In a tumultuous year, the musicians of 2018 focused on their artistic statement, and the fields of pop and hip-hop were expanded in diversity and method of expression more than ever before. What’s more, the mainstream audience grew to appreciate and champion more female artists and voices from other countries and cultures. Below you’ll find Roseandblog’s favorite music of 2018, arranged in alphabetical order, showcasing the best of what 2018 had to offer:
Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
One of the funkiest guys in the business, .Paak’s follow-up to the truly stellar Malibu brought him closer to the G-funk rap pioneer Dr. Dre, and it was all kicked off with “Tints” featuring Kendrick Lamar, easily one of the most enjoyable tracks of the year. Besides some socio-political messages drowned in .Paak’s d**k-waggery throughout the project, Oxnard continues his untouchable rollout with help from Dre and standout rhymes on “Cheers” with Q-Tip.
Ariana Grande – Sweetener
If it was anyone’s year, it was Ariana Grande’s, as she turned around and fought through a horrendous terrorist attack in Manchester to reach the highest peak of her career thus far. That, and a short-lived romance with SNL’s Pete Davidson kept her one of the most talked about celebrities leading up to one of the longest album rollouts of the year. Mainly produced by Pharrell Williams, Sweetener’s singles such as “God is a Woman,” “breathin,” and “no tears left to cry” easily made the record one of the best pop releases of the year, if not album of the year contender, and even more, she followed it all up quickly with (surprisingly) her first No. 1, “thank u, next.”
Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2
Black Thought is one of the greatest rappers alive. He’s won Roseandblog’s Verse of the Month five times in the past two years, and can form sophisticated rhymes together better than anyone else in the game. His Streams of Thought projects connected him with 9th Wonder and Salaam Remi, two of the most famous and well-respected producers in hip-hop, and tracks such as “Twofifteen” and “Fentanyl” showcased why there aren’t many 90’s-era rappers who can keep up like Thought.
Blood Orange – Negro Swan
On Negro Swan, Blood Orange, a.k.a. Dev Hynes, breaks from the 80’s-pop mold of Madonna nostalgia displayed on Freetown Sound, and really comes into his own artist to create a distinct and highly recognizable sound. It’s clear that it’s stuck as well, as Mariah Carey’s recent record Caution featured a track clearly worked on by Hynes from just the first thirty-seconds. “Charcoal Baby,” “Jewelry,” and “Hope” with Puff Daddy were clear standouts, borrowing the experimental yet effortless song-structure worked through on Freetown, though now heavily polished.
Brockhampton – Iridescence
Following three truly amazing records in the Saturation trilogy, the group hit a bump when Ameer Vann was let go over sexual assault allegations, but the crew powered on with iridescence, their most urgent sounding and adventurous record-to-date. The transition from “WEIGHT,” (the unintended follow-up to Kevin Abstact’s verse on “JUNKY“), into “DISTRICT” is one of the greatest musical moments of 2018, and iridescence showcased members such as Joba and Merlyn Woods like never-before.
BTS – Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’
What’s left to say about the K-pop boys—they’re all talented, amazingly good-looking, stylish, and blend together like the perfect pop-machine that they were always meant to be. The fact that America fell for a group that sings in Korean is even more a testament to their catchy and inventive energy, and the group spent 2018 performing at the Billboard Awards and selling out Citi Field. The BTS Army are some of the craziest fanbase’s around, and BTS have almost single-handedly flooded the doors open for a K-pop surge in American music outlets.
Ghost – Prequelle
I’ve never been one to discuss metal here on the Roseandblog, but this record and rollout really caught my attention while I was writing for mxdwn.com, which primarily covers metal music worldwide. Sounding like if Queen wrote a soundtrack to F-Zero, Ghost is a Swedish metal band like no other. They implement 80’s guitar and background vocals with ease and turn a dark, overly-theatrical record about a plague into a highly enjoyable listening experience unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. If you’re looking to get into metal or are just interested in expanding your musical palette for a quick half-hour, check out Prequelle by Ghost.
Gorillaz – The Now Now
Who would have guessed that the best thing about the long-awaited return of the Gorillaz would be their subtly-released second album post-hiatus just a year after Humanz? Almost a return to form to the calm, dance-infused electronica of Plastic Beach, The Now Now is a mainly Gorillaz project, save for Snoop Dogg on “Hollywood,” and it’s a surprising record full of nostalgia to the Gorillaz of eight years ago.
