The Best US Hiphop albums of 2018: the bangers, hidden treasures and underground gems – by Jonathan Johnson

The Best US Hiphop albums of 2018 – by Jonathan Johnson

2018 could have arguably been one of the best years for hip-hop within the last decade. Last year was a royal rumble of music with many legendary, top tier artists such as Drake, J.Cole, Nas , Jay-Z and Eminem releasing albums. Equally last year was a breakthrough for many artists such as Cardi B, Nipsey Hussle, Saba and B.e.n.n.y the Butcher. Many new artists competed this year and showed fans that rap, as a creative art, is varied and truly alive. With there being so much music it is damn near impossible to create a definitive top ten list that would not exclude such good quality music. So I have decided to give you my top four albums within three categories undeniable bangers, Hidden Treasures and Underground Sounds. Total disclaimer, this is a total cop out for me to choose 10 albums for people to abuse me over. So here it goes!

Undeniable Bangers

These albums were projects that I revisited constantly throughout the year. Each had songs that got me through work, journeys in my car and of course the daily wash up!!

  1. Jay Rock – Redemption

After hearing the King is Dead ft Kendrick Lamar and Future on the Black Panther Soundtrack I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to an album from the TDE rapper, but after hearing the lead single Win feat Kendrick Lamar, I was curious of how what other hits he could produce.  Redemption is a well-balanced album with street anthems like the Bloodiest and OSOM Feat J.Cole and also more party tracks like Tap Out and Wow Freestyle. I think someone into hip-hop will find at least five songs that they like on this album if not enjoy Rock’s lyrical wordplay.

  1. J.Cole – KOD

I initially considered KOD (meaning Kids On Drugs, King Overdose and Kill Our Demons) one of Cole’s weakest album, Due to Migos sounding beat with Drake rap patterns. I was constantly going back and forth with my nephew who even told me that I had fallen off (me, never)!! I listened again and realised that J Cole’s message and rapping skills overrides all of my other first listen conceptions. Songs like KOD, ATM, and Motiva8 are his interpretation of modern hip hop the Cut Off, Photograph and Brackets are more conscious tracks about today’s vices and addictions such as drugs, alcohol and Instagram which allow people to escape their personal situations. This unique message and memorable hooks makes this one of the biggest albums of 2018.

  1. Nipsey Hussle Victory Lap

Considering it has been over 10 years since Nipssey hussle came onto the scene it is so surprising that we have only received an official album in 2018…and he delivered. The album is filled with west coast gangster bangers such as ‘Rap Niggas’, ‘Last Time that I Checc’d’, and  Double Up ft Dom Kennedy and Belly . Woven into this album is promotion of self-ownership, investment in self and Black Excellence. Assisted by hip hop elite’s such as Kendrick Lamar, YG, and Puff Daddy with more rnb influenced tracks with the Dream and Marsha Ambrosius. Overall this is definitely good gym music.

  1. Pusha T –Daytona

Pusha T’s album Daytona is best described by the term all killers no fillers. The G.O.O.D Music  former Clipse rapper has produced my album of the year with seven tracks of musical gold. The stellar Kanye West Production fully compliments Pusha’s rapping style with tracks such Come Back Baby and Games we Play and If you Know you Know. His lyrics are mainly about manoeuvring as a drug dealing, his lavish life and the loss of his road manager. Sounds very same Ol’ hip-hop but Pusha T’s style accompanied with feats by Kanye West and Rick Ross ensures that he paints a vivid 21 minute picture that will have your head nodding, walking a little faster and even screwing your face a little bit. If you’re into hip-hop and are looking for good music this is the album for you!!

Pusha T – If You Know You Know (Official Music Video)

Hidden Treasures

These projects were ones that caught me by surprise in 2018 from artists that are relatively unknown. Many of these were albums were released under the radar but brought to my attention through a buzz, recommendations or sheer luck. If you want something different have a listen.

  1. J.I.D. –Dicaprio 2

After hearing the eva story last year I was an instant fan of the east atlanta rapper. I could fully understand how he achieved XXL’s Freshman status. Although not an official album, JID delivers a project that is a lyrical lo delight on beats that knock. Tracks like Off Da Zonkeys ,  151 Rum and Slick talk shows the various rapping skills of JID. Off Deez  ft J.Cole  shows that he can rap with the elite rappers of today. Although not a fully cohesive project Dicaprio 2 has a good selection of beats lyrics and hype music.

  1. Noname – Room 25

I was aware of this album through the growing buzz on hip hop podcasts and recommendations from friends and family. The Jazzy funky  sounds and poetic spoken word raps from the female Chicago rapper is a refreshing listen. From the album’s first track there is a reminiscent feel of the 2000 neo soul era modernised with Noname’s unique rapping style. Songs like Montego Bae, Ace and Blaxplotation will have your head nodding to this unique album.

