spaz out with some fierce rhymes and wordplay.

The track that opened my eyes on “Let Love” made its appearance early on: The first single, “HER Love”, contains posthumous J. Dilla production and the title makes it immediately clear to any Common fan what the lyrical topic is. Common originated the “hip-hop as a woman” metaphor in his 1994 classic “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and since then, it’s influenced several hip-hop artists to release songs that provide their own spin on the concept. I’ve been waiting for Common to take back what’s his and update the concept, which he does with three verses on the genre’s evolution in the 21st century while keeping the extended metaphor intact. His knack for storytelling has been enhanced by his time as a film actor. On “Fifth Story”, he weaves a cinematic tale of infidelity that builds with a suspense that’s highlighted by the moody production.

He enlists fellow Chicago native BJ the Chicago Kid to croon some thoughtful words for the hook on “Forever Your Love”. The production takes an ambient Chicago jazz quality to it on “Memories of Home” as Common gives vivid descriptions of his childhood and young adulthood growing up in Chicago. BJ also provides a melodic hook on this song as well. Jill Scott guest stars on the seven-minute “Show Me That Love”, which ends with a piano coda lasting for nearly a third of the song. “My Fancy Free Future Love” sounds like it’s built off of sample, but it has the most upbeat sound on the whole album. The album is free of verses from any guest rappers, the supporting cast consists of R&B singers and it’s bookended by the Leon Bridges-assisted “God Is Love”. The main reason I like “Let Love” the most is because it’s what happens when Common shows that he can still rhyme like Common Sense.