Gabriel's Top 10 Albums of 2018
by Gabriel Rivas
Each of our Executive Board Members will be doing their Top 10 Lists for 2018. Here are my Top 10 Albums of the year!
1. Swimming by Mac Miller
After the widely publicized break up with singer Ariana Grande, a DUI crash, and seemingly reclusiveness from the national media following these events, the late Mac Miller emerged with his most complete, succinct body of work to date. Filled with somber, lush instrumentals produced by the likes of J. Cole, DJ Dahi, and Pomo, Mac seemingly comes to terms with his long history of depression and substance abuse. Rather than fall back into a cycle of self-deprecation, he acknowledges his flaws: “Every day I wake up and breathe / I don’t have it all, but that’s all right with me”. One of the most prominent themes/metaphors throughout the album deals with the notion that instead of “drowning” in ones faults, through self-examination and time, one can learn to cope and continue to live a life filled with enjoyment. Tragically, he would end up overdosing a couple months after the albums release.
Yet even in tragedy, it is astounding to think that back in 2011, media outlets were quick to label the Philadelphia artist as nothing more than “frat rap” and within 7 years, Mac Miller evolved into one of the premier talents in the industry. Miller took the likes of Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar on tour before they even became who they are today and even pushed other artists like Vince Staples to continue making music.
Swimming marked not only the culmination of Macs’ growth over those years, but also his acceptance and contentment in what he was able to accomplish in that span. Swimming also perfectly encapsulates Macs diverse persona, characteristics, and proved to be the most consistent album start to finish. His lyrics, melodies, and concept were executed perfectly. Few artists have been able to display as much vulnerability without sacrificing authenticity and his absence will be missed for years to come.
2. Daytona by Pusha T
Kicking off the G.O.O.D Music releases this past summer, Pusha-T released his widely anticipated album entirely produced by Kanye West. At only 7 tracks and 22 minutes in length, this is easily the shortest album on the list, but, do not let that fool you. In interviews leading up to the album, Pusha acknowledged that his primary inspiration for the album came from the Rolex Daytona. Similar to the watch, he believes he has “the luxury of time” and in that time, he certainly delivered. Daytona marks Pusha’s best work as a solo artist. Over those 22 minutes, he enthralls fans with laser focused deliveries and hard-hitting verses, all over diverse instrumentals that at times had people wondering why Kanye hadn’t produced like that for his own recent projects.
In any case, despite the controversial closing track “Infrared” and back and forth diss tracks with Drake, Pusha came out that summer without a scratch. After exposing Drake was hiding a child, attacking his entire character, and revelations that it was Drakes own longtime producer 40 (Noah Shebib) that revealed the information, not Kanye, there really is no doubt who won. On top of that, Pusha ensured there was no filler or wasted space, the same could not be said of the bloated Scorpion which dropped in October.
3. KOD by J Cole
Despite releasing earlier in April, KOD remained one of the strongest albums of the year. With his fifth studio album, Cole explores a variety of topics ranging from drug abuse, addiction, greed, and depression. Unlike previous albums which had been criticized as being “samey” in terms of production, KOD features a variety of up-tempo jazz-trap inspired beats. Personal favorites include “Window Pain,” “Kevin’s Heart”, and “Once an Addict” (Interlude). At 12 tracks, the album is extremely well executed and only increased in relevancy following the tragic deaths of artists such as Mac Miller and Lil Peep, both of whom struggled with many of the topics touched upon the album. KOD can also be interpreted in a variety of ways due to the album having three different meanings. Cole spared no expense in fleshing out the concept for the album and as a result, it continues to hold replay value.
4. Victory Lap by Nipsey Hussle
Within Los Angeles, Nipsey Hussle has always been one of the prominent names in the city since high school, but outside the city, it seemed like barely anyone had heard of him. This all changed in February with the release of Victory Lap. At 16 tracks and several high-profile features from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, YG, Puff Daddy, and Dom Kennedy, the album builds upon all the foundations Nip built over the previous years while expanding upon them. From the start of the project, songs like “Rap Niggas” and “Last Time I Checc’d” establish new West Coast anthems while the second half slows it down and provides insights/reflections into accumulating wealth, being self-made, and starting your own business through songs like “Million While You Young”, “Loaded Bases”, and “Hussle & Motivate”. As a result of these efforts, Victory Lap feels like the crowning achievement of Nipseys career up to this point and certainly helped solidify Nipsey to a national audience, even garnering a nomination for Best Rap Album by the Grammys.
