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How do you measure a year?
The year 2019 has proven to be one of hip hop’s most inspiring, devastating, perplexing, and telling years thus far. Genre lines have blurred, artists’ roles have changed, and irreversible events have etched their mark in stories that we’ll be sharing for years to come. With so much going on, it’s no wonder how any one person or event has managed to hold our attention long enough to make any lasting impact.
With a little help from social media’s ever-growing authority, the conversations governing our consumption of hip hop and its adjacent topics have served to shock us, anger us, and illuminate the dominance of the genre’s permanence at the root of popular culture as a whole. At the center of this dominance, several names have proven to float to the surface of a rising pool of headlines, viral moments, and shifts in music’s landscape. Counting down the pot of representatives who have collectively prevailed at the pinnacle of the culture in 2019, we present REVOLT’s MVPs of the Year. On this list, you’ll find the names of those who have unequivocally won the year by changing the way we consume music, which altered our perception of the traditional artist and leveraged hip hop’s influence in our communities.
9. Ari Lennox
With her Shea Butter Baby album, Ari Lennox indisputably took her rightful place in a lineage of soulful creators defining what R&B is in this portion of the 21st century. Aside from her noted contributions in the genre, Lennox capitalized on being a vocal social media entertainer in tandem with her musical breakthrough. Her public scrutiny of figures like Kanye West, heightened and thorough interactions with fans and critics alike, camaraderie with fellow artists, and primetime Instagram Live sessions all make for a combination that rapidly placed the Dreamville songstress in the spotlight.
This year, the star served as the de facto representative of the rising class of increasingly transparent creators. Leading with this transparency has proven to be the singer’s winning strategy. Making public her decision to seek new management and her displeasure with a Soul Train Awards snub are among the moments that have torn down the veil of perfection often associated with artists. All the while, it legitimized the candor that colors Lennox’s musical creations and makes her one of 2019’s most favorable entertainers.
8. Summer Walker
On the back of her “Girls Need Love” track, Summer Walker effectively claimed the slot as one of the year’s most unlikely breakouts. The influence of her year partially lies in the backlash that the Atlanta-bred singer has received. What it has done, however, is catalyze a major talking point on the roles of artists when delivering an experience to the masses. Similar to peers such as Lennox, Walker’s very public battle with anxiety has contributed to the reshaping of the expected image of young stars, and highlights the notion that these unconventional ascensions come attached to unconventional narratives.
With her debut album, Over It, logging the biggest streaming week ever for a female R&B artist, Walker is a testament to audiences’ embrace of this shifting artistry. In 2019, the idea of a cookie-cutter archetype is foolish to undertake, and the LVRN signee has certainly made a case in support of the claim.
7. Meek Mill
The success of Meek Mill’s year was contrarily rooted in the rapper’s 2017 sentencing of two to four years in prison for minor violations of a probation attached to 10-year-old firearms and possession case. When a court ordered his release last year, the work began. The late 2018 drop of his Championships studio album laid down the musical framework of success that would carry over into the new year. However, Meek would prove to win the year by fastening his proclaimed commitment to criminal justice reform post-release. Together with mentor JAY-Z, Meek launched the REFORM Alliance and took to the front lines of advocating against unjust parole and probation sentences.
When pairing these initiatives with the Philly emcee’s significant return among rap’s top contenders, while expanding his Dream Chasers platform to introduce us to his curated roster of newcomers, Meek has used 2019 as an assured catalyst toward eventual mogul status.
6. Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator’s return alongside his IGOR alter ego once more plastered the cult favorite front and center. Notably, his outpacing of DJ Khaled’s fully loaded Father Of Asahd album for the No. 1 spot introduced a further look into questionable album sales and bundles practices, and would backlight the unlikely dominance of the former Odd Future frontman. This dominance was particularly significant in extending his role as a major cultural figure whose barely seen radio airplay — a waning indicator of popularity. It would further prove his defiance in cashing in on mainstream success without its traditional elements.
His infectious presence has proved inescapable in 2019. The fall stretch of his North American tour run was characterized by routine and enviable posts of Tyler orchestrating arena-wide mosh pits, and the highly publicized lift on his travel ban in the United Kingdom was a symbolic representation of his omnipresence this year.
DaBaby has experienced a clear ascent in 2019. For the North Carolina representative, his cultural impact has been cemented by his audacious raps and his ability to back up the lyrical chatter whenever presented with the challenge to do so. His year has been what hip hop dreams are made of for the star: a No. 1 album, two Grammy nominations, and a very legitimate debate on whether or not he outshined J. Cole on the Dreamville honcho’s own song.
