The Best Albums of 2018

It’s been an incredible year for music with no album being made the same way; Migos opted for a mammoth 24-track album whilst rappers like Pusha T and Kanye West opted for a much shorter and more concise 7 tracks. Some artists had their albums mastered months before its release whereas The Carter’s album was finished a mere hours before. There was no set blueprint on how to produce an album and there was so much of them. Every Friday was new music Friday and our streaming platforms were flooded with new projects, albums and EPs. After immense consideration, deliberation and thought, we’ve whittled down this year’s releases and given you our top 40 albums of the year.

In no particular order:

40. Ella Mai, ‘Ella Mai’

Ella Mai has emerged as R&B's newest princess. As her single Boo'd Up took the globe by storm, she didn't wait for the calm to release her self-titled debut album. She pays homage to classic 90's R&B but DJ Mustard's production gives it a modern and updated sound.  In the realm of R&B, her voice wouldn't be considered top tier but that's not what she attempts to do on this album. Mai knows her sound and what works for her. She uses two-step vibe tracks which her voice glides effortlessly across. Using musical interludes to break the monotonous flow of songs, Mai breaks the musical fourth wall and uses the letters of her name as an acronym for her thoughts on love and relationships. With 16 tracks, the Trip singer shows that she is more than, and can offer more than her smash hit Boo'd Up. 

39. The Carter’s, ‘Everything is Love’

Everything Is Love acts as the final album in a trilogy which documented the trials and tribulations of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's marriage. Lemonade (2016)- the explosive and revealing album which divulged Jay -Z's endless infidelity. Jay-Z then retorted with 4:44(2017), a remorseful, repentant and introspective album. Everything is Love is a reconciliation of their love and their marriage whilst simultaneously an arrogant assertion of their dominance, wealth and stability "my great grand-children already rich, that's a lot of brown chilldren on your Forbes list’” Beyoncé raps on Boss. Their wealth and dominance is displayed endlessly on the album with the Apeshit video being shot in The Louvre. Whilst at times being aloof, The Carters are still not removed from the culture "Since the Kalief doc, they've been at my neckY'all can tell 'em Trayvon is comin' next" he raps on Black Effect Everything Is Love is the type of joint album we may not have explicitly asked for, but it is does answer some questions from the prolifically private couple. Its purpose was to not be musically magnificent, but release an album for the culture by the culture. 

38. Kanye West and Kid Cudi, ‘Kids See Ghosts’

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Kids See Ghosts is the long awaited joint album from one of rap's most fruitful partnerships. The partnership between Kid Cudi and Kanye spans over 10 years, beginning with Kanye's melodic and melancholic album, 808s & Heartbreaks. With Kid Cudi acting as both co-pilot, this album has much more direction and acts as redemption for Kanye's disappointing 8th album, Ye.

The album documents the mental health of the two protagonists. Both rappers rap honestly and fluidly on Kanye's rock-infused production. It’s an introspective and self-reflective body of work - this was probably aided by Wyoming solitude conditions they recorded the album in. At 7 tracks, the album is akin to Pusha T's Daytonain that it strips back all superfluous songs and elements. By keeping it concise, Kanye gives us an honest review of where he is in his life "I don't feel pain anymore“Guess what baby, I feel free". And we hope both Kanye and Cudi continue feel this.

37. Cardi B, ‘Invasion of Privacy’

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There was an overwhelming weight resting on Cardi B's shoulders in the lead up to the release of her debut album, Invasion of Privacy. There were the endless rumours of her having a ghost writer and sceptics who dubbed her as a 1-hit wonder after Bodak Yellow. But Cardi delivered a cohesive, charismatic and punchy body of work. Invasion of Privacy is filled with a collection of juxtaposing emotions; it’s brazen, audacious and ferocious yet simultaneously vulnerable, emotional and anxious.

From poles to podiums, Cardi’s ascension is mind-boggling and is best described in her own words as “Real life, Binderella  sh*t.  This album was Cardi's one and only chance to cement her name in rap and prove her position for sceptics and critics who saw her ascension as a fluke. The success of her debut album will only act as a launching pad to bigger and better things.

