2018 was a monumental year for hip-hop, giving listeners some of the best albums of recent memories. These 10 albums will continue to be played into 2019, and perhaps many more years ahead.
10. “TA13OO” by Denzel Curry
“TA13OO” is the album that has elevated Denzel Curry into the public spotlight, and deservedly so.
With three distinct parts to the album (released one day after another), Curry proves himself as a versatile artist who can make more than just fast-paced bangers. This project is very moody, reaching peak darkness in the final two tracks, both grimy hard-hitters where Curry assaults listeners with 100 mile-per-hour flows, pausing for brief moments before returning to the carnage.
Curry touches on somewhat taboo topics (hence the title) such as molestation, police brutality, and coping with death, making this project a thoughtful concept album. He continues to bring an unforgiving brutality in his delivery and flow, and the major flaws of the album are when he tries to be more lighthearted in the first leg.
Overall, “TA13OO” succeeds thanks to thought-provoking themes and lyrics, on-point production, and a well-executed concept.
9. “Testing” by A$AP Rocky
“Testing” was a either a hit or miss for many, but its experimental nature can be appreciated across the board. Rocky tries out pitched vocals, laid-back guitar melodies, and plenty of grimy samples to accomplish his vision, testing the waters as he goes.
His signature charisma is still one Rocky’s best elements, although this album is much more psychedelic than previous projects. “Praise the Lord” was one of the year’s hottest songs, as Rocky rides the trendy flute melody with ease and goes back and forth with Skepta to deliver multiple catchy verses.
Rocky chooses his collaborators wisely on this project, featuring Frank Ocean, Dev Hynes, and a surprisingly good French Montana hook. Like it or not, one must respect Rocky’s efforts to branch out into a new style of production on Testing.
8. “CARE FOR ME” by Saba
Saba’s second album is emotional and raw, using his Chicago accent to air his grievances with life over jazzy instrumentals. “CARE FOR ME” shows Saba isn’t OK, and takes listeners along a journey of isolation and miscommunication.
The album’s production employs dreary piano chords and bass lines over trap drums, mirroring the lyrical content nicely.
Saba’s flow generally remains cool and collected throughout the project, but occasionally quickens with passion as he reflects on difficult memories. “PROM/KING” exemplifies this as Saba details the murder of his cousin Walter throughout the track, his delivery becoming emotional and aggressive as the story climaxes in the song’s second half.
“CARE FOR ME” is an excellent coping album due to its moody production, intricate storytelling, and intriguing lyrics.
7. “Die Lit” by Playboi Carti
Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne, the dynamic duo, came out with the best trap album we’ve heard in a while. Carti uses his naturally charismatic delivery to bounce off beats at a rapid pace, layering in his classic ad-libs simultaneously.
The production ranges from playful to moody, but Carti’s energy never wavers across songs. Bryson Tiller, Chief Keef, and Skepta all pull of engaging features, their respective styles pairing well with Carti’s vibrancy.
This album is perhaps the epitome of trap: hard-hitting beats, high-speed flows, and a great energy to mosh to. Don’t come to “Die Lit” expecting a profound message, instead prepare to have fun head-bobbing to Carti and Bourne’s infectious liveliness.
6. “Some Rap Songs” by Earl Sweatshirt
“Some Rap Songs” is Earl Sweatshirt’s much-anticipated third studio album, his first since 2015. Despite the title of “studio album,” the project ends after 24 minutes and initially comes across as nonchalant with its poorly mixed vocals and repetitive beats.
Although Earl isn’t necessarily accessible, his intentions to create a brief, lo-fi style album are accomplished, resulting in a concise exposition of his recovery from depression. This project covers an emotional range, caused by the death of Earl’s father in January. Both his parents are paid homage on “Playing Possum” as well as his late friend Hugh Masekela on “Riot.”
Earl almost exclusively utilizes looped samples in the album’s production, giving it an older feeling and also drawing attention to his rapping. Earl is back using sharp wordplay as usual, along with intricate flows that interact with the loops wonderfully.
“Some Rap Songs” is an encapsulation of Earl’s mental state over the past few years, and is sure to grow on listeners over time.
