Here at Texas Monthly, we’ve long known that musicians hailing from the Lone Star State are unique forces, capable of both topping charts and moving the conversation forward. This past year, Texans particularly dominated music: Lizzo became one of the most prominent pop stars in the world, and leads the 2020 Grammy Award nominations; Megan Thee Stallion’s scintillating bars on her debut mixtape, Fever, cemented her onward ascent; and the Highwomen’s debut album left the male-dominated country music establishment quivering. The staff writers and editors at Texas Monthly culled a mighty list of songs that stuck with us in 2019, all from artists we’re eager to see more of in the new year.

“Flush,” Abhi the Nomad

On his 2018 album, Marbled, Abhi the Nomad turned in an expansive collection of songs that span hip-hop, pop, and rock, a creative hodgepodge that seemed like it came from an artist eager to show that “rapper” was an oversimplification of what he was musically capable of. It was good enough to earn the India-born, Austin-based rapper an “Einstein visa,” allowing him to stay in the country—and when he came back in early 2019 with a new single, he went hard on his hip-hop roots, releasing “Flush” over a trap-influenced beat and almost certainly becoming the first rapper to boast on a track that “my visa shit is passed.” It’s the sort of infectious banger that marks Abhi as a sure talent who never sets up stakes in any genre, but is comfortable in a lot of them. —Dan Solomon 

“I Been On,” Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

Technically, this song isn’t new. The Queen dropped it on Soundcloud in March 2013, but it was officially released on the Homecoming live album she released this year. Featuring a pitched-down growl over a screwed beat, it’s a love letter to her hometown of Houston. Listen to Bey rap about Frenchy’s and Pimp C, and you can practically see her snarl as she does it. But the best thing about listening to this song in 2019 is remembering how much it blew everybody’s mind when they heard it in 2013 (well before the surprise release of Lemonade, back when critics thought Beyoncé just wanted to be a pop star). It’s delightful to hear her sing: “I been on/Tell me who gonna take me off,” knowing that, even more than six years later, nobody has. All hail the Queen. —Emily McCullar

“Cocaine Country Dancing,” Paul Cauthen

They just don’t make outlaw country singers like they used to. Except, perhaps, for Paul Cauthen. Room 41 is the result of two chaotic years the Tyler-born baritone spent living out of a suitcase in Dallas’s Belmont Hotel. The album captures the paradox at the core of Cauthen’s work so far: a deep-seated conviction to walk a path of righteousness, and an even stronger pull toward the wild side of life. It’s a rather fitting enigma for a man bearing a voice that somehow evokes Elvis, Cash, Waylon, and a hellfire preacher all at once. The best of Cauthen’s sinful side comes out to party on “Cocaine Country Dancing.” With a title like that, there’s not much to explain. —Christian Wallace

“Motivation,” Normani

Normani, a former member of Fifth Harmony who spent part of her childhood in Houston, has yet to release her debut album. But she’s given fans a string of impressive collaborations before finally releasing her first solo single, “Motivation,” earlier this year. Cowritten with Ariana Grande, the song is an infectious smash hit reminiscent of the early-aughts era of R&B pop, when artists like Destiny’s Child ruled the charts. In a dance-heavy music video, Normani is mesmerizing, nailing jaw-dropping choreography throughout. If the song and its accompanying video are any indication of what’s to come in the near future, the world might not be ready for her pop prowess just yet. —Cat Cardenas 

“Road to Trouble,” Jordan Moser and Molly Burch

Jordan Moser’s Long Night was one of the better soundtracks to the quiet, contemplative moments of 2019. The Austin songwriter’s album, an airtight collection of not-quite-sad songs, shined brightest in its closer, a pedal-steel-drenched duet with fellow rising Austinite Molly Burch. “Road to Trouble” is an atmospheric duet, mingling the weary, laconic drawl of Moser’s delivery with something brighter in Burch’s voice. It’s a perfect slice of Sunday morning melancholy in four minutes. —Dan Solomon

“The Valley,” Charley Crockett

It’s been a hell of a year for Charley Crockett. He began the year with open-heart surgery, made his Grand Ole Opry debut over the summer, and released his sixth album this fall. In between, the 35-year-old also toured Europe and America, played the Newport Festival, and modeled for Western clothing brands like Ely Cattleman. Crockett’s no stranger to a busy life on the road: he spent years busking on the streets of New Orleans and Paris, and played for tips on New York subways. But on “The Valley,” the title track of his latest record, he returned home to San Benito, in South Texas. This autobiographical honky-tonk tune about his upbringing in the Rio Grande Valley is marked by the kind of plainspoken poetry that launched the biggest names in country music. With a few more years like this one, it’s bound to propel Crockett to the same heights. —Christian Wallace

“This Land,” Gary Clark Jr.

