Thought I wouldn’t make it this year, huh? This is really (extremely!!!) late, but I truly enjoy writing and crafting these lists more than you could probably understand, so I had to return for the fourth consecutive year to rank my 10 favorite albums of the year.
I am extremely thankful for a lot of things that this past year has given me, which of course includes all of the superb music that soundtracked such a memorable 365 days. Below you will find the 15 artists and their respective albums that impacted me the most this year, each one an owner to certain months or even full seasons of 2018. These are the albums that surprised me. These are the albums that I listened and re-listened to more than any others this year. These are the standout albums of 2018 in my eyes. As always, my hope with this list is that you will discover some new artists you will come to love just as much as I do. Happy listening!
On my first listen of Earl Sweatshirt’s third album, Some Rap Songs, I thought a lot about that title. Some Rap Songs. It struck me as sort of commentary on how so many people consume music in 2018. Here’s this rapper that has been buzzed about for years. Here’s his album. Listen to it, get it or don’t, and move on to the next thing. What was it? Some rap songs. It’s a notion portrayed in the cover art too; a blurry, borderline frightening image of Earl is front and center — an image that renders the creator of this album nearly faceless. In my mind, it all fits, being brilliantly calculated and serving a specific purpose; an analogy for this record as a whole.
This was not a record meant to be released in this time, but couldn’t have come out at a better one. If you think the intention was to just deliverer “some rap songs,” you’d be mistaken. No. instead what’s been presented here is a masterclass in album making, Earl Sweatshirt’s finest work to date. and one of the most forward-thinking and boundary-pushing rap records of this decade.
You probably know the story already: Earl, a near mythological figure in rap already at only 24 years of age, has been in the spotlight since his early teens. Born Thebe Kgositsile, Earl made his start in the Tyler, The Creator-founded hip-hop coalition, Odd Future. He was sent away to a boarding school in Samoa for at-risk teens right after the release of his first mixtape, only then to make a triumphant return with his first proper record, Doris, in 2013, and following that up with the brilliant, now cult classic I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in 2015. I Don’t Like Shit marked the signs of a significant stylistic shift and the start of a new era for Earl.
The cover for Anderson Paak’s latest album, Oxnard, immediately gives the impression of a film. “Starring Anderson Paak,” it reads, much like the marquee on a movie poster. And like a movie poster, we see an array of images all pertaining to Paak’s life. These include images of his son, two of the members of his band The Free Nationals, as well as Paak himself, standing before a large crowd next to the most glaring inclusion, which is hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. All of these images are portrayed in a cloud of smoke, as Paak stands firmly there, arms open, assuredly singing something uplifting and life-affirming.
This is the poster to the film that is Anderson Paak, Oxnard being the third film of the trilogy — and the biggest one to date due to his meteoric rise in the public consciousness in the last two years. Keeping this in mind, despite my hype for this record and my love of Paak’s previous works, I still had my apprehensions about this project. I wondered if this newfounded backing and production by Dre and his label Aftermath would result in a production too large with stakes so high that it might suck the soul out of what makes Paak so great — the soul that was allowed to freely reign on a record like Malibu. Would Oxnard be marred by tracks lacking the songwriting ability that made his previous works so instantly lovable and memorable?
MANILA GREY is a Filipino-Canadian duo based in Vancouver. With the help of their producer and collaborator, azel north, the duo has been able to rise within the hip-hop industry in the past two years.
Childhood friends Neeko and Soliven have made it clear that they wholeheartedly embrace their Southeast Asian roots after donning the capital of the Philippines in their stage name. MANILA GREY strives to connect their Filipino and Canadian culture into their electronically-fused music. With smooth, reverberated beats and haunting vocals that are reminiscent of artists such as The Weeknd, MANILA GREY creates a moody atmosphere throughout their discography.
Soliven’s R&B-inflected choruses complement Neeko’s striking flow in their singles such as “Backhouse Bounce,” “Friends of Friends,” and “Midnight.”
MANILA GREY has only released one EP in their music career called No Saints Under Palm Shade, which contains video-accompanied tracks “Timezones” and “Youth Water.”
Both aforementioned songs give a mesmerizing account of Metro Manila nightlife and the seductive elements of party culture. In the “Timezones” music video, Soliven and Neeko are immersed in a world full of neon-aesthetics, distorted images, and friends ready to make bad decisions under the guise of emerging adolescence.
Well, Kanye West has returned from his long slumber and been making headlines recently. Some of the reasons are cool, but a larger number of those are not so cool. Starting with the good stuff, he’s got a solo album coming in June alongside a separate side project with Kid Cudi, as well as some production credits that include a new Nas record.
However, in the past week, Ye’s also released two incredibly underwhelming “singles,” and been saying some intolerable stuff on Twitter. Most recently, he appeared in an interview with TMZ, and it’s quite an…interesting watch, to say the least. Suffice to say, it will be fascinating to see what comes of all this Kanye news in the coming months.
Moving on from Kanye, I want to give a shoutout to Janelle Monáe’s new album, Dirty Computer, which I’ve listened to non-stop since its release on Friday. I’ve included one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Screwed,” as the opening song on this week’s playlist, so you too can enjoy this masterpiece. Elsewhere, we have included tracks from Hall and Oates, The Internet, and Katy Perry.
Yeah, you read that title right. If you’re not familiar with the pseudonym “K.Dot,” that’s just another stage name of today’s greatest rapping talent, Kendrick Lamar. And yes, yesterday he was announced as having won the Pulitzer Prize for music this past year for his album, DAMN. This makes him not only the first ever rap artist to be awarded the prize, but also the only musician to not belong to classical or jazz genres since Pulitzer began awarding prizes for music in 1943. Quite a feat, and a much deserved win.
Because of the monumental win for Kendrick, I have ended this week’s Jukebox with one of my favorite tracks on DAMN. Elsewhere on the playlist, Jake and I have highlighted stunning new singles by Nicki Minaj, Empress Of, and Kali Uchis. Outside of those three, there’s another 16 impressive songs we’ve added to round out this week’s playlist.
So Arctic Monkeys finally announced a new album for May! Five years in the making, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino releases exactly a month from the day this is posting, and I for one cannot wait to hear what Alex Turner has in store for fans with this record (especially with the song aptly titled “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip”).
Because of this news, I’ve added “One For The Road,” which is one of my favorite tracks from their previous LP, AM, onto the Jukebox this week. This song is accompanied by new releases from Anderson .Paak, Dua Lipa, and Cardi B, as well as another 16 cuts that Jake and I have been listening to recently, including Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” which comes courtesy of a little boy in a Walmart.