Arts and Entertainment

Top 10 Albums of 2018

The top ten best albums of 2018, based on lyrics, production, vocals/music, and cultural significance.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

2018 was a strange year on all fronts. Kanye West dressed up as a Roblox character, Will Smith jumped out of a helicopter, Barbra Streisand cloned her dog, and the entire world stopped in its tracks because someone found a recording of the word “laurel.” The music scene was also (how do we put this gently) interesting. After tirelessly sloshing through the mess of albums that came out in 2018, we picked 10 individual pieces of work that we felt were the best albums of the year in terms of lyrics, production, vocals/music, and cultural significance. Here they are:

10. “Invasion of Privacy” by Cardi B

Best Songs: “Get Up 10” and “I Do”
Genre: Hip-hop

If you haven’t heard of Cardi B, then I’m not sure what kind of rock you’ve been living under. 2018 has been an unpredictable year for this rapper from the Bronx. She had a baby, got divorced, released an album, and took part in a number of “beefs,” some of which turned into lawsuits. However, you can always count on Cardi to put her personal life aside and produce empowering, energetic music. “Invasion of Privacy,” Cardi’s first album, features many other rappers and R&B artists, such as Migos, 21 Savage, Kehlani, and Chance the Rapper. Cardi even exhibits her Spanish roots in “I Like It,” a collaboration with J Balvin and Bad Bunny.

Cardi is not afraid to tell people how she feels, and as a result, this album is a great representation of her personality. She sets the tone for the album with the introduction, “Get Up 10,” where she leads in with a slow beat, has a powerful bass drop, and then releases a rant on how the music industry tried to hold her back. She opens up about her rags-to-riches story in which she went from stripping and working low-income jobs to being the best rapper of the year. Her incredible lyrics and plays on words work so well in songs like “I Like It,” in which she raps, “Told that b*tch I'm sorry though / 'Bout my coins like Mario / Yeah they call me Cardi B, I run this sh*t like cardio.” Cardi’s relatable struggle to success inspires many and gives listeners the motivation to push through and block out all the negativity to reach the top.

9. “Superorganism” by Superorganism

Best Songs: “Nai’s March” and “Relax”
Genre: Indie pop/Electronic

You’ve probably never heard of indie electronic group Superorganism, and that’s exactly how they like it. This eight-piece indie pop outfit doesn’t try to conform to the standards of the industry right now. Instead, they go in their own direction, using playful synths and effects to convey a rare feeling of childlike wonder. Each of their songs communicates a different part of our world that isn’t often talked about in music. “Everybody Wants to Be Famous” discusses the human need to be known, while “Relax” talks about stress and overcoming it.

At its core, though, Superorganism is just a fun band to listen to. Packed to the brim with interesting special effects and gliding synths, it is nearly impossible to listen to “Superorganism” without cracking a smile.

The production is entirely original and new, as the band makes a seemingly new genre just for them. “Superorganism” is impossible to categorize into just EDM or indie or pop, as it is simply a style that has so rarely been explored. The album is truly is a joy to listen to and was probably a joy to create as well.

8. “H.E.R.” by H.E.R.

Best Songs: “Avenue” and “Best Part”
Genre: R&B

“H.E.R.” by H.E.R. is a Grammy-nominated album that is perfect for when you’re in the mood to do nothing but sit on your bed and eat ice cream. H.E.R. is a relatively new artist; when she first started in the music industry, she tried to hide her face and keep her identity a secret to make listeners focus on the stunning voice she is presenting, not the face behind that voice. This slow and sultry album provides listeners with a deep understanding of H.E.R.’s feelings toward her relationships. “Best Part,” a collaboration between H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar, is, in my opinion, one of the best R&B singles of the year. The two artists display their extraordinary and complementary vocals in this soft and calming song. The honesty and passion behind the lyrics are evident in their voices as they sing, “You're the coffee that I need in the morning / You're my sunshine in the rain when it's pouring.”

In “Avenue,” H.E.R.’s distinct, raspy voice effortlessly produces a wide range of sounds. H.E.R. sings about her anger and frustration toward men and the way they make it hard for her to leave. Not only is each song on “H.E.R.” extremely well produced and melodious, it also follows a relatable storyline that prevents this album from getting old.

