Not quite long we put out our Top 30 Hip Hop/R&B Songs Of 2018 the list that got Cardi B ‘Money’ holding the number spot the music industry now is been so fun. This week our Editors and panel of judges have decided to list out 30 Best Hip-Hop/R&B Albums of 2018. Below you will find the 30 Best Hip-Hop/R&B Albums of 2018. Selections and positioning are based on a weighted voting system that combined the individual rankings of our editorial team, and while no true EPs were considered for this list, seven-track albums that probably could have been called EPs were. 2018 is weird.
It’s been well documented that 2018 has yielded many excellent projects. In that sense, our job in assembling the strongest selections proved difficult. Many criteria were considered and many discussions were had. In looking through this list, rest assured that every selection is a well-crafted, listenable project in a variety of different ways. Of course, certain omissions may leave blood boiling, and our cutoff period of November 26th left certain albums off the table; still, debate and discussion are encouraged. With that in mind, here are the thirty best albums of the year.
Roc Marciano is the living embodiment of a jewel-encrusted pinky ring; slick talk oozes out like yolk from a quail egg atop wagyu ribeye. The bitter dose to last year’s Rosebudd’s Revenge is a doubling down on the Long Island wordsmith’s unflinching blend of silky pimp talk and soulful loops, one that sounds as at home in art houses as it does climbing through the grime of subway station steps.
The late, great A$AP Yams once wrote: “Don’t judge a rap by its lyricism or any of that, judge it by how much game you getting from it.” Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap is a treasure trove of game that speaks directly to the ambitious hustler within all listeners. The long-awaited major label debut has the motivational spirit of a Ted Talk, is inspiring as the autobiography of Puffy Combs, and is filled with pristine production that will make you believe Rick Ross handled the A&R. Victory Lap is music that encourages the endless possibilities available to the hungry, resourceful, and innovative. Yams would approve.
Vince’s smartass syndrome is probably to blame for a record like FM! coming into existence. Not because “fun” has eluded him since birth, but because nobody foresaw him ever creating a smarmy club record like FM!. The album is Vince’s way of satisfying multiple sections of his fanbase: the fans who’ve been loyal to him since day one, and the SoCal culturists with whom he seeks approval. Where he draws the line between fetish and reality is hard to ascertain.
Based on what he foretold, the album’s concept and execution were deeply driven by personal objectives. The casual listener, who jumps in and out of focus by habit, gets a valuable crash course in SoCal culture by listening to FM! By creating an idyllic model of SoCal culture, Vince stands a good chance of dragging his old fans into new territory. FM! is only the beginning.
Chicago’s own Valee had himself quite the year. A year of come-upping. He went from a name that was buzzing locally/underground, clung to in inner hip-hop circles, but not necessarily in the wider rap arena, to a Kanye West-approved major label rapper, influencer of flows, with a TV sitcom appearance under his belt.
The release of his EP, GOOD Job, You Found Me, arrived a month after it was announced he had signed with G.O.O.D Music. Much of Valee’s hype quickly followed suit. At that point, it was clear to see why: the rapper had a distinctive sandy voice, a particular hollow production sound, and a je-ne-sais-quoi charisma all neatly tied up with one cohesive-sounding bow.
— Trevor Smith
26. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
Oxnard is an odd case. The principles by which albums are graded can feel stuffy. The order of succession (for hip-hop albums) is yearning for a shake-up, so artists like Anderson .Paak who dabble in “funk” fall outside of the regular grading system when the going gets tough. Oxnard is no exception.
The majority of critics agree: Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard is invariably a hip-hop album, but not in the conventional sense. Mostly because it’s rooted in “other genres” specific to California culture, among them, the all-important “Mothership Connection” channelled by George Clinton as a limitless resource. As a consequence, Oxnard mirrors Paak’s energy level on stage, even when the songs rain in at a more languid pace than usual. Oxnard is being sold to modern audiences in the most convenient manner possible, but the truth is really in the pudding.
