The most disappointing hip-hop releases of 2018, pt. 1

The sheer amount of albums released this year alone has been staggering, arguably ushering in the most over-saturated era of hip-hop since it became the cultural zeitgeist of today’s youth culture. Everyone and their mother dropped a project in 2018, so it’s no surprise that we were treated to a myriad number of duds and flops every week.  

High-profile letdowns and burgeoning failures are par for the course in a genre as competitive as rap. If I had to list out every disappointing release of 2018 so far, we’d be here for a week. So, I’ve whittled it down to a short list of the projects that flopped the hardest based on the expectations set for them by fans and the culture alike.

 

 

Dishonorable Mention: PRhyme 2

Now, PRhyme 2 is by no means a bad album. It’s a very good project filled with sharp-witted punchlines from Royce da 5’9 and immaculate levels of production from the legendary DJ Premier. Yet the reason for its disappointment had little to do with the quality of this project, but it was mainly because the original PRhyme was just THAT GOOD. 

This album’s predecessor was flawless from start to finish. Every punchline inched Royce closer into G.O.A.T. conversations and every beat reminded listeners of why DJ premier is regarded as one of the best to ever do it, resulting in the followup seeming fairly lackluster in comparison. This feels especially so when the project felt like a placeholder leading up to Royce’s much more substantial solo album – Book of Ryan.

 

10. Lil Baby & Gunna – Drip Harder

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The hype reached a fever pitch for a collaborative project from two of Atlanta’s most promising up-and-coming rappers when it was first announced. Lil Baby made an immense splash earlier this year with his Drake-assisted banger “Yes Indeed” and debut album Harder Than Ever (also disappointing but filled with enough high points to miss a spot on this list). Gunna, on the other hand, was the Young Thug protege that everyone had their eyes on. His melodic flows and breezy inflections poised him to be a superstar in the making.  

Yet, Drip Harder robbed the duo of everything that made them great. Lil Baby’s charisma was replaced with uninspired cookie-cutter triplet flows. Gunna’s eccentricity was sacrificed in favor of flavor-of-the-week trap songs. Instead of bringing the best of each other, the duo ended up infecting each other with their worst respective traits.

 

9. Princess Nokia – A Girl Cried Red

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A Girl Cried Red isn’t exactly a rap album. Clearly inspired by the sounds of the late Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, this project has more in common with 2000s emo-punk than today’s trap inspired aesthetic. Still, Princess Nokia remains a rapper at heart, with her 2017’s project – 1992 easily being one of the best debut projects of that year.

This completely left-field experimental release was disjointed and messy. Her infectious charisma and humor were nowhere to be found, instead replaced by angst and passionate singing that just did not sound very good. Her heart was in the right place with this release though, as content-wise every song felt both hard-hitting and endearing. But clearly, rapping remains very much her forte. 

 

8. Lil Yachty – Lil Boat 2

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Lil Yachty just can’t catch a break. With the dumpster fire that was his debut album Teenage Emotions, he lost all goodwill that fans had for him as they defended him from seemingly everyone in hip-hop. Once heralded as rap’s next big superstar, that all disappeared when he couldn’t deliver the goods needed to be one – namely good music. 

So with the announcement of Lil Boat 2, Yachty was seemingly going back to his roots. Fans were excited as it could mean that he was about to strip away his current polished pop sound, returning to the melodic trap singing that broke him into the mainstream. It would be the perfect redemption arc. Then, the album dropped and he did the exact opposite. Everything that attracted fans to Yachty was gone and in its place, generic trap production and shoddy triplet flows. Disappointing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

 

7. Mike WiLL Made-It – Creed II: The Album

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There have never been high expectations for movie soundtracks. They often exist as bland cash grabs to be sold alongside the film just so the studios get to rake in a bit more profit. Yet, Kendrick Lamar proved to us this year with the Black Panther album, that soundtracks can be both great and exciting without being weighed down by the overbearing ties to its parent film.

So when Mike WiLL Made-It was brought on to curate the Creed II soundtrack, people couldn’t help but wait in anticipation considering the incredible hits that he’s churned out over the past several years. Unfortunately, the only expectation that the project met was its star-studded tracklist. It suffers from the same symptoms that have plagued nearly every movie soundtrack. Often the tracks lack a cohesive theme or sound that can tie them together, and the artists involved generally sound disinterested as they phone in their performance due to contractual obligations. Even Kendrick’s contribution ended up being one of the worst cuts of the album.

 

6. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

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It physically hurt to put this album on this list but here we are. Anderson .Paak has been hip-hop’s golden child ever since he wowed fans and critics alike with his 2nd studio album – Malibu. His soulful crooning and heartful lyricism just scratches the surface of what makes the multi-instrumentalist such a beloved figure. So calling Oxnard one of the most anticipated albums of the year may be underselling it. 

Executively produced by Dr. Dre, the man that essentially made the careers of both Snoop Dogg and Eminem, fans were looking forward to being blown away by whatever the two were cooking up. Prior to its release, there was even talk of it being a potential album of the year candidate purely based off the immense hype surrounding it. The first Kendrick Lamar-assisted single “Tints” dropped and the internet rightfully imploded. Everything that fans had wanted from a collaboration from these two came to fruition. The manic energy, the joyful charisma, and immaculate funk-inspired instrumentals made it a match made in heaven.

The follow-up single “Who R U?”, begun to sow seeds of doubt for the project. It was a refreshing reintroduction to .Paak the rapper from his Venice days, but the production left a lot to be desired. Dr. Dre’s Compton clearly influenced the template for this track – the drums, hi-hats, and synths were mixed a little too loudly with a bit too much happening at once, as .Paak struggled to do what he could with the messy production. It’s an aesthetic that worked for Dr. Dre but unfortunately mismatched with Anderson .Paak who more effectively thrives over live instrumentations instead.

Once the album dropped, my worst fears were confirmed. A bulk of the tracks ended up sounding like Compton leftovers (“6 Summers”, “Mansa Musa”, “Left to Right”) or uninspired jazz-rap (“Saviers Road”, “Smile/Petty”). The album lacked the heart and soul that made Malibu such a masterpiece. Still, there are still some excellent highlights on here (“Tints”, “Anywhere”, “Cheers”) but given the impossibly high expectations set for the project, the disappointment becomes that much more unbearable. What was supposed to be Anderson’s decisive star-making moment ended up being a mixed bag that split his fanbase apart.

.Paak has it in him to be a star. He’s too talented not to be one. So all Oxnard has done is to act as a road bump on his path to superstardom. His career is still on a positive upwards trajectory, one can only hope he is still able to hold true to what fans love about him in the first place.

 

Click here for Part 2.

 

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Based in Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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