2019 was a huge year for new artists.
Some of music's notable figures were missing from the 2019 release calendar. A number of established artists took the year off to perfect their next bodies of work, opting for a quality-over-quantity approach and hopefully unleashing some magic come the new year. As we near the end of a decade, the last twelve months introduced us to so many talented stars that could potentially become major factors in upcoming years. There were seemingly musicians coming from out of nowhere to pick up No. 1 records, millions of streams, and instant notoriety in 2019. In order to celebrate the accomplishments that this year's new talent achieved, we've compiled a list of the top breakout artists of 2019, organized in no particular order.
Let us know if we missed anyone and chime in in the comments section.
Additional contributions to this list come from:
The implication that Griselda “broke out” in 2019 feels like a misnomer, given everything that Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny The Butcher have built throughout their tenure in the game. And yet this year shone a new spotlight upon the Buffalo trifecta, who found themselves inking business deals with both Eminem’s Shady Records and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. Not to mention the fact that they were cordially invited to J. Cole’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III sessions, with results of that link-up having yet to surface. And still, the A-list co-signs build, with Virgil Abloh blurring the line between bars and reality, coming through and literally writing “BRICK” on Westside Gunn’s “BRICK.”
These days, The Griselda boys are liable to garner a second look from even casual fans, who might have otherwise turned a blind eye years prior. It didn’t hurt that all three members turned in brilliant campaigns with no shortage of strong musical offerings: Hitler Wears Hermes 7, Flygod Is An Awesome God, WWCD, Look What I Became, The Plugs I Met, and more. Now, with his retirement looming, Westside Gunn’s great orchestration has reached its next movement. But don’t get it twisted. All signs point to a continued takeover from The Machine and The Butcher come 2020.
It feels strange to consider Florida’s YNW Melly as a breakout artist in 2019. Last year, the bubbling star began to make strong waves in the hip-hop community, cushioned by his hit single “Murder On My Mind.” During the time Kanye West was working on Yandhi, the 20-year-old was spotted in the studio with the Chicago legend. That link-up would expose the blueprint for their collaborative joint “Mixed Personalities,” a record that brought tons of attention to We All Shine. Melly released his first album of the year in January while he was in jail on a minor marijuana charge. Weeks after it dropped, he became one of the most controversial artists in music, turning himself in for the double murder of his close friends.
Before 2019, the artist, whose real name is Jamell Demons, did not ring bells in many circles. Through a combination of his criminal history, his melody-making prowess, his high-pitched vocals and his emotive lyrics about real-life situations, Melly gained notoriety and kept it despite being locked up for the majority of the year.
As of right now, YNW Melly’s musical future is uncertain. He is currently awaiting trial and if he’s handed down the toughest possible sentence, the young man will be executed according to Florida law. The release of his Melly Vs. Melvin album in November cemented his status as a breakout star to look out for, moving 45K units in its first week. The most complicated case on this list, Melly is certainly worthy of the title regardless of his past and his future.
- Alex Z.
New York City’s sound has evolved tremendously, not only in the history of hip-hop but in the last decade specifically. In a post-A Boogie world, Lil Tecca has emerged as a bonafide hitmaker. He began bubbling in 2018 off of the release of a few singles on SoundCloud, along with his ability to stir the Internet's pot. By the time 2019 hit, “Did It Again,” and the top 40 charting single, “Ransom,” made him a household name.
Now, this being said, We Love You Tecca didn’t necessarily leave the best impression. It did, however, showcase his ability to create infectious bangers. Stretching over seventeen tracks, his auto-tuned vocals amplified his catchy hooks, and his lyrics, although basic, turned into instant quotables for your next Instagram caption.
Tecca doesn’t have “bars,” nor does he actually need them. With Virgo World set to arrive in 2020, Lil Tecca will have to show and prove whether he’s here for the long haul.
- Aron A.