5. Care for Me by Saba
In a year with so many star-studded albums, Care For Me might have flown under a lot of peoples radars but without a doubt it deserves to be in the Top 5. Chicago artist Saba has steadily made a name for himself since the highly praised mixtape “Comfort Zone” back in 2014 and truly blossomed this year. Care For Me can best be described as a cathartic, intimate listening experience in which individuals find Saba struggling to overcome and accept the loss of his cousin John Walt. Opening the album with the poignant “Busy Sirens” sets the tone for the remainder of the songs that follow. The album builds towards his loss and on one of the most gut wrenching songs of the year, topping out at 7 minutes in length, Saba recounts the events and experiences leading up to Walt’s murder on “Prom King”. The track is better heard than attempting to articulate the emotion it evokes but from one of the lost points on the album, emotionally speaking, Saba chooses to end the project with the uplifting “Heaven All Around Me” seemingly coming to peace with the loss. Personal standouts include: “Broken Girls”, “Logout”, and “Life”. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to it, definitely add it to your list.
6. Drogas Wave by Lupe Fiasco
Coming in at 1hr 39 minutes, this is not only the longest album on the list, but quite possibly the longest of the year; however, not a single minute is wasted or filler. Following his release from Atlantic Records, Lupe Fiasco delivers an epic album with multiple narratives, overlapping metaphors, and one which truly requires multiple listens to pick certain references up. The end result is an album that is extremely complex and arguably a classic even for an artist of Lupes status. The first portion of the album deals with this notion of drowned slaves that instead of dying, are instead reborn as waves which then help fight against slavery and attack slave ships. The remainder of the album switches narratives to dealing with death/loss, brighter futures, innocence, greed, and many other topics. While it is certainly the least “commercially accessible” album on the list, it is the most rewarding if one sets aside time to complete the project. Lupe not only restored his consistency within the game, but also established a new legacy. Personal standouts include: “Down”, “Jonylah Forever”, “Kingdom”, and “Stack that Cheese”.
7. Book of Ryan by Royce Da 5’9
At 1hr 11 minutes, the album truly lives up to the title. Nevertheless, Book of Ryan is arguably Royce’s’ best solo album to date and finds the Detroit rapper examining his childhood/upbringing with vivid detail. Particular focus is placed upon the presence of domestic violence as a kid, his father’s drug abuse & addiction, and his own reflections as a father. For an artist of his status to come out with an album which can be viewed as his “4:44” this late into his career not only impressed, but also came as a surprise. Personal favorites included: “God Speed”, “Cocaine, Power”, and “Boblo Boat”. Overall, the album accomplishes its goal of painting an expository narrative of Royce’s life and career and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
8. Paranoia 2 by Dave East
Harlem MC and Nas’ signee, Dave East, delivered a hard-hitting sequel with Paranoia 2 to kick off the year in January. At 15 tracks, the album delivers in grittiness with Dave delivering impressive wordplay and rich narratives. Songs like “Corey” are reminiscent of 90’s story telling while “Annoying” completely flips the “traditional” New York sound with more contemporary trap sounds and a T.I. feature. Other noteworthy songs like “Violent” “I Found Keisha”, and “Prosper” solidify Dave as one of the best lyricists in an ever-emerging wave of new artists that seemingly place more emphasis on hooks/choruses than the rest of their lyrics. Safe to say, we will be hearing a lot from Dave in the future.
9. DiCaprio 2 by J.I.D
Dreamville signee, J.I.D, returned with his impressive sophomore album DiCaprio 2. For 51 minutes straight, J.I.D continually switches up his flow, delivery, and tempo over beats that few artists aside from Cole and Kendrick could handle. From “Slick Talk” to “Hasta Luego” J.I.D goes full throttle and never lets up. Despite releasing at the end of November, the strength and quality of his content easily pushed it to one of the top 10 albums of the year. Personal favorites include the highly acclaimed “Off Deez” collaboration with J. Cole, “151 Rum”, “Skrawberries”, “Just Da Other Day”, and “Off Da Zoinky’s”.
10. Effected by Cozz
Another LA rapper, Cozz, has continually improved himself over the past couple years since his debut and signing with Dreamville certainly has done wonders for his growth. With “Effected”, Cozz created an extremely personal album dealing with his rise to fame, continued pursuit of greatness, shortcomings, and aspirations. Over 14 tracks, Cozzs’ lyricism truly shine in addition to the vast improvements he has made in developing choruses. His debut album fell flat in many regards but the sophomore effort capitalized on his potential. Personal standouts include the acclaimed “Zendaya” collaboration with J. Cole, “Bout It”, “Freaky 45”, and “That’s the Thing”. Keep Cozz on your radar if he isn’t already.
Pieces of Man by Mick Jenkins
Fetti by Freddie Gibbs & Currensy
Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt