Pretty much every artist you could want an album from dropped one in 2018. J. Cole, Kanye, Drake, Travis Scott, Kendrick (kind of), and we were even blessed with the mythical Carter V from Lil Wayne. It might be because there were so many projects dropped, but it’s difficult to see a clear winner. Last year I put my favorites into place with ease and it wasn’t a close race for my top tens, but this year it was extremely difficult to put together my top albums. Because I had so much overflow, I wanted to start with some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions (In No Specific Order)
Milky Way -Bas
Everything Is Love -The Carters
Golden Hour -Kacey Musgraves
Some Rap Songs -Earl Sweatshirt
An honorable mention with a caveat,
I don’t really know how to talk about this album. You can read my initial reaction here, and I stand by this take for the most part. After the Pusha T beef, Drake decided to release a 24 song marathon of an album that, as a whole, was just messy and forgettable. That being said, it does have some of the best songs of 2018 included in it (“God’s Plan” and “Nice For What”). I enjoyed about half of this album. “8 out of 10”, “Sandra’s Rose”, “In My Feelings”, “Nonstop” and “Emotions” are all pretty good, but then there’s a dozen other songs that are just so boring and pointless. It’s not a classic album by any means, but it’s few highlights aren’t bright enough to shine through the rest of the dull tracks that accompany them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: 21 Savage’s Album I am>I Was, has been on heavy rotation and is filled with bangers. Due to the recency of it’s release, however, it has not been considered on the Top Albums of the year list. In order to give it a true ranking I would need to let it marinate in my music library for a bit longer. Thank you for understanding.
Those albums I thoroughly enjoyed but I just could not fit them into the top tier of the year…and I also couldn’t do that with these 5 so here’s the 5 runner ups for the elite Top Ten.
Top Fifteen Albums of 2018
15.) Championships -Meek Mill
I was never a big Meek Mill guy but this album got me. He touches upon a lot of different things, including the private prisons, systematic racism, and his relationships with his competitors (including Drake and Kanye). I’ve never heard such clear intelligent lyrics from Meek and to be honest I didn’t know if he had it in him. For instance “Oodles O’Noodles Babies” had a chopped up soul beat and some great story-telling that reminded me of old school Jay Z. Speaking of which, Jay’s verse on “What’s Free” is incredible and Rick Ross tosses in a couple great rhymes as well. He brings Drake in for the catchy “Going Bad” that’s been stuck in my head since it’s release, he’s got Kodak on “Tic Tac Toe” and of course brings in 2018’s surprise star 21 Savage for “Pay You Back”. It was a pleasant surprise from Meek and if it came out earlier in the year and I had more time to listen to it it definitely could’ve gone even higher than #15.
14.) Redemption -Jay Rock
This album came out mid-June as Pusha T, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Drake we’re all gearing up to release projects. It got lost in the shuffle of these other high profile drops, but the production and lyricism from this dude made it stand out big time in my eyes. One of the singles from the album “WIN” hooked me in with it’s catchiness and big baller aura. His fellow TDE member Kendrick appears throughout the album sparingly but goes back and forth with Jay on “Wow Freestyle” and they both are just absolutely flexing how good they are at rapping. Then you’ve got Rotation 112th to give you a glimpse at the dark world Jay was raised in, something reminiscent of GOOD KID MAAD CITY. Then you’ve got great features, including J. Cole donating another heater of a feature on “OSOM” and my girl SZA who was quiet in 2018 provided vocals for the title track “Redemption” which was, in my opinion, the most slept on rap song of the year. If you let this one slip you by this summer it’s definitely worth a listen.
13.) Black Panther: The Album -Kendrick Lamar & Various Artists
Black Panther had a ton of hype surrounding it for many reasons. It was the first movie with a black superhero in the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was directed by Ryan Coogler who also directed Creed, and then they announced THE Kendrick Lamar would be executive producing an album to accompany the movie. Then they released HEATERS leading up to it’s release. “All the Stars” and “King’s Dead” we’re crazy big hits before the rest of the album even dropped and featured Future and SZA. Then we got “The Ways” with Swae Lee and Khalid, we got “Big Shot” with Kendrick and Travis Scott, we got “Pray for Me” with the Weeknd. It was a ton of the best artists in the game right now coming together to make an unreal soundtrack to go with a new creative bigger than life blockbuster, and they did it perfectly.
12.) K.O.D. -J. Cole
J. Cole always has a point to his songs. They all have a meaning. This is a huge reason of why he gets clowned on pretty often. It almost comes off like he’s trying too hard…but that didn’t happen on this album. Not only was Cole clearer than ever in his message but it also came at an extremely poignant time in the issues he was touching on. With multiple rappers passing away from drugs and violence in the past year or so, including Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and Mac Miller, Cole’s word of warning about the dangers of money, violence, temptations, and drugs couldn’t have come at a better time. 1985 had some of the best bars I’ve ever heard from J. Cole and the production was crazy. Then you get songs with messages that still bump like “Kevin’s Heart” and “Photograph”. Throw in songs like Motiv8, ATM, and KOD in the mix and you’ve got yourself a gem from Cole after (in my opinion) the disappointing 4 Your Eyez Only.
