I don’t actually think 2018 has been a very good year for hip-hop. There were very few ambitious projects dropped this year and not enough artists took risks with their music. J. Cole’s KOD is a prime example. Although a very good album, with it being featureless again, it felt like he produced much of the same.
Kanye attempted to shake things up but that whole June weekly seven-track album experiment was just a hot mess. From that mess, the only albums that are even in end-of-year conversations are Pusha T’s Daytona and KIDS SEE GHOSTS.
Having said that, there are some honourable mentions that couldn’t quite make this list. From stellar projects from seasoned veterans like Nipsey Hussle (Victory Lap) and Royce da 5’9’’ (Book of Ryan), to impressive sophomore efforts from lesser known artists like Noname (Room 25), Saba (CARE FOR ME) and Dreamville-signee J.I.D. (DiCaprio 2), let’s get into 2018’s top hip-hop albums.
10. Black Panther | Various artists
I may be showing my bias here but I had to include my mandatory TDE album. Jay Rock’s Redemption was an excellent showing and very nearly made my list but, in the end, I had to go for my guy Kendrick. The Black Panther film was a moment and this soundtrack, curated by Kendrick, complemented it well. This album may also be the closest we will ever get to having a Black Hippy album so we should relish what we can while we can.
9. Noir | Smino
I wasn’t actually feeling this album the first time I listened to it. It took me a few spins to get into it because Smino’s music has such a weird vibe to it. With his unique blend of melodic singing/rapping, it’s often difficult to understand what Smino is saying. There’s a lot going on in this album and Smino includes a host of skits and different voices which make the album difficult to follow at times. However, it is important to appreciate that this is a reflection of his creativity. This album is undoubtedly a vibe and a solid follow up to 2017’s Blkswn.
8. Oxnard | Anderson .Paak
It feels strange to say that I was left slightly disappointed by Anderson .Paak’s album. Prior to hearing it, I thought that Cheeky Andy would deliver the album of the year with Oxnard. Unfortunately, although it is still a very good album, Oxnard is not that. What Oxnard is, is a typically funky, groovy, summery project filled with no bad songs and many enjoyable funny skits. The strength of the features on this album is indicative of how well-respected Anderson .Paak is in modern hip-hop.
7. Invasion of Privacy | Cardi B
Cardi B’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of hip-hop will go down as the stuff of legend. In two years, Cardi B transitioned from stripper to reality TV star and Instagram personality to the first female rapper to claim the top spot on the Hot 100 chart since Lauryn Hill in 1998. Her breakout single, ‘Bodak Yellow’, was a ubiquitous smash and pressure mounted ahead of the release of her debut album. I was intrigued to hear what a Cardi B album would even sound like and to see how she would handle the pressure and weight of expectation on her shoulders. With Invasion of Privacy, Cardi delivers a surprisingly impressive debut album which is an enjoyable listen all round. With Nicki Minaj’s antics in 2018 showing that she’s absolutely done out here, Cardi has cemented her position as the new Queen of rap.
6. Championships | Meek Mill
Ever since “getting bodied by a singing nigga” and taking an L in his 2015 beef with Drake, Meek Mill has held more than his fair share of Ls. However, none more so than violating his probation and getting sent back to jail for five months “just for poppin’ a wheelie”. However, Meek has managed to flip his accumulated Ls into the biggest W. He’s back and sounds as focused as ever. Even the album cover screams focus. Meek Mill has been stalked by the system for almost the entirety of his adult life, following a gun charge when he was 18 and, although Meek Mill has always used his music to discuss the flaws in the American criminal justice system, the message now sounds more urgent and pressing on this album. This discussion comes to a head on the Rick Ross and Jay Z assisted ‘What’s Free’, on which Jay spits one of the best verses I’ve ever heard. One criticism of the album is that it’s a bit long but if you’re going to fit in both the typical Meek Mill tracks stunting about money, cars and jewellery, and a serious conversation about prison reform on to one album, what do you expect?
