The most disheartening trend of 2018 involves artists sacrificing quality for quantity with the sole purpose being to boost streaming numbers. With lackluster, filler-laden, double album releases from both Drake and Migos, I began to visualize a hip-hop culture with shifting priorities. It seems as though value is no longer placed on the album as a cohesive work, but rather in having a hodgepodge of disjointed songs — all of which aim to be singles with radio appeal. Releasing long albums of mostly throwaway songs strictly to boost streaming numbers is the epitome of selling out.
The best albums to be released this year went against this growing trend. Out of the 10 records I picked for my favorite hip-hop albums of 2018, seven of them are under 30 minutes and a good amount are under 10 songs. Hip-hop as a genre is constantly changing and reinventing itself; it’s filled to the brim with ideas. It can be nearly impossible to keep up. These albums represent only a fraction of the incredible hip-hop releases that barraged our ears on a weekly basis this year.
Honorable Mentions: Noname - “Room 25;” Key Glock - “Glockoma;” Vince Staples - “FM!’” Milo - “Budding Ornithologists are Weary of Tired Analogies;” Z-Money - “Chiraq Mogul;” Saba - “Care For Me;” Mick Jenkins - “Pieces of a Man;” Various Artists - “Black Panther Soundtrack;” Jay Rock - “Redemption;” FBG Duck - “Big Clout” Joey Purp - “QUARTERTHING;”
10. KEY! & Kenny Beats - “777”
For a lot of people, this was an introduction to the producer who became impossible to miss in 2018. “777” is Atlanta’s KEY! at the top of his game. Every beat begs to be heard at high volume as KEY! boasts and brags his way through an album that manages to be both fun and introspective. After “777,” Kenny Beats spent the rest of his year producing full-length albums for California’s ALLBLACK and Vince Staples.
9. Bbymutha - “Muthaz Day 3”
Bbymutha is easily the dopest artist to emerge from Chattanooga, Tennessee since Isaiah Rashad. She’s a cross between Lizzo and Junglepussy with production that would fit nicely on a late ‘90s Outkast album. She manages to be both menacing and humorous at the same time. Brash, confident and inventive, Bbymutha effortlessly distinguishes herself from her rap contemporaries.
8. Maxo Kream - “Punken”
Houston’s premiere rap storyteller, Maxo Kream, comes through with the most complete and polished album of his career. Every verse is like a window into an exclusive world of hustlers, dealers and pimps. Authenticity has always been important to hip-hop listeners; Maxo’s details to street life are so oddly specific that listeners don’t dare wonder of their veracity. His observations on poverty, class and race are both thoughtful and riveting at the same time.
7. Valee - “GOOD Job, You Found Me”
If I had to pick my favorite artist of 2018, it would easily be G.O.O.D. Music’s Valee. Hailing from Chicago, his signature lazy flow has been copied and imitated by everyone from Tekashi69 and Nicki MInaj to Tyler The Creator. This short introductory EP features just about every one of Valee’s versatile styles with production that he mostly handled by himself. It was the soundtrack to my summer, yet somehow sounds even better on cold winter nights.
6. Kanye West - “Ye”
Kanye’s seven track album was apparently written and recorded in Wyoming over the course of a week. The now infamous “Wyoming sessions” gave birth to releases from rap notables Pusha T and Nas, as well as G.O.O.D. Music singer Teyana Taylor and Kid Cudi under the Kids See Ghosts moniker. Still, none of those albums come close to the kind of vulnerability displayed on Ye. In classic Kanye fashion, critics and fans were divided on whether the album was good or not.
I loved the lyrics. I loved the collaborative nature felt in every track. Kanye’s done it again.
5. Tierra Whack - “Whack World”
Tierra Whack’s sprawling and highly inventive 15-minute visual album features more originality than any other release this year. With 15 songs, each sitting at a minute long, it acts as a showcase to fans and listeners of what she’s capable of. Each song is wildly different than the next and the videos remind me of Missy Elliot in her prime. I only wish the songs were longer and more numerous, which is exactly what Tierra wanted in the first place.
4. Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, and The Alchemist - “Fetti”
This album made my top ten before I even listened to it. The chemistry between Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y and The Alchemist is well-documented. The three artists previously collaborated in 2011 for a standout track off Curren$y’s Covert Coup EP. The production, handled by The Alchemist, is subtle and dark, accentuating the equally brooding lyrics provided by the consistently dope Freddie Gibbs. Curren$y compliments Freddie’s style in unexpected ways. His laid back, matter-of-fact raps offset Freddie’s aggressive and casually brutal bars. Most collab albums seem to crumble under the hype of their release, but this one soared far above my expectations. Play it loudly when it’s dark out.
3. Earl Sweatshirt - “Some Rap Songs”
Hip-hop fans everywhere had been waiting for Earl Sweatshirt to drop a full-length album for the past three years. It didn’t disappoint. If you’d been listening to his monthly radio show, then you weren’t surprised by the heavy jazz influence on the record. The lyrics are dense and multilayered as usual. It’s a short 25 minutes long, but I’ll probably be unpacking it for years to come.
2. Father - “Awful Swim”
If I were to make a strip club-ready playlist in 2018, I would play Trouble and Mike Will Made It’s “Kesha Dem,” and then play this entire Father album in full. Every song is a hedonistic adventure, full of obscure references and debauchery. The production threatens to light your house on fire and/or blow your car speakers out. Every song has quotable lyrics that will either upset or shock your christian parents. It’s truly avant garde hip-hop at it’s dirtiest and most fun.
1. Lorde Fredd33 - “Norf: The Legend of Hotboy Ronald”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s own Lorde Fredd33 never misses a beat in his ambitious release that’s both personal and urgent. Wisconsin, which has the country's highest unemployment rate among blacks and the highest rate of incarceration among black men, becomes the backdrop for an album that subtly deals with issues of race, class and family dynamics. At one point, Lorde Fredd33’s brother even hops on the end of a track to give a memorable acapella verse long after the beat stops. The production is jazz-influenced, harking back to the sounds of mid-’90s hip-hop, but also steeped in electronic and upbeat tempos. Not since Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” has there been such a forceful and compelling love letter to a city and the man that overcame it.