The Year 2018 in Review
Author: Zach 'Goose' Gase
2018 was another year of completely unpredictable headlines, political turmoil, great music, and not so great music. Possibly even more than the previous couple of years (which also had their fair share of strange moments), hip-hop culture felt like it was in a transitional period in 2018.
As more and more stars emerge from the SoundCloud era, the more disconnected I feel from mainstream hip-hop. That, along with the falls from grace from people I once considered icons (both in terms of their musical output and their character), has defined 2018 for me. Luckily for every bad moment this year, there was a two or three good ones.
While 2018's typical rap superstar may look and sound much different from chart toppers of the past, I'm still convinced the fundamental aspects of what we love about the genre and culture will forever be intact. Regardless of how you feel about the Lil Pumps, XXXs, 69s, and Post Malones of the world, there is still a market for excellent rapping. Rapping well may not have been the sexiest or most marketable thing in 2018, but there was plenty of it to go around for the hip-hop heads who still want dope beats and rhymes.
The more disconnected from the Billboard Hot 100, the more I look toward the talent around me. Chicago has been an especially important place for hip-hop since 2012 (at least), and this year was no different. My Top 30 Albums of the Year is filled with several Chicagoans, from the recently national breakout stars, underground legends, hidden treasures, and just about any other type of artist you could imagine.
Top 30 Albums of 2018:
30. Smino - NOIR
29. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything's Fine
28. Future & Zaytoven - Beast Mode 2
27. Ravyn Lenae - Crush
26. Chris Orrick - Portraits
25. Atmosphere - Mi Vida Local
24. The O'My's - Tomorrow
23. Defcee - A Mixtape as God Intended (Vol. 1)
22. Vince Staples - FM!
21. The Internet - Hive Mind
20. Tierra Whack - Whack World
19. Evidence - Weather or Not
18. Open Mike Eagle - What Happens When I Try to Relax
17. Kid Cudi & Kanye West - Kids See Ghosts
16. Rich Jones & J. Khelr - The Shoulder You Lean On
15. Serengeti - Dennis 6e
14. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V
13. Jay Rock - Redemption
12. Sen Morimoto - CANNONBALL!
11. Lupe Fiasco - DROGAS Wave
Top 10 Albums of 2018:
10. The Weeknd - My Dear Melancholy,
While it mostly flew under the radar, The Weeknd got back to the basics with his EP "My Dear Melancholy,". After years of churning out chart-topping singles and pop-centric LPs, The Weeknd channeled his "Trilogy" sound for this six-track project, which is likely his best work since 2011.
9. Royce Da 5'9" - The Book of Ryan
Royce Da 5'9" has been so great at rapping for so long that it almost got boring. "PRhyme 2," released earlier in 2018, was a bit of a bore to me. So it was refreshing to hear Royce scale back his more complex and technical raps in favor for better songwriting and storytelling. "Cocaine" has become one of my favorite songs in Royce's expansive catalog.
8. Phonte - No News Is Good News
Phonte is one of my favorite rappers of all time, and his sophomore LP, "No News Is Good News" did not disappoint. The album is full of that classic Phonte wordplay and sense of humor, in addition to several emotional and insightful tracks about his personal life. Standout track "So Help Me God" might be one of the strongest rap performances of the year.
7. Denzel Curry - Ta13oo
Denzel Curry is the only rapper in my top 10 that I haven't listened to before 2018. His "Ta13oo" album pulls influence from Danny Brown and Andre 3000 and ties it in to a younger generation.
6. Noname - Room 25
While "Room 25" isn't nearly as tight and focused as her 2016 debut "Telefone," it is an excellent sophomore effort for the Chicago enigma, Noname. "Room 25" shows Noname as a more confident emcee but also doesn't stray too far from the intimate feel of her first release.
5. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Rapping has always come easy to Earl. Early on in his career, his main struggle was figuring out in what context and manner should he be delivering these effortlessly technically proficient raps.
He figured that out on his 2015 LP, "I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside," so I was curious what he would do on his next record.
"Some Rap Songs" is a showcase of Earl's rapping and beat making abilities, but it is also the most personal the former Odd Future wunderkind has ever been. It's 25 minutes over the course of 15 tracks, and each song reveals a little bit more into Earl Sweatshirt's world.
4. Mac Miller - Swimming
This is an incredibly difficult album to write about. At the time of its release - a month before his death - "Swimming" felt like yet another breakthrough for Mac Miller, an artist who continued to improve with each project. There was also certainly something troubling hovering over this record; was it his high profile breakup, his ongoing problems with substances, or his struggle with fame? It's hard to say what inspired the tone of "Swimming" because Miller wrote in such a coded manner.
Following his death, it's very easy to tie these ambiguous lyrics to something sinister that ultimately led to his overdose. But I think that does Miller and this album a great disservice. I believe "Swimming" is a beautifully sad record about a 26-year-old trying to swim out of a difficult time of his life. "So It Goes" is a painfully morose way to end an album. It's raising more questions at a time most artists would be attempting to provide answers. But "So It Goes" wasn't supposed to be the final song of his career. There would've been another record. There was supposed to be more time for Mac Miller.