5. “Swimming” by Mac Miller
Mac Miller’s untimely passing in September 2018 turns him into a tragic hero on “Swimming.” “Swimming” is most significant in the canon of Miller’s life and career arc, seeing him return to the mic after a break-up with Ariana Grande and continuing his ongoing battle with addiction.
Miller sounds content on this album, a feeling supported by dreamy, mellow instrumentals and a calm command while rapping. “Come Back to Earth” is one of the best tracks of the year and functions as an appropriate opener to the album, as Swimming feels like Miller’s return from a dark mental state to clarity, although perhaps only temporarily.
This project sees Miller singing more than ever before, showing a newfound comfort in his vocals and lyrics. Many times, the singing is more of a bug than a feature, especially on “What’s the Use,” although the questionable chorus cannot drown out the infectious baseline and playful flow.
Miller’s death was heartbreaking, especially after hearing “Swimming,” but he left his final mark on the world with a well-produced album of introspection.
4. “Astroworld” by Travis Scott
“Astroworld” is one of the best albums of 2018 because it sounds absolutely gorgeous, as Travis Scott balances the roles of rapper and orchestrator. He assembled a jaw-dropping team of collaborators for his third studio album, highlighted by Stevie Wonder, Drake, and Frank Ocean.
Multiple tracks have beat switches (sometimes more than one), changing the album’s pace rapidly as Scott juggles auto-tuned crooning with moody rapping. “Sicko Mode” was the song of the summer, thanks to its memorable lyrics and abrupt beat drops.
The album’s biggest flaw is its lyrical content, as Scott sometimes becomes stale by himself with nothing significant to rap about.
Although many fans consider Rodeo a better album, “Astroworld” brought everything Scott promised in his two-year hiatus, paying homage to Houston, focusing on psychedelic production, and enlisting many well-used features.
3. “Daytona” by Pusha T
In short, “Daytona” is Pusha T at his very best.
His menacing, nasally delivery sounds stellar as usual, and pairs wonderfully with Kanye West’s sample-heavy production. Both Kanye and Pusha brought their A-game on this album, featuring many of the best beats and verses from the Wyoming sessions.
His bars and wordplay are entertaining and smart, featuring a myriad of drug-slinging references as expected. “Come Back Baby” has Pusha spitting verses about success over a murky baseline interrupted by a George Jackson sample as the chorus, a lighthearted break in between hard-hitting braggadocio.
“Infrared,” asides from closing the album on a spooky note and assuring listeners Pusha T is an all time great, opened the floodgates for the Drake beef and ushered the release of “The Story of Adidon,” an instant-classic diss track. Daytona is precise, seven sharp songs with beats that Pusha rides with his snarl of a delivery.
2. “Veteran” by JPEGMAFIA
JPEGMAFIA’s third full-length project excels by diving head-on into the realm of digital experimentation, featuring charismatic delivery over mind-numbing instrumentals.
Peggy incorporates unorthodox samples including chattering teeth, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s screaming, and video game sound bytes to create in-your-face beats that sound truly unique in an oversaturated production industry. JPEGMAFIA has a phenomenal voice to pair with his instrumentation, either screaming obscenities at 100 miles per hour, rapping in a low drawl, or enunciating bars while his voice bounces off the wall.
Peggy fully embraces the counterculture, dissing Drake, Morrissey, and various politicians throughout the album. “Veteran”’s abrasive nature is not for everybody, but turns heads with its aggressive energy and catchy bars.
1. “Kids See Ghosts” by Kids See Ghosts
The album of the year.
Kanye West and Kid Cudi unite for their first full length project a decade after their first collaboration, creating a rock-influenced comeback album that accomplishes everything it needs to in only 24 minutes. After documenting both their struggles against mental illness in the past two years, “Kids See Ghosts” is a therapy session for the dynamic duo, coming to terms with their demons and spreading messages of love and courage.
The album feels like a glorious ride through the Wild West on “Fire,” “Freeee,” and “Cudi Montage,” as Kanye and Cudi trade verses over rock-inspired beats with gusto. “Feel the Love” is perhaps the most energizing song of the year (thanks to Kanye’s screaming), while “Reborn” is one of the most vulnerable, and the album covers a wide range of emotions on every listen.
Each track on the album is a highlight in its own right, making Kids See Ghosts’ return to the spotlight a unanimous success.