By Daniel Paiz
Welcome back to the Year End Awards article!
2018 had so many projects to comb through, it was a marvelous nightmare. It absolutely feels like this year there really is no consensus on the top Hip-Hop albums of 2018, which might just be a good thing.
2018 finds us following the same guidelines that we set up last year.
The cut-off for album consideration is still from December of the previous year until November 30th of the current year.
This year, out of the past seven times we’ve accomplished this Herculean task, is the first time we truly had NO IDEA who would make the Top Seven.
The Honorable Mentions are full of quality albums that nearly made the top seven, and might have been your top album of the year.
The following continues to honor our time-tested tradition of selecting the Seven Best Albums of 2018, as well as the Most Underrated Artist of 2018, the Hardest Working, the Capital Steez Award, the Next One Up Award, and the Best Soundtracks of 2018.
It’s time to see who made the final cut:
Our 2018 Seven Best Albums of 2018 are:
7. Kendrick Lamar/Various Artists: Black Panther: The Album
This is the first time a movie soundtrack has made our top seven list, but it’s well deserved. Kendrick and Co. created the epitome of what one might expect the soundtrack of T’Challa’s life to sound like. This project was truly an all-encompassing soundscape of Wakanda and those who rule it (or try to).
6. Royce Da 5’9: Book of Ryan
Royce Da 5’9 has been criminally slept on for too long, and this project demands that stop immediately. Real name Ryan Montgomery intertwines his rough upbringing with a reflective narrative about his life as well as his understanding of self.
Royce’s lyrical skill set is effortlessly impressive, and easily encourages the listener to re-read this page-turning story.
5. Phonte: No News is Good News
Everyday life via that grown-up rap aesthetic is what Phonte delivers, and it makes for both jamming and reflective music. The veteran North Carolina emcee paints a picture of how life sometimes goes, and he does it with a sound not recreated enough; on second thought, we’ll keep this one for ourselves and play it again and again.
4. Murs: A Strange Journey into the Unimaginable
Melancholy hits the mark on the latest introspective project from the Midtown-LA rapper. Loss, life, love, and how things have changed all are focal points scattered throughout tracks, which can be at a high one point and at a low at the next.
Vulnerability and humor are Murs’ superpowers, and he uses them well.
3. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer
Monáe’s powerful perspective puts forth this narrative of strength via unity and rebellion. She of course has moments of accepting where things are right now, but by no means is this dirty computer going to accept that our current state of affairs cannot be changed.
This electric lady will not be defined by others.
2. Anderson .Paak: Oxnard
The musicality that .Paak layers in every single track enhances the rhymes and vocals to an immeasurable amount of silky smoothness. This is the perfect marriage of Funk and Hip-Hop uniting to craft a fresh body of work.
There’s some Hip-Hop that makes you think, there’s some that makes you move, but this…this makes you do both and it’s wonderful.
1. Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 1
If you recall at a previous top seven album description, criminally slept on emcees are fed up and showing everyone that you will wake up to their brilliance. Black Thought does that in 2018, as he had not one but TWO Streams of Thought volumes bless our earlobes.
Thought’s acrobatic rhyming flows like he’s simply having a conversation with us, while at the same time delivering a narrative chock-full of clever lines. Who else does that? The Roots emcee reminds us what raw rapping sounds like.
J Cole: K.O.D, Black Milk: Fever, Mike Shinoda: Post Traumatic,
Nas: Nasir, Black Thought: Streams of Thought Vol.2, Blu & Nottz: Gods in the Spirit, Titans in the Flesh, Exile: Baker’s Dozen, Elzhi & Khrysis: Jericho Jackson,
Mac Miller: Swimming, Logic: Young Sinatra IV, Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell, Jay Rock: Redemption, Noname: Room 25, 9th Wonder: Jamla is the Squad II, Lupe Fiasco: DROGAS Wave
While it was difficult to decide who was going to make the final seven, there really weren’t any frontrunners this year.
The final tallying of scores was a rush due to how unpredictable it was, and even we were surprised who made the cut and who just missed it.
Black Thought was just ahead of the field, as spots two through seven were separated by the slimmest of margins. A different reaction to a song or two here and there, and some of the Honorable Mentions would have made the top seven.
2018 Soundtracks of the Year:
1. Kendrick Lamar, Various Artists: Black Panther: The Album
2. Ludwig Göransson, Mike Will Made-It: Creed 2
3. Daniel Pemberton: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
4. Tyler Bates: Deadpool 2
5. The Coup: Sorry To Bother You
The Most Underrated Artist of 2018:
How can the guy we dubbed as having the best album of 2018 also be the most underrated? Simple. Thought showed us what Hip-Hop can be, and then provided an ample body of work as proof.
Thought has been emceeing longer than some of the artists on this list have been alive, and he continues to work on his craft and try out new things. There is not a better flagbearer for Hip-Hop, and yet the essence of the genre has been overlooked a lot lately.
Not any more. This guy has put everyone else on notice, and you better come prepared to keep up.
Hardest Working Artist of 2018:
If you watched a Marvel comic book movie or a Ryan Coogler-related project, you likely heard this guy’s musical imprint. Movie scores and soundtracks can add that extra something special, or they can magnify flaws in a film.
Göransson is frankly a musical genius; for example, he moved to Africa to learn firsthand how to craft authentic sounds for the Black Panther score. Meeting Ryan Coogler at USC’s prestigious film school not only changed Coogler’s life, but all of our cinematic and musical lives as well.
The Capital Steez Award (or, the Artist we wished we knew more about award):
This is an interesting time for Hip-Hop. Women are not only over about not being heard, but 2018 was when something was done about it.
While we included Room 25 in the Honorable Mentions section, we want to hear more from this poetic emcee. Her mixing of rhymes with what feels like spoken word has that future of the retro feel, almost like a 90s sound that’s been updated for today.
The Next One Up Award:
2018 was the Year of the Woman when it came to most genres out there, and thankfully Hip-Hop also felt this long-awaited shift too. A lot of attention went to Cardi B and Nicki Minaj this year, but there were a plethora of women holding their own on the mic.
Noname has a flow that stands out, and her poetic delivery will likely make her a mainstay in the genre sooner rather than later. If you are new to her content like we are, enjoy digging into what she’s released so far.
The seventh edition of the Cypher Sessions Year End Awards has come and gone, just like 2018.
For those who have been around since 2012 with us, we sincerely thank you. For those just joining us, or who started somewhere in between 2012 and now, welcome to the party. As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Enjoy the waning days of 2018, figure out what you want to do in 2019, and here’s to a Happy New Year! Look for more articles in the new year, because Cypher Sessions will continue to produce new content and cover music that peaks our interest.