What an amazing year for music!
The year is drawing to a close, which presents the opportunity to look back at some of my favorite albums of the year. There was a lot of music released this year at blistering rates; sifting through it all was overwhelming at times, and even more difficult was trying to grade everything on a reasonable scale. Nevertheless, I did my best to properly recognize the albums that I feel stood out from the pack.
Here are my picks for the Best Albums of 2018, including a breakdown of my top 25.
50. Bas – Milky Way
49. Tom Misch – Geography
48. The Carters – Everything is Love
T-47. CupcakKe – Eden ; CupcakKe – Ephorize
46. Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album
45. Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD
44. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
43. Chester Watson – Project 0
42. Doja Cat – Amala
41. Lando Chill – Black Ego
40. SiR – November
39. SAINt JHN – Collection One
38. JMSN – Velvet
37. Phonte – No News is Good News
36. Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen
35. Benny The Butcher – Tana Talk 3
34. Mozzy – Gangland Landlord
33. J.I.D – DiCaprio 2
32. Drake – Scorpion
31. Ivy Sole – Overgrown
30. Buddy – Harlan & Alondra
29. Freddie Gibbs – Freddie
28. Lupe Fiasco – DROGAS Wave
27. 6LACK – East Atlanta Love Letter
26. Megan Thee Stallion – Tina Snow
I’m going to be honest: I’ve never heard an album quite like soil, the debut album from avant-garde artist Josiah Wise (aka serpentwithfeet), and it’s certainly difficult to put this album in a particular box. With elements of R&B, gospel, and art pop, and elevated by gorgeously layered vocals and melodious choruses, soil is truly one of the more fascinating experimental albums released this year.
Texas singer Leon Bridges is a young man with an old soul. His 2015 debut album Coming Home was a beautiful nostalgia trip back to ’60s era soul music. Bridges’ latest album, Good Thing, is a little less tethered to a specific decade, preferring to travel a broader timeline ranging from the ’70s to the 2000s. And while the music is less retro and slightly more palatable to radio audiences, the music remains as soulful and romantic as ever.
The surprising and unfortunate passing of Pittsburgh rapper Malcolm McCormick, widely known as Mac Miller, came about a month after he dropped the most emotionally compelling album of his career. Swimming, at its core, is about struggle and perseverance; about the fight to stay afloat in the midst of drowning circumstances; about making the most out of what life throws at us.
See Also: In Memory of Mac Miller
Pusha T, the former Clipse member and the proverbial king of luxury drug rap, has spent a lot of time campaigning that his latest album, Daytona, is Rap Album of the Year. Even though I have quite a few hip-hop albums ahead of it, what’s undeniable is that on Daytona, Pusha doesn’t waste time or words, utilizing Kanye West’s spectacular production to craft what is easily the most concise body of work he has ever made.
Veteran is every bit as confrontational and abrasive as Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA is himself, as he takes aim at the alt-right, internet trolls, racists, politicians, rock music, Drake…literally anyone and anything that has the displeasure of being on the opposite end of his lyrical scope. And though Veteran is certainly out of left-field — being filled with off-the-wall samples and glitchy production — its experimental nature feels more accessible than off-putting.
BITTERSWEET, VOL. 1
On their website, OSHUN — the duo of close friends Thandi and Niambi — refer to themselves as the “sonic manifestation of Afrofuturism,” and there probably isn’t a better way of describing their sound, which often utilizes elements of what sound like space-age television sound effects. On their first official album, Bittersweet, Vol. 1, OSHUN channel the spirit of its namesake into a project that brims with love, sensuality, and Black/female empowerment.
See Also: ‘Bittersweet, Vol. 1’ Album Review
PIECES OF A MAN
It’s plain to see that Mick Jenkins, though only 27 years old, operates far ahead of his age. Jenkins’ sophomore album Pieces of a Man has him playing the role of a young old head, trying to connect with the generation of young hip-hop artists following behind him, while simultaneously delivering shameless opinions on current hip-hop trends. And though he never holds his tongue, Jenkins always brings it back to center, using his visceral commentary as an opportunity to reflect on his own journey of personal growth.
See Also: ‘Pieces of a Man’ Album Review
SOME RAP SONGS
“Two years I’ve been missing, living life.” Indeed, the relative absence of Earl Sweatshirt from the music scene over over the past couple of years has felt more like an eternity. With the sobering nature of his last album I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside, as well as reports of depression and anxiety, there was much concern for Earl’s well-being and the future of his career. Two years later, Earl makes his return on the modestly-titled album Some Rap Songs, a brief collection of music teeming with emotional depth and avant-garde production.
