Ah, it’s that time of year again. It’s almost 2019, which means it’s time for our year-end music list!
Keeping in line with last year’s criteria, we’re basing our 2018 list off of work released during the 2018 fiscal year (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018) — qualifying them for nomination in the 2019 Grammys.
Let’s start things off with our list of 2018’s best songs!
Note: We will not be repeating any songs from last year’s list.
2018 was wild. Black Panther passed $1 billion at the box office. Cardi B dethroned Nicki Minaj as the Queen of Rap, continuing a recent beef between the two titanic artists. Janelle Monáe released a fantastic album — accompanied by a phenomenal video — and came out as pansexual. Kanye West produced five albums and beefed with everyone from Drake to American liberals to black people in general (sigh). Speaking of Drake: he was “hiding a child!” Oh, the drama.
And we were blessed with such beautiful music as a result of all this.
“The Games We Play” — Pusha-T (DAYTONA)
Before taking a victory lap in his long-running Drake feud with “The Story of Adidon”, Pusha-T dropped one of the best albums of the year. Powered by Kanye’s throwback production style and hard-hitting drums, DAYTONA has been my gym soundtrack for the last six months. As a “bodybuilding client” of sorts, Pusha’s vicious rhymes easily help me power through my last set. “The Games We Play” is the perfect example of just how infectious his power fantasies can be. YEUGH!
“I Like It” — Cardi B featuring Bad Bunny & J Balvin (Invasion of Privacy)
Cardi B had a great year. After the successes of “Bodak Yellow” and the “Finesse” remix, her debut album topped the Billboard 200 chart, continuing her hot streak in the industry. “I Like It”, my favorite song from the album, would soon go on to become a #1 hit long before I realized how I popular it was. Sure, I might only be able to understand one-third of the song, but it’s a good one, dammit!
This Latin trap posse cut tore up the club scene all year, with Cardi, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin riding a sample of Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That”. I, for one, had lots of fun dancing to this song all spring and part of the summer. When it’s all said and done, Cardi B is “ ‘bout [her] coins like Mario” and runs the game “like cardio”. As a complete nerd and lover of wordplay (corny or otherwise), how can I not love this track?
“Ghost Town” — Kanye West featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR (ye)
Kanye’s album ye was a rushed disappointment — that’ll happen when you make an album in three weeks. But “Ghost Town” took the Royal Jesters’ “Take Me For A Little While” and gave it a modern twist, with uncredited vocals from Kid Cudi and 070 Shake. “I’ve been trying/To make you love me,” Cudi wails, slightly off key. “But everything I try/Just takes you further from me.” In hindsight, this might have been a symptom of things to come.
“Mirror” — Madison Ryann Ward (N/A)
So, David Letterman started a Netflix series earlier this year. He had guests like Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and fellow philanderer JAY-Z. It was in the latter interview that I discovered this song. During the episode, Letterman traveled to producer Rick Rubin’s studio to discuss JAY-Z and other artists. Rubin was recording Miss Ward’s song, and viewers were treated to an in-studio performance of her debut single about a break-up. She totally knocked it out of the park.
“Keep me in your mirror,” she lamented in the chorus. “But don’t take your eyes off the road.” This — combined with her passionate delivery — resonated with me as a pensive, emotional person. Needless to say it’s stuck with me since first hearing it in April.
“Black Love” — Masego (Lady Lady)
Fun fact: Spotify introduced me to Masego’s music. That’s right — turns out those year-end playlists actually work! The 25-year-old artist released his debut LP back in September, fusing jazz with hip-hop and R&B to create a unique listening experience outclassed only by contemporaries like Noname and Anderson .Paak — very good competition to have. Despite the prominence of “Tadow” (my introduction to his work) and the funky hilarity of “Old Age”, “Black Love” stood out the most to me from the young Virginian’s project. The combination of his crooning, the harmonies, and the horns make it a very easy listen from start to finish.
“Don’t Judge Me” — Janelle Monáe (Dirty Computer)
Listen: “2018 is for Janelle Monáe!” Regardless of the music on our lists, know that simple fact. “Don’t Judge Me” is a stunning “coming out” ballad that reminds you just why she’s a likely Grammy contender. “Even though you tell me you love me,” she sings, “is it me, or do you love my disguise?” This song, despite what Spotify’s algorithms may tell me in a few weeks, is my favorite this year. Forget sports. Forget the White House. Forget the fact that Thanos fought the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Forget about Solo (Disney sure as hell did)! All you need in your life is the Q.U.E.E.N.
“King’s Dead” — Jay Rock featuring Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake (Black Panther: The Album)
Bravo, Jay Rock. I tip my hat to you, sir. This song was the street anthem for the Black Panther soundtrack, giving Jay his biggest song to date. And, while he and Kendrick both killed it, the MVP of the track is none other than Future. Coming off the success of “Mask Off”, the Atlanta MC decided to change things up a bit with this feature and, ahem, assert his dominance in a way that only he can: La di da di da!
“Flight 22” — Kali Uchis (Isolation)
My introduction to Kali Uchis was originally through the Tyler, the Creator-assisted “After the Storm”. After this, my sister convinced me to listen to the entire album, and I was hooked. This laid back ode to falling in love while in transit would be unbearably cliché without her ability to draw you in. Kali Uchis has a great voice and overall sound, and “Flight 22” is just one of many songs reflective of her range on Isolation.
“1985 — Intro to ‘The Fall Off’ ” — J. Cole (KOD)
J. Cole is one of those artists who will surprise you months after you decide to give his work another listen. He’s a solid rapper-producer, but also extremely cerebral when he wants to be. And since he stopped taking features on his albums, they’ve become a more engaging experience as he’s unshackled himself these last four years.
“1985” sees Cole in OG mode, giving advice to the current class of young rappers — especially Lil Pump, who infamously dissed him before the two sat down for a face-to-face interview. Cole warns young artists of the dangers of their imagery and its negative effects on the perception of Black people as a whole. He warns them of fiscal responsibility. And all of this while bluntly dissing them in the process. “Remember what I told you when your shit flop,” he says. “In five years, you gon’ be on Love & Hip-Hop.”
“Rose In Harlem” — Teyana Taylor (K.T.S.E.)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Teyana Taylor is a star. And while her sophomore album broke the 7-song trend of the rest of the summer’s G.O.O.D. Music releases, it was very much worth the wait. With a good mixture of themes, K.T.S.E.’s greatest earworm is without a doubt “Rose In Harlem”. A song expressing pain and betrayal, “Rose” sees Taylor as a woman scorned, processing her emotions and steeling her heart. “Don’t get caught up, young girl,” she warns. “It be the ones who swear they ride for you.”
If you want a perfect encapsulation of music this year, Ariana Grande gave us “God is a Woman” and “Thank U, Next” in the same calendar year. Tha Carter V actually exists and wasn’t a hot mess. We also got Tekashi 69, Trippie Redd, and that level of “any one can rap” rapper. Music kind of felt all over the place to me, so quantifying it all within the parameters took time.
So without further ado…
“Self” — Noname (Room 25)
This is a perfect album opener, by the Chicago rapper. In a minute and a half, Noname lyrically sets up a picture of what the album is going to be about, quickly touching on racism, hip hop culture and politics, all to a jazz beat. She says this is an album for late night driving and with a track like “Self”, I can’t disagree. Also, watch her NPR tiny desk concert. Come on, I left you the link.
“One Kiss” — Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa (N/A)
Ah, the annual Calvin Harris track that isn’t shitty, with one of the top voices in pop! And it has a full song of the summer vibe, so of course, it’s on a best of 2018 list! All jokes aside, Dua Lipa has maybe one of the most recognizable voices in music. It’s both beautifully large and capable of gliding anywhere. Paired with a very 90s inspired house beat from Harris, it a song that just moves nonchalantly, comes and goes, in a very memorable way.
“Be Careful” — Cardi B (Invasion of Privacy)
Cardi B has had a year full of highs and lows, one that she clearly puts on display here. The song has the usually tough New Yorker pouring her heart out, about the infidelities of a lover. She wants you to know she has dreams of a family, just as much as she knows the pain of being betrayed. The song is also a clear shout out that if you step out of line with her, Cardi plays no mess.
“FRIENDS” — Anne-Marie & Marshmello (Speak Your Mind)
Anne-Marie & Marshmello keep with the tradition of one of the rising pop voices teamed with EDM stars, but this one gets a little bit of a twist. Mainly, the fact that Marshmello throws acoustic guitar and G-Funk over an already booming electric beat. Anne-Marie’s crooning voice balances aggression and disdain, to turn down a wannabe paramour.
“I’m Upset” — Drake (Scorpion)
Listen, I’m not really going to get into this. Drake made a bloated album for streaming numbers but seriously, this is here because the video is soooo damn funny and good. Always down for a Degrassi reunion.
“Boo’d Up” — Ella Mai (Ella Mai)
This is a certified bop. The track is over a year old, making for the longest slow burn possible. The song has a West Coast hip-hop element to it (thanks DJ Mustard), meets 90s R&B, that allows for the song to be breezy and easy. Mai’s voice is beautifully syrupy here, while she croons about wearing her heart on her sleeve.
“SICKO MODE” — Travis Scott featuring Drake (ASTROWORLD)
It’s really odd to say that this might be Travis Scott’s biggest song, at this point in his career, but here we are. The song sounds like a 3-in-1 song-with the beat flips, a staple of Scott’s music to keep you interested-but it has not gotten old, yet. In accord, everyone is in a big mood, with Drake not lacking any confidence and Travis reminding you his baby momma gets money.
“Powerglide” — Rae Sremmurd featuring Juicy J (SR3MM)
This is the opener to my current workout playlist, because the bounce is there. I don’t come to Rae Sremmurd for brilliant lyrics, but for a vibe that gets me to dance and move. With a Three Six Mafia sample, and Juicy J himself, they are dripping swag for days.
“Kevin’s Heart” — J. Cole (KOD)
The entire song is postulating monogamy and the work & ease of infidelity. Looking through the lens of Kevin Hart’s very public situation and the fall out, it’s kind of brilliant. It allows for J. Cole to work with an already present story and contemplate out loud how falling astray happens, in a very personal way. That’s where Cole excels — when he makes his work as personal and reflective as he can.
“Uproar” — Lil Wayne featuring Swizz Beatz (Tha Carter V)
Everytime I hear this song, I want to do a Harlem Shake, like it’s the early 2000s, but not that other one. Never that other one. Wayne on some NYC shit here, over a Swizz Beatz. It reminds me of better times with his music, when every feature was a home run, but more on that later.
Check The RYM next week for our year-end album list! For a collection of the songs discussed, check out our playlists below!