2019 In Review: Day 6 – Rap and Hip-hop

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2019 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

The current renaissance of Korean hip-hop, manifesting in areas as diverse as audition shows to dedicated streaming platforms, continued in 2019 and produced an embarrassment of riches for listeners.

Trusted names young and old gave us incisive, entertaining, and often socially conscious words and beats, while the weirder elements of artists like C Jamm, Balming Tiger and 27Ring added plenty of spice. Here are our favorite picks from the past year.


  • The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.
  • The 2019 Rap and Hip-hop Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Rap and Hip-hop Album 2019

The Movie Star - no caption version

BewhY – The Movie Star

We knew BewhY was multi-talented, but The Movie Star might have been the real coming-out party for the talented emcee’s production talent. Composing and arranging every track, BewhY meticulously built an absorbing noir experience with some of the year’s most technically impressive and sonically entertaining beats, including “Adaptation” and “Gottasadae”.

The tense and brooding, sometimes grating compositions were fertile ground for BewhY’s beat-splitting reflections over his identity as a Korean musician (driving “The Mainland” in particular, but the question recurs throughout) and his place in the world.  Rarely do we see an artist in such command over every corner of an album, yet emerging through The Movie Star was a young auteur doing just that.

The Runner-up

E Sens – 이방인 (The Stranger)

At the heart of this unfriendly, chilly, aloof album was the most severe, Camusian disillusionment we heard put to music in 2019. The Stranger was every bit as brooding as The Anecdote, but E Sens stripped away the nostalgic and often very funny autobiography of his past work and left only the reflective acumen.

The result was a bitter brew poured straight from the rapper’s present, giving us a glimpse into a man disillusioned with people and money alike. The oppressive loneliness in these beats and E Sens’ conversational yet nearly context-free lyricism created a wholly unique listening experience, one that made the brief moments of frenzy (“Radar”, featuring maybe the most insane hook of the year thanks to Kim Ximya) and sentimental beauty (“Bobos Motel”) all the more precious when they came.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

30 – The Frost on Your Head

Blent. – Loves

Chaboom – Sweets & Bitters

C Jamm – 킁 (Keung)

Damye – Life’s a Loop

Dynamic Duo – Off Duty

Kid Milli – L I F E

Legit Goons – Rockstar Games [read our review]

O’Domar – 밭 (Field)

XXX – Second Language


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2019

BewhY – 찬란 (Challan)
Written, composed and arranged by BewhY

“Challan” was one of the most dazzling rap performances in recent memory. The opening salvo – an intricate, “A Milli”-channeling stack of lines where BewhY rhymes at least 22 things with “brilliant” at breakneck pace – is plenty strong, but that’s just the beginning. As BewhY effortlessly navigates several stylistic shifts, and as tightly coiled bass gives way to glitchy trap and staccato strings, the emcee seems to transcend himself with each passing line.

This virtuosity would serve as all the proof one would want for the lyrics, even if they had stopped at the series of standard (if well-written) boasts found up front. And yet, even this bravado grows into a more nuanced manifesto on identity by song’s end, building on BewhY’s trademark spirituality and sense of nationality. Sometimes, he covered that ground in a handful of lines: “Your oppas’ greatest verses are all right here / This place flowing with milk and honey is my Dad’s land / Brilliance is mine, and brilliant is my spirit”.

The Runner-up

Balming Tiger – Armadillo (Feat. Omega Sapien, Byung Un)
Written by Omega Sapien and Byung Un; composed and arranged by Unsinkable and No Identity

I wish Byung Un and No Identity stuck around with Balming Tiger a bit longer – now that the collective is really picking up steam, especially with Sogumm – but this wasn’t a bad parting gift. “Armadillo” didn’t provide the sheer shock that “I’m Sick” (2018) did, and yet its slyness and sleekness was a different kind of visceral fun.

The two emcees trade tightly wound and quirky verses, with Omega Sapien bringing the brashness to contrast with Byung Un’s impossibly smooth delivery. Unsinkable and No Identity’s beat is tactile and gripping, with a touch of sophistication in the synth pulses, and it was a treat to hear maybe the weirdest and most entertaining hook of the year spit out so differently by the two rappers.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

30 – 첫서리 (First Frost)

Crucial Star – 미로정원 / 두 갈래 길 (Maze Garden / Forked Road)

Giriboy – 호랑이소굴 (Tiger Den) (Feat. Jvcki Wai)

Huckleberry P – 변경 (Rise of the Rebels) (Feat. Fana)

Ice Puff – Levitate (Feat. Changmo)

Leellamarz – 야망 (Ambition) (Feat. Ash Island, Keem Hyo-eun, Hash Swan, Changmo)

Legit Goons – GTA! [read our review]

Muncheese – Space Bar

O’Domar – 홍등가 (Red-Light District) (Feat. Onthedal)

