Home Music Music Lists

30 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018

This year saw releases from rap’s biggest names, but it still felt like a changing of the guard for the genre

year end hip hop

2018 was a monumental year in hip-hop. Every marquee star the genre has put out a project (if you include Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, which you should), from Kanye West’s frenzied five week rollout of G.O.O.D. Music artists, to Jay-Z and Beyoncé finally dropping their long-hinted at collaboration album Everything Is Love, and Drake doing that thing that Drake does, which is own the charts for most of the year with cuts from Scorpion. Usually, this would be all we have time for. But this year felt different — just as important as the A-List names that have been at the top of the game for most of the 2000s were the new stars being minted seemingly every month. Travis Scott, longtime king of the youngest fans in hip-hop, put out his career-best Astroworld; Cardi B surprised everyone with the diamond-solid Invasion of Privacy; Tierra Whack announced her presence with the stunningly creative calling card that is Whack World. It was a big year for the big names, but it also felt like a changing of the guard. It’s not likely to slow down now.

Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs, 2018

Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Some Rap Songs’

One of the few complaints about Earl Sweatshirt’s fourth project is that his voice is buried in the mix, turning his lyrical flurries into a muddy blur amidst hallucinatory, enigmatic sample loops. Indeed, Earl makes the kind of music that demands repeated and close listening, and despite concluding at a relatively short half-hour across 15 songs, Some Rap Songs proves more than enough to sustain interest. Each playback reveals new insights: the way Earl conjures a world where hip-hop culture untarnished by pop gimmicks thrives, the audible sadness with which he reminisces about his late father, and the bemused wonderment that tinges his reflections on those “Free Earl” memes that have, thankfully, dissipated. Now a grown man in his early twenties, he’s still a “savage” and incisive lyricist, though mature enough to abandon the angry teenage nightmares of his Odd Future for life-affirming avant-rap that celebrates friends and family. When his father and mother take over “Playing Possum” and deliver spoken word with surprising deftness, it feels like a triumph.

CupcakKe Ephorize

Cupcakke, ‘Ephorize’

A mix of 2 Live Crew’s sex talk, Lil Wayne’s sideways metaphors, Cardi B’s boss boasts and pure, unadulterated rap skills, Cupcakke’s music has made her the bawdy bard of modern hip-hop — a skill on display in songs like “Duck, Duck Goose” (“Turn double-dutch with yo’ balls while I’m jumpin’ on your dick”) and “Spoiled Milk” (“I love midgets but the dick need some inches”). But Ephorize is much more, as the rapper explores her poor upbringing (“Wisdom Teeth”), chews out a cheating beau (“Exit”) and shouts out giddy pro-LGBT lines (“Fuck a tuxedo/Tuck your dick, mijo”) over some pixelly dancehall (“Crayons”).

The Carters, 'Everything Is Love'

The Carters, ‘Everything Is Love’

After three albums, 34 songs and 129.85 minutes, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marital woes trilogy concludes with an exhale.  Triumphant, warm, but often muted Everything Is Love is a reset and reconciliation. Bey and Jay make love on the beach and reminisce on better days that weren’t gripped by emotional scars. Although, it’s telling that the album’s best moments   — “Boss,” “Ape Shit” and “Friends” — diverge from the repaired marriage narrative. After spending so much time in the sonic equivalent of marriage counseling, it’s nice to see the Carters punch back into their day jobs as two of the world’s greatest hitmakers.

Lil Wayne, 'Tha Carter V'

Lil Wayne, ‘Tha Carter V’

Lil Wayne needed a win almost as much as the world needed Lil Wayne. After nearly a half a decade in legal limbo, he came back with Tha Carter V, a feat of rusty rejuvenation. Tha Carter’s fifth installment features every type of experiment: pandering to the SoundCloud set on the XXXTentacion-featuring “Don’t Cry,” the viral dance-inducing “Uproar” and the lyrical miracle sparring match that is “Mona Lisa,” featuring Kendrick Lamar. When it works, it’s transcendent. When it doesn’t, it’s still entertaining. The former Best Rapper Alive’s sheer talent and charisma managed to end one era and hint at the start of another.