The Good, Bad, and Ugly for Hip-hop Fans this Year.
Note: Lots of hyperlinks in this piece, so feel free to click away if you find yourself wondering what I’m talking about or want some more info on a certain drop.
Note 2.0: Here is a link to my Top 100 played songs playlist
2018 might go down as one of the most eventful years for hip-hop in recent memory. From the beefs to legends reentering the game and the genre taking over the billboard charts, hip-hop is at a peak currently and is at the apex of mainstream popularity. Whether this is for better or worse is still up for discussion, but hip hop music and its stars have been in the spotlight for the majority of 2018. From Instagram famous face tattoo MCs to artists having large cultural impacts or giving back in huge ways, a hip-hop artist is always in the latest headlines. With a slew of new tunes coming out weekly and fresh releases for just about every style of listener, lets dive into the ups, downs, and bumps along the way of 2018.
Big name drops
2018 would see some of the most hyped up releases from artists who are on the top of their game. The long awaited third studio album from Travis Scott Astroworld ended up dropping in august after being teased for what felt like an eternity. And it definitely did not disappoint. ASAP Rocky would also release a teased album in May, and while it might not be for everyone, TESTING definitely pleases listeners with its unique sounds and non-radio ballads. We would see Drake drop his 5th album, Scorpion, along with an A and B-side. At this point the only album left that had been almost an afterthought since its been rumored for so long is Tha Carter 5. Five years in the making, Lil Wayne would drop Tha Carter 5 and return to the upper echelon of rap. Just 2 weeks ago we received a Diplomats album (Diplomatic Ties), featuring 9 songs that sounded vintage and current all at the same time. Gucci Mane is dropping a project in December, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some industry giants had a surprise in store for us during the last month of the year.
This year we gained lots of music that wasn’t necessarily advertised until the very last second. In the last week of May and the whole month of June, Kanye would produce albums for a slew of G.O.O.D Music artists, including him. Every Friday, we would be blessed with a 7-track album that usually ran about 20-25 minutes. The brevity of the projects played in their favor, and Pusha Ts Daytona is definitely in contention for AOTY among many. Many think the albums dropped around Drakes Album date of June 15, but we will get into that later. Along with these unexpected EPs, we received a joint Beyoncé and Jay Z album out of nowhere. Everything is Love especially excited listeners of streaming platforms, since Jay Z is not available on Spotify or Apple music. These are just a sampling of albums that came without any warning. Check new releases every Friday and it is guaranteed you’ll see something that comes as a surprise or had only a weeklong rollout.
While OGs had released a ton of new music in 2018, large figures in the rap game didn’t stop there. We saw the entrance of many new acts in 2018, most of which came from cosigns of larger artists. We can look to drake for putting on BlocBoy JB and Lil Baby. We can thank Young Thug for getting flows and cadences similar to him out of rising star Gunna. We also saw a rise of internet rap, specifically Soundcloud rap. Stars like XXXtentacion, Trippie Redd, Sheck Wes and Smokepurpp all came from a viral use of the music-sharing site. We saw crews who came together because of the Internet (YBN crew), and also artists who blew up thanks to their Instagram antics (6ix9ine). Like it or not, these guys are here to stay, and the internet as a whole has made it very easy to have your music heard.
This is a tough idea to dance around. While to a rap purist, beefs are apart of the game. And while I almost put this under the good, overall I think it can put a sour taste in the mouth prior to the altercations. While the Pusha T Drake mess was fun to watch, things just got a little too personal, with both rappers at fault. Another thing that didn’t sit well with most was drake claiming he could end King Push’s career with the track he had in the vault. Is there really a track in the vault? Few will ever know. This was corny, as Drake should of either dropped said track or just held the L for the rest of the year. Another form of beef that was frowned upon in 2018 was the social media beef that were often started for no reason. Majority of beefing in 2018 had no music or disses involved, and were just people talking trash on the gram and twitter. While this is still under the bad, I feel as though competitive sparing (that at first would seem to be beef but just a friendly competition) was inspired by the Pusha/Drake and MGK/Em disses. In November we saw Tory Lanez and Joyner Lucas go blow for blow. With 4 tracks and a pretty unanimous tie between the two, everyone enjoyed the MCs testing their flows and punch lines in the exchanges.
