After much procrastination, playlist sifting and internal strife, I’m going to give ya’ll the top 10 albums of the year followed by my 3 honorable mentions. This list took quite a bit of time, particularly in deciding the order. Before I dive in however, I’m gonna establish some ground rules:
- Mixtapes vs. Albums. Idc about mixtapes vs albums vs EPs vs LPs. At this point in the streaming era, a musical project is a musical project. Idc if it came through your label, if it can be found on the major streaming sites or only on the mixtape sites, the project is the project.
- These are MY 10 best albums of the year. There’s far too much music out for any reasonable person to hear everything. So if I miss something, it means I never heard it, didn’t go back to it again after a few listens or it was good but not better than the 10 listed. In this era of mass music production, I find it easier to check for your faves, the people who make similar music to your faves and then add in recommendations from others. Trying to take it all on is simply too great a headache.
- The albums will be listed from 10 to 1, followed by the honorable mentions. Each album will get a short paragraph and a list of the top tracks.
- If I’ve already written a review of the album, I’ll link the original review.
- If you disagree, cool. Be sure to share or RT it when you bitch me out.
- Kanye West – Ye
This nigga Kanye. Kanye managed to do real damage to his image this year by saying a lot of stupid shit. He also dropped a fire 7 track album with great production and just enough lyricism and damning honesty to make for another hit in his all-time great discography. Kanye opened with his own frantic thoughts and a double entendre of an opening track in “I Thought About Killing You” leaving us to question if he was homicidal, suicidal or both. Quite the start for somebody seen in MAGA hats and questioning slavery this year. Still, he said silly things like the 2018 version of the bleached assholes line with “I love your titties cause they prove I can focus on two things at once” and honest things like “You know I’m sensitive, I got a gentle mental, every time something happens they want me sent to mental”. Wouldn’t Leave, No Mistakes and Ghost Town is one of the best 3 song runs on any album this year. Kanye gave us his struggles with bipolar disorder over smooth beats and Ty Dolla $ign and PND hooks. If you can get over your anger at the hat, Ye is another fire Kanye West album worth playing.
Best tracks: Wouldn’t Leave, No Mistakes, Ghost Town
- Noname – Room 25
Noname did it again. Room 25 has continued to get regular spins in my rotation. A product of Kanye West’s musical legacy, Noname reminded us she’s a natural poet on the mic and has the right ear for production that both matches her skills and extends her range. Noname’s debut album speaks for itself and if you haven’t heard it or her first mixtape Telefone, catch up then read my review below: https://turtlewithapen.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/noname-takes-us-into-room-25/
Best tracks: Ace, Montego Bae, Don’t Forget About Me
- Future – Beast Mode 2
Future continues his run of mixtapes and albums that will inevitably earn him a spot on any all time hip hop lists that are honest about including trap music and southern rap in general (besides Andre 3000). Beast Mode 2 is a short 9 track mixtape following up the classic, Beast Mode. Like most of what we’ve gotten from Nayvadius, it’s perfect for getting ready to hit a party or club, can be spun straight through at said party or club and showcases Future’s range of ain’t shit masculinity and drugged out self-loathing. We have to start being honest about this run Future has been on for 4 years because he’s continued to shine as one of the best trap rappers in a generation that’s becoming oversaturated with his sound.
Best tracks: 31 Days, Hate the Real Me, Racks Blue
- Nao – Saturn
Nao is, by my best estimation, an underrated artist in the current R&B landscape. Indie R&B women are dominating the genre and London-native Nao is of a similar ilk. Her sophomore album Saturn is a cohesive project featuring heavy astrological themes regarding love and self-discovery. I’m not an R&B snob nor do I pretend to know a goddamn thing about runs, strong natural vocals or what qualifies as real R&B anymore. However, I do know that Nao’s high pitched yet soft voice has been more pleasing to my ears than most of the music that’s come out in the 2 years since her debut album, For All We Know (another must listen if you haven’t already). And I know Another Lifetime is one of the prettiest songs I’ve heard since I first heard Nao on one of her first singles, Bad Blood. Being an astrology fan myself, Nao touching on the ways in which the stars and planets align to impact the paths our lives follow as they intertwine with others was refreshing, because I’d much rather thank the stars than the Heavens for the love in my own life. Nao changes pace throughout the project enough to not lull you to sleep and delivers with few features, carrying this full length project almost entirely alone.
Best tracks: Another Lifetime, If You Ever, Orbit, Yellow of the Sun, Drive and Disconnect
- Kendrick Lamar & Various Artists – The Black Panther Soundtrack
Black Panther was one of the most popular movies of this year, turned into a cultural movement for black people nationwide and ALSO featured one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Current Compton legend Kendrick Lamar executive produced the album and he managed to link some of the best young black artists in U.S. (particularly the West Coast) with a diverse cast of rappers and singers of African heritage, stemming from England, South Africa etc. Knowing how cerebral Kendrick is, this was obviously on purpose. The album matched the movies various themes and the combinations of artists Kendrick brought together mirrored the movie’s link between Wakanda and Los Angeles through villain, short-term king and 2018 black debate topic, Killmonger. The album features a WIDE variety of sounds from the fast-paced (and best track) Opps in which Long Beach native Vince Staples and South African native Yugen Blakrok traded some of the year’s best bars to the slowed down Jorja Smith track I am to the Gqom-inspired Redemption, pairing California’s Zacari with South Africa’s Babes Wodumo. I won’t even pretend to know every genre or every non-American artist featured on the album, but to summarize, the album is black as fuck. Kendrick pairs artists who would have likely never worked together all over the album and put us Black Americans onto a bevy of black artists and sounds from other parts of the world. It’s exactly what Black Panther deserved and might even bring home a Grammy. Kudos to Kendrick, Top Dawg Entertainment and our siblings across the African diaspora.
