50 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2018, Ranked

We know, we know, this list is super trash. No Eminem. Thanks for reading.
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After one heck of a 12-month run, 2018 has come to an end. Say what you will about the state of music, this has been an incredible year for hip-hop. 

As we've done twice before—first in April and then again in August—we've ranked the best albums of 2018, but this time around, we've expanded the total from 30 to 50. 

Of note: EPs were not considered, but we did rank the best EPs earlier this year, for your reading and listening pleasure. (Shout out to Valee, Wale, The Weeknd, and Black Thought, among others.) Oh, and if this list isn't enough, we also had our entire staff share their favorite non-rap albums of 2018.

Now, one last time, let's get into the rankings. Here's to another great year.

50. Meek Mill — Championships

Released November 30, 2018

Released November 30, 2018

Meek Mill knows of America’s nightmare better than any fictitious apple-pie dream. The MMG rapper has lived through the conditions of a cruel, unloving system and seen how freedom-snatching monsters can appear wearing badges of officers and robes of judges. Championships, Meek’s fourth studio album, is a testament to how unfortunate circumstances can mature one’s mind and inspire music. Meek is still celebratory—he wouldn’t be the artist we know and love without a brag about Rollies and lavish living—but there’s a focus to exhibit how far he’s come in contrast to the conditions he rose from with a passion that’s soul-touching. —Yoh

49. Drake — Scorpion

Released June 29, 2018

Released June 29, 2018

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 rather 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

48. Lil Baby & Gunna — Drip Harder

Released October 4, 2018

Released October 4, 2018

The best duos in rap are like peanut butter and jelly—able to be enjoyed alone, but surprisingly one-of-a-kind when brought together. Drip Harder, the first-ever full-length album by QC’s Lil Baby and YSL’s Gunna, is two kindred spirits operating as one to solidify the flavor of their era of Atlanta rap. Lil Baby and Gunna are the successors of the kingdoms built by Young Thug and Future, the aftermath of Gucci Mane, and the influence of Rich Homie Quan, but in the most modern incarnation. Drip Harder is timely, unapologetically the music of today, and that’s why we’ll look back on their union as an album that planted the flag for where trap is and the foundation that tomorrow will be built upon. —Yoh

47. Roc Marciano — Behold a Dark Horse

Released October 4, 2018

Released October 4, 2018

Roc Maci runs in the shadows the way the rest of us walk the street to get to work. The lane he helped carve for traditionally-minded NY rappers in the late aughts has grown crowded over the years, and Marcberg ran the risk of being drowned out in the clatter. So naturally, he released four projects in 2018, keeping the steel sharp and the streets flooded. The second of those projects—Behold a Dark Horse—is brash and thrillingly cinematic in ways that only the best blacktop pimps can be. Marci compares himself to “Huey Newton sitting in the king’s wicker chair” the same way that most other rappers namedrop jewelers, self-mythologizing as the next chapter in Eat, Pray, Thug. These beautifully hazy stories are often undercut by homophobia that comes across more harshly given the project’s swift, 33-minute runtime, but at its best, Behold a Dark Horse is just another gleaming stone in the closed fist of the Infinity Gauntlet crafted by Hempstead’s finest. —Dylan Green

46. 03 Greedo — God Level

Released June 27, 2018

Released June 27, 2018

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

45. Rejjie Snow — Dear Annie

Released February 16, 2018

Released February 16, 2018

From the hazy lo-fi of “Oh No!” to the sultry KAYTRANADA 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 Varan

44. Benny The Butcher — Tana Talk 3

Released November 23, 2018

Released November 23, 2018

Behind the more celebrated profiles of brothers-in-armed-robberies Westside Gunn and Conway sits Benny, known professionally as “The Butcher.” Backed by production from Daringer and The Alchemist, Griselda’s secret weapon unspools engaging street narratives with ice-cold effectiveness across his 14-track debut. “Griselda, the Butcher coming…” the Buffalo smuggler raps on album standout “Broken Bottles,” and Tana Talk 3 is the potent sound of Benny’s arrival. —Brendan Varan

43. Lil Wayne — Tha Carter V

Released September 28, 2018

Released September 28, 2018

On Tha Carter V, Lil Wayne’s 12th studio album, time has done to his style what it has done to his flesh. He is past his prime, a well-known fact even the most diehard fans must admit. The lengthy, long-awaited album displays the many forms of an elder Martian; he stumbles too much to gloss over the missteps, but slips are paired with refreshing moments of nostalgic familiarity and newfound clarity. As a reel of Weezy, Tha Carter V isn’t all highlights, yet the music burns with a determined, inexhaustible fire that is found only in athletes who love the game more than the trophies. —Yoh

