And just like that, it’s already December 2018, with 2019 literally knocking at our doors. Who would have thought the year would fly by so quickly like it did, especially considering how long January seemed to go on for. Most importantly, I pray 2018 was all that you wanted it to be and much more, but even if it wasn’t, I hope you can take the last few days of the year to reset and recalibrate and come back even bigger in 2019. WE GO AGAIN!
As is now customary for us, for the seventh year in a row, December can only mean one thing, in music terms of course, and that is our definitive ‘Albums of the Year’ list. This year has brought some exceptional and exciting new music, and it’s always a privilege being able to bring you the best of the best of the countless records that have been released this year. Enjoy the list, dissect it, argue it, but more relevant, add these records to your music library!
As for my usual year-in-music round-up, here goes – Bruno Mars swept the GRAMMYs, Cardi B took the throne from Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne finally released Tha Carter V, Dave took UK rap to the top of the charts, Spice Girls got back together without Victoria Beckham, and Tekashi 6ix9ine ended up in prison. Rest in Peace to Aretha Franklin and Mac Miller. WAKANDA forever.
Thanks to AJ Banjo, Arthur Coppens, Jay Tijani, Libby Beacham, Nancy Chalkopoulou, Nicole Russell and Qurat-ul-anne Sikander, who have taken time out of their Christmas schedule to join me Ayo Adepoju, in curating our list of the best albums of the year. The first part of our ‘Albums of 2018’ list highlights the best albums of the year, from #50 to #21 – check them out here – we continue our countdown from #20 to #11 below.
20. Kendrick Lamar and Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album
The Black Panther album was a truly unique experience. With themes of the movie prevalent in each song, it is impressive how concise and focused the project turned out to be, especially with the varied cast of featured artists. Kendrick Lamar take a back seat on the project and seems to act as a composer directing the sound of the project. This project stood out as it gave a platform to many talented artists such as Ab soul, SOB X RBE, and Zacari to showcase their different styles.
Despite being a movie soundtrack, Black Panther highlights some hard-hitting messages and ideas. The album is raw and emotional, with authentic African elements, and shows how music can tell a story and be used as an outlet. “Bloody Waters” featuring Anderson .Paak, Ab-Soul and James Blake is truly stunning, but in actuality, it would be unwise to try and pick favourite tracks, the album works best as a whole, it never plays it safe, and as far as movie soundtracks go, this might just be the new benchmark.
19. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Sweetener is an ironic title, as Ariana Grande continues to move away from the sweet image Disney painted of her to the Queen of R&B/Pop that she is evolving into. The album features a cacophony of genres, including pop, trap, elements of house, funk, neo-soul and hip-hop and some big names, Pharrell Williams and Nicki Minaj among them, but Ariana is the main attraction here. The record is confident and offers an empowered Ariana Grande, but more telling, it is a very fascinating deviation from the rest of today’s chart music.
Ariana Grande wowed her fans once again with this album, only it wasn’t the same as they had been used to from her previous albums. The singer expressed recently, that this has been both “the best year of her career and the worst year of her life“, the latter being very understandable considering the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and the subsequent breakup with her now ex-fiancee Pete Davidson. However, the former is right on the money, and that is chiefly down to the excellence of Sweetener.
The album boasted singles that soared like “God Is A Woman” and “Breathin”, in which she describes her breakdowns and panic attacks after the Manchester bombing on her ‘Dangerous Woman’ tour. The singer has openly spoken about the tragedy, but her song “No Tears Left To Cry” reminds us all to be strong in dark times. While Ariana seems to be already moving on from this record, having teased her next album Thank U, Next, Sweetener deserves our undivided attention as one of the best of 2018.
18. Camila Cabello – Camila
On her self-titled debut album Camila which was released in January, Camila Cabello sings about the highs and the lows in romance, love, friendships and the unavoidable consequences. Led by the hit single “Havana”, Camila’s first project as a solo star is sexy, smooth, mysterious and full of promises about love and the happy positive effect that love gets to have on people, but it also outlines other darker aspects of love, including fragility and vulnerability.
