If last year was the year the album died, then 2018 was the year where the EP reigned supreme?
We still called everything albums but some of the year’s best and most memorable releases were what had traditionally been EPs, short at a handful of tracks and between 20 to 30 minutes long. That’s fine, it is what it is but it just so happens that on our end, we’re firmly still an “album over everything” kind of guy.
You see, the Spotify platform unveiled its 2018 Wrapped function on December 6 and once again it is a delight. If you haven’t checked it out yet, go for it already what are you waiting for? Log in with your Spotify account here: https://2017wrapped.com/ (Or don’t if you don’t have an account LOL.) (Isn’t it great how in 2018, we can have large corporations tell us more and more about ourselves? Also all-caps LOL.)
I guess the first takeaway here is that we like hip-hop? Our five top artists of the year are basically of who’s who of inner circle rap superstars, all of whom have released in 2018 either many albums, or one long, long album.
We can give some context too on how someone can spend 33 hours with Weezy F Baby (and please don’t forget the baby), who is undeniably our favourite rapper of all time. First, there’s the fact that Wayne has been at this for a long time and has released no fewer than 13 studio albums, not to mention an extra 26 mixtapes (that are unfortunately not available on streaming services); we’ve listened to Wayne a lot in 2018, because there is a shit ton of music available. We’ve also listened to Wayne a lot in 2018, because we discovered a year ago that a kindred spirit had, at Noisey, conducted A Year Of Lil Wayne, whereby he discussed a new Lil Wayne song each day for a year. (Seriously. See it for yourself.) When you read a lot about someone, you listen a lot to this same person’s music too.
Now that this has been said, let’s finish what we’ve started with our first part and run through the remaining top albums on our list. (Again, you can read part 1 here.)
5 - Meek Mill: Championships
We start part II very much like we did the first, with an album that marks the return to prominence of a rapper that’s been vital to the culture for certainly five years in Meek Mill’s case. Championships is the first real offering Mill is giving his fans, a short summer EP (hey, here’s that word again!) notwithstanding, since finally being released from jail.
The Philly rapper has been in constant turmoil, a pawn in the grander con of the American justice system since the age of 19. Can you imagine the stress and strain on your life of living with this sword of Damocles hanging over your head at every moment? All you gotta do is fuck up the one time…and how are you never going to fuck ever?? It’s no wonder that Mill’s music, especially since signing to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group, has taken after Rozay’s illusions of grandiose and the all-conquering power, but always with a good dose or urgency and tragedy.
This new album is Mill’s best and remains true to the tropes of his past albums—the ones that seemingly always got the same 7.4 from Pitchfork. Championships is maybe a little bloated but for someone who’s just come home after five months in fail for, again it bears mentioning, popping wheelies (seriously), we’ll allow it. The 31-year-old is wounded and disillusioned from all that’s endured and, over well-known soulful samples, raps his heart out—as he always does—while denouncing the injustices he’s fallen victim to. Mill does his best to empower through songs those in need but who haven’t been as fortunate as him, something he hasn’t shied away from since being released.
We’re glad you’re home, Mill. We’ve missed ya. (Oh, and Pitchfork gave this album a 7.7, so that’s something too.)
4 - Saba: Care For Me
Chicago rapper Saba started 2018 as an absolute unknown for plenty of us (read: me, myself and I) and delivered a stunning album, an absolute gut-punch that he recorded and delivered in the midst of losing his cousin to senseless violence. Care For Me tackles death and depression, but this isn’t to say it’s a depressing listen—far from it really. Saba raps about his daily life in Chi Town and discusses his struggles with depression and mental health through vivid memories. Over a jazzy and soulful sonic landscape, the rapper is as transparent as you could hope for: he knows that depression will make you lonely and feel isolated, but understands that accepting your insecurities is the only way to overcome them.
3 - Travis Scott: Astroworld
If you’re looking for an album that delivered both in its hype, commercial performance and actual quality, the choice here, with apologies to Cardi B, is undeniably Travis Scott’s long-overdue, oft-delayed magnum opus Astroworld. The album is a psychedelic ride down to the core of Scott’s universe. It’s a multi-layered one, one that sounds a little bit like the modern trap from Atlanta, a little bit like the screwed up Houston sound, and a little bit like the sample-driven boom bap—but never fully. Mr. Kylie Jenner has been a force in hip-hop for years behind the scenes, closely influencing how modern rap sounds through his partnership with Kanye West, but with Astroworld Scott finally earns his place inside the core and as a quote-unquote superstar.
On SICKO MODE, Trav raps that he’s the glue holding it all together, but that’s not quite right: there’s tons of different kinds of glue, but there’s only one Travis Scott. He’s the man now.
2 - BROCKHAMPTON: iridescence
This year was supposed to be the best year of this American boyband’s life; not only was that the working title of their album, but also just a good summation of where they were, with a $15-million record deal, a booking stay at the famed Abbey Road Studios and a world tour all coming their way. But then rapper Ameer Vann faced accusations of sexual misconduct, and Brockhampton evicted the man who had been the most technically gifted rapper from the group, then cancelled the aforementioned the best year of our lives album. Suddenly, everything was in limbo.
iridescence, coming when it did, was easily the band’s most critical release, and it delivers tenfold. The Do-It-Yourself American boyband, you might have heard, are self-sufficient in every respect, running 14-deep with members who have roles that range from producers and rappers to graphic designer and web designer. And at the helm of it all is leader Kevin Abstract. iridescence is a vast panorama of sounds and melodies, with producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley, when it’s not Joba or Bearface, creating a herky-jerky sonic environment that follows no established pattern but its own. Crystal clear and borrowing from anything between grime, dancehall and dubstep, the production is rich and a perfect springboard for rappers Abstract, Merlyn Wood, Joba or Dom McLennon to experiment with flows, voices and storytelling—all of which they excel at. Tracks like NEW ORLEANS, DISTRICT and SAN MARCOS are especially memorable, with the rappers riding pristine and crisp beats (and a gorgeous guitar ballad) and explaining how their new fame and notoriety has left them mostly in despair and lonely (District) while longing to start over (San Marcos). And meanwhile, NEW ORLEANS is just a stunner of an album intro, a deliberate tone-setter for what’s to come.
With iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON have created a body of work that’s forward-thinking, emotional, cohesive and, most of all, daring. They’re confident in who and what they are—and what their sexual preference is, in some cases—and they’re not going anywhere. Thankfully.
1 - Pusha-T: DAYTONA
We’re already on the record with our admiration for Pusha-T’s undeniable classic, so we’ll keep this short and insist how unreal it is that, at only 7 tracks and 21 minutes long, this admittedly short album managed to have such an outsized importance and impact on the rap world.
It bears repeating, but we’ll remember this third solo album from your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper as the one that finally propelled him to the forefront of our collective conscience—but only to a point—and also that it almost derailed the biggest and best year of Drake’s life. Of course, that’s not entirely DAYTONA’s doing: the biggest stain on Aubrey’s reputation and clout came from Pusha-T’s razor sharp and fiery diss track The Story of Adidon. Sure.
But Pusha-T laid the ground work with DAYTONA, a master class of rapping about dealing more drugs than anyone but Eazy-E. Push has a lane and he’s better at it than you are at yours. And we’re sorry but Infrared might be the greatest song of 2018.
Even if, you know, we’re FIRMLY pro-Wayne.