In what may have been the busiest year for music releases in recent years, 2018 can hold its head high for birthing a pool of top-tier albums. The American rap scene began bloating their projects, while the British rap scene improved their skill for cohesive albums and mixtapes. Alongside honourable mentions, these are the Best Albums of 2018 based on replay value, creativity, skippable tracks, production and lyricism.
15. Lil Durk, Signed to the Streets 3
What Future and Young Thug couldn’t provide this year, Lil Durk did. The third installment to his Signed to the Streets series brings a familiar voice of the trap scene to the forefront, boasting insane replay value for songs like “Spin the Block” and “Is What It Is” as he raps about life of the streets. Signed to the Streets 3 is trap music without the gimmicks during a year where it was full of it.
Favourite tracks: “Spin the Block”, “Benihana”, “Is What It Is”, “Neighbourhood Hero”, “Downfall”, “Habit”, “Preach”, “Astronomical”
14. Fredo, Tables Turn
No one stresses his syllables more than British rapper Fredo. His sophomore mixtape is a concise display of a functioning formula. Tracks like “Change” have mainstream appeal, while the gritty “What It Is” let Fredo rap in his signature flows without the assistance of a decorated hook. Tables Turn pays attention to melodic beats, hooks and an identity; Fredo the trapper.
Favourite tracks: “Change”, “Playin’ for Keeps”, “What It Is”, “Rappin’ & Trappin'”, “Levelling Up”, “Boom Boom”
13. The Weeknd, My Dear Melancholy
With only six tracks to sit through, My Dear Melancholy leaves no room for dislike. The melancholy of The Weeknd couldn’t be clearer over these six tracks, all of which are unashamedly vulnerable, atmospheric and replayable, from the standout single “Call Out My Name” to the sombre closer “Privilege”. Now that he’s conquered the pop world, My Dear Melancholy is a solid showcase of the sort of direction The Weeknd should take in his music at this point in his career.
Favourite tracks: “Privilege”, “I Was Never There”, “Call Out My Name”, “Try Me”
12. Denzel Curry, Ta13oo
Denzel Curry dispatches his lyrics with the sharpest of pens. Coupled with his diverse flows, each verse on TA13OO serves a purpose that carries the depressing content. The heavy emphasis on topics like suicide – a recurring theme on a handful of tracks – is chilling when stripped of the production, but is a necessary element to connect with Denzel on a personal level. Curry’s newfound element of melody mixed with the signature hardcore trap sound fuels his spiralling narratives to new heights that have barely been showcased by the rapper’s peers this year. Compositionally and structurally, TA13OO is at the forefront of expertly crafted hip hop albums of 2018.
Favourite tracks: “Percs”, “Black Metal Terrorist”, “Vengeance”, “Sirens”, “Clout Cobain”, “Cash Maniac”
11. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter V
Tha Carter V is confirmation of Lil Wayne’s timeless touch and lyrical dexterity. Throughout Carter V, Wayne is in elite rapping form, relinquishing clever bars like they’re second nature. Tha Carter V is nowhere perfect, but is a deserved exhale for both Wayne and fans. The album is intended to impress fans of conventional rap and to be misunderstood by the hypnotised ears of uncultured trap listeners transfixed by the same hi-hats, drums and snares. Thanks to content, lyrical ability and varied production, Carter V epitomises the ever-shapeshifting spirit of Lil Wayne and continues to be the most accessible rapper of hip hop. Welcome back Tunechi.
Favourite tracks: “Used 2”, “Mona Lisa”, “Uproar”, “Let It Fly”, “Don’t Cry”, “Dedicate”, “Let It All Work Out”, “Dope N**gaz”
10. Jay Rock, Redemption
On Redemption, Jay Rock is completely revitalised, packing as many plates he can in his pockets to serve his hunger. Opening track “The Bloodiest” begins with the finest opening line to an album of the year (“The devil thought he had me, I was on back burners”), a reference to Rock’s 2016 serious motorcycling accident. The line sets the tone for Redemption, a timely comeback fuelled by resilience to the point where Rock refuses to leave this Earth. Redemption excels in all departments, depicting clear pictures of the low points in Jay Rock’s life while maintaining replay value. At long last, Jay Rock has tapped into his potential.
