Since these lists always go from 10 – 1 and everyone just jumps to the end I’m just gonna start with number 1 and work my way down.
The Number One Spot:
Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
From the moment it begins with those beautiful, ominous female vocals this album is a flawless journey through Nipsey’s life and was well worth the wait of many years. It’s got west coast anthems, introspective tracks, laid-back joints, powerhouse bangers, knowledge, wisdom and understanding, all sprinkled throughout this masterpiece that finds Nipsey playing not just rapper but motivational speaker and preacher. The sequencing is perfect, the production is solid and Nip delivers his message with the confidence and precision of a seasoned veteran even though this is technically his debut album. He teams up with YG for the best representation of that classic west coast sound on “Last Time That I Checc’d”, holds his own on a track that features a quality Kendrick verse, recounts a tragic event on “Blue Laces 2” and flips a vintage Hov sample on the encouraging “Hussle and Motivate”. There’s plenty of rider music on here too, such as “Status Symbol 3” and “Right Hand 2 God”, which will have you floating in the whip and he even gets Dom Kennedy to wake up on “Double Up”. Combine all that with the leadoff single and “Succa Proof” and you have the most complete project anyone has dropped in quite a while. A lot of albums came and went this year but there wasn’t a week that went by when I didn’t throw this on at least once. The early favorite for album of the year lived up to the hype and I don’t see it leaving the rotation anytime soon.
The Number Two Spot:
Dave East & Styles P – Beloved
A lot of artists talk about ‘restoring the feeling’ but this album actually did it with two generations combining and providing some authentic chemistry that is showcased on every track as the LOX legend Styles P links up with up-and-comer Dave East (I still stand by Kairi Chanel being a fire album) and the two feed off each other much like what Styles used to do with Jadakiss and the result is a triumphant record that oozes New York all the way through. People have been talking about New York rap being dead for years now, or more so than other regions got it better, but this right here is a reminder that New York is here to stay and that it will always represent that true, authentic, hip-hop sound as its built into every brick and project in the city. Highlights include the title track, “Shout Out to My Hood”, “Cut From a Different Cloth”, East’s “they don’t check the artist it’s on me right underneath the coat” line, P telling us, after the sound of a gun cocking, “you hear that?……Run” and a LOX track to close out this celebration of the city. The hooks, production, and bars are all top notch as Styles P (who has 2 other albums this year that are both fire as well) is still on point even as a seasoned vet and Dave East has clearly benefited from having an OG to mentor him and to help him transition from average street rapper to a true artist and songwriter. This here is New York rap at its finest and proves that no matter what direction rap goes in it will always have the streets of New York at its core and will always return there for greatness.
The Number Three Spot:
Jay Rock – Redemption
This is another one of those projects that I keep going back to. The west had a really strong year as G Perico dropped an EP that could easily be on this list as well and Buddy and Reason both having gems while AD continues to bubble under the radar. But this is about the people’s champ of TDE and how he clearly heard the fans’ disappointment with 90059 (I liked that album) and, after a brief hiatus (and a motorcycle accident), came back to deliver his best record to date. Jay Rock delivers on this with smooth production and catchy hooks while finding that perfect balance between personal life and putting on for his city. “OSOM”, “Broke” and the title track are reflective while “Tap Out” handles the ladies and “ES Tales” is in the running for the hardest beat of the year, and of course the track with K.Dot is another highlight. It’s rare these days that you can play an album straight through without skipping a single track but this is one of those instances where if you wanna really get to know an artist while also keeping your head bobbing then this album provides that experience and is another one that hasn’t left the rotation since it dropped.
The Number Four Spot:
Curren$y & Freddie Gibbs – Fetti
Named after one of their better collab tracks (which was also done by Alchemist, who handles the production duties here), this outing from two of the game’s smoothest spitters saw Curren$y rising to the occasion of rhyming alongside arguably a top five rapper of today and Gangsta Gibbs slanging that dope language further proving his endless versatility after dropping an entire EP of trap music earlier in the summer. As Curren$y’s signature drawl sets the album off, the MCs trade verses over Alchemist’s brilliant production which covers everything from haunting (“Location Remote”) to blissful (“New Thang”) to vintage boom bap (“Bundy and Sincere”). Gibbs is, not surprisingly, the MVP as he absolutely bodies “Willie Lloyd” (named after the legendary former leader of the Vice Lords), spitting effortlessly while constantly switching flows, finding every possible way to navigate the menacing Alchemist production that feels like a walk down the hallways of death row. He also shows his (somewhat trolling) R&B side as he croons through “Now & Later Gators”. You gotta appreciate someone who raps so hard being able to have fun on a track as well. Short but sweet, Fetti finds Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs displaying natural chemistry which results in an album that feels more organic than a lot of these projects that just combine two rappers to capitalize off both artists’ fanbases. These two have a genuine appreciation for each other’s styles and, with the accompaniment of Alchemist’s genius on the boards, they deliver a project worthy of its namesake.
The Number Five Spot:
Black Thought – Streams of Thought (both 1 and 2)
Ok so this is technically cheating, but put these two projects together and it’s a standard album length. Plus we’ve been waiting for Black Thought to drop a solo project since 1998 when he teased us with “Hardware” and then just went back to making classics with The Roots, which I can’t complain about at all. That said, I think I ran back the intro on Vol. 1 at least 3 times before moving on to the second song. That opening track is, for me, the verse of the year. 9th Wonder sets a welcoming tone and then Thought proceeds to tear the beat to shreds. I’ve said many times that he has the purest flow of all time and “Twofifteen” is one of the better examples of that as he weaves and turns through every word he spits, never taking a bar off, while effortlessly riding the production. He follows that up with another lyrical massacre on “9th vs. Thought” and the inclusion of the years-old “Making a Murderer” with Styles is more than appropriate. The second volume, which only recently dropped, is produced entirely by Salaam Remi instead of 9th and it’s obvious as the production is much more instrumental which complements Thought’s mature tone and subject matter as, instead of five complete songs, offers numerous short tracks that touch on various topics including drugs, guns, poverty, and how he’s one of the greatest of all time. To be in this game for 20+ years is impressive but Black Thought has actually gotten better with time and these two projects are a long time coming and very much worth the wait, and function as a solid holdover until we get the next Roots album.
The Number Six Spot:
Young Dolph – Role Model
Young Dolph has been consistently putting out great material for some time now. He had an EP earlier this year that was fire too, and before that, he made one of the most disrespectful taunts in rap history with “100 Shots”. After his interview with Taxstone (Free the real!) and Pusha T saying he’s “listening to Young Dolph til the pack gone” on a track, I started really paying attention to the dude and he’s only gotten better with every project, with this one easily being his strongest yet. Supported by two monster singles, “By Mistake” and “Major” with Key Glock, this album is perfect drug dealing music. As he reminds us on the intro, “I still got my plug on standby and my scale”, Dolph gives us anthem after anthem including solid guest spots from Snoop Dogg and Offset, the former contributing to “I Think I Can fly’ which is one of those dope instances where you think the track is done then it comes back for a whole extra verse of heat. “How You Luv That” and “Trap Baby” are gems as well along with the catchiness of “Still Smell Like It” and “On God”. The flutes on “Lipstick” are angelic and Kash Doll delivers a solid guest verse on “Whole World” which has those signature Zaytoven keys. If you’re outside moving work or sitting up in the spot with people rolling through, this is music to stack money to as Dolph continues to elevate his status as one of the great street rappers in the game.