Having multiple albums to listen to every Thursday night at 9PM (west coast time) isn’t a bad thing, right? Overall you’d be a little silly to think this. The massive drops and large flux of music this year has been great for hip hop as a genre and has put on many artists. However, as a listener, it has almost started to become a tedious job. There are so many marque album drops a week that you are guaranteed to at least have 3 majorly anticipated drops to comb through. At first, it seemed like a blessing. Alas, it has turned into somewhat of a curse. If an album has more than 15 tracks it becomes more of a chore to listen to. One major drawback as well with all these drops is the longevity of some of the projects. We see some artist being shadowed by others (Mac Millers Swimming not getting the credit it deserved to due Astroworld being lined up on the same date). There are so many big name albums that we are always changing to a new soundtrack weekly. While personal favorites stick, people could be missing out on phenomenal albums due to listening to a release only once or twice and not really letting it age due to the anticipation of the project next week.
Drug glorification/ Untimely deaths
Drug glorification isn’t anything new in the year 2018. However, this year certain drugs have risen to fame and continue to get shout outs in song lyrics steering people the wrong way. Xanax and lean have had a big year in 2018, even after taking the lives of some or spiraling the careers of others. While these will not disappear, you’d think people would maybe stop giving them the light they do in songs. It is nice to know in 2018 some artists are rallying against the movement. Sadly, in 2018 we saw 26 deaths in hip-hop, most notably XXXtentacion and Mac Miller (a longtime favorite of mine).
A Numbers Game
While we look at all the new releases of 2018 and multiple artists dropping more than project in the year, we can’t help but look at the labels and the numbers game that has really taken over the genre with the use of streaming. While getting all this music in one year is awesome and always having something fresh to listen to is a blessing, it can’t help but feel like there is a fine line of quality control being blurred. Personally, I don’t think you can really put out more than 2 albums in a year and think they are all equal bodies of work. We see artists take 2-3 years to put out one, and even then it still cannot live up to the hype. The music labels and musicians themselves are playing a numbers game. We find artists putting hits they might only be featured on to boost numbers, along with inflating the track list to help get to the top of the charts. We can look at a prime example of this in Scorpion. This album didn’t really sit well with me, because anything with a run time that long is hard to digest. On top of this, there seemed to be a lot of filler in between the tracks with substance. The Joe Budden Podcast touched on this in a recent episode, and brought up if it was cut down it could be the #1 album of the year. At first this is laughable, but if you take 12 or 13 out of the 2-disc album, you’d have a very strong body of work.
2018 has set up hip-hop for an interesting 2019. One must wonder if we are going to get projects shoved down our throat every week or it will go back to a less saturated genre just from the fact that anyone who is anyone has released a project this year. I believe people who typically take longer on albums and have a little more of an artistic approach (A$AP, Travis, Joey Badass, etc) will continue to space out projects, regardless of numbers or label tactics. However, a lot of the new talent I think is so accustomed to the workload and overproduction they will continue to put out project after project, giving their previous projects limited time to breath and really blossom. Whatever happens, plan to keep those ears open for the rest of the year as we await projects from 21 Savage, Gucci Mane, Offset, XXXtentacion, Ice Cube, Kodak Black, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Method Man, and many many more.
Bonus: Take a look at these lists detailing 2018 hip-hop hits/albums
Complex top 50 albums (not exclusively hip hop)
HotNewHipHop top 30 (take a look at the comments, not many agree with the standings)
Billboard Year end Top Hip-Hop/R&B (Purely based off of numbers)