Begrudgingly, here’s my 2018 top-10 rap list. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I hate (love?) the snobbery around list season, I hate the way Industry Twitter’s crying about Spotify number posts as if we don’t use Google and every day, and I don’t have a true formula to the number placement. I just go for “How good are you at what you do?” and “How well is your world built in this universe?” I’ve surely missed something you love, and I hope there’s plenty for you to discover here. Before you let my opinion blow you that much, remember it’s mine and you not finna beat my ass about it. Not like you couldn’t with relative ease, but because you’ll let your anger subside and remember I’m one man with one opinion. Now, let’s be all arbitrary and miserable together as we rejoice in the greatest American art form. Honestly, there’s no way to stay mad about writing about this shit, I actually get to do this for a living. Wow. Fuck. Jacques Webster adlib reverb voice. IT’S LIT!
At the weird G.O.O.D. Music Opening Night thing in Chicago, King Push did every record from this album in quick succession — minus the robe he wore on tour — to minimal ‘Fuck Drake’ chants. The funniest thing I noticed between my inner backpacker possessing me to yell and shake the homie Caleb by the shoulder every time we hit the bars together: “If You Know You Know” dropped and some of these fools tried to mosh to it. This wasn’t that: The MAGA Ye beats unwind and unfurl, the bass doesn’t signal the jump response. Push is the focus, as incisive and spiteful as ever. I don’t know how many (breathe in) bar-driven rappers can make folks congregate like this without pivoting to radio over five times, and I’m thankful for that. I’m tired of the Solo Push slander; I think Mr. Thornton was, too. And, contrary to popular belief, I can say that while reminding the timeline that this shit is Still Not a Classic.
I can’t recall the last rap record that arrested me like this one. I also can’t recall having more fun aux-corded up with any other album on unsuspecting normies and the homies that trust my weirdo reformed-backpacker sensibilities. Imagine a RapCaviar kid hearing “Thug Tears” on the above-average sub in their whip, and realizing what the hell’s possible outside the Billboard. Peggy made a record like that: painfully now, intentionally edgy (even in places I don’t vibe with) and fucking fun. It’s overtly political without being annoying, and it’s really some regular-nigga chronicles at the end of the day. The industry’s galvanized around him since the drop, and it’s no surprise as to why. (Special shoutout to the gentleman who framed his casually ageist Twitter condescension to me as a suggestion to leave nigga out my work: I’ve now said it twice here.)
Watching Belcalis Almanzar catch her glo up has been awesome; watching her elevate from decent mixtape form to full-fledged album mode has been fucking awesome. Of all the mid blockbuster rap albums to drop this year, she shit on an overwhelming majority of the men out here. Her rapping proficiency stepped up, she caught multiple hits (and now Grammy noms) past “Bodak Yellow,” and she explored her vulnerabilities through the poppier shit that initially had me worried. This is a calling card for a pivot to Pop Icon that won’t serve as a drink coaster in a decade. No one will regret rapping about expensive shoes that look like socks when “I Like It” came on in the function. May the church say okuurrrrrrrrt!
Meanwhile, as Rap Twitter clamored for their bar-laden classic, Benny spent the year demolishing every feature he touched while quietly cementing himself as the best in the trio. He also spent a good chunk of the year teasing what’s become one of the best rap albums of the year. Who’s the last 30-plus MC with a debut album of this caliber? Who’s got the gritty autobiographical street rap with the abilities to make his OGs look silly on the same track? Whose plug had a farm like Old MacDonald? Benny the Butcher aka The Nigga Y’all Shoulda Kept That Same Energy For. It seems like a really sad time to be a rapper who focuses on… rapping. Without any of the mess attached to it. :/
(Hello: Mumble Rap doesn’t exist, stop bein’ weird.) I’m not finna lie like this album hasn’t gotten more burn from me than anything else on this list, no matter how “objectively” “better” several of these records are. This shit shoulda died in the summertime, but somehow, Carti and Pi’Erre not only surpassed their original effort, they made so many versatile efforts in one statement of reckless cohesion. There’s a Carti song for damn near every mood on the ring, and I adore the bulk of this excessiveness like a capsule of what the hell this year felt like. That said, within the first five minutes of this album, Carti raps about slapping (and “thrashing?”) a woman and it blows the fuck out me. Especially considering the company he keeps. I can’t praise Die Lit and not acknowledge that shit; this acknowledgment feels fugazi right now like I’m not a cis man casually sifting through rap-flavored misogyny in general. Maybe another cis man will think about it if I remind him this way.
