The year of our lord 2018 was one of many excesses, with POTUS commander-in-chief the leader in that category on a universal level of course—but that’s neither here nor there.
By large, we gave in to our greatest excesses in just about every respect in 2018, including for the matter at heart of this discussion the music scene.
The Migos trio got the ball rolling early in the year by releasing the bloated and frankly pretty bad album Culture II, a follow-up to their acclaimed and excellent Culture album from 2017. Yes, it racked up views and streams but it seemed like the majority of it was due to people wanting with all their might to find the album’s saving grace—and failing at it. In fact, Migos’ label mates and bosses, the folks from Quality Control, were the main culprits here, with their acts releasing a new seemingly a new album every other week. In this specific case, the end result sure looked like the label name was merely that, that quantity, not quality, was key.
The counterpoint to Quality Control was the approach privileged by Kanye West and the G.O.O.D. Music crew, who decided that seven tracks and (about) 20 minutes was all you needed for a successful album. And sure, there’s something to this but let’s not act like Kanye’s strategy didn’t come with excesses: he flooded the market with five albums in as many weeks, and with countless and countless and countless controversies, as these things tend to come with all things Kanye West.
In the end, not nearly as many albums as we would have expected managed to make a lasting impression. Drake, Cardi B and Post Malone all scored huge, huge hits with Scorpion, Invasion of Privacy and beerbongs & bentleys, but those three albums were always going to be huge; they were too big to fail. But otherwise? Slim pickings and because of this, plenty of albums that might have fallen by the wayside, well, didn’t and fans and music critics alike had just as many different year-end lists as there were albums released this year.
That includes ours, the first part of which you can see below.
10 - Lil Wayne: Tha Carter V
The return of Lil Wayne to the forefront of our collective minds, after his lengthy mess and bitter battle with label boss/mentor/friend/father figure Birman, was as triumphant as it was unexpected. But after all this time, Weezy F Baby finally gave the world the gift he had promised us for so long. And if you feel like the entire world was waiting for it, it’s because that’s exactly what it was: with 480,000 first-week sales for the third most in a week in 2018, the album is an undeniable success. After about two decades in the game, Wayne is well past his prime but he’s just as determined as ever to prove that he’s still the best rapper alive. It’s the most inspired he’s sounded in years, and we should be thankful simply for having this album with us finally.
Weezy has lost a step or two, yet he’s still good enough to rap circles around the majority of other rappers while at the same time giving us a handful of tracks to add to his career pantheon including the bonkers Mona Lisa, Dope Niggaz, Demon and album closer Let It All Work Out. On the latter, his admission that his self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 12 was really a suicide attempt is as jarring, affecting and arresting a moment as any in his vast catalogue.
9 - Mac Miller: Swimming
The tragic life of Malcolm McCormick, or Mac Miller, ended earlier this fall from an accidental overdose a mere few weeks after he had released his latest, and best, album. Swimming is the accomplishment of a career cut too short, a versatile and musical odyssey to the center of self-care, self-love and a life spent battling addiction while you wear your heart on your sleeve.
What makes it so tragic is that the rapper will never get to see that Swimming would be nominated for rap album of the year at the Grammys. Or that we’ll never get to hear and see what the next evolution of Mac Miller would be, as he had started as a rather corny backpack rapper before reinventing himself with every album and morphing into one of our generations’s most well-rounded rappers. Or that he’ll never be there to put on for other promising young rappers like had had done countless times. But most of all, it’s tragic because Mac had scarcely ever met anyone who had anything but glowing praise for him.
We’ll miss ya, Mac.
8 - Ariana Grande: Sweetener
Ariana Grande’s story leading up to the release of her excellent Sweetener was one of incredible poise and wonderful resolve: she managed to turn the pain of heartbreak after breaking up with Mac Miller and the firsthand senseless terror of the bombing that killed 23 people at her Manchester concert in May 2017, well she turned it all into a gorgeous pop album that doubles as an ode to perseverance, humanity and personal resolve. Grande chose not to play it safe, enlisting the likes of Pharrell Williams and Missy Elliott for an album that’s pop with a sauce of trap and edm. The album acts as a much-needed ointment and reminder that tragedy, while it absolutely needs to be acknowledged and accepted, won’t define you if you won’t let it.
Thank u Ariana, can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
7 - JID: DiCaprio2
Ever so often a rapper breaks through that makes us all wonder how in the hell it took him so long to finally arrive, one who arrives so fully formed already that it’s puzzling why we didn’t have him in our lives all alone since he fits in so seamlessly. This is the case with East Atlanta rapper JID, who dropped an absolute gem this year with the DiCaprio2 album. The Dreamville signee doesn’t lack is charisma, not to mention that he already might be the most technically gifted rapper in the world. If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll know that we’re on the record as having a, erm, difficult relationship with JID’s label boss J. Cole, but we’ll give him this: he knows a star when he sees one and on DiCaprio2, Cole mostly stays out of the way.
The album is a cohesive body of work that showcases the newcomer’s many, many gifts, with JID being forthright about his inner demons and motivations but also unafraid to call it like it is and show you that he’s a better rapper than most of us are at most things. Off da Zoinkys is a prime example of his appeal, as rather than turning an anti-drug song into a sanctimonious and cringy sermon like, say, Cole did for an entire album, JID instead displays empathy and explains that he stays drug-free because he aspires to become the greatest ever. (Not saying it’s not sanctimonious, but the message goes over smoother.)
JID will take over the world before long, and we’ll be able to say that we knew it all along.
6 - 03 Greedo: God Level
03 Greedo is, or should be, an absolute superstar because he has everything you ask for in a modern star: the flair, the flow, the melodies and the innate charisma to tell the countless tales he’s lived in his 31 years on Earth. He showcases every element on God Level, the album Greedo released this June before heading to a Texas correctional facility for a 20-year sentence. The looming captivity looms large over the album, which trades in final mixing and mastering for plenty of the songs for authenticity and emotionality. The Watts, CA, rapper is equally adept at the boisterous and twitchy flows to tell you how great he is as he is the haunting melodies and cry for help—and it’s in the latter case that Greedo truly shines. Floating is especially effectively, the rapper wailing and crying that he feels like he’s walking on air and water during the chorus: you see, the drugs and sex are what allow him to transcend the miseries of his daily life, one that’s doomed to incarceration for the foreseeable future, and to finally feel free.
God Level is special because it’s the unfiltered journal of a man, father and husband, one who knows his days as as a free man are numbered. He should be a superstar but instead, he’s in jail until 2020 at the earliest. Shit sucks. #FreeGreedo.