Let's Get Weird: Rap Albums you Probably Missed in 2018
Writer: Kyle Wheelock
With 2018 in our rearview mirror, it is now officially safe to talk about music. The entire year was a barrage of music in every genre, with two or three albums dropping every friday for most of the year. At that speed, a lot of things naturally just get lost in the ether, especially when you're trying to really sit and digest an album (if you try to argue that you managed to listen to and understand every major release in 2018, you're a liar and Mr. Rogers would be ashamed). So, that all being said, this isn't a recap of all the “best” albums of the year, but rather an FYI; some really interesting rap albums came out, and I didn't see too many people talk about them at the time (or anytime, really), and they deserve some shine.
Honorable Mention: Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
Don't kill me over this, because in a vacuum Kids See Ghosts did get a lot of attention, mostly just off the size of the names behind it. Kanye West and Kid Cudi came together again, but for a full album this time instead of a record here or there. It was only eight songs yes, but each one of those eight songs is a work of art. I've previously covered the album on this site before so I won't harp on it too much, but if you missed it, I don't blame you. There was a lot of extra noise around this album: Kanye was in the middle of repping a MAGA hat everywhere and dropping a new album every week. On top of that, people weren't exactly clamoring for a new Kid Cudi album (and arguably, haven't been for some time), so when it hit, it wasn't exactly the splash it should've been. But please, I urge you, put your Kanye biases aside and give this album a listen, it's definitely worth it
Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
This album is more or less the sole reason this article is coming out in January and not in the middle of December as planned. A brief album (15 songs but less than 30 minutes in length), Some Rap Songs feels like a natural progression for Earl, despite the fact that it sounds way out there. This is a challenging listen - the beats are trippy and dark, Earl's voice is almost always drowning in the instrumentals, and there's no solid structure to these songs that feel like snippets, yet he's still saying a lot in the brief space he's giving himself to work with.
My first listen, I knew what I was about to get into, I've heard enough music to know when an artist is about to come out of left field with something. I knew this album would take listen after listen just to pull out the real meaning of each song, but even then it was a struggle. As mentioned above, Earl's words are either quieter if not just as loud the beats, so picking out lyrics without reading them made this album even more difficult than it already would've been. For anyone who gave this album a chance and then never played it again, I don't blame you. This isn't something you can get the full effect of if you're not actively tuned in to each song; you won't come out with anything casually listening to Some Rap Songs in the background.
This album didn't click for me until my third or fourth listen, but once it did I got it. There's a bar on the song, “December 24,” that goes, “Bad apple, daily clashin' with my kinfolk/ Bad acid did damage to my mental.” At that point it all clicked for me: this album isn't trying to be approachable or easily relatable. It's a bad drug trip.
Earl has been open about his drug use and his mental health before, but unless you've been through it, the weight of what he's said might not hit you if you're just reading words on a screen, and that's where this album comes into play. It’s a series of chaotic, erratic, and messy sample based beats, fighting with the confessions of a troubled rapper. Definitely give this album a try. Or two. Or three.
Denzel Curry - Taboo
Taboo (written as Ta13OO) is the third studio album from south Florida native, Denzel Curry. Released on July 27, 2018, Taboo is a three act project (Light, Gray, and Dark) that showcases the continued evolution of a rapper on the come up. Throughout his entire discography, Curry has developed this loud, distorted, abrasive sound that leans closer to metal, and it’s become his trademark. But, three albums in, a sound does start to get repetitive, and to some, Curry had already been typecast as another soundcloud rapper who yells a lot.
But this time is different. Waaaay different. Taboo has Curry’s most diverse and meaningful tracks to date. Light is more soulful and soft, and even dance-y (the Goldlink feature on “Black Balloons” is a perfect match that I wasn’t expecting), whereas Gray contains the tracks more in line with what fans would expect from Curry. One thing that may surprise new listeners is how Curry brings so much energy and intensity without sacrificing lyrical substance. “Sirens,” (featuring J.I.D.) is Curry’s frustration with politics and the state of the world, including police brutality, Donald Trump, gun violence, and terrorism. He does this masterfully and J.I.D. comes through with a really slick bar that plays on “The Star-Spangled Banner” cleverly and helps make his contribution to the song more meaningful. Other highlights from this album include...well, everything. There’s thirteen songs here and they all show how skilled Curry is as a rapper (save for a few groan bars here and there but who doesn’t have those from time to time). If you’re looking something more meaningful yet simultaneously aggressive, give Taboo a shot, it might arguably be the easiest listen on this list.