There’s never been any question that Gary Clark Jr. is a world-class talent on the guitar. With the February release of “This Land,” he also proved himself to be a songwriter ably pouring all of his righteous anger—as a black man who grew up in a segregated city, “right in the middle of Trump country”—into his guitar. Clark channels it into a furious epic, with nearly six minutes of monster riffs and fiery solos that he throws down like a gauntlet. —Dan Solomon

“Highwomen,” The Highwomen 

The answer to country’s male-dominated charts, the Highwomen (a supergroup composed of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby) came to raise hell. With “Highwomen,” the singers retooled the classic “Highwaymen” song originally sung by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. In their version, each verse tells the story of a woman wronged by the world around her. The result is haunting, as their harmonies lead out of the song with a vow: “We’ll come back again/and again and again and again and again.” —Cat Cardenas 

“Almeda,” Solange

While discussing the creation of her fourth album, When I Get Home, Solange said that she had “so much to feel.” That’s a contrast from her previous album, 2016’s A Seat at the Table, which stemmed from her having “so much to say.” While this album may have felt like a departure from A Seat, this album was really a homegoing in more than one way. The accompanying music videos, as well as the short film of the same name, are rich with imagery from Solange’s Houston upbringing: throughout the video for “Almeda,” black men and women ride horses through the streets of Houston and pose in downtown buildings as Solange lounges and dances. The album’s song titles often reference names of highways, streets, and areas throughout the city, and the song “Almeda” is no different, name-checking an area in Southwest Houston. When I Get Home feels like somebody getting back in touch with herselfwith her body, her goals, her aspirations, and the places that built the foundation of who she is. Some of the album’s most powerful moments come from Solange’s use of repetition to manifest both her visions and dreams, and in “Almeda” she lists “black-owned things” like: “Black skin, black braids/Black waves, black days/Black baes, black things.” With a relaxed track and an effortless collaboration with The-Dream and Playboi Carti, the song goes down like brown liquor. —Doyin Oyeniyi

“Not,” Big Thief 

The leading single off the first album Big Thief recorded in Texas, the home state of its Wimberley-native lead guitarist Buck Meek, will probably go down as one of the best songs the rock group has ever released. It’s propulsive, with a staccato guitar riff that feels like a freight train, and the brilliant tendency to quiet instruments when it’s time to really pay attention to songwriter Adrianne Lenker’s lyrical poetry (and you should always pay attention to Lenker’s poetry). —Emily McCullar

“Highest in the Room,” Travis Scott

Houston rapper Travis Scott didn’t release an album in 2019, but he did unveil “Highest in the Room,” a song that feels like a part of the Astroworld universe. True to its name, the song topped Billboard’s Hot 100 in October, making it his second number one since the smash hit “Sicko Mode.” It features ethereal strings and synthesizers, a repetitive melody, and a dramatic beat switch to deliver a fresh, enticing sound. —Arielle Avila

“Father,” Robert Ellis

The Lake Jackson-bred, Austin-dwelling Robert Ellis underwent some profound transformations since his last solo album in 2016. Sonically, he transformed from indie-leaning country into the Texas Piano Man, an ivory-tickling balladeer swinging between Elton John and Leon Russell. Sartorially, he went all white. (On tour, he performed in a pearl-colored Larry Mahan hat, a snowy vintage tux, and shiny white boots.) And personally, he became a father. Perhaps it was his venture into parenthood that inspired this beautiful tune about a son reconnecting with his estranged dad. Elsewhere on Texas Piano Man,  you’ll find plenty of rowdy sing-alongs, including a raucous ode to “Topo Chico” and a barnburner lamenting how “Nobody Smokes Anymore,” but this quiet track deserves a close listen. —Christian Wallace

“Cash Shit,” Megan Thee Stallion

It was hard to choose just one song off Megan Thee Stallion’s debut mixtape, Fever. I’m a big fan of “Simon Says” and “W.A.B.,” but considering that “Cash Shit” is Megan’s first song to go platinum, it’s easily a fan favorite. The song is undeniably fun and has stellar wordplay: “He know he giving his money to Megan, he know it’s very expensive to date me / Told him go put my name on that account because when I need money I ain’t tryna wait.” Can’t argue with that logic! The song also features another standout musician of this year, North Carolina’s DaBaby. Megan is the last person who needs a man’s approval, but it’s nice to hear DaBaby appreciate her for exactly the things she brags about, including her general indifference to men. —Doyin Oyeniyi