The Number Seven Spot:
Phonte – No News is Good News
The legacy of Little Brother is deserving of an Unsung episode at this point as they get overlooked yet their influence is so strong that the top three biggest rappers of today are all children of Phonte, especially Drake who even had him on a track back when he was still an underground rap hero. Letting the world know that elder rap is here to stay, Phonte blesses us with grown man music as he reflects on his past life, his present internal conflicts and the realities of health problems in middle-aged men; all while still making time to remind people that he can spit that shit like on “So Help Me God” where he eviscerates the neck breaking beat with some classic raw, boastful raps. The soundscape through the majority of the project has the lush feeling of a Sunday afternoon reflection and while some rappers fade away with time or try too hard to keep up with the modern sound, Phonte has embraced his role as an elder statesman in the game and provides what could be considered adult contemporary rap on this extremely mature yet still current sounding and relevant album. “Cry No More” is a reflection on family life with his parents juxtaposed with his own duties as a parent. “Change of Mind” finds Phonte singing over muffled drums backed by a simple yet beautiful piano line and “Pastor Tigallo” is straightforward rap from the self-proclaimed livest dude in your cul-de-sac. Having transitioned from dorm room favorite to a more eclectic sound, Phonte remains a true student of the game while embracing his status as one of the older folks who can provide lessons to the enlightened youth.
The Number Eight Spot:
Pusha T – DAYTONA
The argument about whether EPs should be considered in the same category as albums aside, Pusha Terrence delivered the most focused project of his career, produced entirely by this generation’s greatest artist, Kanye West, who helped him craft his purple tape for those of us who still value a rapper who makes every bar and every line and every word count for something. Pusha should easily be considered a top five rapper of today and this album is further evidence of that as he sets the album off with a simple yet effective message that “if you know you know” then proceeds to drop quotable after quotable on the horn-driven banger “The Games We Play” letting listeners know that “this ain’t for the conscious” or those who “ain’t energized like the bunny for drug money” but that it’s intended for those who “grew up on legends from out of Yonkers”. Again, if you know you know. Elsewhere, he dropped knowledge on “Come Back Baby”, stood alongside Rick Ross for more kingpin talk on “Hard Piano”, and sent shots at Drake on “Infrared” (which we know now was just setting up the body bag he put Drizzy in on “The Story of Adidon”). The best rap project Kanye put out this year (Teyana had the best album overall out of the five), this was Pusha T’s moment to shine in the spotlight he built up for himself all these years that he’s been telling us he’s the greatest and on DAYTONA he made a solid case for that claim.
The Number Nine Spot:
Jim Jones – Wasted Talent
Let’s just forget that Dipset reunion happened. Instead let’s focus on this effort from its most consistent member (I say that as someone who has Cam’ron in my top ten all-time) who dropped this vintage Diplomats sounding project earlier this year off the strength of the only good reunion song they gave us recently in “Once Upon a Time” as well as the bridging-the-gap “Chicken Fried Rice”. While Dave East and Styles P embodied the sound of the entire city, Jim Jones gave us Harlem as he always has and this project is one of his stronger records, including the soulfulness of “Dust & Powder” and “Got to B Real” along with the gritty “Banging” and “Adidas” and the classic-sounding “Catch on Yet” and “Epitome”. Whether he’s alongside Killa on the reworking of Drake’s “Diplomatic Immunity” or transcending eras and styles on songs with YFN Lucci and Lil Durk, Jim Jones never sounds out of place on this front to back gem of an album including the lowkey trapper anthem “The Old Way”. I admittedly slept on this at first cause I didn’t expect anything good from a Jim Jones album in 2018 even though his last effort just a couple years back was good, if somewhat forgettable, but on my second time through I realized that every track goes as Jimmy knows how to keep the energy up throughout all 18 tracks. While everyone is gonna be talking Scorpion and ASTROWORLD, this is the real sleeper pick for album of the year as Jim Jones is consistent on every front as he further cements the Dipset legacy in hip-hop.
