One of the few unifying aspects of 2018 was the incredible music that came out this year. 2018 was a very active year for music in general, but it seemed to be more active for hip-hop and R&B than normal. From some high-profile new rap beefs to Kanye’s infamous Wyoming sessions and newcomers solidifying themselves as heavyweights in the ever-growing genre, it was a good year for hip-hop and R&B.
After gathering opinions from myself (Nick) and the other writers, we went through and ranked up all albums based on originality, quality and replay-ability among other traits. We’re excited to highlight some of our favorites for you all below and congratulate each artist on their quality works of art.
1. J.I.D. – DiCaprio 2
J.I.D. can rap laps around his competition. You can count the number of rappers with the same level of technical skill as J.I.D. on one hand, and it seems he’s just starting to realize his full potential. The XXL freshman is a J. Cole protégé and signee to Cole’s Dreamville records label and has proved himself to be one of the most promising newcomers we’ve come across in years. His latest album DiCaprio 2 puts his wild skill set on full display.
J.I.D. has a way of kicking off his verses like a bat out of hell and is nearly impossible to keep up with at times. He’s a rare talent that can unleash flows at the same pace as an olympic sprinter, but can also take things back a notch and sing a laidback, soulful song just as well.
The Atlanta native shines over any and every beat, and it certainly helps that DiCaprio 2 is packed with top-notch production. J.I.D. recruits contributions from Mac Miller, Kenny Beats, J. Cole, Chasethemoney and more giving himself the perfect instrumentals to flex his inhuman rapping skills.
The album comes complete with top notch verses from each collaborator, and for good reason. Anyone getting on a song with J.I.D. knows they need to bring their A game just to not get embarrassed, and this proved to be a motivating force for each featured artist to step things up. DiCaprio 2 is the best hip-hop album we heard all year as J.I.D. proves can truly do it all. We really can’t wait to see where he goes from here, because he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Standout Tracks: “Off Deez” “151 Rum” “Off Da Zoinkys”
2. Mac Miller – Swimming
After a sequence of releases and actions that revealed an anxiety afflicted Mac Miller, the 26-year-old seemed to have finally found solid ground on his 2018 album Swimming. Mac references how we was drowning before, but now he’s “swimming through stressful waters to relief,” as he sings in the song “Come Back To Earth.”
The switch in mood is very evident throughout the album. A majority of the songs are mood lifting and positive, and it’s always a pleasure to hear someone’s energy shine through their music. There’s real soulfulness throughout the entirety of Swimming that is not only inspiring, but also reassuring.
Mac had been in the game for the better part of a decade, but it really felt like he was approaching his peak with the drop of this album. It seemed he had grown to become not just a talented rapper, but the well-rounded artist he wanted to be. Of course, the heartbreaking tragedy of his death will leave us with Swimming as his final project, but we’re thankful that Mac graced us with it. His legacy will live on forever as one of the most revered and most talented figures in the broad reaching hip-hop community. R.I.P. Mac.
Standout Tracks: “Self Care” “Hurt Feelings” “What’s The Use?”
3. Masego – Lady Lady
There’s certainly a couple things to know about Masego before venturing into his debut studio album, Lady Lady. First off, he’s a brilliantly talented instrumentalist. He can play more than a handful of instruments astoundingly well, such as the saxophone, drums, keyboards, guitar, trumpet, and many more. Oh, and he also has an amazing voice.
Secondly, if it wasn’t clear based of the title of the album, Masego is lady’s man. Masego oozes charisma and it’s no surprise that the album spends most of its time focused on women, both real and imagined. The man is only 25 years old, but seems to be an old soul. He may have been brought into this world solely to grace us with charming love songs, and we’re okay with that. There’s something about Lady Lady that will put you in a good mood no matter what.
Standout Tracks: “Tadow” “Old Age” “Queen Tings”
4. Logic – YSIV
Logic came out like he had something to prove with his rapping on his latest album YSIV. After his past two albums Everybody and Bobby Tarantino II had huge success, he decided to return to his mixtape roots for the final edition of his Young Sinatra series, only this time as an official album release. We had the pleasure of premiering his first three Young Sinatra projects years ago that kicked off his impressive career and were stoked to see him go back to the series that started it all.
Here Logic does what he does best… rap. He reflects on the boom-bap origins of the genre spitting straight bars atop smooth, classic hip-hop beats. His flows seem to keep evolving as he somehow keeps getting more skilled on his intricate verses across YSIV.
Logic seemingly did the impossible on this new album and recruited the entire living Wu Tang Clan for an epic collab that went on to be Wu Tang’s first charting song in years. Logic hops and skips along his verses for a solid 14 songs with his rapid fire rhymes impressing us throughout as arguably his strongest project to date.
