In case you couldn’t tell, I like hippity-hop music.
Young Thug- To my knowledge, Thugger only dropped one album this year, “Slime Language.” Young Thug’s label “Young Stoner Life Records,” an assortment of artists similar to but significantly less talented than Jeffrey himself, made for a really boring, generic trap album that didn’t really contribute anything new to the genre. That being said, he did drop a few solid EPs, namely “Hear No Evil”, and “On the Rvn” which were pretty good. I’d recommend checking those out.
Aesop Rock- Unfortunately we didn’t get any full-length projects this year, but Aes did grace us with “Klutz,” one of the best singles of 2018, and a few miscellaneous tracks from his upcoming collaboration with electronic musician Tobacco, Malibu Ken.
Tay-K- Tay-K only has like 2 songs that I know of, but they’re both really really good. He’s also in prison right now, which is sad, cause it means that we probably won’t get anymore Tay-K. Also, I know that “The Race” was released in 2017, but it was the second top song on my 2018 Spotify wrapped, so I figured I’d mention it here.
MF DOOM x Cookin Soul– This project dropped right before Christmas, and while the DOOM verses on here are just recycled from old tracks, the Christmas music sampling and lo-fi aesthetic makes for a really pleasant listen.
And now the list:
- Some Rap Songs- Earl Sweatshirt
Y’all boys like being sad? Yeah? Well, do I got the artist for you.
Probably the most uncomfortably personal album I’ve heard this year, Earl returns in classic style; talking about mental health, family life, and substance abuse. Earl Sweatshirt is maybe the one rapper that I can genuinely believe has 99 problems. While the vocals are often mixed under the other… sonic elements, if you actually take time to read through the lyrics, there are some fairly witty bars here. This album employs the sample-heavy production style of Madlib, but rather than using whimsical cartoon clips and soul samples, it uses brief, startling (but surprisingly smooth) instrumentals and samples of people speaking, including Earl’s own parents. This comparison in production, as well as Earl’s style being heavily compared to that of MF DOOM, have led to this album being granted the informal title Sadvillainy, which is actually pretty spot-on. Other parallels drawn include the brief track lengths, the omission of hooks or choruses (occasionally a repeated quatrain but no defining structure), and a lack of features. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider listening to this album a pleasant experience, it definitely packs a pretty heavy punch, both musically and emotionally. I think some listeners will get a lot out of it, although I don’t necessarily fall into that category. Still a solid album.
Personal Favorite; December 24th
- Czarface Meets Metal Face- Czarface & MF DOOM
Speaking of Madvillainy, DOOM came back this year for a collaboration with Czarface, a group comprised of former Wu-Tang clanner Inspectah Deck, Army of the Pharaohs member Esoteric, and producer 7L. The two compliment each other really well, as both DOOM and Czarface have leaned pretty heavily into the “comic book” esthetic, with some really vibrant production to match. This album doesn’t have that much “depth” to it, since it’s mainly just INS, Eso, and DOOM trading bars, with the help of a few features here and there. Arguably not DOOM’s best work, but this project is just really fun to listen to. If you’re a fan of 90’s east-coast hip-hop (boom bap, especially Wu-Tang stuff), and early 2000’s DOOM (Madvillainy, Mm.. Food, etc.) then I would definitely recommend this album.
Recommendation: Bomb Thrown
Personal Favorite: Forever People
- Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2- Black Thought
“Wait, Bod, this isn’t an albu-” Yeah, well guess what? I’m not a music critic.
There isn’t that much I can say about these two EPs, other than the fact that they both sport great production and some of the best bars I’ve heard all year, one after the other. Black Thought doesn’t really waste any time worrying about hooks, skits, or features. He’s just one of the best MCs working right now. Streams of Thought is basically an extension of his freestyle on hot 97, with a little more depth and care put into themes and focus. The production on both halves of the series, mainly that of 9th Wonder on vol. 1 and Salaam Remi on vol. 2 is pretty solid, and both compliment Black Thought’s style really well. If you want some of that c o n s c i o u s rap, this is probably one of your best bets for 2018.
Recommendation: Long Liveth
Personal Favorite: 9th vs. Thought
- FM! – Vince Staples
Having not listened to Summertime ‘06 or Prima Donna in quite a while, and not really having any opinion on Big Fish Theory, I kind of forgot about Vince Staples. Like I recognized his name and everything, but I had absolutely no read on when his next release would be, nor was I particularly invested. After listening to this album about 5 times, I have to admit— I was definitely sleeping on this man. This project isn’t very long (22 minutes), but has a decent amount of cohesion to it. The framing device is that the album is being presented through a program on FM radio (hence the title). While this isn’t really necessary, it works well enough, and justifies all of the short skits. This album covers the same topics that Vince’s previous projects have dealt with (gang violence, his hometown of Long Beach, etc.) but in a way different enough from previous VS albums that I think it’s worth a listen.
Also, Kenny Beats has been absolutely killing it this year. In addition to producing this entire album (which he did a great a job on), he also produced all of Rico Nasty’s “Nasty”, tracks for Ski Mask, JPEGMAFIA, and the next artist on this list.
