This was a really fun list to put together. It was also kinda messy, what with the line between mixtures and albums being blurrier than ever. We didn’t much worry about that distinction, but we did stick to some rules—we kept it strictly LPs, not EPs, but even that was a little confusing, in large part because of G.O.O.D Music’s seven track Summer campaign. Shoutout to few favourites that we couldn’t include: Slowthai’s Runt, J Hus’ Big Spang and Ama Lou’s DDD. There’s a few more collaborative releases on here in recent years, like Drip Harder, plus some honourable mentions we didn’t include, like Porter 2 Grape and Payroll Giovanni & Cardo’s Big Bossin Vol. 2. We’ve put together some of our favourite songs off these records in a Spotify playlist, which you can check out here.
Saba, Vince Staples, Rico Nasty and more of the team's favourite records this year.
01. Saba, Care For Me
Saba wrote Care For Me after the murder of his best friend and cousin John Walt, and he’s spoken at length about treating his studio session as a kind of therapy. The album explores his struggles with love, friendship and depression over watery, melancholic instrumentals he produced alongside Pivot Gang members Daoud and daedaePIVOT. “Busy/Sirens” stands out for how remarkably personal it is, but Saba’s also careful to tell stories that anybody could see a part of themselves in. On Care For Me, Saba cares for you. — Henry O.
02. Vince Staples, FM!
FM! fuses the futuristic, clubby sounds of Vince’s 2017 album Big Fish Theory with the quirky L.A hip-hop that his Long Beach forefather Snoop Dogg helped pioneer. We can thank Kenny Beats for pepping those the West Coast bops with bellowing 808s and wonky EDM synths. In the words of Vince himself on “Outside”, “Yeahhhhh citch!” — Henry O.
03. Kali Uchis, Isolation
I’d like to think that Isolation would be the album I’d stream waiting in-line at the bank to cash a cheque, if I had a cheque to cash. Right now, it’s just the album I play on a lazy Sunday morning, and it works brilliantly in that context too. — Laura F.
04. Travis Scott - Astroworld
Travis Scott invites an formidable roster of Blockbuster guests onto Astroworld, and, impressively, he rarely gets overshadowed by them. It’s a wild ride—from the Frankenstein’s monster-esque splice that is “Sicko Mode” to the mellow closing cut “Coffee Bean”—but Travis stays in control all the while. Who put sounds as disparate as Kid Cudi’s howling, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, and Sheck Wes’ “Bitch!” adlibs together? He’s the glue. Astroworld is Travis at his best, both as a curator and a vocalist. — Henry O.
05. Playboi Carti, Die Lit
The first time I listened to Die Lit was at a dinner party. My friend put it on and we bumped around the kitchen, making pizza on stale flatbread. It’s a listening party I’d highly recommend. Since that first listen, it’s been my personal AOTY. — Laura F.
06. J.I.D, Dicaprio 2
After years of being slept on, JID finally got some shine in 2018, landing the freshman list (almost entirely made up of ad-libbing Soundcloud rappers), proving his lyrical prowess and bringing a youthful, dynamic take to old-head “conscious rapping” that left his MC peers looking like they use rhymezone.com. To take the bait and use a Dicaprio metaphor, the reception to this record has been J.I.D’s long-awaited, much-deserved Oscar moment. — Henry O.
07. Rico Nasty, Nasty
There aren’t many pairings right now that compete with Rico and Kenny Beats on quality or consistency. The most exciting thing about this album is that you know it’s not even the best she has in her. — Joey C.
08. Noname, Room 25
“Maybe this the album that you listen to in your car/when you driving home late at night/really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.” It’s a line that has most everyone on the internet saying “wow me lol”. Including (wow) me, lol. Room 25 revisits a lot of the collaborations from its predecessor Telefone, with stellar appearances from Saba, Ravyn Lenae, and Phoelix. It’s a nice refuge from to the chaos that’s been 2018. — Laura F.
09. Lil Baby & Gunna, Drip Harder
On Drip Harder two of Atlanta’s hottest prospects celebrate their success and undeniable chemistry. One listen to “Drip Too Hard” will have you hooked, as Lil Baby and Gunna go back and forth with their signature triplet flows in true ATL style. Production from Turbo and Tay Keith, as well as killer appearances from Drake and father figure/mentor Young Thug add a little extra drip to an already catchy, melodic and refreshing mixtape. — Henry O.
010. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs
After a three year musical hiatus Earl Sweatshirt returned with Some Rap Songs; a stream of consciousness collection of super-short tracks—only two of 15 run over two minutes long. Although it was written mostly before his father Keorapetse Kgositsile passed away, a sense of loss lingers through the record. The glitchy, lo-fi production (some of which came from Earl himself) are a welcome nod to early Stones Throw records. Some Rap Songs was definitely worth the wait. — Henry O.
011. Trippie Redd, A Love Letter To You Pt 3
Trippie Redd had a great year; he was hot enough to make the XXL freshman list but smart enough to refuse doing the corny freestyle. He also dropped his debut album Life’s A Trip, which is definitely worth a look, but I think part three of his mixtape series is a little more deserving of this spot for its more balanced ratio of slappery to emo croonage. On A Love Letter To You Pt 3, Trippie juggles whining about heartbreak, flexing about taking your girl and spitting bars about shooting people in the face! Highlight tracks are “Topanga”, “Negative Energy” (with his old friend Kodie Shane) and the Juice WRLD collab “1400/199 freestyle”. — Cass N.
012. Freddie Gibbs, Freddie
Let’s all just take a mid-list moment here to give it up for Kenny Beats. That was his work on Vince Staples FM! (number two) and that was him bringing out the best in Rico Nasty on Nasty (number seven). That’s also him on five of 10 Freddie tracks providing the seismic beats that Freddie Gibbs has spent the last ten years looking for. Gibbs has always been with the shits and, finally, he’s found someone to ride shotgun with the same energy. — Steve D.