36. Mac Miller, ‘Swimming’

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Swimming is a raw and candid journey of a young man trying to make his way back to shoreA man attempting to wade through the oceans of his mind which are often insurmountable. At times these problems drown him, but sometimes he is able to float, briefly back to shore and even swim "I was drowning, but now I'm swimming" he sings on Come Back to Earth. The album is bitter sweet – there is a constant juxtaposition between the beautiful melodies which carry the album and the pain and despair which echoes from Mac’s vocals.

In 13 tracks, Mac shows his formidable artistic range and love of live instrumentation. Mac offers raw and sincere revelations of his doubts, fears and even some proud moments. Each and every track serves a distinct purpose. Despite the vulnerability on this album, we as listeners do not feel like intruders, even in the deepest crevices of his mind. Swimming is a beautiful body of work but it is a semi-colon and not a full stop, an abrupt farewell from one of Rap's favourite.

35. Various Artists, ‘Black Panther’

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Kendrick is tasked with having to musically bring Black Panther to life. Using 50-minutes and 14 sprawling tracks, he presents his own interpretation of Black Panther  and brings the blockbuster marvel film to life. The soundtrack is Lamar’s hip-hop interpretation of the movie and the fictional country. Facets of this album bear striking melodic and sonic resemblances to DAMN and Untitled Unmastered. Heard on X and Paramedic featuring SOB x RBE which gives you the typical West-Coast sound.

Black Panther the film is the blackest marvel cast in history and the soundtrack’s cast mirrors this;  Travis Scott, Jorja Smith, Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples, Future, Khalid and SZA to name a few. A soundtrack based on Black Panther, would be inept without featuring some African artists. The album features Sjava, alt-rapper Yugen Blakrok and BabesWodumu who showcases,”Gpom”, a South African sub-genre of house on Redemption. The soundtrack acts as a meeting point for artists across the diaspora, it's quite beautiful. The “King Kunta” was the most trustworthy curator for this album as he fulfilled the task of bringing the film to life and most importantly, encapsulating what the viewers expect to hear.

34. Jay Rock, ‘Redemption

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Jay Rock has a wide catalogue which spans many years yet he is not the most popular rapper at his label, Top Dawg Entertainment. Despite this, his class-music has always been able to make it through the cracks and grab people’s attention.  He plays with a much more accessible sound on this album with tracks like Redemption and Tap Out. Tap Out channels a mellow trap sound whilst Redemption with Sza, offers more of an R&B vibe. But whatever sound Jay Rock takes, he takes and makes it his own as his flow in consistently energetic and monstrous.

 Redemption, a 14-long track which vocalises Jay Rock’s gratitude for life. A little over a year ago, the 33-year old was in a hospital bed and internally bleeding after a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Redemption represents a second chance for Jay Rock in life and for his career. “If you had a second chance in life, what would you do” he asks himself and listeners on the track Redemption. And the answer to that question is his third studio album and him trying to do better in every sphere of his personal life. 

33. Anderson Paak, ‘Oxnard’

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Anderson .Paak’s albums in chronology journey up the coast of California. From Venice (2014), to Malibu (2016) and now we find ourselves at the final destination, his home city of Oxnard. It’s a literal and metaphorical journey, documenting where .Paak was at various times in his life. The production on this album is brilliant. You can hear the quality and time taken by Dr Dre who executively produced the album. The rapping, singing and drumming connoisseur gave us many reasons on this album to shout “Yes Lawd”.

.Paak is in his own musical lane and has somehow created his own genre. It’s like funk infused with R&B, laced with rap and jazz – it’s bemusing and beautiful. The journey .Paak has taken us on up until now is unmatched to anything else. .Paak’s innovativeness and ability to not be easily swayed by the waves and currents dictating music in the modern-era is formidable.  We’ve enjoyed every detour and stop-off Paak has taken us on this journey in order to make it home. 

32. Janelle Monae, ‘Dirty Computer

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Young, black, wild, free, naked in a limousine” Janelle sings on Crazy, Classic, Life”, these words encapsulating her vibrant energy which echoes throughout this album. The album is as explicit as the title suggests but not in a horrifically crude way. You almost have to wait for songs like Take A Byte and Screwed to finish before you fully take in the innuendos and connotations.