Favourite tracks: “Rotation 112th”, “The Bloodiest”, “ES Tales”, “For What It’s Worth”, “OSOM”, “King’s Dead”
9. 6LACK, East Atlanta Love Letter
East Atlanta Love Letter is representative of its title; mature content emphasising communication in a relationship. Love letters are what the album delivers, in the form of melodic R&B ballads driven by emotion and minimalist production. Dark keys are responsible for the lust of “Loaded Gun”, painting the setting of a masquerade in which 6LACK is both blinded by and conscious of his vices. “Pretty Little Fears” is the album’s finest form of intimacy, a humble request for honesty in a relationship no matter how problematic it may seem.
Favourite tracks: “Pretty Little Fears”, “Sorry”, “Unfair”, “Loaded Gun”, “Stan”, “Nonchalant”
8. LD, The Masked One
In 25 minutes, LD showcases his star power bundled with artistic diversity. His home may be in drill music, however The Masked One visits grime and the trendy afroswing sounds to create a balance of hard-hitting bangers and steamrolled tunes. Featuring explosive intros (“Detention”), eerie closers (“Greaze”) and refreshing avant-drill production, The Masked One was one of the strongest projects out the UK this year.
Favourite tracks: “Detention”, “Never Been Safe”, “Sell Those Things”, “PR”
7. Ard Adz, Adam
Despite his underground veteran status, Adam exerts the same hunger showcased at the very start of his career. The 19-track album is a musical autobiography, summarising the thoughts of Ard Adz as he soul-searches for the route to a better life. If there’s one quality Adam deserves credit for, is its integrity. Ard Adz’s principles are clearly important to him and he thrives off abiding to them. Through the backdrop of mellow production, Ard Adz gracefully summarises hardships that results into one of the best UK rap albums of the year. Adam is a diary of a life that has plenty more pages to fill.
Favourite tracks: “Kenny Freestyle”, “Unwritten Bars”, “Uncut”, “Outta Here”, “Man of the House”, “Mama Don’t Cry”, “In & Out”
6. Metro Boomin, Not All Heroes Wear Capes
For Metro Boomin, production speak louder than words. His advanced, structural take on trap music continues to be refreshing, maintaining its wicked edge for longer than expected. The main cast of Boomin’s movie are 21 Savage and Travis Scott, both of which perform on some of the best songs on the album (“10 Freaky Girls”, “Overdue”, “No More”). The grandeur lies in the minacious production, while the guest appearances compliment the eerie atmosphere Metro Boomin orchestrates. Not All Heroes Wear Capes swarms the senses with dark keys and foreboding strings alongside vintage samples. Not All Heroes Wear Capes illustrates that Metro Boomin is not a producer, but a director, accompanied by a cast that stick to the script electronically registered in the samples, strings and structure of an antiheroic symphony.
Favourite tracks: “No More”, “Lesbian”, “Overdue”, “Dreamcatcher”, “10 Freaky Girls”, “Only 1 (Interlude)”, “No Complaints”
5. Meek Mill, Championships
If Wins & Losses was Meek’s comeback, Championships is his victory lap. On Championships, Meek Mill is a changed man. So changed that it kindled the best album of his career. Across the 19 tracks, a hunger possesses Meek Mill in ways that have never been present before, ushering revitalised content into the album’s best tracks. Championships proves that conscious Meek is greater than flexing Meek. The album’s strongest songs channel Meek’s conscious persona (“Trauma”, “Championships”, “Oodles o’ Noodles Babies”), not to mention providing one of the best rap songs of the year with “What’s Free”.
Championships is not a return to form but rather exceeds previous form, boldly communicating Meek’s desire to control the gavel. Hunger, fresh content and varied production takes Meek Mill to a new level, solidifying his name in the conversation of the best rappers of this generation. Even if no one else declares it, Meek Mill knows he is a champion.
