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 3 of 3, counting down my picks for #10 – 1:
10. Pusha T – Daytona
When we saw Pusha T perform at the 2017 Made In America Festival in Philly, he proudly proclaimed that his next project would be the Album of the Year, regardless of which year it dropped in. Fast forward to the following spring and Daytona became the first of five albums released in a five-week span by Kanye West, and today it still stands as the best project among them. Produced entirely by Mr. West, the seven-song album flows with near perfect cohesiveness, and Push sounds completely in his element rapping over these beats. The album comes with drama, as the closing song “Infrared” rehashed a longstanding beef with Drake, and it also comes with accolades, earning Push his first Best Rap Album Grammy nomination at the upcoming awards. Putting all the publicity aside, Daytona may go down as Pusha T’s best solo release, as such a short project leaves little room for error, and Push doesn’t falter once.
9. The Carters – Everything Is Love
Beyonce may be the only person on Earth who can make mumble-rap sound sexy. This surprise album was the talk of the summer, as Hip-Hop’s power couple Jay-Z & Beyonce came out with their first full-length album together. Following up the two albums where they broke down all the flaws in their marriage, Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44, they returned as a united force to dispel any rumours of separation. Pairing the album’s release with their summer On The Run II Tour made this an event, but time will tell if this album will have the lasting power of a classic. Beyond the smash single “Ape Shit,” other highlights from the album include them recreating Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” (which Jay-Z originally wrote) on “713,” with Beyonce singing Snoop’s parts, Pharrell Williams showing great vocal chemistry with Beyonce on “Nice,” and Hov & Bey rapping back and forth on “Love Happy.” Much like Jay’s Watch The Throne album with Kanye West, this is far from his or Beyonce’s best work, but it still has classic appeal just for the collaboration happening.
8. Eminem – Kamikaze
Whenever Eminem drops an album, it seems like the entire world reacts. With 2017’s Revival getting mass criticism from nearly everyone, Slim Shady returned with this surprise release less than a year later, and proved that he may be at his best when he has something to be angry about. Lashing out against critics and artists alike who made fun of his previous album, he captures that aggression with vicious battle raps, and returns to focusing on spitting dope verses more than making chart-topping hits. The main thing Kamikaze does right is it actually sounds closer to what we expect an Eminem album to sound like, whereas some of his previous releases sounded more like cookie-cutter pop songs manufactured for radio that just featured him on the verses. There are still a couple of those cheesy moments on here, including what sounds like Em doing a Drake impression on “Normal,” but they’re few and far between, as the dominant sound throughout the album is Eminem spitting aggressive battle raps over hard-hitting beats, with the great far outweighing the mediocre.
7. Apathy – The Widow’s Son
Apathy continues to top himself every year and has been very vocal on social media about The Widow’s Son being his best work. Objectively, it’s definitely up there in the conversation, as he’s still killing every verse he spits and continues to improve as a producer. When he’s not setting off mosh pits with his own beats (which we witnessed in person this fall), he’s channelling the classic 90s era of rap by recruiting some of the all-time greats like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Buckwild to provide some production. There’s an all-star cast on vocals as well, as Apathy raps alongside heavyweights like Pharoahe Monch, M.O.P., A.G., and of course his fellow Demigodz members Celph Titled and Ryu. Orchestrating all these collaborators to make the perfect contributions as he tells his story, Apathy’s sixth solo album is a well-rounded project that both captures the old-school sounds of the 90s and provides that updated hardcore vibe that him and the Army of the Pharaohs/Demigodz are known for.
6. Logic – Young Sinatra IV
Logic’s style of music can change at any given moment, with seemingly no original style to call his own, but when he puts on his Young Sinatra persona and pays tribute to classic Hip-Hop, that’s when more traditional Hip-Hop heads will find him at his best. Not only does he put a lot more focus on his bar-for-bar lyricism and raw emceeing, but Logic also delivers some epic moments on YSIV. Right off the top, he continues the plotline from his Incredible True Story and Everybody albums, killing the rumours that his next album will be his last, and later on becomes the only non-Wu-Tang artist ever to have all living members of the Wu-Tang Clan appear on the same song outside of their own projects. He also gets Wale to rap with him on a funky tune and recreates a moment he often does live on stage where he spits a rapid-fire verse in one breath. Add to that the obvious Big L/Jay-Z/Nas/AZ influence on the title track, the storytelling on “Street Dreams II,” and recreating his own version of Kanye West’s “Last Call” to close it out, and you have one of the most well-rounded projects of the year.
5. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
I’m calling it right now, Anderson .Paak is going to take home some hardware at the 2020 Grammy Awards off this album. He may not be purely Hip-Hop with the way he blends Soul, Funk, RnB, and Rock, but Anderson .Paak is one of those artists that can fit into any genre and be accepted. After hitting the radar with his independent releases Venice (2014) and Malibu (2016), Anderson .Paak has made it to the big time with Oxnard being his debut album on Aftermath Records, executive produced by Dr. Dre. That combination alone has historically led to monumental success (see Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar), and there’s no reason .Paak can’t bask in it as well. Much like his indie releases also named after California beaches, Oxnard is filled with funky, feel-good vibes as Anderson brings the grooves to get you moving, both rapping and singing, except this time he also has an all-star cast of collaborators that include current stars Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Pusha T, as well as all-time legends like Snoop Dogg and Q-Tip. The 2019 tour is going to be insane.
4. ¡Mayday! – South of 5th
¡Mayday!’s sixth album on Strange Music is their most unique release yet. Deciding to capture the Caribbean culture of their hometown Miami, the band dove into a Reggae-influenced style for this album, and it sounds beautiful. Without going full Reggae, you still have Bernz & Wrekonize spitting sharp rap verses, while also singing smooth hooks over their new style of production. From top to bottom, South of 5th is filled with feel-good, calming energy, even when they’re singing about negative things like everyday struggles and stickups. Despite being deep in the underground with no charting singles, this album is damn near perfect and is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end, during almost any occasion. ¡Mayday! took a risk experimenting with their sound on this album, and the result is a unique style that stands out amongst everything else that dropped this year, and even within their own discography.
3. Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol. 2: Traxploitation
After teasing us with a string of insane radio freestyles in 2017, Black Thought came back in 2018 and finally answered the question Hip-Hop heads have been asking for over 20 years: what would a Black Thought solo album sound like when he separates himself from The Legendary Roots Crew? He delivered a 5-song EP produced entirely by 9th Wonder and The Soul Council back in June, Streams of Thought Vol. 1, and then came back with the bigger and better SOT Vol. 2: Traxploitation in November, this one produced by Salaam Remi. With a sound influenced by 1970’s cinema, Vol. 2 features Black Thought spitting impeccable verses over hard-hitting production, with his voice meshing perfectly with the beats. Some may argue that Thought’s solo material lacks song structure, as most of this is just dope verse after dope verse, but you could also say it would be too comparable to his work with The Roots if he stuck to the same old formula. For years he was known as the most underrated emcee in Hip-Hop, but that can’t be the case now that he’s delivered some of the finest rapping of 2018, and is being recognized for it.
2. Royce Da 5’9″ – Book of Ryan
In his most personal project ever, Royce 5’9″ has released one of the most artistic rap albums of the year. Book of Ryan is as close to a Royce 5’9″ autobiography as we can get, as he reflects on his childhood while also making ties to his current fatherhood. Even if the specific stories told on this album aren’t all universally relatable (growing up around drug addiction, domestic abuse, and an overly protective older brother), the impeccable level of storytelling cannot be denied, as Royce uses both his lyrics and his skits to paint clear, vivid pictures in the listener’s mind. He delivers a complete package with a well thought-out narrative, and also takes time on some songs to just slay the mic with straight bars as he’s been known to do over the years. We also have to commend him on his improved vocal range, as he tastefully includes some soulful singing that fits perfectly within the context of the album. Can we get that second Bad Meets Evil album now?
1. Czarface & MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face
I’ll preface this by saying you might have to already be a fan of all three of the emcees on this album to in order to love it this much and rank it this high. With Inspectah Deck being one of my top 2 favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Esoteric a top 2 favourite member of Army of the Pharaohs and The Demigodz, and MF DOOM being one of my top 5 dead or alive favourite emcees, this album was a dream collaboration that came as a complete surprise when it dropped.
Taking some bias aside though, this album sounds completely unique from anything else that dropped this year, diving full-on into the comic book theme and sounding like a superhero cartoon show. Much like your favourite superhero movies, the album is also filled with easter eggs for the diehard fans, like when DOOM and Esoteric have their argument about whether their weapons should be set to stun on “Stun Gun” (reference to DOOM’s King Geedorah album), or when Inspectah Deck borrows a page from GZA’s style of wordplay on “Don’t Spoil It.” There’s also some risk-taking, as 7L crafts a dramatic, villainous beat that fits perfectly with DOOM’s spoken-word type of flow, and Deck & Eso try their hand at matching him on “Badness of Madness.” It goes without saying that these three veteran emcees always bring rhymes galore, but it’s their willingness to share the spotlight, combined with 7L’s dedication to supplying this unique style of production that makes this album special.
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! Stay tuned for our countdown of the Top 10 Concerts of 2018 in the near future!