Before beerbongs & bentleys was even released, Post Malone’s manager Dre London confidently referred to it as one of “the greatest albums of this generation.” Texas artist Post Malone had shown flashes of superstar potential in the past, releasing tracks like “Congratulations,” “I Fall Apart,” and “Too Young.” We were hoping for a similar number of hits on b&b and Posty absolutely delivered, becoming the most unlikely recipient of our undivided attention.
Literally any one of these tracks could have been a radio single. There is no written formula for creating a catchy hook, but Post has the art down to a tee. From “Better Now,” to “rockstar” and “92 Explorer,” so many of these songs will get permanently lodged into your brain. While it likely isn’t the classic project we were promised, beerbongs & bentleys will be remembered as the album that catapulted Post to a certain level of superstardom.
Rico Nasty hails from the DMV and is here to conquer the Sugar Trap. A raucous and rule-breaking rapper who wears her hair how she wants and fuses death metal with trap, Rico Nasty’s debut album Nasty is a freewheeling, terse, jagged, and roiling effort. Nasty’s energy is infallible and awesome in the literal sense of the word. She is all-at-once grand and commandeering as she is willing to get vulnerable and auto-croon. Nasty is an album with range and potential galore, an impressive starting point for one of the DMV’s finest.
JAY-Z and Beyoncé are in love, and Beyoncé is Houston’s best upcoming rapper, and their children are motherfucking paid. All of this and more we can discover on the couple’s first-ever joint album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE. A celebration of their family and success, as well as a meditation on presentness by way of the trap banger, EVERYTHING IS LOVE is an apt end to a trilogy filled with infidelity and humility.
It’s great enough that Marvel’s Black Panther will go down as one of the biggest blockbuster films of all-time, but having a killer soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either. Curated by Kendrick Lamar and director Ryan Coogler, the music (from and inspired by the film) throbs with a passion and variety befitting of Wakanda. Poppy dazzlers like Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars” and Jorja Smith’s “I Am” sit next to mile-a-minute bangers like Vince Staples and Yungen Blakrok’s “Opps” and SOB X RBE’s steamroller “Paramedic!” Black Panther The Album is less a companion piece than it is the heart and soul of Wakanda run through TDE’s hit-making machine.
Playboi Carti’s second album is a subterranean milly rock into the shapeless abyss of rap’s outer fringes. Even dying lit in the margins of conventional rap, Carti remains the star of the show, the blunted, beaming nucleus in a murky haze of fried bass, singed synths, and disorienting ad-libs. Helmed mostly by Pi’erre Bourne, anchored by the celestial “Shoota,” and equipped with an all-star guest list, Die Lit’s warped circus is a rush of distorted, repetitive fun.
Cardi B’s debut album dropped like a hulking affirmation of her place in the entertainment industry. The project, named as the album of the year by TIME magazine, shot down her skeptics, some of which actually enjoyed her outspoken online persona as a goofy stripper. Despite her previous mixtapes, a dismissive attitude surrounded her musical efforts. The “Bodak Yellow” rapper took the same fierce attitude and humor that shot her to social media stardom and laid it down unapologetic ally throughout Invasion of Privacy.
She swings with hefty bars, asserting her rightful spot as a rising star while claiming her hood roots like a true emcee. The project’s very first lines unleash this fiery tone by addressing her naysayers from the quickness. “Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin’ or lose/Used to dance in a club right across from my school/I said ‘dance’ not ‘f*ck’, don’t get it confused/Had to set the record straight ’cause bitches love to assume.” Her lyrics might not be 100% authentic, having been crafted with the help of several other writers, but her personable voice is as real and unique as it gets.
Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V was reaching DETOX status. But unlike Dr. Dre’s need for perfection, Lil Wayne was facing a different sort of barrier that prevented him from releasing the project. Yet Wayne came out on top, despite the adversities, and delivered a project that his fans have been waiting on since its announcement in 2012.
