By Trey Alessio
The end of 2018 is here, which means it’s time for my annual top-10 list for rap albums. 2018 was a very interesting year for hip-hop. There were so many great albums from hip-hop’s heavyweights and some names you may not be familiar with, but I’m going to break it all down for you. Here’s this year’s top-10 list for hip-hop albums. (Reminder: this is based on what I like to call the “body of work,” meaning I take everything (quality of the music as a whole, storytelling, message, cohesion, production, rap skills, lyricism, streaming performance, chart performance, etc.) into account.)
This album hasn’t been getting a lot of recognition from the big hip-hop publications, but I wanted to make sure to acknowledge how good of a project this really is. Before I Jump by BZZY paints a vivid picture of what’s going on in his head—the highs and lows of a man struggling with depression. I can’t say I struggle with depression on a clinical level, but I truly felt the darkness one must feel as I was listening to this album. I remember when I first listened, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest by the end of the final song. It’s powerful, scary and real. I want to use this platform to say this: if you’re going through something, you are not alone. There’s always somebody to talk to, and there’s always hope. This is an album that will stick with me.
I truly didn’t recognize how good of a rapper J.I.D was until I heard this album. DiCaprio 2 showcased J.I.D’s stellar rapping abilities. This album leaves him a solid foundation to build on for the future. I could genuinely see the hip-hop community putting J.I.D in the same conversation as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake, etc. down the road. I get strong Lil Wayne-vibes with J.I.D on this album. His lyricism and wordplay are unmatched, and he has a very unique voice, flow and cadence to coincide. This kind of feels like his version of a “fun” album, especially with the movie themes embedded throughout. I can’t wait to see when J.I.D decides to put together an introspective, cohesive, storytelling album because we’ll be in for a real treat. Until then, we get to jam out to DiCaprio 2.
I would argue this is “pound-for-pound” the best rap album of the year. With seven songs and 21 minutes in length, Pusha T managed to give us top-tier drug-dealing raps while still telling us his story and painting a picture of the streets. Out of all the Wyoming albums, Daytona is by far the best one. Am I the biggest fan of the 7-track album treatment? No. But when each song hits as hard as these do, I can live with it. Also, even though Kanye West is getting closer and closer to being cancelled altogether, he’s still a great producer that curated an epic album that inspired Pusha T to pull one of the best albums of his career—with only seven songs. I can’t wait to see what’s next for King Push.
Young Sinatra is back, baby! If you’re a follower of myself and/or R | U | NTRTND, you probably know I’m a huge Logic fan. I discovered his music back in 2012 with the Young Sinatra: Undeniable mixtape, so I was ecstatic when I found out that Logic was going to don the Young Sinatra moniker for one final time. This feels like a 90s album. YSIV sounds very boom-bap and focuses on the bars and the messages. I remember when I first ran through this album, I kept thinking to myself, “This is a dope song… And this is a dope song… And this is sick… Another one (DJ Khaled voice).” I enjoyed the nostalgia, but I also recognized how popular Logic has gotten and how much he has improved as an artist. It’s a really cool thing to see the growth. I also can’t leave out the fact that Logic got every living member of the Wu-Tang Clan on one song. That’s a big deal. Overall, this is a fun album with some dope beats and some dope features that exemplifies why Logic is a top-tier rapper. Now, can we please get Ultra 85?
I love a good surprise-drop! Without any single or any promotion, Eminem released arguably his best work since Recovery. As always, this album was very polarized—people either seemed to love it or hate it. A lot of critics shitted on this album, but I honestly don’t get the hate. Eminem went back to the Slim Shady vibes, didn’t overthink this album like he did with Revival and showed everybody that he can still rap at a very, very high level. Yes, the majority of Kamikaze is Eminem bashing everyone who bashed Revival, but he seems to be at his best when he’s pissed off and when someone lights a fire under his ass. Eminem is in a tough spot because if he puts out something introspective, people will want bangers. If he puts out a “grown-up” album similar to what Jay Z did on 4:44, people will want the real Slim Shady back. With Kamikaze, Eminem gave us bars, solid beats, funny skits, some dope features and a good mixture of Slim Shady vibes and introspective Eminem vibes. I don’t get how people can hate on this album. This one is for the stans!
