It's that time again. No, it's not the end of the year, yet, but with two-thirds of 2018 in the books, it's time we take stock of the music we love, counting down the very best hip-hop and R&B albums of the year... so far.
Like we did way back in April—roughly 8,000 years ago in internet time—we've rounded up our favorite albums from January 1 to the present day (August 7). Since our earlier edition, which was remarkably low on A-list talent, we've been blessed with a bounty of notable and, more importantly, excellent new albums to feast upon.
Below you will find the 30 best hip-hop and R&B albums (so far) of 2018, ranked. Selections and positioning are based on a weighted voting system that combined the individual rankings of our editorial team, and while no true EPs were considered for this list, seven-track albums that probably could have been called EPs were. 2018 is weird.
Enjoy it, despise it, feel incredibly neutral about it, but most importantly, please share it. For those of you who don't like reading and prefer to just enjoy the music, here's a playlist of all the standout selections from all 30 albums.
30. Jay Rock — Redemption
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Interscope
Release Date: June 15, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "The Bloodiest," "ES Tales," "Redemption"
See Also: "Jay Rock, J. Cole, & What It Really Means to Go Mainstream"
With his Interscope debut, Jay Rock succeeded in pairing ambitious candor with commercial consideration. Redemption has something for everyone, an album that was able to maintain crossover potential without losing the passionate grit that has thumped in the center of Rock’s previous projects. Consider Redemption the album Jay Rock was not expected to ever make, one with fewer limits on his artistry—Jay Rock unchained. —Yoh
29. 03 Greedo — God Level
Label: Alamo Records
Release Date: June 27, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Basehead," "Floating," "Conscience"
See Also: "'Run For Yo Life': Inside 03 Greedo's Final Performance Before His 20-Year Prison Term"
As a rapper, 03 Greedo is a shapeshifting enigma capable of limitless artistic transformations. As a man, Jason Jamal Jackson is a walking testimony of the unforgiving trials and tribulations being cocooned in the streets can bring. It’s the combination of capricious style changes and authentic trap music from a former dweller of the trenches that makes Greedo, and his latest studio album, God Level, a unique treasure to be admired. There’s passion in every chant, pain attached to every memory, and with the album being crafted prior to entering an unjust 20-year prison sentence, there’s an uncanny, inexhaustible fire burning deep in God Level’s soul that depicts Greedo as a brilliant phoenix determined to rise before the flame dies out. —Yoh
28. Evidence — Weather or Not
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: January 26, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Throw It All Away," "Love Is a Funny Thing," "By My Side Too"
See Also: "Evidence's Weather or Not is a Heartfelt Torrential Downpour"
Evidence poured his heart into Weather or Not, an album that stands at the intersection of classic boom bap and Bay Area lilt. Ev’s trademark slow-flow and easy braggadocio bring the skittering and moody production to life. Whether Evidence is confronting life’s fragility through the lens of money or health scares, no stone hurled at him in the half-decade since his last full-length LP goes unturned. —Donna
27. Rejjie Snow — Dear Annie
Label: 300 Entertainment
Release Date: February 16, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Spaceships" Egyptian Luvr," "Charlie Brown"
See Also: "'Charlie Brown' Shows Rejjie Snow Is Finally Seizing His Moment"
From the hazy lo-fi of “Oh No!” to the sultry Kaytrandada groove of “Egyptian Luvr,” to the shimmering synth-pop of “Charlie Brown,” the wonderful world of Dear Annie is one that showcases the broad spectrum of Rejjie Snow’s influences and indulgences. The Dublin native mostly remains the laid-back, deadpan anchor throughout his official debut, keeping the gravity intact whether the mood calls for sunny springtime days or late-night escapades. —Brendan
26. Kali Uchis — Isolation
Label: A Rinse / Virgin EMI Records
Release Date: April 6, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Just a Stranger," "Flight 22," "After the Storm"
See Also: "Janelle Monáe & Kali Uchis Pivoted to Love Their Bodies—Thankfully, So Am I"
After stealing hearts with her 2015 EP, Por Vida, and a stunning feature on Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy (“See You Again”), Kali Uchis finally delivers her proper debut. Isolation is a silky and sinuous affair, made for muggy New York mornings, or for those who love getting caught in sunshowers. Her vocals are astral and enchanting, winding up the swaths of soulful production. —Donna