Tha Carter V gave fans a glimpse of Wayne’s creative brilliance, a brilliance that hasn’t always been consistent across the past decade. His stream-of-conscious delivery is refined and the raunchy punchlines are toned down, but the rapper born Dwayne Michael Carter II finally championed himself as the figurative father to the rap game as we know it today. CV had an extended moment of becoming an enigmatic album lost to history, but Wayne returned in full force, easily exceeding the lofty, borderline unrealistic expectations. If Lil Wayne announced that he was retiring after 2018, he would leave on a good note.
I have come to accept my place as our team’s longstanding Eminem fan. Having previously followed Em since The Slim Shady LP, I have since observed an artist at the height of his craft; sadly, I have also seen Em reach near Poe-esque lows, short of foraging, stark raving mad, through the streets of Detroit. Those unfamiliar with Em’s legacy likely missed the transition between Relapse and Recovery, which signaled a noted shift in both sound and songwriting.
Gone were the ominous soundscapes of Dr. Dre. Instead marked the era of Alex Da Kid and Rick Rubin, a partnership that culminated in the oft-maligned Revival. Yet Em managed to bounce back with Kamikaze, tapping into a contemporary aesthetic with help from Ronny J, Tay Keith, and Mike WiLL Made-It. He even opted for the blinding release; paired with a renewed sense of that “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” attitude, Kamikaze found Em once again embracing his position as hip-hop’s beloved antagonist.
The poetic sensibilities of Chicago’s Mick Jenkins are second to none. Few can inject their prose with as much meaning as Mick, who frequently encourages the lost art of interpretation. Perhaps it may be too challenging an approach for some. For others, however, such density is what elevates Mick to the upper echelon.
The simple act of writing often goes underappreciated, or worse, brushed off as a curmudgeon’s game; cue Funk Flex screaming “bars.” Yet Pieces Of A Man is a well-structured and meticulously crafted album in which penmanship is prioritized. It’s been a minute since Mick was finding his voice on Trees & Truths; now, Mick can look back on an impressive discography, bookended by his most thought-provoking chapter thus far.
Last year, Future pulled a Sweat/Suit and split his artistry right down the middle, pulling it off better than any other rapper who’s ever attempted the extremely difficult task. FUTURE provided the hardness, HNDRXX the introspective R&B bangers, and both stand as some of Future’s best full-lengths. If anything was missing, it was the fusion of those two sides— the ability to be aggressive and emotional. Future became a star off the back of that hybrid sound, and after showing that he could still excel on either side of the divide, Beast Mode 2 is a welcome reminder of his alchemical gift.
Outmatched in anticipatory tenure only by Ape Shit, the long-teased Mike WiLL collaboration, Future’s second project with Zaytoven pulling full time measures up in every way to the quality of the original. The first Beast Mode gave us every side of Future: the unrepentant flexer (“Ooooh,” “Peacoat”), the shameless womanizer (“Lay Up,” “Real Sisters”), the wounded crooner (“No Basic”), the misty-eyed veteran (“Just Like Bruddas,” “Where I Came From”).
Beast Mode 2 scatters seemingly incongruous aspects of his personality even more randomly. Even the most flex-heavy tracks like “WiFi Lit” surprise with moments of unbridled desperation: “I’m not going back no more when I ain’t have shit/Pray I get a new connect, pray I get a brick.” If anyone else has ever been able to pivot from the exuberance of “Doh Doh” to the deepest dark of “Hate the Real Me” in just four songs, I’ve never heard of them. That’s what you get when you put the most emotionally versatile rapper and his most trusted trap architect together for a full project.
— Trevor Smith
16. Dave East – Karma II
Dave East has been putting in work for the better part of this decade to solidify his place among the legends. The rapper has yet to release his official commercial debut album, but since signing a partnership deal with Def Jam, East has released several mixtapes including his most recent solo project, Karma 2. Though East’s style falls more in line with lyrical New York giants rather than his contemporaries, on Karma 2, he proves that he doesn’t have to compromise his artistry in order to keep up with the current climate surrounding him.
