9 Hip-Hop Releases this Year You Need to Revisit

More than ever, rap has a voice. Right now. Here’s nine hip-hop releases from this year that you should definitely revisit.

Saba – Care for Me

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PTSD – common among people who survive an extremely tragic event or ordeal. We know this to mostly occur in veterans, but Saba makes the case for the average Chicago kid on his second studio album, Care for Me. The sophomore effort from the windy city MC has a lot to say and it isn’t happy. A complete juxtaposing effort to his debut album, Saba delves into his heart and memories to showcase the vulnerability, relatability, and fatalism of young black men on his side of the city on some jazz-rap production. Whether it’s the circle of “LIFE”, social dominance of “LOGOUT”, or the trappings of trying to get some and running in the streets on “PROM / KING”, Saba does his best to show that everyone goes through something – effortlessly changing flows and evoking emotion in each bar. His audience might need a little more than some extra care after listening to this potential album of the year.  – Tyler Jones

Essential tracks: “LIFE”, “FIGHTER”, “GREY”, “PROM / KING”

Quelle Chris & Jean Grae – Everything’s Fine

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Everything’s Fine is not only one of the great hip-hop albums of 2018, but also one of the wittiest and most thoughtful releases in any genre this year. On their collaborative project, Quelle Chris and Jean Grae provide entertaining exchanges of sarcasm, social commentary and all the above, specifically focusing in on people’s instinct to run from conflict and look the other way when it comes to addressing important social issues. Grae reminds us why she has always been a captivating MC, attacking each appearance with tons of personality and unique flows. While Chris’ delivery isn’t quite as flashy, his bars are incredibly dense and pack a lot of weight. Similar to fellow Detroit native Danny Brown, his quirky vocal style can be entertaining in itself, but once you begin to dig in to each line, there is a lot to uncover. This project is creatively assembled, but also carefully calculated to the point that every song adds depth to the ever so relevant narrative.  – Roberto Johnson

Essential tracks: “My Contributions to This Scam”, “Gold Purple Orange”, “Peacock”

Phonte – No News Is Good News

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I’ve been a fan of Phonte since Little Brother, and loved his solo debut, Charity Starts at Home, but I’m a relative newcomer to his Foreign Exchange work. On first listen, his surprise solo follow up, No News Is Good News, was different to what I expected musically, more intimate and low-key than its predecessor. However, with producers like Nottz, Marco Polo, Illingsworth and more, the beats really work for the content Phonte’s bringing. ‘Tigallo’s’ pen is as sharp and witty as ever, yet the poignant way he deals with some heavy and unique topics hit me square in the chest and had me examining my own life. I literally can’t remember the last time a hip-hop record made me feel like that.  All that and Phonte still finds time to occasionally remind these mediocre MCs out here that, “so help me God, I’ll murder you niggas!”  – ReFlex the Architect

Essential tracks: “So Help Me God”, “Cry No More”, “Such Is Life”

Scallops Hotel – Sovereign Nose Of Your Arrogant Face

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When it comes to pure wordsmithing, Scallops Hotel, aka Milo, is a poet’s poet. His verbal acrobatics consistently rank among the most impressive in the art rap field, and his track record over the past five or so years stacks up strong when compared to other underground MCs. His latest adventure, Sovereign Nose Of Your Arrogant Face, is familiarly mellow, opting for a sparse, eerie sound, as opposed to the melodic and jazzy nature of 2017’s Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!. Though Milo’s delivery does seemed a bit tamed on this project, he still flexes plenty of lyrical gems, lashing out at his critics on multiple occasions. Personally, I find the Scallops Hotel releases slightly darker than Milo’s self-titled work, but even then, I believe him to be a great entry point for people looking to get into art rap and alternative hip-hop. His music requires a lot of revisiting to fully grasp, but it’s still incredibly engaging – even when his bars and references are way over your head.  – RJ

Essential tracks: “A Method (JAW GEMS pausing in the hotel lobby)”, “Private Temple Hours”

