Here are my personal, non-empirical top 5 albums of 2018. My goal is not to spark endless debate, but to make you discover new music. And spark endless debate.
5. Vince Staples – FM!
Cali native Vince Staples is smarter than your average trap rapper, as he constantly flips the mainstream rap formula on its head with dark humour, irony and unpredictable detours. FM! is a breezy listen, a compact 22-minute album formatted to sound like a radio program. Catchy songs are punctuated by disc jockeys taking calls. High-profile guests drop by and do their thing on a 45-second song snippet, never to be heard from again. Barely any track breaks the 3-minute mark. A slightly disorienting, yet very rewarding project.
4. Jay Rock – Redemption
Another West Coast rapper, Jay Rock is one of the few tenants of the O.G. gangsta rap sound. Redemption, released on the Top Dawg Label (also home to Kendrick Lamar), is simultaneously dark and victorious – a collection of street tales underpinned by glimmers of hope. If you’re into rappers like YG or The Game, check out Jay Rock.
3. Proc Fiskal – Insula
Proc Fiskal is a young Scottish producer whose sound is a blend of jungle, grime and video game music. Most of Insula operates at a tempo that could either be interpreted as “relaxed” or “bonkers”, as each bar is filled to the brim with staccato percussion and sound effects. This is quite a joyful and sunny album overall, released on a label that’s known for its excellent quality control, Hyperdub.
2. Dave Chose – Dave Chose
La Presse recently said that Dave Chose’s debut album “talks about a lot of little things”, and I tend to disagree. I’d say it talks about a lot of BIG things – addiction, depression, fear, wanting to be a better person. This is a very personal, relatable, gripping indie folk-rock album anchored by tasteful and sometimes grandiose production. I’m excited to see what’s next for Dave Chose, as you should be. Protip: get a hold of the lyrics.
1. Travis Scott – Astroworld
I love/hate this album. The lyrics are vague and not really about anything. Travis Scott proudly deals in tired hip-hop tropes: sex, drugs, being the best in the game. Yay, Drake drops by and raps about taking Xanax so he can sleep through a flight. Cool story, bro. So why can’t I stop listening to Astroworld? Well for one, the over-the-top, alien production is amazing. If Vince Staples flips the genre on its head with his lyrics, Travis Scott is doing the same with the beats. The album’s biggest single, “Sicko Mode”, is an extended three-parter that gets more and more exciting as it progresses (it’s like the opposite of The Matrix trilogy). And if you’re at all familiar with Southern hip-hop, you’ll catch dozens of references to the region’s rich musical history: DJ Screw, Big Hawk, Goodie Mob and countless others are given shout-outs here. So if, like me, you’re of the “music first, lyrics second” type when it comes to hip-hop, then I highly recommend Astroworld.
Final disclaimer: I’m still digesting the new Earl Sweatshirt album. Can I put it in my 2019 list?