Published Dec 10, 2018
5. The Carters
Everything Is Love
JAY-Z and Beyoncé have always had an unspoken chemistry on tracks — dating back TO "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," fans have pondered what a joint album would sound like. Well, in what was equal parts completely spontaneous for fans and absolutely shady toward Nas — whose long-awaited (and questionably executed) LP dropped on streaming networks mere hours before, the billionaire power couple released the ultimate couple goal, Everything Is Love, under the name the Carters.
"Coupled" with breathtaking visuals for the lead single "Apeshit," featuring Offset and Quavo from Migos (and shot in the Louvre Museum in Paris), the project — loaded with Easter eggs for hip-hop heads to savour — made for an entertaining affair. Most notably, Bey gave Jigga a well-deserved public shaming on the stand out "Lovehappy," discussing his cheating, which was a hot topic in both of their solo LPs leading up this release.
4. Kids See Ghosts
Kids See Ghosts
It was difficult to root for Kanye West in 2018. Between his MAGA hat and comments that slavery was "a choice," his musical output was mostly overshadowed by a succession of PR nightmares. Amidst all that, Kids See Ghosts — his new project with longtime collaborator Kid Cudi — was a welcome breath of fresh air.
Coming just a week after the clumsy, half-baked solo album ye, these seven tracks are mercifully free of political baggage. Instead, it's full of spirituality and redemption, relying heavily on Kid Cudi's wordless moans and mantra-like refrains: "I'm so reborn, keep moving forward," or "Lord shine your light on me, save me please." Kanye's production is beautifully moody, and when he takes the mic, he lays off the Trump references and "scoopy-poop" trolling. If Kids See Ghosts were the only thing Kanye did this year, we might be thinking of 2018 as yet another triumphant victory lap.
Among the many feats that rising Chicago MC Noname pulls off on her breakthrough LP Room 25, perhaps the most impressive is the way she balances timeless production and a lyrical flow that couldn't be more 2018. The soothingly jazzy instrumental on opening track "Self," for instance, wouldn't sound out of place on a Roots or Erykah Badu album in the '90s, but Noname's conversational cadence is innovative and of the moment, making for a jarring, attention-grabbing combination. We can't fathom any past artist with enough oh-so-2018 creativity to make feminist metaphors about genitals that can also write about colonialism and teach ninth grade English.
Noname's boundary-pushing remains constant throughout these 11 tracks. With "Prayer Song," she deftly peppers metaphors about dysfunctional romance with social commentary about being black in America, each idiosyncratic non sequitur a relatable yet unexpected glimpse into her mindset. Then on "Montego Bae," she showcases her pop chart bona fides with an irresistibly catchy, sunny instrumental and flow to match. All the while, she never sacrifices the nimble lyricism that is her hallmark (in this case, those bars are an upbeat tribute to the title's Jamaican oasis).
Wide-ranging as her attributes are, Noname unifies them with her quirky and insightful sensibility. It ensured her name will be on the lips of many a critic and fan as year-end "Best of 2018" debates begin.
Before Pusha-T embarked on a colossal rap battle with Drake this summer, he released his third studio album DAYTONA as a part of G.O.O.D. Music's unexpected roster rollout in June. Executively produced by Kanye West, DAYTONA delivers a sinister story rooted in Pusha's affinity for rapping about dealing drugs and living lavishly. However, unlike previous albums, DAYTONA presents the other side of this lifestyle: the guilt ("What Would Meek Do?"), the failed relationships ("Come Back Baby"), the paranoia ("Santeria") and, of course, the enemies ("Infrared").
It's this duality that, for better or for worse, is represented by DAYTONA's $85K cover art: a 2006 picture of Whitney Houston's drug-strewn bathroom. While Pusha-T uses Rembrandt-like imagery to convey his stories lyrically, Kanye West's harmonious energy and ability to sonically cradle Pusha's effortless flow drives the lush album to becoming one his most tenacious works to date.
"This is my Purple Tape," Push raps on "The Games We Play," an ode to Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx — and for all intents and purposes, it is. Not only does Pusha-T arrive with the bag, but he's never been more in his bag than he is with DAYTONA.
1. Cardi B
Invasion of Privacy
Who knew 2018's most dominant rap album would vacillate between revenge fantasies, thick Atlanta tongue-twisting trap, Miami booty shake, passionate relationship analysis and NYC summer block party anthems?
With its churning beats and monster hooks, Invasion of Privacy is only outdone by its wildly charismatic author. How Cardi B makes it all work is, she squeezes every morsel of her finger-waving, no-fools-suffering Bronx attitude into each beat, never going through motions as she spills her sass over excellent trap ("Drip," featuring Migos), inspiration rap ("Best Life," featuring a scene-stealing Chance the Rapper), and Three 6 Mafia–styled Southern club tear-up ("Bickenhead," which reaches a level of raunchy irreverence that would make 2 Live Crew proud).
And the former stripper's three-hit-song minimum gifted us with legit pop-rap masterpieces that forced us to crank the FM radio dial whenever they came on — which they did, a lot. The bossy "Bodak Yellow" is a glorious slice of arrogant empowerment via high fashion, and the one that made Cardi a force to recognize. "Be Careful" dives heart-first into the drive-yourself-crazy mind games of a lover scorned. And the irresistible "I Like It" reenergizes Pete Rodriguez's infectious 1966 Latin boogaloo smash and feels like a parade in your car.
A swirl of extra noise surrounded the breakout artist as Cardi B owned both headlines and charts in 2018, but at the core of all the hype was a defiant and ridiculously fun pop-rap opus built on brashness and top-notch production. 2018 belonged to Cardi. And she relished it in surprise: "My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell!"