The 50 Best Projects Of 2018
Key: With streaming being gamed by artists more and more every year, the ability to release multiple albums a year is easier then ever. So to make it so Roc Marciano isn’t on this list 3 times (because honestly he could have been), only one release will be shown per artist, unless they are in a group of multiple vocalists. Example: Royce made it on here for “Book Of Ryan” and not“PRhyme 2″ because PRhyme is a group with Royce as the only vocalist, where as Milo shows up on the 50 List for his solo record, and in the honorable mentions for his collab record with NY rapper Elucid. Also every year there’s an honorable mentions list of 9 records, but since it’s the last year, 19 will work just as well.
66. Onyx Collective — Lower East Suite Pt. 3
65. Daedelus — Taut
64. Kasey Musgraves — Golden Hour
63. Sahbabii — Squidtastic
62. Chester Watson — Project 0
61. PNTHN — Potluck
60. Arctic Monkeys — Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
59. RetcH — After The Verdict
58. Jerry Paper — Like A Baby
57. Kooley High — Never Come Down
56. Mac Ayers — Something To Feel
55. Nostrum Grocers — Nostrum Grocers
54. Valee — G.O.O.D. Job, You Found Me
53. Pusha T — Daytona
52. Jorja Smith — Lost & Found
51. Buddy — Harlan & Alondra
50. Phonte — No News Is Good News
Released: March 2nd via Foreign Exchange Records
Genre: Hip-Hop / R&B
With only his second solo album in a career spanning two decades with raps that give a perspective of someone old enough to understand his elders pitfalls and young enough to change himself for the better. Made for people with shit to do but need a wake up call, Tigallo paints an every man reality in the time it takes to get an oil change like the many he’s been famous for painting before. “Expensive Genes” and “Cry No More” are his best showings in years with the latter of this 2 song suite touching on how poor health habits took his father to soon, and keeps his mother and himself in the crosshairs. In hip-hops short lifespan we’re just now getting to see rappers with grey hair keep up with the times, which is easy for Phonte considering everything he’s done to create today’s sound.
Best Tracks: “Expensive Genes” & “Cry No More”
49. Patrick Paige II — Letters Of Irrelevance
Released: May 18th via Empire Records & Patrick Paige 29 LLC
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop / Jazz / R&B
Southern California has been a space of inspiration for artists spanning all forms of music, but for Patrick Paige it’s just another space for him to exist and live with his own thoughts. His time being a wallflower with the most exciting band in music has given Paige time to simmer and absorb the world around him. The record doesn’t come out swinging with G-Funk grooves and party ready bangers, rather a rendition of “Silent Night” and muted raps dedicated to his sister. His confessional verses bring a safe feeling in the jazz and based album that has guest spots from fellow bass god Thundercat, band mate Syd, and southern rapper Kari Faux. Most of the record Patrick floats into his comfort zone, a musician aiming to create great songs more than create the next great star.
Best Tracks: “The Best Policy” & “Heart And Soul (Interlude)”
48. Open Mike Eagle — What Happens When I Try To Relax
Released: October 19th via Auto Reverse Records
Genre: Indie Rap
A veteran among the underground rap scene, Open Mike Eagle has done everything. Last year’s spellbinding “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream” was a concept record dedicated to his childhood housing projects, and every record before it were breadcrumbs leading to this art rap masterwork. Now looking to be fully independent, Mike goes back to his bread and butter of records that are song based over idea based. Relationships with ghosts, accidentally joining a gang (maybe?), and fitting into casual conversations in casual places presented from the scope of the over thinking outcast who now has a voice that carries weight. The heaviest line coming by way of “Southside Eagle (’93 Bulls)”, a woeful puddle of shameful self-reflection, on the first verse. “Trying to reach the black kids in a room full of whites” isn’t just a well placed bar, it’s the last piece of the puzzle Mike Eagle and his peer group is struggling to figure out. They rap at high levels, their beats are diverse yet distinct, and the content covers every sector of life. Attempting to show new ways to do simple things in rap and within the business of rap is the next, and final stone to turn for Mike, and his self-funded release is a step towards solving that equation.
Best Track: “Southside Eagle (’93 Bulls)”
47. Nao — Saturn
Released: October 26th via RCA Records
Genre: R&B / Dance / Pop
In astrology every orbit of Saturn around the Earth, a person is born again. “Another Lifetime” is the mission statement for the next orbit around the world Nao plans on making the most of. The core of everything in this LP is about forgiveness of her past relationships, and an eager vision on what the future ones hold. Her voice soothes the way an old Kanye sample does, high pitched and piercing, but surrounded in a relieving love. Still looking to find her signature sound to couple with her recognizable vocals, she heads in the right direction with futuristic pop and R&B progressions. Along her path of self-discovery she lean forward on a high tempo record with SiR, and a Daniel Caesar penned track reminiscent of his biggest hits, reclaiming them as her own. Nao believes and sings like a woman inspired, with her new life written by, and among, the stars.
Best Tracks: “Make It Out Alive” & “Love Supreme”
46. Vince Staples — FM!
Released: November 2nd via Def Jam Recordings
Genre: West Coast Hip-Hop
A few weeks ago I wrote something great about this album, a not so great Miami trip, but with a very good reason which was to see Vince and Tyler The Creator live. Here’s a link to it, because trying to condense it for the purpose of this list would be unfair to this album and everything great Vince has done. Read here.
Best Tracks: “Run The Bands” & “Tweakin”
45. JPEGMAFIA — Veteran
Released: January 19th via Deathbomb Arc
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop / Industrial
A life of bouncing around between New York, Alabama, across the ocean to Japan and Iraq, just to take roost in the rebellious melting pot that is Baltimore has shaped JPEGMAFIA into hip-hops critical darling. His sentiments against the government and Morrissey that are thrown around across the album carry the weight and diction of a sentient Reddit thread. Full of high pitch distortion you’ll only hear in a chop shop sit side by side with cryptic samples from Ol Dirty Bastard and superhero movies. “Veteran” sounds like a 3am trip down a Youtube hole of every rap act with an online cult fan base over the past decade with a hardcore punk twist. Not a direct child of any one act in rap or otherwise, and that alone puts him with rare characters. The shadow of other online outcasts turned stars like Danny Brown and Lil Ugly Mane is cast, but instead of being fully engulfed, Peggy screams his way into the conversation as an equal to these acts.
Best Tracks: “1539 N. Calvert” & “Baby I’m Bleeding”
Sounds Like: clipping.’s “Midcity”
44. 03 Greedo — God Level
Released: June 27th via Alamo Records
Genre: West Coast Hip-Hop
03 Greedo is more than just a rapper. A West Coast cult hero, now facing two decades locked away for drugs charges, with the ability to throw out 30 song projects worth every minute of air time isn’t something the internet churns up everyday. More Young Thug than West Coast kings like E-40 or Snoop, Greedo floated into the limelight with “street R&B” projects and Bay Area twists on southern trap sounds. Before jail stalled out this meteoric rise from the streets of LA, where he roamed homeless, Greedo was just hitting his stride. Working with Kenny Beats, ChaseTheMoney and, OXDB, as much as leaning on his own beats, was leading Greedo into uncharted territory. It’s impossible to explain what truthfulness sounds like on record. You can tell who is giving themselves in full versus who is trying to create a persona of something they want to be within the first few bars of a record. 03 is the gold standard of what truth sounds like in rap in 2018. An autobiography into his last weeks of freedom gives peaks into his past life that lead him here, and the fears about the next chapter of his life. Whatever is to come, whether it’s any configuration of the 2000 songs Greedo turned into the label, or his actual release on account of good behavior, we’ll be waiting on it.
Best Tracks: “Bacc To Jail” & “In My Feelings”
Sounds Like: Young Thug’s “Slime Season 2″
43. Trouble & Mike Will Made-It — Edgewood
Released: March 23rd via Interscope Records, EarDrummers Entertainment & Duct Tape Ent.
Genre: Street Rap / Trap
Real is rare in life or in rap, and with that in mind Trouble finds his niche. Bouncing in and out of prison, with another sentence approaching, the Atlanta street king makes use of his time. Guided by one of raps most talented producers, Trouble channels the unforgiving street life into music form. Not focused on telling stories or giving lectures, his sparse bars are mission statements on how to survive, and how to spend the time when things are OK. Mike Will’s ability to break the norm and experiment within typically trap sounds has always been underrated, just listening to the Drake assisted “Bring It Back” shows something that should never work. An awkward mixture of time signatures would be impossible for most, but Trouble isn’t held down by traditional rap rules. A man of the streets first and rapper second is what lead him to such an interesting lane in music, and it’s the one thing holding him back from being raps next big star from it’s most powerful city.
Best Tracks: “Come Thru” & “Knock It Down”
42. Payroll Giovanni & Cardo — Big Bossin’ Vol. 2
Released: January 26th via Def Jam Recordings
At the time if writing this Detroit is checking in at a crisp 27 degrees and St. Paul Minnesota at a nice 20 degrees. How Payroll Giovanni and Cardo make the perfect summer music is beyond me, but from January to today “Big Bossin’ Vol. 2”, the third in the series, is still in rotation in my car during the Florida heat that never seems to pass. Payroll’s hustler mentality translates on record seamlessly, giving nothing but game to people working to get like him. While Payroll motivates, Cardo orchestrates. The super producer has had his best commercial year to date started with the release of this record, but has only gotten better behind Drake’s “God’s Plan” and Kendrick’s “Big Shot”. His versatility to blend his go to trap style with G-Funk fits like a custom set of Cartier’s with Payroll’s vivid street tales.
Best Tracks: “5’s & 6’s” & “10 Years One Summer”
Sounds Like: DJ Quik’s “Safe & Sound”
41. Flatbush Zombies — Vacation In Hell
Released: April 6th via Glorious Dead Recordings
For yourself, or for the world? A question that goes much deeper then chord progressions and drum patterns, but still seeps it’s way into every artists path. The crossroads of making songs you want to make versus the songs for the masses has never mattered to Flatbush Zombies. On this latest record Meech, Juice, and Eric find a way to put the two sides together seamlessly. With more tracks that could fit in side by side with their contemporaries with “Vacation”, “Chunky” and “M. Bison” they still add their own signature twist with bars dedicated to drugs, questioning of American power structures, and their disdain with these said contemporaries. As the record progresses the shimmering party vibe comes in waves with moments of reflection on the path that took the crew to paradise. Meech pours his heart into a dedication for the late A$AP Yams, Zombie Juice opens up about the effect of his mother’s passing, while Eric throws his soul into the live instrumentation that guides their journey. Rarely does a group fire on all cylinders at the same time, and somehow over 70 minutes of airtime every verse projects an energy like it could be there last.
Best Tracks: “The Glory” & “YouAreMySunshine”
40. Brockhampton — Iridescence
Released: September 21st via RCA Records & Question Everything
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop
Stripped down sonics are the status quo for emotionally raw records. Brockhampton though has never been a group focused on falling in line. Hip-hop’s first self proclaimed boy band has broken barriers time and again over their short career, with their newest record being their most abrasive to date. Swaying back and forth between soothing avant-garde string sections, punk rap aggression, and tracks of raw vocal distortion. Each member has grown into themselves since last years trilogy of albums, becoming more at one with themselves and each other. Centered around the ideas of self hatred and internal battles to survive within oneself isn’t a new idea, but for it to be presented as if the listener is being caught in the crossfire is one. Joba and Dom McLennon lead the charge with the most air time, using their moments in the front of the pack to provide the most impactful performances of the groups budding reign in rap.
Best Tracks: “Weight” & “Tape”
39. Royce Da 5’9 — Book Of Ryan
Released: May 4th via eOne Music & Heaven Studios
“Book Of Ryan” is more the what created the person and artists that is Detroit’s Royce Da 5’9, it works like most biblical chapters, a story that questions what our morals are and how we should live our lives. Every track is essential, even the clunky wanna-be anthem “Summer On Lock”, in that they show a piece of the MC we know and love. His feelings on his own addiction, family, and mental health flow seamlessly through every song. Meshing together the shortcomings of his father and how it lead to his son needing a school assignment to finally know his own dad on it’s own is a triumph, but bleeding in how his family’s pain lead to Royce’s brother being a cautionary tale vaults the album in to special territory. As the album closes you feel hope for 5’9, seeing where he came from makes this bright chapter of his life the first of many.
Best Tracks: “Boblo Boat” and “Power”
38. Gunna — Drip Season 3
Released: February 2nd via YSL Records
Genre: Hip-Hop / Trap
In what has been a breakout year for him and constant collaborator Lil Baby, Gunna has made a name for himself built off the back of a solid mixtape catalogue, including his crown jewel “Drip Season 3”, the embodiment of the 2018 Atlanta scene. The lineage of Atlanta trap stars runs strong through Gunna, with Thug and Hoodrich Pablo Juan being the source material to his own style. His autotune drenched run on flow slips between Metro Boomin and Richie Soufs ethereal beats perfectly, and works in sync with every act featured on the project. Lil Durk and him speak about the woes of fame (“Lies About You”), while Lil Uzi Vert and Young Jordan assist on the after party anthem “At The Hotel”. Gunna’s versatility has separated him from his contemporaries, and helped widen his reach across music, being featured on records with everyone from Amine to Mariah Carey. Every 12 months Atlanta churns out a new batch of ready made stars, with Gunna being the valedictorian of his class.
Best Tracks: “Top Off” & “Car Sick”
37. Maxo Kream — Punken
Released: January 12th via Kream Clicc & TSO
Genre: Hip-Hop / Trap
A statement album can come a few times in an artist’s life, but with every release since “Maxo 187” the Texas born trap star has made statements with his projects. The way Young Thug is acclaimed (though rightfully so) by people who pride themselves on indie music and Pitchfork subscriptions, Maxo receives this same acclaim from elder statesmen who think mumble rap is an accurate term for raps trap based upstarts. The first great record to be released this year Maxo Kream followed a tumultuous few years were prison time almost ended his career, and a hurricane nearly wiped out his family in Houston. Through these troubles Maxo has found solace in creating auto-biographical tracks like “Grannies” and “Work” while still fitting in hard street records that fit in any gym playlist. One of the last rappers following the blueprint TI and Young Jeezy laid out in the early 2000′s, Maxo creates his own street mythology by opening up and being unapologetically himself.
Best Tracks: “Roaches” & “Beyonce (Interlude)”
36. Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y & The Alchemist — Fetti
Released: October 31st via Empire Records, ESGN, Jet Life Recordings & ALC
Circling the rumor mills and hip-hop blogs for months upon months, it’s finally come to light. Curren$y, the most prolific rapper sans-Guwop, Freddie Gibbs, the most versatile working rapper, and The Alchemist, arguably the best active beat maker in hip-hop, have collabed together and separately for years. Dating back to when Curren$y and Alc added Freddie onto their classic “Covert Coup” project on “Socttie Pippens” the idea was born for a full tape. Going back and forth over the 9 track project in an attempt to out-kingpin the other, Gibbs delivers his best rapping since a fallacy based European imprisonment, with an inspired Spitta coming in to bat cleanup. No coke covered stone is left unturned as the co-conspirators live fast and get away faster with a backdrop full of dusty soul loops that would make RZA blush. Forced collab projects have luckily slowed the past 12 months, with a gem such as this being the lone few to hit the masses.
Best Tracks: “The Blow” & “Willie Lloyd”
35. 6lack — East Atlanta Love Letter
Released: September 14th via Interscope Records & LoveRenaissance
Genre: Trap Soul
6lack follows up his breakout debut album with an album length ode to the city he grew up in, and eventually became a star in. On his sophomore LP, the songs mesh as a soundtrack to a poorly lit corner of the strip club, where the drinks and women are used to numb the fresh heartbreak at hand. Expounding and refining his trap inspired R&B croons, 6lack uses his sophomore effort to work out the rough patches of his relationship. Between striving to grow as an artist, the goal is to grow as a man and father, with being the perfect lover for someone else as the biggest test. His own insecurities lead to both sides coming up short on the J. Cole assisted “Pretty Little Fears”, eventually ending things painfully on “Disconnect”. All hope isn’t lost for love though. On the closing track “Stan” he expresses how for him, love is sacrifice and all he wants is the same in return.
Best Tracks: “East Atlanta Love Letter” & “Disconnect”
34. Chris Crack — Just Gimme A Minute
Released: Self-Released November 11th
Genre: Psychedelic Hip-Hop
Chris Crack is pushing everything we know and care about in rap off a fucking bridge. Dropping projects every few months filled with song titles that double as fortune cookies phrases and songs indebted to the outlandish day-in-a-life style Cam’ron and 2 Chainz have perfected this century. The mini-album / EP / whateverthefuck-you-want-to-call-it trend that’s picked up steam over the past 12 months has hit hyper speed with Chris joining the minute-ish long song wave popularized (but not invented) by Tierra Whack earlier this year. Within this format Chris has created his best project to date, allowing crooning that should never leave the safety of your shower over samples that may or may not be credited properly to mesh together with top notch rapping. Staking a claim as raps ultimate love struck slacker, Chris does more in 27 minutes then his contemporaries could do in 2 hours.
Best Tracks: “Turning Down Pussy Builds Character” & “Masturbate Before Making Decisions”
Sounds Like: Quasimoto “The Unseen”
33. J. Cole — K.O.D.
Released: April 20th via Interscope Records, Roc Nation & Dreamville Records
Genre: Hip-Hop / Conscious Hip-Hop
“Fuck J. Cole”. A statement, a mind state, and a preconceived notion all wrapped into a few words. Assumptions on who J. Cole is as a person are easy to make, he has purposely spent time out of the limelight and while doing so somehow became even more popular. Thousands of records and concert tickets have been sold, but in the back of Cole’s mind all he wants is to understand why “Fuck J. Cole” is such a go-to phrase at shows and within internet conversations. Taking the time to talk with today’s headlining class seems like a publicity stunt, but why would a borderline hermit want more attention? On and off record the North Carolina superstar tries to understand and provide a view into the youth culture that he once blew up from, but he’s now outgrown. Youthful woes about addiction, internet infatuation, and government skepticism over hi-hats rarely seen in Jermaine’s earlier work help to mold a time capsule of the pain and sound of 2018. College dorms and first cars were homes to burned CD’s filled with Cole’s Datpiff mixtapes and loose MP3′s a decade ago, and with the future in mind, Cole aims to keep this tradition alive.
Best Tracks: “Brackets” & “Friends”
Sounds Like: Ab-Soul’s “These Days…”
32. Unknown Mortal Orchestra — Sex & Food
Released: April 6th via Jagjaguwar
Genre: Psychedelia / Funk
Sex and food are the fundamentals of all Earths animals, and humans are not excluded from this fact. Our most basic thoughts revolve around these ideals, with greed and self-destruction sitting just a few rows back. The Ruban Nielson lead rock experiment has spanned every genre across it’s near decade long existence, and for this adventure they look to the darkest timeline. Every record is more saddening then the last, as the lyrics look deeper and deeper into the character flaws that run true between all people, most prevalent through those of great power. “Chronos Feasts On His Children” is a metaphor for older generations attempt to keep power in their own hands, no matter how poorly suited they are. This is the soundtrack to our dystopian future, that as time passes seems more and more a reality.
Best Tracks: “How Many Zeros” & “Ministry Of Alienation”
31. MC Paul Barman — (((echo chamber)))
Released: May 18th via Mello Music Group
Genre: Art Rap
Chewed up and spat back out by fans and critics alike over a decade ago, Paul Barman looks to reclaim the time he was robbed of in the past years. The past decade has treated Barman well, with a growing family and role as a professor at the Bank Street College Of Education in New York City, but even in time away he looks to drum loops from MF DOOM and Questlove to release his thoughts. Takes on the failures of previous generations, classicism, and religion are shot out at a million words per minute, rapping like it’s a race to finish reading a textbook out loud that he wrote. Among these newspaper opinion think piece adjacent topics Paul aims to give insight on his own ancestry and race on the albums thesis statement “Youngman Speaks On Race”. Coming off less awkward and cringe worthy then a Macklemore track of the same topic does, this version still has those moments scattered throughout. His high brow word salad style of rapping about the miscues of society is easy to hate the way Vampire Weekend once was, but like the Ezra Koening led band, more time with the music shows it’s not intentional nose raising, rather it’s just a viewpoint we aren’t accustomed to being used for good yet.