7. “Trench” by Twenty One Pilots

Best songs: “Legend” and “Jumpsuit”
Genre: Alternative rock

After three painful years of a Twenty One Pilots hiatus, they’ve finally returned with a fourth full-length album, and it was definitely worth the wait. The addition of a real bass was a risky choice for the band, possibly compromising the alternative and quirky sound they’ve worked so hard to build with albums like “Blurryface” and “Vessel.” But it pays off. They stay true to their slightly alternative roots while going in totally new directions with songs like “Leave The City,” a gloomy piano ballad, and “Pet Cheetah,” a song that takes notes from hip hop and provides an eclectic blend of sounds from all different times, genres, and artists.

“Trench” tells a story created by vocalist Tyler Joseph about a fictional civilization known simply as DEMA and expands on this dystopian story with wonderful world building and excellent character development through the lyrics and videos. The amount of time that must have been spent crafting this album and storyline and the amount of courage the band must have had to pull it off is truly admirable.

“Trench” wasn’t a surefire hit; it wasn’t made to pump out radio hits like the duo’s previous album “Blurryface” might have. However, “Trench” was an album built to last, and it was created with actual musical quality as a top priority.

6. “Sweetener” by Ariana Grande

Best Songs: “Better Off” and “Sweetener”
Genre: Pop

This album has been on the radio so much that I’m sure Ariana’s vocals are playing in your head right now, so I’ll make this short. Ariana Grande puts her everything into creating albums, and there hasn’t been a single one that we listeners haven’t memorized the lyrics to. Some songs on the album, such as “R.E.M.” and “sweetener,” display a slow and soothing tempo, while others, such as “everytime” and “breathin,” are dance pop songs. “God is a woman” is a song with traces of trap, pop, and even reggae, creating a sound unheard of before. Ariana uses her lyrics to empower women by helping them remember that they are important and their voice should be heard loud and clear. Ariana’s music has reached such a wide spectrum of people because she is able to make fans feel understood and give them a safe haven with her words, as seen in “God is a woman.”

A terrorist attack took place in Manchester during Ariana’s concert in 2017. Ever since, Ariana vowed to keep her music honest and motivational, and that is exactly what she achieved with “Sweetener.” Every song is an anthem for listeners and makes them feel understood, even if it is just for a few minutes.

5. “Redemption” by Jay Rock

Best Songs: “King’s Dead” and “Knock It Off”
Genre: Hip-hop

Before the hip-hop track “King’s Dead” came out from the “Black Panther” movie soundtrack, I had no idea who Jay Rock was. And I’m so glad I discovered him, because “Redemption” ended up being one of the albums that defined my 2018.

Songs like “Knock It Off” radiate Jay Rock’s calm, cool, and collected side, but others show he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. “WIN” is a joyful three and a half minutes of light flexing—not the obnoxious Lil Pump/6ix9ine-style bragging about how many women he had on his side, but simply fun rapping about achieving goals and being willing to sacrifice everything to get to where he needs to be.

If you find parts of Rock’s music reminiscent of rapper Kendrick Lamar, it’s because it is. Kendrick Lamar ad-libs his way through the album with Jay Rock, and it’s a special treat whenever he does. The features on this album work perfectly, including J. Cole, Tee Grizzley, SZA, and Future. Each of them adds something new, like SZA’s smooth R&B vocals or Future’s whiney but addictive mumble rap.

In the end, though, Jay Rock’s not afraid of having a little fun, as apparent with the famous line in “King’s Dead” sing-rapped by Future: “La dee da dee da, slob on me knob.”

4. “Black Panther: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” by Kendrick Lamar

Best Songs: “King’s Dead” and “Big Shot”
Genre: Hip-hop

“Black Panther: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” the soundtrack to the Marvel movie “Black Panther,” was produced by Grammy Award winner and hip-hop icon Kendrick Lamar and is also a nominee for this year’s Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album features many different African-American artists, such as Khalid, Swae Lee, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and 2 Chainz. It all works together both individually and within the context of the movie, creating a meaningful hip-hop/pop album. The producers of this album created songs that represent authentic African culture by using classical beats and tempos in songs such as “Redemption,” which features two African-based artists. Most movie soundtracks are overlooked by listeners, as the main focus is usually what’s going on in the movie. However, Lamar’s “Black Panther” is unique in that it has built a reputation separate from the movie it was created for. This explosive album alone has represented many African people, as it was written, produced, and sung only by African artists who empower listeners through their defiant body of work.

