10. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Smashing into mainstream popularity like a meteor, Cardi B’s rise to the top has been undeniable. Strutting into rap upper echelon with swagger and sass on “Bodak Yellow”, she destroyed any notion of her being a one-hit wonder as hit after hit was launched from this album. Though not the most proficient of rappers, there’s an irresistible charm to Cardi’s music; an air of genuine excitement that makes her work that much more potent.
Whether it’s party jams such as “I Like It” or flex anthems like “Bickenhead”, Cardi adamantly demands your attention as her voice booms across the production. Infecting you with electric energy, the lyrical content may be nothing to write home about, but the pure adrenaline rush that Cardi provides is nothing short of magical. Born with the magnetism to be a star, her personality was made for hip-hop and Invasion of Privacy serves as the perfect launch pad for rap’s next superstar.
9. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Initially getting her first taste of the spotlight with “Get It Together” on Drake’s More Life, that little appetizer is nothing compared to deliciously gratifying full course meal that is Lost & Found. Heavily inspired by soul singers of the 70s, Jorja’s haunting vocals burst through with themes of love, heartbreak and youthful ignorance. It’s an album that seeks to musically contain the many aspects of millennial relationships.
Yet this is a record that’s firmly rooted in tradition while occasionally dipping its toes in contemporary trends – such as the excellent hip-hop inspired “Blue Lights”. A young talent with an old soul, many of the songs on here make Jorja seem wise beyond her years, though some of the lyrical content may say otherwise. But the flaws in her lyricism is what Lost & Found also thrives on. Every relationship is an invaluable experience, every mistake a lesson learned, and every misguided opinion a chance at maturity.
8. Mac Miller – Swimming
Genre: Hip-Hop, Jazz Rap
On his final studio album, Mac Miller created a project that emphasized on the will to live. As he suffered from depression and substance abuse over the years, Mac has been fairly candid with the drowning pressure of it all through his music. Then on Swimming, he’d finally found the motivation and support to swim his way up, to ascend past the negativity and on towards a better tomorrow.
That’s why his death a few months prior stings even more. A man that was prime for change and rehabilitation losing his life to a hastily made decision. Still, this record that he left us with was brimming with life and joy. One that championed the act of self-care while encouraging reflections on your own life and supporting those around you. A man whose heart had only grown bigger over the years, Swimming is a wonderful culmination to a career that has been the musical embodiment of improvement.
7. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Her best record to date, Sweetener smartly subverts modern pop tropes to create an album that’s equal parts innovative and familiar. Pulling influences from hip-hop and R&B, Ariana proves that she’s the biggest pop star working today that not only can keep up with trends, but also turn them into a sound that’s wholly her own.
Adeptly keeping up with the contemporary production while barely sacrificing the strength of her powerhouse vocals, as she blazes through every track with confidence and gusto. Displaying a lot more range than any of her previous efforts, Ariana effortlessly deploys her take on the sing-rap flow while balancing it out with gorgeous belting that would make Mariah Carey blush. This is what a 2018 pop record needs to sound like.
6. Vince Staples – FM!
Hip-hop most scathing nihilist, Vince Staples’ surprise project with Kenny Beats is a concise 23-minute album that sees him operating at his catchiest and most observant. Employing the concept of a radio show, it calls back to the early 2000s where DJ curated playlists ran rampant and summers were a much simpler time. But Vince doesn’t believe in optimistic ignorance. Starting the album off by painting a picture of gun violence in the sun-drenched city of Los Angeles, he infuses his bleak personality over the G-funk inspired production to give us a product that revels in its snappy pessimism.
Weaving his melancholic bars within the bouncy production, Vince finally made an album that truly encompasses ‘him’. Often times too experimental and inaccessible for his own good, FM! is his masterful attempt at a more approachable sound. Knocking it out of the park, as every song on here is a compact dose of West Coast potency that you could soundtrack any party to, while still pondering about the duality of the American lifestyle.
5. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Genre: Hip-Hop, Rock
A dream collaborative album from two of hip-hop’s most unabashedly outspoken agitators. Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s irreplaceable influence over the music industry as a whole made KIDS SEE GHOSTS an event that was seemingly inconceivable given their prior tumultuous relationship. When the album finally dropped, their chemistry with one another is what Samwise was to Frodo; both of them supporting each other when it comes to their biggest drawbacks while still extracting the very best out of each other at the same time.
Both operating at their peak capacities over Kanye’s rock-sampling production, the duo have never sounded more comfortable over one another. With both of their struggles with mental illness well documented within the public eye, their past public breakdowns lead to a project that celebrates their resurgence. An album that boldly proclaims the acceptance of their internal struggles and their exhilaration at being ‘reborn’. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a record that’s an excellent culmination of both artists’ rocky career trajectories while also serving as another creative peak for all involved.
4. Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD
No other album this year was able to propel its maker into superstardom as much as ASTROWORLD did. Fully realizing Travis Scott’s one of a kind talent as a ringleader, his keen sense at assembling the massively complex set of collaborations and musical directions into a cohesive project only rivaled by Kanye West. Pulling from talents such as Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to Stevie Wonder, Travis expands from his usual repertoire to craft an opus that transforms trap music into a soundscape that only he could make.
Though lyrically Travis may come up a bit short, no one really goes to him for deep conscious pondering. You go to ASTROWORLD to lose your mind and rage till the night is up, and this album delivers that in spades. There are the incredibly catchy and earworm singles like “SICKO MODE” and “NO BYSTANDERS”; while deep cuts such as “NC-17” and “COFFEE BEAN” ensure that even during the downtimes Travis still delivers. A ride of pure joy and energy from start to finish, it’s one that I just can’t get enough of since its release.
3. Pusha T – DAYTONA
The third Kanye-produced album on this list, DAYTONA is a record that excels in both style and substance. An uncompromising string of songs that sees Pusha T at the height of his rapping abilities. As he bounces from one coke rap bar to the next, he’s unrelenting in his pursuit to intimidate listeners as much as he wants to captivate them. From the very first track on “If You Know You Know”, Push eviscerates most of the competition with his incredibly intricate punchlines before the beat even kicks in at 0:40.
Never one to outshined on his own record, Push makes sure that his skills on the mic are what elevates DAYTONA into greatness, despite also wielding some of the best production that Kanye has done in years. Proving that his prospects at having a solo career after his Clipse days are far from over, DAYTONA is proof that in today’s 90-minute album hip-hop landscape, less can be more. Every line on every track lands with the oomph of a strong whiskey shot, while every ad-lib is a signal from an aging rapper that is hungry for more.
2. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Genre: R&B, Pop
Who knew political music could sound this good and accessible? Coming off a 5-year wait since her last studio album The Electric Lady, Janelle Monae has been quietly biding her time for this release. Other than promoting her label’s homegrown talent and her acting side gigs in her award-winning turns in movies like ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Moonlight’, she had been fairly quiet on the music side of things. Then, the first single “Make Me Feel” came and all was right with the world. The Prince-influenced song is confident, sexy and most importantly a sign that Janelle had never lost a step.
Every other single and track released from the record is vibrantly addictive, as she wonderfully condenses any political message that she has for bite-sized consumption without losing any of its potency. Releasing the album alongside an ’emotion picture’ that sees queer and people of color being hunted down by the state for non-compliance, Janelle is asking us to make out parallels between her work and reality. Still, the music itself is strong enough to stand on its own but taken as the full package, Dirty Computer is one that dares you to rebel while looking absolutely gorgeous doing so.
1. Kanye West – ye
Comparing ye to his previous releases, it’s arguably the least polished and innovative work in his entire discography. Re-recorded in a week after his controversial ‘slavery is choice’ comments, it’s a rushed effort to meet a self-imposed deadline for an artist that excels at making music when he actually takes his time. Earlier in the year I even ranked ye as one of the weaker offerings out of his Wyoming projects. Yet it grew on me as time went on. Even as Kanye went on to be even more erratic and irrational, this album became something of a respite for me as a Kanye stan in a year filled with low points.
As I looked for answers on a record that was supposed to provide his ‘true perspective’ on things (at least according to Pusha T), there wasn’t any to be found. Instead its a disjointed look at the mind of Kanye West. It’s impossible to know if anything on ye was done on purpose, but ultimately it’s a product that succeeds at translating internal chaos into a musical odyssey. From the opening track “I Thought About Killing You”, Kanye lets go of his ego by repetitiously threatening it for 2 straight minutes. In a fashion that’s similar to his infamous off-the-wall rants, this track along with many others all have an overall theme to them, yet a closer look at the lyrics often see him incessantly bouncing from one topic to the next for no reason whatsoever.
Now, these critiques don’t sound like those that are made for a personal album of the year. However, these flaws are what turned the album around for me. It’s a defective album that despite all that’s going against it, is a wonderfully imperfect experience that excels at its ‘genuine’ human representation of the once Godlike entity of Kanye West. It shows that he’s as capable of shortcomings as any of us, but only he can make it sound as captivating as it does on ye.
As much as I respect Kanye as an artist, I’ve never felt a more personal connection before than on this album. Sure there’s ghostwriting involved and he might not be as truthful on the record as I like him to be. Still, I love this album to death. I’ve never felt as bittersweet nor as connected to an artist of this caliber. I may never get to meet Kanye but ye is the closest thing to it and I couldn’t be any more content with the experience.