5. Tha Carter V | Lil Wayne
Ordinarily I would complain that an album which stands at 23 tracks long and 1 hour 28 minutes is too long. However, in this case, it’s cause for celebration; after keeping it from us for four years, Birdman finally freed up the ting! Tha Carter V is one of those rare albums that actually lived up to the insatiable hype that had built up while we waited patiently. ‘Dedicate’ starts with the declaration, “if it wasn’t for Wayne, it wouldn’t be!”, and this album serves as a necessary reminder of Wayne’s impact on the game. Lil Wayne’s influence pervades the current hip-hop scene; he’s basically fathered half the game and his legacy deserves respect. Wayne packs this album with more bars than seems possible and reminds us why he deserves to be mentioned in GOAT conversations (he’s firmly in my personal top five). On ‘Dope New Gospel’, Wayne spits, “thank God Weezy back / Order is restored, all is right with the world”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
4. Astroworld | Travis Scott
Although Astroworld is musically in keeping with the rest of Travis Scott’s discography and doesn’t sound very far from what we’ve come to expect from the Houston rapper, something feels different about this album. It is almost like Travis has moulded his career after Kanye West’s early career because Astroworld feels like Travis Scott’s Graduation moment. That is to say, the moment his music transcends hip-hop and receives mainstream recognition and accolades. Following the success of his two early mixtapes Owl Pharoah and Days Before Rodeo in growing a cult following, and the success of his two previous albums Rodeo and Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight in cultivating this following, Astroworld appears to be the album to propel Travis Scott to the superstar status only held by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole. Astroworld is a crisp listen and the album takes listeners on a chaotic rollercoaster journey guided by Travis Scott’s unique musical vision.
3. Swimming | Mac Miller
With Mac Miller’s and Travis’ albums dropping on the same day, it was impossible not to directly compare the two. Of the two, I lean toward Mac Miller’s, simply because Swimming provides a different vibe – something to chill to.
Mac Miller had been on a musical journey of creative development and his last album, The Divine Feminine, proved that the days of ‘Easy Mac with the Cheesy Raps’ were long gone. After effectively dedicating The Divine Feminine to his love for Ariana Grande and, following the couple’s ensuing public breakup, I was expecting Swimming to be a bitter breakup album. However, with Swimming , Mac delivered a mature album addressing his personal struggle with mental health, suicidal thoughts and addiction. He poetically described dealing with these as floating and drowning simultaneously. The album sounded like it was a turning point for him, however his contant battle with his demons, namely depression and substance abuse, ultimately cost him his life. Mac Miller sadly passed away on 7th September, at age 26. The only thing left to say is R.I.P. Mac Miller. Your music touched a generation and will continue to live on for years to come.
2. EVERYTHING IS LOVE | THE CARTERS
On reflection, Jay-Z is actually lucky he cheated on Beyoncé with “Becky with the good hair”. His infidelity spawned a world tour and three amazing albums, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Jay-Z’s 4:44 and now this.
Lemonade was Beyoncé’s abrasive warning shot to Jay-Z, addressing his cheating and declaring she is not a woman to be messed with. After sounding uninspired on 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail , Jay-Z delivered a masterpiece and one of the best albums of 2017 with his apology album, 4:44. EVERYTHING IS LOVE is a celebration of love. Not to sound moist but, when I listen to this album, I can’t help but think, “their love is so pure”. Beyoncé really rides for Jay and the post-infidelity Carters embody Black love at its finest. That is not to say that Black love involves infidelity (I don’t know if I’ll ever fully forgive Jay for jeapordising the “Black Men Don’t Cheat” movement) or that women should tolerate cheating just because Beyoncé did.
Although, to an extent, this sounds like a Beyoncé album with Jay-Z on it, it sounds truly collaborative and Beyonce proves she’s a better rapper than most of the game right now. Also, it can’t be overstated how important the narrative around building Black generational wealth on the album is. The Carters remain relationship goals.