11.) Lush -Snail Mail
While we were getting bombarded with rap beef, bars, and toxicity this summer I was begging for a change of pace, and that’s when this little album walked into my life. A coworker suggested this album in a groupchat one day and I gave it a whirl just to switch up the stuff I’d been listening to and I fell in love with their sound. It’s an indie/alternative rock sound I hadn’t felt excited about since my high school days when I was enamored with Young The Giant, The Kooks, Two Door Cinema Club, etc. The guitar riffs in these songs are crazy and I love the almost 90’s nostalgia of the lead singer’s voice. Songs like “Pristine” and “Heat Wave” make you wanna drive down the coast line in an old convertible, and then songs like “Speaking Terms”, “Stick” and “Anytime” are honest and emotional. It was a great project to play from start to finish because there are zero skips and it comes together to form a uniform sound that isn’t hip-hop, pop, or much like anything else you’re hearing on the radio these days.
All right folks, we’ve arrived, the Top Ten Albums of 2018. Let the arguing begin.
Top Ten Albums of 2018
10. Tha Carter V -Lil Wayne
The album we never thought would see the light of day finally came out this year and it was well worth the wait. It’s widely known that this album was made many years ago. With the ever-changing landscape of rap this worried me, maybe the lyrics/wordplay wouldn’t make sense if it’s not relevant, maybe the beats will be whack, maybe the features will be garbage, but none of this was true. In fact, I’d say this album mostly being made a few years back is what made it so good. We’re getting all of this new rap with crazy production, we’ve got all this pointless rap beef, and we’ve got rappers going back and forth about politics. This album? This album doesn’t care. It’s just pure fun. You get the BANGER of “Uproar”, the crazy MAAD City-esque verse from Kendrick on “Mona Lisa”, you get features from Ashanti, Snoop Dog, and Nicki Minaj…it was the perfect album to just toss and have fun listening to and jamming out to. It was the perfect nostalgia trip for when you just toss on a rap album, hear some funny lyrics, and blast the speakers. It’s what rap was in desperate need for.
9. Anthem of the Peaceful Army -Greta Van Fleet
I want to preface this by acknowledging that there are a lot of people who DESPISE this band. Why? Because they sound exactly like Led Zeppelin. Those people aren’t wrong they definitely have a lot of the same sound, especially from their lead vocals, but also why is that such a bad thing? The last actual album Led Zeppelin released was in the 80’s. Literally almost 40 years ago. If Kanye died today and 40 years later someone came out with new music that sounded just like his old stuff I’d be AMPED. Brings a new generation into this artist’s style that I love. So when people are so mad about this band bringing a classic rock sound into mainstream 2018, I’m just confused. Get over yourself. Everyone’s saying “oh hipsters love Greta Van Fleet they think they’re so cool for liking rock music that isn’t even classic rock” YOU ARE THE HIPSTER. You’re literally saying “I like the real classic rock not this new stuff you idiots are listening to”. Ok. That was a rant. BUT this band has awesome guitar solos, some crazy fun hooks, and songs that make you want to listen to these guys perform in an open field with a bunch of other smelly people. It was a great change of pace from every other kind of music that released this year and it was instrumentally and musically impressive and that’s a fact. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys are gonna do in the future, sorry haters.
8. staying at tamara’s -George Ezra
George Ezra is a sweetheart. This guy has some simple songs that remind me of a mix between Jack Johnson and Ed Sheeran. I loved his first album Wanted On Voyage which gave us “Budapest”, “Blame It On Me” and “Cassy O” all of which I still listen to regularly. His singer-songwriter soft pop songs we’re perfect for driving around with the windows down in the summer on the way to the beach. “Shotgun” was the song of the summer we deserved, but not the one that took off. “Paradise”, “Getaway” and “Sugarcoat” all bring the unique bouncy sound I’ve come to love of Ezra’s, and songs like “Hold My Girl” and “Only a Human” show he can calm things down and get more emotional if he wants to. As a complete album it’s one of the most cohesive of the year bringing together a common theme and some of my favorite original songwriting I’ve heard in a while.
7. Kids See Ghosts -Kids See Ghosts (Kanye West and Kid Cudi)
I could not have been more excited about this album when it was announced. Cudi and Kanye have had their ups and downs, but when it came to making music together there has only been heat. “Gorgeous”, “Make Her Say”, “Father Stretch My Hands” are just a few of the bangers that this project had to live up to, and I’d say it succeeded. It starts off hot with a Pusha T feature on “Feel the Love” and what follows is a wild ride. You’ve got a bunch of “BRATTATTATA”‘s from Kanye, some really cool psychedelic guitar riffs, absolute BARS from both Kanye and Cudi on songs like “Reborn” and “4th Dimension”, and songs like “Freeee” will get you wanting to quit your job and start a hard rock band despite never have played an instrument before. This is two of the most creative people in the music industry talking about their struggles with mental health in the most candid way we’ve seen to make an unreal 7-songer that gets better every time you hear it.
6. Beerbongs & Bentleys -Post Malone
It was going to be tough to follow up Post Malone’s first album Stoney, as it was one of my favorite debuts from an artist in a long long time. While I don’t think it was as good as the first album, this sophomore album was still extremely good. “Rockstar” as a single was obviously a huge hit, followed by “Psycho” easily one of my favorite songs of the year, this album had a lot of hype before it’s full release. I remember listening to it the first time and hearing “Spoil My Night” and delivering a HOT collab with Swae Lee on track 2 and knowing it was going to be solid. Then you get a bunch of songs describing Post Malone’s struggle with fame, including “Rich and Sad” and”Zack and Codeine”. You get songs about relationships and heartbreak (of course) like “Better Now” and “Stay”. And then you get the bangers like “Same Bitches” and “92 Explorer” all of which showcased Post’s talents in different capacities. This album was really fun and such a solid project from an artist who had a lot to live up to.
5. Swimming -Mac Miller
This album was going to make the list regardless of Mac Miller’s untimely death, but I’d be lying if I said that his death didn’t make me listen to this album a few more times than I normally would’ve. “Small Worlds” was one of my favorite songs of the year and the first single off of this album. Mac was bringing a really cool chilled out jazzy production to his evolving sing-songy flow and it worked so perfectly. Then we got the funkiest songs of the year “What’s The Use” as a follow up single and I played that probably 3 times every day for 2 months straight. As the album released I realized how beautifully crafted of a project it was. Starting off with the dreamy “Come Back to Earth” we see this is going to be a new sound for Mac, one with more heart and introspection. He’s rapping good as always on songs like “Self Care” and “Ladders”, but songs like “Wings” and “2009” show off his veteran status in the music industry while only 26 years old. After his death, this album gained a whole new meaning. The day he died I cried listening to the outro of Small Worlds. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate, but it adds to the emotional depth of this album and (despite me rather would’ve liked having a million more Mac Miller albums) this was the most true “Mac Miller” album ever and one that will add to his already impressive legacy.
4. ye -Kanye West
This album was panned critically, whether that was because of Kanye’s controversial comments at the time, or the fact that he basically put the whole thing together in a week’s time without mastering it, I don’t know, but I loved this album. This is the portion of the countdown where I’d also like to remind you this is a biased list. If you’re reading this you know Kanye is my favorite artist by a mile so of course I loved this, but it was a great edition to the ever evolving sound of Kanye. The opening track “I Thought About Killing You” is weird, but so uniquely displays Kanye dealing with his bipolar disorder. He’s got some bars on that song and when the beat actually drops it is HYPE. That intro then leads into “Yikes” which was regarded by most to be the best song on the album because Kanye was spitting behind some very cool trap production. Between “All Mine” and “Wouldn’t Leave” we get a peak inside Kim and Ye’s relationship and we learn 2 things 1.) They’re having a lot of sex 2.) that isn’t gonna stop any time soon. “No Mistakes” is the closest thing we have to a Drake diss from Kanye with some fun rhymes and maybe my favorite Kanye beat I’ve heard in a long time. If he didn’t do a switch up halfway through the No Mistakes beat easily could’ve been from like 2007 “chopping it up” Kanye. You can’t deny “Ghost Town” is one of the best songs of the year and has one of my favorite outros of a song ever, and then it cleans up with some beautiful synths and a sweet message on “Violent Crimes”. It’s such an easy album to listen to and even thought it was thrown together in a week Kanye’s clarity on what he wanted to talk about and creating some unbelievable production to set the stage for it made it an easy top 5 of 2018 for me.