With an unconventional flow style, social media savviness, troll-like antics, and ties to Birdman and Cash Money West, Blueface definitively took over at the start of 2019. If you attended any rap-centric music festival this year, you heard “Thotiana” blaring over the venue’s loudspeakers dozens of times between performers’ sets. The track was so popular and so beloved that it became a given that you would hear it at the club, in your Uber ride home, and literally anywhere else.
Releasing his Dirt Bag project in the summer, some fans expected a bit more from the star. His earlier material, including the aforementioned “Thotiana” and tracks like “Bleed It” and “Dead Locs,” was enough to set up intrigue for people to want to know more about the Famous Cryp. Already though, his persona has grown cold on a number of fans, wishing for more from the 22-year-old.
While this can certainly be considered Blueface’s breakout year, it also may have commenced his fall from grace. At the top of the year, BF was considered one of the rappers with the most potential to become a star. With Find The Beat nearly upon us, the West Coast sensation will need to prove to his audience that he’s got what it takes to stick around for the long haul and that he isn’t just a carefree, drama-loving youngster.
- Alex Z.
On the cover of her 2018 mixtape, Last Days of Summer, Summer Walker’s hair completely shrouds her face. Based on the way she has acclimated to fame, at times it can seem like she wishes she were still that faceless figure. It’s easier to just release pristine R&B on SoundCloud for listeners to privately bathe in, rather than present yourself as the woman behind it, free for all to pick apart like public property. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, people yearn to know the artist behind the music, even when nothing about the process of consuming music requires this. Walker’s mixtape and her debut album, Over It, were both too masterful for the expectation to not be thrust upon her that she steps out from behind the curtain. However, she’s insisting that the rules be rewritten; that the relationship between fan and artist be reconfigured. She’s teaching a long-overdue lesson about how songs can allow you to slip into them like comfortable homes without their creator having to show you around as if you were a prestigious guest. Walker’s building sturdy structures that stand on their own and we’re going to learn that we’re lucky enough to be let inside. She doesn’t owe us anything more and she’ll continue to be a star on her own terms.
- Noah C
Roddy Ricch both started and ended the year on a high note, although the end-of-year found him in a much loftier situation than the onset of 2019. The rapper became a part of an iconic, final record from the late Nipsey Hussle, with his appearance on “Racks in the Middle,” arriving in February 2019. However, he was already building his unique sonic palette and audience prior to Nipsey’s co-sign and collaboration, with his two mixtapes, Feed the Streets and Feed the Streets II. This sound is showcased on Feed the Streets’ opener “Fucc It Up,” as the rapper creates easy melodies with boy-ish vocals over a piano-laden beat from IceStars. These are two of Roddy Ricch’s hallmarks, and when combined with a penchant for guitar licks, you have a vague blueprint for Roddy’s undeniable hit-making abilities. “Every Season,” off the second Feed the Streets instalment utilized the latter element, while Roddy’s much-anticipated debut album really brought his sound full circle. The album, Please Excuse Me for Being Anti-Social, brought even more intricate production into the fold, but there was a clear sense of cohesiveness thanks to the prevalence of the piano and the guitar, with Roddy’s sing-song style still intact. Please Excuse Me for Being Anti-Social is the perfect culmination of Roddy’s talent and an exciting glimpse at what the future might hold-- or else, all the avenues that he could pursue, easily-- given the breadth of his abilities. The rapper delivers meaningful rhymes about his neighborhood, he experiments with some flows we’ve never heard before, he connects with both the streets and the youth, he’s a master at hooks, he’s got a keen ear for a distinct style of beats; it’s clear that whatever lies ahead for the next generation of rappers, Roddy will certainly be at the forefront.