Dirty Computer is an exploration of her identity as a queer black woman and the political landscape which surrounds her - ICE caging black and brown kids, gun violence and marching for equality. She is aware of how politicised her identity is and seeks to use this album as a platform for much more than making great music.  “If you try to grab this pussy, this pussy will grab you back” she threatens on I Got The Juice. With genres ranging from rap, R&B, futuristic-funk and rap, just like Janelle as an individual, her music knows no bounds nor limitations. 

31. J. Cole, ‘KOD’

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There was much debate surrounding the acronymic title of J. Cole's fifth featureless album, KOD. Was it Kids on Drugs, King  Overdosed or Kill Our Demons? 

 

The album is an exploration of the various forms addiction can come in - drugs, women or social media. Drug Addiction is explored on KOD and Once An Addict.  Photographs looks at addiction to social media and Kevin Heart's addiction is women and the track dissects one's struggle with monogamy.

J. Cole is known for giving verses from a pedestal, his verses echoing an omniscient voice thus he finishes KOD with the mic-drop, 1985. He sounds like a lecturer giving one of his students, Lil Pump, the realities of the game.  J. Cole is renowned for telling the stories of others and making them sound like his. But perhaps on this album, it is a culmination of all his stories, his troubles and his demons. The younger generation is just an after-thought, the real person he is trying to drill the message home to is himself. 

30. Meek Mill, ‘Championships’

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Despite being sample heavy, Meek’s originality and voice is not dampened on this album. He flips classics from Phil Collin's to Beyoncé in a way you wouldn't expect to hear them.   Whether it's trap Meek giving us club bangers with Future, and Cardi B, Spanish vibes with Anuel Aa, him teaming up with former foe Drake, or his verse on Trauma being reminiscent of cornrow-wearing fire freestyle days, Meek caters for everyone yet still remains true to his core fan base. The masterclass production showing how multi-faceted and multitalented Meek is. We meet mean meek, meek Meek, mature Meek.

At 19 tracks, the album towers over most of the releases from this year.  But I guess Meek kept it long simply because in his long absence, he'd had much to get off his chest. Despite the injustice and adversity which has been thrown Meek’s way, he emerges victorious and a champion, both in his personal life and the excellent album he delivered.

29. Pusha T, ‘DAYTONA’

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7 is the number of completion and Pusha’s uses 7 tracks to complete his mission. He’s on a vilified rampant mission to devour the doubters and rappers in his path who have thrown jabs at him. It’s a menacing delivery and he force feeds us, and more specifically, his rap competitors, how great of a lyricist he is and how authentic he is. A recurring point of Pusha’s is that he doesn’t have to fake this drug life, he’s moved weight, lived the life and lived to tell the tale “I took the cracks and built the wire”. 

Sometimes his insults are plain and simple “this is the drug money your nigga claim he make”  he sneers on If You Know You Know. Other times they are more nuanced and slightly more cryptic "So I don't tap dance for the crackers and sing MammyOr when he says “it was written like Nas but it came from Quentin” he raps on his outro, Infared. Dubbed the track which reignited the Drake and Pusha beef, it’s packed with many taunts and insults to the Toronto-native. Once the album is unpacked, there is not a fault in any of Pusha’s assertions of being a brilliant lyricist and authentic as they come. 

28. Masego, ‘Lady Lady’

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Lady Lady is an album about love and more specifically, the love which Masego has experienced. Using 13 tracks, Masego narrates the highs, the lows and the intricacies of love and relationships. Through hypothetical and real experiences, Masego nostalgically recants all that romance has thrown at him and taught him; the commitment issues, the repercussions of one-night stands and falling in love. On this album, we meet the dichotomy of Masego; the nice hopeless romantic but the young musicians who just wants to have fun "Wanna use my fame and lay with a model" he sings unapologetically on Lavish Lullaby”. 

Masego is an old soul and this is heard in his sophisticated and timeless sound, a blend between old school jazz and R&B. He has coined his sound as “trap house jazz”  and this album is riddled with it. Lady Lady is a great album and showcases everything that Masego is – complex, refreshing, ground-breaking and an avant-cardist.