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
As Monáe told Rolling Stone, “I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker,” and on Dirty Computer, it’s this concept of freedom, especially in the face of adversity, that dominates her third studio album, as well as the importance of discovering what you believe in. On tracks such as “Don’t Judge Me,” “Django Jane,” and “I Like That,” we can really feel Monáe celebrating and enjoying loving herself, flaws in all, and the accompanying full-record music video for the record makes Dirty Computer one of the best projects of the year.
J.I.D. – DiCaprio 2
J.I.D. is one of the most underrated rappers of the year, and hopefully his truly excellent performance on DiCaprio 2 will have the power to finally turn the right heads. Tracks such as “151 Rum” and “Off Deez” displayed some of the most intricate rhymes of the year, as J.I.D. seemingly has the ability to invent new flows every four bars of a verse. One of the best rap releases of the year, DiCaprio 2 showed not only J.I.D.’s versatility, but his staying-power as a force to reckoned with.
Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
If you read a lot of articles on musicians, you probably have heard the general consensus that Kamasi Washington is the Coltrane of our time and the savior of jazz. When I talked to him back in 2016, however; he said that he didn’t think of it that way, jazz is just a part of himself. It can’t be denied though, that Washington was able to reach an entirely new generation of jazz listeners with his music, and being a total mac on the saxophone goes a long way as well.
Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye had a rough year to say the least (without diving into his abhorrent politics), but his five-string album cycle through the Summer ruled strong, especially on the Kid Cudi collaborative record, Kids See Ghosts. Where ye and Pusha T’s Daytona were muddled in mouths laid aghast at Kanye’s slavery comments, closeness to President Trump, and a beef with Drake that outed his secret son, Kids See Ghosts was a more honest and free-spirited release, functioning more as a true return for Kid Cudi with a Kanye assist, than a Mr. West project in its own right. The anniversary project of 808’s & Heartbreak meets Man on the Moon, Kids See Ghosts showcases the Kanye and Cudi collaboration that we’ve always dreamed of, and puts their struggles with mental health up-front and center.
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Someone who is unabashedly herself, Mitksi speaks to the intricacies of human emotion better than most artists can even string together sentences, and Be the Cowboy was an exemplary follow-up the song-writing skill on show on her previous record, Puberty 2. Detailing broken romances and awkward encounters, Be the Cowboy drops the fuzz and distortion of her last two efforts to push forward a clear and more vulnerable sound. Like “A Pearl,” every emotion can be polished and beautifully displayed, and Mitski excels at just that.
NAO – Saturn
There’s something really sincere and precious in NAO’s voice, and it’s not just because of its incredibly high pitch. NAO is a hopeless romantic that compares love to a space adventure on Saturn, and fans of fellow-sounding artists such as SiR will love their collaboration on “Make It Out Alive.” Whether dancing on “Drive or Disconnect” or belting vocals on “Saturn,” NAO’s sophomore record is a sure hit.
Noname – Room 25
“Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?” If Telefone wasn’t enough of a project to prove that Noname was one of the most talented rapper-storytellers in the game, complete with stellar production that fit like a glove from Chicago’s Saba, Phoelix, and Cam O’bi, Noname came back in 2018 with Room 25, a more laid-bare, rhyme-based project, with lines such as “My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism” on “Self,” Roseandblog’s Best Verse of the Month for September 2018, and a made-in-heaven trio including Smino and Saba on “Ace.”
Open Mike Eagle – What Happens Why I Try to Relax
It helps that Open Mike Eagle is really funny, as he wades through his accomplishments on What Happens When I Try to Relax such as “I’m growing hair on this side, not this side,” or “I saw Kendrick at Leimert didn’t say shit,” but the mini-LP follow-up to Brick Body Kids also boasts tracks such as “Microfiche,” which dives into the racism issues within the NFL. There aren’t that many self-aware rappers who are ready to admit their insecurities, but Open Mike Eagle does it with grace.
Pusha T – Daytona
No one expected one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line on the new Pusha T record to ignite a rap beef with Drake unlike any we’ve seen in years, but even more, the record that line is on was one of King Push’s best as well. Produced by Kanye West, the record that later brought us “The Story of Adidon” and Drake’s first big loss also included songs such as “The Games We Play” and “If You Know You Know,” which both propelled the Clipse rapper back into the forefront of real drug dealer rap. The head of G.O.O.D. Music and a now-obvious rapper not to f**k with, Pusha T has kicked it into high gear.
