Best of Hip-Hop in 2018, Part One; Top 25 Album Countdown

Posted by Billyjam, January 1, 2019 10:23pm | Post a Comment

#25 Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar (also on LP/vinyl) (Ninja Tune)

This first part of Best of Hip-Hop In 2018 lists is subjective and limited to albums that were available for sale at Amoeba over the past year year. At number 25 is Scottish hip-hop trio Young Fathers who returned in 2018 after three years with the album Cocoa Sugar (also on LP/vinyl) via Ninja Tune. Similar to many UK "hip-hop" acts, the Young Fathers' album transcended mere hip-hop by also embracing such  genres as electronic, soul, and alt rock while delivering a satisfying rock/pop fueled hip-hop sound from the Edinburgh crew.

#24  Apathy The Widow's Son (also on viny/2LP) (Dirty Version)

Longtime East Coast hip-hopper Apathy dropped The Widow's Son (also on viny/2LP) in 2018, coming less than six months after his last album, the dope O.C collaboration full-length project Perestroika. The  14 track, 50 minute The Widow's Son from the Connecticut emcee/producer known for his numerous collaborations and side projects (The Demigodz, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Army of the Pharaohs) not surprisingly featured numerous collaborative tracks; both emcees and producers. These included Celph Titled, M.O.P., Pete Rock, Pharoahe Monch, AG, Locksmith, Nottz, and DJ Premier who produced and supplied scratches to the triple-dope album track “The Order.”

#23 Illa J John Yancey LP   (Jakarta Records)

John Yancey LP  via Jakarta Records by Illa J is the California based, Detroit rapper/singer/producer's second collaboration with LA producer Calvin Valentine. On the 2018 John Yancey LP, the brother of J Dilla gets personal and shares about life matters such as the challenges of relationships, and coping with grief over the years since the death of his beloved older brother.
#22  Potatohead People  Nick & Astro's Guide To The Galaxy (Bastard Jazz). 

There was a ton of amazing instrumental hip-hop released in 2018, albeit much of it was under the radar online-only hard to find stuff. Among the quality physical releases was Potatohead People's  Nick & Astro's Guide To The Galaxy (Bastard Jazz) that served up some retro feeling, groove laden, laid back instrumental tracks. There were also some vocal tracks on this album filled with lush beats and smokey grooves from the Vancouver production duo made up of Nick Wisdom and AstroLogical.

#21  The Egyptian Lover  1985 (also on vinyl 2LP) (Egyptian Empire)

Following legendary LA artist/friend of Amoeba the Egyptian Lover's 2015 album album 1984, is the recent / late 2018 album 1985 (also on vinyl 2LP) from the electro pioneer. A little oover an hour's worth of new music it's got 8 solo tracks that include "5 Cent Camel Ride," "International Freak" and the updated version of the Wham! hit Everything She Wants." it's also got 5 collaborative tracks that include  "Beyond The Galaxy" featuring the world's greatest turntablist DJ Qbert, "Future Tech" featuring Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins, "The World Keeps Turning" featuring old school electro crew Newcleus ("Jam On It"), "Problems Of The World" featuring Zarcon and "Come On" features Funkmaster Ozone.

#20  Styles P Dime Bag (Phantom Entertainment)

Distinctive sounding emcee and diehard weed fan Styles P, who earlier this year released G-Host (feat. such tracks as "Morning mourning"), in 2018 also unleashed his new ten track release Dime Bag via Phantom Entertainment. Featuring such tracks as "Never Fight An African," "Money and Checks," "War N Peace," "Time Machine" and "Couple Dollars" the album demands repeated hits on the replay.

#19 Planet Asia Mansa Musa (Cleoptra / X-ray)
Putting it down for many years and slept on by the mainstream, Fresno's first son of hip-hop Planet Asia dropped two albums in 2018; The Golden Buddha back at the start of the year and just before the summer the 50 minute,16 track album Mansa Musa (X-ray/Cleopatra). Mansa Musa showcased the artist's unique flow while also featuring great guest spots from such artists as Hus KingPin, Bad Lucc, Phil The Agony, Killer Ben and Supreme Cerebral.  The latter artist's cameo was on the standout album track "Money All Day" which broke down the backstory to the album's title. Mansa Musa was the wealthy 14th century African ruler of the (rich in natural resources) Mali Empire who is considered by many to be the richest man who ever lived. “Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate. This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen,” is how University of Michigan associate history professor Rudolph Ware described Mansa Musa's riches in a Time magazine story on the richest people in history.