A larger-than-life personality can often be a threat to the livelihood of one’s art. In DaBaby’s case, however, this personally was a fitting supplement to the career of one of the year’s most exciting new artists. This personality has also bled into the care and consideration that DaBaby clearly executes with his music, delivering on some of the year’s most entertaining music videos and, arguably, one of the most thoughtfully curated “SNL” performances from a rapper in recent memory.
This year, Lizzo arrived as an undetectable force. By the time we all realized what was happening, the hyphenate landed a guest role in Jennifer Lopez’s Hustlers film, locked down the longest-running No. 1 song by a solo female artist, and had eight Grammy nominations on the table. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s done it all as a plus-sized black woman navigating success conceptually reserved for misinformed standards of the ideal image.
In a year’s time — built on even more years of preparation — Lizzo has risen into the ranks of unequivocal pop star status. This status, however, has not been without its share of controversy. But, even with claims of plagiarism, a Postmates faux pas, and debates on her decorum in public; Lizzo stands tall. She’s outlasted headlines, and adds her own dimension to the evolving image of music’s mainstream stars.
3. Megan Thee Stallion
While “Hot Girl Summer” could properly wrap up Megan Thee Stallion’s influence in 2019, even such a vast phenomenon would be too reductive in quantifying the Houston upstart’s year. Her run effectively began with the inescapable “Big Ole Freak” track and would see its way through a defining summer season that found Meg rallying the troops against the formidable “City Boys.” She’d go on to score the season with more new smashes like “Cash Shit,” and even spark a new Internet challenge in reverence of strong knees everywhere.
Her Fever mixtape tagged her as the effective regional representative in the renaissance of female-led hip hop. These roots have colored Meg’s presentation, characterizing her with an image laced in Texan-bred swagger. Similar to the counterpart found in DaBaby, the femcee’s artistry finds equal math in her image outside the booth. Just like her peer, Meg mastered an effective balance of the two, showcasing formidable talent with the pen while executing on the refined image of a southern stunner.
2. Lil Nas X
Prior to this year, the closest we’ve ever gotten to the any semblance of blurred lines between the unlikely crossroads of hip hop and country music was Nelly. And even then, Country Grammar proved to be more clear-cut than “Old Town Road.” The impact of the track on global pop culture cannot be debated. However, Lil Nas X’s impeccable web presence is what made him particularly influential this year. He’s found himself to be equal parts artist and social media strategist, creating a community of fans and onlookers who have been consistently engaged in his work. While 2019 and the latter half of the decade have certainly introduced the masses to a musical landscape quickly moving past genre, Lil Nas X’s arrival put this evolution into hyperdrive. The records that his breakout track set as both the longest-running hip hop song at No. 1 and the fastest song to achieve diamond status speaks to audiences. Lil Nas X put his mark on the year not only by upending what hip hop sounds like, but by also shifting what it looks like when he came out at the end of Pride Month this summer. Fittingly, it seems like he was poised to take on this hefty role all along.
“Everything lined up for this moment to take me to this place,” he concurred in an interview with Time Magazine. “Not to sound self-centered, but it feels like I’m chosen, in a way, to do this stuff.”
1. Nipsey Hussle
“Even though our bodies die, as they call it on this side of eternity, our spirits live.” These marked the words of encouragement that Nipsey Hussle’s mother imparted on audiences when accepting BET’s Humanitarian Award on behalf of her late son.
While death knows no stranger, that of the late rapper’s will always color hip hop’s history books as one of the most shocking and devastating. But in death, the rapper, born Ermias Asghedom, found new life, as his influence took root and spread like wildfire. Weighing music alone would do no justice to Nip. When words like “legend” and “legacy” are tossed around, they aren’t hedged on a top 10 album, charting singles, or even a Grammy nomination; but rather find their place alongside a beacon of entrepreneurship, a pundit for the marginalized, and a clear representative of autonomy in hip hop. While alive, Hussle maneuvered the rap game as an instrument for so much more.
“I wanted to redefine the lifestyle and what we view as important,” he once told Forbes. “When you hear ‘buy back the block’ as the narrative, that’s powerful. That’s a step towards redefining the expectation.”
He preached ownership and equity, and after the fateful day of March 31, 2019; these teachings began to permeate more than ever before. It is human nature for us to criticize the reception and appreciation of a public figure only after they’ve passed on. However, this celebration and reverence serves to set in motion the change that Neighborhood Nip set out to create all along. His reach is now ever-expanding and his poignant approach to music, business, and community lives on.
The Marathon Continues.