An Edge That Cuts Deeper
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The Best Hip-Hop and Rap Albums of 2018
EVERY year produces some exceptional Hip-Hop and Rap albums...
IN THIS PHOTO: Noname/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and 2018 has been no different! There have been some truly wonderful offerings from genres that are still confined to the borders. I think artists in Hip-Hop and Rap are producing some of the finest music around and they deserve a lot more acclaim. In any case; here is a look at the best albums from the genres – proof of the intent, potency and quality of the very best artists out there. As we head in 2019, I feel the Hip-Hop and Rap genres will continue to delight and provide the sort of strength and firepower...
IN THIS PHOTO: The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Date of Release: 5th April, 2018
“That presence, which anchors Invasion of Privacy, breaks with the rap game’s minimization of women to amplify a multifaceted female MC who is enamored of her own sex appeal and disinterested in the rules. A loud-mouthed Afro-Latina who refuses to be silenced in a world that has historically penalized black women for speaking their minds, Cardi B has changed the trajectory of the hip-hop narrative by upending longstanding street lore about how to earn wealth and respect in the genre and supplanting her male peers by daring to make herself the star of the story.
A woman with no need to rely on a more prominent male counterpart is the protagonist at the controls rewriting the rules, teaching other women how to get to the bag and challenging the men to keep up. Her presence proves that rap is only made better and more compelling by a diverse crop of female talents that do not fit neatly into any particular boxes or gender roles and are not shrinking violets. Cardi B is the real deal. Only thing fake is the boobs” – Entertainment Weekly
Standout Tracks: Be Careful/Money Bag/She Bad
Finest Cut: Bodak Yellow
J. Cole – KOD
Date of Release: 20th April, 2018
Labels: Dreamville/Rock Nation/Interscope
Producers: Jermaine Cole/Ibrahim Hamad/BLVK/Mark Pelli/Ron Gimore/T-Minus
“Most compelling of all is "Once an Addict," a regretful reflection on struggling as a child and young man to cope with the toll heartbreak and alcohol took on his mother. Cole's few departures from the narrative method are sometimes for the worse, such as the point on "KOD" where he gets combative about the lack of guests on his records and deflates boastful rationale with some of his weakest wordplay. Two other instances conversely make for highlights. "Brackets" sharply turns from a millionaire bleating about paying taxes to a detailed treatise on who does and doesn't benefit from the process. Finale "1985 (Intro to 'The Fall Off')" is straight talk directed at a certain sect of younger commercial rappers, mixing sharp cultural commentary with condescension and guidance: "These white kids love that you don't give a fuck/'Cause that's exactly what's expected when your skin black." As the value of Cole's witticisms, and the intellect required to decrypt full meaning of his verses, continues to be debated, the increased strength in his clear-cut writing evinces promise of greater work ahead” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Photograph/ATM/BRACKETS
Finest Cut: 1985 – Into to “The Fall Off”
cupcakKe – Ephorize
Date of Release: 5th January, 2018
Producers: Def Starz/Turreekk
“The album isn't flawless. While LGBTQ support has long been a key component of Harris' voice and perspective, her songs voicing it can still feel a tad clumsy and overstated. 'Crayons' finds her characteristic cleverness replaced by a well-intended jackhammer, repeating “Boy on boy / Girl on girl”, with CupcakKe pointing out she has a gay stylist. It's hard to find any fault with her, giving much needed voice in a homophobic musical arena, but one hopes she finds a way to more naturally graft it into her songwriting.
It hardly detracts from the project overall, and on 'Post Pic' she's back to imagining men masturbating to her pictures, while 'Meet and Greet' brings the aggression back, offering the gem, “Only time a bitch can tell me 'Have a seat' / is if I'm on the Ellen Show.” CupcakKe's confidence and complete lack of a filter remain her greatest allies on Ephorize, with the album feeling like an arrival. Queen Elizabeth may have made some noise, but here, she drowns out the competition. Her position has become undeniable, leaving room for only one thought: what's next. She's sure to be eating on the couch for a while” – The 405
Standout Tracks: Duck Duck Goose/Crayons/Self Interview
Finest Cut: 2 Minutes
The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE
Date of Release: 16th June, 2018
Labels: Parkwood/Sony/Roc Nation
“Everything may lack the emotional depth of Beyoncé’s last two solo records, but it more than makes up for it in holy-shit-Beyoncé moments. Throughout, Jay doesn’t really try to compete with her, which is probably its most revealing insight into their marriage. The past few years have seen a flood of megawatt, full-length team-ups, but only Jay’s own work with Kanye (and Drake and Future’s collaborative 2015 takeover of rap radio) even approach what the Carters have done here, at least as far as fusing their disparate personae into an appealing whole. Both have built vast personal myths across their sprawling discographies, filled with recurring characters and motifs, mothers and hometowns and tragedies. They bring all of that and more into Everything Is Love, an album that deliciously fills in backstory (Jay brought a friend to their first date?), raises the specter of every beef the two have ever had (apologies to Nasir), and demands art history explanation alongside tabloid speculation” – The A.V. Club
Standout Tracks: BOSS/713/BLACK EFFECT
Finest Cut: APESHIT
Buddy – Harlon & Alondra
Date of Release: 20th July, 2018
Label: RCA Records
“As ever, this much variety is a risk. But there's a delicacy in the approach that ties everything together. Where other sample-based producers might just loop up and check out, the team here – from Bruno Mars collaborator Brody Brown to master sticksman Roofeeo – craft arrangements that are intricate and deliberate. A barely-there string quartet closes "Real Life Shit"; a Wurlitzer purrs in the background of Young; every bit of close harmony and double-tracking is crisp and considered.
And the rapper cum singer has the vocal equipment to join the dots. Spitting 'Dear Diary' scrawl or political polemic, singing gospel or R 'n' B, Buddy leans into each style without losing a thread of idiosyncrasy. There are simply no duds.
Even more exciting is the amount of industry support behind him. 2018 is barely halfway through, but Harlan & Alondra will have to be crowbarred out of end-of-year lists come December. An absolute triumph” – The Line of Best Fit
Standout Tracks: Real Life S**t/Trouble on Central/Young
Finest Cut: Hey Up There
Kids See Ghosts (Kanye West, Kid Cudi) – Kids See Ghosts
Date of Release: 8th June, 2018
Labels: GOOD/Def Jam
“For once, Cudi sounds like the one who has it together, the apprentice supporting his former mentor. On an album of highlights, "4th Dimension" and "Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)" are standouts, as exciting and vital as anything West produced in his early-2000s golden years. Sampling Louis Prima's swinging holiday track "What Will Santa Claus Say," the former features KSG's best flow, which, when the hard beat clicks into step with Cudi's verse, is a thrill; while the latter track builds upon the brief glimmer of hope offered on Ye's "Ghost Town" in a bold and exciting moment of triumph as Westproclaims, "Nothing hurts me anymore/Guess what, baby? I am free." That energy is peppered throughout, from the mantras of "Reborn" ("I'm so reborn/I'm moving forward") to the Kurt Cobain-sampling "Cudi Montage," where the song's namesake repeats "Stay strong/Lord, shine your light on me/Save me please." Kids See Ghosts is everything Ye wasn't, delivering a worthwhile listen in spite of the extended PR disaster that preceded its release. With Cudi as the yang to West's yin, the pair inch closer to finding peace and a light in the darkness” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Fire/Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)/Reborn
Finest Cut: 4th Dimension
BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence
Date of Release: 21st September, 2018
Labels: Question Everything/RCA
“The album’s emotional centrepiece, though, is ‘WEIGHT’, an urgent, necessary cleansing of deep-seated doubts from Kevin. He confronts self-doubt (“I’ve been feeling defeated, like I’m the worst in the boyband”), the mental health of his bandmates (“I’m still worried ‘bout when Ashlan [Grey, Brockhampton member] finna put the razor down”), his sexuality (“Every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft / I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming”), before he simply and softly decides to move on from all the controversy the band have faced, singing: “I don’t wanna waste no more time, I’m ready to go / I live my life on standby, I can leave you alone.”
By confronting the bumps they’ve found in the road over the last year, Brockhampton have found a new sense of unity, and when ‘iridescence’ confronts every single one of these bumps, it proves that the band possess a truly special voice. It was a record Brockhampton had to make - now it’s done, they’re free to move on and become the biggest in the world” – DIY
Standout Tracks: BERLIN/LOOPHOLE/HONEY
Finest Cut: WEIGHT
Marlowe – Marlowe
Date of Release: 13th July, 2018
Label: Mello Music Group
“There are few things I dislike more in hip-hop than annoying transparency, and I love the fact that I have to actively try to figure this record out. I recognize that not everyone shares this opinion, and the fact that Marlowe is just as strange in style means it’s probably not for everyone – but those who will like it will really like it. Brigham’s droning, monotone delivery is perfect atop L’Orange’s dynamic and driving beats, with both always pushing each song along at a meditative pace. I found myself bobbing my head similarly to when I listen to Neu! or Boredoms, and I’m grateful that I’ve finally found a hip-hop record with this sort of rhythmically hypnotic effect. The skits are short, entertaining, nondisruptive; the pacing perfect; the ending conclusive and satisfying despite my never really knowing what was going on. I really can’t say enough good things” – Noise Not Music
Standout Tracks: Demonstration/Medicated/Mayday
Finest Cut: Lost Arts
Pusha T – DAYTONA
Date of Release: 25th May, 2018
Labels: GOOD/Def Jam
Producers: Kanye West/Terrence ‘Pusha T’ Thornton/Steven Victor/Andrew Dawson/Mike Dean/Pi’erre Bourne
“Pusha wastes little time on “Infrared” before diving back into his shots at Drake; there’s a Quentin Miller reference and at least one other jab about ghostwriters, and in context, the anecdote about Jay needing that Annie sample to match Grammys with Will Smith seems pointed.
The real venom is saved for Baby and Wayne, though. Pusha thanks Rick Ross—who appears earlier on Daytona—for holding Baby’s feet to the fire for his alleged exploitation of Cash Money artists: “Salute Ross ’cause the message was pure/He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour/Flash without the fire/Another multi-platinum rapper trapped and can’t retire.” It’s withering, and while it’s likely rooted in fact (the details of Wayne’s lawsuit against Cash Money were unbelievably bleak), it serves primarily to cast Pusha as the savvy one, the one who could face boardroom or back-alley obstacles and come away unscathed. That’s not the whole story, of course. But what Pusha has done is carve out his own corner of rap where he can reign as king for as long as he wants” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: The Games We Play/Hard Piano/Come Back Baby
Finest Cut: Infrared
Noname – Room 25
Date of Release: 14th September, 2018
“Meanwhile, In ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ – a tender, wordplay-filled tale of a mother going through chemotherapy – Warner muses on the limited powers of her art, and cracks out the most arresting couplet of the year: “All her hair gone/ Feeling fishy, Finding Chemo/ Smoking seaweed for calm / These Disney movies too close”. Her ponderings on mortality give way to a spiralling string orchestra that wouldn’t sound out of place in the opening moments of Cinderella.
Noname said in a recent interview that hiring that particular 12-piece orchestra (she remains thoroughly independent, an expensive business) blew the entire budget for the project. Unlike many rappers out there, Noname isn’t bringing us a romantic rags-to-riches story; here she acknowledges the pitfalls of fame (as well as the occasional perks) with whip-smart honesty. Just like ‘Telefone’, it’s flawless” – NME
Standout Tracks: Prayer Song/Don’t Forget About Me/Part of Me
Finest Cut: Blaxploitation
Vince Staples – FM!
Date of Release: 2nd November, 2018
Label: Def Jam
Producers: Cubeatz/Hagler/Kenny Beats/KillaGraham
“Yet, despite the impressive roster, FM! remains the Staples' show, his head-spinning flow and twisting wordplay making every track he touches a must-listen. Unsurprisingly, he hits the same themes that he's known for -- including black pride, street violence, "Norf"side repping, and partying -- all with characteristic bite and wit. Without the harsh drill production of Big Fish Theory, FM! is slightly more accessible -- as summer-breezy as Staples can get -- and hypnotizes as effortlessly as it menaces. "Relay," "Outside!" and "FUN!" are the highlights on an album of standouts, but in reality, every track is worthy of attention. Despite FM!'s brevity, Staples jams so much into every bar that it fully satiates, all while still managing to end so abruptly that it comes as a surprise. The electrifying thrill of FM! is a triumph for the rapper who remains at the top of his game” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Relay/FUN!/Tweakin’
Finest Cut: Feels Like Summer
Saba – CARE FOR ME
Date of Release: 5th April, 2018
Labels: Saba Pivot/LLC
“While Saba handles the majority of the production on the album, he gets a hand from producers DaedaePIVOT and Daoud. Saba's lyricism on every track reminds me of a mix of Chicago rappers Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper; however, on "Life," Saba says "stop comparing me to people, no I am not them," and that's fine. He has his own sound and stands out as an artist, with this album possibly being the one to distance himself from being overshadowed by other Chicago rappers. He does hold it down for showing his upbringing through his music as a Chicago artist in a more authentic way this time around.
His rawness is revealed throughout the entire album. He starts off the album with "Busy/Sirens," which reflects on the life situations he's dealt with in the past few years, while touching base on his cousin, who passed away due to a stabbing in February last year. It only gets more personal from there.
His reflections on living as an artist, depression, relationships, love, death, trust issues, the dangers in Chicago and more show that, despite being a known artist in the industry, he's human. Saba confronts his life by writing every thought possible, storytelling to let listeners be aware that he struggles too, possibly with things he can't seem to escape from. His honesty and melodic, calming choruses and singing are for those who want to hear something real” – Exclaim!
Standout Tracks: BUSY / SIRENS/FIGHTER/SMILE
Finest Cut: LIFE