Every time he drops an album, Travis Scott finds a way to include new, trippy sounds to turn up to. Sonically and production-wise, Astroworld might be the best album of 2018. “Stargazing,” “Sicko Mode,” “Stop Trying To Be God” and “NC-17” are the highlights for me on this album. The reason Astroworld isn’t higher on my list is because (and this might be a hot take) I, personally, don’t think Travis Scott’s sound evolved and grew a ton from Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight to Astroworld. I’m not saying Astroworld isn’t dope, but I just don’t think it quite lived up to Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. (Maybe another hot take) If I had to choose between the two, I just might go with Birds. Yes, the sonics were dope. Yes, the production was crisp. Yes, the features were awesome. Yes, “Sicko Mode” might be the song of 2018. It checks off all the boxes, but I think it comes down to personal preference. I’d rather hear a lyrical, storytelling album than an album full of bangers. There’s a time and place for bangers, but lyricism always wins in my book. Overall, Astroworld is awesome—straight up (Travis Scott voice). There were just so many great albums in 2018, and I’ve got my critic hat on.
I bet some of you are thinking, “Who the hell is Saba? Is he that dude from that one Chance the Rapper song?” First of all, if you are thinking this, slap yourself for sleeping on Saba, and, secondly, for missing out on one of the most beautifully pieced together bodies of work in a long time. This is an album that could easily have been slotted anywhere from no. 4 to no. 1 on this list. Care For Me is an album about loss. Saba loses a loved one and grieves throughout the album. He uses each song as if it were a therapy session. Care For Me is vulnerable and honest. It's very refreshing to see a hip-hop artist who isn't afraid to be sad or be open with his struggles in a genre muddied by macho-mentality. The lyricism and storytelling abilities are off the charts, and Saba’s rap skills are stellar. He has a very unique voice and puts together a solid flow every time he raps. The instrumentation is also glorious, which puts a nice bow on the album. The song “Prom / King” might be the best storytelling song I’ve heard since “Tabernacle” by Royce Da 5’9”. The stories Saba tells are so dark but so relatable and easy to listen to, and the fact that he made this album independently is such a huge accomplishment. If you haven't listened to this album, I implore you to do so. Care For Me just has the “it-factor,” and Saba has a bright, bright future ahead of him.
If you know me, you know that I’ve been rocking with LaCue since he called himself QuESt on his Searching Sylvan project. I’m a big fan, and Apologies In Advance is a special album for me. This is an album about opening up, recognizing your flaws and vices and starting the process of healing yourself. The album is formatted as a mental health version of an AA meeting, where different people open up about their struggles, how they view the world, what they’re doing to try to better themselves, etc. The beautiful songs are accompanied by various skits of these therapy-session-like meetings. It’s a cohesive, lyrical masterpiece that is meant to help the listener better himself or herself. For where I’m at in life right now, this is honestly the perfect album for me. I listen to a different song from Apologies In Advance every morning as I head to work to start the day—that’s how powerful this album is. Aside from the message this album conveys, Sylvan can rap his ass off. The beats and melodies are very simplistic, but the complexity arrives in the lyrics and how the skits piece together each song where the listener can take something deeper away. It blows my mind how many big-time hip-hop publications ignored Apologies In Advance, so I’m going to give credit where credit is due. I also met Sylvan and saw him perform in Chicago, which was very special. After the final song in his set, Sylvan told us in the crowd something that will stick with me forever. He said for as long as he could remember he always wanted to make it out of his city to become a rapper, to keep doing this and that to validate himself as a rapper. He said he always thought he needed more publicity, more followers, more this, more that to feel like a rapper. But really, he was a rapper all along because he was doing something he loved, creating something others can hold onto. I can relate to that so much as a writer. Sylvan is a special guy. Again, if you haven't listened to this album, I implore you to do so. Apologies In Advance is special, and I hope and pray Sylvan gets the recognition he truly deserves sooner rather than later. Wise up!
Kids on drugs, king overdosed or kill our demons? Choose wisely. J. Cole took the sound from trap-inspired beats—most of which the rappers use to promote drug-use—and flipped it in an attempt to teach kids a lesson through storytelling. Some might think Cole missed with this album, but I honestly think it’s genius. The “Intro” states, “Life can bring much pain. There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.” Cole then goes into various vices such as social media, drugs, alcohol, money, sex and much more. KOD is a very timely, very complex project. On the surface, it seems like J. Cole is adapting to the trap-rap culture, but if you really peel back the layers, he is using that sound to tell a story and potentially teach a lesson. As always, the lyricism is amazing, the storytelling is out of this world and the features are nonexistent (unless you count J. Cole’s alter ego kill Edward). KOD is ahead of its time and provided us with a fun array of songs that really teach us something when broken down. Now it’s time to wait for The Fall Off.
