Say what you like, 2018 has been a marked year for music. While critique is very serious business, we are also human and what we like is all the more special than the critical appraisal of an album. For the next month, every day, you will find our staff picks for our favorite facets of music from best features to worst songs and everything in-between, based solely on what strikes us as diehard music fans first, and critics second. It's been an incredible year for hip-hop.
These are our favorite three-song album sequences of 2018.
J.I.D — “Mounted Up,” “Just da Other Day,” “Despacito Too”
Album: Dicaprio 2
The joy of J.I.D’s DiCaprio 2 is, at least in part, due to the fact that each song demands reconsideration as the project’s best song. When thinking about my favorite three-song sequence this year, I quickly realized almost all of them can be found on Dicaprio 2—literally, any of them, starting with any song. Ultimately, after several tracks cede the floor to other emcees, J.I.D returns for a trio of solo offerings that find Dreamville's 2018 MVP outdoing himself verse after verse after verse. By the end of “Despacito Too,” when J.I.D responds to those who once mocked his desire to be a rapper, he breathlessly and effortlessly proves them wrong the only way one can: demonstration. When the last scene of a movie makes me want to rewatch it immediately, I know the filmmaker achieved something special. —Ben Taylor
JPEGMAFIA — “Real Nega,” “Thug Tears,” “Baby I'm Bleeding”
If there was ever a series of tracks that would make you yell “Daaaamn Peggy,” this is it. JPEGMAFIA is known for his unique production, and nowhere is this more evident than in this three-song sequence on Veteran: “Real Nega” samples ODB’s menacing wails from his 1995 track “Goin’ Down”; “Thug Tears” is an off-the-wall, out-of-body experience sampling “Mortal Kombat” and what sounds like the click of a pen; and “Baby I’m Bleeding” draws much of its manic energy from a split-second audio clip from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice of all place. The experimental approach Peggy takes across all three tracks is not only refreshing but also a valuable reminder of hip-hop’s inherent penchant for innovation. —Stephen Barston
Mac Miller — "Dunno," "Jet Fuel," "2009"
Fuck. —Donna-Claire Chesman
Phonte — “Expensive Genes,” “Cry No More,” “Such Is Life”
Album: No News Is Good News
A good sequence can simply be three great songs in a row like, say, Travis Scott’s “STARGAZING,” “CAROUSEL,” and “SICKO MODE.” But what makes “Expensive Genes,” “Cry No More,” and “Such Is Life”—the midsection of Phonte’s excellent No News Is Good News—a great three-song stretch is the very powerful thread that ties them together: grappling with mortality. “Expensive Genes” kicks things off by offering a funny, clever take on the health issues that plague middle-aged black men (“Got a sleep app to tell you you got sleep apnea”) before “Cry No More” swiftly swaps the humor for a more serious, somber meditation on death and intergenerational legacy, anchored by the passing of his father. Completing Tigallo’s trilogy, “Such Is Life” turns its gaze to the unknowable amount of time that’s left and finds strength and hope amidst his midlife crisis: “I’m walking on the verge with a verve / ’Cause I deserve to sing a joyful song and not a dirge / Through all the darkness I emerged.” A superhuman writer who reflects on humanity with heart and humor, Phonte is hip-hop’s Kurt Vonnegut. —Andy James
Polo Perks Is Building a Future From Pieces of the Past
We talk to the Surf Gang artist about microdosing alternative music in his raps.
Pusha T — "If You Know You Know," "The Games We Play," "Hard Piano"
As one of the self-established founding members of the Pusha T Hive—or P Hive—all I've ever wanted from the Virginia veteran is a solo album that displays the same consistency and execution that Clipse fans came to expect over the better part of a decade. The first three tracks on Pusha's album of the year contender, DAYTONA, are as close to that feeling as I’ve ever gotten. Between the forceful “If You Know You Know,” the zany but transcendentally grimy “The Games We Play,” and the slick comedown of “Hard Piano,” DAYTONA's opening sequence is not only the best stretch of music in Pusha’s entire catalog but in all of rap music in 2018. —Matt Wilhite
Royce da 5'9" — "Power," "Protecting Ryan (Skit)," "Strong Friend"
Album: Book of Ryan
Few rappers are in Royce da 5'9"'s league of blackout lyricism. He’s known for tying notebooks full of rhymes to a sledgehammer and plummeting instrumentals. But on Book of Ryan, his seventh studio album, the Detroit veteran goes even further to display his talents as a singer and storyteller. “Power” is masterful retelling of a disastrous Thanksgiving, “Protecting Ryan (Skit)” reveals the relationship he has with older brother Greg, and “Strong Friend” finds Royce at his most visceral and open. This three-song sequence showcases Royce’s evolution into an artist with a vision that goes beyond bodying beats. —Yoh
Saba — “GREY,” “PROM/KING,” “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME”
Album: CARE FOR ME
Saba wraps up his acclaimed CARE FOR ME in impeccable form. On “GREY,” he makes you hang onto every bar over the downtempo, mellow production. On “PROM/KING,” he delivers some of the best storytelling of 2018, breathing life into his fallen cousin John Walt and captivating listeners on both sides of the beat switch with the moving narrative. Finally, there's “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” which feels like a victory lap that takes its time to slowly cruise to a conclusion, soaking in the magnitude of the moment and reflecting on the harrowing lengths it took to get there. —Kenan Draughorne
SahBabii — "Boyfriend," "Sunny Days," "Anime World"
SahBabii is one of the best rappers on the planet. Seriously. He’s colorful and fun in a way that no one this side of Father is these days, and the three-song stretch from “Boyfriend” to “Anime World” on his latest project Squidtastic is all the proof you need. In roughly 10 minutes, he manages to use Pop Rocks and Garfield the cat in legitimately funny sex puns, recreates a sunny day out with the squad, and pays tribute to fallen producer Nujabes while slurping ramen noodles with his bros. It’s sunshine in a bottle. Keep on shining, SahBabii. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green
Smino — “We Got The Biscuits,” “Hoopti,” “Pizano”
There were several moments throughout Smino’s 2018 album NOIR where I found myself wondering why he doesn’t just lean into his immense range as a crooner and release a full neo-soul record. Then, there were other moments where I found myself physically laughing out loud at the degree of difficulty of some of his rhyme schemes. In between these two moments, there would almost always be a third moment where I found myself genuinely astonished by how effortlessly he was able to oscillate between those two skills. Naturally, the ideal barometer for gauging whether you’re getting the full range of Smino’s artistry is to count how many of these latter types of moments you’re able to pick out. Tucked into the middle of NOIR is this absolutely seamless stretch of songs, across which these moments pop up in spades. —Hershal Pandya