42. Jay Rock — Redemption

Released June 15, 2018

Released June 15, 2018

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

41. Evidence — Weather or Not

Released January 26, 2018

Released January 26, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

40. Denzel Curry — TA13OO

Released July 27, 2018

Released July 27, 2018

On his long-delayed third studio album, TA13OO, South Florida's Denzel Curry takes listeners on an unsettling journey into the troubled mind of a confused and pained young adult. Several weeks before the album's release in July, Curry told his fans on Instagram Story, "I know you guys only want me to release music...but as of now I'm not fucking with anything." That same frustration and disillusionment is littered across the 13-track, three-act project, which tackles one heavy topic after another, including suicide, mental health and the uncomfortable pressure of handling fame. The days of Denzel Curry being known as a "SoundCloud rapper," whatever that means in 2018, are long gone. —Z

39. J. Cole — KOD

Released April 20, 2018

Released April 20, 2018

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

38. Kali Uchis — Isolation

Released April 6, 2018

Released April 6, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

37. Metro Boomin — NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES

Released November 2, 2018

Released November 2, 2018

Neil Gaiman once said, “Talent is nurtured in solitude.” The celebrated writer believes that creativity is developed and improved by being “a child of solitude.” Metro Boomin’s NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES is an album released after the producer spent a majority of 2018 absent from the charts and far from the public’s gaze. The distance not only made hearts desire new music, but the collection of songs he returned with are some of his best records. NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES is the best kind of reintroduction, a project that proves his skills have been sharpened—the production and sequencing are superb—and his vision has been expanded. Metro Boomin isn’t going anywhere as long as we want some more. —Yoh

36. JPEGMAFIA — Veteran

Released January 19, 2018

Released January 19, 2018

The name JPEGMAFIA says nearly everything you need to know about his music: a swarm of sounds both digital and analog, he’s the grit and gravel in the code of the system. He’s as ready to storm Donald Trump’s White House as he is to croon about “Thug Tears” over Mortal Kombat samples. Veteran is a declaration of war against all kinds of complacency, and Peggy—on both the bars and the beats—is more than eager to lead the charge straight for your grill. —Dylan Green

35. Roc Marciano — RR2: The Bitter Dose

Released March 9, 2018

Released March 9, 2018

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 Varan

34. Sango — In the Comfort Of

Released March 16, 2018

Released March 16, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

33. 6LACK — East Atlanta Love Letter

Released September 14, 2018

Released September 14, 2018

6LACK may have been wounded, but on East Atlanta Love Letter, he proves himself to be adept at processing pain. Unlike the fire of his debut, EALL is driven by a matured pen and an ability to accept what hurts us. The emotional tricks and sheer audacity of the album—6LACK asking, “Who gon’ love better?”—makes it an album of moving-on anthems. Now a father and facing newfound fame, 6LACK has transitioned from using his pain as fuel, to using it as a stepping stone to better himself and his career. It’s working. —Donna-Claire Chesman

32. THE CARTERS (Beyoncé & JAY-Z) — EVERYTHING IS LOVE

Released June 16, 2018

Released June 16, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

31. Octavian — SPACEMAN

Released September 10, 2018

Released September 10, 2018

Fuck this the games mine now / Mum said I was a bad kid but I'm making bands you don't mind now.” SPACEMAN, the concise debut from France-born, London-raised rapper Octavian, is full of divergence. Not only from the artist’s current straddling between his tumultuous youth and the cusp of stardom at which he now finds himself, but also the range of genres and sounds he’s proven adept at tackling. Hip-hop, R&B, grime, house, dancehall—Octavian’s gravelly voice and knack for melody are the rocks that tie together aggressive boasts (“Break That,” “You See It?”), serene introspection (“This Is My World”), dance-floor euphoria (“Lightning”), and more on the UK talent’s impressive introduction. —Brendan Varan

30. Lil Baby — Harder Than Ever

Released May 18, 2018

Released May 18, 2018

To call Lil Baby 2018’s rookie of the year would be an understatement. With three full-length projects, smash hits, Drake features, and a blossoming artistic relationship with Gunna, Baby transitioned from Quality Control underling to full-blown star over the last 12 months. Harder Than Ever, his official debut album, is a big reason why his quick ascent has been so universally lauded. Quay Global produces nine of 17 tracks, from the meme-worthy (“Yes Indeed”) to the to the transcendent (“Life Goes On”), and Lil Baby showcases why he’s Atlanta’s next trap superstar. —Brendan Varan