25. Nipsey Hussle — Victory Lap
Label: All Money In No Money Out / Atlantic
Release Date: February 16, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Blue Laces 2," "Status Symbol 3," "Double Up"
See Also: "Nipsey Hussle Claims JAY-Z Clearing "Hard Knock Life" Sample in 1998 Included Future Clearance for All Rappers"
The late, great A$AP Yams once wrote: "Don’t judge a rap by its lyricism or any of that, judge it by how much game you getting from it.” Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap is a treasure trove of game that speaks directly to the ambitious hustler within all listeners. The long-awaited major label debut has the motivational spirit of a Ted Talk, is inspiring as the autobiography of Puffy Combs, and is filled with pristine production that will make you believe Rick Ross handled the A&R. Victory Lap is music that encourages the endless possibilities available to the hungry, resourceful, and innovative. Yams would approve. —Yoh
24. Roc Marciano — RR2: The Bitter Dose
Label: Marci Enterprises
Release Date: March 9, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Bohemian Grove," "Corniche," "Happy Endings"
See Also: "Roc Marciano's Anti-Streaming Release Strategy Is Paying Off"
Roc Marciano is the living embodiment of a jewel-encrusted pinky ring; slick talk oozes out like yolk from a quail egg atop wagyu ribeye. The bitter dose to last year’s Rosebudd’s Revenge is a doubling down on the Long Island wordsmith’s unflinching blend of silky pimp talk and soulful loops, one that sounds as at home in art houses as it does climbing through the grime of subway station steps. —Brendan
23. Sango — In the Comfort Of
Label: Last Gang Records Inc.
Release Date: March 16, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Khlorine," "Sweet Holy Honey," "Implications"
See Also: "Sango Soundtracks the Pursuit of Wholeness on Sophomore Album In the Comfort Of"
In the Comfort Of is a sonic meditation, a journey to wholeness that Sango crafts across 17 tracks. In the battle for emotional security, Sango’s production moves between the tender and textured, to the cinematic and becoming, proving that you need to be uncomfortable before you can truly find yourself. —Donna
22. Drake — Scorpion
Label: Young Money / Cash Money Records
Release Date: June 29, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Nonstop," "Emotionless," "Nice For What"
See Also: "Drake Scorpion 1 Listen Album Review"
Nine years after the release of “Successful,” Drake’s 2009 breakout single, the Toronto mainstay has achieved all he desired, and on Scorpion, his double-disc sixth studio album, he celebrates the gold that glitters and bemoans the grass that’s not greener. This isn’t Drake at his sharpest, or his most captivating, but Aubrey exhausted, betrayed, and immensely popular. The hits hit, the flops fall hard, but in the whirlwind of madness at the album’s heart, Scorpion is a long-winded depiction of trying to keep it together while coming to terms that even success doesn’t allow life to be a perfect fantasy. —Yoh
21. J. Cole — KOD
Label: Dreamville / Roc Nation
Release Date: April 20, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "KOD," "ATM," "Kevin's Heart"
See Also: "J. Cole Is Finally Ready to Be Famous—on His Terms"
During Kanye West’s 2015 VMA Video Vanguard Award, the notorious Chicago artist famously said, “Listen to the kids, bro.” KOD, J. Cole’s latest full-length offering, was created with the kids in mind. The trap-inspired flows, the trap-inspired beats, and the thoughtful themes are a reflection of today with Cole’s voice being a vessel in hopes of reaching those who have mused his new direction. By making an earnest escape from his comfort zone, KOD is a rewarding listen as a mirror of modern rap and this era of trap, likely to age as an audio capsule of the times. —Yoh
20. Westside Gunn — Supreme Blientele
Label: Griselda Records
Release Date: June 22, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "GODS Don't Bleed," "Brutus," "Brossface Brippler"
See Also: "Westside Gunn's Supreme Blientele is Grimy Opulence"
No one can do grimy opulence like Buffalo’s Westside Gunn. With his wiry cadence, love of professional wrestling, and uncanny ability to describe pushing dope in as many images as possible, Gunn uses Supreme Blientele to prove that New York revivalism is nothing if not a welcome innovation on an already beloved form. Each track on the album is heavy with the weight of blood money, offset only by the astringent, chandelier-smashing quality of the production. —Donna