Smino‘s unique sound, syrupy melodies, and punny wordplay place him among the most entertaining emerging artists of the past couple of years. 2018 marks the second year in a row that the St. Louis rapper has dropped an exceptional album worthy of being in end-of-year album conversations, following up his acclaimed 2017 debut blkswn. On Noir, Smino takes listeners back into his stream of consciousness — which consists of Black love, lust, braggadocio, and alcohol references — in another delightful fusion of hip-hop and R&B.
See Also: ‘Noir’ Album Review
Tierra Whack received a lot of press in 2018 (as well as a Grammy nomination for her music video “Mumbo Jumbo“) and it was all rightfully deserved. On her very first project, Whack World, the Philadelphia artist presents the listener with snapshots of her incredibly vivid imagination, in a series of songs/visuals that only last for one minute each. With clips that vary widely in theme, from fake friends and shallow love to healthy dieting and pet appreciation, Whack World is creative, humorous, and the work of a true musical surrealist.
Black Thought & Salaam Remi
STREAMS OF THOUGHT, VOL. 2
“My track record is what I ain’t got a blemish on,” The Roots frontman Black Thought confidently boasts on “History Unfolds.” At this moment in time, the legendary Philadelphia rapper doesn’t have much to prove; he has long been touted as a paramount voice in hip-hop’s history and one of the most mesmerizing lyricists the game has ever witnessed. It suprised almost no one, especially following Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 earlier this year, that Black Thought would deliver another lyrical barrage on Vol. 2, this time backed by a blaxploitation-tinged production courtesy of Salaam Remi.
Kanye West & Kid Cudi
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Kanye West had a tumultuous 2018, and I’d be lying if I said that his disastrous antics didn’t at least partially affect the enjoyability and impact of GOOD Music’s Wyoming Session releases. With that being said, Kids See Ghosts, West’s collaboration with Kid Cudi, has both artists putting their better feet forward. Over a psychedelic backdrop that blends together elements of pop, rock, and hip-hop, Kanye and Cudi exorcise their “ghosts” on a journey toward self-acceptance and inner peace.
Vince Staples, aside from being one of the more interesting characters to emerge from the Odd Future-adjacent bunch, has been a visionary in the realm of contemporary gangsta rap over the past few years; his most recent album proves no different. On FM!, Vince attempts to capture the essence of LA by crafting an album that’s soaked in the summertime vibes that permeate the city year-round. From the features, to the radio segment layout, to the vibrant production, FM! is one of the most unapologetically west coast albums of the year.
See Also: ‘FM!’ Album Review
2018 is the year that I genuinely fell in love with Maryland rapper Rico Nasty, as both a musician and a punk-rap icon. There aren’t many artists in her class that are quite as unique or have as firm a grasp of their artistry as she does. It’s with this grasp that Rico forged Nasty, her first project as an major label signee. The high-octane rapper keeps the energy on a thousand on this exhilarating mixtape, which contains some of her most uncompromising, replayable music to date. Rico Nasty is very clearly on the cusp of being a star.
See Also: ‘Nasty’ Mixtape Album
Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
Curren$y‘s laid back, stoner vibes and Freddie Gibbs‘ aggressive, grimy lyrics probably seem like an unusual pairing on the surface, but it’s a match that works incredibly well on Fetti. The first-rate production, provided by legendary producer The Alchemist, serves as the perfect medium for Spitta and Gibbs to combine their seemingly incongruent styles. And while most might consider Gibbs the superior lyricist, Curren$y does pull his own weight on an album that displays each artist’s strengths without overstaying its welcome.
See Also: ‘Fetti’ Album Review
Jessica and Ivana Nwokike, together forming the duo VanJess, got their start almost 10 years ago, posting singing/beat-boxing covers on Youtube and garnering millions of views. This year, the they took their biggest step into the major leagues with their debut album Silk Canvas. And what an impressive step it was. The Nigerian-American sisters delivered one of this year’s most thoroughly gratifying collections of alternative R&B, combining ’90s R&B motifs with a diverse palate of danceable production that ranges from afrobeat to electronic.
See Also: ‘Silk Canvas’ Album Review
The Saturn Return, an event from which this album gets its name, is the period of about 30 years when the planet Saturn “returns” to the same place in the sky it occupied at the time of someone’s birth. East London singer Nao, now 30, follows up her spectacular debut album For All We Know with another amazing album, Saturn, which is a more mature take on familiar topics like love, relationships, and heartbreak. This atmospheric album moves away from the “wonky funk” sounds of Nao’s debut towards a broader expanse of tasteful R&B sounds, from alternative to afrobeat.
