Oakland, CA — 2018 was a healthy year for music, artists everywhere poured their heart and soul into their projects. While most people focus only on streaming numbers or get lost in viral hits and meme-ability, other gems were overlooked and didn’t get the attention they deserve. No matter the genre or popularity, the 10 artists mentioned in our list delivered nothing but stellar projects.
Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer
By Symphreona Clark
Janelle Monáe is over a decade into her career, but her music is still as fresh and cohesive as ever. Dirty Computer marks her third studio album, and first in five years since her last project The Electric Lady. The singer/songwriter has been pushing the boundaries of R&B music since her debut in 2007, leaving critics not knowing what genre to box her in. If anything, it’s Janelle Monáe's biggest strength, transcending the concept of a genre to create her own unique sound, similar to what the late artist Prince did with his music. Dirty Computer has been compared to Prince’s work, and rightfully so since he helped Monáe create the sound for the album before his death; working on records like the album’s lead single “Make Me Feel.” Accompanying the album’s release, Janelle Monáe also released a 46-minute short film starring herself and actress Tessa Thompson. The film is a powerful resistance piece, set in a futuristic, totalitarian regime, we see the pair as lovers trying to escape and thrive from the society’s restrictive constraints. In Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe leads the exploration of love, liberation, black girl magic, and her sexuality in a renaissance-like fashion that is both bold and invigorating.
Tierra Whack - Whack World
By Rami KD
Whack World by Tierra Whack is a uniquely surreal and amazing album. With each song being only a minute long, and each having its own individual music video, the album comes out to be a 15-minute long music visual masterpiece. At its core, Whack World is an emotional listening experience, each song has a completely different vibe, story, and flow. Each song blends together perfectly, seamlessly transitioning between songs, almost as if it mimics the way we process emotions. The visuals are bright, surreal, meaningful, and create a dream-like scene, composed of each individual music video brought together. These visuals, paired with thoughtful lyrics, tie the album together to make an amazing audiovisual experience worth listening to and watching on repeat.
Mozzy - Gangland Landlord
By Will Flattery-Vickness
After Mozzy was released from a prison stint in 2014, the Sacramento rapper changed his ways. Gangland Landlord is a thoughtful, intense follow-up to Mozzy’s debut album, 1 Up Top Ahk. Mozzy is known for his reflective and hardcore intros, and ends it with a beautiful melodic tribute to his old ways. Mozzy has evolved, graduating from Nor Cal rap to something unique amidst the national scene. Learning from West Coast greats like Kendrick, Mozzy’s flows are undeniable as he spits over production from JuneOntheBeat, Dave, and JPBangz - the same producers he’s worked with for years. Mozzy lends consistency that is often left out of the conversation, the overall quality of production and lyrical content allows for great replay value from the Sacramento native. Gangland Landlord is both heartbreaking and healing; Mozzy is running from his past but it’s far behind him. The album acts as a vulnerable therapy session, making it one of the most honest bodies of work that have been released this year.
JPEGMAFIA - Veteran
By Christian Romo
When you think of experimental, JPEGMAFIA should come across your mind, this album has stood out to me due to its experimental soundscape. From sampling 90’s video-game sound effects to ASMR, the production is dense and unpredictable. His lyrics can also be outrageous, from dropping wrestling references to controversial political quips. With Veteran, JPEGMAFIA provides much-needed range, covering a diverse set of sounds including explosive bangers and lo-fi moody tracks that could easily wind down the environment.
Larry June - Very Peaceful
The artists that stick around for me, are the ones who are discernible within the first few seconds of hearing their tracks. Larry June is someone who holds that quality for me, from his ad-libs to his tone of voice, you can tell when a Larry June track is playing. June’s voice is smooth as hell and could calm down a wild bear if it wanted to. Fresh out of an unfulfilling major-label deal, Larry June steers clear of an amped-up trap sound that has embodied projects of the past. On Very Peaceful, June leans toward a more dynamic laid-back sound that is an intrinsic reflection of his subdued style. It suits him perfectly. Very Peaceful in its entirety sits in its own pocket, offering my favorite listening experience of 2018 so far. Between the dope features and hilarious ad-libs, it's a must-listen.
Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears
By Miguel Anderson
Critics compared this year’s I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma, to synth-pop styles of Grimes and early Charli XCX releases. While these similarities ring true to some extent, I’m All Ears’s best moments don’t come at the expense of others. Let’s Eat Grandma makes their best moments at the expense of their own shine, they put pop music at the cutting edge of innovation and intriguing storytelling. SOPHIE is just one producer on this album, while she has imprinted her industrial sound on this project, the duo juxtaposes this electronic sound with moody instrumentation to create something truly unique. It's the house-like synths put at near-dramatic drumming that makes the tune of “Falling Into Me” so intriguing. The pulsating beat of “Hot Pink” makes you feel as if you were on an adventure. The ambient raindrops that fall on the piano-led ballad “Ava” make it so heart-wrenching. Throughout the constant rush of life, where we might lose sight of what's truly important, I’m All Ears is a reminder that small things are trivial and to continue doing what makes us happy. That happy feeling is executed. That idea is at the core of us all and what makes I’m All Ears so relevant today.
Getter - Visceral
By Jacob Armenta
There is no denying 2018 was a big year for music, across all genres. While there are many contenders for "Album of the Year," one of our favorite albums is Visceral; an astonishing body of work by Bay Area producer Getter. The 12-track album brings listeners on this beautiful journey through a fascinating world of sound and color crossing the boundaries of electronic music, trap, and bass. Getter made a name for himself back in 2012 with his well-produced and unique take on dubstep. Although Getter got his start in the Electronic scene, he has proven his versatility producing for rappers like $uicideboy$, Ghostemane, Elioze, and his rap alter-ego Terror Reid. Visceral is an album you can listen to multiple times and find a new favorite track each time.
Playboy Carti - Die Lit
By Stoney Creation
Playboi Carti dropped one of the best albums this past spring. With the support of Pierre Bourne’s eclectic production, Carti graced the Top 10 on the Billboard charts, solidifying his commercial viability. It’s hard to hate on Playboy Carti, his contagious hooks are one of a kind. Die Lit is flawless through and through, however, some of my personal favorites are “Mileage” feat. Chief Keef and “Flatbed Freestyle.” If you want pure feel-good music, Playboy Carti’s Die Lit conveys that feeling with every song.
Kendrick Lamar & Various Artists - Black Panther: The Album
By Noel Anaya
What made the Black Panther soundtrack unique was that it brought people together, it had the right amount of tracks, and lastly, the production is super diverse, including elements of r&b, electronic, world, and dance sounds. The maestro behind this wide sonic landscape is none other than Kendrick Lamar, who executive produced the project alongside Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. At the time of the release I was in Scotland, I slapped it instantly but so did people in the country I was in and that sealed the deal for me. I can't think of a movie soundtrack since Space Jam that was this cohesive. The Grammy-nominated Black Panther soundtrack is one of the best albums to come out this year.
Gunna - Drip Season 3
By Zeke Idelson
What began as a coming-out-party in 2018 for Gunna, grew and turned into a takeover. After dropping two charting albums (one of which went platinum) and collaborating with a variety of artists, from Drake to Amine to Mariah Carey, 2018 was the year Gunna elevated from underground to mainstream figure while still maintaining the sound that got him there. Drip Season 3 was the inception; listening to it, it's easy to understand why. Packed with 17 songs, you can hear Gunna really coming into his own, jam-packed with features from the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Durk, and Young Thug. However, despite these big names, Gunna also proved his ability to carry his own sound, shining throughout the entire tape, with his signature melodic style while rapping about fashion and money. Drip Season 3 is a complete work of art and was the catalyst for Gunna’s huge year.