Best Tracks: Opps, King’s Dead, Redemption, Black Panther
- Buddy – Harlan & Alondra
West Coast native Buddy dropped his debut album and it was a goddamn work of art. The art of G-Funk is alive and well with heirs to the throne like Buddy ready to step up. Harlan & Alondra was raw, honest and hungry. Buddy spits highly relatable and impressive bars about the work he’s put in to get to this debut album, his neighborhood and his love life. From the opening, Real Life S**t, hrough it’s outro, Shine, Buddy raps his ass off. Even on the project’s slowest tracks, Buddy’s delivery is quick and full of wit. The beats are sonically pleasing and Buddy’s flow matches up well with the funky sounds and samples all over the album. While funk and rap have always been linked on the West Coast, Buddy brought it to life best this year and staked his claim to the West Coast revival. The album art alone tells listeners this album is about to have a very retro feel, and Buddy delivers. The album is as diverse as it is special. Buddy is going to be an important artist over the next few years and he’s already got the co-sign of his G-Funk OG, Snoop. Like Vince Staples and Amine, Buddy is a West Coast artist you’ll wanna be hip to in the coming years.
Best tracks: Trouble on Central, Shameless, Shine, Hey Up There
- Vince Staples – FM!
22 minutes of west coast energy and another cohesive and unique Vince Staples experience. It’s the perfect length for a car ride to just about anywhere and is like listening to the radio (a damn near vintage experience in 2018) without hearing the same 4 whack ass songs on repeat. Check out my review below:
Best tracks: FUN, No Bleedin
- Amine – ONEPOINTFIVE
I’ll be honest, in 2016 when Caroline dropped with an amazingly catchy hook and a fun ass video, I thought Amine was just another one hit wonder viral sensation. Then his debut Good For You came out and I was proven very very wrong. Now he’s come back twice as hard on ONEPOINTFIVE. Portland’s dreadheaded son Amine gave fans a fun and introspective album. From the opening track which serves as a 4 minute therapy session, Amine jumps into a flurry of upbeat songs with the lyricism that separates him from many of his fun contemporaries. For an alternative and woke black guy, Amine shows his range by only having 3 rappers featured, all outside his typical audience’s range, in Gunna, G Herbo and Rico Nasty. He explores more sounds on this project than on his debut and it extends his range as an artist. Amine, like other members of this list Noname and Smino, doesn’t make conscious rap (with all the spoken word stereotypes that come with that), but he makes fun and honest music from a self-aware young black man who’s making pronounced strides against racism (and for black people) and his own battles with toxic masculinity. Young and very sure of himself, Amine is sure to be around for years to come repping for the real niggas of Portland.
Best tracks: Together, Ratchet Saturn Girl, Hiccup
- Smino – Noir
If you not kicking it with a shorty during cuffing season and bumping Noir, I know you not winning like you could be winning. Check out my full length review below:
Best tracks: Klink, Bam 2x, Hoopti, LMF
- Mac Miller – Swimming
It’s sad that I have to make this qualification, but Mac Miller’s Swimming is not my album of the year because he passed away shortly after it’s release. His untimely death looms long over the album, particularly because it centered on his battles with depression and the addiction that would eventually take his life. However, Mac delivered his best album to date and second in a row that was extremely cohesive (see The Divine Feminine), taking it from a good album to a complete work of art. The album was also extremely important to me personally as it dropped when I was struggling the most with depression, loneliness and a general dissatisfaction with life (see my personal blogs from the summer for more details). Anyway, I already waxed eloquent about Swimming in a track by track breakdown below and also wrote an emotional eulogy for the greatest white rapper of all time. RIP to the kid. Hip hop has a hole it can’t fill without him.
Best tracks: 2009, Wings, Jet Fuel
There were 3 albums that I wanted to include but they just missed the cut. They were as follows:
Easily the hardest album for me to leave off. Oxnard took me a few listens but it grew on me quickly. It might feature (this is hard for me to say lol) too many rap features and Dr. Dre’s hand in the production makes the album both unique and while also making it not what I expected sonically and a little underwhelming compared to Yes Lawd, Malibu and Venice. It just missed the cut.
The Internet hit the scene hard in 2016 with their classic album Ego Death. That album certainly set high expectations for newer fans and they delivered all throughout 2017 with solo albums from the various band members. I wanted to include Hive Mind in my top 10 for this year. It felt like it belonged, but I had to be honest about how much I actually spun it. It’s for sure an enjoyable and very Internet-esque album, but I think it was a little slower and more bassline-heavy than their previous projects, like Ego Death and Feel Good. I found myself spinning many individual tracks but not the album as a whole, as I did with past projects. I still enjoy Hive Mind, but it missed the mark by a beat.
Controversial album art, absolute demolition of Drake and controversy surrounding Kanye West aside, Pusha T delivered again on Daytona. As part of G.O.O.D. Music’s summer rollout of 7 track, Kanye West-produced albums, Daytona gave us exactly what we expect from Push: dope dealer bars. Push gave us quality tales of drug dealing days gone by over some of the best production he’s ever gotten. To be honest I wanted to include his album to spite Drake fans, but it was just not good enough. It however was highly enjoyable and worth many revisits.