19. Maxo Kream — Punken
Label: TSO Music Group / Kream Clicc
Release Date: January 12, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Work," "ATW," "5200"
See Also: "Maxo Kream's Punken Is Authentic Trap Music at Its Finest"
A good beat can give groove to even the darkest stories. On his debut studio album, Punken, Maxo Kream puts this theory to the test within its first few bars: “Used to pack the stashes in the mattress of the sofa / Momma kept complaining ‘bout the marijuana odor,” he says over the skittering synths of album opener “Work.” There’s an authenticity to Kream’s flavor of trap, complete with hard-earned lessons and vivid imagery over airy, booming beats that fire from the hip and refuse to ask questions. There are scars to pore over here, but Punken is the battle armor Kream wears into the trap terror dome. —Dylan
18. The Internet — Hive Mind
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: July 20, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Come Over," "Mood," "It Gets Better (With Time)"
See Also: "The Internet Are at Their Most Confident and Quietly Glamorous on Hive Mind"
Did love exist before Syd graced the microphone? Likely so, but it was decidedly lacking a soundtrack. On their fourth LP, Hive Mind, neo-soul band The Internet come together to deliver their most textured and emotionally nuanced project to date. With industrial breakdowns, hidden tracks, astral guitar riffs, and bass grooves so sticky the speakers struggle to rattle, Hive Mind synthesizes all the highs of The Internet members’ solo efforts into one definitive album. —Donna
17. Rico Nasty — Nasty
Label: Sugar Trap
Release Date: June 15, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Countin' Up," Trust Issues," "Rage"
See Also: "How Rico Nasty Rose to Rule the Sugar Trap"
Rico Nasty hails from the DMV and is here to conquer the Sugar Trap. A raucous and rule-breaking rapper who wears her hair how she wants and fuses death metal with trap, Rico Nasty’s debut album Nasty is a freewheeling, terse, jagged, and roiling effort. Nasty’s energy is infallible and awesome in the literal sense of the word. She is all-at-once grand and commandeering as she is willing to get vulnerable and auto-croon. Nasty is an album with range and potential galore, an impressive starting point for one of the DMV’s finest. —Donna
16. SiR — November
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Release Date: January 19, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Something Foreign," "Something New," "Summer in November"
See Also: "SiR Just Wants to Sing for His Fans"
“Good morning, SiR.” The greeting works as not only as the beginning to a 50-trillion-kilometer journey through space but as the opening to our official full-length introduction to TDE’s Inglewood crooner. Loosely built around an interstellar concept, November is a record about love and all its complications, tied together by SiR’s golden voice, laid-back California persona, and production that dips its toes into a smoked-out pool of R&B, soul, and hip-hop. —Brendan
15. THE CARTERS (Beyoncé & JAY-Z) — EVERYTHING IS LOVE
Label: S.C Enterprises / Roc Nation / Parkwood Entertainment
Release Date: June 16, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "APESHIT," "BOSS," "BLACK EFFECT"
See Also: "JAY-Z & Beyoncé EVERYTHING IS LOVE 1 Listen Album Review"
JAY-Z and Beyoncé are in love, and Beyoncé is Houston’s best upcoming rapper, and their children are motherfucking paid. All of this and more we can discover on the couple’s first-ever joint album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE. A celebration of their family and success, as well as a meditation on presentness by way of the trap banger, EVERYTHING IS LOVE is an apt end to a trilogy filled with infidelity and humility. —Donna
14. Buddy — Harlan & Alondra
Label: RCA Records
Release Date: July 20, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Shameless," "Hey Up There," "Shine"
See Also: "Buddy on Loving OutKast, Copying Tierra Whack & Working with 03 Greedo Behind Bars"
Buddy’s long-awaited debut album, Harlan & Alondra, is enjoyable from the first song until the very last second of its outro “Shine.” With sun-soaked production, soul-dripping melodies, and a wide variety of lyrical style, the Compton-born rapper makes each record a moment to remember. With a mountain of talent and the vision and execution to make great music, Harlan & Alondra is the final confirmation that, without a shadow of a doubt, Buddy has arrived. —Yoh
13. Leon Bridges — Good Thing
Label: LisaSawyer63 / Columbia Records
Release Date: May 4, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Bad Bad News," "Beyond," "Mrs."