Recommendation: Run the Bands
Personal Favorite: Outside
- Dicaprio 2- JID
Before any of you edgy hipsters call me out for bandwagoning, I’ve been all-aboard the JID hype train since the 2018 XXL list came out. Given the incredibly high bar that JID set himself— The Never Story, his freestyle and cypher for XXL, and all the features he’d done this year (go and listen to Meditate if you haven’t yet)— Dicaprio 2 actually turned out to be a mild disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, this shit still bangs from here to Dreamville and back, but JID’s mastery of lyricism and flow set the stage for his next project to be a rap masterpiece, which I don’t think this album quite achieved (I still maintain he has that potential). Instead we got a tracklist full of incredibly hard tracks, with a few smooth cuts in the middle. I don’t like to throw around the word “banger,” since at this point its lost basically all its meaning, but if there had to be a piece of music that exemplified the term, “Off deez” definitely takes that cake. JID’s rapping on this album is still phenomenal, it just lacks the depth that I think he could bring to the table. Also, I gotta hand it to J. Cole; while I’m not the biggest fan of his recent solo work (2014 FHD is still solid), he probably has one of the most stacked labels in hip-hop right now.
Also, this isn’t related to anything, but the beat on “Mounted Up” kinda sounds like the beat from the first part of Kanye’s “Blood on the Leaves.” That is all.
Recommendation: Slick Talk
Personal Favorite: 151 Rum
- Veteran- JPEGMAFIA
For a guy named JPEGMAFIA, he puts out some pretty high resolution audio— this man does NOT compress his music.
Probably one of the weirdest albums I’ve heard all year, and definitely the weirdest one on this list, the best approximation I can give you of JPEGMAFIA’s music is this video. As far as “experimental” hip-hop goes, Peggy’s avant-garde contributions come mainly in the form of his production (which he did all by himself!). His frequent use of samples, including moans, screams, snippets from other rap songs, and video game voice-lines, makes an appearance in nearly every track. Peggy’s willingness to defy and subvert conventions also leads to some really creative music. The song panic emoji is one of the rawest, most vivid descriptions of panic attacks I’ve heard in any genre. Then you have My thoughts on Neogaf dying, which is 1:34 of “I don’t care” over and over again. Probably the biggest criticism of JPEGMAFIA’s music is how unapologetically edgy it is. And while this isn’t necessarily an unfair characterization, Peggy seems well aware of what he’s doing, and leans into it. I personally can’t wait until the follow up, Veterinarian, where Peggy raps over animal noises for 45 minutes.
Recommendation: 1539 N. Calvert
Personal favorite: Thug Tears
- Ta13oo- Denzel Curry
“Is this the guy who made that Ultimate song? Like the one from all those Vines?” – you, an uncultured pleb
“REEEEEEEEEEEEE” – me, a sophisticated connoisseur of rap music
I’m still kind of shocked how little recognition Denzel’s music has gotten especially since it’s a) pretty damn good, and b) fairly accessible. On his newest album, he decided to diversify his style a bit, throwing on a few more melodic tracks in addition to his usual “bangers.” Nonetheless, all the tracks on this album are really good, proving that Denzel can successfully cover a pretty broad spectrum of styles. The only bad thing I can really say about this album is that the classification into three section (a rap triptych, if you will), didn’t always make a ton of sense. I think Sumo and Clout Cobain probably could’ve been switched around, but other than some questionable organization, I have few complaints. I personally had a preference for the middle section of the album, just because it provided some smoother production/vocals but still gave Denzel a chance to go off on the mic. I’m definitely excited to see which direction Denzel goes in moving forward— maybe he’ll try to make some jazz rap, or attempt gregorian chanting.
Also, Denzel is such a gamer that he even put all his song titles in l33t speak (cool gamer code for all you non-gamers). Someone’s ready to rise up.
Personal Favorite: SWITCH IT UP|ZWITCH 1T UP
- Daytona- Pusha T
Daytona is by far the most pristine rap record I’ve heard all year. Every track, every beat, and (almost) every bar hit with meticulous, surgical precision (I do agree the janitor line was wack, but I forgive Terrence). Out of all the “Wyoming” albums to come out of the G.O.O.D music label last June, Daytona is definitely the most polished. From the moment the beat drops on the opening track, to the sample outro on Infrared, this album does an incredibly good job of holding your attention. Granted, that isn’t as hard given that the entire thing is a paltry 21 minutes (lots of quick albums this year). This album’s short length is probably what holds it back from being placed among the “great” rap albums, or, to use a term I dislike, given the designation of “classic.” But while putting out 7 good tracks is easier than, say, 20, the lack of any sort of filler on Daytona makes for an incredibly enjoyable listening experience.
Kanye’s production, which has been on point this year in general, comes through especially well here. Armed with his trademark soul samples (as well as a few miscellaneous prog-rock riffs), every single beat is buttery smooth. Pusha T’s delivery is also probably the best among any currently active MC (up there with Black Thought), and his great bars stand out more when followed by his signature ad-libs. Push is also the only rapper I’ve heard this year reference Economics: “These rap songs is all testing my patience/Them prices ain’t real without inflation.” Good for you, Push. Good for you.
Recommendation: Hard Piano
Personal favorite: Come Back Baby