First of all, if you say, “The only reason this album is no. 1 is because he died,” you can go fuck yourself. I’ve heard that many times when discussing 2018 albums, and it just pisses me off. Swimming stands on its own as a prolific, beautiful piece of music. Mac Miller put together a triumphant album altogether—not just in the hip-hop genre. The instrumentation (piano, strings, drums, etc.) plus the combination of Mac’s rap skills and singing voice really made this album special. Swimming is an album about trying to stay afloat and enjoying life. We all know Mac Miller struggled with some mental health issues, but he seemed at peace on this album. When he sang the words, “I was drowning, but now I’m swimming…” on “Come Back to Earth,” I felt it in my heart. We all have our own struggles. We all have our own demons. This album makes you want to accept your demons, confront them and live life to the fullest. Swimming is Mac Miller’s most cohesive and most focused album in his discography. There’s a dreary gloom embedded throughout this album but also a sense of happiness, acceptance and understanding. It’s a beautiful piece of art that will transcend time and will undoubtedly mark the highlight of a great career stripped away too soon. Now, I’d like to touch on the untimely passing of Mac Miller. I had a special connection to Mac’s music. Back when I was in high school, Mac dropped K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, and I was into that frat-rap, turn-up style of hip-hop. As I got older and started to become more of a seasoned rap fan with more love for deeper, more conscious records, Mac dropped Watching Movies With the Sound Off and Faces, both of which had a trippy, more introspective sound. I felt as if I grew as a rap fan as Mac Miller grew as an artist. When I heard of his passing, I was devastated. I never thought I’d feel that way about an artist, especially somebody that I’ve never actually met or spoken to. Music matters. Words matter. I love hip-hop, and these songs, these albums, this music means a lot to me. Life is hard, but this music seems to take all the pain away on one hand, and helps me cope with the hardships and makes me realize I’m not alone on the other hand. It’s a beautiful thing. Mac Miller was special, and Swimming will live on forever. R.I.P. Mac Miller.
Scorpion barely missed the cut. It could have easily been placed in the no. 9 or no. 10 slot, but I just felt the others needed their recognition. Obviously, Drake had another massive year, breaking streaming records left and right. Scorpion is Drake’s best work since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. I think if Drake took Side A, added “Nice For What,” “In My Feelings” and maybe “March 14” and scrapped the rest of Side B, it could’ve been Drake’s “classic” album. I, personally, think most of Side B diluted the quality of the album as a whole. That may be the reason it didn’t make the cut this year. However, I still jam out to a bunch of songs from Scorpion consistently.
Jay Rock’s Redemption also just barely missed the cut. This album provides a look into the streets and exemplifies a sort of elementary sound that works commercially and critically to tell his story. I’m really happy one of the pioneer artists on TDE is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Book of Ryan was excellent. Royce is an all-time lyricist, and his storytelling is unlike any other. But something is missing on this album. The ending kind of felt open-ended to me. I feel like I would’ve appreciated the album more if we got more skits and a more definitive ending to the story.
Tha Carter V was finally freed this year! It lived up to the almost impossible hype for the most part. Overall, the album felt a little long-winded with some really good songs and other forgettable songs. Parts of the album felt dated and other parts felt fresh. Most of the production was crisp, and the features were dope. Lil Wayne’s wordplay and lyricism are still impeccable. I’m glad we were blessed with this album this year.
I actually just listened to this album a couple of days ago, but it’s awesome. With 15 songs, all one minute apiece, it’s a quick, easy listen. Tierra Whack can sing and rap, and I predict she will be a star. Whack World is just the beginning.
I randomly pressed play on Harlan & Alondra earlier this year, and I’m so glad I did. Buddy has the makings of a hip-hop powerhouse. The album is fun and gritty, dark and lighthearted. He does a great job of meshing his melodies with his storytelling. Don’t sleep on Buddy, buddy!
Honestly, this is kind of a hard album to digest. Drogas Wave is basically about a group of slaves who were coming to America on slave ships but jumped off the boat and lived on from underwater. It’s a very complex album that requires reading the Genius notes and maybe a Wikipedia search or two. The reason this album made the honorable mention list is the world-building and creativity. Lupe Fiasco is a genius in his own right.
If I’m being honest, this album was a little underwhelming. Malibu was just so damn creative and beautiful, and Oxnard was just slightly above-average. I wanted more. AP got Dre behind the production but sounded more and more conforming to rap the more and more I listened to this album. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Oxnard was good. There were songs, production choices and features I really enjoyed. I just was expecting greatness. I think .Paak tried to be too “hip-hop” on Oxnard whereas on Malibu, he didn’t try to be anything. He did his thing, and the music was amazing. Not to be cliché, but I really hope Anderson .Paak gets back to his roots on his next album.
This is the comeback album we all wanted from Meek. Championships incorporated a mixture of bangers, sample-heavy jams and woke songs. Meek Mill’s reunion with Drake was awesome, the Rick Ross, Jay Z and Cardi B features were all epic and it was just a fun album. I was impressed.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know!
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