Best L.A. music moments of 2019: YG celebrates Nipsey Hussle, Cuco throws a block party

YG performs at Coachella on April 14.
(Peter and Maria Hoey / For The Times)

An Instagram search on #lamusic will reveal the futility of corralling a meager 10 musical moments into a year-end list. What follows is a ranked rundown of, for lack of a better term, music-related things that reveal the bounty of creative energy being generated in L.A.

YG towers above the Sahara stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

1. YG sends off Nipsey Hussle at Coachella (April 14 and April 21). Two weeks prior to Compton rapper YG’s debut at Coachella, his best friend and collaborator Nipsey Hussle was killed in front of Hussle’s Marathon clothing store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. As the city grieved, YG was mourning while also preparing for the biggest performance of his life. Hussle, in fact, had been planning to show up for a cameo. That Sunday in the Sahara Tent, YG stood before a packed crowd and let loose with a searing, emotionally charged set that he dedicated to Hussle, whose image was projected onto screens.

2. Jenny Lewis releases her album “On the Line” (March 22). One of the city’s great chroniclers must have been hoarding lyrical ideas, because the sheer volume of killers on this record is overwhelming. Whether she’s “wired on Red Bull and Hennessy” during a song of the same name or singing the fatalistic couplet “Everybody’s gotta pay that toll and maybe / After all is said and done, we’ll all be skulls,” the singer-songwriter keeps hitting creative peaks.


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3. Cuco throws a block party (July 28). The feel-good Sunday party thrown by the Hawthorne heartbreaker at Grand Park in downtown L.A. capped a wild year for the artist. With a fat advance check from an Interscope label deal, the artist invited his devoted young flock to celebrate the release of “Para Mi,” his first album, with a communal afternoon of dance, food and carefree carousing. Community building in action, the event felt like a movement gaining traction.

4. Mustard’s Instagram never sleeps. Style tips, advice, marketing pitches, pep talks, backstage scenes, weight loss tips: Rap producer Mustard’s busy Instagram is a stream of moments, each made possible by his astounding hit-making success over the past half-decade. Scored by the artist’s latest tracks, the videos are a blast and the photos are so celebratory, especially those with his family, that you can’t help feeling happy for the man.

5. Zebulon builds a scene. The Frogtown bar-restaurant-club complex relocated from New York a few years ago, and it’s already established itself as the most inventive music venue in the city. The kind of place that rewards spontaneity and experimentation, the space this year booked painter and singer Terry Allen, experimental metal band Liturgy, breakout math-rock band Black Midi, the Sun Ra Arkestra, guitarist William Tyler, and the duo of Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore.

6. The Broad introduces the “Black Fire Concert Series” (July 17, Aug. 14). Organized in conjunction with the downtown museum’s “Soul of a Nation” exhibit, the Broad’s astounding set of summer events connected visual and aural art through a series of performances by avant-jazz titans including drummer Roscoe Mitchell and saxophonist Anthony Braxton. Mixed in with future-beat performances by California artists including Teebs, Terrace Martin and Beans, the roster was as vital as the visual art.

7. Dueto Dos Rosas play at Viva Pomona (Aug. 24). They’re not hip and they don’t pretend to be, but the sibling duo Dueto Dos Rosas have created renditions of classic Mexican rancheras that have earned them millions of YouTube views. Dressed in traditional Mexican outfits, the young harmony singers sent Vans-wearing hipsters into a tizzy in August with a soaring set at the underground Latin music festival in Pomona.

8. Mac DeMarco unveils the first in a trio of videos (March 5). The Echo Park resident coupled his curious album-length soft-rock meditation on nothingness, “Here Comes the Cowboy,” with a series of videos that featured him as a lizard man, a faceless magician and a scrawny alien working on an old computer. Viewed singly, they’re as surreal as they are striking. Taken as a whole, though, the videos create the sense that we’re entering the DeMarco Cinematic Universe, one that by the end of the year has grown to envelop the new DeMarco-directed Iggy Pop video.

9. Highland Park becomes a nightlife destination. The eastward migration of the city’s cutting-edge music community has been occurring for much of the ’10s, but only in the past year has Highland Park fully established its new (overly gentrified) character as a hub. With venues including the Hi-Hat, the Lodge Room and the Highland Park Bowl; record stores Permanent, Gimme Gimme and Mount Analog; and producer Adrian Younge’s Linear Labs recording studio and record shop, musical frequencies permeate the air. Plus, Billie Eilish grew up there.

10. Leaving Records celebrates a decade. Founded as a cassette label by the experimental electronic musician Matthewdavid, the imprint has expanded both its reach and its character. This year it issued the acclaimed debut by minimalist composer Ana Roxanne, a studio album by Carlos Niño & Friends, a live session by bassist-composer Sam Wilkes and half a dozen limited cassettes. It also hosted a twice-monthly gathering at Tierra de la Culebra in Highland Park called “Listen to Music Outside in the Daylight Under a Tree,” which will continue in 2020.