The sales and accolades all agree that Hip Hop was the Big Joker in the music industry’s stacked deck of tricks.
Which means the quality was there as well. Here are the best rap albums of 2018 based on impact, visibility, skill level and staying power in our eardrums.
20. Drake – Scorpion
Ask 20 different people and you’ll get 20 different responses when asked what are the best songs on Drake’s Scorpion. Nevertheless, Drizzy proved his stronger material such as “Nice For What,” “Nonstop,” “After Dark” and “In My Feelings” were more than enough to shoulder this lopsided release.
19. Eminem – Kamikaze
Eminem’s fans were shell-shocked when Kamikaze fell out of the sky in late August. The 13-track lyrical obliteration destroyed everything its path — mumble rappers, critics, Tyler The Creator and that Machine Gun Kelly guy. Slim Shady’s unbridled aggression sank its teeth into nearly every song and sparked the highly publicized beef between Shady and MGK. It was (almost) everything his day-ones had been hoping for on 2017’s Revival and unequivocally proved Shady is back (back again).
18. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
Even though he’s been here for years, please refer to Weezy F. Baby’s C5 as a true comeback. The album once stored in the Detox files saw an energetic Wayne boppin’ it up with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Swizz Beatz while restoring faith that his zany punchlines could carry an entire album.
17. Mac Miller – Swimming
Much enlightenment has been shone on Swimming, Mac Miller’s final project in the wake of his untimely passing. But the fact still remains the project is a groovy glimpse into a troubled but optimistic mind. The song “Self Care” alone will forever be an invaluable life elevation tool that unfortunately didn’t reach all who heard the gem.
16. Metro Boomin – Not All Heroes Wear Capes
A self-imposed retirement and social media sabbatical would be considered career suicide for anyone not named Metro Boomin. From out of nowhere, the mild-mannered producer whiz shot to the top of the charts with his high-octane Not All Heroes Wear Capes. He even convinced the likes of Drake, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane and more to rap over his beats.
15. 21 Savage – I Am > I Was
Once relegated to being the leading voice of the short-lived mumble rap movement, 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was proved that sophomore slumps are for straight suckers. Cuts like “break da law” and “can’t leave without it” painted scenic and scary narratives of how his rough upbringing shaped his bleak outlook on life. Somebody tell Layzie Bone.
14. Czarface & MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face
From the moment the first ominous beat dropped, it was immediately clear Czarface Meets MetalFace was going to be an intense ride. Blending the abundant talents of 7L, Esoteric and Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck with Hip Hop’s most elusive character DOOM, the seamless project took listeners on a dark journey through a gauntlet of classic boom-bap creations and mind-bending lyrical calisthenics.
13. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
With all eyes on Kid Cudi following a reportedly successful stint in rehab, two distinct generations of the G.O.O.D. Music legacy collided to make beautiful chaos on records like “Feel the Love” and “Fire.” It’s a shame that Kids See Ghosts isn’t more of thing, for this album sounds like the warm-up to something nuclear.
12. Saba – Care For Me
Saba hit a home run with Care For Me, crafting an emotionally-driven album that’s easily his best work to date. While many artists were concerned with creating a viral hit for a fleeting moment in the spotlight, Saba dropped a project with cuts like “PROM/KING” that’ll be worth revisiting decades later.
11. Denzel Curry – TA1300
Denzel Curry has been putting out high-quality music for years, but he reached new heights with his outstanding album TA13OO. In a time where balance is sorely needed, Curry expertly found the middle ground between hype and substance to create one of 2018’s most well-rounded and sonically diverse projects.
10. Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
“Bodak Yellow” turned Cardi B into a superstar in 2017, yet she was still in danger of becoming a one-hit wonder. With the release of Invasion Of Privacy, Cardi proved she’s here to stay by cranking out multiple hits and completing her ascent to Hip Hop’s upper echelon.
09. Phonte – No News Is Good News
In the midst of Hip Hop’s evolving view on rappers’ longevity, Phonte’s No News Is Goods News arrived as a prime example of what aging gracefully looks like. The Little Brother MC discarded all pretenses of competing with kids and made an album for grown folks, tackling topics that rarely get addressed in rap and providing a much-needed listening experience in doing so.
08. Royce Da 5’9 – Book Of Ryan
Throughout his 20-year career, Nickel Nine has always been a formidable MC but didn’t possess the critically acclaimed album or relatable narrative to distinguish his bulletproof bars. His autobiographical triumph Book of Ryan changed that, thanks to dark humor (“Power”) and lyrical lava (the Eminem-featured “Caterpillar”).
07. Jay Rock – Redemption
This time last year, TDE’s first lieutenant was indeed “out of sight, out of mind” like his incredible duet with J. Cole outlines. But for Redemption, Jay Rock revealed himself to be an MC capable of commanding his own spotlight, evidenced from the new workout classic “Win” and his bullseye performance on the single, “King’s Dead.”
06. Pusha T – Daytona
Pusha T’s Daytona got overshadowed by his Drake diss track “The Story Of Adidon,” but the LP was a truly brilliant record. Daytona utilized the seven-song format better than any of the other Kanye West-helmed works released in 2018, which turned out to be a mess for G.O.O.D. Music. King Push somehow managed to avoid dropping something half-baked by Yeezy with his brief yet potent album.
05. Kendrick Lamar & Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album
Anchored by Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s infectious single “All The Stars,” Black Panther: The Album beautifully illustrated why TDE is one of the most reputable labels in the industry right now. From Jay Rock, Future and K. Dot’s unrelenting anthem “King’s Dead” to Vince Staples’ “Opps,” the album bumped with an undeniably powerful energy that helped fuel the film’s astronomical success.
04. Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
Once upon a time, nearly every rapper set out to make an album in the same vein as Victory Lap: a stacked project that eschewed glossy production and poppy hooks for unfiltered, raw, street documentation. Such passion can be heard in the records “Rap Niggas,” “Last Time That I Checc’d” and “Hussle & Motivate” — and those were just the singles.
03. Travis Scott – Astroworld
2018 will forever be known as the year Travis Scott became a megastar musician. No longer in Kanye’s shadow, his breakout project, Astroworld, went the distance in eroding the enigma that has shrouded Scott’s persona and out emerged a Hip Hop personality not afraid to push — and lick — the envelope.
02. The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE
As the only album of 2018 to receive DX’s coveted 5.0 rating, EVERYTHING IS LOVE emphatically put the period on Beyoncé and JAY-Z’s tumultuous marital chapter. The billionaire couple was able to therapeutically purge old resentments surrounding Hov’s admitted infidelity and move forward with love throughout the nine-track effort. Beyoncé earned extra points for rapping on songs such as “APESH*T” and “713” and had Jay bowing down to his Queen.
01. J. Cole – KOD
J. Cole showed he was unafraid to approach a multitude of controversial topics when he unveiled KOD. Whether he was tackling the often glorified subject of drug abuse (“FRIENDS”) or predicting a future on Love & Hip Hip as a warning to the younger generation (“1985”) or opening up about his alcoholic mother (“Once An Addict”), Cole demonstrated just how powerful his words can be when used to convey the kind of message Hip Hop used to revere on the regular.