Best Tracks: “Happy Holidays” & “Believe That”
30. A$AP Rocky — Testing
Released: May 25th via RCA Records, Polo Grounds Music & A$AP Worldwide
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop
In an attempt to test sounds that lie outside the realm of hip-hops scope, the A$AP Mob leader in turn created just what he aimed for, one of the most divisive rap records in recent memory. Falling flat in terms of creating an overall experimental rap record, the textures and combination of features Rocky and his sprawling production team headed by Hector Delgado were some never seen before that only an artist of his stature could call together. FKA Twigs, Dev Hynes, Juicy J, Blocboy JB and Snoop Dogg have no reason to be on the same album together, but outside a detention center phone call from Kodak Black every artist is fit cozily among the ambitious LP. Returning to the altered Houston / Memphis sound he came in the game with on “Gunz N Butter” just to flip into a piano lead Lee Fields sampling street tale featuring assistance from French Montana and Frank Ocean on the standout “Brotha Man” is the beginning of one of the best album stretches this year that leads into the Lauryn Hill sampling outro. Unfortunately with his attempt to expand his soundscapes, Rocky shows up brightest as a rapper in tracks that show the Harlem bred MC dipping back into his old sounds and shedding the role of sonic ringmaster when side by side with Clams Casino (“Black Tux, White Collar”) or over more traditional southern hip-hop leaning sounds (“Gunz N Butter”, “OG Beeper”).
Best Tracks: “Purity” & “Brotha Man”
29. Kadhja Bonet — Childqueen
Released: June 8th via Headcount Records
Genre: Soul / Jazz
Kadhja Bonet is like no one music has ever seen before. A pulse of the future while indebted to sounds of the past, Bonet has no goals but to create raw beauty. High flying strings sections and cross dimensional baselines follow suit with her voice the way Snow White can get birds and squirrels to do her chores. The one woman effort sounds like a blaxploitation score guided by Curtis Mayfield, if Curtis Mayfield was some mystical forest nymph. The lyrics follow a life of self-discovery and realizations through emptiness, and her near-ambient style of singing matches the moods of her words and sounds to a tee.
Best Tracks: “Thoughts Around Tea” & “…”
Sounds Like: Parliament’s “First Things”
28. Post Malone — Beerbongs & Bentleys
Released: April 27th via Republic Records
Genre: Alternative R&B / Alternative Hip-Hop
In a short career that spans only 2 proper LP’s and a mixtape, Post Malone has rocketed to the top of the musical universe. Maybe due to his short time among us or by label construction, we really don’t know what Post Malone is. A true child of the Lone Star State in his country tinged ballads and rhinestone get-ups, but also bathed within hip-hop production style and feature list, while also “singing” the ways alternative R&B acts like 6lack and Bryson Tiller make their names off. Using rap as a springboard into a pop career isn’t an original cheat code, nor is it disappearing anytime soon, but Post never was a true rapper. Not even in the sense of what a “real MC” is but stylistically he’s been more an alternative R&B artist like the aforementioned Bryson Tiller. Hip-Hop culture yes, hip-hop act….not so much. And with this sophomore LP Post doubles down on this fact. Melodies stronger than ever, and songwriting that has taken a step up to a level that garners the success he is receiving all while reaching more into production side of the musical spectrum. Pop Rap records like “Rich & Sad” seem at home by the cavernous “Jonestown Interlude”, while Swae Lee and Ty Dolla $ign come in from the rafters on the most enjoyable singles “Spoil My Night” and “Psycho”. Whatever Post Malone “is” or “isn’t” falls to wayside for once in turn he stakes his claim as exactly what he is, an artist.
Best Tracks: “Stay” and “92 Explorer”
27. Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs
Released: November 30th via Columbia Records & Tan Cressida
Genre: Underground Hip-Hop / Lo-Fi
Stagnation is never an option for creators. After years showing his face only at spot dates and single digit verses officially released, Earl Sweatshirt comes back to the world with a new sound. Taking notes from leaders of a bubbling sect within New York’s underground in MIKE, Ka and Sixpress, Earls sound is messier and less structured than any previous release. The hazey abrasion relayed from the sample loops and intentionally poor vocal mixing transcribes the feeling of numbness, much in the way he attempted on “Solace”. The imperfections are purposeful, as are the raps. Quick verses mean only the essential phrases are being kept around. His fight against the pressure of being a child rap star that burdens him to this day and admitting his vices that he’s leaned on to combat waves of depression and anxieties either caused by or coinciding with his on again off again relationship with his parents. In an interview with The Vulture Earl talks about how he had made the album with the intent of bringing the finished product to his parents, one that lacks the cold rebellion against them in replacement of pride and admission of his mistakes, but his father was never able to hear that message. The passing of his acclaimed father, uncle and close friend Mac Miller in recent months makes the albums message stronger, and more heartbreaking. Even with the intention of getting to a place of comfort, life will never flow that easy. All we can do is try, and that’s what Earl sounds finally ready to do, nothing but try.
Best Tracks: “Viens” & “Azucar”
Sounds Like: Mike’s “By The Water” EP
26. Mac Miller — Swimming
Released: August 3rd via Warner Bros. Records & REMember Music
Genre: Hip-Hop / Funk / R&B
Nothing can be said about Mac Miller that hasn’t already been typed. An innovator, one of hip-hops great conduits, and for me personally, the reason I care so much about music. My first piece is somewhere on a forgotten Tumblr page talking about Mac’s move to LA in lead up to the June 18th madness that revealed new forms of Kanye, Cole and himself. On my wall still hangs the“Blue Slide Park” poster that turns the tracklist to a poem, and right next to it a stack of CD’s with every Mac release sprinkled in. “Faces” and “Live From Space” are untouchable works, mixed in an elite hip-hop discog. Now with some months behind us since his passing, “Swimming” is still a soul touching experience. His most honest and musically expansive work showed Mac looking to create a sound bigger then himself, and a message of working to get better. Thundercat hums, Jon Brion strings, and “them Steve Lacy chords” brought out something new and exciting even though the hurt is obvious in his lyrics. From those cringe Easy Mac tracks to now, he was a staple in our lives, releasing almost every year like clockwork with tours, features, production credits and videos to boot. Creating good things was all that he spoke of, with fame and greatness coming secondary, and that purity will last now in music for generations, most deeply though mine. Life changes, people are lost, but the energy he constantly spread will last forever.
Best Tracks: “2009” & “What’s The Use?”
25. Avantdale Bowling Club — Avantdale Bowling Club
Released: August 17th via Years Gone By
Genre: Jazz Rap
Lots of records of the past few years have had a hard focus on treating their records as therapy sessions or takes on societal woes. With his newest crew, Tom Scott takes it a step further. Inspired by fatherhood the New Zealand born MC, made famous from being apart of what can best be described as the Kiwi’s version of Odd Future (though predating the LA collective by a few years), works on acceptance of his troubled past along while trying to cope with the loss of close friends to substance abuse. The opening track shows Scott retracing his steps through life from his first steps to his first love with all the curve balls and missteps included. Progressing through the always powerful but never overpowering live jazz accompanying him, Scott aims to lay a new path for future generations, by giving all of himself in hope no one wishes to copy his actions.
Best Tracks: “F®iends” & “Pocket Lint”
Sounds Like: Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled, unmastered.”
24. Roc Marciano — Rosebudd’s Revenge 2: The Bitter Dose
Released: March 9th via Marci Enterpises
Genre: East Coast Hip-Hop
Roc Marciano has been in a different dimension all year. The rapper / producer dropped 3 rap albums, fully produced a record for Therman Munsin and an instrumental album over the past 12 months, with “RR2” being the highlight of his banner year. Dusty soul and blues samples, chopped by himself, Animoss, Don Cee and others, score the scenes the Long Island directs and stars in. Roc strives to give a first person view into an East Coast underworld filled with cheap hookers and fine powder, while being a ladies man himself at heart. Most rappers aim to show the dark sides of this life as a cautionary tale to young kids dreaming of hood fame, but Roc does the opposite. He’s proud to be the top dog in the life he depicts, and he relishes people bowing out knowing this game isn’t for the faint of heart. That’s what separates him from the rest of the industry. Marci’s hunger, his will to evolve and expand within his sound, all while winning head to head against anyone who steps on record with him, is what makes him who he is; a living legend.