Standout Tracks: “Wu Tang Forever” “ICONIC” “YSIV”
5. Travis Scott – Astroworld
Travis Scott arguably had one of the most anticipated releases of the year with his third official studio album, Astroworld. All it took was a single listen through of the album to know that this was going to be an easy contender for album of the year. The production was off the charts, the all-star features like Frank Ocean, Drake, Tame Impala, Kid Cudi, and more all pulled their weight, and Travis held it down with amazing solo tracks like “STARGAZING” and “5% TINT.”
With Travis being in the limelight after his first two albums (and his relationship with Kylie Jenner), the pressure was surely mounting for him to deliver something big. Many could argue that with this release, Travis is entering his peak.
Travis Scott made a name for himself with his debut album Rodeo in 2015, became a headlining act with his 2016 Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and ascended to achieving his first number one album with this year’s Astroworld. Where can the Houston rapper go from here? All we can do is watch.
Standout Tracks: “STARGAZING” “SICKO MODE” “YOSEMITE”
6. SAINt JHN – Collection One
SAINt JHN may be one of hip-hop’s best kept secrets. But don’t expect that to last long. The crazy talented artist put out one of the best albums all year and is making moves following the must hear album. After a string of endlessly catchy singles, the melodic rapper delivered his anticipated debut album Collection One. This standout debut album shows off his impressive versatility while maintaining a high level of consistency throughout.
His songwriting is incredible from start to finish and it’s hard to say whats better between his irresistible melodies or impressive flows. He has a way of writing songs that just get stuck in your head indefinitely, and that’s the case for most songs, if not all, on this project. Collection One ranges from hard-hitting songs for the club to laid-back, almost 80s influenced ballads. We’re going to have this one on heavy rotation going into 2019.
Standout Tracks: “Reflex” “GOD BLESS THE RATCHETS” “I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night”
7. Pusha T – DAYTONA
Pusha T, hip-hop’s favorite dope-slinging, villainous persona, dropped his third solo studio album this year, DAYTONA. It was the first of five albums produced by Kanye West during his now infamous “Wyoming Sessions,” a period of time where Kanye holed himself up in Jackson Hole this year, working nonstop.
Of these several seven-track albums, DAYTONA is a clear highlight. Not only does King Push deliver bars relentlessly, but Kanye’s production is top notch; perfect even. The samples are pristine, the beats slap, all the while keeping you on your toes. It’s impossible to skip a track on this album.
Let’s also not forget that this project, “Infrared” specifically, is responsible for triggering the unforgivingly ruthless beef between Drake and Pusha T. Pusha may have been known for beating a dead horse with his drug dealing references, but this album proves he’s got plenty more to offer.
Standout Tracks: “If You Know You Know” “The Games We Play” “Santeria”
8. Amine – ONEPOINTFIVE
Onepointfive is full of fun, two to three minute hip-hop jaunts that don’t take things too seriously. Amine follows up his 2016 smash hit “Caroline” showing he has a lot more to offer. Amine’s lyrics are nothing to shy away from, but his laid-back flow and persona allow the listener to relate to his sound and content. Listening to Amine’s second studio album feels like you’re in a hot-boxed car jamming out to the tunes with the Los Angeles-based rapper himself (the album artwork supports that too).
It’s modest and braggadocious at the same time, and we really dig it. It really feels like Amine is just being himself on the album and that provides a sense of authenticity that is sonically attractive. Our favorite cuts off the album are “REEL IT IN,” and “RATCHET SATURN GIRL.”
Standout Tracks: “REEL IT IN” “SHINE” “RATCHET SATURN GIRL”
9. Smino – NOIR
Smino is one-of-a-kind. He’s one of those artists you only need to hear one second of to know who it is. Not only is his amazing voice unique, but his blend of singing and rapping is as good as it gets, and doesn’t sound much like anyone else on his anticipated sophomore album NOIR.
He has a way of opening up a verse singing, flipping to rapping and then back to singing all over the course of one verse. Smino’s rapping style is like verbal acrobatics that always seem to blow minds with his soulful, yet technical style blending straight bars with passionate melodies.
NOIR pairs some of his catchiest songs and best production choices to date. There’s isn’t a bad song on the full album as he follows up his debut album blkswn that landed a spot on our list of best hip-hop albums in 2017.
Standout Tracks: “L.M.F.” “KLINK” “PIZANO”
10. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi teaming up for a supergroup is something fans have been asking about for years. Now the two superstars stepped up the the challenge, and did not disappoint. Kanye and G.O.O.D. music seemingly took over in June with their spree of albums coming out of the infamous Wyoming sessions, and a couple of the projects that came out of those sessions stood above the rest.
