Top 10 rap albums of 2018

Maya Nayak, A&E Editor

Honorable Mention: Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

In the wake of Kanye’s numerous controversies and disappointing releases, fans became increasingly disheartened, convinced that Kanye had lost his touch. Likewise, Kid Cudi fans were concerned for Cudi’s well-being as he shared his declining mental health. Kanye and Kid Cudi’s announcement of their formation of a superduo, Kids See Ghosts, and the release of an album by the same name thus had the pressure of meeting the creative standards set for the duo in spite of their struggles. Kids See Ghosts offers a rare window into mental illness in rap with its detached production and pained lyrics. Cudi and Kanye share their means of coping with adversity, frequently referencing their spirituality. It is regrettably brief, but satiates listeners with an ultimately optimistic outlook.

Best track on the album: “Reborn”


10. Metro Boomin – Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Despite being relatively new to the music industry, Metro Boomin has already made a name for himself in producing for successful artists such as Migos and 21 Savage. His minimalist style of production is punctuated by layered beats, contributing to what is arguably his most multifaceted release to date. This elevated, dark production is paired well with vocals from the likes of 21 Savage and Gunna. With seamless transitions within and between tracks, as well as obscure soul-heavy sampling paying homage to other genres, Boomin furthers his eerie, syncopated production aesthetic. On Not All Heroes Wear Capes, Boomin pushes featured artists to their limit as well as the rap industry as a whole.

Best track on the album: “Don’t Come Out The House”


9. SOB X RBE – Gangin II

SOB X RBE attracted national attention after their feature on the Kendrick Lamar produced Black Panther: The Album. Their second studio album and second release of 2018, Gangin II, marked potentially the last release from the group after rumors that it would disband and the members would pursue solo careers. Members of the quartet complement each other perfectly with Yhung T.O.’s melodic hooks melding with the more combative approach of Slimmy B, DaBoii, and Lul G. The quartet also achieves almost unmatched authenticity, showcasing Bay Area rap free of external influence. Treading genres in melding pop instrumentation, R&B hooks, and rap flows, Gangin II combines abundant energy and gritty lyricism in a way even seasoned artists cannot endeavor to achieve.

Best track on the album: “North Vallejo”


8. Eminem – Kamikaze

Eminem’s unannounced tenth studio album marked a return to his trademark old-school delivery absent on Revival, his 2017 release. Eminem utilizes Kamikaze to take controversial jabs at popular rappers, directly naming artists such as Lil Yachty and Tyler, The Creator in aggressive flows. Eminem’s aims at current rappers are creatively executed, as he transitions into the currently popular triplet flow to mock the new wave of Soundcloud rappers. Eminem also lashes out at critics of his 2017 album, reflecting his willingness to show vulnerability. Eminem is as unapologetic and unfiltered as ever, Kamikaze serving as the cathartic release of his fury. His mile-a-minute flow is at its best, his dexterity and flow serving as a testament to his 2013 claim that he is a “Rap God.”

Best track on the album: “Ringer”


7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B’s prowess for topping the charts with release after release left many to question what her first full-length studio album would sound like. Cardi B’s answer, Invasion of Privacy, is more succinct than most rap releases, not diluting its quality by bloating itself with low quality tracks. Invasion of Privacy has a distinctly current sound, but incorporates unique influences, nodding to 90s and 2000s rap as well as to Cardi B’s Latin roots. Her honest, witty, and catchy delivery is at home both on her few emotional ballads and several radio friendly hits. Artfully bridging rap and R&B with several featured artists, Invasion of Privacy is both well-planned and well-produced. With versatile beats and engaging flows, Cardi B is a force to be reckoned with.

Best track on the album: “Best Life”


6. Drake – Scorpion

A number of artists strategically time singles to capture the coveted summer anthem, but no musician has done this as consistently and successfully as Drake. His June release of earworms like “Nice for What,” “God’s Plan,” and his creation of the viral “In My Feelings” did not disappoint, as Drake once again dominated the charts. Drake’s sampling on Scorpion far surpasses his previous works, with Lauryn Hill on “Nice for What” and posthumous vocals from Michael Jackson on “Don’t Matter to Me.” Lyrically, Scorpion is trite, as Drake whines of the pitfalls of fame and attempts half-hearted responses at diss tracks aimed at him. Despite this, Scorpion achieves a happy medium, featuring Drake’s old hooks and flows in a contemporary landscape melding rap and R&B.