Best Tracks: “Respected” & “Happy Endings”
23. Ravyn Lenae & Steve Lacy — Crush
Released: February 9th via Atlantic Records & Three Twenty Three
Genre: R&B / Neo-Soul
Simplicity is a key in life as much as it is in music. Within the few moments between national tours Ravyn Lenae came together with The Internet’s Swiss Army Knife Steve Lacy to sculpt the most enticing 17 minutes of music of any duo in years. The signature Lacy reverb heavy guitar riffs and drum loops lead 19-year old Lenae into crafting melodies and runs that are as refreshing as they are addicting. The songs center around different aspects of the whimsical puppy love that drives relationships, with abandonment of the concept of failure. With proper label backing and an already eager fan base, all one can do is hope that these two young stars take their place on top of the music world with more projects in the future.
Best Track: “Computer Love”
Sounds Like: Kelis’ “Tasty”
22. Lil Wayne — Tha Carter V
Released: September 28th via Universal Music Group, Republic Records & Young Money Entertainment
7 Years since “Tha Carter IV” and 4 years since it’s initial announcement Lil Wayne finally returns to the world with the last installment of his namesake album series. Luckily in the years since announcement the album has been updated with tracks being cut and added, and though tracks like “Start This Shit Off Right” and “Open Safe” sound like relics in today’s landscape (along with a very obvious “good kid, m.A.A.d. City” era Kendrick verse), the rest hasn’t aged a day. Hardcore fans who have kept track of Wayne’s sparse features along with recent “Dedication 6” and “6: Reloaded” mixtapes knew Wayne hasn’t missed a step, and if anything has added new tools to his arsenal. Reaching for a level of openness, that before only revealed itself in flashes over the years, shows a look into the psyche of a living legend across his career, and gives an explanation for why he didn’t want to leak the project into the ethos even when the ability to do so was always at hand. With this being the end of his label drama with Birdman and the amalgamation of every Carter album rolled into one slime covered package, what’s next for raps most influential figure is still left to be seen.
Best Tracks: “Mess” & “Dedicate”
21. Playboi Carti — Die Lit
Released: May 11th via Interscope Records & AWGE
Genre: Hip-Hop / Soundcloud Rap
Over the past decade evolution in hip-hop has come from the deepest crevices of the internet. Chief Keef grew from violent Chicago street life into Youtube and Datpiff stardom, Odd Future rose from a closet studio in LA to international fame via blogs, and SpaceGhostPurrp along with his RVIDXR KLVN crew spread like a virus through the south and Soundcloud. Along with SGP and contemporaries like Key! and Lil Uzi Vert, Carti helped create such a dedicated fan base through scattered singles, aesthetics and an unmatched potential. The content has always been purposely minimal (though this go he and Chief Keef give us the inter-sectional sex positive anthem we’ve been waiting for) in Carti’s music, and it never feels needed because he’s one of the best at creating tracks for congested concert venues with little security all while blowing headphones to dust. With Pi’erre Bourne kicking his early critics by molding the best produced album of 2018, though IndigoChildRick gave the beat of the year on “Lean 4 Real”, Carti has the space to give the most refined version of himself and the sub-genre he’s helped pioneer.
Best Tracks: “Lean 4 Real” & “Fell In Love”
20. Black Milk — FEVER
Released: February 23rd via Mass Appeal Records & Computer Ugly
Genre: Detroit Hip-Hop
The Detroit sound has been one of the few regional styles to remain intact even with the internet allowing genres to blend and sounds to be adopted unlike ever before. Mixing off kilter electronic music into the samples and drum patterns most rap artists would normally avoid, Black Milk has always been a flag bearer in keeping these textures alive. Detroiters pride themselves on lyrical potency and left-field flows, and Black is as indebted to this as any other local act. Dancing between live instruments like a coffee shop poet Black Milk talks about urban plights that have hit his home for generations from the view of someone who’s never trusted the authorities saying “this is normal”. Though he’s always been known as a producer first, his rapping takes a leap to a new level while threading together an endless stream of concepts ripped from the headlines and street corners.
Best Tracks: “Could It Be” & “DiVE”
19. Westside Gunn — Supreme Blientele
Released: June 22nd via Griselda Records
Genre: East Coast Hip-Hop
The darker side of the glitz and glamour rap portrays if you never leave the comfort of Billboard and Spotify playlists is something Westside Gunn and company are more than happy to serve. The samples are uncleared, the coke ain’t cut, and the artist at the center of it all is the most important man in underground hip-hop. With no help from Shady Records (surprise surprise) Westside continues to take it upon himself to run his empire with Conway and Benny by his side along with Busta Rhymes, Elzhi, and Roc Marciano in the wings ready to show the young guns how it’s done. As important as the verses are, the sample chops from the hands of Daringer among other legends (9th Wonder, Alchemist, Pete Rock) give the feeling of walking in the winter way too late, way too far from home. Given the torch years ago by Raekwon, one of the forefathers of today’s grimy underground sound that leaks from every move Griselda Records does, Westside Gunn follows up the acclaimed “FLYGOD”with an even darker sequel.
Best Tracks: “Brutus” & “Brossface Brippler”
Sounds Like: Prodigy’s “Return Of The Mac”
18. Black Thought — Streams Of Thought Vol. 1
Released: June 1st via Human Re Sources
It’s finally happening. Decades since The Roots debut album “Organix”, their leading voice steps out on his own. A quote from band mate and longtime friend Questlove from his “Questlove Supreme” podcast gave hint that this day was coming. “He wants to play in reindeer games”. Mind you this quote came from an interview with Scarface when the Southern legend spoke about after getting an exclusive sneak peek to the record that the rhymes were so good he had to leave the studio…”you better leave that man alone”, a quote from Brad Jordan himself. After years of rumors and whispers of a full solo LP that time and again was scrapped, the first of two EP’s was released and the wait was worth it. Curated by 9th Wonder and Khyrsis the Philly great fits everything he can over their sample chops. Rapsody and Styles P are the lone features, and as great as both verses were, Black Thought shows the difference between rappers, and whatever the hell he is, cause it sure isn’t human. Fans of lyrical miracle MC’s are given an early Christmas gift, but Thought isn’t a one trick pony. His takes on his dangerous childhood, foreign authors and historical politics never last more than a few bars leaving enough of himself on record to quench his patient fans but leave room for more to come.
