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Staff Writers Pick: Top Ten Albums of 2018

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Staff Writers Pick: Top Ten Albums of 2018

It was a year of musical inundation and I’m grateful. I look at years as prosperous as 2018 and I can’t help but to also look back at those who aggrandize the 90’s as “the golden era of hip-hop”, as though our best years are already behind us. With every new generation more audacious, more lyrically nimble, more ferocious than the last, the future of hip-hop is brighter than its ever been. To that end, the staff writers and I gathered together to give you all a rundown of our top tens of 2018. We’ve listened to hundreds of hours of music to give you our most opinionated choices. Once you’ve read, I invite you to agree or disagree. Thank you all and Happy New Year.

 

Michael Stover

Roc Marciano & Muggs “Kaos”

Fly Anakin & Ohbliv “Backyard Boogie

Roc Marciano – “RR2: The Bitter Dose”

Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz “Mona Lisa”

Evidence “Weather Or Not”

Kev Brown “Homework”

Marlowe “Marlowe”

Royce Da 5’9 “The Book Of Ryan”

Phonte “No News Is Good News’

Tierra Whack “Whack World”

Honorable Mention: Rico Nasty “Nasty”, Kev Brown “Fill In The Blank”, Cardi B, “Invasion Of Privacy”


I don’t know how we did it but we made it. Another year has gone by and while the saturation of the hip-hop industry is higher than ever before, I still feel like quality music is being created. Evidence ended his weather themed albums with “Weather Or Not” and the West Coast artist hadn’t missed a beat and gave us his story in the process. Roc Marciano is my choice for hip-hop artist of the year, he dropped three incredible albums and “Kaos” was the pinnacle with DJ Muggs on all the beats. Another semi-consistent theme this year was one emcee & one producer albums. Fly Anakin & Ohbliv exploded with their album “Backyard Boogie” bringing all of Mutant Academy along for a hip, vintage and blunted journey of raw rap and raw beats, what more could you want? Speaking of which we finally got the return of the legend himself Phonte with “No News Is Good News”. “Charity Starts At Home” was a mature album and “No News Is Good News” is no different. Phonte’s way with words and ability to relay his experiences and life lessons to us is second to none. Tierra Whack & Marlowe were both projects that were left-field in terms of musical “norms” if you will but pushed the genre forward. “Whack World” is 15 songs in 15 minutes. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t packed with so much content you’ll have it on loop for the rest of your life. L’Orange has never had an orthodox sound, this made teaming up with Solemn Brigham a match in heaven as his flows, cadence, voice, and delivery are just as zany yet poignant as the man behind the beats. Why did you all sleep on Kev Brown this year? WHY?! “Homework” was such a creative way to put out an album and showcase the abilities of one of the world’s best talents. Kev Brown gives us instrumentals and smooth, sharp rhymes to study up. 2018, truth be told, ended up being better than I expected and who in the world knows what 2019 will bring.

Tierra Whack: Whack World

 

Jake Milgate

Orpheus Vs. The Sirens – Ka & Animoss

Paraffin – Armand Hammer (billy woods & ELUCID)

Weather Or Not – Evidence

9 Roses – Codenine & Mr. Rose

CARE FOR ME – Saba

Tana Talk 3 – Benny

Supreme Blientele – Westside Gunn

DAYTONA – Pusha T

VAN GHOST – ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost LTD

Jericho Jackson – Elzhi & Khrysis

 

2018 was an incredible year for rap music, and truthfully, a top ten doesn’t even come close to summing up the sheer excellence that was released by emcees this year. Even my own personal top 50 list excludes albums I feel deserve to be acknowledged and recognized. These albums I’m about to mention are, in my opinion, excellent. Crafting my list was excruciating because I feel each of these albums is unique and distinct in their own way. All that aside, I was asked to give ten albums, so here are the top ten albums on my list that dropped in 2018. 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. Collaborative albums between one emcee and one producer often end up being some of the best albums because of the cohesiveness. It’s an incredibly satisfying aspect to experience when listening to albums. That’s probably why half of the albums in my top ten are collab projects, or albums produced almost entirely by one producer. Big Ghost LTD is a 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. 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. However, we can’t mention the term “mafioso” without bringing up Griselda Records. Griselda’s 2018 catalog was stand out, producing gems like Tana Talk 3 and Supreme Blientele. Westside Gunn continued to build on his already strong resume, while Benny dropped his first official album on the label. One is a braggadocious, yet elegant, display of the culture (Supreme Blientele), while the other is hard-bodied, technical display of skill and stories about moving weight (Tana Talk 3). Both righteously represent Buffalo, NY to the fullest and capture the essence of the city. Great albums evoke emotion. Something all of these albums did for me. However, CARE FOR ME may have taken me on the most visceral emotional journey out of all ten. 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. 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. Codenine rhymes on 9 Roses are effortless. I felt the same way about Evidence on Weather Or Not as well. The Dilated Peoples representative calmly destroyed every track on his latest album. He spits game, he was introspective, and he picked incredible beats. Weather Or Not was truly an album that embodied hip-hop. Paraffin, however, had a much different tone. 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. One of only two albums this year that truly gave me chills after listening to it in its entirety; the other being Orpheus vs. The Sirens. 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 and it’s quite beautiful to hear unfold. Animoss provides a profoundly cinematic background to Ka’s poems, making Orpheus vs. The Sirens, without a doubt, the best rap album of 2018.