#18 E-40 The Gift of Gab  (Heavy On The Grind)

This solo joint from E-40, released in late September, is a tie with the legendary Yay Area game spitter's other (collaborative) 2018 album with fellow Click member B-Legit Connected & Respected that dropped five months earlier. Sporting a dozen tracks (minimal by Forty Wata's standards)  The Gift of Gab (not to be confused with the Solesides/Quannum artist with similar name) was the 50 year old prolific Vallejo artist's 28th album to date. It was also reportedly the first album installment in 40's new three-part Definition series. Standout tracks on this premiere in that new trilogy include "The Pots & Pan Man," "Dennys," "The Pack Attack," "Ain't Talkin Bout Nothing (feat G Perico & Vince Staples), and "Ballhog (feat. Stressmatic)."

#17  Brownout Fear Of A Brown Planet (also on vinyl/LP) (Fat Beats Dist.)

An album I found myself listening to a lot in 2018 (and hearing new instrumental parts each time) was Austin,Texas Latin funk ensemble Brownout's Fear Of A Brown Planet (also on vinyl/LP). An instrumental reinterpretation of Public Enemy's landmark Fear Of A Black Planet, Brownout deliver a refreshingly wonderful reworking of the PE classic just as they did four years ago when reinterpreting Black Sabbath as Brown Sabbath. Kurt at Amoeba Berkeley nicely summed up the new PE homage as; "a wonderful and serious reinterpretation ..... filtered through their lens of Latin, salsa, funk and breaks."

#16 Cypress Hill Elephants On Acid (BMG Rights Management)

2018 saw the return of Cypress Hill with the September release of their ninth studio album and first in eight years; Elephants On Acid (BMG Rights Management). What made the album a return/comeback type release was that it was the iconic stoner hip-hop crew’s first album in fourteen years with the full original power lineup of B-Real and Sen Dog back together with DJ Muggs and his Midas touch. Muggs'  diverse production approach on the 21 track album ranged from the traditional Cypress Hill sounding "Pass The Knife"  and "Jesus Was A Stoner" to the Middle Eastern/North African sounding lead single (and clear album standout track) "Band of Gypsies" that featured two guest Egyptian emcees; Sadat and Alaa Fifty.

#15   Nas NASIR  (Def Jam)

Legendary Queensbridge rapper Nas may not be dropping timeless classics like his landmark Illmatic but he continues to record and release relevant music addressing topics close to his heart. More of an EP than an LP, the seven track 2018 released NASIR featured the standout cut "Adam and Eve" featuring The Dream and produced by Kanye West.

#14 Kev Brown Fill In The Blank LP (Redefinition/Fat Beats)

Fill In The Blank LP tied with Homework and Delve into Classical Moog LP which were all released by the busy hip-hop artist Kev Brown in 2018.  Fill In The Blank  on Redefinition/Fat Beats was similarly a tight release, albeit a not too long one coming in at under half an hour of music on twenty short tracks that included “Better Handwriting," "Strictly Hardcore B-Boy!," "A Bob Ross Moment" and "Walkin' the Gauntlet." Meanwhile featured such great songs as the smooth and soulful, slow BPM driven hip-hop track "Look At The Words Move."

#13  deM atlaS Bad Actress (also on  vinyl/LP) (Rhymesayers)
deM atlaS' Bad Actress (also on  vinyl/LP) was one of the year's effortlessly diverse sounding albums (not just hip-hop) from the Minneapolis multi-talented artist born Joshua Turner who is an emcee, poet, painter, and former frontman for a rock band before turning his attention to hip-hop.  Connected with hometown label Rhymesayers Entertainment, they're diehard fans of the artist. Slug, aka label co-founder Sean Daley, sports a deM atlas T-shirt in the new Atmosphere video for "Graffiti" off Mi Vida Local 2LP. His label celebrate the artist's "unguarded emotions centered around a lifetime of unhealthy relationships, struggles with mental illness, and an indomitable drive to overcome them.” 