East maintains his roots while bringing unexpected collaborators into his realm on Karma 2; he tends to stay consistent in his delivery, but at the same time, he doesn’t stray away from dabbling in other sounds. BlocBoy JB and Gunna brought their own unique styles into Dave East’s world and the Harlem native didn’t have to downplay his pen game to find chemistry with either of them. In truth, East has had one of the most prolific runs out of any rapper this year. With his debut album expected to arrive at the top of 2019, Karma 2 sets the bar high where expectations are concerned.
15. KIDS SEE GHOSTS (Kanye West & Kid Cudi) — KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Releasing their debut under the same name, Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s collaborative project KIDS SEE GHOSTS is nothing short of an all-consuming and otherworldly extravaganza. Between inspired Kanye ad-libs, Cudi’s warm and soothing hums, and “Reborn,” a song of the year contender, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a savvy synthesis of all the compelling aspects of hip-hop’s melodic new wave.
Dirty Computer is Janelle Monae’s crazy, classic opus. Her most accessible and poppiest offering to date, Monae uses this newfound glimmer to spread a message of self-love, acceptance, and community. Her vocals are elastic, boisterous, and inviting, with the writing sexually free and spirited. With twinges of Prince’s influence ushering the album along, Dirty Computer is a portrait of America’s present and future.
— Trevor Smith
13. Youngboy Never Broke Again – Until Death Call My Name
Youngboy is a prolific artist, and even as a fan, it can be hard to keep track of his releases. Whether they be mixtape format, proper streaming service uploads, loose Soundcloud drops, random Youtube uploads Youngboy Never Broke Again does it all. Until Death Call My Name, though, was the Baton Rouge rapper’s proper debut, and while many of Youngboy’s off-the-cuff releases still bang hard, this is a body of work deserving of the album title.
While the releases that followed were all relatively strong in their own right, the intensity and rawness of Until Death Call My Name remains unparalleled. At 13 songs, the original release was the perfect length for each song to hit, without any wasted moments. A ‘reloaded’ version brought the song count up 20, yet, even in this ploy to boost streaming numbers, we received gems like “Through the Storm.” Until Death Call My Name is Youngboy truly in his element, that is, teetering on the edge of the streets, emotionally drained or else emotionally driven, using a bed of bubbling, southern-style beats to help alleviate the pain.
In the intro, Youngboy Never Broke Again seemingly pleads with the listener to not discount him as a “bad person,” in light of the legal woes and domestic violence accusations against him. While doesn’t exactly make a strong argument for himself, you’ll still find morsels of this internal struggle throughout the music, making Until Death Call My Name that much more harrowing.
As if Jay Rock needed another traumatic life event to make him sound more grizzled and experienced, the Watts native endured a near-fatal motorcycle crash during the run-up to his third album. He comes out the other side sounding less like a hardened hustler and more like Scarface, but interestingly enough, Redemption also offers more in the way of modern, radio-ready beats than its predecessor. On one hand, there are meditative, piano-led cuts like “For What it’s Worth” and “Broke +-.” On the other side, “Knock It Off” and the Jeremih-assisted “Tap Out” are airier and more youthful.
This contrast would prove difficult to wrangle for rappers less seasoned and comfortable in their own skin as Rock, but in his hands, the newfound versatility leads to the strongest writing of his career. Think Rock’s making shallow plays for mass appeal? Knotty, dextrous bars like, “Am I too prolific? The vision my pugilistic/Moods insisted food come from them tools he so choose to use.” Think he’s old and washed? See Rock spearheading “King’s Dead” alongside Kendrick and Future, leading to his highest chart position to date. And also “WIN,” prominently featured in HBO’s Ballers and…a campaign ad for Stacy Abrams’ nearly-successful bid for governor of Georgia. Your fave could never.
The workmanlike Jay Rock is often overshadowed by his showier TDE labelmates, but Redemption yet again proves that he’s capable of crafting albums that go toe-to-toe with anything this side of good kid, mAAd city and To Pimp a Butterfly.
— Trevor Smith
11. Lil Baby – Harder Than Ever
As I write this, we’re already anticipating Lil Baby’s newest solo effort of 2018, Street Gossip. Whether or not it is better than Harder Than Ever, the quick-rising rapper’s debut album, remains to be seen, and indeed, it will not be seen in this article, at the very least. We’ll have to let Street Gossip sink in further as we discuss the many merits of Baby’s previous release.