Of the Kanye albums this year, Kids See Ghosts alongside Pusha T’s DAYTONA are the ones we’re still listening to months later. Kids See Ghosts show that these two truly bring out the best in each other as not only their songwriting is at their highest level, but the production too.
The friends and collaborators show off an insane level of chemistry and awareness of each others talents here. They effortlessly bounce rhymes off each other while also knowing when to let one artist shine on their own like they do on Cudi’s “Reborn.” I was lucky enough to catch the first ever Kids See Ghosts show and it translated live in the best way possible. It’s heartwarming to see these two having so much fun together and hope there’s more KSG projects down the road.
Standout Tracks: “Fire” “Reborn” “Cudi Montage”
11. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
It’s rare for someone’s voice to be so powerful you’re drawn in from the first time you hear them. That’s the exact quality Jorja Smith has. The super talented British singer put out her debut album Lost & Found after promising singles and an appearance on the stacked Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther album.
Smith has a dreamy, sultry voice that is only highlighted by her incredible songwriting talents. Lost & Found is an album that will win anyone over. Her extra smooth R&B sound occasionally has an urban flare on songs like “Blue Lights” while she puts her otherworldly vocals on full display throughout. The lush instrumentals lay the perfect, relaxing foundation for her singing to shine, leading to a breakout year for the young artist.
Standout Tracks: “Blue Lights” “February 3rd” “Where Did I Go?”
12. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Denzel Curry always is keeping things fresh. He has an ability to jump around from different moods and sounds while sounding great on each and every track. With his latest album, TA13OO, we see the elite South Florida rapper take a more literal approach to the different personas of Denzel Curry, by separating his album into three acts: Light, Gray, and Dark.
Even though he may be in different moods during the project, he keeps up an unparalleled energy level throughout. If you’ve ever been to a Denzel Curry show you know how wild his crowds get, and he somehow has found a way to match that energy through relentless bars. However, he turns things back a notch and pairs the high energy songs with equally laid-back, chill gems showcasing his ability to kill any sound he takes on.
With TA13OO, Denzel proves that he is the king of the lo-fi rap explosion that is taking place in South Florida, however we think he could go toe to toe with any MC in the game right now.
Standout Tracks: “BLACK BALLOONS” “SIRENS” “CLOUT COBAIN”
13. Kali Uchis – Isolation
Leading up to her debut album, there was a lot of hype around Kali Uchis. From her incredible loose singles to her collaborations, she had already earned herself a strong fanbase and her debut album Isolation proved her to be deserving of every single fan. Kali put out one of the strongest debut albums we’ve heard in a minute and proved her prowess as an R&B singer with some of the best vocals and songwriting all year.
On top of next level performances from Kali, she brought together a stacked list collaborators. Each artist on the album performed at the top of their abilities with contributions from Gorillaz, Tyler, The Creator, Miguel, Jorja Smith, Thundercat, Romil from BROCKHAMPTON, Steve Lacy from The Internet, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, BADBADNOTGOOD and TDE’s Sounwave among more. She cohesively combined all these talents while remaining the star throughout, which is not an easy task.
For years Kali has been a go-to collaborator for artists like Tyler, The Creator, but on Isolation she proves she’s as good or even better on her own. There’s not a skippable song on the album and she’s just getting started.
Standout Tracks: “Just A Stranger” “Tyrant” “Your Teeth In My Neck”
14. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence
Everyone was waiting to see how BROCKHAMPTON would bounce back from the loss of one of their founding members, Ameer Van, who was literally the face of all of their SATURATION albums last year. Could they overcome that adversity? Would their sound change? Who would fill his void?
All of these questions were answered with the drop of their fourth studio album, Iridescence. BROCKHAMPTON stepped up and provided performances on this album that easily make you forget who’s missing. The album also happened to be their major-label debut, and they didn’t hold a single thing back. There’s tracks on here that blow you away with energy such as “NEW ORLEANS” and “J’OVERT,” and emotional ballads like “SAN MARCOS.”
With 14 members in the group, the boy band is able to navigate through whatever genres they want with ease. The bottom line is we’ve never seen a group like BROCKHAMPTON and how they operate is changing the game. You have to give them props for taking that creative leap and keeping things interesting.
Standout Tracks: “DISTRICT” “BERLIN” “NEW ORLEANS”
15. NAO – Saturn
London-based singer / songwriter NAO has one of the more unique voices out there. It’s strange yet inviting in the best way possible. The R&B songstress has a tendency to blend various genres in her music and does not shy away from that habit on her latest album Saturn.
