2018: the year I fully returned to hip-hop. Blame the political climate, blame my need for beats and layered poetry, my need for hip-hop therapy. Regardless, rap music has always been a love and passion of mine, but it seems like 2015-2017 was dominated by sleepy instrumentals, ambient tracks, and lofi lullabies. This year, for whatever reason, I've jumped back into the world of rap albums. And 2018 has an incredible batch of them. In no particular order, here's an non-comprehensive list (still waiting for Mick Jenkins and Smino, still digesting Noname, already covered Lorde Fredd33), something to slow my head spins. I hope you find an album here that will soundtrack and guide you on your voyage.
[Edit: Much love to Ryan Magnole for putting me on to a handful of these albums. Hit him up if you need more music recommendations.]
Orpheus vs. the Sirens – Hermit and the Recluse
“The poets will write about this in all the years to come.”
46-year-old New York firefighter and respected lyricist Ka returns in the form of the mythological Orpheus. The ten song project lives on the streets, deeply lyrical and full of vocal snips. It's a concept album and almost entirely without drums. More like a manifesto, like an audio book with a backdrop, and less like a car ride. It’s engaging, gripping, and a nice change of pace from most albums in my rotation. “Golden Fleece” is a personal favorite track in the pack.
Psymun - Tape
21 tracks from Minnesota producer Psymun. While the majority of these tracks are instrumental (15 in total), the project also features six songs with quality raps from Chester Watson, Kent Loon, Medhane, and Dem Atlas. I've been listening to this project almost daily since it was released earlier this summer. “Fumes” and “Hidden Treasure” have been on repeat. Psymun can also be heard on Chester Watson’s newest, Project 0, which can be found further on down this list.
Elucid – Shit Don’t Rhyme No More
Elucid has released four projects this year. A solo album back in February, a collaborative album with Billy Woods (as Armand Hammer), a collaborative album with Milo (as Nostrum Grocers), and an EP fully produced by Haj of Dumhi. All of Elucid’s projects are worth including here. His solo LP, Shit Don’t Rhyme No More is almost entirely produced by himself and sounds like a cold winter day. While I didn’t catch on to this project until this summer, I’m sure it will sound even better come December. Additionally, Elucid’s EP, No Edge Ups in Uganda, is six songs with six accompanying instrumentals. It's a lyrical whirlwind with exotic production and vocal chops, sounding like a foreign market with packets of loud on sale around the corner. Listen to “No Redemption” on repeat.
Nostrum Grocers – Nostrum Grocers
Nostrum Grocers by a landslide. The collaborative album between MCs/producers Milo and Elucid came as a pleasant surprise for fans worldwide. The ten song album is full of dense lyricism and insightful poetics, soulful and thumping production. It’s a nice side project for two of the most prolific and consistent in the rap game. The two vocal flows contrast each other nicely as each forces the other to use the sharpest of pens.
Joey Purp – Quarterthing
This album has been on loop in my car. Perhaps my favorite Chicago hip-hop release of the year (so far), Purp's Quarterthing exceeded expectations as it skyrockets beyond his past project, iiiDrops. With thick, hard hitting production (listen to “Paint Thinner”, listen to “Karl Malone”) as well as dreamy, hazed out numbers like “2012”, Quarterthing also includes features from two members of the Wu Tang Clan. What more do you need to understand? This is an album that shows Purp is very much Chicago but also very much worldwide. Again, listen to “Paint Thinner.”
Lojii – Lofeye
I first heard about Lojii last year after the rapper released Due Rent, a collaborative album with producer Swarvy through independent label Fresh Selects. To follow it up, Lojii released Lofeye, an album he has been working on for three years. Conceptual, dark, and unique, the album begs to be listened to in a back alley with a jazz cigarette, maybe walking through a ghost town with a pair of headphones and a blunt. This is the album to play when you can't sleep, when you light a candle, crank up the bass, and keep yourself company until morning.
Milo - budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
I damn near shed a tear when Milo announced this album. With one of my favorite releases from 2017, Milo’s who told you to think??!!?!?!?! was then followed up with a Scallops Hotel project at the top of 2018, which was then followed by Nostrum Grocers (featured above), and now this: Milo’s fifteen song solo LP. Work. Ethic. With production from Mt. Marcy, Kenny Segal, Q the Sun, and plenty of others, it’s an album I have trouble describing with words, so I’ll sum up this beautiful auditory experience by stating that Milo compares himself to “like if Langston didn’t edit.”
Pink Siifu – Ensley
This one is dense. Over an hour long and 25 songs deep with almost every track showcasing a different genre, it’s a spotlight on Pink Siifu’s capabilities, who has one hell of a back catalog, and who seems to show no signs of letting up. If you need more from the prolific artist, he just released a nine song project of original lofi production thrown over Reed Dollaz battle raps. And a collaborative album Kryptonyte with Dolfin Records members Ben Hixon, Lord Byron, and Liv.e.
Mike – Renaissance Man
Rapper MIKE has released three projects this year: Resistance Man, Black Soap, and Renaissance Man. The most recent of the trio is the June EP Renaissance Man. Full of soul flips and tongue twisting raps, it’s a New York narrative running through the dampened and dark streets with a pack of cigarettes in need of a lighter. This is a title fight, one perfect for a late cruise or a solo headphone session. It’s lofi, it’s rough around the edges, and it’s genuine. It’s a testament to MIKE’s capabilities.
Armand Hammer – Paraffin
Billy Woods and Elucid deserve a standing ovation. The prolific and consistent duo followed up last year's Rome by releasing Paraffin. At first, it was a vinyl-only release, but it's thankfully available everywhere now, for the whole world to hear. Powerful, in your face, tongue-twisting, poetic, and insightful, this is one hell of a fourth album between these two talents, who are all over this list.
Westside Gunn - Supreme Blientele
With a plethora of high quality mixtapes available, Westside Gunn dropped his sophomore studio album earlier this summer in the form of Supreme Blientele. Featuring plenty of wrestling references and familiar guests (Anderson .Paak, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Roc Marciano, Elzhi) the album sounds both like a throwback and a modern manifesto, respecting the legends while taking the game forward.
Chester Watson - Project 0
The newest release on this list is Chester Watson’s ten song project, Project 0. Handling half of the production himself, the album also features frequent collaborators Psymun, Kent Loon, Max Wonders, and more. I need more time with this project (which is existential, cosmic, reflective, and determined), but the track “Oblivion, Are You Satisfied” is one particular standout, and the closing instrumental, “Liquid Moon”, is a nice final piece, one that ends the half-hour listen way up in the rainy clouds.