#25. Redemption, Jay Rock
From the most battle-hardened rapper from TDE, this triumphant record is a refined collection of songs that display Jay Rock’s storytelling and imagery-laden lyricism, with better production and more focus than he’s had on previous albums. If you were looking for hardcore West Coast hip-hop, there were few albums in 2018 that could sate your palette better than Redemption.
#24. ye, Kanye West
2018 has been the hardest year to be a Kanye fan thus far – a lot of his words remain indefensible. But through the chaos, his music retains a strange clarity. There is the occasional trademark Ye smirk aimed at the reactions to his antics, but this is an unflinchingly inward-looking album, at times more biting than some of his better efforts. It’s clear that the point Kanye makes throughout the (extremely short) runtime of ye is that this is a platform to declutter, to work through his mental health issues, however messily. It’s not the perfect way, or even advisable – but it is very much Kanye, for better or worse.
Listen to: I Thought About Killing You, Ghost Town
#23. TA13OO, Denzel Curry
Denzel Curry is one of the most technically skilled rappers around right now, but on TA13OO he uses his gift on the mic to create a well-crafted conceptual album with darkness as the leitmotif. Its three acts tackle the corrupting effects of his environments, fame and betrayal over atmospheric production that accentuate Denzel’s acrobatic flow. At a time where hip-hop is grappling with its less-glamorous side in complicated ways, this album stands as an uncompromising, incisive effort that proves you can tackle heavy themes with deft technicality. Looking at you, Eminem.
#22. i am > i was, 21 Savage
This was a surprise. I wasn’t checking for 21 Savage, but he really caught my ear with his impeccable verses on Metro Boomin’s album (10 Freaky Girls is straight fire) and Pay You Back off Meek Mill’s album. When i am > i was dropped, the buzz around it convinced me to check it out – and what I heard was one of the best-constructed rap albums in 2018, with 21 oozing charisma on some of the tightest production of the year. Delivering a more mature, technically evolved persona, 21 deftly sketches the darkness and extravagance with a menacing mic presence. He sounds like he’s got a gun to your back, whispering threats in your ear one moment, and wilding out on stage the next. The title of this album is truly befitting 21 Savage’s journey – and an exciting sign of what’s to come.
#21. East Atlanta Love Letter, 6lack
6lack could’ve satisfied himself with being one of the many vying for The Weeknd’s alt-R&B throne, but East Atlanta Love Letter cements his place as a standout artist in his own right. Blending hip hop and trap sensibilities with velveteen vocals (and just a hint of gruff), 6lack creates a moody record that, while contemplating standard R&B tropes of love and lust, is extremely memorable, full of earworms. It’s also consistent, with great sequencing and a sleek run, all together making for a 6lack record that’s truly his.