Denzel Curry seems to have followed the most impressive arc of any rapper birthed in the SoundCloud movement; if it wasn’t obvious enough on the song “PERCS,” he has outrun his peers, as well as the rappers he’s influenced. On his magnum opus TA13OO, Curry flaunts his best songwriting, catchiest hooks, and most substantive content to date with a much more expansive artistic repertoire. Curry provides further proof that hip-hop’s traditional values and hip-hop’s current trends can not only coexist, but can also work in tandem to make something really special.
See Also: ‘TA13OO’ Album Review
LOST & FOUND
London singer Jorja Smith had quite a year in 2017, with features on Drake’s More Life album and the success of her single “On My Mind” launching her into a class of rising R&B/soul stars that includes the likes of Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., and SZA. Smith’s debut album Lost & Found, though not a revolutionary feat, is an elegant array of soul. The album excels partly due to the strength of its fantastic singles, but mostly because of the classical vocalist’s rich voice and mature storytelling.
Brooklyn rapper Shayna McHayle, known as Junglepussy, has a charm like no other; her down-to-earth, humorous personality and overt sexuality shined through on her previous two albums, so it’s no surprise that they’re once again on full display on her latest album, JP3. Her first album in three years, JP3 is a well-produced, vibrant, fun project whose explicit, provocative content is a flashback to Lil’ Kim’s brand of sexual empowerment. Backed by frequent producer Shy Guy and a flurry of great guest appearances, Junglepussy delivers her best album yet.
Negro Swan, producer Dev Hynes’ fourth album under the moniker Blood Orange, might be one of the most gorgeously produced albums of 2018, indulging in elements of soul, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, psychedelic pop, etc. With sprinkled-in spoken-word commentary from author/activist Janet Mock, Negro Swan is “an honest look at the corners of Black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color.” From Black pain to Black joy, this album dips into Hynes’ past and traumas in an attempt to provide comfort and inspire hope for the outcasts and “black swans” of the world.
On her debut album, Isolation, Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis delivers melodious hooks and refined songwriting as she dabbles in an eclectic, blissful mix of R&B, neo-soul, bossa nova jazz, funk, reggaeton, indie rock, psychedelic pop, pop soul, and so much more. Every song on Isolation offers the listener something new and wonderful, preventing the album from ever growing tired or stale. And despite its heterogenous nature, Uchis’ debut album still manages to sound like a complete, cohesive body of work.
Noname‘s gentle voice, warm production, and earnest commentary are what has made her one of hip-hop’s most endearing voices, and her debut mixtape Telefone one of if not the best project of 2016. On her highly-anticipated, highly-acclaimed follow-up Room 25, the amiable vibes return for an album that is markedly jazzier and more organic. Newfound fame and the wounds of heartbreak have robbed the innocence of her first mixtape, but with her maturity comes more sophisticated perspectives on Black womanhood, politics, sex and relationships.
See Also: ‘Room 25’ Album Review
CARE FOR ME
In early 2017, the young Chicago hip-hop community lost rapper John Walt, which put a damper on an otherwise glorious period of time in the community. It was even more tragic for the Pivot Gang member Saba, who was Walt’s cousin and best friend. Saba’s sophomore album Care For Me is his attempt to process this period of grief and reflect on some of his life experiences. Like a therapy session, Saba is at his most vulnerable, exposing listeners to his existential fears and personal baggage in what might be one of the most self-aware, emotionally resonant albums released this year.
See Also: ‘Care For Me’ Album Review
Janelle Monáe‘s incorporation of science fiction into her music has made her a standout amongst contemporary pop/soul artists. On Dirty Computer, her latest audio sci-fi journey (with an accompanying visual), Monáe pivots away from the character of Cindi Mayweather and spotlights a new one, Jane 57821. Through this afrofuturistic, dystopian, pop-funk epic, she becomes an important voice for the marginalized and ostracized communities of society, while making profound statements about individuality, Black womanhood, sexual liberation, self-love, and substantive patriotism. Dirty Computer is an album that is as artistic and groovy as it is inspiring and moving.
Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
DaniLeigh – The Plan
Masego – Lady Lady
Joy Postell – Diaspora
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Jay Rock – Redemption
Meek Mill – Championships
Mariah Carey – Caution
Leikeli47 – Acrylic
Flatbush Zombies – Vacation in Hell
milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload
Alina Baraz – The Color of You