Best Track: “Twofifteen”
17. Milo — Budding Ornithologists Are Weary Of Tired Analogies
Released: September 21st via Ruby Yacht
Genre: Underground Hip-Hop / Indie Rap
Art rap is everything and nothing all in one. Coined by Open Mike Eagle and spread among an underground community of artists looking to mystify themselves and their art in the ways of ancient writers while trying to push their ideals in ways never seen before. Milo has time and again proven himself as the flag bearer outside of OME himself. His vocabulary is as wide ranging as Kool Keith, he carries the diction of a foreign poet, all with the target audience of the creative black youth of the world. Reaching to spread messages about mental health (most notably on “Galahad In Goosedown”) and black power in near riddles while still adding touches of contemporary in ways he never did before. He raps these riddles about everything with the hunger of a man with nothing but a coin filled hat and his word, and raps about nothing on a quest for something new and uninvited. On what may be his final project under his most famous moniker, Milo has stumbled onto the new gold standard for a generation of indie acts.
Best Tracks: “Nominy” & “Deposition Regarding The Green Horse”
16. Meek Mill — Championships
Released: November 30th via Atlantic Records & Maybach Music Group
Meek Mills music has been about duality since his breakout “Dreamchasers”mixtape. The street life that haunts him, and the opulence he’s always fantasized about. The life of the party, and the man in the corner. After a year documented by newspaper headlines Meek’s drive is at levels unseen since his cornrow adorning “Flamerz” days. The recipe remains the same (a myriad of producers and features with a central thought across of hardship and hedonism) but the ingredients are of a higher caliber. Cardi B, Jay-Z and 21 Savage steal the show when called upon, with their own agendas against the industry that they are trying to redefine. Hit records from Phil Collins and Lonnie Liston flipped into calls of black power, government critiques, and ear shattering club records all while Meek’s pen ascends to new heights is on the surface what “Championships” is. Deeper the record is a celebration of being on the other side of the beatings from life that shaped Mill into a man battle tested by the world, and into an artist with a new lease on life.
Best Tracks: “What’s Free” & “Oodles O Noodles Babies”
15. Key! & Kenny Beats — 777
Released: May 4th via Hello / D.O.T.S.
Genre: Hip-Hop / Soundcloud Rap
Key! over the past few years has been both the Ground 0 for today’s budding Soundcloud Rap scene and the favorite rapper to your favorite rapper, while never having a solo project that garnered this affection. Perfecting his style with guidance from 2018′s hottest beat maker Kenny Beats, the Atlanta rapper is finally seeing the flowers bloom. From super group Two-9, to affiliations with Awful Records, A$AP Mob and an artist of similar cult love, Reese LaFlare, Key! has been accepted and given the spotlight by artists he helped put on and influence, acts of gratitude rarely seen in the rap community. Key! has perfected his sub-3 minute song run time by putting together the best hooks in rap while filling the space in between with rap’s best adlibs and nonchalant bars about drugs, heartbreak, high fashion and everything in between. Nothing this year has been as enjoyable as the mosh pit inciting hooks from ATL’s unsung hero coming together with the speaker breaking drums and subs birthed from the Connecticut born DJ turned super producer, that has been promised as the first of many adventures.
Best Tracks: “Demolition 1 + 2” and “Kelly Price Freestyle”
14. Dirty Projectors — Lamp Lit Prose
Released: July 13th via Domino Recording Company
Genre: Experimental Pop / Indie Rock / Folk
Rarely do we ever just enjoy great music. Everything has a narrative, a deeper meaning, some large cultural significance. Somehow this album is both one with meaning and just plain great records. In the wake of Dirty Projectors becoming a solo act on last year’s self-titled album, the band has again been reshuffled and re-purposed. With the pain of a breakup from former band mate Amber Coffman left behind him, Dave Longstreth seeks to let the world know he’s happy. If “I Feel Energy” wasn’t enough of a mission statement on, the production leans away from cold electronica and into fuzzy horns and inviting string sections. The yin to the yang of last year’s heartbreak ridden record, and such a quick turn around from that album shows Dave wants to keep busy creating truthful sounds with a new look on the same damaged world.
Best Tracks: “I Feel Energy” & “You’re The One”
13. Noname — Room 25
Released: Self-Released September 14th
Genre: Jazz Rap / Alternative Hip-Hop / Neo-Soul
Noname has been one of, if not the, best rapper alive for a while now. She’s run circles around everyone in her city from Chance The Rapper and Mick Jenkins and in her rare moments away from her hometown cohorts she’s done more then stand firm side by side with J. Cole, Kirk Knight and Smino. Now with more life lived the introspection and questioning resonates even farther then anything on “Telefone”. Her rhymes are poetry above all else, and the fact they’re delivered so elegantly while still cutting into the core of anyone willing to lend an ear. On the surface the words seem scattered and rambled, stream of thought like the near free-form sounding jazz used as a backdrop and the years she’s lived since her last release. But look deeper and the stories of life in a claustrophobic and unloving place reveal themselves. Noname goes many places, an unloving place, an empty place, a place looking to take her energy and give none in return. Her failed and blissful love stories come side by side, and sometimes in the same stanzas. Not until the closing record, “No Name”, is the core of everything Fatima’s artistic side stands for shown. Being a voice for those who had their own ripped away. The gone, the imprisoned, and the broken are finally given the chance to come forward and be heard, with their spirits flowing through Noname.
Best Tracks: “Don’t Forget About Me” & “No Name”
12. The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Released: November 30th via Polydor Records & Dirty Hit
Genre: Pop / Indie Rock / Electronic
This is the sound of the world as we know it and everything that will take the humanity out of it. Matt Haley and the 1975 want to be remembered as long as there is someone to remember them, and they take elements from records who have stood this test. Akin to renowned records like “In Rainbows” or “OK Computer” and “Blonde”, though with the conscious idea to sister these records in the process takes the feeling those albums created among fans out of it, the music is still great but with a grain of salt attached. Mixing the organic and more human sounds of folk music (“Be My Mistake”) into the robotic synths and drums of the future (the UK garage style “How To Draw / Petrichor”) gives a full spectrum of emotion that typical pop rock can’t. The title is a dead give away to the themes of the album, with Haley retelling stories from his own life along with one’s seen only by our eyes and our front view cameras. A look into the future of us, as much as the relationships in our past. It’s a season of Black Mirror narrated by a struggling addict, with he and his talented friends giving their two cents from time to time. The universal feelings of love or the failures that accompany it never grow old, and this record is built purposely to last with it.
Best Tracks: “Love It If We Made It” & “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”
Sounds Like: Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”
11. Jacquees — 4275
Released: June 15th via Republic Records & Cash Money Records
The trap-soul movement coined by Bryson Tiller that spawns from early Drake and T-Pain being inventive half-rapper-half-singers and 100% hit makers has dampened a decade that should have seen a burst in R&B greatness. Instead pushed to the wayside for the aforementioned sub-genre, the radio ready steamy love sick anthems from 90’s and early 2000’s R&B acts stayed in those eras with few flares of success in recent times, with Jacquees acting as one of the few to permeate through. With “4275” Atlanta comes out to support their local songbird, with Jermaine Dupri giving a cosign on the intro and Young Thug playing star of the show on the already gleaming “Studio”. Jacq aims for the hearts of every woman by crooning about everything an R&B singer croons for; true love, consistency, and someone who will always fight for them no matter what. On a record that finds ways to sneak modern production textures in side by side with progressions and melodies of old, Jacquees finds himself at home as the king of R&B in 2018.