See Also: "Leon Bridges' Good Thing Explores Every Nook and Cranny of Love"
Leon Bridges sings about love with a bellied shout. On Good Thing, Bridges updates his classic aesthetic and delivers some of the most heartfelt, mature, and of-the-soul ballads of 2018. There’s a guttural truth to his writing, and his timbre has an undeniable mahogany richness. Leon Bridges sings as if he’s lived the lives of a hundred love-struck and heartbroken men at once, and the byproduct more than delivers. —Donna
12. Tierra Whack — Whack World
Label: Tierra Whack
Release Date: May 30, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Flea Market," "Hungry Hippo," "Cable Guy"
See Also: "Tierra Whack’s Whack World is a Wonderfully Surreal, Must-See Destination"
Never forget, Philadelphia’s Tierra Whack did it first. By "it," we mean: release an immaculate visual album on Instagram. Or, as DJBooth scribe Dylan Greene put it: all of these rappers are Tierra Whack’s sons. Operating on another plane of creativity, all of Whack’s raps are wonderfully mealy, challenging, surreal, and avant-garde in the truest and least ironic sense of the world. It’s Tierra Whack’s world and we’re all just streaming through it. —Donna
11. Various Artists — Black Panther The Album
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope Records
Release Date: February 9, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "The Ways," "Paramedic!" "King's Dead"
See Also: "Black Panther The Album 1 Listen Album Review"
It’s great enough that Marvel’s Black Panther will go down as one of the biggest blockbuster films of all-time, but having a killer soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either. Curated by Kendrick Lamar and director Ryan Coogler, the music (from and inspired by the film) throbs with a passion and variety befitting of Wakanda. Poppy dazzlers like Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars” and Jorja Smith’s “I Am” sit next to mile-a-minute bangers like Vince Staples and Yungen Blakrok’s “Opps” and SOB X RBE’s steamroller “Paramedic!” Black Panther The Album is less a companion piece than it is the heart and soul of Wakanda run through TDE’s hit-making machine. —Dylan
10. Playboi Carti — Die Lit
Label: AWGE / Interscope Records
Release Date: May 11, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "R.I.P.," "Shoota," "Choppa Won't Miss"
Playboi Carti’s second album is a subterranean milly rock into the shapeless abyss of rap’s outer fringes. Even dying lit in the margins of conventional rap, Carti remains the star of the show, the blunted, beaming nucleus in a murky haze of fried bass, singed synths, and disorienting ad-libs. Helmed mostly by Pi’erre Bourne, anchored by the celestial “Shoota,” and equipped with an all-star guest list, Die Lit’s warped circus is a rush of distorted, repetitive fun. —Brendan
9. KIDS SEE GHOSTS (Kanye West & Kid Cudi) — KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Label: G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam
Release Date: June 8, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "4th Dimension," "Reborn," "Cudi Montage"
See Also: "The All-Consuming Mythos of Kanye West & Kid Cudi’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS Album"
Releasing their debut under the same name, Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s collaborative project KIDS SEE GHOSTS is nothing short of an all-consuming and otherworldly extravaganza. Between inspired Kanye ad-libs, Cudi’s warm and soothing hums, and “Reborn,” a song of the year contender, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a savvy synthesis of all the compelling aspects of hip-hop’s melodic new wave. —Donna
8. Janelle Monae — Dirty Computer
Label: Bad Boy Records
Release Date: April 27, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Pynk," "Make Me Feel," "I Like That"
See Also: "Janelle Monáe is the Sexually Free American Dream on Dirty Computer"
Dirty Computer is Janelle Monae’s crazy, classic opus. Her most accessible and poppiest offering to date, Monae uses this newfound glimmer to spread a message of self-love, acceptance, and community. Her vocals are elastic, boisterous, and inviting, with the writing sexually free and spirited. With twinges of Prince’s influence ushering the album along, Dirty Computer is a portrait of America’s present and future. —Donna
7. Future — BEASTMODE 2
Label: Epic Records
Release Date: July 6, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "WIFI LIT," "31 DAYS," "SOME MORE"
See Also: "Future BEASTMODE 2 1 Listen Album Review"
What Future has achieved over the last 17 months is a language of melodic rhyme that’s infectiously irresistible. Throughout the duration of BEASTMODE 2, the 2018 sequel to Future and Zaytoven's 2015 mixtape classic, the Atlanta wizard proves his further mastery of weaving glamorous tales of glory and vice-induced musing while puncturing the pockets of vibrant trap production. Future's aches and triumphs continue to unlock within the prolific artist an endless well of records that are only getting better with time. —Yoh
