Don Data, host of No One Man, brings us ten albums that deserved more of your attention in 2018:
2018 was full of amazing and innovative music from the likes of underground bandcamp hip hop artists like, Lando Chill’s Black Ego, to megalomaniacs like Kanye West and his collaborative record with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts. We had new music from pioneering acts like Funkadelic, amazing thought-provoking singles from Lizzo and Childish Gambino, and we were blessed with a Victory Lap from one of hip hop’s greatest independent rappers, Nipsey Hussle. Greater and more relevant themes took to the forefront of pop music in the form of one of the greatest explorations and celebrations of femininity and queer identity from Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer. We saw YouTube sensations like Filthy Frank become R&B crooners with BALLADS 1 and create a new lane for Asian American artists in hip hop today. I must admit, great music oversaturated and completely overwhelmed my ears this year. So instead of my favorite records or what I think are the best of 2018, I give you ten albums that I think deserve more of your attention. - Don Data
10. Marlowe - Marlowe
Producer L’Orange and rapper Solemn Bringham team up for this Mello Music Group release Marlowe in the summer of 2018. Reminscent of boom bap era sampling and quick witted lyricism, this album is an impressive debut from the seasoned duo. If you’re big on Madlib, crate digging producers, and bar for bar rapping give this album a spin.
9. Leikeli47 - Acrylic
The ski-mask emcee with acrylic nails and gold rings came into my world with the release of their 2017 record Wash & Set, loaded with some of my favorite songs of 2017 like "Money," "Attitude" and "Miss Me," I knew she’d be a force in the hip hop game. Her latest album Acrylic does not disappoint. The energy is high and the content is even more relatable to her growing millennial audience.
8. Open Mike Eagle - What Happens When I Try to Relax
The Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based art rapper returns to 2018 with What Happens When I Try to Relax on his own record label, Auto Reverse. The six-track, twenty-minute album explores the world of a middle class rapper. From the everyday struggles of a beer belly and a broken garbage disposal, to the hip hop industry meet ups where Kendrick Lamar is only feet away from you. OME hits on the many anxiety inducing moments with great humor, wit, and complex rhyme schemes.
7. The Alchemist / Curren$y / Freddie Gibbs - FETTI
Masterfully crafted sample-based production. Drug dealer raps. A perfect combination for fans of that hip hop, hip hop. *Joe Budden gunshots*
6. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris - Everything’s Fine
Some might say hip hop’s power couple album of 2018 would go to The Carters’ Everything is Love, but I’d argue that this Mello Music Group release, Everything’s Fine, takes the cake. A whimsical and satirical look at today’s nonchalant attitude towards the threat of world-ending tweets, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris deliver a fantastic fifteen track album. Features include Nick Offerman, Hannibal Buress, Anna Wise and Michael Che. For those of you who smirk at the sight of MAGA hats and 80's glamour shot photos, cheers, Everything’s Fine.
5. Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile
This U.K.-based quartet offers the unique instrumentation of tuba, saxophone, flute and two drummers forging a sonic palate that blends African rhythms, modal jazz and the spirit of political resistance, creating Your Queen is a Reptile. Throughout the sociopolitical album, song titles are dedicated to powerful women of African heritage and poetry is spoken on top of infectious grooves and highly innovative melodies. If your political stance is one nation under the groove, give this record a spin.
4. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
In early November, Long Beach, California rapper Vince Staples released FM!, an eleven track ode to his beloved Long Beach, CA upbringing and West coast hip hop. Track 5, “New earlsweatshirt”, sparked a conversation on whether or not the once Odd Future prodigal emcee would be releasing new music after a near four year hiatus from releasing a full length project. By the end of November, Earl Sweatshirt released Some Rap Songs. Clocking in at under 25 minutes with 15 tracks. Earl poetically ties his struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, drug use, death and his relationship with his parents, with a stoic self awareness. Verses such as "Nowhere2go" intro (Tryna refine my sh*t, I redefined myself / First I had to find it, uh) or "Ontheway!" (My moods really swinging / I peruse like a native would do) show Earl’s growth from his previously dark, dystopic worldview, to a more nihilistic understanding of the times. Incredibly refined self-produced tracks and often times bleak lyricism, Earl’s position as one of today best emcees remains evident.
3. Blood Orange - Negro Swan
In 2016 Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, released Freetown Sound on Domino Records. This album marked a shift in Dev’s songwriting and subject matter. We hear discussions of identity, injustices, and systemic oppression unlike 2014’s new wave pop phenomenon, Cupid Deluxe. Fast forward two years and Hynes finds a perfect balance between the socially conscious themes of Freetown Sound and the infectious psychedelic pop grooves of Cupid Deluxe, with their fourth studio release Negro Swan. Exploring the realities of queer anxieties, introspective dialogue on his English up bringing and recent transition to American living, Negro Swan offers a glimpse into the world of those who society has outcasted and simultaneously championed for their nontraditional ways.
2. Noname - Room 25
In the summer of 2016, Chicago poet Noname released her debut album, Telefone. With support from other Chicago hip hop artists like Chance the Rapper, Saba, and Cam O’bi, Noname laid out of a world of unknown devastation with childlike joy and stimulating lyrical content that put the Chicago emcee at the top of her class. In between Telefone and 2018’s Room 25, Noname left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles and lost her virginity at the age of 25. On Room 25, Noname explores the two years between the release of Telefone and Room 25. Songs of lovers making her feel like royalty and that same love lost. Noname uses breath-taking bars that are all things vulnerable and braggadocio, the type of content most rappers shy away from. She explores the world of staying woke while eating Chik-fil-A sandwiches, the never ending rising cost of rent in newly gentrified communities and the history of her namesake. Noname’s whispery delivery and light footed cadences dance on top on live instrumentation a la The Soulquarian era of late 90s, early 2000s neo soul & hip hop. Give Room 25 and Noname a spin and catch them on tour, hopefully in a city near you.
1. Tierra Whack - Whack World
If there is one artist who made the biggest impression on me in 2018, it would have to go to Philadelphia rapper, Tierra Whack’s Whack World. Whack World is a 15 track, 15 minute, short film with a surrealist backdrop created by Whack herself. Think of any Missy Elliot video meets Beyonce’s Lemonade and then stretch that into fifteen quick-witted, concept-driven short stories, nothing short of genius artistry. Her rapping style is an invigorating and a revitalizing voice to the world of hip hop that has seen its more popular, newer artists limit themselves to internet controversy and face tattoos. She balances full songs with humor, lost, love, and a certain optimistic view that is as bright as her future. Do yourself a favor and watch Whack World, and be on the lookout for her to dominate the festival circuit in 2019.
:: Some other albums to check out ::
- Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
- Denzel Curry - TA13OO
- Against All Logic - 2012-2017
- Brockhampton - Iridescence
- The Internet - Hive Mind