3. Saba - CARE FOR ME
Putting out a record as personal and heart breaking as "CARE FOR ME" at this stage of his career was a huge risk, but it paid off immensely for the Chicago rapper. Saba's fourth project is all about the loss of his cousin, rapper/singer John Walt, who was murdered in February 2017. But Saba's acrobatic flows and eloquent writing puts you right there with him in his grandmother's kitchen (depicted on the cover), pondering the meaning of life and what comes next.
2. Dessa - Chime
Minnesota rapper/singer/poet/writer Dessa's 4th LP, "Chime," is a near-perfect curation of all of her talents into one cohesive record. Over the course of 13 songs, she takes a scientific look into getting over a bad breakup ("Good Grief," "Half of You"), the intense fear women have to face in their day-to-day lives ("Ride," "Fire Drills"), and a chilling account of grappling with the loss of a love one ("I Hope I'm Wrong").
1. Pusha T - DAYTONA
In 2018, Pusha T found himself in the middle of possibly the biggest beef of the decade, and he was also alongside the never-ending drama surrounding Kanye West. That would provide as a distraction to most, but Pusha T kept his head down all year and put out the most focused release of his career, "DAYTONA."
Pusha T won 2018 by sticking to the basics: great rapping over raw production. While the seven-song format didn't work for most of the GOOD Music releases, it was the perfect formula for the former Clipse emcee. In an era of 25-song releases with high profile collaborations that sound dated six months after their release, "DAYTONA" is an album that would be regarded as one of the year's best in any era.
Honorable mentions (within five points of the top 30):
- milo - budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
- Vagabond Maurice - A Garden at the End of the World
- Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & Alchemist - Fetti
- Teyana Taylor - KTSE
- Femdot - Delacreme 2
- LA VanGogh - Everything Is Subjective (part 2)
- Black Milk - Fever
- Lil Peed - Come Over When You're Sober (part 2)
- Drake - Scorpion
- James Gardin - Until It All Makes Sense
- AIR CREDITS, Sims, & Icetep - Artería Verite
- J. Bambi - RETROGRADE
Best of Chicago (Not included above, within 10 points of top 30):
- Ano Ba - Pogi
- Sol Patches - Garden City
- Fess Grandiose - Front Room Methodology
- Joseph Chilliams - The Plastics EP
- Chore Boy - BERGERON
- Qari - NO TIME TO EXPLAIN
- AIR CREDITS - Wasteland Radio (Green)
- cupcakKe - Ephorize
- Me'Chelle - Negro Heart 2
- Valee - GOOD Job, You Found Me
- KAINA - 4u
- Mick Jenkins - Pieces of a Man
- Super King Reza & Groovebox - Everything You Need
- Montana Macks - Original Recipe
Biggest disappointments of 2018:
1. Nas - Nasir
While "Nasir" might not be the worst album of his career, it's certainly the most forgettable. After not releasing a project in six years, Nas totally phoned it in over some excellent Kanye West beats. It was also disappointing that he didn't address the domestic violence claims brought up against him by Kelis.
2. Kanye West - ye
Like most of the GOOD Music "Wyoming" releases, "ye" sounds extremely rushed and completely uninspired. It's easily Kanye's least essential and worst LP in his catalog. "Ghost Town" is the lone bright spot on a record full of potentially good ideas that were pulled out of the oven too soon.
3. Anderson .Paak - Oxnard
Anderson Paak struck gold twice in 2016 with "Yes Lawd!" and "Malibu," but his first LP on Aftermath lacks any of the charm from his previous work. Forced collaborations and cringey sex raps make this a tough listen front to back, but there are still some very good songs on here.
4. ASAP Rocky - TESTING
ASAP Rocky has always seemed like he had more interest in fashion and other pursuits, and music was just a means as entry point for him. His solid 2015 LP, "At Long Last ASAP," almost made me reconsider that stance, but "TESTING" is just lazy and scattered. Most of the songs on here sound like a bunch of half-baked ideas mindlessly patched together.
5. YG - STAY DANGEROUS
"STAY DANGEROUS" is a fine but dull record. YG's previous releases were much more fun and exciting.
6. Vic Mensa - Hooligans
I had high hopes for Vic Mensa, but with each release he fails to meet expectations. He doesn't ever seem to know what lane he wants to be in (he has collabs with G-Eazy and G Herbo on this project), and he isn't a dynamic enough vocalist and writer to genre-hop from song to song.
7. Drake - Scorpion
"Scorpion" is fine. It's not something you listen to all the way, but there's a bunch of great songs that appease every facet of his fanbase, and I think that was more or less the point. What makes this record disappointing is that it appears Drake is no longer trying to put out a classic (or even a great) album; he's just trying to put out as many hits as he can.
8. Eminem - Kamikaze
There's really no reason to listen to Eminem in 2018. Sure, he can still rhyme as well as anyone with a rhyming dictionary on hand, but he has nothing to say, nor does he sound good saying it.
9. Kendrick Lamar & TDE - Black Panther soundtrack
This is a good soundtrack, but it could've been more. This reminds me of Kanye West and GOOD Music's "Cruel Summer." Some decent songs, but mostly a standard compilation.
10. The Diplomats - Diplomatic Ties
This was a quiet release on Black Friday. I bet most Dipset fans are better off not knowing it exists.
Originally posted: January 2, 2019