A Year In Music: The Best Albums of 2018


Daniel Fabian, Staff Writer

  1. Kanye West/Kid Cudi – Kids See Ghosts

Kanye West did not shy away from controversy this year and desires nothing but to push the limits of what he considers to be “individual thought.” And in true Kanye fashion, he made a big ol’ mess in the process. Although ye, released earlier this year on June 1, was a defining record in the discography of West, this seven-track album format he was pushing for on his eighth solo record wasn’t nearly sufficient at addressing the complexities of his recently diagnosed bipolar mental disorder. However, on Kids See Ghosts, a collaborative project between Kanye and the melancholic singer/rapper, Kid Cudi, the two finally find their artistic stride and prove to all the naysayers, skeptics, and supporters why they still deserve to be relevant in 2018, even with twelve years of groundbreaking music under their belt. Kids See Ghosts is simultaneously raw and triumphant, every song on the record filled with an emotionally combative punch that entices you from the very start. This is best represented with the record’s sonically bombastic and distorted “Feel the Love.” West and Cudi demonstrate why they are one of the best collaborators in music at the moment, as the two share lines that prove to be both lyrically poignant and purposeful. The album does not restrain itself when communicating manic feelings of pain, paranoia, and sorrow, and it manifests to be one of the most daring musical projects by the two artists. Kids See Ghosts features an eclectic array of sampling that perfectly matches the solemn, and at times, grungy, aesthetic that West and Cudi bring forth. Although the subject matter of the record is somber, the two embrace their inner demons in a manner that can be perceived as celebratory and defiant.

  1. Pusha T – Daytona

Daytona finds Pusha T at what he seemingly does best: delivering tightly compacted verses over dynamic tracks that are sparingly minimal, but equally compact with hype. Although the lyrical style that Pusha T brings to the table can appear to be one dimensional, Pusha T stands out from his peers to distribute songs that are filled with uncontained energy, but also feature Pusha’s raw idiosyncrasies. Daytona is a record that defines itself from the very beginning and states its focal point consistently throughout the record’s seven-track duration. Pusha T raps, quite boastfully and wittingly, about selling drugs, buying extravagant items with his earnings, and the peril that comes with this power. Pusha appears to be brutally honest about this dangerous yet luxurious lifestyle, where he delivers crafty bars about his success and the inescapable paranoia that comes with it. The Kanye-produced instrumentals featured on Daytona maneuvers in perfect sync with the condensed lyrics that Pusha T raps. The production is expertly organic and uncut, a style that sounds pure to the energy that Pusha T exudes throughout Daytona’s entirety.  

  1. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs

Earl Sweatshirt definitively finds spiritual clarity on the most daringly experimental album he has ever released, Some Rap Songs. Although he purposefully underscores the magnitude of his record with its sparse title, Some Rap Songs finds Earl at his most emotionally vulnerable and transparent. The songs on the album, quite eccentrically, coalesce into one another in a way that feels grounded to Earl’s subconsciousness. Some Rap Songs embraces its quirkiness and convulsive nature to outline the makeup of Earl’s depressive and entangled mental state. He is the most lyrically self-reflective on this record and addresses his emotional pain through multisyllabic couplets and clever similes. He vocally weaves in and out on tracks that blur the lines of avant-garde jazz and experimental rap. Lo-fi stuttering sound loops, warped vocal samples, and mind-bending drum patterns make this record quite the hallucinatory listen, but a pensive one as well. Earl evaluates himself as an artist, who was, at one time, a teen prodigy and looks in retrospect at a long-running career that has been filled with both highs and lows. He points to the recent death of his father, Keorapatse Kgositsile, who was a venerated South African poet and political activist, as inspiration for this project to assume the role of a poet-philosopher himself. Earl utilizes New York City underground artists like the avant-garde jazz performance ensemble, Standing on the Corner and Brooklyn-based rapper, MIKE in order to obtain a more grounded worldview as well as push the boundaries of what Some Rap Songs can do sonically. Earl uses their artistic methods to create a style that feels entirely his own but applies their rough-around-the-edges approach to deliver monotone lines that articulate profound sentiments of resentment and abjection. Earl is shaping an artistic legacy for himself and surfaces to be the voice of an emerging independent sound and scene that clearly designates itself on Some Rap Songs.

  1. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love

Safe in the Hands of Love is conceivably the most audacious album from the field of experimental music in 2018. This latest installment from the esteemed avant-garde performance artist Yves Tumor seemingly has no sonic boundaries and, therefore, provides a liberating experience for the listener. Safe in the Hands of Love is a dazzling approach to noise and ambient music that at times can almost pass for R&B and pop. The sound is both invigorating and provocative, as the record seems to show little regard to place itself under one particular genre. Safe in the Hands of Love, on its surface, is a magnanimous statement, but an approachable one at that, and Yves Tumor entices the listener with ease into trying to guess what comes next. However, these majestic swells of strings, frenetic breakbeats, and beautiful vocal falsettos are also matched with disorienting sentiments of danger and despair. The lyrics on the album make references to breaking through feelings of pain and torture as well as to allusions to the tender, complex nature of love. These lyrical themes are ceaselessly balanced with harrowing sonic arrangements that sound as though they are desperately trying to rip through its confinement. The dramatic theatrics of the record are as alluring as they are nerve-racking. Its wavering uneasiness makes Safe in the Hands of Love an evermore compelling listen.

  1. Blood Orange – Negro Swan

Negro Swan by singer/songwriter Devonte Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange flows like a sonic collage, where songs seamlessly stream into one another with pure bliss and euphoria. Despite the record’s elegant facade of graceful alternative pop, progressive R&B, and mid-tempo indie hip-hop, Devonte takes an insular approach to highlight themes such as black depression, racial marginalization, and the importance of community in today’s toxic environment of global culture and politics. Negro Swan simultaneously sounds delicate and chaotic, in which moments of splendor are subtly balanced with depressive sentiments of anxiety and discomfort. Negro Swan connotes a message of rising above suppressive feelings like deflation and sorrow, while also addressing the importance of individuality and self-worth. The songs featured on Negro Swan are introspective and anecdotal, as Devonte provides the listener with small vignettes from his childhood about the physical and mental trauma he faced in England for being black and queer. The album exquisitely depicts, both sonically and lyrically, the very essence of a black swan, an exotic creature in equal parts beautiful as it is ferocious. Negro Swan is arguably the most vibrantly textured record of the year and perfectly refines the art of instrumental minimalism. This is the most focused project by Devonte Hynes and provides the listener with a rare, yet profound sense of intimacy.