#12 The Du-Rites Gamma Ray Jones LP (Redefinition/Fat Beats)
Not emcee/vocal driven but rather on the breakbeat / instrumental tip, Gamma Ray Jones LP is an amazing album that got a limited physical release by NYC's The Du-Rites which is the self-described "instrumental funk combo" of Jay Mumford (aka J-Zone) who plays drums, keyboards plus bass guitar, and Pablo Martin who also plays bass guitar as well as guitar and keys. Many of their dedicated fans came to know The Du-Rites from their work with such acts as Ghostface Killah, Eddie Palmieri, and Robert Glasper. They are constantly dropping sick ass breakbeat treats like this album that was preceded by a single. In April they released the “Gamma Ray Funk” seven inch single (B-side “Fish Sammich”) as a teaser from this later 2018 released 13 track LP of the same name.
#11  Atmosphere  Mi Vida Local 2LP (also on CD) (Rhymesayers Ent)
Atmosphere,  the veteran Midwest hip-hop duo of emcee "Slug" Sean Daley and producer "Ant" (Anthony Davis), dropped their eight studio album in a two-decade plus career; Mi Vida Local 2LP (also on CD). Released on their Rhymesayers label (who also in 2018 dropped the pair's When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold” 10 Year Anniversary Edition 2LP)  was reviewed by Amoeba as reflecting, "the ways in which the world – and their place in it – has changed. At times, Mi Vida Local is a heavy album, but it’s far from grim. The album pairs complex subject matter with equally deep beats – ones that show a clear lineage back to the psychedelic funk landmarks from an earlier era." Formed back in 1996 in Minneapolis Slug and Ant are as surprised as anyone that they are still making music all these years; all of which they take in stride. Since becoming a father Slug became a purveyor of "dad rap" which is perhaps then the category to fie Mi Vida Local under.

#10 Dr. Octagon Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation
[The SP 1200 Remixes] 2LP
(Bulk Recordings) 
Back in early April this year we witnessed the long overdue return of Kool Keith,  Dan the Automator, and DJ Qbert, with the sequel to their Dr. Octagon project landmark debut Dr. Octagonecologyst from 1996;  the 2018 follow up album Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (also on vinyl/2LP).  Then a couple of weeks later, for Record Store Day 2018, they released a limited edition instrumental version of the album (also via Bulk Recordings) that quickly sold out.  Then in recent weeks we got the remix version of the album pictured above; Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation [The SP 1200 Remixes] 2 LP.  Sporting a new color-altered version of the album cover art, this new release features all the same tracks but each given remix treatment by Dan the Automator  utilizing the historic sampler that shaped hip-hop's golden age; the E-MU SP-1200. Both versions are essential must-gets for fans of these three artists individually or collectively.

#9 Cut Chemist Die Cut (also on LP/vinyl) A Stable Sound)
Revered longtime LA hip-hop producer/DJ Cut Chemists killed it with his 2018 album release Die Cut (also on LP/vinyl) which was the famed Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli member's second official solo full-length album release. Die Cut  by the artist born Lucas MacFadden was the long awatied follow up to his 2006 solo debut The Audience’s Listening. A richly diverse production, Die Cut acted as a perfect balance of Cut Chemist as solo artist and as producer for such collaborators as Biz Markie, tUnE-yArDs, and Edan. The latter artist appeared on the mic alongside fellow guest  Mr. Lif on the bugged out, raw rock, beat drenched track "Metalstorm." Other standout tracks included the uptempo, scratch laced “Work My Mind” featuring Chali 2na and Hymnal, and the electronic styled "Madman" that's reminiscent of such acts as Visage, Ultravox as well as Aphex Twin.
#8 Del The Funky Homosapien + AMP Live Gate 13 (also on vinyl/LP)  (Iot Records)

