Politically, socially and economically, 2018 will no doubt go down in the history books as a particularly disastrous year. Wherever you looked across the globe, there was chaos, unrest and mistrust. In contrast, however, and on a more positive note, 2018 was an incredible year for new Hip-Hop.
It’s been near impossible to keep up with the vast amount of product flooding the market, with both veteran artists and a new generation of talented emcees, producers and deejays all contributing to the rich selection of beats and rhymes that have been made available over the past twelve months.
As I’ve said before when writing previous ‘best-of’ intros, some ‘heads” still seem surprised that I’m able to find a hundred releases during the course of a year that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. In reality, there have been more than that, and this 2018 selection, as with other years, has been scaled down from an original list which far exceeded that number.
So if you’re still of the opinion that quality Hip-Hop isn’t being released in high quantities, then you’re really not listening or looking hard enough – and in today’s digital era, when most of that music is available at the click of a button without you even having to leave your house, it really couldn’t be easier to find something that suits your sonic preferences.
On a mainstream level (as has largely always been the case) the best that Hip-Hop has to offer isn’t being represented. But in the underground, talent, skill and creativity are still there to be found by those prepared to dig and support.
So with all that being said, this list represents what I had in heavy rotation throughout 2018.
Props as always to all the artists out there making memorable music from a genuine place of love for this incredible culture.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “A Breukelen Story” (Fat Beats) – One of the best to ever do it, since his 1990 debut long-player “Take A Look Around” Juice Crew legend Masta Ace has consistently proven himself to be a true virtuoso of the album format, delivering a long line of well-rounded, concept-based projects. This collaborative effort with the ever-impressive Marco Polo successfully bound together the pair’s individual BK-related narratives, demonstrating what quality, timeless music sounds like in the process. They live in Brooklyn, baby.
Royce Da 5’9 – “Book Of Ryan” (Heaven Studios / eOneMusic) – Intensely personal and brilliantly executed, Detroit wordsmith Royce’s seventh album ran the full gamut of emotions, presenting the listener with a sonic photo album which captured poignant moments in the emcee’s family history, both past and present. Displaying a no-holds-barred honesty in his writing, Royce’s ability to tackle difficult subjects here such as addiction, domestic abuse and suicide, without coming across as overly judgemental or preachy, was a testament to his level of dedication to his craft. “Book Of Ryan” was an album that was shocking, humourous, tragic and inspiring in equal measures.
Children Of Zeus – “Travel Light” (First Word Records) – Arguably the best blend of Hip-Hop and soul since Mary J. Blige enquired about the 411 back in 1992, Manchester duo Konny Kon and Tyler Daley proved that hard work does pay off when, after years of building a cult fanbase for their unique brand of UK street music, the pair finally gained the wider recognition they’ve deserved for so long with the release of this brilliant debut album. An organic mix of sonic influences both past and present, “Travel Light” proudly took its place next to defining works by the likes of Loose Ends, Soul II Soul and London Posse as a truly individual example of quality British music.
Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing – “Finish What We Started” (Village Live Records) – Genuine creative chemistry is something that’s hard to come by in any artistic partnership. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem UK duo Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing had to worry about, with their brilliant album “Finish What We Started” pulsating from beginning to end with an energy that could only be achieved when people share the same drive, focus and passion for what they do. An album with real replay value, “Finish What We Started” was the sound of both Parknsun and Thing at the top of their game, mixing old-school values with now-school skills.
Superbad Solace – “Sol Controller” (SuperbadSolace.BandCamp.Com) – Teaming up with frequent collaborator Mono En Stereo (pka El RTNC), Timeless Truth member Superbad Solace went for dolo on this quality EP, reppin’ for the borough of Queens in no uncertain terms, weaving fly NY wordplay around melodic, sample-based soundscapes with impressive results.
Planet Asia – “The Golden Buddha” (Brick Records) – A key figure in the West Coast indie scene of the mid-to-late 90s, an increase in output over recent years has further proven Planet Asia to be one of the most consistent artists in the game. Produced entirely by San Francisco’s izznyce, “The Golden Buddha” was packed with quality beats and pyramid-precise verses, with PA flowing like the Nile with authority and apparent effortlessness.
The Mouse Outfit – “Jagged Tooth Crook” (TheMouseOutfit.BandCamp.Com) – Having further refined their live, organic sound on each of the group’s full-length releases, this third album from Manchester-based collective The Mouse Outfit was arguably the crew’s most musically sophisticated effort to date. Largely based around mellow, jazzy production laced with tinges of reggae and soul, “Jagged Tooth Crook” found the likes of Dubbul O, Black Josh and Ellis Meade dropping life-affirming lines and spontaneous styles throughout this mammoth seventeen-track project.
Showbiz – “A-Room Therapy” (DITCEnt.Com) – With sonic input from producers Motif Alumni and Dark Keys, legendary crate-digger Showbiz pulled together members of the core DITC crew and extended family affiliates for this showcase of quality Rotten Apple rap, with the likes of O.C., A.G, David Bars and the late Tashane bridging the generation gap with their undiluted rhyme skills.