Rosalía – El Mar Querer
Spanish-language music blew up in 2018 (possibly due to the success of “Despacito”), but Rosalīa isn’t interested in putting out another “Mi Gente”-sound-alike to hit the charts. On breakout singles such as “Malamente” and “Di mi nombre,” Rosalía creates pop music unlike any other act in her class, and the Spanish-infused rhythms sound more authentic than the commercially crafted chart-topping singles we’ve come to see throughout the year. Rosalía is a real star, and her music is as unique as she is.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2018 | Saba – Care for Me
Saba, the Chicago rapper/producer that appeared on Chance the Rapper’s “Angels” and produced half of Noname’s excellent debut record Telefone, finally came out from behind the scenes in 2016, but his sophomore release, Care for Me, is a lot more personal, honest, and mature than his first debut. With influences of jazz, trap, and really well executed storytelling, Care for Me feels a lot like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City, and his penchant for great flows and wordplay shine just as well as his ability to display emotion. Care For Me is one of the few great rap releases, front to back, that I’ve heard in a real long time, and Roseandblog’s Album of the Year for 2018.
Smino – NØIR
One of the smoothest and raspiest yet satin-sounding vocalists around, Smino burst in with his blkswn project last year, and on NØIR, tracks like “L.M.F.” and “Kovert” bring more percussion and syncopation into his otherwise mellow ride, like “Spit Shine” did on his previous project. On NØIR, Smino bends language and inflection like no other, and creates a flow of his very own. It might not be the most introspective album on blackness to the standards that we’re sued to, but through his jangly-funk sound and voice alone, Smino is doing it his own way, and it is not going on without notice.
Soccer Mommy – Clean
Soccer Mommy, a singer-songwriter from Nashville and at-one-time NYU student, captured what it’s like to be a girl in her early 20’s better than anyone before on her record Clean. She’s powerful, vulnerable, and human, and it’s about time the world (and the Grammys) acknowledged sad indie girls as the future and current state of the best rock music around.
Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
Teyana Taylor was Kanye West’s fifth and final produced album of 2018, and while the production on tracks such as “Gonna Love Me” and “Rose in Harlem” are some of Kanye’s latest best, it was Teyana who really shined on K.T.S.E. Sure, she danced the hell out of the “Fade” video, but who knew Taylor could really sing? It might have been the greatest release of the Kanye-album cycle, but sadly it seemed like everyone was not only a little sexist in who they chose to focus on, but were still muddled in the Pusha T v. Drake beef. One day Teyana will get her just desserts however, as she says on the record, “and oh, you’re gonna love me.”
Tierra Whack – Whack World
A Philly native, Tierra Whack shattered the mold of album releases with her debut project Whack World, consisting of fifteen, one-minute long songs uploaded to Instagram with accompanying music videos. The multi-media project was ingenious in design, and although some songs had me begging for more than the minute cutoff, Whack was able to create a wide-array of sounds and easy-to-follow jams in the quick time constraint. Known associates and friends with Solange Knowles, Childish Gambino, and Vince Staples, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more of Tierra Whack in 2019.
Travis Scott – Astroworld
His most ambitious project to date, Astroworld was well worth the wait, as tracks suck as “Astrothunder,” “Yosemite,” and “Stargazing” showcased the rapper’s unique stylings with grace and ease. “Sicko Mode” with Drake became a sensation of a sampler-pack detailing his ability to create new flows and work with other artists, and tracks such as “Coffee Bean” not only proved his range, but showed a softer, more contemplative side to his otherwise overdosed and dimly-lit euphoria.
Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album
On Black Panther: the Album, Kendrick Lamar and T.D.E.’s unintended response to Drake’s More Life “playlist,” the larger realm of black music is explored from Compton/LA gangsta rap, to R&B, pop, South African rap, funk, and dancehall. Radio singles such as “All the Stars” and “Pray For Me” were great intros (as well as two of the songs that were actually featured in the film), but it was the tracks that featured South African artists such as Saudi on “X,” Yugen Blakrok on “Opps,” Babes Wodumo on “Redemption,” and Sjava on “Seasons,” that made Black Panther: the Album such a big success, and part of a massive cultural film/comic-book phenomenon.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and listen to highlights from the records above, as well as other amazing songs from 2018, in the playlists here.