To say 2018 was a great year for rap music would be an understatement. In reality, I feel like most years are pretty decent music-wise as long as you have your ears in the right places. However, 2018 felt different. The underground scene in particular really showed out this year. Several artists dropped multiple quality albums this year, which honestly is a hard thing to do. Sometimes multiple projects can mean less effort, but with these artists this was certainly not the case. Roc Marciano dropped RR2: The Bitter Dose, Behold a Dark Horse, and KAOS with DJ Muggs, and each one held their own. ANKHLEJOHN and Vic Spencer are some other examples of rappers who dropped multiple quality albums in 2018.
I’ve never been super big on top tens, especially when the amount of music I listen to is increasing every year. It just doesn’t sum up the sheer talent and amount of quality emcees that exist within the genre. Truthfully, there’s just too much great music out there…and it should be acknowledged. Honestly, this tweet from the legendary journalist, Dart Adams, sums up how I feel about end of the year lists:
There are 52 weeks in a year. A top 5, 10, 20 or 25 list for an entire year is narrowcasting & if you think a list of 50 or longer is too much for reader’s attention spans given the sheer amount of excellent music released this year then you’re part of the fucking problem…
— Dart_Adams (@Dart_Adams) December 16, 2018
With that being said, I give you my top 50, along with a list of honorable mentions. Let’s get one thing straight though: I enjoyed EVERY album I’m about to discuss, regardless of where it is on the list. Out of the hundreds of albums I listened to this year, I was able to narrow it down to 109 albums that I enjoyed. I derived the top 50 and honorable mentions from there. Also remember…this is my OPINION…so don’t act like a bitch if you feel like your album isn’t ranked high enough…or ranked at all (sorry J. Cole fans…spoiler alert).
Although I listened to quite a bit of music this year, I still didn’t get to all the albums I wanted to listen to this year…my apologies to Chris Crack (Thanks Uncle Trill), Cavalier (Private Stock), and Tierra Whack (Whack World). There are others as well, and I apologize. I’ll probably fuck around and make an article about the albums I missed and drop it early in 2019…but for now, let’s just get to this fucking list.
AAAAGGGHH – The Doppelgangaz
A Smile Killed My Demons – Vic Spencer
ANKH NASTY – ANKHLEJOHN
Acrylic – Leikeli47
Akira On Acid – al.divino & Estee Nack
Apologies In Advance – Sylvan LaCue
Bad Decisions – Termanology
Being Woke Ain’t Fun – Chris Crack
budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies – Milo
Czarface Meets Metalface – Czarface & MF DOOM
Diamond Dust Shoes – $auce Heist & DirtyDiggs
Dogfood – AA Rashid
Drug Politix – Precyce Politix & D.R.U.G.S. Beats
Edgewood – Trouble & Mike Will Made It
Elcamino – Elcamino
Everybody Is Food 2: Eat What U Kill – Conway
Grimey Life – Big Twins
Hitler Wears Hermes 6 – Westside Gunn
In Celebration Of Us – Skyzoo
Just Gimme a Minute – Chris Crack
KAOS – Roc Marciano & DJ Muggs
KLAP GAWD – Tha God Fahim
Kommunity Service – $ha Hef
Kool 4 Thought – ToneyBoi & Camoflauge Monk
Magnetic Memory – Hprizm
Mi Vida Local – Atmosphere
Nostrum Grocers – Milo & ELUCID
POISON – Swizz Beatz
Punken – Maxo Kream
Pure Beauty – SHIRT
Son Of G Rap – 38 Spesh & Kool G Rap
TA13OO – Denzel Curry
The Freedom Papers – Verb Tec & Vanderslice
The Lost Tapes – Ghostface Killah & Big Ghost LTD
The Pain Collector – Vinnie Paz
The WAVO EP – Hus Kingpin
The Widow’s Son – Apathy
Two Headed Monster – Blueprint
Vacation In Hell – Flatbush Zombies
Weapon OX – Big Kahuna OG
1st Baptist – Pac Div
50. The Best Album Money Can Buy – Vanderslice
A really solid producer album with some great features. Nothing much more to it. But that’s the beauty of it…there doesn’t need to be.
49. Everything’s Fine – Quelle Chris & Jean Grae
A self-aware album about modern hysteria with a great sense of humor. Beats are unusual but pack a punch…and Jean Grae is still a fucking beast on the mic.
48. Everybody Is F.O.O.D. – Conway
One of three albums from The Machine this year. “Slapbox” and the Pete Rock produced “Piper” are standouts in particular on this one.
47. DROGAS WAVE – Lupe Fiasco
A lot to unpack with this one. It’s not often you hear an album make several detailed references to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Tracks like “Jonylah Forever” will leave an impact on you for sure.
