The 25 Best Albums of 2018 – So Far

It’s pretty crazy that we’re halfway through 2018.

And it’s even crazier that we’ve already heard so much good music already.

Typically around this time of year we crank out two top 10 lists revisiting the half-year in hip-hop and R&B. This year, we’re switching it up. While R&B has been pretty lax, there have been a ton of great hip-hop releases, along with albums that straddle both genres. Instead of splitting the difference, we’re going with this mega list – highlighting the best that hip-hop, R&B, pop and gospel have to offer.

If you missed some of these albums the first time around you have plenty of time to catch up. 2018’s been pretty good to us, and we’re just getting started.

in celebration of usSkyzoo, In Celebration of Us

In an era filled with rappers spouting “wokeness” with social commentary bars, Sky does it with authenticity. That’s what makes In Celebration of Us, his fourth solo LP, such a strong listen. Never one to dial back his flow or dumb down lyrics, Sky’s dense lyricism is perfect to tackle weighty topics like racism, gentrification and police brutality. He’s a master of craft and one of the most consistent rappers in the game.

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pain & pleasureTink, Pain & Pleasure

Add Tink to the seemingly growing list of  “artists who should be big stars but aren’t.” At least not yet. After parting ways with Timbaland, Tink’s future seemed to be in doubt but her surprise summer EP proved that she’s far from done. Pain & Pleasure is yet another fun showcase of Tink’s wide array of talents and once again provides hope that that elusive LP will one day materialize.

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czarface meets metal faceMF Doom and Czarface, Czarface Meets Metal Face

I could go with the obvious comparison and say that MF Doom, Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric link up on this joint project like the Avengers, but let me get nerdier and compare them to Justice League Dark – a gritty collection of outcasts who go where their high-profile allies refuse to tread. Deck really steals the show here, proving that he’s one of the most overlooked MCs under the Wu-Tang flag. Together, the team might not turn heads like a summer blockbuster, but they are definitely worthy of Netflix-style binge sessions.

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ghostStyles P, G-Host

This list is filled with a lot of industry veterans who dared to stick to their guns when their contemporaries decided to get too cute and experimental for their own good. G-Host is EXACTLY how a Styles P album should sound – rough, rugged and raw. P has reigned as one of rap’s preeminent lyricists for decades now and he hasn’t lost a step here, rattling off bars with few missteps. Styles is here to give his fans exactly what they want – and what they need.

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reality bitesBridget Kelly, Reality Bites

YES, BRIDGET KELLY FINALLY DROPPED HER ALBUM. 2018 is full of surprises, huh? After making waves way back in 2012, she seemed poised to be R&B’s next big star. But things didn’t quite pan out that smoothly. Reality Bites is an examination of her road to redemption, finally giving us another glimpse of the talent that wowed us nearly a decade ago.

 

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nasirNas, Nasir

Read our review here

Remember back in 2016 when Nasir Jones and DJ Khaled proclaimed to the world that “Nas Album Done?” Well, I’m willing to bet that this album, one of five, seven-tracked Kanye West-produced efforts, wasn’t what Esco bragged about back then. Instead, we get an album that, while honestly is near the bottom tier of Nas’ legendary catalog, is still a pretty strong listen. The biggest knock against Nas has been his suspect beat selection – that’s not a problem with Ye behind the boards. And Nas’s flow is pretty effortless, bouncing from social justice to stuntin’ in Paris in less than 30 minutes.

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redemptionJay Rock, Redemption

Read our review here

As an original member of the “four headed dragon” known as Black Hippy, Jay Rock has often been overshadowed by his more charismatic compatriots. But the TDE member finally has his chance to shine with Redemption, and make the most of it. Rock is usually known for his more gritty efforts, but he doesn’t shy away from mainstream appeal on this release, and when it works, it works. Change is good. And change has given Jay Rock his best album.

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the kids are alrightChloe X Halle, The Kids are Alright

So far we’ve been deprived of consistently solid R&B releases this year, so don’t let this duo slide by you. The Bailey sisters seemingly have a golden ticket to success – they’re backed by Beyonce of all people so it’s no shock that this album often resonates with those old Destiny’s Child vibes. But give them their due – Chloe X Halle are no mere clones. They’re more socially conscious than you’d expect, with their debut fluctuating between fun R&B and thought provoking pop. They’re just getting started and the future is looking pretty bright.

