2018 may go down as the best year of the 2010s for Hip-Hop releases. It’s been a year to be known for the sheer volume of great albums, with so many dropping that it’s been a challenge keeping up. While it’s great to see the culture thriving with so many artists putting out new music, the amount of new releases makes it difficult for every album to get the listens they deserve. Trying to hear every great album that drops may leave you not fully appreciating any of them, which could make this the toughest year to pick an Album of the Year. Ask ten different Hip-Hop heads what their pick would be, and you’ll likely get ten different answers; maybe some that you only played once or twice before moving on to the next album.
While this blog has been focused on reviewing as many Toronto Hip-Hop concerts as possible, it’s that time of year when we break down the most memorable albums from the past twelve months. This is an attempt at compiling 30 favourites from 2018, a list that’s bound to still be missing some dope releases. Nonetheless, let’s get into the countdown! Here’s Part 2 of 3, counting down my picks for #20 – 11:
20. Jedi Mind Tricks – The Bridge & The Abyss
Picking up right where we left off in the countdown, we have another project by underground legend Vinnie Paz, except this one was produced entirely by Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind. Another one with minimal guest features, Vinnie gets to shine with his hardcore lyricism and thought-provoking songwriting, while Stoupe gets a little experimental with his production and branches out from the traditional Jedi Mind Tricks sound we’re used to. While there’s still a lot of that hardcore and deep train of thought we expect from JMT, Stoupe also laces Vinnie with some bouncier beats with a more old-school, funkier vibe than what we’re used to seeing Vinnie rock over. Highlights from this album include Vinnie taking his storytelling to disturbing levels on “What She Left Behind,” trying his hand at a more rapid-fire flow on “Certified Dope,” and also a posthumous Sean Price guest appearance crafted for a JMT collaboration. While the experimentation might throw some fans off, the chemistry between Vinnie and Stoupe is undeniable, and together they’ve made another great addition to their discography.
19. Ice Cube – Everythang’s Corrupt
Always one to be blunt and direct with his lyrics, Ice Cube’s tenth album couldn’t come in a more timely fashion. Having been eight years since his last album, the gap has left Cube with a lot to say, and he speaks out on just about everything we’d expect him to. Starting the album off with the straightforward and obvious “Arrest The President,” he goes on to speak out against drug use, and eventually ends up back on the topic of corrupt police officers with “Good Cop Bad Cop.” The album isn’t entirely an angry lash-out though, as he brings back those upbeat, G-Funk grooves on “That New Funkadelic,” and has other certified head-nodders throughout the album. Despite focusing his career on filmmaking and running his BIG3 basketball league in recent years, Cube shows he’s able to come back to music anytime he wants and rap like he hasn’t lost a step, delivering an updated version of the same style he’s been known for.
18. The Black Eyed Peas – Masters of the Sun Vol. 1
It’s been hard to trust The Black Eyed Peas after they spent years on end filling their catalogue with watered-down dance and pop songs to the point of becoming corny and washed up, but 2018 marked their reinvigorated return to Hip-Hop. With Fergie now out of the mix, it’s left Will.i.am, Apl.de.ap, and Taboo the space to create something authentic, and the result is a smooth, boom-bap flavour that will get your head nodding. The sound is very much inspired by The Native Tongues, even featuring one of the last recorded Phife Dawg verses (R.I.P.), and also includes features by De La Soul’s Posdnous, Slick Rick, and Nas to drive home their stamp of approval from Hip-Hop. There are still grooves to dance to on here, but the toxic thirst and desperation for pop fame is gone, and we’re left with feel-good vibes, raw rap, and a quality album that Hip-Hop heads can enjoy. Welcome back, BEP.
17. PRhyme – PRhyme 2
The team-up of DJ Premier and Royce 5’9″ has been a fun experiment for both artists. Their first album in 2014 had Premo chopping up samples solely from Adrian Younge’s compositions, with Royce spitting fierce bars about being in his “permanent prime,” and now for the sequel they’ve done more of the same, but drawing samples from AntMan Wonder’s catalogue instead. PRhyme 2 is a longer project, with Royce flexing both with his sharp wordplay and with the maturity of his content, and Preem laying out a more diverse soundscape. The concept of sampling from only one artist makes for a cool beatmaking exercise, but it also seems to limit DJ Premier’s ability to bring that hard-hitting boom-bap fans would expect to hear throughout the album, although Royce is able to effectively adapt to the production. It may not be quite what’s expected on paper, but PRhyme 2 still proves to be an enjoyable experience for both the artists involved and the fans.