46. Streams Of Thought (Vol.1 & 2) – Black Thought
Yes, I grouped both together even though they’re produced by two different people (9th Wonder for Vol. 1 and Salaam Remi for Vol. 2)…and yes, Black Thought, after having no previous solo material, gave us 2 EPs this year. Do yourself a favor and go fucking listen to these projects if you haven’t yet. God-tier lyricism.
45. [D] A R K A N G E L – Sleep Sinatra
Perfect example of an underground gem. Sleep Sinatra brings socially conscious lyrics over well selected lo-fi, jazzy instrumentals. Never heard of Sleep prior to 2018…but I’m most certainly in tune now. Definitely check this one out.
44. Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club
I have a feeling this album is gonna grow a lot more on me as time passes by. In reality, this is a beautifully composed jazz album and, quite frankly what feels like a self-help book. Tom Scott’s storytelling is vivid. The jazz combined with the visceral lyrical content makes this a very unique album…PEEP IT.
43. A Breukelan Story – Masta Ace & Marco Polo
Masta Ace doesn’t drop shitty albums…like ever. He continues to prove my point with this Marco Polo assisted project. Masta Ace’s clever wordplay and creative song topic ideas never get old.
42. FLINTLOCK – Knowledge The Pirate
FINALLY we got a fucking Knowledge The Pirate solo album. After hearing this guy so much on Roc Marciano projects I was looking forward to hearing him hold his own on a solo venture…FLINTLOCK doesn’t disappoint.
41. DiCaprio 2 – J.I.D.
The most exciting emcee on Dreamville drops a quality follow up to his debut. There’s smooth joints, off-kilter joints, and just straight slappers. There’s something for everybody on here.
40. DUCK CZN: Chinese Algebra – Mach-Hommy & Tha God Fahim
Mach-Hommy is a national treasure. He and Tha God Fahim go together like a bread and butter. Tons of quotables on here.
39. Timeless – Dark Lo & V Don
This album makes me wanna slap motherfuckers. Enough said.
38. STUPID – Vic Spencer
One of four releases from Vic Spencer this year. Beats provided by Motif Alumni & Kas. A short, sweet, and to the point project from The King Of Living himself.
37. Consumers Park – Chuck Strangers
One of my favorite Pro Era representatives finally released a solo album. The city of Brooklyn shines through on this album. It feels incredibly sentimental…and I’m not even from Brooklyn. Great debut.
36. Book Of Ryan – Royce da 5’9″
Royce’s most personal album to date, and arguably one of his best. It was really touching to hear Royce reflect like this. Songs like “Cocaine” and “Boblo Boat” hit me hard.
35. No News Is Good News – Phonte
Phonte dropped a solo album AND reunited with the other members of Little Brother onstage for the first time in a decade in 2018. What a fucking year. This album is incredibly mature and Phonte proves that he is still an incredibly potent emcee.
34. Portraits – Chris Orrick
I always end up finding myself relating heavily to Chris Orrick’s (formerly Red Pill) content. This hasn’t changed at all with Portraits. This album is heavy and very depressing, but it’s also an album that really helps me get through a bad day. Highly recommended for those who struggle with depression.
33. 13 – Evilldewer
I didn’t listen to nearly as many instrumental projects as I wanted to this year, but goddamn am I glad I found the time to check this one out. Each beat transitions beautifully into the next. If you’re a fan of beat tapes you NEED to check this album out.
32. Mona Lisa – Joell Ortiz & Apollo Brown
Apollo Brown albums get automatic listens from me. His catalog speaks for itself. His latest collab with Joell Ortiz is another strong addition to that catalog. Joell does a great job reflecting on this album while also saving some cuts for his signature, sharp tongued lyricism.
31. Oil Change – Trapo
Trapo weaves his coated, introspective lyrics with some very jazzy, sometimes neo-soul, instrumentals, discussing his frustrations with the industry, being independent, and everyday life situations. Even though it’s just a prelude to his next solo album, it still manages to hold its own and makes for a solid project.
30. or more: the frustration – Mick Jenkins
Yet another prelude to a future album…and yet I still come back to it. There’s some great lo-fi production on here, and it fits Mick’s soothing voice perfectly. Short and sweet.
29. Duffle Of Gems – Vic Spencer
My favorite Vic Spencer project that dropped this year. Dude had one hell of a 2018, but I feel like Duffle Of Gems his most cohesive and poignant project that came out. Fourteen tracks with no features. Grimy bars for days…gotta love it.
28. Backyard Boogie – Fly Anakin & Ohbliv
Stop fucking around and start paying attention to Mutant Academy out of Richmond, VA. Nothing but dope material. Backyard Boogie is an example of that material. It’s an incredibly funky record that garners replay value. I can’t wait to hear more from Fly Anakin in 2019.