  1. Westside Gunn – Supreme Blientele

Ok, so if you are into street hip-hop music Westside Gunn is the rapper for you. 2018 was a breakthrough year for rappers coming from Griselda records with Westside Gunn leading the charge. His Ghostface killer rapping style and classic Wu-tang sampling sound makes a hard-hitting gritty project of drugs, braggadocios shine and WWE skits….yes I said WWE. The albums New York boom bap sound is definitely one for the hip-hop purists.

  1. Saba – Care for me

Do you not mean shabba surely; it is a typo, No Saba. I discovered this album on a slow week of hip-hop and I have not looked back. Saba is a Chicago born and raised rapper that has a reminiscent sound of Chance the Rapper and old Kanye. The 42-minute album has a melancholic, dark but very enjoyable sound. Songs like Busy/Sirens, Fighter and Prom King shows Saba’s ability as a storyteller on growing up in Chicago, his first prom date and the death of his cousin makes a compelling album that has drawn me back frequently in 2018. Definitely not one for the gym but Saba’s melodic rapping style paired with a chilled musical sound is perfect background hip-hop music.

Saba – SIRENS ft. theMIND (Official Video)

Underground Sound

This is for the Hip hop Aficionados who appreciate the revival of the classic hip hop sound in the modern day.  The combination of lyrics, beats and a unique enjoyable styles that has and kept me coming back. I call this the underground sound as although these projects may not have received commercial success they need to be held high as great hip hop albums of 2018.

4. Black Thought and Salaam Remi – Streams of Thought Vol 2

After Black Thought’s legendary funk flex freestyle in 2017 many fans were asking for more from the legendary Roots front man. The Streams of Thought EP series is exactly what people wanted  especially volume 2. The producer Salaam Remi is known for producing classic Nas and Amy Winehouse albums and lends his skills to create a backdrop that will impress all hip-hop lovers. Black Thought has no catchy choruses or gimmicks but his lyrics and amazing flow makes your head nod and screw your face up from his punchlines. Songs like ‘get outlined’ and ‘History unfolds’ are standout tracks .

3. Denzel Curry – Ta13oo

This album contains what I would call all-purpose music. Ta13oo (pronounced Taboo) is a carefully crafted album split into three volumes that which takes you through a mixed journey of moods. Volume 1 is a chilled hip-hop vibe with tracks like Black Balloons ft Goldlink and Cash Maniac. Volume 2 picks up the tempo with hard knocking down south tracks and energetic rap flows from Denzel Curry. The album is sprinkled with conscious songs highlighting US injustices for the black community and the affects of peer pressure of young people who follow current role models of drug takers, dealers and the perceptions of perfect. Finally, Volume 3 is a dark modern sound, which will certainly bump in the car, or keep you running that little harder on your jog.  If you are a fan of OutKast and the varied styles, they produced in their albums this is certainly an album for you.

2. Royce da 5’9 – The Book of Ryan

Royce Da 5’9 has been in the industry for nearly 20 years and has been one of the most consistent rappers during this time. The Book of Ryan is one of the most introspective albums which gives you the classic Royce rapping with guest features from J.Cole, Eminem, Logic and even T-pain!! Hit records like Caterpillar, Summer on Lock (ft Pusha T and Fabolous) will have you knocking your head so hard that you may experience whiplash. On the other side, songs like Cocaine, Boblo Boat and Power will open you to Royce’s deeper thoughts on his relationship with his father, his struggles with alcohol addiction and his trauma of witnessing domestic violence. Overall, this is a strong album, which has the potential to resonate with a wide range of people. Whether you are looking for the hard-hitting boom bap, bragadocious lyrical miracle music, or an intricate view of 5’9’s story crafted through rap, you will certainly will find something in the Book of Ryan

  1. Benny the Butcher – Tana Talk 3

This album is one of my favourite albums of 2018. It came to my attention as part of an obscure joke on the Joe Budden podcast when the engineer asked his co-presenter Mal whether he had recommended ‘that new Benny album’ to his female friends. Why would he say that? I asked myself. On searching and listening to the album three words best describe it. Clarity Drug Rapper (I’m probably not selling this well). The project purely produced by Alchemist and Daringer is truly an alluring project from beginning to end. Benny’s  ability to paint a picture through his raps are refreshing and is one for anyone who likes the classic New York sample Sound. Songs like Rubber Bands & Weight, 97 Hove and Scarface vs Sosa is so emotive that at one point it made me think about cooking up and pitching on the burbs corner of Trafford (I’m joking obviously). In theme with the Griselda movement Tana Talk3 is Gritty, Dark but very accessible to those who listen. The album is a clear demonstration that Hip-Hop music is diverse and can appeal to everyone who are from different walks of life across the world if crafted well.

Benny The Butcher "Rubber Bands & Weight" Produced by The Alchemist – Directed by @iamslimgus

Written by Jonathan Johnson

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