Best Tracks: “4275” & “I Know Better”
Sounds Like: Usher’s “8701”
10. Hermit And The Recluse — Orpheus vs. The Sirens
Released: August 18th via Charon Records
Genre: Underground Hip-Hop / Art Rap
The mythological being that is Orpheus is described as an unassuming lyre player and poet who charmed every living being, even rocks in some tales. Ka is similar in his normality (still working as a New York City firefighter by day) and his skill as an artist. An underground legend that, as every album has been released, seems to be more and more a creature of mythology. Soft spoken with a recognizable rasp in his breath, he molds into the dark and gloomy beats given to him by LA’s own Animoss like he was a bass in a Miles Davis backing track. The record works as a concept album, with each track being a tale ripped from the story books, with a central theme that fits in the dark world we live in and that Ka has already fought through. On the opening record we are introduced to Orpheus as he wishes to be apart of a ships crew to entertain them through rough waters. From research it’s known this was pulled from a tale which he plays the lyre to distract the crew from the sirens song which took aim to hypnotize the captain into crashing the ship. Ka wants to be our Orpheus, our poet on the rough seas of life. Using his personal failures and painful recollections to makes us feel safe from the sirens in our lives, weather it’s literal police sirens or the people who wish to see us fail.
Best Tracks: “Atlas” & “The Punishment Of Sisyphus”
9. Blood Orange — Negro Swan
Released: August 24th via Domino Recording Company
Genre: Alternative R&B / Psychedelic Soul
An album drenched in such a “fuck you attitude” comes with the idea of hardcore punk, grimey hip-hop, or experimental electronic music. Instead one of many Dev Hynes side projects focuses this go around to show out, instead of fit in. In his own way the British multi-instrumentalist finds ways to fit in outsiders to share their own truths within an album already leaking from the edges in such singular honesty. Hynes over this record tells stories of trauma and depression along the path that is the modern black experience, queer or otherwise. In reference to some parts of the record he described it as to be “an honest look at all the corners of black existence”. With interludes from transgender activist Janet Mock that drive this narrative along with sonic patchworks that’ll mesh Project Pat samples and that famous Dilla air horn (air horn, right?). The persona that is Blood Orange has over time been an artist sheltered away to publish his feelings with limited outside interference. Yet the more open to guests Hynes allows himself to be the more layered his new masterpiece becomes. It’s an effort for the music loving world to consume, and for a struggling soul to begin healing with.
Best Tracks: “Saint” & “Charcoal Baby”
Sounds Like: Prince’s “Sign ‘O The Times”
8. The Internet — Hive Mind
Released: July 20th via Columbia Records
Genre: Funk / R&B
From the opening seconds of the intro “Come Together” you hear everything that is The Internet. Starting from Syd & Matt Martians love of early aughts R&B and hip-hop and psychedelics back in the early Odd Future days, the group has fluctuated lineups, and is now seemingly set on a 5-piece band where the original duo are joined by bassist Patrick Paige II, drummer Christopher Smith, and budding super producer / multi-instrumentalist Steve Lacey. The opening seconds of “Come Over” has the faint scatting of Syd, a rubbery bassline, light handclaps and horns and synth leads that could be dropped into a horror movie. All these pieces shouldn’t work as one, but with 5 artists with more ingenuity and talent in their fingertips then most bands can muster together for an LP. An album that oozes warmth, with lyrics equally inviting and soft, with sprinkles of social commentary bring a sound that is missing in the sonic folds of contemporary music. The lone feature being a spoken word soliloquy from the legendary southern poet Big Rube that delivers the topics crooned from Syd and Steve into a microcosm that focuses on self improvement, evolution and love. In under an hour The Internet creates something so pure within their sound that brings together a feeling as warm as a Thanksgiving dinner on your first break back from college, and as mindlessly fun as a car ride to nowhere with everyone you’ve ever loved.
Best Tracks: “It Gets Better (With Time)” & “Come Over”
7. Travi$ Scott — Astroworld
Released: August 3rd via Epic Records, Grand Hustle Records & Cactus Jack
A true child of his mentor Kanye West and his musical idol Kid Cudi, Travi$ has finally reached his apex. Travi$ for years has shown flashes of greatness as a producer and orchestrator of records much like the mixtape DJ’s that ran hip-hop for a generation in the early 2000’s, but as a rapper he’s almost always been the least exciting parts of his records. Yet a code has finally been cracked on this record where Travi$ realizes this for the first time and doesn’t force himself to be the star of the show, rather he becomes it by being the best auxiliary piece within this grand ensemble of rap heavyweights. Standing side by side with established powerhouses like Drake, Migos and Frank Ocean while giving opportunities (and show stealing moments) to up and comers Juice WRLD, Sheck Wes and Don Toliver. Scott manages to bring the best out every feature involved, while also curating a production team featuring a murderers row including Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Cardo, Nineteen85 and Murda Beatz, where yet again Travi$ takes a backseat, as far as credits go. Though the cast and crew of this mainstream juggernaut seem disconnected outside a few variables, they all fit into this record whose title comes as an homage to the long destroyed Houston theme park of the same name that Travi$ loved as a child. Doing his hometown proud by giving nods to legends like the late DJ Skrew and Big Hawk while doing everything off record one could hope for including a festival and music videos showing a psychedelic view of everything making H-Town what it is. Through rap history rarely does an album encapsulate the sound of contemporary music while still leaving room for futuristic quirks that show what music can become as perfectly as“Astroworld” has done.
Best Tracks: “Carousel” & “Astrothunder”
6. Kali Uchis — Isolation
Released: April 6th via Universal Music Group, Virgin Records & Rinse Recordings
Genre: Psychedelic R&B / Pop / Bossa Nova / Funk
To those that knew of her, this is what was always expected. Kali Uchis went from an unknown commodity from DC, to an internet sensation via Tyler The Creator collaborations, and now to the future of pop music. Stagnation in traditional pop music has been pushed slightly with the Lorde’s and Charli XCX’s of the world, but even then they come back to tried and true radio smashing methods. Kali has the ability to be an international superstar, already being applauded in Latin America for her Spanish speaking records, only with America to break into. Though the archaic radio system hasn’t been as inviting she’s become a staple in playlists, and personal music collections across the US. With her debut record Uchis leans heavily on collaboration with different producers on each track naturally shining through whatever is thrown at her like the star she is. Her trance creating vocals and secretly sharp lyrics prove she’s a one of one, and the sonic textures that are as space age as they are organic can serve as reminders to Parliament-Funkadelic even with exclusion to the Bootsy Collins single. Kali’s Midas touch extends across genres, and with this stunning debut it can extend across time.
