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
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 its