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There’s been a landslide of incredible albums this year. Every week there are at least 5 different records dropping from a plethora of genres. It’s overwhelming to say the list. Still, I’ve been able to come up a list of 40 albums that left a lasting impression on me in 2018. The next 20 albums on here though, hold a special place in my heart (till new ones come next year and knock them off their pedestal).
20. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Serving us up with an excellent lead single in “CLOUT COBAIN”, expectations were sky high for this project, which Denzel Curry delivered and then some. Spreading the album out into 3 separate releases, TA13OO is an exploration of Denzel himself, with the tone and subject matter of the record getting darker further down the tracklist.
Like willingly diving down a spiraling black hole that’s drenched in flames, Denzel’s manic energy is dark and twisted. Yet he shows much more versatility than just the unbridled shouting that he had on his previous record Imperial. Unveiling a more mellow and introspective side of him, Denzel is able to highlight his multifaceted talent and depth as a rapper; all while masterfully manipulating the sounds and styles of the record at a whim.
19. Kimbra – Primal Heart
Best known for her work on Gotye’s 2012 smash hit “Somebody I Used To Know”, Kimbra’s music since then has distanced herself from that sound as much as possible. One of the most experimental pop records of the past 5 years, Primal Heart‘s sound stays true to its name. The production jarring and strongly tribal-influenced, it’s not an album meant for casual listening.
As her airy vocals echo throughout, it serves to envelop the record in an air of mystique; while each track acts as an outer shell that slowly gets unraveled further into the track list. This then culminates with the song “Version of Me” – arguably the best song of her career. Like the light at the end of the tunnel, Kimbra saves the best for the very last.
18. Ella Mai – Ella Mai
In an industry dominated by hip-hop or soul-inspired R&B, Ella Mai’s throwback take on the genre is a surprisingly refreshing one. Channeling the sensual sensibilities of 2000s songstresses like Ashanti and Ciara, many of the tracks on here transport you right back to the era of low-riders and baggy jeans.
Much more than just a nostalgic aesthetic, Ella also makes sure to update the sound for a more contemporary audience. The drums hit harder and the vocals sting deeper. Breezing through the peaks and valleys of millennial relationships, it’s a welcoming surprise that the resurgence of sultry R&B is being brought about by an up and coming singer from the UK.
17. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
Since he started rapping at the tender age of 9, there’s been numerous highs and lows in Lil Wayne’s established career. Once known as the greatest rapper alive, the recent flurry of dud projects and a plethora of lawsuits later has seen his cultural relevance drop a fair bit. So after a long 4-year wait and numerous delays, Tha Carter V and it’s every bit as great as I hoped.
A tad bit on the bloated side (like mentor, like student), Lil Wayne still shows flashes of past brilliance throughout the record. Operating at the peak of his abilities, Wayne hasn’t been this invigorated since Tha Carter III 10 years ago. His punchlines a stroke of genius and his flows a work of art. As one of the prime influences of modern hip-hop, Lil Wayne sends us a reminder that he isn’t washed up yet and has a lot left in the tank.
16. JPEGMafia – Veteran
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop
Aggressively political in the most literal sense of the term, JPEGmafia hits you over the head through his hostile production and zealous lyricism with the force of a sledgehammer. Abrasively confrontational, his unconventional sense of humor that double as political statements feel more like provoking darts being thrown at specific targets to rile up a reaction, rather than actual discourse.
An album that was born from the deepest depths of the internet, Veteran is the musical equivalent of a deep dive into the dark web – cringy, disgusting and infuriating material all included. Released at the start of 2018, this record is also a surprisingly prophetic release that hinted at the maelstrom that the year has brought us, and JPEGmafia just makes it sound so unnecessarily amazing.
15. Kali Uchis – Isolation
Genre: R&B, Latin Pop
An absolute stunner of a debut album, Kali Uchis delivered on all the potential that she’d been hinting at for the past couple of years. Perfectly bridging the gap between R&B and Latin pop, she creates her own brand of sultry music that’s brimming with originality and confidence.
Tapping into a wide array of collaborators such as upcoming UK singer Jorja Smith, 70s funk master Bootsy Collins and reggaeton maestro Reykon; Isolation refuses to settle for a singular sound. Still, it’s a mostly one-woman show, and Kali ensures her voice is front and center. Her breathy vocals work wonderfully with the sparse production. Equal parts inventive and familiar, it’s a record that respects its influences while also updating them for a new generation.
14. Tierra Whack – Whack World
The pioneer of how social media can enhance an artist’s musical output, Tierra Whack’s ingenious 1-minute-per-track record is a masterly attempt at adapting music consumption for 2018 listeners’ short, bite-size attention. Across its 15 tracks, Tierra is a jack of all trades that proves her greatest strength is crafting instantly memorable hooks.
Condensing every track down to its core essence, Whack World is an album that gets straight to the point. Packing every minute with emotion and conviction, there’s little room for error as she bounces between rap, R&B, pop and even country music to an excellent degree. If her debut can already inspire peers like Jaden Smith, she’s already left an indelible mark in music as a whole.
13. Aquilo – ii
Genre: Pop, Indie
Aquilo have been the soundtrack to my many lonely nights and breezy afternoons. The UK duo’s brand of pop is anything but revolutionary, but their take on the contemporary pop formula is nothing short of excellent. The soft production and airy vocals are constant throughout, yet they never overstay their welcome.
Over its brisk 40 minutes, Aquilo bounce through themes of self-help and forlorn. Yet what this record does best is its lovely sense of belonging. Like a calm serenade by an old acquaintance at a 20-year anniversary gathering, it’s bittersweet. Inviting without being overly sentimental, ii manages to be a pop album that’s accessible without sacrificing its indie charm.
12. Various Artists – Black Panther The Album: Music From and Inspired By
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop
As much of a Kendrick Lamar album as it is a movie soundtrack, ‘Black Panther’ has been a cultural phenomenon, with this album playing a critical role in helping achieve that. Loaded from front to back with banger after banger, Kendrick’s adept ear and sense for collaborators and collaborations made the record a landmark event within the hip-hop landscape.
From ScHoolboy Q to The Weeknd, Black Panther succeeds at making every song feel important. Finding a good balance between all-out bar fiestas (“King’s Dead”, “X”) and slow jams (“I Am”, “Redemption”), it’s an impeccable pop-rap record that provides a very strong showcase for Kendrick’s mainstream sensibilities. Widespread appeal without actually ‘selling out’, it sets the standard for all rap-centric soundtracks to come.
11. Joji – Ballads 1
Genre: R&B, Lo-fi
If Twenty One Pilots had 2018’s best rebrand, then Joji had the year’s best rebirth. Shedding his Filthy Frank persona, Joji’s musical transition from meme rap to moody R&B has been a sight to behold. BALLADS 1 was everything his career had been leading up to. Once typecast as a lo-fi mumble crooner, Joji shattered everyone’s expectations with this stunner of a debut.
Versatility is the name of the game as he injects life into this project. There’re flashes of joy and exuberance on many tracks, with “Test Drive” and ” No Fun” being clear standouts. If anything, this album only serves to prove that he’s become a much more well-rounded artist. The improved vocals, increasingly varied production and all-around better songwriting have made Joji one of 2018’s premier new talent.