With this solo effort, Camila shows and proves that she had one of the standout voices in Fifth Harmony, with whom she split from in December 2016. Reintroducing herself as a stand-alone spotlight, with an opportunity to prove her own singing style to the world, she takes all her chances on Camila, with her strong vocals setting her up nicely on a trajectory towards diva territory alongside the likes of Beyoncé and Mariah Carey.
17. Saba – Care For Me
Saba’s marvellously produced, reflective sophomore album Care For Me serves two interlinking purposes. Firstly, it is him truly processing his grief and the sense of loneliness he feels with the loss of his beloved cousin Walter, an integral part of his life even in music. The depression and self-doubt that occur is laid out bare on this project. Secondly, it offers the listener an insight to the harsh reality of living in inner city Chicago in the hopes of better.
A mood of beautiful melancholy enwraps the entire project. The 23-year-old’s fleet, singsongy raps manoeuvre through piano-centric arrangements, which build sets for the scenarios he’s reliving. There is a sense of journey to be had. Opener “BUSY/SIRENS” provides us with initial anxious thoughts, relatable in every sense. He bravely relives the trauma through “LIFE” and he retells Walter’s horrific account in “PROM/KING” but by the final act “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME”, he makes peace with his demons and rests assured that Walter is in a better place, looking down over Saba and so he is truly not alone.
16. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
On Kids See Ghosts we finally received the long awaited Kid Cudi and Kanye West joint album and it doesn’t disappoint. On this project, both artists were able to tap into their most eccentric and most creative mind set and deliver one of this year’s most vibrant and unique projects. The use of psychedelic and punk rock themes highlight Kanye and Cudi’s ability to push the barriers of hip hop into something completely new.
The song “Reborn” should be on every favourite song of the year list, while “Cudi Montage” is enough to send shivers down your spine, all in all though, this album deserves all the recognition it has gotten this year. Kids See Ghosts is a colourful and vibrant expression of unfiltered creativity, and it further cements the fact that Kanye West and Kid Cudi are pioneers of new sounds. They were able to exceed expectations by creating an album that further pushed the limitations of music by taking elements from different genres to create something truly distinct from anything both men have created.
15. 6LACK – East Atlanta Love Letter
If you were enticed by his chilly vocals, minimalist beats, and conditions of the heart on Atlanta artist 6LACK’s first album then you may be thoroughly impressed at what he brings to the table on his newest project East Atlanta Love Letter. If we take a look under the robust set of melancholy pianos, rasping drum machines and ambient synths, we have an open and transparent 6LACK; his complications, flaws and complexities projected in a gloomy but alluring monotony.
While the album as a whole follows a style that could fit well as background music, there are definitely some standouts which you shouldn’t miss out on. The title track features the star power of rapper Future who assists in making a street record with pop overtones. As piano melodies encompass the album feel, it’s done brilliantly on “Disconnect” which makes a horrible break-up sound so soothing. And the rattling, hard-hitting lead single “Switch”, sandwiched between all the melancholy, proves that 6LACK is able to create sensational music which can be played outside of personal listening and still hits hard.
East Atlanta Love Letter is really just a beautiful album. On this project 6lack shows his talent for crafting songs through superb writing as well as a mix of striking vocals. This feels like 6lack’s most precise album sonically so far, as each song flows to the next with ease, whilst each song still feels uniquely its own. There are so many stand out tracks on the record, one being, “Pretty Little Fears” featuring J. Cole, where both artist deliver some of their best performances.
14. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Jorja Smith has been a growing household name for the past few years, culminating with the release of her debut album, Lost & Found, earlier this year. With tracks going all the way back to 2016, such as “Blue Lights” and “Where Did I Go?”, this is an album that has been long awaited by both critics and fans alike, and it thankfully doesn’t disappoint.