3. “Kids See Ghosts” by Kanye West and Kid Cudi

Best Song: “4th Dimension” and “Feel The Love”
Genre: Hip-Hop

Only seven days after “ye,” an album of debatable quality, Kanye erased any notion that he might be slowing down by dropping his Kid Cudi collaboration album “Kids See Ghosts.” This album boasts just seven tracks, with each one bringing something new to the table. My personal favorite track, “4th Dimension,” starts with a sample of Louis Prima’s “What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’)” and builds the beat from there, adding a pounding kick, an addictive bass, and a reversed sample in the background. Kanye raps his part, an interlude plays for a few beats, and then Cudi starts his verse.

It’s totally possible for a rapper like Kid Cudi to be overshadowed by Kanye, who right now is at the center of controversy and in the middle of the public eye. But Cudi stands his ground and delivers a cool and suave verse, proving he can deliver a song seemingly made for all of Kanye’s strong suits. Overall, this album exceeded all expectations and gave fans exactly what they wanted from a Kanye/Cudi collab.

2. “Astroworld” by Travis Scott

Best Songs: “Wake Up” and “Carousel”
Genre: Hip-hop

Months after this album’s release, you can still hear the opening words of “SICKO MODE” (“Sun is down, freezing cold”) at almost any event. Travis Scott’s iconic album “Astroworld” is a tribute to a closed down amusement park in Travis’s hometown of Houston, Texas. This track has 17 songs, many of which feature notable artists of different genres, creating an album of very diverse products. The two leading songs on this track are “BUTTERFLY EFFECT” and “SICKO MODE.” Travis teamed up with Drake, Swae Lee, and Big Hawk on “SICKO MODE” to create an incredibly distinctive song. “SICKO MODE” is so unique because the beat changes three times, creating three different sounds in the span of five minutes.

“Astroworld” also includes songs like “CAROUSEL” (ft. Frank Ocean), in which the two artists’ contrasting voices create a beautiful trade-off. In “COFFEE BEAN,” Travis sings, “Your family told you I’m a bad move / Plus I’m already a black dude,” discussing his relationship with Kylie Jenner. This personal song allows listeners to understand what it’s like to constantly be in the public eye—being judged on your life choices by everyone around you.

“Astroworld” will continue to stand as a benchmark for great hip-hop albums in 2019, as each song is true to Travis’ musical style, yet no two songs sound the same.

1. “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves

Best Song: “High Horse” and “Velvet Elvis”
Genre: Country

Let me be abundantly clear right now. Yes, this album is country. Yes, I hate country. And yet, this is the undisputed best album of 2018. Don’t turn away now because of the genre; Kacey proves very quickly she can’t get boxed in by a simple label like that. In fact, you may be shocked to see this album seated at the #1 seat of this article. Don’t be. The fact that you’re surprised just goes to show that you haven’t listened to “Golden Hour” yet.

This 13-song masterpiece will take you on a trip, lifting you out of gray, dark New York City and into the clouds. The blend of acoustic guitars, soft pianos, the occasional banjo, and Kacey’s beautiful voice makes for a deserving number one.

Kacey’s previous albums have solidified her as a legitimate artist in the music scene; her first album showed her talents as a small-town, banjo-toting girl who knows how to talk about big things, and her second proved her rightful place as an ultra-talented singer and songwriter. “Golden Hour,” however, takes Kacey Musgraves up from her dusty hometown of Golden, Texas and places her and her listeners in the sky.

A couple of weeks ago, this album surprised nobody as it earned a nomination for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It deserved it as much—if not more—than any of the other albums on that list (two of which are on this list as well). However, Kacey Musgraves is not dependent on fame or clout to gain recognition, unlike some other artists who deserve the nomination slightly less *cough-Drake-cough.* Kacey didn’t create “Golden Hour” with the intent of putting out hits. She built it for the fans, for the critics, and for anyone who can appreciate good music when they listen to it unbiased.

The music itself isn’t the only stellar part about this album. The lyrics are on a level unmatched by any other country album of today. In “Slow Burn,” Kacey sings over a light acoustic guitar: “Born in a hurry, always late / Haven’t been early since ‘88.” This is the opening line to her album, and right off the bat, she comes in ready to stun you with her prowess every single song. With piano ballads, ‘80s dance tunes, vocoders, and more, this album really does have it all. “Golden Hour” is an incredibly thought out and executed album, and it absolutely deserves the top spot.