Jericho Jackson: Elzhi & Khrysis

 

Terrence Sage

Milky Way by Bas

Redemption by Jay Rock

TA1300 by Denzel Curry

Fetti by Curren$y

Hive Mind by The Internet

Championships by Meek Mill

Kids See Ghosts by Kids See Ghosts (Kanye West and Kid Cudi)

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES by Metro Boomin

Dirty Computers by Janelle Monae

CARE FOR ME by Saba

 

For me, what makes my Top 10 is which albums I can repeat every time and not lose the feeling of getting hyped or enjoying every song. Looking back at where my head was at during our halfway point, only three albums remained and stuck the landing all the way to the end of the year. Metro Boomin might have gifted us with the best collection of songs I’ve heard all year with NAHWC, it’s great and everyone needs to have Space Cadet memorized. 2018 was an interesting one overall with artists having a comeback season of sorts like Meek Mill with Championships who tells a personal story now that he’s out of prison and with some stories that truly paint the picture of how he’s been feeling. Speaking of personal stories, Jay Rock delivered with Redemption as well. Denzel Curry, Bas, and Janelle Monae made an absolute fan out of me with their respective albums. Milky Way and Dirty Computes were both spots of fresh air this year, really liberating and feel good albums that are great from beginning to end. This year overall gave us a few surprises and follow-ups that delivered in their own right, it was a good year for the music I enjoy.

Care For Me: Saba

 

Donnie Skillz

6lack – East Atlanta Love Letter

Black Thought – Streams Of Thought Vol. 2

Meek Mill – Championships

9th Wonder Presents Jamla Is The Squad II (2018)

El Camino – Walking On Water

J.I.D – Di Caprio 2

Masta Ace & Marco Polo – A Breukelen Story

Westside Gunn – Supreme Blientele

Benny The Butcher- Tana Talk 3

Mick Jenkins – Pieces Of A Man

 

So many solid projects came out every month which got my playlist changing every minute. This list is not exhaustive but a very narrowed down look at some projects that blew my mind.  It took me a while to get into 6lack’s East Atlanta Love Letter and I came out all the better for it. “Scripture” was the single that got me in and I never looked back since. We really need to talk about Black Thought’s Streams Of Thought Vol. 2, a project which I think was more cohesive than the first volume which came out earlier this year. I felt Salaam Remi’s stripped down beats had more punch and Black Thought also came with an extra lyrical fury. Meek Mill’s Championships can be said to be the 1st album from the man since his Drake debacle to fully draw me in. All I can say is, it is flames from start to finish and the beats are way better than his previous outings plus verses from Drake, Jigga definitely raised the project’s status as well. Jamla Is The Squad II is a no-brainer, we all knew what to expect and that J. Cole featured single “Sojourner” sure did a number on my brain. A lotta gems in here like the solo cuts from veterans such as Black Thought “Cojiba”, Busta’s “Jumpin” and Pharoahe Monche. Most may have slept on El Camino‘s Walking On Water but do get familiar with it when you can. It’s absolutely off the hinges. I will admit that I wasn’t convinced when J.I.D dropped DiCaprio 2, I really had to go back and listen thoroughly before it dawned on me on how dope this cat is. The legendary Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story may not win awards but it is a damn good project that follows the time-tested conceptual themes that Ace always delivered since inception. The linear storyline style never bores you and keeps the listener looking forward to the next track. Y’all know I had to put more Griselda on the list with Westside Gunn ‘s Supreme Blientele and Benny The Butcher‘s Tana Talk 3. The subject matter is still the same, the beats are grimy AF and the rhyming is raw like sushi. This is that type of hip-hop you listen to when you about to go down and dirty on the block with the homies. I just became a fan of Mick Jenkins when I checked out Pieces Of A Man. Previously I never went out of my way to peep his stuff, I hear a couple of songs here and there and I move on but this project is undeniably strong and cohesive from top to bottom.

 

Mick Jenkins: Pieces Of A Man

 

Tyler Jones

Saba – Care for Me

J.I.D. – DiCaprio 2

Noname – Room 25

Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man

Kyle – Light of Mine

Mac Miller – Swimming

Vince Staples – FM!

