25 Moments That Have Shaped 2019 Thus Far
We're just over a quarter of the way through 2019 and it's been, to put it mildly, quite something.
Political chaos. The never-ending disaster that is Brexit. Climate change protesters on the streets of London. Record breaking temperatures.
Oh, and there's been some music along the way. From the ongoing surge of UK rap to indie reclaiming its sense of purpose, from grandstanding award ceremonies through to sweatpit venues, 2019 has already tossed out some breathtaking scenes.
Here's our pick of 25 vital moments.
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Jorja Smith stuns at the BRIT Awards (Emma Finamore)
A luminous Jorja Smith took to the stage at the Brit Awards 2019 in February, for a soulful, heart-wrenching performance of ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’. Backed only by a piano, the minimal, stripped down rendition – in stark contrast to some of the night’s more high-octane performances – gave her voice room to flex and glow, while laying bare the vulnerability of the song’s lyrics.
For a moment the arena was hushed, mesmerised by Jorja’s serene presence, and she reminded us exactly why she walked away with this year’s British female solo artist Brit.
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Dave’s epic ‘Psycho Drama’ (Emma Finamore)
“I feel like my whole life’s been leading up to this one moment,” announced London rapper Dave on Instagram the day he dropped his debut LP ‘Psychodrama’. This might sound a little, well, dramatic, but it truly was one of the biggest musical moments of the year so far.
Having already made waves a month previously, with lead single ‘Black’ – full of emotive bars like "A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news/And if he's white you give him a chance, he's ill and confused," and "Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens" – the album was an immediate moment.
A sort of concept album, the tracks on ‘Psychodrama’ are threaded together with spoken-word sections – apparently featuring Dave’s psychotherapist – and the record’s cornerstone, ‘Lesley’, is a brave 11-minute exploration of an abusive relationship and its devastating fallout.
Far from your average British rap album.
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Little Simz becomes the ‘boss in a black dress’ (Emma Finamore)
Just nine weeks into the year, North London rapper Little Simz released what is surely set to be one of the fiercest records of 2019. Produced entirely by Simz’s childhood friend, Inflo, her third LP brims with bold confidence – its beats and instrumentation refuse to settle into one particular groove, while her bars are buoyant and inventive, tackling everything from feminism and personal trauma to world suffering.
The decision to favour live instruments over sampling – which lends the album a real sense of urgency and excitement – speaks to this newly confident, ballsy Simz.
As she declares outright on ‘Boss’: “I’m a boss in a f***ing dress.” You’d better take her seriously.
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The tragic death of Nipsey Hussle (Aaron Bishop)
On March 31st news that rapper Nipsey Hussle had been shot and killed outside of his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles, California shocked the world and sent social media into a frenzy.
Although a member of the infamous Rollin 60’s Crips gang, what separated Nipsey from many of his rap peers was his entrepreneurial spirit, his forward-thinking mindset, and his insatiable appetite for growth while staying true to himself. These qualities not only shone through in his music but also meant that not a single person in the hip-hop community had a bad word to say about him, even before his passing.
His career spanned over a decade that saw twelve mixtapes to his name as a lead artist, including 2013’s “Crenshaw” where he sold 1000 physical copies for $100 as part of a Proud 2 Pay campaign of which Jay-Z bought 100, showing respect from one hustler to another, while netting Nipsey $100,000 in just 24 hours.
But it was just last year that he released his Grammy-nominated debut album 'Victory Lap' reaching No. 4 in the Billboard 200 chart, with it seeming that he was only just entering the prime of his career. He had worked with the best in the business including Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J.Cole and Diddy among others, but having become synonymous with Crenshaw, Los Angeles, (having invested heavily into the area providing jobs for local people).
With a square renamed in his honour and his family resolute, in his famous words and the words of his partner Lauren London at his memorial service, his legacy and “the marathon continues”.
