To put it plainly, 2018 was a lot. Parts of my self and sanity were tested because life came around so fast and I didn’t know how to cope in healthy ways. I finished my last semester of undergrad and graduated, got into the best relationship of my life, moved to a new city, and started a fight with my inner demons. Thanks to some wonderful people and music, I found those healthy solutions to come around to terms with my ever changing life. Music kept me moving forward and 2018 gave me plenty of it to do just that. The running joke was that there was a high profile album released week after week – some of which were mediocre but bop-approved. Others flew under the radar and provided songs in the keys of life. They are the ones you’re going to see on this list.
Of course, I know the year-end list is tiresome and done. We see publications post the same few in a varied order. Some pretentious writers who think their music taste is superior to others and have the need to tell the world about it (or are forced by their editor). The best of the best albums that stand above others. I can’t argue that I’m that much different as a music reviewer myself. But if you’re reading this, then this has to mean something right? So instead of doing this list as the albums I think that are the best, I’m going to rank these albums in how they made me feel. And yes, I know the word ‘feel’ can be very generic but to do a quick breakdown of what feeling is for me, they are the albums that moved me. Whether they made me physically get up and shake my bones or they left me with tears on my dashboard after a long day of work. These albums either helped me put my own life into perspective this year and to enjoy and appreciate the highlights of it. Even with the pain you gave me, 2018, I thank you for providing more soundtracks to my life. So without further ado, I now present my top 10 albums of 2018.
10. Masego – Lady Lady
How could I not give it up to the man who introduced me to ‘traphousejazz’? To say this beautiful body of work made me move is an understatement. Masego gave me an album that not only provided grooves but reflection. There’s plenty of slick talk but even more so, there are moments of sincerity. The album dedicated to the lady(s) of his life made me appreciate mine. Being currently in love myself, when I play “Black Love”, I can’t help but think of my lady, lady and the possible future I want to achieve with her. Masego and his sax elevate this moment of romance I’m in and has me wishing that it will last forever. I want to work for it.
9. MNEK – Language
This album came out of nowhere for me. In fact, I was late on it (which is the case for most of thee albums on this list). MNEK, who makes sure you know how to pronounce his name in the first song, crafted pop music that I never expected to hear this year. The way he sings is as if he is playing with the music itself. He tested what I thought pop music could sound like. It was new yet familiar. Plus, for a singer, he has more flows than most rappers. Partying in a British club was added to my bucket list immediately after this listening experience was over. After adding it, I pressed replay.
8. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man
With this year of discovering deeper parts of myself, I needed music that made me ask those questions about me that I wasn’t ready to hear answers for. I was looking for a catalyst. Mick Jenkins gave me that. Jazz rap always gave me a space to do that and there was plenty of it. He took a hammer to the mirror in which he looked at himself and was looked at every aspect of his life. It made me do the same. From this, I’m still picking up the pieces, but songs like “Stress Fracture”, “Reginald”, and “Plain Clothes” help me pick them up even if I get cut from the glass. The inspiration helped me pick my pen back up. Even if I’m damned if I know, I’ll be happy to no longer be in ignorance.
7. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
The first album I bought on CD this year (yes, I really still buy CDs). Tears were my frequent reaction to this music. Lyrically, I had to reminisce about a younger me. I’m still young but Jorja’s delicious, dream-like vocals floated me to the clouds of memories that seemed like a lifetime ago. The past loves, losses and realizations of my teenage years were front and center in my face. The beats were perfectly slow and I got to take my time with each thought that came to mind. After the dream was over, I could look back on how far I had come. I was first a teenager a decade ago and seeing this self of adolescence gave me context on how much I have changed. It was a beautifully sad and relieving record for my past.
6. Tom Misch – Geography
Another one I was late to the party for, and thank God I found it just in time. Shout-out to Colors for putting me on to this greatness. I find that I have to compare this to Stevie Wonder. When I say that, it’s the absolute joy I get when I put this on. Stevie gives me a sense of musical excitement and pleasure whenever a song of his comes on. Geography does the same thing. As a musician, Tom just intrigues me. It’s hard to pinpoint his genre or style, but it’s brilliant. There are hints of pop, funk, hip-hop, R&B, and jazz all over the chords. His guitar keeps my shoulders exercised and he slaps his bass with such vigor that my head can’t stop nodding. Even if I have an 11 hour shift at work, the songs on this project dispel the fatigue so I can get through my day.
5. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
When I was younger, I had a hard time finding spaces for myself in places I felt I didn’t belong in. I was afraid to embrace parts of myself. To this day I find that I hide these parts out of fear of standing out. Shrinking myself down to fit in even though I obviously didn’t. It’s anxiety inducing. This album captured that feeling and I couldn’t help but see “Hope” as the light in the dark of it all. Creating confidence in myself and realizing my worth. Realizing even if these spaces weren’t made for me, I could operate in them. Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) and Janet Mock put oil on the fire that needed to grow inside me. His vocals command attention and his words are unapologetic. They gave me a goal.
4. Noname – Room 25
Since Telefone, I was anticipating the next body of work from Noname. I was hungry for any news or spread of new solo music from her. Besides two guest features last year, 2017 was relatively quiet for Noname. But finally, I got to press play on this thought-provoking, conceptually satisfying piece of art. Paying for most of the project and production out of pocket, you can tell how much love and care was put into the project. The strings are clear and the mixing is masterful. She outdid herself. Being written from the perspective a 25-year old, I find that at 23, I’m dealing with the same problems or thoughts. “You really thought a b***h couldn’t rap huh?”, she asks. And I can’t help but want to slap anyone who thought that. Her poetry flows like water and I’ll gladly drink it up.
3. The Internet – Hive Mind
When we talk about albums we play on those Saturday mornings for cleaning and dancing, this is it. I don’t own a record player (which I will get one someday), but this is the record I plan to buy first. When I say groovy, you say Hive Mind. I have burned so many calories to this album that you’d ask me if I was eating enough. The Internet gave me music to end my summer right. When I made the big move from North Carolina to Georgia, this was played at least half the time there. The album creates the anticipation and excitement of moving. It helped me get past the fears and just let me focus on the good that lied ahead. The guitar licks and drums create a plain for Syd to just skate on with her vocals. If you never caught a groove before, you will when this album is done and you’ll be ready for it to happen every time.
2. JID – DiCaprio 2
This was my most anticipated album of the year. The Never Story was my favorite rap album of last year and good lord, did this give the number one spot a run for its money. It’s the most recent release on this list, but when it dropped, the world stopped for me. I was at work when it came out that night and I had to ask for a break just so I could start listening to it. And when I say I had the stank face on the whole time, it’s no exaggeration. I didn’t get off work that night until 2 a.m. and didn’t go to bed until 4 something. I played it until my body just knocked out. You’d think by playing it at least once a day since the release that I’d be sick of it, but oh how you couldn’t be more wrong. JID raps like his life depends on it while also crafting songs that make you ask how he creates them? Switching flows over a hundred times in a song seems like light work to him. I’m calling it now: this is the Section.80 to his Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. He is on the cusp of greatness and I can’t wait to see him become that star.
1. Saba – Care for Me
When I first heard about the conversation surrounding this album, I said “the guy from the ‘Angels’ song?” I couldn’t believe the swirl around it. I was late to it. But on a morning that I finally felt like it, I played it. When I first finished this album, I had to turn it off. Not because it was bad, but I just couldn’t deal with it at the time. For a person who lives in their emotions, I couldn’t live in them at the time. I knew what I had listened to. I knew it was good. I knew it was one of the best things I heard this year. I just couldn’t at the time. My headspace was different. I was uncomfortable listening to it. Then on a summer afternoon when I was still delivering pizza for Domino’s, I decided to give the album another chance to figure out what was happening. It dawned on me that it wasn’t the album. It was me. I had to pull over because I had started crying. A conversation with my brother earlier in the week had us discussing death and when we or our loved ones could be up next. It was that scary realization that we were getting older and that it was only a matter of time and when it does, how will we cope with that? Life is short and beautiful and unexpected. All we want is to enjoy those moments and try to get better with the time we have. Care for Me is my album of the year because it touched me like no other and helped me grow to be a stronger person to face that time.