Since longtime member of the East Bay based Zion I the super-gifted producer/musician AmpLive  split with his emcee partner Zumbi (who continues Zion I solo), he has been busy working out of LA. In 2018 he teamed up again with Del The Funky Homosapien for the full-length album Gate 13 (also on vinyl/LP on which he flexes his next level production style. Del, whose flow works with any style producer, adapts expertly to AmpLive's more future-oriented grooves than the typical Del track as witnessed on such album songs as "Wheel Of Fortune" and Help (feat. Adult Karate)" that continue the vibe the  producer first crafted a decade ago on “RADIOHEAD RAINYDAYS REMIXES” - his dope Radiohead remix project that included guest mic spots from Del as well as Zumbi and Too $hort.

#7  Illingsworth You're No Fun (Mello Music Group)

Great 2018 album from Detroit hip-hop artist Illingsworth - his first album for Mello Music Group - You're No Fun with 4 of its 17 tracks vocal/rap tracks and the rest instrumental; all of which are killer.  The album's perfectly selected emcee guests for two of the tracks are Open Mike Eagle ("Peeves") and Denmark Vessey (DnD). For more background on this album and its creator check out the full Amoeblog Illingsworth interview/feature from three months ago.

#6  PRhyme PRhyme 2 (Prhyme)

The long anticipated sophomore release from PRhyme (aka the power duo of producer DJ Premier and rapper Royce Da 5'9"); the album PRhyme 2 arrived into Amoeba back in mid March 2018.  Three decades into a long illustrious and influential career that began with the late great emcee Guru as the iconic hip-hop duo of Gang Starr, DJ Premier displayed what a talent he continues to be by effortlessly always bringing out the best in emcees as he did again with Detroit mic wrecker Royce on the 17-track, 52 minute album on which others joined the duo. These guests included Dave East, Roc Marciano, Rapsody, Big K.R.I.T., and CeeLo Green. Impressive is how Premier does not stick to one tired formula but explores new areas in his production on this tight album.
#5 Homeboy Sandman & Edan Humble Pi LP (Stones Throw)
What a great pairing! In 2018 the one of a kind wordsmith from Queens NY Homeboy Sandman teamed up with the perfect collaborator, the legendary, unique, witty producer/DJ/emcee and former Berklee College Of Music student Edan for the excellent Stones Throw released album Humble Pi LP. Standout tracks include the anti-tech "#NeverUseTheInternetAgain" which showcases both Homeboy Sandman's always next level lyrical wordplay and Edan's clever production. Produced in full by Edan, the majority of the mic work is left to Homeboy Sandman but Edan does jump on the mic a bit including on the psychedelic rock flavored song "The Gut."

#4 Black Milk  Fever vinyl/2LP set version (already avail in CD) (Mass Appeal)