013. City Girls, Girl Code
Dude, I love city girls so much. The QC signed, Miami-based duo are bringing the energy of early 00s southern rap queens like La Chat and Gangsta Boo to modern trap production. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s ratchet as hell! JT (who is currently incarcerated til 2020) and Yung Miami finally got their well earned shine this year after landing a huge feature on a certain baby hiding Canadian’s no.1 single “In My Feelings”. With a couple of big name features including Cardi B & Lil Baby — Girl Code is pure booty shaking magic and should be the mandatory soundtrack at every strip club in the entire world. #FREEJT — Cass N.
014. Joey Purp, QUARTERTHING
Nothing else on this list sounds much like QUARTERTHING. In fact, very few tracks on the record itself sound much alike. That’s not to say it isn’t cohesive, it is; it’s also expansive, varied, and ambitious. Joey Purp has insanely good taste, and it was great to hear Queen Key jump on “Fessional/Diamonds Dancing”. — Joey C.
015. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy
Despite being the hottest shit out back in April, Invasion of Privacy has been somewhat obscured by the scale of Cardi’s ballooning celebrity and various goings-on in her personal-turned-public life in the months since. As Cardi herself lamented last week on CBS, “A lot of people like to say all publicity is good publicity…it’s not. That takes away [from] people paying attention to your craft.” I’d like to remind uh, anyone that will listen, that Invasion of Privacy was a one-in-a-million debut, not just living up to but exceeding the promise of her personality-packed mixtapes, and, of course, Bodak Yellow. With charisma and pathos in spades, it’s the kind of album that a lot of mid-career artists haven’t even made yet. Go Cardi! — Joey C.
016. 6LACK, East Atlanta Love Letter
East Atlanta Love Letter exists in the same sombre realm of modern classics like The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons and Drake’s Take Care. Standout cuts like “Disconnect” will, on a bad day, have you contemplating every relationship you’ve ever been in. — Henry O.
017. Mariah Carey, Caution
Caution is an perfect example of how a legacy artist can assert their eternal relevance in fickle musical times. DJ Mustard, Skrillex, Timbaland, and Blood Orange offer some of the smartest, most ambitious production in Pop this year (this album would make for a great beat tape) but Mariah’s voice remains the main attraction. “Giving Me Life” is one of my most-played songs of 2018. — Joey C.
018. Yung Lean, Poison Ivy
Yung Lean’s Poison Ivy, produced by Whitearmor, art directed by ECCO2k, and released through his label Year0001 is well worth the 23 minutes it’ll take of your time. — Laura F.
019. Teyana Taylor, KTSE
The true star of G.O.O.D Music’s summer rollout, Teyana Taylor, was a bit ripped off up by the series’ seven song formula (eight in Teyana’s case), not to mention all the other BS her label heads were up to at time. Basically, the only major downside of KTSE—that it’s not long enough—can’t even be pinned on Teyana. Thank god “WTP” made the cut. — Cass N.
020. Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap
I could be wrong here but I feel like a lot of people dismissed Victory Lap as some sort of assembly-line West Coast gangsta rap album or something. Yes, Nip Hussle has been claiming his set on wax for the better part of a decade, but Victory Lap is less about affiliation and more about diversification of your investment portfolio. I listened to this album more than anything else in 2018 and now I own a microwave and paid off my tax debt. Small steps. — Steve D.
021. Key x Kenny Beats, 777
A whole lot of heat from Atlanta MC Key, and yet another appearance from Kenny Beats on this list. 777 is full of short, hard-hitters and great hooks. It lifts my mood from grumpy and lazy to grumpy and ready to fight someone. Play it in the club, in the car, or the UFC octagon. — Cass N.
022. Denzel Curry, TA1300
Ta1300, Denzel Curry takes a long, hard look at The Culture, whether it’s critiquing the social media-driven antics of rappers on the catchy cut “Clout Cobain”, or declaring “Ain’t shit changed since Lil Peep died” on “The Blackest Balloon”. You get the sense Denzel is thinking about his impact on hip hop, and his potential beyond it. If the inclusion of his singing on the title track and his “KING OF ALL GENRES” Tweet last week are anything to go by, he’s looking to take over new territory.
023. Octavian, Spaceman
Octavian kinda burst out of nowhere this year doing the topline on Mura Masa’s huge bop “Move Me”. The French-born, London MC followed up the buzz with Spaceman, a refreshing and versatile approach to UK Rap. The debut feels earnest but not preachy, as if mans has really seen some shit. The production teeters on indulgent at times but the songs that slap are extremely replayable. “Build” has one of my favourite hooks of the year: “rub off your ex tattoo bitch, scratch off your ex tattoo bitch” Sheeesh! Be sure to check out “Revenge” and “Lightning” for a nice cross section of what Octavian can bringing to the table. — Cass N.
024. Buddy, Harlan & Alondra
Buddy’s debut album invites the listener to his home city, LA. Not in a hoverboarding around Wholefoods sucking on a Juul kind of way, more like cruising down Sunset in a Cadillac with a Backwoods. Buddy is a great singer, a great rapper and—as I found out when he came to visit us here at Acclaim—also a great dude who loves Dragon Ball Z. — Cass N.
025. Nickelus F, STUCK
I could spend hours trying to explain the brilliance of Nickelus F’s STUCK; an album produced, performed, and mixed entirely by the artist himself. It’s fitting, then, that the perhaps best summary of the record also comes from Nick: “a chilling depiction of life from the tar pit.” — Laura F.