What this is not is a list of the “best” albums of the year. Nobody, myself included, possesses the credentials to decide upon the proper, indisputable criteria that determines a collection of music is not only “better” than another, but the actual “best”.
Like anything, music is all about taste and perception. What may be enjoyable to one is considered trash by another, and vice versa.
And that’s OK. Like, really OK.
Far too often, we get caught up in our own opinions and begin to hold onto them as though they are facts. What is fact is that each individual is entitled to their opinion – and that opinion is neither right nor wrong; it is simply one’s personal opinion.
So, the following is simply my favorite albums of 2018.
In a year that featured an unmatched quantity of quality releases from artists all across the spectrum of underground to mainstream, these are the projects I found myself most frequently returning to. They are not listed in order because there is no “order” – just my favorite musical collections of the year.
Also worth noting: the main entries featured here are predominately hip-hop. I loved a lot of music this year from other genres, but I wanted to keep this post focused – for the most part – on hip-hop.
Hopefully you find something you haven’t sat with yet and decide to explore some new sounds as the year comes to a close.
RUDY – BY MY LONESOME
If you’ve been following my posts this year, you’re aware of the affinity I have for RUDY and his music. There’s just something special about the CT-based artist and it’s difficult to find the right words to capture what that “something” is. I can’t recall any other artist whose art is so easy and so hard to write about – the music takes me places, and when I come back, words never seem to do the musical experience the justice it deserves.
BY MY LONESOME served as the debut solo project from RUDY and it set the tone for what the remainder of his year – in regards to releases – would look and sound like. And that’s not to say the rest of his 2018 drops sounded similar. Rather, every release that followed would come with a different energy and a unique perspective, two traits that help define what BY MY LONESOME represents.
Despite the smorgasbord of new music that was 2018, RUDY’s debut finds a way to stand out from the higher profile releases thanks to RUDY’s skill set and the illuminating aura of authenticity that permeates the album. He’s forever learning and growing, but this project will have you wondering if there’s anything RUDY can’t do.
Kanye West – Ye
Ye is powerful, humbling, soft yet abrasive, and one of the year’s more from-the-heart album’s from one of the year’s most controversial figures. Similar to his actions, tweets and public moments, Ye is the epitome of a live-stream of consciousness, fundamentally true to where Kanye West was at the time of it’s creation. While his points of view and perceptions may have altered since it’s release, Ye was a collection of pages straight from the personal diary of Mr. West.
Although many are unable to look beyond some noteworthy Tweets or TMZ appearances to sit with this album unbiased in their experience, Ye is filled with engrossing content backed by unconventional instrumentation. It feels as though West was truly remembering who he is, regaining a sense of self and rediscovering an awareness of the superpowers he posses. In doing so, Kanye managed to use his light to ignite a fire under his fans, a great number of which were able to relate to the unabashed commentary on mental health.
The album doesn’t sound like it was created for the conventional mainstream, instead featuring an energetic purge from West – Ye wasn’t about making hits, it was about one man clearing and cleansing his spirit in order to open the door for what’s to come.
Sylvan LaCue – Apologies in Advance
Sylvan LaCue’s Apologies in Advance is the only project that dropped in 2018 that I regret not writing about in-depth. Like a number of his previous tapes, AIA seemed to come at a time when I needed to hear it, immediately rocketing it to the forefront of my favorite, most meaningful releases of the year.
With an atmosphere that felt like a modern take on Lauryn’s Miseducation, LaCue sets the music around a support group – it’s an AA meeting but for one’s own self rather than a drinking problem. And the project that follows is littered with enchanting, lyrically deep self-help anthems that are filtered between group conversations that focus on becoming one’s greatest version.
Although a number of releases this year would follow suit, Apologies in Advance stands out to me as the first project to really tackle mental health issues in a relatable, sincere and eloquent fashion. It’s like a therapy session backed by LaCue’s heartfelt and comforting delivery.
Saba – CARE FOR ME
In 2018, Saba became one of my favorite artists. And CARE FOR ME played a significant role in that.
The album is another one that makes me struggle to find the right words to capture exactly why I love it like I do. It’s got an energy to it that makes me feel good, taking me into my mind and leaving me with a sense of energetic and karmic cleanse. Through the underlying tones of regret and self-discovery, Saba’s delivery is soothing – beyond his words, his energy fills me with a desire to get up and go after my dreams.
CARE FOR ME is poetic and encouraging, forcing the listener to look in the mirror and reflect on where they have been and where they want to go.
BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence
The other day, I went to see the new Grinch movie and marked out when a BROCKHAMPTON song was featured in a scene. And that pretty much sums up the type of year BROCKHAMPTON had, skyrocketing to mainstream success after years and years of working hard to bring their collective visions to life.
iridescence debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and for good reason, the project finding a way to take a multifarious group of friends and bring forth a divinely blended sonic experience. Nobody in the boy band has a style similar to the next, yet each verse fits together like a puzzle piece. It really is one of the more wild listening experiences I’ve had this year, finding a strange comfort in the abrasive, high-energy music.
Of course, it’s the raw and real emotion found throughout the album that really allows it to stand out from the pack. When listeners are opened to so many unique perspectives and experiences, let alone all on one track, there is literally something for everyone. You’ll relate, you’ll feel pain, you’ll find inspiration, and you’ll feel like this project was created to help you learn how to help yourself.
No Name – Room 25
In 2019, I hope everyone stops feeling the need to throw the word “female” in front of “rapper” when describing a female who raps.
There is such an eclectic and dope variety of hip-hop coming from the Queens, leaving any taste with the ability to be satisfied. From Rapsody to Cardi, Nicki to No Name, there is something for everyone. And it’s about damn time these talented emcees began getting the acclaim and recognition they’ve earned.
No Name’s Room 25 is the artist’s first full-length studio album, following years of show-stealing features. The project is highlighted by her distinguishingly smooth delivery as the Chicago-based emcee floats over the light, jazzy production with self-aware quips and layered observations on life and society as a whole.
Room 25 is intelligent, confident, and mentally stimulating music that fills the listener up while leaving a longing for more. No Name is an artist you could leave on repeat all day, the uplifting vibes of her energy working to recharge your mind, body and spirit.
Mac Miller – Swimming
I don’t know, man. A lot of wild shit happened in 2018, but Mac’s death really feels like the biggest tragedy. It’s the first celebrity death that impacted me like this, as though I knew him personally.
And that was the beauty of his music and his career – if you came up listening to Mac, you felt like he was your boy. Like he was your brother.
We got to witness a live stream of his growth, both personally and artistically, going from the K.I.D.S. rapper to the artist responsible for breathtaking masterpieces like Divine Feminine and Swimming. He was constantly evolving, continuing to push his own limits and dive deeper into his psyche.
Based on accounts from his friends and family, no matter what he was going through, he was always genuinely positive. When a lot of people expected Swimming to be a depressing, vengeful break-up album, it instead featured uplifting, self-aware content that gave everyone hope. Even with his demons, Miller had no time to dwell in the negative.
Swimming is melodic, emotional, and pure. It’s unfiltered, with Miller spending most of the album reciting his prose through song rather than rap. And it all worked so well, tugging on the heartstrings of listeners all the while sending us deeper into our own subconscious.
Jay Rock – Redemption
In my circle of friends, the TDE artists most often on the receiving end of praise are Kendrick and Q. But that all changed with the release of Jay Rock’s Redemption.
From my perspective, this is the most complete collection of music from any TDE artist to-date. The project features Jay Rock at his best, lacing the album with a finely balanced blend of introspective records and hard-hitting anthems. The singles are bops, the features are pristinely selected and placed, and listeners finally get their most direct access to Rock’s state of mind yet. It’s a personal album that brings listeners into the life and times of Jay Rock.
Also, “WIN” might be the song of the year.
NIKO IS – UNIKO
Honestly, I could hit play on any project or track from NIKO and be happy. That’s just what dude’s music does – fills you with tropicool vibes and good energy. But UNIKO, the sophomore full-length from the Colours/Javotti-housed artist, showcases all the elements of NIKO that allow him to stand on his own in a world of copycats and trends.
UNIKO is a heartwarming and inspiring journey set to the words of NIKO and the production of Thanks Joey, taking listeners deep into the chillosophies of NIKO. You’ll dance, you’ll vibe, you’ll enjoy this album with a drink and a smoke, and you’ll get lost in the energy of the audio dope.
The project was years in the making, exhibited by the growth and lessons NIKO has undergone and learned as his journey through life progresses. UNIKO is a vibe…and vibes don’t lie.
What About the 10 Spot?
I know most EotY lists feature the top 10 or whatever, but I’m going to take my creative license and run with it. The previous 9 albums are my favorites and the tenth spot is a toss-up based on my mood in the moment. So, the following list of projects could easily fill out my Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2018:
Jon Bellion – Glory Sound Prep
Pusha T – DAYTONA
KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Various Artists – Jamla Is The Squad II
Aaron Cohen – See Red
Lupe Fiasco – DROGAS WAVE
Raz Simone – Drive Theory
Janine – 99
H.E.R. – I Used to Know Her, Part 1 & 2
Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 & 2
Trevor Hall – The Fruitful Darkness