2018’s great Hip-Hop albums are not only defined by dope beats and rhymes, but by their ability to engage the listener through relatable tales.
2018 was another stellar year for hip-hop music but not for the reasons would might think.
The number one genre in the world? Check. The most streamed genre of music? Check.
The most successful rapper in 2018 was probably Drake, but he’s singing half of the time. Some would say that rap in 2018 isn’t your granddaddy’s version of hip-hop. I’d say stop listening to the radio for guidance.
No hate, no slander, or malice toward my fellow radio broadcasting professionals. I get it. Everyone has a job to do and rap is big business. It’s foolish for long-time fans of the genre to believe that things would remain the same throughout the years.
I remember when the only time I could hear the latest rap song was on The Awesome Two Radio Show with Special K and Teddy Ted. Back then you had to stay up late to hear it.
Now you couldn’t avoid hip-hop even if you tried.
Rather than rant on and on about mumble rap, over-bloated radio spins, and 15-minute commercial breaks, here are five hip-hop albums from 2018 that prove that lyrical integrity still rules without airplay.
Phonte: “No News is Good News”
You can’t talk about Drake without doing the knowledge on Phonte.
Talk about a brother who can sing and rap for real! Whether you first heard him spitting beside partner Rapper Big Pooh over 9th Wonder beats in the hip-hop group Little Brother, or you were introduced to him as the brother “sanging” in the urban alternative group The Foreign Exchange, you know this man’s pedigree. This is grown people rap.
This is Phonte’s second solo project and dare I say it’s even better than his critically acclaimed debut Charity Starts at Home. What makes No News is Good News worth your time and support is the natural blend of lyricism, varied production, and humor. Phonte is one of the funniest dudes rapping today. Funny how? *Joe Pecsi Voice* His sense of humor is relatable.
What does a 40-year-old rapper, singer, and husband have to say in 2018? At that age he has more to say now than he ever did. Weight gains, family, and the fact that he will still murder you emcee’s on the mic is the short list.
Hip-Hop turned 45 years old in 2018 and Phonte’s album is a prime example of the maturity that exists within the genre. A brief skit on the album puts it best by saying, “You are as old as your ability to process new information.” Facts!
This album is 10 tracks deep and only 34 minutes in length.
It’s amazing how much content Phonte is able to pack into this album. There are tracks that you can ride to, dance to, and even get that old school head nod going.
He’s a master at what he does, which is supreme lyricism coupled with thematic music that engages listeners from beginning to end.
Recommended Tracks: “So Help Me God”, “Expensive Genes”, “Change of Mind feat. Freddie Gibbs”
Pusha T: “DAYTONA”
Some would say Pusha T’s battle with Drake made this 7-track album popular in 2018, but King Push has always been capable of lethal bars.
In this case, he uses them to do damage, as Drake learned first-hand. DAYTONA was produced entirely by Kanye West, and the production from top to bottom is top shelf.
The beats are perfectly suited for Pusha T’s precise flow. He doesn’t waste words or syllables, which typically center around cocaine and other drug war stories. Look, the dude’s name is PUSHA!
Let’s think in terms of the greatest television show ever, The Wire. Pusha’s commentary on drug tales are more Stringer Bell than Avon Barksdale.
It’s a more mature version of “gangsta rap” done beautifully. Though I wish the album contained at least three more songs, DAYTONA is rewind-worthy every time.
This one stayed in my rotation for a good portion of 2018. If you haven’t heard it yet, what are you waiting for?
Recommended tracks: “If You Know You Know”, “Infrared”, “The Games We Play”
Skyzoo: “In Celebration of Us”
New York City emcee Skyzoo continues to generate dope projects.
His 2018 offering, In Celebration of Us, a personal mix of reflections delivered in a way that rival those of an early Nas, is no different.
It’s proof that lyrics matter and that rap never lost its power to express itself beyond lifestyle records.
The album features no other rappers and rocks all the way through. With production from the likes of Illmind, Apollo Brown, and others, we are presented with a silky mix that maintains the rough edges of boombap.
In other words, it feels like an album that could sit comfortably next to some of the best music from the mid-’90s.
Skyzoo spits poetry on tracks that cover fatherhood, race, and stick-up kids. He opens the window into his youth and the various influences that make him the man we see today.
Anytime someone says traditional New York rap is dead, I name-drop Skyzoo. He never disappoints. This album is everything to the game and you need to hear it.
Recommended tracks: “The Stick Up-Tape from Menace”, “Sound Like”, “Honor Amongst Thieves”
Nipsey Hussle: “Victory Lap”
The first time I heard this album I knew it’d be one of my top albums of 2018. It sounds exactly like a Victory Lap theme. The album is a star-studded release that produces some dope collaborations.
Kendrick Lamar, Y.G., Cee Lo Green and others offer dope performances that don’t derail the vibe.
The ongoing theme here is that hard work pays off. Nipsey reminds us of this throughout with lyrics that paint pictures vividly. If you know Nipsey’s journey, these bars carry that much more weight.
It’s a rags-to-riches, road to glory album that feels satisfying coming from a champion of today’s west coast hip hop scene.
With wordplay, storytelling, and varied production, Victory Lap separates itself from competitors by remaining true to what gained him notoriety.
There is a reason why you’ve seen this album pop up on a lot of “Best of the Year” list. It’s even scored him a Grammy nomination.
Recommended tracks: “Dedication feat. Kendrick Lamar” “Succa Proof”, “Blue Laces 2”
Royce Da 5’9: “Book of Ryan”
Book of Ryan by Royce Da 5’9 should be considered the number one hip-hop album of 2018. It’s 21 tracks deep and not one song is skippable.
This is without a doubt Royce’s greatest work. An exhibition of a spitta, a testimony of a recovering alcoholic, and a confession of a man. No subject is off limits. Royce applies his talent for wordplay and varied flows to every record. He approaches every verse with conviction and confidence, making for an honest work that knocks.
The album contains a number of features that add to its impact. J. Cole, Eminem, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Pusha T, Robert Glasper, Logic and more assist Royce on this project.
It’s packed with self-aware raps mixed with bars that would slump your favorite mumble rapper. No lean required.
A great album is not only defined by dope beats and rhymes, but by its ability to engage the listener through relatable tales.
In a social media environment where the word “classic” is thrown at albums that have only been available for 24 hours, Book of Ryan is required listening for any self-proclaimed hip-hop fan. With minimal radio spins, THIS is what hip-hop classics are made of.
Recommend tracks: “Woke”, “Cocaine”, “Strong Friend”
J. Cole: KOD
Black Milk: Fever
Swizz Beatz: POISON
Freddie Gibbs: FREDDIE
Anything from Griselda Records (Conway, Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher)