Here it is, my first ever year-end album list made during one of the best years in music history. The sheer amount of excellent projects made it a horrendous experience to whittle it down to a list of 40. Still, to me, these albums were the best of the best that 2018 had to offer.
40. Rich Brian – Amen
Wonderfully shedding his persona as just a meme rapper, Rich Brian (formerly Rich Chigga) proves to the music industry that he can be more than just a flash-in-the-pan comedian. Lyrically, much of his content could use some work as he fails to grab the attention of listeners half of the time. Flow-wise, he needs to switch it up eventually, because the lack of variety in his voice isn’t doing him any favors.
However, the moment Brian gets behind the production boards, Amen changes into a whole different beast. Injecting trap with a bright dose of originality, many of the tracks are vibrant and dynamic while still maintaining a slight dour tone to fit Brian’s deep voice. It’s far from an amazing album but it does hint at his incredible potential as both a rapper and producer.
39. XXXTentacion – ?
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
Boundless potential that was tragically cut short, XXXTentacion was far from a saint but his musical output over the course of his very short career is one to be admired. On ?, X explores both the lo-fi folk tunes of 17 and aggressive nu-metal inspired rap from his earlier mixtapes. Perfectly blending these style together, X was able to craft an album that felt like a culmination of emerging 2018 music trends.
Truly an artist that thrived upon youth angst, X put his entire being into his music. His lyrical content may not come across as the most genuine, but the sounds and emotions he weaves into the tracks can’t be fabricated. His pain and anguish will live on through his fans and music alike, as ? remains as his final hurrah in a career fraught with controversies.
38. Poppy – Am I a Girl?
Genre: Art-pop, Bubblegum Pop
One of the weirdest albums I’ve heard all year, Am I a Girl? sounds like a record that was manufactured by machines that intended to predict how pop would sound like in 2030. Excellently playing into her android-like persona, Poppy is able to translate her cold and detached aesthetic into a wonderfully playful bubblegum pop album (for the most part).
Touching on themes of war, violence, and environmentalism, the album eschews all traditional pop album structures in favor of a record that only Poppy could make. If anything, Am I a Girl? is guaranteed to stand the test of time while music trends will continue to come and go as they please.
37. Post Malone – beerbongs & bentleys
Beerbongs & Bentleys is definitive proof that Post Malone shouldn’t be called a rapper anymore. Immensely improving his vocal delivery since his last record – Stoney, Post croons with the vigor of a drunk uncle at a shabby wedding. Both charismatic and revolting, but all parts entertaining – Post Malone is the perfect pop star produced for the shitshow that has been 2018.
Though at times a bit too formulaic for its own good, many of the songs here are still excellently crafted pieces of pop music. The guests all bring their A-game as well, with Post acting as the glue that holds every aspect of this label-manufactured product together. Occassionally, the chase for chart toppers can still lead to some pretty great music.
36. 88rising – Head in the Clouds
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop
As a Chinese man that loves hip-hop, the mere thought of this album even existing sends shivers down my spine. The added fact that this album is great as well just makes me feel like a privileged white kid on Christmas morning. A gift that serves as an appropriately fitting soundtrack for the blistering year-long Asian summers, while also an announcement that Asians can do Western music too, if not better.
Navigating through the tried-and-tested formulas of today’s rap music, 88rising do their best to reinvent the wheel to varying results. Songs like “Peach Jam” and “Let It Go” see the label’s stars working in tandem with Blocboy JB to celebrate the crossing over of the two worlds. While “Lover Boy 88” acknowledges that Asians can exist on the same playing field as Western musicians. And we all have globalization to thank for this album.
35. Saba – CARE FOR ME
CARE FOR ME is an album that is mired in loss but does not drown in grief and sorrow. Instead, it attentively handpicks many of Saba’s experiences, expertly translating them into tales of endearment through the form of 10 airtight tracks. Beautifully serene, Saba positions himself as one of rap’s most exciting new storytellers, as he portrays a sense of maturity well beyond his peers.
Though unfortunately suffering from a slight lack of variety over the course of the record, many of the songs’ content still far overshadow the sound of the project. Providing a window of vulnerability for his listeners, Saba brings us through a gut-wrenching look at Chicago and his life. It’s a journey you can’t bear to look away from.
34. Drake – Scorpion
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop
2018 sees Drake firmly solidifying his place as a commercial titan; a title that isn’t easily earned unless you have the music to back it up with, which Drake clearly has. Padding out Scorpion‘s tracklist with 25 tracks, it’s a record in a desperate need of some trimming. Still, even as it is, Drake throws us banger after banger and reminds us once again why he’s an inescapable figure in pop music.
Splitting the album into separate rap and R&B sections, Drake attempts to bridge the gap between his fanbases, with “Nonstop” and “Sandra’s Rose” taking their place as one of Drake’s best rap songs. While “In My Feelings” and “Summer Games” sees him functioning at his R&B best. Both excessively bloated and concisely effective in its execution, Scorpion is the trajectory of Drake’s career put into a single record.
33. Twenty One Pilots – Trench
Genre: Alt-pop, Alt-rock
One of the best transformation arcs in music, Twenty One Pilots went from creating by-the-numbers pop songs to experimenting with sounds from rock and rap, producing some of the most exciting alt-pop today. Firing on all cylinders when it comes to their lyricism, production and overall album structure, it’s hard to believe that this was the group that made Blurryface 3 years ago.
On “Neon Gravestones”, the duo provide strikingly poignant commentary on celebrity worship, while “Chlorine” proves that they don’t need to sacrifice their newfound confidence in songwriting when crafting incredibly catchy hooks. Almost chameleon-like in their sound, Twenty One Pilots not only wear their influences on their sleeves, but they immensely improve on them too.
32. Mac Ayres – Something to Feel
Mac Ayres’ voice is akin to a homely glass of wine flows down your throat after a compelling meal. It’s warm and amiable, as he breezes through the entire record and ensures that he doesn’t overstay his welcome; each song comfortable and pleasant. The smoothest piece of R&B that I’ve heard all year, Something to Feel is able to scratch an itch that no other record has been able to all year.
Not the most innovational nor is it the most captivating, Mac instead settles in for music that perfectly encapsulates a mood to envelop his listeners in. It’s one of serenity that isn’t explored nearly as much in the crowded field of moody R&B. It’s traditional in the loosest sense of the term.
31. Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
The 4th installment of Kanye West’s 5-week Wyoming project releases, KTSE is a project brimming with sexual confidence and swagger. Over the course of its 8 tracks, Teyana’s powerhouse of the voice ensures the spotlight stays right on her, even as the immaculate Kanye production rings throughout. Her raspy vocals a welcoming contrast to the polished sample-driven sound of the record.
Though stylistically it might be a mixed bag, every song is gratifying enough to stand on its own as some of the strongest R&B tracks of the year. Modern in their aesthetic, many of them also invoke the atmosphere of 70s soul music due to Teyana’s own brand of crooning. A strong look at her many strengths, hopefully, her future stint at G.O.O.D. Music will be able to yield even better results.