If you’re reading this, you’ve made it through 165 days of the 2018 calendar year. From double-disc releases to scathing rap beefs, midnight releases, and a five-album saga, 2018 has been an incredible year of rapper’s bringing their A-Game. To that end, some of the staff writers and myself have compiled our favorite top ten albums of 2018. The following lists reflect each writer’s personal taste. We invite you to weigh in accordingly. [Read more…] about Editorial Pick: Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2018 (So Far)
Directed by Dave Meyers & Dave Free (of The Little Homies), Jay Rock with some ad-lib backup from Kendrick come bellowing in with a squad of trumpets and trombones for the WIN music video.
With Jay Rock’s third album arriving on June 15th, the visual for his single is packed to the brim with cameos from his TDE labelmates and a crisp black filter all over the video. From winning the trophy to duck hunting to riding around in his ride. Jay Rock is winning no matter how you put it. Watch the video for the single below:
“To be a woman who loves hip-hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours”.—Ava DuVernay
I began writing this story on August 26, 2017—observing carefully XXXTentacion’s emergence into the public eye. And on August 26th, 2017 #WomensEqualityDay, Kendrick Lamar co-signed XXXTentacion‘s premiere full-length debut 17 by enthusiastically gushing over the album’s power to capture raw, honest emotion. The young rapper from South Florida who has a well-documentary of violence: home invasion, armed robbery, and aggravated battery with a firearm. The rapper was released earlier in 2017 for domestic battery by strangulation of a pregnant woman, who was his then-girlfriend. Yet, I never finished writing this story because I thought, even with winning the grace and favor of King Kendrick, ultimately hip-hop could not accept someone like XXXTentacion.
Kendrick, over the years, has been both galvanized as the rap god taking hip-hop in a right direction, yet has been accused of imposing misogynistic comments on women and their bodies. Back in April 2017, the rapper came under fire for his standout single “Humble” and lyrics which allegedly shamed women who do anything to enhance their appearances: “I’m so f**kin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop / Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor / Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks”. Now, one can make the excuse that it’s an earnest attempt to speak to how black women should love themselves in their natural state, yet this lyric works two-fold 1. It implies that women who digitally enhance their look are self-hating, and 2. Pits women against each other in some sad Twitter melee to prove who has more worth. And yet at this point, we expect it from our favorite rappers—to objectify women, to assert their clout and wealth, and quietly we accept it. Myself, too many times, included. We hold Kendrick to a particular standard we just do not hold other rappers to. For better or worse, whether you agree or not (numbers stand the test of time) Kendrick is a living legend. His singular presence has left a profound mark on the culture. This is why I must be critical of Kendrick and who he chooses to publicly support. When he speaks, he has the hearts and minds of the hip-hop community in his hand.
While Kendrick missed the mark entirely, it’s difficult to see him as a stereotypical rapper who scapegoats womens’ bodies to sell a hot track. Kendrick has shown massive support for SZA throughout her career, especially with CTRL out in the world and now with her name on the credits for Black Panther. Kendrick constantly picks regular-looking women to be in his music videos. That was my initial confusion over his co-signing the young and very troubled rapper, a troubled young man who has said he would seek revenge by fucking the throats of someone’s sister. Yet, the more I think about it and withhold prejudice, I can see why Kendrick and a lot of young men see themselves in X.
XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, grew up in Plantation, Florida which resides in Broward County. In 2014, X was sent to a youth detention facility for armed robbery, armed burglary, possession of a firearm, grand theft, possession of Oxycontin, and the list goes on and on. In an interview, X states he knocked a young girl out for allegedly messing with him. While in the detention center, X would grow close to fellow rapper Ski Mask the Slump God and together they would go onto to form the collective Members Only, dropping collaborative mixtape 1 & 2 of the collective’s respective name. On October 6, 2016, the assault which gained him even more notoriety transpired—X beat his then-pregnant girlfriend to the point of near blindness.
According to the Miami-Dada arrest report, the “victim’s eyes [were] punched to where both eyes became shut and [the] victim could not see”. While prosecutors had to remove sworn statements from several witnesses, among them the alleged victim, it coincides with charges against X for witness tampering. While the claim of witness tampering has only be substantiated as mere speculation, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that X and his crew threatened and muscled witnesses into compliance. What I find the most frightening is the tenacity of his fans to defend his behavior at all costs and the incredibly illogical leaps and bounds they make to call all of this anything other than what it is.