27. Monumentality – al.divino
This album is a fucking trip. It feels like I’m joining a cult. The production on this album is some of the most abstract shit I’ve heard all year. al.divino’s voice carries a lot of weight and is a big part of the reason this album works. His delivery mixed with mentions of Egyptian archaeological sites and sorcery are what really tie this album together.
26. Aguardiente – CRIMEAPPLE & Big Ghost LTD
Ever since I started listening to CRIMEAPPLE I’ve a had a serious urge to start taking Spanish classes. But on the real, this Jersey native can rap his fucking ass off. Just play “Palo Santo” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Big Ghost LTD takes control of the boards on this one. Aguardiente is one of three full length projects Big Ghost has produced this year. He paints a great landscape for CRIMEAPPLE to flex his lyrical muscles.
25. Behold A Dark Horse – Roc Marciano
Roc Marciano dropped three albums this year. Let that sink in. He most certainly has a case for rap MVP of the year. Behold A Dark Horse was the second of the three to drop. Roc keeps the bar level high, and brings in some incredible guests along the way (Black Thought and Busta Rhymes to name a few).
24. Afrikan Folk Music From Out the Diaspora – Estee Nack
I saw Estee Nack’s name all over the place in 2018. From his collab tapes with al.divino, to the countless times he was featured on someone else’s track, Estee really put on quite the show. Afrikan Folk Music From Out the Diaspora is a great showcase of his lyrical ability and braggadocios personality. The dope production and well selected features make this project worth returning to multiple times.
23. Blakk Tape – Conway
This album literally sounds like a dark alleyway. Conway dropped three albums this year but Blakk Tape was easily the most haunting out of the three. Most of the beats are handled by Griselda Records‘ in-house producer, Daringer, which would explain the cohesiveness of the album. Want dark, gritty street raps? Listen to Blakk Tape.
22. Pieces of a Man – Mick Jenkins
Yet again, Mick Jenkins has delivered us another solid, well thought out album. It was refreshing to hear Mick diverge from the topics of water and “the healing component”, and tackle something much more broader and vague. Pieces of a Man covers several different topics, ranging from consensual sex, today’s youth, and his place within in the music industry. It’s a solid listen from beginning to end.
21. Room 25 – Noname
Noname is one of the most engaging and poetic emcees we have today in rap music. Her quiet delivery is incredibly calming. On Room 25 she explores the exploitation of black stereotypes and delves deep into self reflection. It’s quite the project to unpack, and lyrics require some deciphering…but at the end of the day, Room 25 is a gorgeous, and vulnerable, album.
20. The Yellow House – ANKHLEJOHN
ANKHLEJOHN became one of my favorite emcees this year. His savage delivery separates him from most other rappers. The Yellow House is an album inspired by a fast food spot on Minnesota Ave in Washington DC. It’s a musical manifestation of ugly elegance. Great project.
19. Million Dollar Mink – Codenine & Paranom
Lynn, Massachusetts is where it’s at. Add Codenine and Paranom to the long list of current buzzing emcees and producers coming from the area, most associated with the Tragic Allies crew. Million Dollar Mink, much like the title itself, is incredibly luxurious. It feels like every bar is flex and all I can picture when I listen to this album are chandeliers and champagne. Gorgeous album.
18. Street Farmacy – Rome Streetz & Farma Beats
Street Farmacyis legitimate musical heroin. The hard knocking, vile production from Farma Beats provide an appropriate canvas for Rome Streetz’ narcotic-twined bars. It’s a short but sweet listen that will satisfy the cravings of any starved fan of mafioso rap. Rome raps very raw, yet sounds smooth as ever as he dives into tales of his upbringing and street life.
17. Medellin II: Don Fabio – SmooVth & Giallo Point
This album sounds like a blaxploitation movie. SmooVth raps smoothly and callously on this project, with Giallo Point providing a cinematically crime influenced background. There’s also some incredible features on here.
16. Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
Once I heard Earl started fucking around with Mach-Hommy, I knew exactly what kind of artistic direction he was heading in. Some Rap Songs is the product of Earl spending quite a bit of time with underground rap artists. As a result, he made an incredibly personal album and arguably his most sonically challenging yet.
15. Pressure Cooker – Daniel Son & Futurewave
This album is straight filth. These Futurewave beats are fucking fantastic and Daniel Son is a force to be reckoned with on the mic. It’s an album that can be somewhat glitchy, even electronic at times, yet is made within the same vein as a Mobb Deep project. Truly a unique album.
14. RR2: The Bitter Dose – Roc Marciano
The sequel to his 2017 release, Rosebudd’s Revenge. The samples selected for this album are immaculate, and the way Roc spits his game over them is brilliant. It’s glorious pimp music, and it never gets old.
13. FEVER – Black Milk
Black Milk still hasn’t lost his touch after all these years. In fact, FEVER might be one of his best releases ever, and considering the quality of his discography, that’s saying something. The production on this album is absolutely divine and takes you on a beautiful journey every time you put it on.
