We’re about to put the lid on 2018, but before we go, you must check out the following albums you might have missed.
It was an exciting year in hip-hop, particularly for fans of layered music with soul and wit. This certainly applies to the first album on this list, Smino’s NØIR. With his sophomore effort, Smino wanted to change his sound entirely. “I just didn’t want to make the same album. The music sounds fun as hell. I ain’t gonna say what it is and what it ain’t. It’s raw.” Smino describes himself as more of an album artist than a guy chasing singles and it shows. NØIR is overflowing with music influences, like jazz, southern soul, funk and many more styles that are expertly blended to accompany Smino’s witty raps.
Noname, Room 25
Chicago rapper Noname, Fatimah Nyeema Warner, dazzled with her honest second album, Room 25. The album chronicled the two years between her first album, Telefone, and the second, during which she went through profound changes: a broken relationship (her first), a move from Chicago to Los Angeles, and burgeoning fame. NME hailed the album as “flawless.” Noname is honest about her journey, noting that she had to make the album to pay rent. The lyrics keep it real, and mark her as an artist who understands that the foundation of rap, much like country music, must always be storytelling. Her lyrical exploration of life elevates the form to something special.
Buddy, Harlan & Alondra
Rapper Buddy released his long-awaited debut album, Harlan & Alondra, in Buddy is the literal son of a preacher and a drug addict, so his music is steeped in soul and gospel and hurt and pain. However, this is not a bleak album. It’s an artistic statement by a confident musician. Buddy is just 24, but he’s been on the scene for nearly a decade, acting and releasing LP’s and singles. Although Buddy was signed by Pharrell as a teenager and connected with Snoop, Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, in 2016 he regained his independence. Rather than releasing his debut on Pharrell’s label, this one is out on RCA. Buddy raps about South Central without ever resorting to cliché. The album is a lush exploration of LA. The album includes appearances, Ty Dolla $ign, A$AP Ferg, Snoop Dogg, Khalid, and Guapdad 4000.
J.I.D., DiCaprio 2
Another sophomore album, JID’s DiCaprio2, also got critical acclaim. Atlanta rapper Destin Choice Route created a dense, cinematic concept album drawing on themes from the movies Inception, Django Unchained, and The Aviator, and playing as an ode to JID’s favorite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. JID is a fantastic lyricist who is also an expert at injecting humor and jokes into the game.
Vince Staples, FM!
Vince Staples lives to troll, and his third album gives him plenty of time to strut his stuff. The title refers to radio and Staples gets after it with interludes consisting of faux radio teasers in the classic style of hip-hop radio, with their extensive hyping of BRAND-NEW SINGLES! The idea is that the 22-minute album is just you in the car listening to your favorite FM station. This includes appearances by Ty Dolla, Tyga, Big Boy, Kamaiyah, and Earl Sweatshirt. Staples is loyal to Long Beach, and he remains firmly embedded in the SoCal rap scene. Staples creates classic summer jams but underneath violence and darkness lurk. The song “FUN”, for example, is brimming with party vibes, but Staples issues a terse reminder: “My black is beautiful, but I’ll still shoot at you.” More than anything, this Staples record rocks out, and you should check it out.