XXX – Bougie

Honorable Mentions


Changmo – Boyhood
ChoiLB – 오리엔테이션 (Orientation)
Crucial Star – Maze Garden
Eglaf – Pacific Place
Eluphant – 4
Epik High – Sleepless in __________ [read our review]
Errday Jinju – 살아 (Sara)
Giriboy – 100년제전문대학 (100 Years College Course) [read our review]
Gong Haim – Hymn
Grack Thany – Grack Thany Presents ‘Wafer’
Jaedal – Come and Go [read our review]
Jerry.K – Red Queen Theory
Jolly V & Squareone – Forest
Junoflo – Statues
Leellamarz – Marz 2 Ambition
Lil Boi & TakeOne – Good Time for the Team
Loopy & Nafla – LooFla
MFBTY – Dream Catcher
Muncheese – You Had to Be There
Owen Ovadoz (Owen) – P.O.E.M. II
Owen Ovadoz (Owen) – Smile
Paloalto – Love, Money & Dreams: The Album
Panda Gomm – Sleeptalking
pH-1 – Halo
Shirosky – The Seed
Simon Dominic – 화기엄금 (No Open Flames)
Stxxch – Glitters of Blue
Young B – Stranger


1060 – Currency, We Need That (Feat. Coulslaw)
27Ring – Bee (Feat. Owen Ovadoz; Prod. Shahgoon X Anti Mizmo)
30 – Wanny’s Dream (Feat. Ugly Duck)
30 – 형제애 (Brotherly Love)
Bae Chi Gi – 걱정안해도 (Be Happy)
Bassagong – 위로 (Comfort)
Beenzino – Blurry (Feat. Dbo; Prod. Peejay)
Beenzino – Fashion Hoarder (Feat. Zene the Zilla)
BewhY – 본토 (The Mainland) (Feat. Simba Zawadi)
BewhY – 적응 (Adaptation)
Black AC – 래 (Lae) (Feat. TheSojuQueen)
Blent. – Odd Eye (Feat. Klang)
BTS – Dionysus [read our review]
Chaboom – Au Revoir La-Haut
Changmo – Meteor
ChoiLB – 불 (Fire) (Feat. BewhY)
ChoiLB – 신입생환영회! (Orientation!)
C Jamm – 약빨 (Extraordinary) (Feat. Yescoba)
Damye – Blessed (Feat. Boni)
Damye – Life’s a Trip (Feat. Jim Alxndr)
Dok2 – 마라톤 (Hussle Continues)
Dynamic Duo – 맵고짜고단거 (MSG) (Feat. Penomeco)
Epik High – No Different (Feat. Yuna) [read our review]
Errday Jinju – 미세먼지 (Fine Dust)
Errday Jinju – 초콜릿 (Chocolate)
E Sens – Clock (Feat. Kim Ximya)
E Sens – Radar (Feat. Kim Ximya)
G2 – Alive
Giriboy – Party Is Over
Giriboy – 우린 왜 힘들까 (Why Are We So Tired) (Feat. Jclef) [read our review]
Giriboy & Superbee – 슈퍼버스데이 (Super BRthday)
Gray – 119 Remix (Feat. Various Artists)
Han Yo-han – 악당퇴치 (Villain Out) [read our review]
HunnyHunna – Paparazzi (Feat. Peakboy)
Jaedal – Come and Go (Feat. Lope) [read our review]
Jaedal – Crazy
Jerry.K – Cliché
Junoflo – Curtain Call
Leellamarz – 태권도 (Taekwondo) (Feat. The Quiett)
Lee Young-ji – 암실 (Dark Room)
Legit Goons – Camboys [read our review]
Lim Haeum – 혀 끝 (Orange Wedges) (Feat. Rakon)
MFBTY – 안된다고 해도 될 때까지 해 (Dream Catcher) (Feat. Shin Dae-chul)
Mommy Son – 별의노래 (Star Song) (Feat. Eugene Park)
Nochang – 미도 + 길이 (Mido + Giri)
O’Domar – 밭 (Field)
Panda Gomm – Americano (Feat. Leellamarz, Ash Island, Owen Ovadoz, Spray)
pH-1 – Push Me (Feat. Owen Ovadoz, Paloalto)
Pinodyne – We Like
QM X Odee – QOD Freestyle (Feat. Deepflow, DJ Tiz)
Sik-K – Addict
Simon Dominic – GOTT (Feat. Moon, Woo Won-jae, Jvcki Wai)
Sokodomo – Go Home (Feat. LáPamasaka)
Snacky Chan – Bossin (Feat. The Quiett, Rheehab)
Suda – Pop (Feat. Brwn)
Swings & Han Yo-han – 호루라기 (Whistle) (Feat. Nafla, Changmo)
TakeOne – 사랑 (Love)
Ugly Duck – MIB (Feat. Chloe Devita)
Viann X Khundi Panda – 조마무도회 (Anxiety Party)
Vinxen – 허물 (Skin) (Feat. Seori)
Woo Won-jae (Woo) – 호불호 (Taste) (Feat. Giriboy; Prod. Gray)

Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review