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slowthai speaks truth to power on his album billboards (Aaron Bishop)
As he builds up to the release of his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, slowthai didn’t mess around in getting his point across. Promoting his album with a series of billboards around London with facts on them relating to the gender pay gap, police stop and search policies and racially charged offences, he makes it clear with just some of the reasons why he has such a low opinion of the country which raised him. In the process he also helped to create a dialogue and lay down some home truths to people who may be oblivious or ignorant to the facts.
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Foals explode definitions (Yasmin Cowan)
After teasing with countdowns, cryptic tweets and wild goose chases around underground stations across the globe, Foals have returned and what an epic one it has been. Foals mania has been rife, with fans both new and old hanging on the edge of their seats, as they eagerly awaited new material from the Oxford quartet.
Being down a man hasn’t seemed to deter Yannis et al. from creating their most pivotally affecting and groundbreaking record to date, ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt.1’. In celebration, the indie veterans fulfilled a lifelong dream and took over Kew Gardens with Radio 1 for a one-off show. They were also spotted throwing it back to 2008 with intimate gigs across the country, where Yannis could be seen launching himself off balconies in Manchester and dancing on bars in London.
They’ve still got three quarters of the year left and another album to release, which begs the question – what in the world will the boys do next?!
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The ragged punk poetry of Fontaines D.C. (Emma Finamore)
Dublin poetry-loving post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C. generated so much buzz around their debut LP ‘Dogrel’ that less than a week after dropping it was riding a surprise high at Number 4 in the midweek UK album chart. Already known for their blistering live sets, the band are refreshingly inventive and, well, surprising.
Despite drawing inspiration from Dublin itself – “Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind,” frontman Grian Chatten starkly claims on ‘Big’ – as well as the stories its inhabitants carry with them, and many of Ireland’s romantic figures – Joyce, The Pogues, W.B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh – Fontaines don’t fit neatly into any box.
They’re as influenced by poetry of the Beat Generation as they are the Irish greats, and ‘Dogrel’ is far from straight-up post-punk – tender ballads and surf rock bubble up here too, painting a much more complex, colourful picture that you might first expect.
Maybe the record’s success is actually not that surprising at all.
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Ariana Grande slays at Coachella (Charis MacGowan)
It was never going to be easy to follow last year’s formidable Beyoncé set, but Ariana Grande did all that she could make her show nothing short of iconic. Staying true to her appreciative child-of-the-90s vibe, she brought on guests N*Sync (sans Justin Timberlake), Diddy and Mase for ‘Tearing Up My Heart’ and ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ respectively, songs that fitted in seamlessly with her own hits.
The set proved the versatility of her perfect pop formula—catchy classics with an R&B/hip-hop edge, brought alive with astonishing vocal power—nostalgic yet pioneering at the same time.
Could she have conquered the festival without bringing out the star names? Of course she could—but if you can do it, then why not?
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BTS break records with Halsey (Noura IKhlef)
‘Boy With Luv’ may have broken multiple records, but its concept makes it a defining moment of 2019.
Featuring Halsey, one of the biggest names in western music industry, BTS arbour definite feminine tropes in the foreground of Hollywood inspired sets. ‘Boy With Luv’ makes a statement about theirworldwide takeover, and Western views on Asian men.
This is proof that BTS aren’t just a phenomenon, they are established global artists, and that much closer to icons.
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Ezra Collective partner perfectly with Loyle Carner (Patrick McMahon)
‘What Am I To Do?’ is the third track to be released ahead of Ezra Collective’s much anticipated album You Can’t Steal My Joy, and has left us oh-so-excited to hear the rest. This slick boom-bap track features rapper Loyle Carner spitting verses, whose signature style of sedate delivery sits beautifully over the jazz quintet’s groove.
Laidback but tightly-executed, ‘What Am I To Do?’ provides us with yet another example of the exciting goings on in the UK’s jazz/hip-hop scene, and leaves us eager to know what else waits around the corner...
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Massive Attack's epic Bristol homecoming (Rory Marcham)
What better way to celebrate the 21st anniversary of a seminal trip-hop record (1998’s ‘Mezzanine’) than with a pair of gigantic homecoming shows in a custom-made venue at a former aircraft hanger?
The perfect setting for Massive Attack’s incendiary return to Bristol, with a tour-de-force performance that saw angular riffs clash with resonant backbeats and a haunting visual display from Adam Curtis all play a part in seeing through the promise of the ‘ultimate anti-nostalgia’ gig.
A show that saw Massive Attack weaponise their past as a means of confronting head-on the issues of today. An 'I was there' moment for anyone that has followed this influential band over the past three decades of their illustrious career.
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Wiley beefing with Drake (Aaron Bishop)
It’s already proved to be a ground-breaking year so far for the UK Rap scene with prominent acts releasing debut albums, singles infiltrating the charts and during global superstar Drake’s historic run at the newly crowned O3 he made many a moment bringing out a host of popular names such as Giggs, Krept and Konan, Unknown T and even J Hus in his first appearance since being released from prison.
It seems that not everyone has been as enthused by his support of UK artists with Drake addressing Wiley by name on his special appearance as co-host on Tiffany Calver’s Rap Show on BBC 1Xtra, calling him a goof in response to The Godfather’s claims that he was a “culture vulture”.
But the drama didn’t stop there with Wiley later bringing Giggs into the fold who is known to have a close relationship with the 6God but he shut that down real quick telling the BBK member, “What exactly are u trying to achieve? Coz all I see is u are trying to wind me up?” among a series of now deleted tweets before warning him not to “push it”.
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Swindle x Kojey Radical (Emma Finamore)
Genre-hopping producer Swindle and spoken word poet / MC Kojey Radical brightened up our January with the joyful video to their brass-led banger, ‘Coming Home’. As part of his ‘No More Normal’ project – bridging perceived gaps between genres like jazz, grime, hip-hop, reggae and funk – Swindle enlisted Radical to collaborate, alongside a swathe of talented artists, everyone from grime greats like D Double E and Ghetts to jazz shining light, Nubya Garcia.
The visuals for ‘Coming Home’ reflected this spirit of skippy playfulness, splicing a full jazz band (Manchester’s Riot Jazz) with electric guitars, colourful stage scenes contrasted with muted grey urban climes, and even a horse (yes, a horse!).
Just what we needed on those bleak January days.
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The death of Scott Walker (Josh Gray)
The sheer breadth of artists who mourned the passing of Scott Walker (Thom Yorke, Sunn O)))… Boy George) came as a surprise to many who dismissed him as little more than a short-lived 60s icon.
Ever a musician’s musician, Scott’s disregard for convention and compromise in the 60-year pursuit of his own muse demonstrated that musical parameters are mere figments of a musician’s imagination.
As he put it himself on ‘Farmer In The City’: "It was the journey of a life..."
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Leaving Neverland (Mat Smith)
Terrifying, compulsive and legacy-defining viewing: no, not Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video, but the Leaving Neverland documentary focussed on his alleged sexual molestation of Wade Robson and James Safechuck. In unflinchingly graphic detail, Dan Reed’s film reopened an area of Jackson’s life that his 2009 death had encouraged us to overlook.
His documentary prompted a reassessment of Jackson’s legacy, radio stations to ban the fallen King of Pop’s music and angry, disbelieving fans taking out ads in defence of their hero.
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PNL take control of the Eiffel tower (Wilf Skinner)
While enigmatic French rap duo PNL have many a spectacular video, for ‘Au DD’ they chose to film at the top of the Eiffel Tower, becoming the first group to do so – and two brothers born to an Algerian mother and Corsican father who grew up in a notorious banlieue at that.
Climbing such a symbolic edifice spoke at once to their domination of the francophone scene and their desire to bring their arresting, multi-layered sound to an even wider audience.
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Lizzo's 'Juice' got us addicted (Nick Roseblade)
Lizzo has come a long way since emerging on an unsuspecting world just under a decade ago. Her brand of body positive hip-pop is a sheer joy to behold.
