On the last day of 2018, we decided to wait until the last minute to give our readers and other curious souls our takes on 15 of the best Hip-Hop albums we heard this year more than once. Given the sheer volume of music that’s dropped in the past 12 months, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with.
Let’s face it, year-end lists can either be a corny affair or an inside attempt to fudge numbers and approval on the back end. We’re doing none of that over here. The albums we listed in our top 15 list are there because we as a team actually rocked these records on our commutes, in the gym, at the crib and beyond.
We already know that we’re going to get some people tight by missing an artist or two, and believe it when we say that we understand and forgive us for the potential for oversight. To hopefully make up for that, we will put up a second list of our fave albums that were dope but we didn’t give them enough spins for various reasons on New Year’s Day (that’s tomorrow, folks! We want to go party too!)
For now, check out our top 15 Hip-Hop albums of 2018 in alphabetical order. And why 15? Everyone does 10 or 20, we dare to be a little left of the usual sometimes. We also didn’t add streaming links because we think that if you’re on the Internet, you also know how to use a search engine, so go forth and make us proud!
Please ignore the numerals on the side. Thanks!
1. Benny The Butcher — ‘Tana Talk 3’
Griselda has singlehandedly proven that mid-tempo, grimy 90’s style boom-bap is still very much a thing. Like his rhyming compatriots Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher weaves cold as steel street tales over some of the grimiest beats heard in years. Daringer and The Alchemist provide The Butcher with the proper heat for the hoodie and Timbs rocking types out here.
2. Cardi B — ‘Invasion Of Privacy’
Again, we hear the collective complaining going on in your heads right now and please, relax that. Cardi B did something that many didn’t think she could do, which is translate her massive personality into a well-crafted studio album. With her debut album, Invasion Of Privacy, Bardi solidified her status as a top-tier entertainer across any genre.
3. Cavalier — ‘Private Stock’
Brooklyn-New Orleans rapper Cavalier is another artist we’re sure the folks reading are not going to immediately know but let us tell you that his third studio album, Private Stock, will shock the complete sh*t out of you. We hate to compare him to anyone, but imagine if Digable Planets updated their classic Blowout Comb for the 21st Century, you’d have this beautiful display of Blackness, triumph, poetry and art.
4. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — ‘Fetti’
In our opinion, the hardest beats of the year in Hip-Hop all appear on this album. We don’t know what kind of green Alan The Chemist is puffing, but he gave Curren$y and Gangsta Gibbs some of the coldest tracks ever. It sounds like a movie and the chemistry between the veteran rhyme spitters is clear from track one to the too swift ending by track nine.
5. Jay Rock — ‘Redemption’
Jay Rock, Top Dawg Entertainment’s first signed artist, has been unfairly overshadowed by the rest of the team in some eyes but he’s very much as capable as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul in creating full album experiences that hit every type of listener. With Redemption, the album title is fitting as the TDE wordsmith shows off every side of himself on an album that should have been talked about more in the year.
6. J.I.D. — ‘DiCaprio 2’
East Atlanta’s J.I.D. showed his massive potential on his Dreamville debut, The Never Story, but there was always a sense he was heading to a new level sooner or later. With DiCaprio 2, the full scope of J.I.D.’s talents and potential meet in the middle with several ear-pleasing results. There are some who say he sounds like a certain someone — but we don’t hear that.
7. Joe.D — ‘KAIROS’
We can hear the collective “Who Is This” from the masses, and that’s your fault. Trust us when we say that producer and rapper Joe.D is making the kind of Hip-Hop you can be proud to rock in front of your kids, your homies, your lady, and for self. We hate the term “grown man Hip-Hop” but that’s exactly what this album is. It’s an album that folks with day jobs, spouses, stress, and a love of dope music can enjoy altogether. Don’t sleep on this Washington, D.C. area talent like we almost did.
8. Nickelus F — ‘STUCK’
Richmond, Va.’s Nickelus F might be a familiar name to Drake fans and also those who remember him torching microphones on 106 & Park’s Freestyle Fridays. While Nickelus is a rapper’s rapper in every sense of the term, his audio transformation into a character known as Sweet Petey or Petey Wheatey, a gruff-voiced everyman who doesn’t trifle with b.s., is where he has shined for the past few years. STUCK isn’t just a Hip-Hop album; it feels like a Blues record with a boom-bap bent.
9. Noname — ‘Room 25’
Noname’s debut project Telefone showed off her massive potential and the connection to Chance The Rapper and other buzzing Chicago Hip-Hop acts certainly gained her additional (yet well-deserved) notice. But with Room 25, she elevates her artistry and her vision to heights few could have predicted. And we as listeners are the better for it.
10. Pusha T — ‘Daytona’
The summer of Kanye West came and went with many of the releases from that breakneck pace barely registering beyond the time they were put out to the masses. That wasn’t the case for King Push’s Daytona, which featured some of the most potent rhyming heard from the Virginia MC and G.O.O.D. Music president.
11. Royce Da 5’9 — ‘Book Of Ryan’
2017’s The Bar Exam 4 was most likely the best rapping heard on any recorded project in that year as far as pure lyrics go. But while fans of Nickel Nine have come to expect that level of heat from the Detroit star, his Book Of Ryan album was his attempt at an autobiographical capture of his life, or as much as he’s allowing us to know. And for what it’s worth, he let us know a lot.
12. Saba — ‘Care For Me’
Chicago’s Saba has always been one of the best rappers out of his city, which he proved on his 2016 debut album, Bucket List Project. Care For Me is a far more somber affair, with the death of Saba’s cousin and mentor forming the basis of the album’s tone and direction. But don’t let that distract from the fact that the journey into witnessing Saba work things out on wax is something beautiful to witness.
13. Sylvan LaCue — ‘Apologies In Advance’
For the real heads, some might remember the impressive Miami, Fla. rapper that went by the name of QuEsT, and probably have heard about his near brushes with mainstream fame on the back of his prodigious rapping and songwriting ability. Now going under his given name, LaCue’s Apologies In Advance is a therapy session on wax. It’s emotionally transparent and still has entertaining aspects worthy of a spin.
14. Travis Scott — ‘ASTROWORLD’
Travis Scott’s third studio LP, ASTROWORLD, is without a doubt the project that transformed him into a superstar. Without hyperbole, we believe this is the best-produced major label album of the year and that’s not to take away from Cactus Jack. Travis shows off all sides of his vocal gifts from auto-tune crooning to Houston trunk bangers, to even showing extreme lyrical depth. The smash success of “SICKO MODE” alongside Drake aside, there are many other moments of note.
15. Westside Gunn — ‘Supreme Blientele’
The chatter that Griselda owes a great debt to The Wu-Tang Clan, most notably Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, is something the crew itself has recognized. Despite those being big shoes to fill, Westside Gunn’s chilling prison and street stories match well over tracks from Daringer, The Alchemist, Pete Rock, Roc Marciano, and 9th Wonder. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!