“Move to Girls,” the Deer

The Deer continue to fly mostly under the radar, despite releasing three beautifully crafted albums over the past four years. Do No Harm stays true to the Austin group’s strengths, pairing down-home earthy folk with slightly trippy electronic instrumentation and heady lyrical concepts. Grace Rowland, the Deer’s singer and primary writer, proves yet again that she deserves the same attention given to prodigious talents like Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. For proof, turn to “Move to Girls.” —Christian Wallace

“Talk,” Khalid

Few artists faced the pressure of meeting expectations for a 2019 sophomore release the way that Khalid did. His 2017 debut, American Teen, made him one of the biggest stars in the world, and when he reintroduced himself to listeners with his latest, Free Spirit, he chose to do it with “Talk,” a bouncy, staccato pop pleasure over a beat by British electronic duo Disclosure. It was a good choice—not only did it become Khalid’s highest-charting single, but it grew up his sound while remaining true to what drew people to him in in the first place. Even two years into his superstardom, “Talk” lets listeners know who Khalid is. —Dan Solomon

“Neon Moon,” Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves‘s Golden Hour basically changed my life, and I had thirsted for new music from the country star for a calendar year by the time she released her cover of Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon.” It did not disappoint. If Kacey’s thing is taking all the best staples of the country music genre (twang, yodeling, heartache) and making them feel modern and accessible to a diverse audience, then her disco version of Brooks & Dunn’s best song is a fine addition to the Musgraves canon. —Emily McCullar

“Jerome,” Lizzo 

The Houston-bred Lizzo made a name for herself as one of the year’s biggest hitmakers by deftly slipping between genres and penning songs that sit at the top of the charts. But on “Jerome,” a track from her 2019 album, Cuz I Love You, she slows things down, stripping away the pop production and thumping bass that often lie at the heart of her biggest songs. Packaging up all the resentment and pain of a bad relationship, Lizzo unleashes it all in an emotional ballad with beautiful falsetto highs and soulful lows. Older songs like “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell” might’ve been what got Lizzo noticed, but “Jerome” showcases how far she’s come. —Cat Cardenas 

“Sugar,” Brockhampton

The fourteen-piece boy band Brockhampton, which originated in San Marcos, prides itself on being a group of misunderstood misfits, and their songs typically relay that angst. After a brief hiatus, they bounced back this year with a new album, Gingerand “Sugar” is a standout song from it. The tune is a more saccharine move from a band known for its high-energy bars. Still, their attempt at a slow R&B-style love song not only works, it’s also one of the moments on the record that makes it sound like the band has finally reached their full potential. —Arielle Avila

“Cathedral,” Hovvdy

One of the year’s most potent earworms was this low-fi banger from Austin duo Hovvdy. Released as a single two months before Heavy Lifter dropped in October, “Cathedral” has been in my rotation ever since. The song begins with a simple acoustic guitar that eventually blends further and further into a fuzzy background of drum machine and soft distortion and ends with an easy sing-along outro. For fans of (Sandy) Alex G and those who still miss the Microphones. —Christian Wallace

“Seventeen,” Sharon Van Etten and Norah Jones

While Sharon Van Etten isn’t a Texan (even if she did spend a fair amount of time in Austin early in her career), her reimagining of her standout 2019 single “Seventeen” as a duet with Grapevine’s Norah Jones was the best thing she recorded this year. With a meandering, jazzy arrangement, the two vocalists treat the song as a shared reminiscence over lost youth, in exchange for some wisdom that shines through in their voices. —Dan Solomon

“Girl,” Maren Morris

Fed up with comparison and competition, Maren Morris sings: “I don’t wanna wear your crown, there’s enough to go around” on the title track of her sophomore album, Girl. It’s an appeal she’s making to herself, but with its sweeping chorus and honest lyrics, it’s also an appeal to other women who have hit bottom. The song isn’t solidly country or pop, but, like the rest of her work, the song displays Morris as a vocal force whose best work comes when she stretches the bounds of Nashville’s comfort zone. —Cat Cardenas 

“Immigrant Eyes,” Willie Nelson

In addition to being one of the best American songwriters to ever string together a rhyme, Willie Nelson has made an equally impressive career out of covering other artists’ songs and making them his own. On Ride Me Back Home, he turns Trigger’s sights on two Guy Clark originals. Sister Bobbie’s piano leads this faithful, tender rendition of “My Favorite Picture of You,” which Clark wrote about his wife, Susanna, and which was the title track of the last album he released before he died in 2016. But the inclusion of Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” felt particularly meaningful. As news of the Trump administration’s family separation policy dominated the headlines, the lyrics that Clark wrote in 1988, describing an immigrant’s arrival to America, took on a bitter new context: “They were standing in lines just like cattle/Poked and prodded and shoved/Some were one desk away from sweet freedom/Some were torn from someone they love.” —Christian Wallace