Black Milk is yet another example of Detroit, Michigan continually giving the world a steady flow of remarkable hip-hop artists, many of whom are multi talented and gifted at being both emcees and producers. This list includes the aforementioned Illingsworth and of course the late great J Dilla whom Black Milk formerly collaborated with and whom he considers his main influence as a producer.  Many came to know Black Milk from the group B.R. Gunna (with Young RJ of Slum Village and Fat Ray) and Random Axe (with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson) in addition to his work with Dilla, Elzhi, RZA, Danny Brown and Jack White of the White Stripes. Hence fans of the artist anticipated his latest solo album,  Fever 2LP and CD via the Nas imprint Mass Appeal Records, when it dropped back on March 23rd, 2018. And they were not disappointed with this the follow up to his last album, the all instrumental The Rebellion Sessions. Handling all production and mic duties on the 2018 album, Black Milk crafted one of the year's most timeless albums standout tracks including "Drown," "True Lies," "Foe Friend" and the hypnotic jazzy/African fused lead single "Laugh Now, Cry Later.
#3   Masta Ace & Marco Polo A Breukelen Story 2LP (also on CD)  (Fat Beats)
The seeds for the recommended brand new full length project  A Breukelen Story 2LP (also on CD) collaboration between veteran Brooklyn emcee Masta Ace and Toronto beat master Marco Polo were sown over a decade ago on the Canadian producer's album Port Authority.  That was where, among the standout tracks on the guest-heavy 2007 Marco Polo album, was the Masta Ace featured track “Nostalgia” that sparked a good working relationship and led to this full-length collaborative project between the producer the hip-hop icon whose career began three decades ago with Marley Marl's landmark Juice Crew. The duo's new 14 track album brings out the best in both as well as the guests who make cameos. These include Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Lil Fame (of M.O.P.) and legendary BK duo Smif ‘n’ Wessun. who join Masta Ace on the incredible album track/lead single “Brooklyn.”
#2 Evidence Weather Or Not  (also blue vinyl/2LP) (Rhymesayers Ent.)
Fittingly the cover art of Evidence's stellar early 2018 album Weather Or Not  (also blue vinyl/2LP) pictures the SoCal producer/emcee in his beach side hometown of Venice (aka Venice Beach) where, for the previous couple of years, he has had to stay close to his Venice home studio. It was there, due to needing to be close to his family and unable to go out on the road, that the Dilated Peoples co-founder recorded Weather Or Not. Continuing his long running "weather" themed albums the all killer/no filler new album features such songs as the DJ Premier produced lead single “10,000 Hours." Preemo is just one of many producers on the album. While the former aerosol artist turned hip-hop musician considers himself a producer first and an emcee second, for this album he enlisted a wealth of other producers so that he could focus more on rhyming. Nottz, Jonwayne, and his longtime collaborator The Alchemist (as the duo The Step Brothers) are among the producers to work on the album. Nottz produced "Jim Dean" while The Alchemist produced both "Throw It All Away" and "Powdered Cocaine (feat.Slug)."  As addressed in the autobiographical Budgie produced album track "By My Side Too," it was the birth of Evidence's young son that led to discovering that the baby's mother, his partner, had cancer and thereby essentially saved her life he shares in the emotionally charged song. But it also changed Evidence's life in that he had to stay close to home where, while in his home studio as well as this album has also worked as producer on albums/EPs for Madchild (The Darkest Hour), Defari (Rare Poise - also on vinyl/LP), and Domo Genesis (Aren't U Glad You're U?).

#1 Marlowe Marlowe (also on vinyl/LP) (Mello Music)

Hands down the best album of the year in my opinion was the self-titled debut Marlowe via Mellow Music. Marlowe is the power duo of (currently) Seattle based producer L’Orange and his old school pal from back in North Carolina, emcee talent Solemn Brigham. As witnessed on such L'Orange releases as last year’s mostly instrumental (with select guest emcees) album The Ordinary Man (also on Mello Music) as well as his full length collaborations with various MCs, the producer can both craft incredibly engaging and unique beats and sample driven tracks while working solo, or alternately manage to bring out the very best in those emcees that he chooses to collaborate with. These have included Del The Funky Homosapien, Chuuwee, Blu, Elzhi, Mr Lif, Kool Keith, Jeremiah Jae (as just rapper) and of course Solemn Brigham. It was the Solemn Brigham/Chuuwee featured track “Plastic Fame” on 2017’s The Ordinary Man that paved the way for the Marlowe duo’s pitch perfect full-length collaboration in 2018. On the album L’Orange creates an intricate and vivid, atypical found sound, cinematic soundscape with tempo shifting beats as the ideal backdrop for Solemn Brigham to let loose on the mic and unveil a refreshing style that’s simultaneously familiar sounding (in an early 90's golden era tradition) while yet distinctively new and unlike anyone you’ve heard. A good example is the lead album track “Lost Arts” that’s featured in the music video below. L’Orange fans will be glad to know that the summer released album more recently emerged online as a free download, instrumental version.  
  Marlowe (L'Orange & Solemn Brigham) “Lost Arts” (MMG)

Relevant Tags

E-40 (42), Young Fathers (2), Apathy (6), Homeboy Sandman (41), Edan (4), Nas (28), Best Of 2018 (11), Dj Premier (18), Evidence (13), Homeboy Sandman (41), Dem Atlas (1), Illa J (2), Cypress Hill (10), Dj Muggs (4), Styles P (3), Brownout (1), Planet Asia (8)