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kids see ghostsKanye West and Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts

Read our review here

The less said about Kanye’s solo project the better. But he finds a kindred spirit with Kid Cudi, totally redeeming himself with Kids See Ghosts, a revealing project where two troubled artists sign their shackles off. Mental illness and depression have long been a scourge in our society, and Ye and Cudi use their personal battles to deliver a poignant message of empowerment. With great production and solid lyricism (yes, Kanye is actually in a mood to rap this time) Kids See Ghosts is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

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everything is loveThe Carters, Everything Is Love

Read our review here

There’s nothing like being awaken from a Saturday afternoon nap from frantic texts proclaiming BEYONCE AND JAY Z DROPPED A SURPRISE ALBUM YAAAASS MY LIFE. After two solo releases that detailed the ups and downs of their marriage, Everything is Love completely committed to celebrating their union. And while y’all know most trap songs make me itch, their artisty shines through when lesser artists would have coasted on gimmicks. Yeah, I’d much rather hear Beyonce singing than rapping but hey, the Carters are having fun. We’re just along for the ride.

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lost and foundJorja Smith, Lost & Found

At just 20 years old, Jorja Smith sings with the insight of a 15-year veteran on Lost & Found, her long-awaited debut. Soulful and jazzy, Jorja eschews the temptation to travel down the trap route to deliver a more mature sound, one that suits her vocals wonderfully. It’s far from a perfect release – the album kinda gets lost in itself near the end – but there’s tons of potential here. We may have a new star on our hands.

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sex and cigarettesToni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes

Read our review here

Now who went and pissed Toni Braxton off? The R&B legend has never been one to hold back on her feelings, but Sex & Cigarettes has her as outspoken as ever. Minimalistic production is the order of business for this brief outing, which gives Toni plenty of space to air her grievances. Sure, the melancholy mood might turn off fans expecting a more uptempo affair but these are her truths. And they sound pretty good.

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weather or notEvidence, Weather or Not

It’s not uncommon for hip-hop vets to lose themselves chasing trends in 2018, so give Dilated Peoples MC Evidence for sticking to the script. Weather or Not is unbridled boom bap, but thanks to his energy, never feels old or outdated. Tracks with longtime ally Alchemist really stand out, proving that Evidence is only getting better with time.

 

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roseJessie J, R.O.S.E.

Read our review here

Breaking your LP into four tiny EPs released over the course of a week might seem like a weird marketing ploy but hey, it’s 2018, and anything that gets people to pay attention to good R&B is fine with me. And when it comes to good R&B in 2018, Jessie J is near the top of the list. Jessie wears her heart on her sleeve on R.O.S.E., drifting from issues with former management to issues with former boyfriends. But the prevailing message is hope, and thanks to the production of DJ Camper, makes for an enthralling listen.

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bible of loveSnoop Dogg, Bible of Love

Yes, Snoop Dogg dropped a gospel album. And no matter how much your grandma complains about it, Bible of Love is an authentic, powerful spiritual experience. Snoop wisely steps aside on the majority of these tracks, instead serving as master of ceremonies while nearly every gospel great of the past 30 years stops by to get their praise on. The album is definitely a little long in the tooth, but don’t be run off by the runtime – it’s a throwback to classic gospel tracks of old while bridging the gap to a new generation of listeners. This album probably isn’t what you expected, but it’s definitely what we need.

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august greeneAugust Greene, August Greene

Read our review here

2018 is truly the year of the collabo. And when word leaked that hip-hop luminary Common would team with A-list producers Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins, expectations were high. And they were met. The newly christened August Greene delivers the elegant soundscapes and insightful lyrics you’d expect. The jazzy sound might not resonate with all listeners, but there’s lots of wisdom – and wonder – to keep this project afloat.

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jericho jacksonJericho Jackson, Khrysis & Elzhi Are Jericho Jackson

Seems like every other year when I write these lists, Elzhi is prominently placed and I say the same thing – he’s the best rapper you’ve never heard. His collaboration with producer Khrysis once again has him in rare form, rapping with the confidence of an industry vet (which he is) backed by stellar production (which he has) and embracing a confident swagger (which he deserved). If you love intricate bars that force you revisit them time and again, this album is made for you. Because that’s the quality Elzhi always gives us.