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Everything about Lil Nas X’s story is emblematic of 2019: a cheap beat sourced from the other side of the world spawns a genre-defiant smash that spawns an online debate about its genre that spawns an overnight star. Of course, the accusations regarding Billboard’s insidiously racist categorizing criteria weren’t the only thing that catapulted “Old Town Road” to the top of the charts. TikTok played a major role in that too, which is another facet of this story that is quintessentially 2019. However, no one who hacks the algorithm that flawlessly falls off that quickly. Lil Nas X understands the mechanics of his fame and that’s why you should expect him to keep churning out hits in the next decade. In a time when self-promotion is everything, being as social media savvy as LNX is what secures success. Succinct songs that sound like a synthesis of various genres’ catchiest elements do that too. That second part can’t be delineated by a formula - it’s talent.
- Noah C
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When you think of all the artists who broke out this year, Lizzo needs to be at the front of your list. The definition of a “breakout artist” is a little muddy but, the way we see it, Lizzo fits the bill like none other. The 31-year-old Detroit native shook the world with her single “Juice” at the top of the year, seemingly coming from out of nowhere. The track had her buzzing and when prospective fans discovered her existing discography, some magic was made and a song from two years ago, “Truth Hurts,” was bolstered to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. When that song started losing traction, another track from the year prior, “Good As Hell,” replaced it in the chart’s top five singles.
The fact that Lizzo has been able to sustain such popularity without releasing much new music is astounding. Her casual blend of genres, including pop, hip-hop, soul, and more makes her a fan favorite, earning her millions of new followers from across the globe. Lizzo looks unlike any other typical pop star, too. Her body-positive spirit and social media savviness have been instrumental in making her a successful role model to young girls and boys struggling with body image issues, bringing the theme into her music and blossoming into one of the more confident artists in the industry. Look out for Lizzo to continue her big splash in 2020.
- Alex Z.
Hip-hop was dominated by female rappers this year and leading the fray was none other than Megan Thee Stallion. With Nicki Minaj announcing her retirement and Cardi B focusing on the creation of her 2020 album, the H-Town Hottie had enough freedom to carve out her own lane while also assuming her spot on the throne as the leader of female rap in 2019. Her campaign started out with heartbreak after announcing that her mother had passed away but she channelled her sadness into creative energy, dropping the Fever mixtape and forever cementing 2019 as the year of Megan Thee Stallion.
The inception of Hot Girl Summer was instrumental in making Stalli the household name that she is today. Sure, she still has a lot of catching up to do if she wants to maintain her popularity and it’ll be interesting to see how she fares once Cardi B steps back into the game. However, her raw bars, Southern flows, strong knees and academic side give her enough flare and personality that we confidently believe she’ll be a factor for years to come. One year ago, not many knew who Megan Thee Stallion was. She was bubbling locally, surfing on a light wave before things completely blew up with “Big Ole Freak” taking her to the top of the game, allowing Young Tina Snow to build the impressive catalog she now boasts. Look out for her to make an even stronger impact when her debut album drops in the new year.
- Alex Z.
As if dropping one critically-acclaimed album wasn’t enough, DaBaby really had to go and do it two times (in one year!). Already in his short career, DaBaby has been able to establish a personality essential to the rap game. The North Carolina native is goofy enough to have a long-lasting impact on social media, handsome enough to serve as suitable eye candy for the ladies, aggressive enough to still have credibility in the streets, and creative enough to appeal to the real hip-hop fans. The way Baby crafts his flows is seamless but what really sets him apart in his music is his delivery. In each syllable, you can hear his confidence. And you can bet top dollar that each one of his songs contains a particular zinger that will reside in your girl’s Instagram caption for the rest of eternity.
In a musical climate where everybody is trying to sound like Young Thug or Future, DaBaby is unafraid to steer away from what’s become the norm and is bringing a new flavor to the table. Both Baby On Baby and KIRK are solid bodies of work, showing different sides of the rapper’s character and rightfully belonging on year-end press lists. “Suge” helped skyrocket DaBaby to the moon and you better believe he will be sticking around for a very long time. This may have been his breakout year but you should expect more big things to come from DaBaby.
- Alex Z.