27. The Internet. ‘Hive Mind’

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Following the release of Ego Death in 2015, the band embarked on a rather abrupt musical hiatus with vocalist Syd, guitarist Steve Lacy, producer Matt Martians, drummer Christopher Smith and bassist Patrick Paige II releasing their own individual projects.

The feature-less album allowed all individuals to shine. On this album, The Internet produced a funk infused sound, melded with Motown melodies with layers of sultry R&B vibes. Each song falls so perfectly on the ears – with every drum pattern, chord and melody sounding so deliberate yet simultaneously so effortless and accidental. Hive Mind defied sceptics who thought their sabbatical meant a premature end of The Internet. But this album is evidence of  he group's cohesion, togetherness and their ability to make another classic album. One mind, one band, one Hive.

26. Nipsey Hussle, ‘Victory Lap’

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Victory Lap is the moment which Nipsey and his cult-like fan base have been waiting for.  Nipsey is a "mixtape monster" having spent the last 13 years releasing back to back mixtapes, engraving his name in West Coast and international rap conversations. Victory Lap is a culmination of years of adversity, and lessons in an album. It's an emblem of Nipsey's determination and insatiable hunger.

A slow burner, Victory Lap requires a bit of mileage in order to be fully appreciated. But it is instantly recognisable how masterful the production is. The album is for Los Angeles natives, made by a Los Angeles Native "I would stand in front of Nix with my stack all day" he nostalgically recants on Double Up. But this hyper-locality doesn’t exclude listeners who may not fully appreciate lines like this in its true context. "Riding round like I really made" he spits on Loaded Bases, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy for his well-deserved Grammy nomination for Best Rap album of the year. Nipsey deserves to bask in his victory and take another lap around the track.

25. Noname, ‘Room 25’

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Room 25 is an ingenious follow-up from the Chicago-native's Telefone (2016). Noname's spitting is hard-hitting when it needs to be on stand-out tracks like Blaxpolitation, where she explores her own racial identify. Room 25 is refreshing and Noname's sound is somewhat incomparable to anyone in this current musical climate. She seems to transcend time, being both ahead of it but somehow drawing on elements from the past. On Don't Forget About Me, she samples D'Angelo and makes it feel as if he is on the track with her. Part of Me And With You sound like timeless classics. Room 25 is a deep exploration into crevices of Noname's mind - her feelings, how she's dealt with her new-found fame but also as the album artwork implies, the complexity of herself. Her music has a formidable ability to reel you in and before you know it your knee deep into her art.

24. Travis Scott, Astroworld

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Immerse yourself in Travis’s imaginary theme park, Astroworld. This one may be imaginary, but it drew most of its inspiration from the now shut down Six Flags Astroworld. It was orchestrated to have us on the edge of our seats in anticipation and excitement, as if we were on an actual rollercoaster. It hit the world like a meteor and it’s still radiating even months after its release. From Stargazing to riding on a Carosel accompanied by the unexpected vocals of Frank Ocean, Travis brought this galactic world to life. Tracks glide so effortlessly into each other, listeners are bemused that the songs have even changed. Travis was sure to create an experience on Astroworld with tracks like Sicko Mode ft. Drake and Stop trying to be God. Sicko Mode is a 3-part of journey packed with heavy weight production with every melodic detour melting perfectly with one another.

The features on the album are perfectly selected to illustrate Travis’ vision. This is his electric follow-up and peace offering to his devoted fans who have long-since been waiting for another album. Whether you’re cruising to the illustrious sun-set track Yosemite, or mosh-pitting to Butterfly effect, Travis gave everyone a prize to take away. Proving Travis’ position and musical ability, Astroworld has catapulted him into a realm of international superstardom I’m not sure he was even expecting.

23. Saba, ‘Care For Me’

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Grief, an indescribable emotion and impossible to quantify. It can only be understood through shared experience. On CARE FOR ME, The rapping-singing Chicago-native gives us unprecedented access to his mind and feelings as he grapples with grief. CARE FOR ME is a penned ode and rollercoaster journey as he grapples to come to terms with the death of his cousin and fellow Pivot gang member, Walter Long Jr, aka John Walt.

Despite the overarching theme being loss and grief, Saba touches on other themes like love, family, race and sexism. His losses are not mentioned on every track, but it is evident how they have warped his perception in present day. The album is musically magical; from the horns that caress the chords on Grey or the piano outros which gently bring songs like Broken Girls and Calligraphy to a close, it's sonically sublime. The song's constructions are much more diverse and experimental when compared to his previous project, Bucket List Project. 

 There's beauty in pain and great pain is what gave birth to this beautiful album. By the last track, Heaven all Around Me, Saba seemingly finds solace and peace in knowing the light that surrounds him, irrespective of the darkness which fills him. It's a powerful scene of acceptance and transition into a new life, both for Saba and for Walt.  

22. Sir, ‘November’

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November is an ode to a particular period or person in Sir's life. The Inglewood-singer-songwriter and producer gives us R&B with tinges of neo-soul and jazz elements. It's music that reels you in, entraps you and makes you feel. Creating modern "baby-making R&B", the most recent TDE signee has firmly etched his name in the world of R&B. 

The protagonist, a loving female who is the is the subject of every song but is tragically not the fixation of his mind. D'evils, a stand out track on the album, is sensual, playful yet serious - about everything and nothing at the same time.

Throughout the album, Sir's female robotic travel guide, K, calmly interrupts the album with her own interludes which update SIR on their journey time "33 trillion kilometres to go" she says about half-way through the album.  Neither parties explicitly explain where they're going. Whatever it may be, we're happy to have been able to have accompany him.

21. Drake, ‘Scorpion’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Nice For What

  • In My Feelings

  • Emotionless

20. Migos, ‘Culture II’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Narcos

  • Motorsport

  • Notice Me

19. Nas, ‘Nasir’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Cops Shot The Kid

  • White Label

  • Adam & Eve

18. Ariana Grande, ‘Sweetener’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • God Is A Woman

  • Breathin’

  • Blazed

17. Mariah Carey ‘Caution’

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Top 3 Tracks:

  • Caution

  • A No No

  • The Distance

16. Jaden Smith, The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story

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Top 3 Tracks:

  • SOHO

  • Plastic

  • Better Things

15. 21 Savage, ‘i am > i was’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • A Lot

  • Out For The Night

  • Can’t Leave Without It

14. Chloe & Halle, ‘The Kids Are Alright’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Down

  • Everywhere

  • Hi Lo

13. A$AP Rocky, ‘Testing’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Praise The Lord

  • A$AP Forever

  • Buck Shots

12. The Weeknd, ‘My Dear Melancholy,’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Call Out My Name

  • Hurt You

  • Try Me

11. Metro Boomin’, ‘Not All Heroes Wear Capes’

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  • Overdue

  • Borrowed Love

  • No More

10. Rae Sremmurd, ‘SR3MM’

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Top 3 Tracks:

  • Perplexing Pegasus

  • Poweglide

  • Guatemala

9. Vince Staples, ‘FM!’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Don’t Get Tripped

  • Feels Like Summer

  • Fun!

8. 6LACK, ‘East Atlanta Love Letter’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Pretty Little Fears

  • Switch

  • Nonchalant

7. Post Malone, ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Spoil My Night

  • Better Now

  • Psycho

6. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter V’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Let It Fly

  • Mona Lisa

  • Don’t Cry

5. D-Block Europe & Yxng Bane, ‘Any Minute Now’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Gucci Mane

  • Flights

  • Cocktail

4. Little Mix, ‘LM5’



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Top 3 tracks:

  • Woman Like Me

  • Strip

  • Joan of Arc

3. Burna Boy, ‘Outside’

Top 3 tracks:

  • Ye

  • Rock Your Body

  • Streets of Africa

2. Kodak Black, ‘Dying To Live’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Zeze

  • Moshpit

  • Testimony

1. Nicki Minaj, ‘Queen’

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Top 3 tracks:

  • Good Form

  • Barbie Dreamz

  • Chun Swae