1. Astroworld by Travis Scott
Listening to “Astroworld” is like riding a roller coaster you never want to end — it brings unexpected thrills and indescribable bliss. Perhaps that’s the mood Travis Scott had in mind when creating the album, considering it pays homage to the now-defunct AstroWorld theme park in his hometown, Houston.
The psychedelic sounds that are prevalent throughout the album make it an instantly listenable album. Although the lyrics aren’t well put together, the production and arrangement on the album clearly and beautifully overshadow those mistakes. “Astroworld” has the best production of the year, and by Travis Scott’s standards, that’s impressive.
2. Daytona by Pusha T
Crisp and thought-provoking lyrics with stellar production — a rapper’s delight — are often hard to find in mainstream music, but Pusha T’s “Daytona” aced the test.
Prior to its release, it wasn’t expected Pusha T’s famous “dope boy bars” would continue to fit into today’s music climate. But it worked. On “Daytona,” Pusha T stayed true to his rap style while improving the quality of his production (kudos to Kanye) to give fans seven tracks of unfiltered, head-turning bars, and he ended it by inciting the most popular rap beef of the year. The album doesn’t disappoint in any category.
3. Whack World by Tierra Whack
I’d admit that I arrived to Tierra Whack’s world a bit late—I listened to “Whack World” seven months after it was released. Nevertheless, I’m glad I was eventually introduced to the free black girl aesthetic that encomapsses the artistry of Tierra Whack.
Whack World, with its 15 songs that each are exactly one-minute long, is a beautifully arranged concept album that invites listeners to who the Philadelphia native really is. On “4 Wings” she compares her toughness to spicy chicken wings. On “Pet Cemetery” she tells listeners that she’s mourning the loss of her homie and fellow Philadelphia rapper Hulitho, who passed away last year. On “Fruit Salad” she proudly sings about loving her body and not changing it for anyone.
In a music climate in which people assume there’s a void in women’s hip-hop, Tierra Whack unapologetically adds herself to a list of talented women emcees who aren’t often highlighted on mainstream outlets.
4. Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
When it seemed unlikely for a stripper-turned-reality show star to really solidify her name in the hip-hop game, Cardi B continued to prove everyone wrong while remaining true to herself. And “Invasion of Privacy” is certainly the musical embodiment of that truth. Throughout the album, Cardi B simultaneously reminds everyone of her humble beginnings and how she’s isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The 13-track album features songs that could easily be added to any female empowerment or sex positivity playlist. However, more importantly, the album highlights the importance of staying true to yourself
5. Care for Me by Saba
Following the death of his cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member John Walt in 2017, Saba creates the best album the vividly paints a gloomy yet hopeful story about mourning a loved one. The grief-stricken Chicago rapper channels his ranging emotions on the 10-track album as he explores his feelings of wanting to me loved. Underneath Saba’s steady and thought-provoking flows throughout the album, lies a plethora a beautiful storytelling that illuminates the nuanced lives of black Chicagoans—— lives that are too often influenced by tragedy. So yes, indeed, Saba needs someone to care for him.
6. Pieces of a Man by Mick Jenkins
On “Pieces of Man”, which pays homage to Gil Scott Heron’s 1971 album of the same name, Mick Jenkins offers an appropriate examination into our digitally-influenced society. On his sophomore album, the Chicago rapper poetically questions the need for following trends and judging people by how they present themselves online. The album poses as a stream-of-consciousness think piece on which Jenkins heavily ponders the way he engages in a society that doesn’t typically involve his interests.
7. Hive Mind by The Internet
The Internet broke their three-year hiatus with the release of “Hive Mind”, the groups fourth album, during the summer. And although the album isn’t better than their previous album (2015’s “Ego Death”), “Hive Mind” does offer a funkier vibe that wasn’t present on “Ego Death”. The album has summer vibes written all over it (in big caps), and it was the perfect album to end the group’s break and leave fans anticipating more from them in the future.
8. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe is known for creating sonically pleasing universes in which black women, specifically those who don’t ascribe to the gender binary, can unapologetically be themselves, but she certainly outdid herself with “Dirty Computer.”
Unlike Monáe’s previous albums, “Dirty Computer” cannot be contained. It’s a beautiful mix of rap, funk, jazz, pop, rock and R&B that illuminates the aesthetic of what black womanhood and black queerhood mean in America. Monáe’s hard-hitting vocals accompanied by avant-garde production and a stellar “Emotion Picture” are responsible for one of the most important and beautifully-written concept albums of the past five years.
9. Last Day of Summer by Summer Walker
“Last Day of Summer” is the best R&B project of 2018. It’s the album that’ll definitely start getting anyone in their feelings, and it was released just in time for “cuffing season”, as the album’s title suggests. Summer Walker’s debut album could pose as the Atlanta native’s yearning cry for needing to be loved by someone, and it takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster as she explores feelings of heartbreak and being in love. However, the highlight of the album is “Girls Need Love”, the female empowerment anthem that emphasizes how women have the right to demand love or sex without feeling ashamed.
10. Redemption by Jay Rock
Jay Rock’s verse in “King’s Dead” remains one of the best in 2018, and he reminded fans why he deserves to be among the best lyricists in the rap game with his album “Redemption”. Being from east Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, Jay Rock illustrates his struggle of leaving the vices of his neighborhood to pursue a rap career, and his inner conflict of still dealing with the demons he thought he left behind. It’s the classic tale of finding success out of the inner city, which is similar to the music of fellow labelmate Kendrick Lamar.
What makes Jay Rock different, as illustrated with “Redemption”, is the simplicity of his verses. There aren’t any metaphors and allusions for listeners to figure out. He’s simply just telling the truth about his life in a direct and honest way that some listeners can relate to. While it’s hard to pinpoint one song that makes “Redemption” among the best albums of the year, “The Bloodiest” and “For What It’s Worth” truly captures the album’s rags-to-riches-to-rags tone.