Most hip-hop fans are aware of Lil Baby’s story at this point, one that has “hope” written all over it. ICYMI though: Baby was playing around in the streets a bit too much, and after being released from a stint in prison, with the encouragement of friends and family around him, he picked up rapping a little over a year ago. To great effect, obviously. In that extremely short span of time, he’s shown true growth as an artist — growth that is easily traceable through his slew of mixtapes preceding Harder Than Ever. His upwards trajectory shows no signs of stopping too, as he not only continues to find his voice, but as his star shines brighter with each release.
That being said, Harder Than Ever was the culmination of these two things, so far. Harder Than Ever was expertly curated from a beat perspective, each song dripping more than the next, while Baby uses his high-pitched cadence to find pockets within and outside of the beat. He also lets us in, sharing stories of his past trials and current successes, revealing his person in the process. The album ends with the somber “Never Needed No Help” where Baby is adamant he can do this shit with or without support. We believe it.
— Hassan Bello
10. Royce Da 5’9″ – Book Of Ryan
Royce Da 5’9”’s Book Of Ryan is not an accessible album. Nor does it profess to be. Instead, it is a self-scribed biopic, written with two beneficiaries in mind: Royce himself, and those who have followed him since the days of Grand Theft Auto III. Casual listeners attuned to the game’s players are well aware of Royce’s skillset, though perhaps ignorant to the peaks and valleys of his journey.
In that sense, due respect is often given where Nickel’s name is concerned, though little time is made for the man himself. Book Of Ryan flips the script, equivalent to a hip-hop veteran gathering fans round a stoop for a Slick-Rick-esque story-time session. It soon becomes evident that Royce has penned a slow-burning narrative, forsaking the breakneck pace of 2016’s Layers. The man can still out-rap your favorite rapper, yet such competitive validation is not the goal.
Instead, Book Of Ryan focuses on character development. Fans are well aware of brother Kid Vishis, but for the first time, Royce opens up about a pivotal player in his come-up: his father, whose presence looms over the entire project. Royce looks to the past in analyzing his present, examining his childhood with a razor-focused lens, culminating in the magnificent “Power.” Simply put, the nightmarish Thanksgiving dinner easily stands alongside the best storytelling tracks in hip-hop history. And that is but one of many chapters.
Potential has to count for something. Doubly so when said potential is being realized beyond expectation. Such is the case for Dreamville’s own JID, who has emerged as the label’s, and possibly the rap-game’s, next up. Those familiar with The Never Story and the magnificent “Hasta Luego”can likely attest to his undeniable skillset as a technician, and before long, sophomore effort DiCaprio 2 was amassing hype befitting of an established act.
Brilliantly towing the line between mixtape and album, JID brought forth a well-structured effort, revealing, but never reveling in the scope of his artistry. “Bars” were served in spades throughout DiCaprio 2’s opening quarter, with the run from “Slick Talk” to “Off Da Zoinkys” standing alongside the year’s best. Yet JID allows himself room to evolve and experiment, to pay homage to a variety of styles without forsaking his own; there’s something refreshing about JID, Method Man, and Joey Bada$$ trading verses and tokes, a torch-passing moment of sorts.
I stated in my official review for DiCaprio 2 that JID managed to stumble upon the golden mean of the Skill/Sauce Spectrum. Possessing enough contemporary sensibilities to navigate an ever-evolving landscape, JID has consistently kept his lyricism and flow sharp enough to turn the heads of legends and current greats alike. Like the man after which JID named his latest project, the proverbial Oscar has yet to come; still, can you not feel the inevitability?
On his fifth studio album, Swimming, Mac Miller strikes at the core of what makes him a compelling artist: his honesty and his ear for arrangement. On an album obsessed with feeling better and battling your impulse to implode, Miller scores a heavenly scene, employing strings and his recent love for piano ballads to deliver his most focused and assuring work to date. At its most basic, Swimming is a stunning synthesis of everything Mac Miller has been getting right for the past six years.
I get the impression Edgewood was enjoyed, but not the way Trouble or Mike WiLL had intended. Between the moments of unnerving silence on the record, the ripple hits a new high for Trouble, as he quickly dispels the notion that he is but a “useful vessel” to Mike WiLL and his dramatic scene-setting. In reality, both men measure up confidently to each other’s quality, 50-50. Edgewood is as much a career-defining moment for Trouble as it is an extension of Mike WiLL’s constant foreshadowing.
With that said, Edgewood is about as balanced a composition as you will find in the muddy waters. You get a sense, Mike WiLL borrowed from film when he accounted for cutscenes, in an order befitting of Trouble’s marked intensity: a personality trait we’ve come to understand a little differently, maybe even sympathetically.
Trouble’s language is often sparse, and at times, hard to discern, but of course, it helps that he gives you a crash course along the way. Mike WiLL’s penchant for drama met its perfect match in Trouble’s irresistible drawl.
2018 marks the year that Travis Scott lifted the torch from his mentor Ye as hip-hop’s premier orchestrator, and ASTROWORLD is his grandest symphony yet. A downward spiral into drugs, lust, and debauchery, the album plays true to its amusement park ride motif winding between a raging, rickety coaster threatening to leap over the tracks at any moment and surreal, Technicolor drifts through dark and watery tunnels. Every guest is expertly positioned to play to color in the gaps of Scott’s deficiencies; the production is pristine, vibrant, and surging with adrenaline; and small but essential flourishes of ad-libs and Houston hip-hop gold turn ASTROWORLD into an expansive universe of its own.
Saba confronts mortality on CARE FOR ME through the lens of the tragic murder of his cousin, Walter Long Jr. Fighting through shades of jazzy, grey production, the Chicago native comes to terms with death permeating life and his lack of invincibility. Heart-wrenching, the music is his most potent and leveling to date.
— Trevor Smith
2. Pusha T — DAYTONA
Pusha T has earned his stripes in the rap game; his pen is never questioned, nor is the authenticity in his narratives. There are few rappers in modern times that can so vividly juxtapose the ups-and-downs of the streets while providing a glimpse into luxuries the majority will never experience. Over the course of seven tracks, Pusha T packs in dope boy dreams and realities. He delivers a dense project that’s meant to speak to the streets, likening himself to Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in the process.
The album that was initially titled King Push arrived packaged as DAYTONA; a 21-minute long album connecting some of Kanye West’s strongest recent production and Pusha T’s high-taste, luxurious drug raps. The project serves as Pusha T’s official follow-up to 2015’s King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. “DAYTONA represents the fact that I have the luxury of time,” he explained on Twitter. “That luxury only comes when u have a skill set that your confident in.”
His subsequent beef with Drake briefly steered the spotlight away from the album, but DAYTONA, like the rest of his discography, withstood the test of time in a quickly overflooded market. Music arrives at such a fast pace these days, with artists casually announcing projects on short notice, but Pusha T has long solidified his position. He’s earned the right to work on his own clock. Even if we have to wait another two and a half years for a new album, Push will make it worth the while.
This year, the discourse over the length of albums felt more long-winded than the albums themselves. Drake’s monster-streaming double album could certainly be shorter, but the meandering playlist format actually suits his newer music quite well. Scorpion feels more like a choose-your-own-Drake offering than something that needs to be digested in one sitting.
As a song craftsman, he’s as omnivorous as ever, with highs ranging from the tough-talking minimalism of “Nonstop,” the anthemic pop-rap of “God’s Plan,” or the New Orleans bounce homage of “Nice For What.” Don’t let the overwhelming size of the project distract from fourth quarter gems like R&B throwback “After Dark,” the cutting “Blue Tint,” or the intriguingly divisive “Ratchet Happy Birthday.” All in all, Scorpion is imperfect, but still serves as a reminder that Drake hasn’t run out of ideas. hen it comes to engineering hits, he’s as sharp as ever.