16. Tech N9ne – Planet
Tech N9ne is constantly releasing new music, and his latest release has him exploring his own fictional planet. While his last couple albums before this had him focusing on collaborating with other artists signed to his Strange Music label, this one has him go into his own headspace, airing out his internal mindstate with a variety of moods throughout the album. It’s a standard mix of sounds and styles that we’re used to hearing on Tech N9ne projects in recent years, ranging from aggressive and hardcore, to lighthearted party tracks, to deep emotional ones. Tech still finds ways to remain fresh though, digging up some old-school 1980’s vibes on the single “Don’t Nobody Want None,” and always slaying with his impeccable combination of breath control, speed, and enunciation. Other highlights on this one include the war anthem that goes well with a workout, “Bad JuJu,” a standout guest appearance by Snow Tha Product on “How I’m Feelin’,” and of course the Machine Gun Kelly guest appearance that would later spark the highly publicized beef with Eminem.
15. Jay Rock – Redemption
Jay Rock’s best album to date put a modern take on west-coast gangsta-rap, and gave it new space in the mainstream. The beats on this album knock hard, and Jay Rock fills it with a ton of memorable hooks that allow him to have staying power with a broader audience. From the hard-hitting street anthems like “ES Tales” to the danceable club tracks like “Tap Out,” to the year’s biggest sports anthem in “WIN,” Redemption has all the ingredients to thrive in Hip-Hop’s mainstream landscape. After being forced to spend time away from music to recover from a motorcycle accident, Jay Rock has come back in a big way in 2018, using this album to tell his story of overcoming obstacles, and doing it in a fun way. Time will tell how much of a mark this album will leave in Hip-Hop’s history pages, but it will definitely go down as one of Top Dawg Entertainment’s best releases.
14. J.I.D – DiCaprio 2
J.I.D’s sophomore album on Dreamville Records is a sequel to one of his independent releases before he signed to the label. Using the title to draw comparisons to the acclaimed actor with a string of classic movie roles but minimal Academy Awards, J.I.D is out to prove that him and his label-mates are the most talented in Hip-Hop, regardless of the award snubs. The young Atlanta emcee flexes throughout the album, showcasing an insane rapid-fire flow (at one point forcing label boss J. Cole to step his game up), along with melodic vocal abilities. He proves to be an artist both the young and old heads can get behind, showing a dedication to the craft of emceeing while having the sound and style of a new wave artist. Between 2017’s The Never Story and this follow-up in 2018, J.I.D could arguably be the best emcee in Atlanta under the age of 40.
13. Shad – A Short Story About A War
After spending five years exploring other avenues, including filming two seasons of the acclaimed documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution, Shad has returned to rapping with his sixth album. Unlike his previous releases, this one is focused in on a tight concept, following a narrative with him portraying many different characters throughout. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard from Shad before, with him bringing the most energy we’ve ever heard from him on the mic when portraying the more aggressive characters in the story. It’s a thought-provoking plot with “The Sniper” and “The Establishment” representing those in power, “The Stone Throwers” representing the oppressed, “The Fool” representing the privileged/ignorant/blind, and all of them being a metaphor for the war within our minds. This one takes some time to digest, but in time proves to be Shad at his finest artistically.
12. Masta Ace & Marco Polo – A Breukelen Story
Masta Ace & Marco Polo have been making music together for years, but A Breukelen Story is the first time they’ve teamed up for an entire album. While Masta Ace often structures his albums to tell specific stories, this one actually captures a snapshot in time from two perspectives. With Marco’s hard-hitting, soulful beats and Ace’s sharp rhymes, along with well-placed skits tying the plot together, they take it back to the early 2000s and tell parallel tales of Ace & Polo’s respective experiences in Brooklyn at the time. Masta Ace raps about loving the environment and the culture, thriving as a veteran making some of the best music of his career at the time, while the skits tell the tale of Marco moving from Toronto to pursue his dream in Brooklyn, eventually having his beats find their way to Ace and allowing for their team-up on the acclaimed 2007 single “Nostalgia.” With Ace’s raps thematically matching the plotpoints in Polo’s journey, the storytelling on this album is executed to perfection; not to mention key guest features from Styles P, Elzhi, Lil’ Fame, Smith-N-Wesson, EMC, and a masterful character portrayal by Pharoahe Monch.
11. J. Cole – KOD
J. Cole’s fifth major-label album is widely considered the biggest snub at the upcoming Grammy Awards with zero nominations, and is rightfully among many larger publications’ year-end Album of the Year lists. In a year filled with younger rappers dying from drug overdoses and/or violent lifestyles, J. Cole came out with an album sounding like the style and approach they use, but speaking out against the drug abuse and fuckery. The album with the title meaning King Over Dosed, Kids On Drugs, or Kill Our Demons explores various forms of addiction (money, sex, drugs), and ways of overcoming that addiction. It was a great approach on its own, with J. Cole sounding more energized than ever, but its importance grew and became more impactful as the year went on and more youthful rappers started dying (R.I.P. Mac Miller). It’s another J. Cole album with a meaningful message coming at the right time, and the third in a row where he’s achieved platinum-certified sales with no guest features.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll count down the Top 10!