I recently reconvened with the homies in a session; we spent about 20 minutes going through Tierra Whack freestyles, I’m talkin’ back when she was Dizzle Dizz. The way she stacked her rhymes, let her outlandish imagery fly, and was just relentless with the flow? No matter how fast she went or how weird a turn she took, we couldn’t let ourselves off the ride. Now, as a product of invention and perhaps convenience, we got 15 songs at Instagram length that not only effectively distill the many stylings of Tierra Whack at an overload pace, there’s more depth in these 60-second transmissions than many can accomplish over projects triple their size. Issa album, but it’s not, but it’s fire!
I remember when young Thebe had the deadpan on a million and all the bars to back them up. Then, album by album, he put the bass in his voice and lifted the pain from his chest, articulating the angst with increasing clarity. In context, the deadpan-esque flows on SRS are far from a regression, but a reflection of how the world’s kicked his ass in every year between his disappearances. He lost his father before finishing this album as an olive branch to mend their relationship, lost his uncle right after, and sifted through ongoing bouts of depression in the whirlwind of growing through all the above. When Earl sounds down, it’s not for lack of development: He’s often defeated, but also triumphant through the exhaustion. I could go on for days about how lazy the “tHiS aLbUm Is JuSt A bAnDcAmP rIpOfF” critique is… and I did, so peep the extended review here.
Which rapper you know got their pussy teachin’ ninth-grade english and writin’ a thesis on colonialism? (I deadass could end the blurb right there.) But no bullshit, when y’all finna slide Fatimah Warner into y’all Top 5’s already? Damn the “femcee” shit, the “she’s the best Woman Rapper out” shit… she’s been thorough for two albums and hella features now, and the list of men competin’ with her is slimming by the drop. On Room 25, Noname’s returned with the heavy sociopolitical interrogations, she’s gone leaps and bounds to problematize herself (and dead the femcee shit y’all are hellbent on continuing) and her vulnerability is unparalleled. It’s like she spills herself with an awkward laugh the way you probably (hopefully) do with the homies. I went all in on the extendo review here.
(Before you proceed, peep the longform with Sauce Money Saba himself.) Another take I’m seeing that I’m wild annoyed with despite the subjectivity: “I mean, it’s a good record, but it’s not top 10. It’s good, though!” LISTEN: As a Day One Saba Stan — I’m talkin’ “GETCOMFORTable” DAY ONE — this is the masterwork I’ve always seen coming back when PIVOT was runnin’ around the open mics in the Chi. It’s unbelievably tragic that we get a record like this and lose a great man like Walter Long (fka dinnerwithjohn, John Walt). It’s also an unbelievably taxing endeavor to craft something new in the wake of losing someone this close. But CARE FOR ME is no funeral march: Saba grieves, indeed, but we also get the clearest insights into the man he’s been and the way he wants to live his life. The rap and soul blends crisp as ever, the rapping’s impeccable even when Sab doesn’t wanna bar us up, and the impact it’ll leave on this year — this game, even — is still far too early to call. When a few generations pass, and another wave of Midwest MCs note Saba and this album as a primary influence, y’all gon’ remember how hard y’all tweaked on this one. I promise.
If your rap year-end list doesn’t have this album on it… there’s a multitude of probabilities as to why. billy woods and Elucid fly below the radar as radical Black Art practitioners, observers of life and stylists of truth. They’re not in the algorithm, they’re not on your curator’s playlist and there aren’t hundreds of thousands of dollars being pumped into the soul of what they’ve accomplished. Paraffin is a Great American Rap Album that pulls not a single blow and leaves nothing unturned. I despise using “challenging” to describe rap, but this record’s not a simple engagement: should you offer your attention, it can offer you the weight of the world. It’s a breathtaking listen, decodable only with braced repetition for whatever you may find. woods and Elucid echo off each other like two prophets shouting from a street corner into the sky, blunt lit. If you’re unacquainted with their individual works, give yourself the opportunity to be amazed by the kind of rap so many folks told you doesn’t exist anymore.