1. Scorpion | Drake
The fact that Scorpion lands so highly on my list is not an indication of the quality of the album but more an indictment on the state of hip-hop in 2018. Drake has had a very interesting 2018. After seeing the end of his phenomenal eight-year Billboard Hot 100 Streak in a quiet end to 2017 (by his own lofty standards), Drake suddenly faced doubts and questions about his legacy and whether he was slowly passing his peak. Drake addressed this when he says, “I’ve been gone since like July, niggas actin’ like I died”, in his feature verse on Blocboy JB’s ‘Look Alive’. This track marked the start of Drake’s 2018 assault on the charts and he has since virtually been an ever present in the top ten, breaking the previous record of 28 weeks at number one with tracks like ‘God’s Plan’, ‘Nice for What’ and the infectious ‘In My Feelings’. 2018 seemed to be going to plan for Drake. That is, until Pusha T happened.
By revealing Drake’s baby momma drama (“YOU ARE HIDING A CHILD!”) on his scathing diss track ‘The Story of Adidon’, Pusha T handed Drake a crushing L and effectively ruined his otherwise immaculate album rollout. We will never know what Scorpionwould have sounded like had Drake not taken an L but, with the beef spawning tracks like ‘8 Out Of 10’, ‘Mob Ties’ and ‘Can’t Take a Joke’, we all owe Pusha T a debt of gratitude for dishing out the fattest L and forcing Drake to get in his bag and give us the album we deserve.
Drake’s success has garnered a hugely diverse following, meaning that it is almost impossible for him to cater to all of his fans. He has struggled to fit his different styles (be it R&B Drake, pop Drake, rap Drake or whichever iteration of Drake you prefer) onto one project in a way that pleases everyone. So, after complaining since Take Care that Drake’s subsequent albums have lacked cohesion, I was actually happy to see that he abandoned cohesion altogether with Scorpion and released a double disk album.
After an almost flawless Side A (‘I’m Upset’ aside), Side B disappointed and proved that, although Drake arguably birthed their style, artists like 6LACK and Bryson Tiller now run the moody trap R&B sub-genre. Like Drake said on Nothing Was the Same ’s ‘Wu-Tang Forever’, “it ain’t about who did it first, it’s ‘bout who did it right”.
On 2013’s ‘0 To 100/ The Catch Up’, Drake says, “I been Steph Curry with the shot”, and he is right to liken himself to the Golden State Warriors’ point guard. Not just because they are both lightskin. Steph is the best 3-point shooter in NBA history and, similarly, Drake is the best hit-maker in hip-hop history. However, it’s important not to let Drake’s innate ear for a hook distract and to remember that, much like how shooting 3s is only one aspect of being a basketballer and Steph’s shooting ability doesn’t mean he overtakes Lebron as the best player alive, making hit songs is only one aspect of being a rapper and has little bearing on the quality of Drake’s albums. Having said all that, it’s impossible to overlook the sheer number of potential hits on Scorpion , from ‘Nonstop’ to ‘After Dark’.
At 25 tracks and 90 minutes, Scorpion is simply too long. However, the fact that it’s a double disk album somehow made it easier for me to simply discard the tracks I don’t like from what is a bloated album. Once I did the necessary fat trimming, removing tracks which appeal to a different type of Drake fan to me, like ‘Peak’, ‘Summer Games’ (which sounds like progressive church music to me) and ‘Ratchet Happy Birthday’, I was left with a custom Scorpion which gave me everything I needed from Drake in 2018.
I know what you’re thinking. “Andy, didn’t you just say don’t let Drake’s hit-making distract you from the quality of the album itself? You can’t just cut out the songs you don’t like and say the remaining tracks are album of the year?”
I’m sorry but I just can’t ignore the hits on my custom Scorpion :
- God’s Plan
- 8 Out Of 10
- Mob Ties
- Can’t Take a Joke
- Sandra’s Rose
- Talk Up
- Is There More
- That’s How You Feel
- Blue Tint
- In My Feelings
- After Dark
- Final Fantasy
- March 14
Anyway, it’s my list. Make your own if you’re upset…