Best track on the album: “Nonstop”


5. Playboi Carti – Die Lit

Criticized for being one of the many “mumble rappers” who emerged on Soundcloud after 2010, Playboi Carti had the burden of proving the viability of one of the most disruptive recent rap movements with his debut studio album Die Lit. Carti is by no means creative in his lyricism, but his relentless repetition and gradual fade into unintelligible ad libbing somehow adds to the charm of the album. Heavily distorted bass and trap effects contribute to a high energy sound that persists throughout the album. Unlike many albums of its length, Die Lit does not have weaker tracks or songs that do not fit with the album as a whole. Ultimately, Die Lit shows immense promise for Soundcloud rap as a whole and for Carti himself.

Best track on the album: “Shoota”


4. Lil Baby/Gunna – Drip Harder

Atlanta rappers Gunna and Lil Baby recently came into the garnered public attention after a series of well received releases such as Lil Baby’s “Yes Indeed” with Drake. On Drip Harder, their collaborative album overseen by mentor a Young Thug, Gunna boasts a heavily polished flow, contrasting with the more timid, hesitant style of Lil Baby. The duo’s more acoustic sound featuring the occasional guitar riff and riveting drum patterns stand out against synthesizer-heavy instrumentation. Their lyricism is somber, and is complemented by fitting production from Turbo, Tay Keith, and Wheezy. Through Drip Harder, Lil Baby and Gunna display their prowess both as solo artists but also as one of the best rap duos of 2018.

Best track on the album: “Never Recover”


3. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V

Legal issues between Lil Wayne and Cash Money Records led Tha Carter V, Lil Wayne’s twelfth studio album, to be subject to several delays. Finally released in September 2018, Tha Carter V is the most earnest of Lil Wayne’s works. Purged of excessive auto tune, Wayne pursues a more somber mood as he recounts his attempt to commit suicide and includes a haunting, posthumous chorus from XXXTentacion. Still, Wayne continues to incorporate his characteristic double entendres and familiar flows over new beats. Tha Carter V invokes nostalgia in how little Lil Wayne’s style has changed over the years despite changes in the rap world. Though it can’t meet the caliber of some of Wayne’s earlier works, Tha Carter V serves to show that Lil Wayne is still one of the greatest rappers around.

Best track on the album: “Mona Lisa”


2. J. Cole – KOD

Cole’s persuasive storytelling bests most rappers of his standing, many of whom rely extensively on sampling to make up for their lyrical shortfalls. On KOD, Cole utilizes this penchant for storytelling to take aim at the new vanguard of rappers promoting materialism with meaningless lyrics, touching on more significant issues such as infidelity and his belief that the tax system is broken. The new addition to Cole’s repertoire acts as an introspective medium as well, “Once an Addict” recounting his mother’s struggles with addiction. KOD marks a shift from the more production heavy, lighter themes of Cole’s previous work. Through these darker themes, Cole provides a much needed message to 2018 rappers and redefines himself as an artist.

Best track on the album: “1985”


1. Travis Scott – Astroworld

Two years after its announcement, Travis Scott finally released his highly anticipated third studio album in August. Astroworld had the seemingly impossible challenge of living up to its hype, but does so with flawless production and well incorporated and numerous guest verses. From the overplayed “Butterfly Effect” to the less popular “Coffee Bean,” every song on Astroworld is unique, making its cohesive nature all the more impressive. Scott’s bold auto tuned vocals layered over infectious make for easily his most enthralling album yet. Coupled with artfully interspersed features including Frank Ocean’s ethereal vocals on “Carousel” and Drake’s fiery verse over Tay Keith’s beats on “Sicko Mode,” Astroworld is undeniably one of the best crafted albums of the year.

Best track on the album: “R.I.P. Screw”