6. Mac Miller — Swimming
Label: Warner Bros. Records
Release Date: August 3, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Self Care," "Ladders," "2009"
See Also: "Mac Miller Scores a Heavenly Battle for Peace on Swimming"
On his fifth studio album, Swimming, Mac Miller strikes at the core of what makes him a compelling artist: his honesty and his ear for arrangement. On an album obsessed with feeling better and battling your impulse to implode, Miller scores a heavenly scene, employing strings and his recent love for piano ballads to deliver his most focused and assuring work to date. At its most basic, Swimming is a stunning synthesis of everything Mac Miller has been getting right for the past six years. —Donna
5. Cardi B — Invasion of Privacy
Release Date: April 6, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "Bodak Yellow," "I Like It," "I Do"
See Also: "Cardi B Invasion of Privacy 1 Listen Album Review"
Cardi B delivers an expectation-stomping debut. Packed with bangers and ballads alike, Cardi took her relatability, unique cadence, and Bronx swagger, to new heights on Invasion of Privacy, unpacking her emotions while creating sticky club anthems. Debuts may come and go, but this record proves Cardi B is a hip-hop mainstay. —Donna
4. Phonte — No News Is Good News
Label: The Foreign Exchange Music
Release Date: March 2, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "So Help Me God," "Expensive Genes," "Cry No More"
See Also: "Sadness & Reflection: A Soul-Baring Conversation with Phonte"
No News Is Good News, Phonte’s excellent sophomore album, carries the thrill of encountering a wise teacher who provokes thought, doesn’t stray from harsh sincerity, and will be the cause of hearty laughter throughout the classroom. Due to the mature, thoughtful profundity within its short, 33-minute runtime, the album shouldn’t just be heard and discarded, but confronted, engaged, and allowed to loom in thoughts long after the final note is played. Without cheating on Beyoncé or acquiring loops from No I.D., Phonte ended his long hiatus from hip-hop by delivering his 4:44 of 2018. —Yoh
3. Travis Scott — ASTROWORLD
Label: Epic Records / Cactus Jack / Grand Hustle
Release Date: August 3, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "STARGAZING," "CAROUSEL," "SICKO MODE"
See Also: "Travis Scott ASTROWORLD 1 Listen Album Review"
2018 marks the year that Travis Scott lifted the torch from his mentor Ye as hip-hop’s premier orchestrator, and ASTROWORLD is his grandest symphony yet. A downward spiral into drugs, lust, and debauchery, the album plays true to its amusement park ride motif—winding between a raging, rickety coaster threatening to leap over the tracks at any moment and surreal, Technicolor drifts through dark and watery tunnels. Every guest is expertly positioned to play to color in the gaps of Scott’s deficiencies; the production is pristine, vibrant, and surging with adrenaline; and small but essential flourishes of ad-libs and Houston hip-hop gold turn ASTROWORLD into an expansive universe of its own. —Brendan
2. Saba — CARE FOR ME
Label: Saba Pivot, LLC
Release Date: April 5, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "FIGHTER," "GREY," "PROM/KING"
See Also: "Saba Battles Mortality on Sophomore Album Care For Me—His Finest Work to Date"
Saba confronts mortality on CARE FOR ME through the lens of the tragic murder of his cousin, Walter Long Jr. Fighting through shades of jazzy, grey production, the Chicago native comes to terms with death permeating life and his lack of invincibility. Heart-wrenching, the music is his most potent and leveling to date. —Donna
1. Pusha-T — DAYTONA
Label: G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam
Release Date: May 25, 2018
3 Standout Selections: "If You Know You Know," "The Games We Play," "Infrared"
See Also: "The Prophecy of Pusha-T & the Fall of Cash Money"
What Pusha-T accomplished with DAYTONA, his Kanye West-produced third studio album, is the construction of a hip-hop diamond. The seven-track project is pure as the cocaine residue left in Pusha’s Pyrex and flawless as Kendrick Lamar’s acting debut on Power. DAYTONA takes all the essentials of great rap music and magnifies those qualities without diluting the product with watered-down radio records or half-baked attempts at viral novelty. DAYTONA brought back top-tier drug dealer luxury rap; it brought back Kanye West the impeccable producer; it brought back Pusha-T, the veteran rapper who is using the luxury of his time to become a better lyricist than he’s ever been. Bring this man his Pulitzer. —Yoh