This is what I call the “J-Cole Effect”, how an artist positions themselves to be the voice of the underdog or the voice of many, thus gaining devout love and loyalty which subsequently exonerates the artist from any real consequence of their words or actions. I remembered when “Friday Night Lights” dropped that I knew J. Cole’s greatest superpower was that of the big brother archetype. “At its best, the tape has an organic warmth that lends it an immediate approachability” stated one Pitchfork review of Cole’s work. Jermaine Cole, whether you like his music or not, is renowned as a sweetheart in the rap game. His “real, neighborhood feel and down to earth persona”, reaching out his fans and actually following through on his promises makes him that much more lovable. At the bare minimum, to have a big brother archetype that can adequately express a young boy’s interior landscape is magnificent, to know you can stay true to who you are, where you come from and be successful. Cole successfully appeals to the young man who still finds himself reminiscing about girls who got away or what he had to sacrifice to make his dreams possible. He appeals to the young boy who dreams bigger than his body when no one believed in him or saw the vision. He raps to those who have something to prove and, truth be told, it feels good to have someone as big as Cole reflecting your lived experiences and winning.
In this vein, XXXTentacion also has this gift. This is not to compare Cole and X, but to recognize that with such magnificent power it must also be paired with a clear and responsible temperament, which X just does not possess. Through his successful single and his success only furthered with his indictments, this has provided him access to the sympathy of his fans. There is an audacity and irreverence about XXXTentacion that makes him relatable and desirable to young men. He entices violence while getting away with behavior that other men wouldn’t do for fear of any consequences. The “J-Cole Effect” makes it so fans will either justify abhorrent behavior, feign ignorance, or flat-out deny the artist did anything wrong when the evidence is overwhelming. Young men who are angry, depressed, and have no healthy or safe outlet to negotiate their sorrow, rage, etc. turn to X in a metaphorical pat on the back as if to say, “I survived the worst and if I got through this so will you”. Yet, X prides himself in rallying his fans towards ugly and trifling actions, even going as far as assaulting a fan at a show. X fans mocked and ridiculed the young woman saying she “got what she deserved”. The young woman was branded a “liar” and “someone trying to make a quick buck off X” instead of seeing her as a victim at the hands of someone on an ego trip.
I used to think “Men in hip-hop hate women” but the deeper I look, I realize it’s a far more complicated and nuanced than that. Hip-hop has never been shy about how much of a boy’s club it is. Fans of hip-hop (unsurprisingly and overwhelmingly men) are conditioned to see women’s bodies as a means to an end, to validate and solidify their manhood and prowess. The “J-Cole effect” covers this as well; multiple examples of Cole throughout his career of using pejorative slurs towards gay men and women yet being able to hide under the guise of “getting a message across”. The repeated use of women as an accessory towards the validation of masculinity is one of many reasons why men are seldom up in arms over violence towards women or the violence isn’t taken seriously until a man finally steps up to call it out. I mean, why care about a piece of furniture being broken when I get 100 more just like it…? Being called the “hardest rapper in Florida” by well-respected contemporary A$AP Rocky has not only allowed his career to flourish but encourages his violent tendencies. And now Kendrick. For the Rap god to rally behind someone who is so unabashedly remorseless in his behavior & outright violence towards others and towards women, initially defied logic. I really thought Kendrick had to turn a blind eye but Kendrick’s eyes are wide open.
When I did finally press play on 17, I was startled by how beautiful and earnest it was. If I had set the bar at all, X obliterated it. I understand fully why Kendrick could be aware of X’s past and present, yet still give him a chance. X created a body of work comes from a young man with a deeply troubled past, absent parents, immeasurable violence, and so forth. But it’s not enough then and it is surely not enough now. At what point do we draw a line? Do we allow X a platform despite his gift when he has proven himself to be a danger to women? And what exactly does that say about us—the fans of hip-hop—who condone violent men as long as they give us the music that speaks to our deepest angst? Back in August, a fan wrote into DJ Booth and made this poignant claim:
“He is the new generation’s troubled mind. Depression will have you become a person you’re not. I truly don’t believe X is an idiot.”
You’re right, Jarell, I don’t believe X is an idiot either. I believe he knows exactly what he’s doing. I also think supporting someone like this makes us complicit in his behavior. I believe Jarell, sadly, represents many of his fans who are smart and are fully aware of his violent tendencies but are fine with it as long as he keeps being the voice of their hurt and pain. As fans, we must take ourselves to task. It’s embarrassing how hip-hop has done little to support young women, reminding us time and time again the opinions and voices of men supersede our literal safety. Some are surprised and even angry about the #MeToo movement when we allow rappers like X to rise to stardom knowing who is he. Fans must hold themselves and their heroes accountable because our engagement in these artists is what determines who will rise and who will fall.
I’m sure X’s new joint “?”, which dropped 3 minutes after midnight, is another emotionally rendering experience which will allow him the line to soar once again on the Billboard charts, but I do not and cannot support this artist, not when there is so much more critical work to be done to make hip-hop a more habitable space for women.
I.S. Jones is a writer living in New York by way of California. She is the Managing Editor of Dead End Hip Hop. Her Twitter inbox is closed until further notice, so please send music to firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s writing herself into a better future. You can tweet at her here
In anticipation for the Black Panther Soundtrack arriving on Friday (you can pre-order here!) TDE has released the gorgeous music video for “All The Stars” one of the singles leading up to the album. Directed by Dave Meyers & the little homies, the video has Kendrick and SZA in colorful backgrounds, African garbs and locales, and all over a beat that doesn’t let up to end. The video is an eye-popping treat from beginning to end and does justice to Africa in which the film is set.
They even have actual Black Panthers in the video, in case you forgot what the video is for.
While I’m still hashing out my personal feelings about Drake, today I woke up to the exciting news that Top Dawg Entertainment has announced tour dates for a mega family outing of the label’s most supreme stars. With CTRL’s one year anniversary on the horizon this summer, it feels good to see her finally swinging with the majors. The Championship Tour features: SiR, SZA, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q, and the king Kendrick Lamar
The choice of artists in the marquee is a bit questionable, however. For starters, TDE made the choice to feature Lance Skiiiwalker, one of the more quieter members of the TDE family. As he hasn’t released a project since 2016, I am curious as to what he brings to the table. The Chicago native was officially signed to TDE back in 2016, and even before joining, Skiiwalker appeared in the credits of Rapsody’s “Power“, Kendrick’s “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014“, and ScHoolBoy’s “Know Ya Thing“. Yet, TDE and Lance Skiiiwalker may surprise us with something at the last minute.
Then something I think many of us are wondering: Why isn’t Isaiah Rashad in this line?
Tickets go on sale Friday, January 26
I.S. Jones is a writer living in New York by way of California. Please send her pizza not nudes. You may also send her ONE of your best tracks (on Twitter only) and she’ll get back to you at her earliest convenience. I.S. is rooting for you. She is trying, just like the rest of us. Tweet at her here
Terrence Sage (@SageTerrence)
1. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
2. PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC – 2 Chainz
3. AT WHAT COST – GoldLink
4. BIG FISH THEORY – Vince Staples
5. SATURATION 2 – Brockhampton
6. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADASS – Joey Bada$$
7. 7 DAYS – Krept & Konan
8. CTRL – SZA
9. THE NEVER STORY – J.I.D
10. 4 EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – Big Krit
This year sucked but we had music to fall back on, so that counts for something right? 2017 was
filled with solid projects across the board and allowed me to get outside of my comfort zone
thanks to the projects I’m listing and beyond that. Whether you played DAMN backwards or
forwards Kendrick Lamar delivered on another solid project with visuals steadily dropping as
the year went on with all of them touching on their respective subjects profoundly. 2 Chainz,
Big Krit, and J.I.D all receptively put on for the South this year in major ways across the board.
2 Chainz made us all understand Pretty Girls Like Trap Music and with his pink trap house we
got an album that goes all around Atlanta with an energy that only Chainz can call upon. Big
Krit’s album 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time was indeed a long time coming but both volumes to
the project let it be known that Krit had a lot left to say. I was actually very late to the J.I.D hype
train but better late than never because his debut The Never Story was one of the most
promising and best debuts of the year. The rest of my entries for Albums of the Year got creative
and personal as far as the artists go, Vince Staples with Big Fish Theory challenged listeners
with his distinct take and beat that paid off well in my opinion. Saturation 2 from the Boy Band
Brockhampton was the greatest part in their trilogy of albums and with At What Cost people FINALLY started paying attention to GoldLink!