Saturn includes production from artists like Mura Masa and more while linking up with TDE’s SiR on the standout track “Make It Out Alive.” Across the 13-track album, NAO displays various sounds ranging from soulful slow burners to funky, uplifting songs just begging to be put on repeat. NAO’s sultry voice and dynamic songwriting make for an enjoyable album from start to finish.
Standout Tracks: “Another Lifetime” “Make It Out Alive” “Drive And Disconnect”
16. Rico Nasty – Nasty
Rico Nasty goes HARD. Like really hard. It helps she recruited one of the hottest hip-hop producers of the year in Kenny Beats to link up with her on her new project Nasty as they proved to be a dream team. The 21-year-old newcomer took the rap world by storm on her latest album as she shows she’s one of the most promising newcomers in the game.
Her lyrical tendencies are highlighted by her hard-hitting delivery and wild flows. Rico seems to snap on every song on the album and no two songs sound too similar. With a project littered with collabs alongside Kenny Beats, it’s no surprise Rico went in on a lot of these songs. Rico’s aggressive demeanor shows off her confidence as she makes a statement that she should be taken seriously.
Standout Tracks: “Countin’ Up” “Bitch I’m Nasty” “Trust Issues”
17. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
Tha Carter V is a mythical album to the point that we weren’t sure if it would ever really see the light of day. After years of rumors, the long awaited project from Lil Wayne finally came out and it was just as great as we could’ve hoped. Some of these songs are new while song are dated back years ago with Wayne sounding the best he has in years.
Songs like “Uproar” and “Dedicate” remind us of classic mixtape Wayne from years ago, and he sounds like he’s still in his prime. While the full album is a bit long, the high points are some of the best songs we’ve heard from him in a long time. Tha Carter V was years in the making. It proves Lil Wayne’s still got it and hopefully isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Standout Tracks: “Uproar” “Mona Lisa” “Demons”
18. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
Rewind to January 2016 when Anderson .Paak stole everyone’s hearts with his Malibu album that went on to earn the top spot on our list of favorite albums of the year. It was no surprise his solo follow-up album Oxnard was one of the most anticipated albums of the year.
While Oxnard might not have been the strongly cohesive album Malibu was, it still provided us with some great new music from one of our favorite artists. The project was executive produced by Dr. Dre, and made for a change in sound from his previous work he created with his touring band, The Free Nationals. Anderson .Paak sounds as uplifting as ever singing on some songs while he shows off straight bars on others.
Songs like “Tints,” “Who R U” and the second half of “Six Summers” are Anderson .Paak in his peak and show us why we counted down the days until Oxnard was finally released. With these highlights he once again finds the contagiously joyous sound he built his diehard fanbase on.
Standout Tracks: “Tints” “Who R U?” “6 Summers”
19. 6LACK – East Atlanta Love Letter
A couple years after his debut album, 6LACK has landed himself on our list of best hip-hop albums once again. The melodic Atlanta native has one of the chillest rap albums on this list and for good reason. On East Atlanta Love Letter 6LACK highlights his ability to shine with subdued, laid-back raps over relaxing instrumentals.
6LACK has a way of delivering a moody blend of rap and R&B that’s unique to himself. His choice of production carries a nocturnal, chilly vibe laying a foundation for his melodic tendencies and intricate wordplay to shine front and center. His slightly coarse voice sounds better than ever on East Atlanta Love Letter as he’s perfected his nonchalant delivery on the vulnerable album.
Standout Tracks: “Pretty Little Fears” “Switch” “Seasons”
20. Trippie Redd – A Love Letter To You 3
Trippie Redd is an interesting artist. There isn’t really anyone coming out of this new wave of hip-hop that sounds too much like him. You can feel his passion and emotion in his uniquely heartfelt autotune vocals setting him apart on A Love Letter To You 3 that efflortlessly highlights his outlandish blend of crooning and rapping.
He’s been rolling out projects consistently over the past few years and impressed us on his latest, A Love Letter To You 3. There’s something about Trippie’s sound that will get stuck in your head after just one listen and he seems to have perfected this on his latest.
Songs like “Topanga” somehow always end up finding a way back to us days after hearing as I’ll catch myself humming the melodies. Although you can’t always tell what he’s saying, Trippie’s delivery hits just right. He continually becomes more versatile and even shows different sides to his voice across single songs like “Fire Starter” he sounds like two completely different artists when he sings and raps, and uses these different sounds to his advantage.
Standout Tracks: “Topanga” “Love Scars 3” “1400 / 999 Freestyle”