Flashius Clayton – “Wolf Moon” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – Cali-based Knuckle Sandwich Deli representative Flashius Clayton set 2018 off the right way with this tight EP which dropped on Jan 1st. Combining competition-crushing attitude with natural rhyming ability and an ear for strong production, the West Coast wordsmith singled himself out as one to watch with this release.
Blueprint – “Two-Headed Monster” (WeightlessRecordings.Net) – Grounded in golden-era traditions yet refusing to wallow in nostalgia, veteran Ohio-based producer-on-the-mic Blueprint’s latest long-player was a shining example of thoughtful, mature Hip-Hop which succeeded in sparking your brain cells whilst making your head nod.
Farma Beats – “The Sentimental Alien” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – Having made his name in the UK Hip-Hop scene of the 90s primarily as an emcee with London’s Bury Crew, M.U.D. Family and then Task Force, 2018 saw Farma go global with his production skills, with “The Sentimental Alien” featuring an impressive list of collaborators including Chester P, Recognize Ali and Estee Nack showcasing their skills over obscure loops and quality beats.
Scran Cartel – “Blue Plaque Candidates” (ScranCartel.BandCamp.Com) – Possibly the best combination of Hip-Hop and food since the Fat Boys cracked open a pizza box on the cover of their 1984 debut album, this collaborative project from UK duo MNSR Frites and Benny Diction contained high-protein beats and rhymes that were guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any music connoisseur. Featuring production from Chemo, Downstroke, Blue Buttonz and more, “Blue Plaque Candidates” was three-course home-cooked goodness – no fast-food rap to be found here.
Da Buze Bruvaz – “Ni$&@tivity” (Grilchy Party) – Philly’s Clever One and Him Lo continued to steam-roller over the competition on their latest collection of put-you-in-a-headlock Hip-Hop, with the larger-than-life pair dropping aggressive-yet-entertaining punchlines and thinly-veiled threats over fittingly hardcore production from affiliates such as Shaheed Mudfoot, Claymore and Gosilla. Guard ya grill!
Kool G Rap & 38 Spesh – “Son Of G Rap” (38Spesh.BandCamp.Com) – A collection of unapologetically raw street knowledge which attempted to join the dots between various eras in New York Hip-Hop, “Son Of…” found lyrical architect Kool G Rap passing the baton to Rochester’s 38 Spesh, with the likes of Cormega, AZ and Meyhem Lauren on-hand to rep for the Rotten Apple over production from sonic craftsman such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock and The Alchemist.
Funky DL – “Blackcurrent Jazz 3” (FunkyDL.Bandcamp.Com) – As suggested by its title, this release from London-based producer-on-the-mic Funky DL was grounded in the UK veteran’s love of all things soulful and jazzy, with his witty couplets and entertaining story-telling rhymes meshing perfectly with a seamless sample-based blend of mellow pianos, smooth horns and 90s-influenced beats. He got the jazz, he got the jazz.
Kyo Itachi – “Night Life” (ShinigamieRecords.BandCamp.Com) – France’s king of boom-bap Kyo Itachi pulled together an impressive guest list for this well-executed collection of underground gems, with the likes of Artifacts, Keith Murray and Milano Constantine displaying their well-tested skills over head-nodding, full-bodied production.
Spnda & Grubby Pawz – “Holographic” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their brilliant 2017 project “Steel Sharpens Steel”, Boston’s Spnda and Grubby Pawz once again showcased their creative chemistry on this equally impressive project, a collection of masterfully vivid rhymes and superbly selected samples stitched together with a sci-fi undertone.
Rasheed Chappell – “First Brick” (RasheedChappell.BandCamp.Com) – Seven years since the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album “Future Before Nostalgia”, NY-based emcee Rasheed Chappell joined forces once again with production legend Kenny Dope for this undiluted dose of East Coast Hip-Hop, demonstrating growth in his already impressive writing abilities, drawing inspiration from yesterday whilst looking towards tomorrow.
Ray Vendetta & Karnate – “The Master Chambers LP” (PrestigiousRecordings1.BandCamp.Com) – Having already proven himself to be one of the game’s most consistent and hard-working emcees, London-based lyricist Ray Vendetta didn’t take any time off in 2018, with this Karnate-produced album ranking as arguably the Triple Darkness member’s most complete body of work, highlighting all facets of Vendetta’s rhyming abilities, from street-savvy barbs to moments of subtle personal reflection.
Milano Constantine – “Attache Case” (FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – Co-signed by both Big Pun and Big L, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano is an emcee who has always stayed dedicated to the art of lyricism and this project with Netherlands-based producer Oh Jay didn’t find the Rotten Apple representative deviating from his path. Action-packed wordplay and drama-fuelled soundscapes were the order of the day here, with Milano yet again standing head-and-shoulders above most of his competition on the microphone.
Part Two coming soon.