Black Thought & 9th Wonder – Streams of Thought Vol. 1

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It took me a while to get into The Roots, but it was hearing them make bangers where Black Thought would go OFF on the mic – “Web”, “75 Bars”, “Here I Come”, that woke me up to Tariq Trotter’s stratospheric talent, both with the pen and with the microphone (which is not always the same thing). This record does exactly what I expected it to do, which is using bangers from the legendary 9th Wonder and the criminally underrated Khrysis, as platforms for Black Thought to black out and commit genocide on the mic, using ridiculous flows, quotables, imagery and left field references. Even with great guest verses from Rapsody and Styles P, this is unquestionably the Black Thought show. We get some introspection on the closer, “Thank You” (on which Khrysis makes great use of a sample from from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah record), which made me look forward to seeing more of this side of Black Thought on the next volume. With only 5 tracks, this does feel criminally short, but hopefully there’s a lot more volumes to come to make up for it.  – ReFlex

Essential tracks: “Dostoyevsky”, “Twofifteen”, “Thank You”

August Greene – August Greene

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Talk about the most unnoticed group debut of the year. Common, Robert Glasper, and Karriem Riggins come together to form August Greene on their self titled first project. Minimalist jazz drums and keys (even the occasional flute) provide the soundtrack to Common’s spoken word flow that’s spitting wisdom as much as it is seeking it. Getting Samora Pinderhughes, Maimouna Youssef, and Brandy to provide softer vocals to go along with Common’s commanding voice works in spades. Tracks like “Let Go” and “Optimistic” lay it down best. The album is speaking as a child in a grown man’s body, trying to figure out the world that is moving too fast, but not at the pace of people like him. Wanting success but not quite sure what to do with it, as if they have nothing at all.  – TJ

Essential tracks: “Black Kennedy”, “Let Go”, “No Apologies”, “Optimistic”

Evidence – Weather or Not

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Evidence’s press statement for this record reads, “I made this album with loyalists in mind…there’s nothing that’s unintentional. There are no wasted words.” Being an Evidence stan since I heard Dilated People’s first album, this pretty much sums up why I love this record. His trademarks are very much front-and-centre, but in my opinion, this is his most cohesive and enjoyable solo record to date. Pretty much everything I’d want from a great Evidence album is here – great production (Alchemist – smh!), insightful lyrics, great performances from frequent collaborators. When he brings in producers or guests you wouldn’t expect, they bring heat too – nothing sounds random or like a cynical business decision. Even the sequencing feels great, with no real noticeable slump period. As an MC, Ev’s never really been a punchline rapper, but he’s mastered the art of putting together thoughtful lines in a slick way that holds up to repeated listens. Like Phonte, Evidence and his loved ones went through seriously hard times during the making of this album and his vulnerability throughout the project, especially on the last track, is both moving and inspiring.  – ReFlex

Essential tracks: “Throw It All Away”, “Runners”, “Sell Me This Pen”

Kyle – Light of Mine

Light of mine

Finding the light in the dark of your mind is tough, but Kyle attempts to do that on his third project and major label debut with Light of Mine. After the massive commercial success of “iSpy” in 2016 and 2017, Kyle capitalized and used the time to craft this album, fighting and working with his conscious to find true happiness and understanding of self. Narrated by the equally hilarious and sarcastic Lil Yachty, Light of Mine has the occasional pop-friendly song in the form of “Babies” and “iMissMe”, but it also poses questions regarding himself and others on “Ups & Downs” or “Rodeo”. With beats unexpected of self-reflection, Kyle might just have you looking into the mirror while you dance to his tunes.  – TJ

Essential tracks: “Ups & Downs”, “Games”, “ShipTrip”, “Clouds”

JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

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The new release from Baltimore rapper-producer JPEGMAFIA excels on multiple fronts, boasting enough to diversity to appeal to a number of different hip-hop audiences. “Peggy” incorporates an interesting blend of dark and moody trap stylings into his production, as well as some catchy refrains in his rapping, so he shares some aesthetic ground with other contemporary artists. Simultaneously, he brings forth so many abrasive and experimental ideas – often fueled by confrontation and a hostile sociopolitical agenda – both as a rapper and producer, that it places him in a unique category of hip-hop artists. Veteran demonstrates that Peggy has enough understanding of melody and modern sounds to make more commercial music, but his audacity to repeatedly say “fuck you” to all things give his songs an edge and an energy that a lot of people will continue to feed off of.  – RJ

Essential tracks: “Real Nega”, “Baby I’m Bleeding”, “1488”

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