29. Future — BEASTMODE 2

Released July 6, 2018

Released July 6, 2018

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

28. Nipsey Hussle — Victory Lap

Released February 16, 2018

Released February 16, 2018

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

27. Westside Gunn — Supreme Blientele

Released June 22, 2018

Released June 22, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

26. Maxo Kream — Punken

Released January 12, 2018

Released January 12, 2018

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 Green

25. Joey Purp — QUARTERTHING

Released September 7, 2018

Released September 7, 2018

2018 has been the year of impressive sophomore records, and Joey Purp’s hungry and rattling QUARTERTHING is no exception. The album is an apt continuation of everything that sold Joey to us in the first place: booming vocals, cutting street tales, optimistic writing, a natural spirituality in his delivery, and of course the sequel to 2016’s beloved “Girls@,” “Elastic.” Joey Purp does Chicago proud, bringing juke, house, and the soul of the city’s past and future together one record that will, in fact, have you dropping it like it’s elastic. —Donna-Claire Chesman

24. Rico Nasty — Nasty

Released June 15, 2018

Released June 15, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

23. SiR — November

Released January 19, 2018

Released January 19, 2018

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 Varan

22. KEY! & Kenny Beats — 777

Released May 4, 2018

Released May 4, 2018

777 brings the mosh pit to the streaming platform. Trap and auto-crooning needed a facelift and KEY! came to deliver with tunes that thump like cinder blocks strapped to his shoes. The chemistry between KEY! and Kenny Beats cannot be understated, either. KEY! lives within Kenny’s production; it is crafted in unison, with each track sounding like perpetually scaling ivy. Many towers have been conquered this year, but few as motivational and infectious as the one toppled by the cult of KEY! and Kenny Beats. —Donna-Claire Chesman

21. Vince Staples — FM!

Released November 2, 2018

Released November 2, 2018

Selling anyone on a Vince Staples album is pretty pointless. Vince Staples’ FM! is excellent. It is Vince Staples in his pocket. You should already have gone out and gotten that FM!. That FM!, where Vince Staples is bringing the West Coast bounce back to hip-hop. Make sure to tune into Big Boy’s Neighborhood this week to hear that new Vince Staples, and we’ve also got brand new tracks from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt. —Donna-Claire Chesman

20. The Internet — Hive Mind

Released July 20, 2018

Released July 20, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

19. SahBabii — Squidtastic

Released August 29, 2018

Released August 29, 2018

Propelled to the forefront of hip-hop’s zeitgeist in 2017 with massive viral single “Pull Up wit ah Stick,” SahBabii signed a deal with Warner Bros. A few months later, he was dropped from the label. Probably better off without a commercial entity to cap his oddball impulses and whimsical libido, SahBabii returned this summer with Squidtastic, a fantastically weird and sugary-sweet showcase for one of rap’s most colorful lyricists and captivating crooners. The Young Thug influence is immediately evident, but SahBabii further establishes his own lane with every song. —Brendan Varan

18. Buddy — Harlan & Alondra

Released July 20, 2018

Released July 20, 2018

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 styles, 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

17. Smino — NOIR

Released November 8, 2018

Released November 8, 2018

Smino Grigio took the pivot to weird, and that pivot worked. NOIR is a heavily textured and riveting album that reminds us Smino has more flows than this list has albums ranked. He is still our jittery bad boy, but his energy has evolved from purple haze to the rainbow static on a busted television. An album wine-drunk on its own charisma, NOIR is music to unravel to when you are spent like a VHS tape in need of rewinding. Smino is here to rejuvenate and enthrall listeners with his colorful and welcome racket. —Donna-Claire Chesman

16. Various Artists — Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By

Released February 9, 2018

Released February 9, 2018

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 Green

15. Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer

Released April 27, 2018

Released April 27, 2018

Dirty Computer is Janelle Monáe's crazy, classic opus. Her most accessible and poppiest offering to date, Monáe 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-Claire Chesman

14. Leon Bridges — Good Thing

Released May 4, 2018

Released May 4, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

13. KIDS SEE GHOSTS (Kanye West & Kid Cudi) — KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Released June 8, 2018

Released June 8, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

12. J.I.D — DiCaprio 2

Released November 26, 2018

Released November 26, 2018

The best cinema performs a service of entertainment able to make the viewer feel for characters that don’t exist, love places they can’t visit, and dream of sequels to revisit a world unreal. DiCaprio 2, the second album released by Dreamville’s J.I.D, is audio cinema, a captivating world of short stories presented as a collection of stirring scenes from feature films yet to be made. As a rapper, J.I.D is at the top of his class; he does with words what Jeff Henderson does with food, what Russell Westbrook does with a basketball, what Serena Williams does with a tennis racket. He's the kind of rapper who is athletic yet artistic with his creative approach. DiCaprio 2 accomplishes what the best cinema does, giving listeners a reason to feel, love, and request more from the exhilarating world that J.I.D is constructing. —Yoh

11. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — Fetti

Released October 31, 2018

Released October 31, 2018

Two popular artists teaming up for a joint album is initially thrilling. Sadly, the feeling of excitement brought by the announcement is rarely present when playing the music. Fetti, the collaborative effort by Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs produced entirely by The Alchemist, is an exception. Instead of a disappointing collage of two rappers gluing together verses, Fetti is a thoughtful fusion, an example of a duo who found a common ground to exhibit together what makes them so compelling alone. It’s the best of three overlapping worlds, the best crossover trifecta of talent since 2002 when Sora met Donald and Goofy in Traverse Town. —Yoh

10. Playboi Carti — Die Lit

Released May 11, 2018

Released May 11, 2018

Playboi Carti’s second album is a subterranean Milly Rock (© 2 Milly) 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 Varan

9. Noname — Room 25

Released September 14, 2018

Released September 14, 2018

Noname, thank you for your sweet Room 25. It saves lives. Funded by Noname herself, this tender catalog of a woman in flux between her city of Chicago and the seersucker energy of Los Angeles provides the healing energy we need in a year marked with loss and strife. With producer Phoelix at the helm, Room 25 expands Noname’s sound by privileging live instrumentation and good fun on the beat. She’s sexually confident and more boisterous than ever on the mic, while still delivering those “whisper raps” we love so much. —Donna-Claire Chesman

8. Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs

Released November 30, 2018

Released November 30, 2018

Earl Sweatshirt knows how hard it is to be open—to loved ones, to fans, to your own brain—when being closed off is much easier. He draws his personal curtain back further than ever on his third studio album Some Rap Songs. All three of his personas—Earl the rapper, Thebe the man, and randomblackdude the producer—receive vindication in ways both poignant and hilarious, sometimes all at once. The rhymes are free of the lyrical gymnastics of his early work, but that compression helps stories of bonding with his mother, losing his father, and finding solace within New York’s current underground scene stick in more lasting ways. That camaraderie also rubs off on the production, a spate of lo-fi Madlib and Dilla worship sun-dried in the dead of winter and handled by Earl himself and underground luminaries Denmark Vessey, Navy Blue, and Standing On The Corner, among others. Deliberately obtuse or not, this 24 minutes of music is the most challenging and heartfelt Kgositsile has ever produced. The fact that he sounds closer to whole having made it makes these rap songs even sweeter. —Dylan Green

7. Tierra Whack — Whack World

Released May 30, 2018

Released May 30, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

6. Mac Miller — Swimming

Released August 3, 2018

Released August 3, 2018

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. Of all the notes to exit on, Swimming is the perfect final hour. The album was about wanting to live more than life itself, and at its most basic, Swimming is a stunning synthesis of everything Mac Miller had been getting right for the past six years. If only had had sixty more. —Donna-Claire Chesman

5. Phonte — No News Is Good News

Released March 2, 2018

Released March 2, 2018

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

4. Cardi B — Invasion of Privacy

Released April 5, 2018

Released April 5, 2018

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-Claire Chesman

3. Travis Scott — ASTROWORLD

Released August 3, 2018

Released August 3, 2018

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 Varan

2. Pusha-T — DAYTONA

Released May 25, 2018

Released May 25, 2018

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

1. Saba — CARE FOR ME

Released April 5, 2018

Released April 5, 2018

Saba wrote through tragedy, and he wrote his way to producing the best album of 2018. Every single bar on CARE FOR ME is haunting, but not mired in loss and death. Saba somehow took it upon himself to transfer the looming cloud of grief into song. The “Write it away, write it away” chants on “CALLIGRAPHY” follow me throughout the day, just as the jazz breakdown on “GREY” fills my head when my mood shifts out of my control. What Saba accomplishes on CARE FOR ME, without a major label budget and somehow with a smile, is beyond admirable. He established himself in the upper echelon of upcoming artists. The musicality, storytelling, and gut-wrenching soul that propels this album was matched by few others in recent memory. Saba showcases his heart as a bleeding organ, and he somehow makes the guts of loss beautiful.

CARE FOR ME is an affecting and defining moment for Chicago and for all of hip-hop. Saba’s heart took shape after shape across 10 airtight tracks, proving that hip-hop is a limitless avenue of expression, and is not too macho for mourning and not too macho to take responsibility for the fallout that comes with using, depression, and void-filling sex. In 2016, Saba was a young man with a dream and his boyish Bucket List Project felt endless in its optimism. In 2018, Saba became a man marked by loss, but he did not let that cavernous pain root him in place. He grew—hand over hand—and gave us a living portrait of his overcoming. CARE FOR ME ends with John Walt in heaven, and 2018 ends with Saba sitting upon a throne of his own making. —Donna-Claire Chesman

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