12. Walking On Water – Elcamino
When people mention the Buffalo rap scene, names like Westside Gunn and Conway tend to be brought up. It’s time to start mentioning Elcamino within these convos. Walking On Water is a story of triumph, and includes some of the grittiest street raps released in 2018. Definitely give this project a look.
11. Fetti – Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
Arguably the most well composed album of 2018 (props to The Alchemist). Shit sounds like a movie. Each track blends right into the next. It’s a great example of how keeping simple can pay off in dividends when it comes to the final product. Everyone involved gave their A game. This is one hell of an album.
10. Jericho Jackson – Jericho Jackson (Elzhi & Khrysis)
Established North Carolina producer and Jamla representative, Khrysis, and legendary Detroit emcee, Elzhi, linked up to bring us an album that truly embodies the meaning of chemistry. Khrysis and Elzhi mesh beautifully on Jericho Jackson. The traditional boom-bap, and sometimes funky, production provides Elzhi with tremendous flexibility. Thus, the final product is a rap album that covers a variety of topics while embodying the core principles of rap music.
9. VAN GHOST – ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost LTD
Big Ghost LTD is an great example of a producer that values this idea of chemistry. His album with DC native, ANKHLEJOHN, is arguably the most finely tuned out of the three collaborative albums he’s curated this year. The lyrical content delivered in VAN GHOST is haunting. “The Yellow House” will forever be ingrained in my brain and is one of the most sinister and thunderous songs I’ve heard in a long time.
8. DAYTONA – Pusha T
Although not labeled as a collaborative album, DAYTONA is certainly within the same vein as one, considering Kanye West produced the entirety of it. It’s the shortest album on my list, but it packs one hell of a punch. Pusha T’s brick raps never get old to me, and his rhymes on DAYTONA are nothing short of mafioso excellence.
7. Supreme Blientele – Westside Gunn
We can’t talk about rap music in 2018 without bringing up Griselda Records. Westside Gunn continued to build on his already strong resume. This is a braggadocios, yet elegant, display of the culture, or to put it simply…FLY SHIT. The beats are excellent, the features are memorable, and Westside Gunn serves as an excellent host. Loved this album.
6. Tana Talk 3 – Benny
Benny finally dropped his first official album on the Griselda Records label. Tana Talk 3 is hard-bodied, technical display of skill and stories about moving weight. It righteously represents Buffalo, NY to the fullest and captures the essence of the city. Production is handled exclusively by Daringer and The Alchemist, allowing for peak cohesiveness. I can’t get this album out of my head.
5. CARE FOR ME – Saba
Great albums evoke emotion. Something pretty much all of the albums on this list did for me. However, CARE FOR ME, may have taken me on the most visceral emotional journey out of all of them. Saba’s story-telling is captivating, and the way he unveils the story of his late friend and fellow emcee, John Walt (R.I.P.), is incredibly heartbreaking. It’s an incredibly beautiful album and a must listen for any fan of rap music.
4. 9 Roses – Codenine & Mr. Rose
Sometimes an album can move you just from the lyrical ability demonstrated on the tracks. This was the exact scenario for me when I listened to 9 Roses. Codenine is an incredibly underrated emcee. Both he, and the album’s producer, Mr. Rose, hail from Lynn, Massachusetts (if you haven’t figured out Lynn is worth paying attention to by now, you need to get your shit together). Codenine rhymes so smoothly on 9 Roses that it almost seems effortless. I got to this album later than most, but goddamn did it leave me floored.
3. Weather Or Not – Evidence
The Dilated Peoples representative calmly destroyed every track on his latest album. He spit game, he was introspective, and he picked incredible beats. Weather Or Not was truly an album that embodied hip-hop. Knowing the pain that Evidence was going through making this album only makes it that more meaningful and significant. Fantastic album that lacks any bad tracks.
2. Paraffin – Armand Hammer (billy woods & ELUCID)
Armand Hammer (ELUCID & billy woods) seemed to pick up right where they left off with their 2017 release, ROME. Chaotic, cryptic, impoverished raps over wildly eclectic production. Paraffin immerses you immediately into it’s dark world and leaves you with chills down your spine. Multiple listenings will be required…but it’s fucking worth it. Christ, I loved this album.
1. Orpheus vs. The Sirens – Hermit & The Recluse (KA & Animoss)
Ka is easily one of the most gifted lyricists we have in rap music today. On Orpheus vs. The Sirens, he uses various aspects of Greek mythology as metaphors for street life, as well as himself and his rap career (Ka = Orpheus). The amount of quotables on this album is truly astounding. Every sentence and word means something…you feel privileged to hear every syllable. Animoss provides a profoundly cinematic background to Ka’s poems, making Orpheus vs. The Sirens, without a doubt, the best rap album of 2018 (in my opinion, of course).