Smino – NOIR

Logic – Young Sinatra IV

Travis Scott – Astroworld

 

2018 tested the different parts of me but thanks to some dope releases, I was able to stay in one piece. The music from hip-hop especially let me knew what was real. While I was finishing up that last semester of undergrad, I just needed words that held me together and allowed me to grasp what little sanity I had from that stressful time. Saba and Kyle helped with that first half of the year as soundtracks that were on the opposite end of up the spectrum. After a long conversation with my little brother about mortality and how fleeting it is, I needed something light and happy to balance out those vibes. Light of Mine let me look at my ups and downs in the face and let me smile. Care for Me was the dark tunnel I had to traverse through so I could cry. It’s the project that continues to stick with me. The project took a second listen to truly grasp what it was making me feel but once it hit, it continued to keep doing so. I find something new to think about with each listen. After college, Mac Miller helped me with the day I moved to Atlanta with some wonderfully sober music, encouraging me to go through the move by helping me stay afloat. Travis Scott gave me bangers for celebration after moving all my crap in my apartment. Probably the most well-produced album of the year. It was quiet for a minute when I was trying to process the rest of the releases of August until Noname dropped Room 25 a month later. Her flows of water quenched my thirst and automatically shot to the top of my lists. Logic finally gave me the album I wanted after listening to the first Young Sinatra back in high school. It was what I needed to get my back on board after his last project. Mick Jenkins came through with jazzy raps two days after my birthday for the best project of October. Another gem that I keep finding new content to draw from. November took me to the movies with releases from Smino and J.I.D. who painted pictures worthy of that $10 you pay at your local theater. DiCaprio 2 was the project that fulfilled the hype machine I made in my mind and has had a daily listen. I truly believe this proves that he got next. All these projects stayed at the top of my list even though it seemed like there was a project dropping each week and their impacts are going to last long into 2019.

Travis Scott: Astroworld

 

I.S. Jones: Managing Editor

Eden: cupcakKe

Care for me: Saba

 November: SiR

Dirty Computer: Janelle Monae

Swimming: Mac Miller

Stay Dangerous: YG

The Book of Ryan: Royce Da 5’9”

Wack World: Tierra Whack

Invasion of Privacy: Cardi B

Room 25: Noname

As though every artist sought to best themselves and their adversaries, it seemed for every night and every other night, we were surprised with midnight releases, surprise releases, and sleeper hit after sleep hit. I think, all things considered, it was a generous year for women in hip-hop, although there is still much room for improvement. cupcakKe opens up my list with “Eden”. Sex-positive and rough, trading bar for bar, the Chicago rapper is a savage. With bold tracks such as a “Blackjack” and more sonically playful ones like “Prenup”, cupcakKe’s music is a reclamation of the femme body and the currency of the body. From hot bars on “Prenup”: “Thought NyQuil was up in a strap / ‘Cause one bullet gave that bitch a nap” and on “Blackjack”: “The dick like Ariana ponytail ‘cause I swear that shit was the longest” her hypersexuality isn’t a gimmick but her armor. SiR’s “November” was so integral to my own writing and to getting through another brutal New York winter. Lush, ethereal, romantic, and captivating in its West Coast tone, SiR weaves a tapestry of love that refuses to touch the ground or be grounded in earthly ideals. In “Something Foreign” he sings: “I’m moving through this movie like my life’s duty / is to live unruly you / shoulda never introduce me to the beauty in the darker side of heaven’s view” and those dark, piano trills floor into his listeners. My queer queen Janelle Monae really dazzled me this year with Dirty Computer, a derogatory term Monae coined, she names herself on her terms. Throughout hip-hop’s history, we’ve lost a lot of good ones too soon and Mac Miller was no exception. I don’t know if Miller meant for it to seem this way, but Swimming sounds like an album you write when you know you won’t be here for long: “My regrets look like texts I shouldn’t send / And I got neighbors, they’re more like strangers / we could be friends” he croons on “Come Back to Earth”. Miller hones in on a melancholic distance he feels from the outside world, but also the immediate prison of the mind. He’s swimming trying to make it back to shore but drowned holding his breath. One of the hardest albums of the year, YG’s Stay Dangerous. Power by grit, hard-bass heavy tracks, YG is purely rapping, which is a departure from the bombastic lyrical acrobatics we’re used to from his contemporaries. It was, as Nicholas Nichols, described it: “a hood odyssey”. The only album that went harder was none of than Royce Da 5’9” necessary The Book of Ryan, which is not only a modern cornerstone New York album, but it’s a punchy album, where are the Royce bests himself again and again. My top three were reserved for the projects I kept coming back to, the albums I felt were the most ambitious projects of 2018. At number three is Tierra Whack’s phenomenal Whack World, an album unlike anything I’ve ever seen—a series of one minute vignette, all of which clock in around a minute per track. Clocking in at just 15 minutes, the audiovisual album is bursting with her vivid, surreal imagination. Tierra Whack is vivacious, daring, strange, and that’s her best weapon—being herself.  One album I was blown away and kept finding my way back to was Cardi B’s full-length album Invasion of Privacy, equal parts bravado, vulnerable, honest, Cardi B puts her insecurities at the forefront and pushes back against the world trying to rush in. While Cardi had two mixtapes prior, this album is nothing like what we’ve seen of her before. Each track is sonically rich and bold, stepping on the toes of her skeptics. Cardi B is the underdog’s underdog story and now she’s on top of the world. Coming in at number one is the one and only, Noname. I really thought no album could top Cardi’s, but Noname burst from her chrysalis to deliver this dreamy, jazz /neo-soul-influence, coming-of-age story which gave us effortless gems like: “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism”. Fully aware of her power, Noname blooms.

Noname: Room 25

***

I.S. Jones is the Managing Editor of Dead End Hip Hop. She only writes for people who read. Her website is here

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