Ashley Clayton (@onlyashleecee)
1. [4:44] – Jay-Z
2. Trip – Jhene Aiko
3. DAMN – Kendrick Lamar
4. SweetSexySavage – Kehlani
5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music -2 Chainz
6. At What Cost – Goldlink
7. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time -Big Krit
8. Queen Elizabitch – CupcakKe
9. Ctrl – SZA
10. Captain California -Murs
More Life – Drake
Flower Boy- Tyler The Creator
Rap Album Two – Jonwayne
Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom
Let’s call 2017 what it was. The year for women in music. Yes, men were making bangers but women were the true game changers here. Not only were we given an amazing gem of a track in Bodak Yellow by Cardi B but there were amazing albums released by quite a few talented women. Cupcakke gave us Queen Elizabitch this year an album that was as sexually explicit as it was feminist. Kehlani and Jhene Aiko both gave us albums that allowed us to walk through their hurt and experience recovery from heartbreaks. Jhene’s album in particular came out when no one expected but is definitely worth every bit of attention it garnered. Furthermore, SZA gave us some of the most popular R&B tracks of the year off of her debut album Ctrl like Doves in the Wind and The Weekend.
While women were the big hitters in music last year men were still making waves with music just as emotionally stimulating and vulnerable. Jay-Z gave us the gift of [4:44] an album that allowed us to see a more emotionally mature and grown man. He allowed us to see more Shawn Carter and less Jigga. Then we have Murs and Goldlink who both released albums that I honestly didn’t expect to love but have now been played more times in my household than anything else. We definitely can’t forget about Kendrick Lamar with his critically acclaimed album DAMN. Once again K.Dot showed us why he is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation.
Hip hop in 2017 reminded us that through every dark hour there is a bit of light. Each album on my list gives an insight into the artists mind and allowed us a deeper look at who they are. As we proceed with 2018 I’m hoping that artists continue this trend of letting us into who they are and not just club bangers. Turning up is great but providing mentally stimulating music is even better.
Jake Milgate (@milfence)
1. [4:44] – JAY-Z
2. IWASVERYBAD – IDK
3. ROME – Armand Hammer
4. Rap Album Two – Jonwayne
5. Atychiphobia: The Higher High – Gracy Hopkins
6. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
7. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.
8. Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! – Milo
9. Rosebudd’s Revenge – Roc Marciano
10. or more: the anxious – Mick Jenkins
Overall, this was another excellent year for hip-hop. Making my list was insanely difficult. But, somehow, I managed to trim down the insane amount of music I listened to into 10 projects. Mick Jenkins showed flashes of his vintage self and manifested it into a very eerie and moving EP/mixtape. Roc Marciano continues to provide his unique low-key, yet lavish, rhymes over relaxed pimptastic production. Milo is so goddamn poetic I could literally just listen to his voice on repeat. Fortunately there was so gorgeous production to go along with his words. Big K.R.I.T. dropped his greatest album yet. Period. Kendrick Lamar continues to surprise and bewilder me…and even with a trendier sounding album, he still absolutely kills it and provides his own unique take on it. Gracy Hopkins was the biggest surprise for me this year. Never heard of him prior to this album. This French-Canadian rapper provides unique insight into his personal self through 7 tracks all named after phobias. Very creative, and very focused. Excellent. Rap Album Two was easily the most emotional album I listened to this year. Absolutely heart-wrenching…a lot of the tracks hit home for me. He’s just as talented an MC as he is a producer. ROME is a dark, apocalyptic take on the current state of our society…and it absolutely floored me. ELUCID and Billy Woods are sharp-tongued as ever, and provide excellent, well-crafted lyrics over some very diabolical beats. IDK just keeps improving and improving every year and it’s been a thrill watching him rise to the top. This is his best work yet, lyrically and sonically. All types of sounds on this. Everyone can enjoy at least one track on here. Finally we have [4:44] by JAY-Z. I thoroughly enjoyed and replayed this album more than any hip-hop project this year…and this is coming from a guy who’s never been fond of JAY-Z. No I.D. knocked it out of the f*cking park with the production on this. But what was even more impressive was JAY-Z himself. He was much more personal than usual, and lyrically sharper than he’s been in years. He and No I.D. meshed perfectly and made a masterpiece.
I.S Jones (@isjonespoetry)
1. CTRL – SZA
2. Saturation II: Brockhampton
3. PALOMA BEACH: KOTA the friend
4. TEEN NIGHT AT THE EMPIRE: Latasha Alcindor
5. At what cost: GoldLink
6. scumfuck flower boy: Tyler, The Creator
7. Intimacy: Floreyyyyy
8. Pretty Girls Like Trap – 2 Chainz
9. DAMN: Kendrick Lamar
10. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples
Tyler, The Creator has been banned from two different countries for his lyrics inciting violence. Feminist groups have mobilized against him, and yet I loved this album. Scum Fuck Flower boy is tender, sincere, and even a bit apologetic. It doesn’t negate the violence he’s incited between his fan base, but for a moment his actions are granted clarity. He incites violence because of his internal struggle with missed connections and unrequited love. He built a career on homophobic lyrics, perhaps, because he’s been trying to come out for years no one will believe in. This stunning, honest rebirth into Tyler’s interior landscape.