Favourite tracks: “What’s Free”, “Championships”, “Uptown Vibes”, “Intro”, “Trauma”, “Cold Hearted II”, “Oodles o’ Noodles Babies”, “Pay You Back”, “Dangerous”
4. Nines, Crop Circle
On Crop Circle, trapping has never sounded so grand. The subject matter may remain the same, but Nines’ ear for beats and hook-writing continues to be as impressive as ever. The melodies on beats for songs like “Re-Up” and “Haze” is what gives Crop Circle the consistent replay value that not many UK albums are able to provide. The hardest beat on the album goes to “Line of Fire Pt. 5”, an Ice City Boyz posse cut that strictly focuses on rapping as each member give verse after verse. It’s puzzling how Nines’ flow fails to get old; his charisma, punchlines and production are enough to carry 16 tracks into a cohesive project without any skips. Crop Circle is verification that Nines is somewhere in the middle dominating his sound effortlessly.
Favourite tracks: “Tony Soprano”, “Trapstar”, “Line of Fire Pt. 5”, “Rubber Bands”, “Oh My”, “Haze”, “Re-Up”
3. Kids See Ghosts, Kids See Ghosts
On Kids See Ghosts, less is definitely more. Cudi is rejuvenated and Kanye is focused, reaffirming why their alliance was the catalyst for a hip hop renaissance. It is Kanye’s most experimental project since Yeezus, featuring a broad palette of stylistic ingredients that has given us Kid Cudi’s best album since Man on the Moon II. Normally at the centre of attention, Kanye serves as hypeman for Cudi, orchestrating the direction of each song while sprinkling some of his best verses in recent years. The subject matter of Kids See Ghosts is not something to overlook either. From start to end, the lyrics of the duo stress the importance of overcoming your problems and maintaining optimism.
Kids See Ghosts is a colourful album full of personality and positivity. Both Kanye West and Kid Cudi switch their thick, bristled brushes for thinner and finer strokes, taking influences from each other in the way a collaborative album should. The airtight tracklist leaves no room for errors or skippable songs; every track supplies remarkable musical arrangement and memorability. Kids See Ghosts is experimental yet fundamentally rooted in the craft of the artists. With enough positive messages to last the rest of the year, Kid Cudi and Kanye West can safely declare that they are truly reborn.
Favourite tracks: “Cudi Montage”, “Feel the Love”, “Reborn”, “4th Dimension”, “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)”, “Fire”
2. Travis Scott, Astroworld
Astroworld is a relieving return to form for Travis Scott. The delicate details, range in production and star-studded lineup fulfils Scott’s intentions to transform the nostalgic environment of AstroWorld into an entertaining musical adaptation. Scott weaves between complexity and simplicity to compose an album that covers all bases, yet prioritises entertainment and replay value. Sonically, Astroworld intentionally mirrors a soundtrack to an amusement park, composing a contrast between tracks appropriate during Daytime attractions and Nighttime attractions, whether that is a rollercoaster ride (“Sicko Mode”), a disturbing dungeon (“5% Tint”, NC–17″) or a dreamy wonderland (“R.I.P. Screw”, “Butterfly Effect”). Though not entirely a full-blown concept album, Astroworld keeps a riveting pulse on melodic aesthetic.
If Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was considered a step in the wrong direction, Astroworld made amends by reinstalling creative ambition. It is jam-packed, and was undoubtedly the most colossal album of the year.
Favourite tracks: “Stop Trying to Be God”, “No Bystanders”, “Sicko Mode”, “Houstonfornication”, “Yosemite”, “Coffee Bean”, “AstroThunder”, “Can’t Say”
1. Pusha T, Daytona
Whatever King Push was, maybe we were given something better. Daytona is Pusha T’s best solo work to date, incisive at its core and sonically intimidating. In just 21 minutes, Pusha T is able to exercise what most rappers are unable to pull off in triple the time. Daytona excels due to its distinct, unique sound and the sheer skill of Pusha T on the mic.
It’s easy to call Daytona a “coke rap” album, but it is more than that. Daytona is a razor-sharp, 20-minute life lesson of a trapper turned rapper. Kanye West could not have assembled better beats, nor could have Pusha T left anything that he didn’t already bring to the table. Even through the stability, Pusha T ushers quotable after quotable through his verses, ensuring no bar is wasted (“Pop a wheelie, tell the judge to Akinyele / Middle fingers out the Ghost screamin’ Makaveli”). As proclaimed by the man himself, Daytona is the rap album of the year. Welcome back Pusha T, you’ve been missed.
Favourite tracks: “Santeria”, “If You Know You Know”, “Infrared”, “Hard Piano”, “The Games We Play”, “Come Back Baby”