The Number Ten Spot:
Drake – Scorpion
Beef aside (and make no mistake, he took an L), this was a really good, if a bit bloated, double album. It’ll never be up there with Wu-Tang Forever, or Life After Death or Diplomatic Immunity, but that second disc is perfect for summer grilling and you can’t tell me that “God’s Plan” doesn’t make you smile every time it comes on. The other single “Nice For What” is bottle throwing hype music at its finest and while it’s obvious he went back after losing to Pusha T and added some extra songs, he shines when it matters, providing countless IG captions and late night text lines. It is admittedly difficult to take his tough guy raps seriously after what happened but then you get songs like “Ratchet Happy Birthday” and the album’s finest moment, “After Dark”, and you remember why Drizzy is 10 years strong and nowhere near done. Definitely a summer album, this was a huge step up from More Life and a welcomed addition to the catalog of hits that Drake has amassed over his iconic career.
5 extras cause this year was ridiculously fire:
BEASTMODE 2 – One of Future’s strongest projects this is honestly up there with Monster. The set off with “WIFI LIT”, the beauty of “RACKS BLUE” and the downright depressing magic of “HATE THE REAL ME” (“I’m trying to get high as I can” is a quote!). People always say him and Metro Boomin’ are the best team but Zaytoven blessed him on this tape.
Championships – It’s still too early as this album just came out but so far it sounds like it could easily be top ten if not top five if this list is revisited in a few months. Meek Mill hasn’t put out a bad album yet and in fact, each one has been better than the last. The intro, “Trauma”, the title track, the outro, Cardi, the track with the Fab feature we’re pretending didn’t happen, and Uncle Hov reminding us why he is the greatest of all time (that’s not even up for debate at this point), this album is the triumphant moment that Meek needed after all he’s been through.
Don Season 2 – Until this point, Don Q had proved he could rap with some amazing freestyles and verses but had yet to drop a great project. This changed that as he found the balance needed between the trap sound he seems to prefer with the street sound that he’s so naturally good at, and with some solid hook writing he made this a mixtape that you can actually get through more than once since dope bars can’t carry a project on their own otherwise Canibus would have had a better career.
The Upstage – It was quite the courageous move for the Dipset B-team to drop a mixtape on the same day as the Diplomats reunion project, it was even more brazen to call it “The Upstage” but J.R. Writer, Hell Rell, and 40 Cal did exactly that and for anyone who came up during the Dipset era will appreciate how fire this tape is, with A-Mafia and Tom Gist joining the 3 Birds of a Feather for true vintage sounding heat (unlike the Diplomats tape which, man, just, wow smh…so disappointing).
Tana Talk 3 – Another entry in the ‘this just came out so it’s not fair to include it with projects that are 6 months old’ bucket, but Benny the Butcher has been making the case for the best in Griselda for a while now and this album may have just solidified it. With production being handled by in-house craftsman Daringer as well as multiple beats from Alchemist, Benny is one of the best at what he does which is straightforward kingpin rap. He sells multiple bricks and catches multiple bodies on this album and every word of it is slick, and while his flow may be repetitive it never gets boring here, partly because of the great production (“Rubber Bands & Weight” literally had me in the hospital with a broken neck) but also because over time Benny has embraced the simplicity of his style and complemented it with consistently fire bars. Conway’s two projects from this year could have landed here too but Benny’s breakout is the highlight of yet another solid slew of releases from the Griselda camp.
Why isn’t ______ on here?
Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD – This is the album that lets me know I’m old. It’s fire, I loved it, but it doesn’t do for me what it does for everyone else. It gets better with each listen but I’m never gonna feel this the way people under 25 do.
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy – The hype around Bodak Yellow made it seem impossible that she could live up to the challenge she really delivered even under such immense pressure. That said this is just like the City Girls mixtape in that it’s dope but I’m a guy so ultimately it’s not something I’m gonna bump regularly. Salute Cardi though. “I Like It” is a staple and that intro was tough.
J. Cole – KOD – It was a great album that I listened to once and loved but had no desire to listen to again. As talented as he is, his music is just boring to me. Nonstop gems in his bars and the beat on that last track is sick but yeah, I’m good on listening to a J. Cole song more than once.
– Classic Material