The soundtrack to my sordid love life, moments of doubt, insecurity, nostalgia, the audacity of youth is complemented with lonely electric riffs, synth beats, melancholic cymbals (in Drew Barrymore), SZA’s brilliant collection of sounds translates the story of a girl coming into her own, owning her sexual autonomy, remarking on how convoluted dating has become in the era of social media (a nod to the cover of broken electronics SZA sits in the foreground of).
My brother brought Brockampton into my life just when Saturation I dropped. After that I was hooked and tickled by their presentation: a collective of artists, which seemed to be pushing against toxic masculinity by just being themselves. How one’s music comes into the spotlight sets the tone for the rest of their career, and the All-American Boy Band from L.A. is it. Brockhampton’s confidence, irreverence, hyper beats, complimented with audacious lyrics (Why you always rap about bein’ gay? / ‘Cause not enough niggas rappin’ be gay). As a queer women, it felt good to see Kevin Abstract become accepted so quickly in a space that is dominated by the hetero-male narrative. Long life Brockhampton
Not-so-newcomer to the rap game KOTA the Friend returns from “Palm Tree Liquor” with his sophomore album “Paloma Beach”. The Brooklyn-based, California-hearted rapper made me nostalgic for those long drives down the 405. KOTA effortlessly creates a dreamy landscape against the backdrop of isolation, depression, reflection on his career thus far. What I love about KOTA the Friend is his fans and how dedicated to seeing him succeed. I hope for a long and fruitful career for this rising star.
In 2017, it was hard to have a conversation about emerging women rappers without talking about Latasha Alcindor or L.A. There is a self-assurance in effortless ability to bob and weave between whole genres of music between the tracks. Sampling darling hits like “Flava In Ya Ear”, “Heads High” and other party classics, L.A.’s lyrical dexterity is simply unmatched. Sometimes I get discouraged that as time progresses the door for women to succeed in hip-hop is getting narrow every year, but miracles in the making happen. A hard-worker such as herself is the future of this genre. Don’t sleep or you’ll miss her. She’s a comet and we should be lucky to catch her on her flight.
I think I may speak for some when I said I didn’t expect an album of this caliber from a rapper who once named himself Tity Boi. “Pretty Girls Like Trap” is a culmination of 2 Chainz’s patience and learning. From casual club bangers, music suited for yacht and velvet-roped off lounges, 2 Chainz finally grew into a rapper even non-believers want to root for. I never thought I would care about a 2 Chainz album much less have it on repeat impressed by his growth.
Undoubtedly, GoldLink is a child of the game. Originating from D.C., a region not exactly known for its impact on hip hop, the rapper doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but created his own. “Future bounce” as the emerging rapper has coined it, is like “redefining music”. Staying true to his D.C. roots of go-go music and funk, I enjoyed “At What Cost” because every track was rich and firm in its delivery. “Crew” has become my theme song if I owned a red fur coat. I’m so delighted to welcome this new rapper to the fold.
While I’m not the first person to dub the name “Sunshine Rap”, I think it’s important that joy for the sake of joy can be appreciated in hip-hop. Yes, this genre is for those who struggled and sacrifice and overcame remarkable adversity to stand on the mountaintop, but sometimes I want that bubbly tenderness of summertime when I was a teenager going to the park with my friends. Sometimes I want good vibes and a light head. Sometimes I want that from hip-hop. Anthony Floreyyyy, or just Floreyyyy, is a 18 year old living Nevada, and while I’m excited to hear more about him, I’m enjoying the music.
Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory is what happens when a kid grew up on a diet of funk, punk rock, disco, and finally got past the so-called “Golden Age of Rap”. His music makes me nostalgic for the roller-rink nights I never experienced as a child.
Finally, what is there left to say for the giant who walks among mortals? Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN allowed us a passport into a mind at war with itself. A palindrome album (a word, poem or body of work which make sense forwards and backwards) is the style Kendrick uses to give us a glimmer into the rap’s turmoil. Despite the conflict, rage, disillusion, there are moments of love and true self-discovery. Overeager fans dub this his “worst album”, but people don’t give Kendrick space to be a deeply flawed human, which is what he is. We love Kendrick because an exceptional story-teller. He has a vision only he can see and we should be honored that he let’s us along for the ride.