Along with huge beats, catchiest hooks, a wicked sense of humour she combines those intangible things that made the Beastie Boys, Missy Elliot and Princess Nokia damn hard to ignore. Her new album ‘Cuz I Love You’ will have you dancing and crying in the shower at the same time.
Lizzo is the total package and is your new Queen.
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The passing of Keith Flint (Nick Roseblade)
The Prodigy was my first musical love. They summed up everything I wanted in music: fast breakbeats, a wicked sense of humour, awesome videos and great dance moves. Flint was part of this appeal.
To a small skinny kid in Dorset who didn’t fit in with the macho bullshit of rock, the swagger of Britpop or danger of hip-hop he felt like something I could relate to. He was all about the music. Nothing else mattered.
This is how I’ll choose to remember him. A guy who just wanted to dance with his mates, but ended up defining a generation. Thank you Keith.
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Stormzy pulling out of Snowbombing (Robin Murray)
Stormzy doesn’t even need to release new material to create headlines. With his ongoing #Merky Books imprint shattering the glass ceiling in publishing, the rapper took the unprecedented step of nixing his Snowbombing slot after members of his team were subjected to what he described as “racial profiling” following reports of a weapon on site.
Pulling out of the festival, he showed the full extent of his power, a demand for respect and equality that immediately caused headlines across the continent.
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Jessica Pratt giving us the winter chills (Robin Murray)
Winter is a time for bunkering down. With the weather making travel inadvisable, it’s a time for inward journeys, and this introspection has rarely sounded so potent as the work of Jessica Pratt.
Frosted Baroque flourishes made her album ‘Quiet Signs’ one of January’s most powerful listens, a work of immaculate brevity whose quiet intensity burned like the final embers of a coal fire, flickering up into the chimney.
Smoke signals for the soul.
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The Specials tapping into our political discontent (Robin Murray)
The Specials have always had perfect timing. Topping the charts with ‘Ghost Town’ as riots gripped British inner cities in 1981, the group returned earlier in the year to soundtrack another blast of nationwide discontent.
With a government in crisis and the Far Right on the rise The Specials stood up to the forces of regression on superb new album ‘Encore’, a blistering display of righteous ska with a hefty dose of punk energy.
Rarely has a comeback been so needed, so thrilling, and so timely.
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New Tame Impala material (Robin Murray)
Time moves fast in Kevin Parker’s universe. Sure, it’s been four long years since Tame Impala last released a full length record – 2015’s superb ‘Currents’ - but he’s been busy working alongside Lady Gaga.
With the Australian band reunited and back out on the road, Tame Impala have decided to show off some new material, from an album slated to land later this year. ‘Patience’ and ‘Borderline’ are two astonishing disco-flecked pieces of psych-pop, as daring as anything they’ve put their name to. Consider our interest piqued.
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Dua Lipa and St. Vincent storming the Grammy awards (Robin Murray)
Ah, the Grammy awards. Rarely a hub for progressive thought, this year saw female artists being urged to – ahem - “step up” is they fancied taking home a trophy.
Dua Lipa and St. Vincent duly obliged with one of the most staggering performances the ceremony has seen for some time, an incredible piece of pointed gender-fuckery that blended ‘Masseduction’ with Dua’s undeniable, world-beating banger ‘One Kiss’. And they made it look utterly effortless.
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Madonna’s latin-inspired evolution (Robin Murray)
Madonna’s ability to shift through sonic guises has long confounded critics, who have written her artistic obituary on countless occasions.
Blanking out her social media accounts, Madge caused all manner of speculation, before dropping her remarkable new latin-fuelled banger ‘Medellin’. A full collaboration with Colombian artist Maluma, ‘Medellin’ impacted just as the temperatures began to soar, with its teasing rhythm flexing out in clubs across the country.
Defying the haters, repulsing the purists, and delighting her fans, Madonna did what she’s always done: fascinate at every turn while never repeating her steps.
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