It’s that time of year when every big and small publication is putting out top lists for the year. As a music fan, I like to see what other people’s opinions are and how they relate to mine. I like to see people’s hierarchy for albums, verses, and artists to compare to my own. I find a lot of gems, and I’m compelled to revisit some music that I think would benefit from another listen or two.
As a journalist, I am exhausted by how banal the practice is. In a way, it’s necessary. Especially with 2018 being a year of many releases. Summing up the year with a Sparknotes version of releases for people to refer to is helpful but it will never tell the full story. Music is far too broad to constrain to a subjective list attempting to rank art. Noname actually addressed this recently in a Tweet.
I spent about two weeks trying to refine a poll that would gauge how my peers ranked albums this year. I was also in the process of typing up a list of my top 10 verses for the year. It took several instances of me questioning a song that was left off, or if only one R&B album in my top five was right. It got to the point where I sat and thought, does this really matter? Do I really need to rank these things when it could very well change in a month or so? What would this list really do besides add to the pile of top lists that is already sky high?
So, I’m not going to rank any albums, verses or any other aspect of 2018 musically. I’m instead going to just provide a list of my takes for the year with some brief descriptions. They will relate to albums, artists, and just my general view of music. I hope you enjoy.
1st. 2018 musically was like that Christmas you had as a kid where you opened up some decent gifts but the major gifts your parents wrapped tightly, hid, or told you that you were getting ahead of time. There was a lot of decent music this year, and then some unexpected major releases. Of course, certain big releases were expected and they matched the hype. I’m not one to complain about the current state of music, because there are a lot of opportunities and you have to be patient. If you stay true to your craft and make music from the heart, it will shine through.
A lot of dynamic talent gets the unfortunate label of being a “Soundcloud rapper” because they stay on Twitter 24/7 sending their links to everyone. Music is a shared experience, and how else will people hear it if the creator doesn’t stand behind it? We’re quick to talk down on folks that haven’t made it yet, when in fact that person you clown could be the next big thing. I look forward to people being more open in 2019. Being open to saying they don’t know something, open to listening to new music, and open to being wrong.
2nd. Gunna isn’t like any of the rappers that get grouped into the “mumble rap” demographic. He has already established himself as a standout and got called in for a slew of big features throughout 2018. I anticipate an even bigger year for him next year. He can rap, make great melodies, handle your hook, and he has the “it” factor as an artist. Very likable and personable. Everyone in the industry, young and old, seems to respect him. The Gunna movement is one I can get behind, and my dream is to hear a gospel chorus version of “Space Cadet.”
3rd. Something has changed within J. Cole and I anticipate a big year for him as well. This was one of the best of his career, snapping on nearly a dozen big songs en route to taking most of them over. KOD’s release was successful, but the true spotlight goes to his guest appearances. Cole isn’t happy dropping music and being the anti-star anymore if it comes at the expense of the credit he deserves not being given.
A mixtape of him snapping on other people’s beats would be perfect to open up 2019, or anywhere in the first quarter. The thing that makes the greats worthy of that label is their response to pressure and the shift they make in their careers as an artist. The recluse thing wasn’t working for Cole anymore, and I get the feeling we have a year of shit talking on the way. Rightfully so.
4th. While this may be an unpopular opinion, I believe Tory Lanez and Joyner Lucas had the best rap beef of the year. At the end of the day, regardless of what is said or done, we remember the music that came from it. This beef delivered us four diss tracks in three days’ time. The conversation can stop there.
Yes, Pusha T embarrassed Drake in a battle where the two dropped three solid songs aimed at the other. Yes, Cardi B and Nicki provided some laughs before it just got annoying. I actually don’t have much good to say about the Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly beef aside from seeing Em do an interview.
Tory and Joyner brought it right to the fans on Instagram, threw clever jabs by rapping on each other’s tracks, and got pretty personal at points. Though Lucas has since removed the misstep that was the “ZEZE” freestyle, all three other tracks are available to listen to and enjoy. It was under a week, but it was fun while it lasted.
5th. There is a lot of talent among the women and I love it. City Girls, H.E.R, Rapsody, Kodie Shane, Summer Walker, and Ella Mai all had great years, and that’s nowhere near all the names worth mentioning. The rappers are especially refreshing to see, and the City Girls bring certain aggressive energy that you can’t help but respect and adore. They’re strong women who know what they want and don’t take shit from anyone. In a time where many choose to question where the women are at, I’m here to tell you the talent is there. Seek it out, because 2018 was a big one for them. I can’t wait to see if Rihanna actually drops in 2019.
6th. Shorter projects shined this year, for the most part. Even if the G.O.O.D Music 7’s were surrounded by controversy, they set a trend and reminded artists less can be more if done the right way. Takeoff’s solo debut, MihTy’s collab album and Black Thought’s EPs (one with Salaam Remi), to name a few, were all shorter collections lending themselves to repeated plays as each song felt it got its due attention and effort.
The artists who recognized our limited attention spans and played to them got positive feedback. I don’t think we’ll ever see artists abandon the larger LPs to benefit streaming success, but I do think there has been a refocus on being able to say a lot without actually doing so.
7th. This was a great year for movie soundtracks. Kendrick Lamar and Future really contributed to the impact of Black Panther and Superfly through curating some loaded soundtracks. The soundtrack for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was also packed with talent. It’s good to see these huge commercial films recognizing Hip-Hop’s influence and allowing artists to construct their sound.
With a growing number of Black directors, I can only see this trend growing. How many years before we’re seriously calling a movie soundtrack the best project of the year? Hell, some would argue that for The Black Panther Album.
8th. I look forward to a stronger bridge being built between the music heads of old and the younger generation of fans. It’s corny that we can’t have conversations because older heads can be dismissive, and young music listeners are overly protective of their content because they’re aware of the older heads’ distaste. There’s something for everyone, and always a place to find common ground.
We should strive more to do that instead of trying to tear down each others’ crowned greats. It’s all subjective. Being older and seeing more doesn’t necessarily make your outlook correct, nor does new automatically mean better. We have to sit down and look at how blessed we are to have music in our lives. It’s not always about debating and canceling. The oldheads have the wisdom to share, and the young folks have some heat to put them on to.
So yeah, there’s my year-end list. The points really aren’t in any specific order but more so how the ideas came to me. I definitely did intentionally avoid doing 10 points, and that comes at the expense of missing out on some of my other takes. That’s okay though because the more I say the more I will question if something else is worth mentioning and it’s a never-ending cycle. I’m going to stop typing here before I talk myself into adding to the list. Thanks for taking the time out to read my work. I look to make it an even bigger 2019.
Originally published at https://www.elevatormag.com on December 28, 2018.