ASAP Rocky - Testing
Full disclosure, I don’t think Testing was missed per se. BUT, it definitely didn’t get a fair shake, at least in my opinion. While the album has a 67 (generally favorable) on metacritic, if you were on Twitter the weekend this album dropped, well first you would’ve seen all the tweets about how great Daytona was since it dropped on the same day (and also included, “Infrared,” which...yeah we know how that went). But if you dug deeper, Testing slander was plentiful. It was called messy, boring, people were saying Rocky fell off, etc. Before I even played a second of the album, I was convinced this album would be a flop, and my expectations were adjusted accordingly.
And, maybe it’s because of that adjustment that I loved this album so much. Testing feels like a natural progression from the experimentation Rocky did on At. Long. Last. ASAP, which was also panned at the time (at least from what I remember personally). The difference is though, Testing is a lot weirder, and a lot shorter, both of which are good adjustments. At. Long. Last. ASAP was too long, and even though I liked the first handful of songs, it eventually started to drag and became just a wave of indistinguishable songs, but Testing fixes that. Most of these songs sound noticeably different from the other songs before and after them. “Distorted Records” is exactly what it sounds like, a distorted banger that sounds spacey and glitchy, but then three songs later on, “Fukk Sleep,” (which features FKA Twigs) is a dreamy beat with Rocky rapping mixed with Twigs’ atmospheric vocals that are strangely relaxing.
Again, maybe you missed this album because of bad word of mouth, and if that’s the case don’t let that stop you. Realize that this isn’t the same ASAP from 2011-13, this is someone stepping outside of their box to try new things, largely for the sake of just trying new things, something that I argue is needed in every era of music.
JPEGMAFIA - Veteran
And here we are, we’ve arrived at the album that birthed this entire article: Veteran. It was released on January 19th, 2018, almost a year ago exactly and I’ll be honest, I didn’t catch this album for a while. I didn’t plan on listening to it because I had no idea (a) who JPEGMAFIA was and (b) that this album was coming, even from any of the music circles I frequent. I don’t think I heard this album until a month after it released, and from that moment onwards, it’s been in my rotation.
This album is nineteen songs long but clocks in at just over 47 minutes. Like Earl’s album, six or so songs on here are a little over a minute long, and for the most part there’s really no cohesiveness between each track. The opening song, “1539 N. Calvert,” is so drastically different from every song that follows it, yet it also gives you a little taste of what you’re about to get into. JPEG is a funny guy, he’s sarcastic and loves taking the piss out of things in a way similar to how Eminem used back in the day when he would name drop a bunch of celebrities and talk about doing these outrageously cartoonish things; we see that same spirit is here in essence.
The album starts with the lines, ”I need all my bitches same color as Drake/If they not, then they getting rocked.” He flows really well over this beat and the humor here really comes when you get to know JPEG and realize that (a) he LOVES Drake and (b) he’s super opposed to domestic violence against women (as any decent person should be). A lot of his lines are ironic and sarcastic, but that’s not even the best part about this album. That honor goes to the insane production here. All of these albums (save for maybe Taboo) have experimental beats that are different in their own way, but something about these collection of songs are more industrial and random than the rest. Track sixteen, “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies,” has an almost childlike melody contrasted with a distorted 808 pattern, gunshots and a pretty eclectic baseline that shows up whenever it wants. This is only magnified by the next track (and one of my standout favorites on this album) “Rainbow Six,” a cold hearted, lo-fi banger that sounds almost witch-house like. This song, musically and lyrically is dark and heavy and unless you already are familiar with this kind of rap, and it’s definitely not like anything else you’ve heard.
I can’t recommend this album enough, and I haven’t even gotten into other highlights like “Baby I’m Bleeding” or “Real Nega,” which are experiences on their own. You just have to listen to them for yourself to see the appeal of this album. It took me a while to break down this album as well as the man behind him, to see why everything here is the way it is, from the incredibly random samples that make up a lot of the beats here to the contrasting lyrics (On the Morrissey track, he calls himself a “Left Wing Hades,” but by the very next song he’s already an “alt-right menace”). Definitely give Veteran a few listens if you’re over everything else in your library and want something WAY out there.
And there you have it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. If you’re like me and occasionally want to go off the beaten path, I hope these albums do something for you the way they did for me. Or, maybe you’re more than happy with everything in your library, which is totally fine too. In that case, maybe you learned something about the hectic year that was 2018, where there was something new to grab your attention every few hours. Either way, you made it this far and now have five whole new albums to impress people with, or lose your aux cord privileges over. Definitely one of the two.