The Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2018

Ten to Fifteen years ago, the body of work in Hip-Hop & R&B went through a stretch where it was almost meaningless in the mainstream. The rise of ringtones and dance crazes made it so that very few were invested in sitting down and consuming an entire project. The singles ruled and Artists leveraged all their talents into creating one. You were considered niche if you focused on projects and not singles. Fast forward to 2018 and you can barely create a fan base without having a great body of work. The "project" has morphed and changed completely. Streaming is forcing artist to be more creative, deliberate, and thoughtful on their releases. A myriad of techniques are being used, such as, 35 song projects to maximize streaming profits, splitting projects in 2 parts to build anticipation, releasing visual projects, and even releasing projects less than 30 minutes to hold the audience's attention. However, artist can never escape the fact that quality will always rise to the top. Below are the bodies of work that we enjoyed the most in 2018.

As always, these are the albums we've enjoyed, no particular metric has been considered in this list. In addition, all of the albums considered were up to November 16th, 2018. So as great as Meek Mill's Championship is, it was released too late to fully digest in the context of where it fits amongst everything released before it. So check it out, and let us know what are some of the projects you loved this year.

25. Future: Beastmode 2

Released: July 6th

Label: Freebandz. Epic

In 2018, Future was in the news for all types of reasons, most of them were scandalous. Amid all of the fuckery, he kept his prolific streak as an artist going. Beast Mode 2 was the prime example. The sequel to his lauded Beast Mode mixtape that was released in 2015, Future followed the same formula. Zaytoven produced every single track and delivered the goods. Future locked in and sounded as focused as we like him to be. Tracks like Red Light and Hate the Real Me explores his paranoia, insecurities, and his self-destructiveness. DOH DOH (feat. Young Scooter) and Cuddle My Wrist are bangers that rang all year. When I Think About It found him at his smoothest. Beast Mode 2 is not a triumph like his other projects, but it does a lot to continue the legend that he is cultivating. Maybe the fuckery is what begets the gems.

24. Noname: Room 25

Released: September 14th

Label: No/Name

I must admit, it took a while to get to the No Name train. I can say that I’m happy that I’m here. The Chicago MC delivers thought provoking music with a spoken word delivery. What’s important about that, is that it never comes across forced, gimmicky, or even anything beyond who she is. Room 25 is a myriad of turns and unorthodox choices. The pockets she falls in are never predictable or discernable. Her beat choices are not mundane, but she always has something interesting to say. A song like Prayer Song, a dissertation of our country’s fascination with violence, sex, religion, and capitalism. Yet it’s so subtle and beautiful, that it’s hard to get past the groove. Then she follows that with Window with beautiful instrumentation and Noname speaking of love serenely. The entire album is a treat and a look into an immensely talented artist. The scariest part is, it does not sound like she’s hit her stride yet.

23. Black Thought: Stream of Thought Vol 1 and 2

Released: June 1st/ November 26th

Label:Human Re Sources. Passyunk Productions

We received Black Thought’s first solo projects in 2018. It’s really a technicality since he has been destroying beats for over 20 years. If you’re a fan of Black Thought, then you know what these records would bring. He’s as dexterous as ever and still focused as ever. His bars are never wasted, his topics are always important, and there is no sign of regression. Both volumes combine to make 14 songs. 9th Wonder produced the entire first volume, Salaam Remi produced the whole 2nd volume. The cohesion provided by two legendary producers gives Black Thought an empty canvas to speak on Philadelphia, drugs, destruction, and the overall madness of inner-city life. His success as an entertainer never seem to make him lose grasp of his original surroundings.

22. Dave East & Styles P: Beloved

Released: October 5th

Label: Def Jam

The joint album has become so over-saturated that when one is announced, it’s hard to determine if it will happen or if it will even be worthwhile. But because Dave East and Styles P. are artists of similar cloth, they delivered on Beloved. The album is classic NY music. Boom bap heavy beats with no attempt at commercial success. Lots of in and out verses, and gritty bars. They take some chances on songs like Do You Know What Time It Is and We Got Everything but for the most part, most of the tracks consist of tough bars over smooth, east coast production. Styles P. hasn’t missed a step and sounds as gritty as ever. Dave East sounds focused rapping next to who he calls his favorite rapper. After a year of some lackluster releases, it’s clear that Styles P really helps Dave East stay sharp throughout. It’s a throwback to those who love late 90s and early aughts New York rap music.

21. Summer Walker: Last Day of Summer

Released: October 12th

Label: LVRN Records

If you can get past the fact that Summer Walker’s Last Day of Summer is annoyingly short, (28 minutes for 12 songs, wtf?) the music itself is stunning. Summer Walker never breaks stride and all the records flow together smoothly. Anchored by the singles like Girls Need Love and CPR, the other songs follow the same flow and Walker clearly has a grasp on how to put together beautiful music. Baby, Smartwater, and Deep are gorgeous salvos of love. Karma is a great take on a woman scorned and Prayed Up is a well-executed ballad on temptation. The entire album is easy listening. The improvements can be had in the writing, but when you hear songs like Shame you know that her writing has a base to stand on and should only see more improvement.