3. iridescence -BROCKHAMPTON
I got on the BROCKHAMPTON train a little late. Last year’s Saturation III is when I first heard of them and I instantly became hooked. They definitely had some similarities to Odd Future as far as just general aesthetic goes, but they can spit BARS, each with their own unique flow and style. I went through all 3 of the Saturation projects and after listening to them a billion times I was ready for this new project, but things weren’t looking good after one of their founding members Ameer was revealed to be a sexual harasser. Known for being a progressive group, this was disappointing to hear from the band. Not just to fans but also to the members themselves. They cancelled their remaining tour dates and apparently scrapped all the music they had with their former member. They took to London to think about what had happened, and of course, make music. And so, iridescence was born. It kicks off with the banging “NEW ORLEANS” with a feature from Jaden Smith and I knew we were going to get a great album. That beautifully and seamless transitions into “THUG LIFE” and that so perfectly mirrors what this album does. It jumps between frustration and raw anger on songs like “DISTRICT” and “J’OUVERT”, to songs like “SAN MARCOS” and “WEIGHT” that have incredibly intimate, honest, and introspective lyrics. As a complete album listening to this from start to finish is a such a well-put together journey and it’s re-listenability is unbelievable. With every time I go back to this album I find a new favorite verse. I was so impressed with everything on this album and it gets me even more excited for the future of this young talented group.
2. Astroworld -Travis Scott
Travis Scott teased Astroworld for years before finally dropping it this summer and it was definitely worth the wait. This is the only album of this year that I think will be confirmed as a classic rap album. It is easily the best album Travis has released. The beats are HARD. Whether it’s the chart-topping “SICKO MODE”, the “F*** The Club Up” chant from “NO BYSTANDERS”, or the deep bass of “HOUSTONFORNICATION”, this album can get you energized. Even the more mellow songs like “STARGAZING” and “YOSEMITE” have extremely impressive production and it’s clear to see how much effort Travis put into this project. It really seems like Travis wanted to make a cultural impact with this album and he succeeded. First of all, he easily had one of the best cast of features I’ve ever seen on an album. Frank Ocean on “CAROUSEL” is gorgeous, he got Kid Cudi and Stevie Freaking Wonder on “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” and then artists like the Weeknd, Quavo, 21 Savage, and plenty of others hop on tracks as well it’s legit hard to keep track. Then he embarked on the Astroworld Tour. I made it to the Boston concert and it was INSANE. I thought the TD Garden was going to burn to the ground when Sicko Mode came on. He had a rollercoaster, a 50ft inflatable astronaut, and even played “Shipping Up to Boston” at one point. It was wild. Between the tour, the meticulousness of the lyrics and production of this album and the insane music video visuals to accompany it all, this album transcended just being “an album” and became a movement.
1. Oxnard -Anderson .Paak
This is it. The best album of 2018. This album is so fresh. And I mean fresh in every sense of that word. Not only is it from one of the biggest rising stars in music but it also has an incredibly unique sound unlike any other project released this year. The album’s intro “The Chase” signals that the album is going to be a full on story, complete with a beginning, middle, and end with skits spritzed throughout. Throughout this story we see all of .Paak’s talents displayed at high volume. His catchy songwriting (and sick drumming skills) we’re shown on “Tints”, the song of the summer that unfortunately released in October, featuring a fun verse from Kendrick Lamar. We also get “6 Summers”, which is maybe my favorite Trump diss track of all time. Unlike most rappers who just say “F Donald trump you’ve got weird hair and orange skin”, Anderson spices in creative bars and metaphors into this track that has some crazy instrumentals and an awesome bridge to really shed a light on his issues with the President. It’s not all serious though, “Sweet Chick” is pure fun. He raps about all the different types of girls he’s dated and hilariously explains why each relationship ended (including his current girl bursting in on him recording the song and pulling a gun on him). You’ve also got an amazing list of features. BJ the Chicago kid adds his own funny relationship story to the aforementioned song, Dr. Dre hops on “Mansa Musa” and also executive produced the album, Snoop Dogg spits with ease over “Anywhere” (a song whose beat screams old school Snoop) and J. Cole (the feature verse king of 2018) gave a gift to .Paak on “Trippy”. My favorite feature of the album comes from my favorite song on the album “Cheers”. This song is .Paak’s tribute to his good friend Mac Miller who passed away in September. He talks about the confusion involved with living for the moment while also wanting to go back to the past. He talks about the loss of a friend and the loss of direction a death can leave in it’s wake. He brings in Q-Tip to talk about Phife Dawg, the fellow member of A Tribe Called Quest that passed away in 2016. Both rappers discuss friendship, nostalgia, death, and celebrating in a beautiful song that has one of my favorite beats of the year. This album has a feel of the early 2000’s rap-era filled with stories and skits, and it makes sense. When Anderson was asked how he went about creating this album he said “This is the album I dreamed of making in high school, when I was listening to Jay Z’s The Blueprint, The Games The Documentary, and Kanye West’s The College Dropout“. Those albums are all great and to see someone as talented as Anderson .Paak take his own fresh spin on that era of rap in 2018 was amazing. He made an album I can see myself going back to for years to come, which is why I had to claim it the best of 2018.
There we have it. Was there an album I missed? Do I have to switch around the order at all? Let me know fam.
2019, you’ve got a lot to live up to.