Best Tracks: “Your Teeth In My Neck” & “Tomorrow”
5. Saba — Care For Me
Released: April 5th via Saba PIVOT LLC
Death has been the common thread between every elite Chicago release over the past decade, and “Care For Me” is no different. Writing through the pain striving to make it to the other side, the album as a whole is a dive into Saba’s psyche as a young man doing his best to be his best within an environment that hardly leads to such a happy ending. The team of Saba, daedaePIVOT and Daoud creates blank pages for Saba to spill his poetic troubles into, while the soul of the project lies in the life of the late John Walt (birth name Walter Long). The late Walt is Saba’s cousin who acts as main character on the first half of highlight track “Prom / King” and who’s life force guides Saba to this day. A family member our protagonist isn’t the closest with, but given the chance comes through and eases him along a reluctant prom night. Mixed within his dark view of the world after the murder of Walter, are bars on the inequality in his hometown and country, puppy love turned heartbreak, and the insecurities that every person feels day by day. The weight felt with every passing moment on the compact project drags you deeper and deeper down the path of not just Saba’s journey, but a path of self reflection as well. In 42 minutes a lifetime of pain and therapeutic self-evaluation is wound together to create one of the most personal albums of a generation.
Best Tracks: “Busy / Sirens” & “Prom / King”
4. Busdriver — Electricity Is On Our Side
Released: June 8th via Temporary Whatever
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop / Jazz Rap
As explained by former apprentice and young rap lord himself Milo, hip-hop is a genre run on electricity. Live instrumentation added latter, but based in turntablism, sampling and drum machines, it is one of the few genres that without these tools it would falter back into where it came from, jazz and live poetry. And it’s with those tools LA’s cookie-faced king builds his new record from. Busdriver is a rapper as eccentric as any the world has known, and one of the few carrying this persona on record. Drivers style on his most expansive LP equates to college level diction, coded self reflection, dick jokes, and homages to the legendary group Freestyle Fellowship that inspires him to this day brewed together with rapping from the angle of a scat jazz singer. Keeping consistent with these traits over the years, and even magnifying them on this record, has kept him as an underground legend with a mainstream breakthrough far from reach in a traditional system. Now in 2018 with an album of this caliber, where Busdriver relies on these core pieces of rap (live poetry, jazz, and electricity in raw sound or traditional production techniques) his one of a kind styles can be absorbed by the masses like he’s always deserved.
Best Tracks: “Me vs. Me” & “The Saboteur’s Mirror”
3. Mick Jenkins — Pieces Of A Man
Released: October 26th via Cinematic Music Group & Free Nation
Genre: Hip-Hop / Jazz Rap
Mick Jenkins is finally at peace. His musical style has varied over the past few years and projects but now with the perfect mix of unorthodox jazz and futuristic squeaks does he have the proper canvas to write his ever layered poetry on. With Gil-Scot Heron as the patron saint of this adventure in the psyche of society Mick takes jabs at the limited scope social media allows us to perceive each other and his deeply coded lyrics that go 3 layers deep it may seem like Mick is overthinking the way other great lyricists have, making research a priority to enjoy his art. Only after listening to the track “Understood”, is the theme of the album obvious though, that when you only understand pieces of anybody whether it’s someone you care about, someone you hate, or someone you know nothing about, you will get this predisposed idea on who they are. On this central track Mick talks about being an olive branch between the youth and the older generations that don’t want anything to do with them, and vice versa. Every day that goes by the question of what hip-hop is today versus what it was decades ago rages on in think pieces and Mick sees this as an opportunity. Using the rap game he’s entrenched in as a parable on how we act uneducated in an age of nothing but information when the want to become educated is the only piece we are missing.
Best Tracks: “Gwendolynn’s Apprehension” & “Reginald”
2. Smino — NØIR
Released: November 8th via Interscope Records, Downtown Records & Zero Fatigue
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop / R&B
We’ve all seen “ATL” right? And we all remember that scene where it’s Rashad, Ant and Uncle George are sitting around eating cereal arguing about cudy. THE cudy scene. That’s half the tracks on “NØIR” in 80 seconds. The slick talk of Ant and Rashad along with the familiarity of a family breakfast gone left in the most harmless way possible. The other half of the records are awe inspiring and head scratching by way of “Atlanta” (the TV show this time) episode where the world meets Marcus Miles and his invisible car. The St. Louis native for the second time in as many years put himself and his life on record in a way as true as any living rapper can. Delivered over the course of 18 tracks, works as a narrative much like “blkswn”, a normal night in the life of Smino & Friends, but instead is the soundtrack to after the club gets shut down rather than the pregame. Still in search of good food, great weed, and better women to share the experience with Smi croons, raps with guidance from form fitting production quirks, all while taking a hand at the boards himself. Outside his own beats the album is drenched in the styles of Monte Booker, Sango and THEMpeople, all working together like a round table of screenwriters making the best piece of cinema they can. Whether it’s the slick simplicity of The Cudy Scene or the surrealist absurdity of The Invisible Car Scene from “Atlanta”, Smi plays the wax that seals together the audio wine tip that tops any creative effort this year has had to offer.
Best Tracks: “Low Down Derrty Blues” & “Bam 2x”
1. Lupe Fiasco — DROGAS: Wave
Released: September 21st via 1st & 15th Entertainment
Genre: Conscious Hip-Hop
Lupe Fiasco has burned every bridge in the industry possible. Beefs with labels, rappers, publications and even his own fans have lead to Lupe being under the radar while delivering a landmark masterpiece of an album. An entire collegiate course could be taken on the layers within this album.“DROGAS: Wave” acts as a mix of the high concept within “Tetsuo & Youth”and the high level hip-hop fundamentals flaunted within “The Cool” with some of the best production in Fiasco’s entire discography. From jump it’s obvious nothing is being held back on the nearly 100 minute odyssey that takes the listener from the Middle Passage, to an underwater into a secret civilization, into tributes to Nas, Lupe’s favorite rapper. The first half of the 2nd installment in Lupe’s “DROGAS” series from track 1–9 tells the origin and many moving parts within the economy of slavery. A twist with this age old tale comes when storms sink the slave ships freeing those within into an underwater utopia where other slaves (known as Long Chains) controlling the weather live and give the option to stay below or return to land. The the second half of the record is where things become less clear. Is it supposed to tell Lupe journey as a slave on Atlantic Records the way the first half told of slaves being trafficked across the Atlantic, or is it the continuation of the story from the first half where the slaves reach American soil aiming to be great within their new found freedom through all the adversity living here brings. Tracks like “Alan Forever” and “Jonylah Forever” takes news paper headlines of untimely deaths of children into an alternate universe where they survive to be pillars for change in the world. Concepts aside, the pure musical prowess flexed again and again on his first fully independent release shows Fiasco’s gratitude towards the genre that shaped him. Immaculate flow on “Happy Timbuck2 Day” and callbacks to “The Cool” album cut “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” on “Stack That Cheese” grow the never ending reward case of side missions along the path of being a hip-hop great. Along the way comes a track fully rapped in Spanish, orchestral interludes, a sonic tribute to late Chicago DJ Timbuck2 that doubles as an ode t hip-hop as a whole, and production credits throughout leads to an eye opening revelation. There is no rapper ever, that has been able to do everything Lupe can do at level in which he does it. Now with full freedom and“DROGAS: Skull” on the horizon the potential for Lupe, and rap music as a whole continues to be limitless.
Best Tracks: “Alan Forever” & “Stack That Cheese”
Sounds Like: Deltron 3030′s “Deltron 3030″