With such an assured debut album, we can only hope she’ll bring the same energy into 2019 and beyond. Her relaxing jazz vocals are reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, with more of an R&B approach, as she depicts her life as a young British Black woman. She highlights the mistreatment of black people by the police, indicating that they must not fall for something they did not do (“Blue Lights”). Her slower jams, like “Where Did I Go?” and “Wandering Romance” convey a certain melancholic feeling when thinking about these adolescent situations.
Her music reminds listeners that we are human, that we can hurt, and that sometimes that hurt can be inflicted on ourselves or on others. We must remember to be true to ourselves, for example, “Teenage Fantasy” explores adolescent feelings of lust, and Jorja explains how she had confused the feeling for love in her past. The fast-rising singer uses her past experiences of pain and twists them into something quite beautiful throughout Lost & Found.
13. Kali Uchis – Isolation
Kali Uchis broke the mould this year, with her exquisite debut album Isolation, weaving together an thrilling mix of R&B, hip hop, funk and neo-soul to deliver one of the surest bets for album of the year. The album’s lead single “Tyrant” featuring Jorja Smith, managed to create a buzz for the upcoming record half a world away, and it was excellently followed by “Nuestro Planeta” and “After The Storm” featuring Tyler the Creator and Bootsy Collins, which only gave but a small indication of how brilliant this record was to be.
Registering at fifteen tracks long, it’s an artistic achievement, triumph even, that Kali Uchis stays consistently excellent throughout this album, without a filler in sight. Equally traditional and forward thinking, she glides through the different genres and conquers each as she goes along, adding her Latinx heritage to the mix. The album sees Kali displaying vocal and lyrical dexterity, with boldness and innovation, as she shares the triumphs and pitfalls of life in the real world.
12. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Country music is not one that gets featured on here at all, so for Kacey Musgraves’ fourth studio album Golden Hour to land on our albums of the year list, it is testament to the sheer brilliance of this record, such that it transcends the genre. On every level, Golden Hour is exceptional, with Kacey delivering an exciting mix of country, pop and folk music, as well as a deeply personal level of songwriting and lyricism that she hasn’t offered in previous records.
The melodies on this record stand out as some of Kacey’s best, the songwriting is beautifully positive, without ever coming across as cheesy. Inspired by getting married, most of the songs can be described as love songs, but that might be a bit reductive, because they offer so much more. Even if you’re not a fan of country music, there is still enough of a pop-leaning slant on Golden Hour, that you will really enjoy this record. The experience overall is honest, cohesive, life-affirming, and certainly a future classic.
11. The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy EP
Listen carefully to this one. The Weeknd was having a tumultuous time with his relationships, splitting from Selena Gomez and reconciling with his ex, Bella Hadid, and he addresses it all on My Dear Melancholy. If we know anything about a rocky romance, it’s that it can inspire the creation of powerful music. “I Was Never There” is the highlight of this album, however the lyrics of “Wasted Times” makes it clear what The Weeknd thinks of Selena!
This album has to be the most honest look into the downfall of a relationship, and possibly some of the most honest music that The Weeknd has released. On this project, it is evident that themes of heartbreak are a reflection of Abel’s previous romances. This album also shows off Abel’s vocal ability on tracks like “Call Out My Name, which is truly a stand out track of the year.
Even without listening to the record, the title already implies an emotional set of songs, and upon listening, we are thrown into the deep end of his thoughts. He brings us on an emotional journey of his life, describing the pains of a break up, side by side with his own worry about hurting someone again, and we really get an insight into the Canadian musician’s mind, an insight we haven’t gotten on his previous records.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2018!
Words by AJ Banjo, Arthur Coppens, Jay Tijani, Libby Beacham, Nancy Chalkopoulou, Nicole Russell, Qurat-ul-anne Sikander and Ayo Adepoju.