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dreamin out loudNick Grant, Dreamin’ Out Loud

If you haven’t been able to tell from this list, lyricism is still alive in 2018. And I’m not just talking about the veterans – the young cats are bringing heat too. Nick Grant’s Dreamin’ Out Loud is filled with tremendous insight on family – fatherhood, motherhood and everything between. And of course, he doesn’t shy away from just cutting loose – his stream of consciousness flow is often the highlight of many tracks here. Dreamin’ Out Loud is proof that Grant has a strong career ahead of him.

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no news is good newsPhonte, No News is Good News

Read our review here

It’s pretty hard to believe that in a career that spans well over a decade, this is just Phonte’s second solo album. But y’all know I’ve always pushed for quality over quantity. At 33 minutes, No News Is Good News is an air-tight, albeit abbreviated listen but it’s the addictive melodies and vicious punchlines throughout the set that make this a noteworthy listen. Phonte’s quietly become a multi-tool player, able to convey humor, passion and unbridled lyricism at a moment’s notice. Give the man his props.

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book of ryanRoyce da 5’9, Book of Ryan

Royce has always been one of hip-hop’s greatest treasures, whether y’all want to admit it or not. And in 2018, he’s looking to make you a believer. One of two stellar project this year (we’ll get to the other soon enough), Royce’s deeply personal Book of Ryan is a conceptual win, serving as an audio analysis of his upbringing and the experiences that defined his manhood. And considering that he’s one of the best lyricists on the planet, that story is told in expert fashion.

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care for meSaba, Care for Me

Moody, melancholy but absolutely moving, Chicago rapper Saba channels the grief he experienced after the death of his cousin to create his best project yet. While sing-songy raps and murky production is all the rage these days, Saba stands out with intricate storytelling. He is proof that even the greatest pain can create beautiful art.

 

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prhyme 2PRhyme, PRhyme 2

Read our review here

Four years ago, when Royce da 5’9 and DJ Premier teamed for PRhyme, it was a noteworthy effort that seemed to get lost amidst a sea of other releases. But with the sequel, the duo of PRhyme are forcing you to pay attention. Thanks to the samples of Philly producer Antman Wonder, the duo really hit their stride, with Royce holding nothing back over Preemo’s pounding production. It’s proof that chemistry is key to making a masterful project.

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streams of thoughtBlack Thought, Streams of Thought, Vol. 1

I’ll be honest – I never thought we’d see a solo Black Thought release. Ever. After spending 25 years serving as the mouthpiece for The Roots, there didn’t seem to be a need for Thought to strike out on his own. But I’m so glad he did. The Streams of Thought EP allows him to stretch his legs and do exactly what made him a hip-hop legend – recklessly spit bar after bar after bar. While the brief running time and hookless verses make this feel more like a lyrical exercise than a full-out album, it’s still proof that few can follow Thought when he’s in the booth.

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daytonaPusha T, Daytona

Read our review here

Kanye West’s summer experiment of seven-track releases had its ups and downs, but the clear winner is Pusha T, who made the most of the abbreviated real estate to give us his best solo project to date. Of course, he doesn’t reinvent the wheel – is the coke rap you’ve come to expect since 2002 – but what pushes this above the rest is his infectious wordplay and those stellar beats, straight from whatever shed Kanye is hiding in in Wyoming. All hail King Push, the crown is his.

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dirty computerJanelle Monae, Dirty Computer

Read our review here

While the gossip bloggers fixate on Janelle’s sexuality, the rest of us are more interested in the  music. And sonically speaking, there’s not one album in 2018 that has yet to best this one. Janelle unloads all the tools in her box – from Prince-inspired pop to sultry R&B to even a bit of hip-hop – to give Dirty Computer a fleshed-out, diverse sound. Never one to shy away from controversy, she honestly speaks her truths about society while delivering an audio experience that’s just downright fun. While your fave is caught in the matrix, Janelle proves she’s the one.

 

What did we miss? Drop off your favorite albums below.

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1 Comments

  1. Brandan Edwards July 8, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    Nipsey Hussle. You missed Nipsey Hussle.

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