20. Lil Baby & Gunna: Drip Harder

Released: October 5th

Label: YSL. Quality Control. Motown. Capitol

If you’re not paying attention, you will think that Drip Harder is run of the mill Trap Music. The problem with trap music is that everyone thinks they can do it. Everyone thinks it’s easy, and it’s monotone. What Drip Harder shows is that, to truly stand out in trap music, something must stick out. Something must separate you from the rest. Drip Harder separates itself, because Gunna and Baby never fall out of pocket. They never sound lazy and complacent. Every song is performed with proficiency, and every bar is so matter of fact, that they sound true. No song describes that more than Business is Business. The two exchange verses and don’t sound hurried or phased at any point, even as they finish lines for each other. Drip Harder is a showcase of their styles. It highlights how similar the two are while the subtleties of the difference between them help elevate the records. There is a reason why you’ll be hard pressed to visit a strip club that a song from the album is not present in.

19. Wale: It's Complicated

Released: March 13th

Label: Maybach Music Group. Every Blue Moon

Since the lines between albums, EPs, mixtapes, or playlist (FOH Drake) is completely blurred, a project like It’s Complicated makes it as one of the best projects at just 13 minutes. It’s Complicated is well written and highlights the confusion in deciphering how one should approach love and relationships at a stage in time. In 13 minutes, Wale manages to display vulnerability, apathy, infatuation, and incisiveness. He longs for his ride or die and is as hopeful as he can be in one moment (Black Bonnie), but he’s jaded in the next (It’s Complicated). The beats are soft and smooth and allows Wale the space to perfectly narrate his hopes, insecurities, and how the women around him contribute to it all. It is why Wale must gets frustrated at times, but he is still one of the best writers in rap music.

18. The Weeknd: My Dear Melancholy,

Released: March 30th

Label: Republic. XO

The first notes of The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy is a clear sign of what’s to come: unrelenting sadness. In Weekend’s 22-minute EP, even the moments of debauchery are steeped in emptiness. He takes the darkness that he is known for and adds sadness to it. The entire EP lends itself to pain and even at the high points, (like Wasted Times) it’s rooted in turmoil. One thing is clear though, the place that it comes from sounded real. It’s telling that My Dear Melancholy is the only release that came from him outside of a few features. The four-song project felt like it defined most of his recent years and the relationships surrounding it.

17. Kali Uchis: Isolation

Released: April 6th

Label: Rinse. Virgin. Universal

Isolation is a whole album of lush sounds, breezy singing, and interesting concepts. Kali Uchis is a versatile artist and every twist and turn Isolation takes is worth the effort. The album takes a swing at nearly every genre and never comes across forced. She jumps from reggae (Tryant with Jorja Smith), to Raggaeton where she sings in Spanish (Nuestro Planeta with Reykon), includes traditional Soul and R&B (Flight 22), and funk (After the Storm and Just a Stranger). The best part is that it never comes across like a forced attempt. It comes off naturally and every turn and leap she takes, she manages to keep elements of what makes her distinct on it. A truly can’t miss project.

16. 6lack: East Atlanta Love Letter

Released: September 4th

Label: LVRN Records. Interscope

6lack flies under the radar because of his personality, yet East Atlanta Love Letter is still as highly anticipated as can be. After his debut, Free 6lack, obtained so much acclaim, it was worthwhile to see how real a sophomore slump can be. East Atlanta Love Letter did not surpass its predecessor, but it surely showed that 6lack is not a fluke of an artist by any stretch. He reprises his sound and hones it even better and the lyrics continue to be bittersweet and melancholic. Every guest feature comes into his space and falls into the aesthetic and compliments it greatly. He never deviates from his strengths and the lyrics are pensive and yet nearly pessimistic. There’s something to be said about finding your groove and sticking to it.

15. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and The Alchemist: Fetti

Released: October 31st

Label: Jet Life. ESGN. ALC. Empire

Fetti is everything a rap fan should want in a rap album. It has one of the greatest producers to ever live lacing every single beat for two gifted lyricist to rap over. Fetti doesn’t disguise what it is. It’s not an in depth, complex songs with ranges of emotion. It’s Currensy and Freddie Gibbs kicking dope verses over immaculate beats. It flows so smoothly and the deep tone of Gibb’s voice mixed with Currensy’s laid back flow sounds seamless. The three collaborated since their epic song Scottie Pippens, and Fetti was the continuation that the fans hoped for. The two MCs were on top of their game throughout and no one overshadowed each other. Short, sweet, smooth, and succinct characterizes Fetti.

14. Reason: There You Have It

Released: September 27th

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment