Last year, I managed to compile together (against constraints) what I felt was a solid list of some of the best projects to grace my ears over the course of the year. A difficult task seeing the amount of music I got through and despite the hard decisions, some had to be delegated to just ‘honorable mentions’.
This year, I’ve been absolutely swamped with music and for the most part it’s been pretty good stuff. So, just like last year, rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation.
Here are my “Favourite Albums of 2018” – Part 1. Enjoy.
Room 25 – Noname
Noname is unconventional of sorts. And while she captivated listeners with her innocent cadence and playful production on her debut effort Telefone, her follow up is a more mature approach. Room 25 is more experimental sonically; it’s jazz at the core but in ways which may surprise you from the young Chicago artist. She really hones in on her poetic form but with rawer subject matter.
It’s fair to say that the last two years between albums have been used to mature as these collection of songs capture the duality between the things that have now become prominent in her life.
“Blaxplotation”, a portmanteau of ‘Black’ and ‘Exploitation’, explores Black stereotypes and the anxieties they cause. The sunny “Montego Bae” is Evidence of Noname’s sexual awakening, fantasized as a Caribbean fling. As deep as the album can get, “Ace” serves as a playful tag-team brag with frequent collaborators Smino and Saba – a breather just to flex some bravado. Noname is an artist of quite some depth and for a woman seemingly going through a quarter life crisis, she is handling it as best she can.
Care For Me – Saba
Saba’s marvellously produced, reflective sophomore album, CARE FOR ME serves two interlinking purposes. Firstly, it is him truly processing his grief and the sense of loneliness he feels with the loss of his beloved cousin Walter, an integral part of his life even in music. The depression and self-doubt that occurs is laid out bare on this project.
Secondly, it offers the listener an insight to the harsh reality of living in inner city Chicago in the hopes of better.
A mood of beautiful melancholy enwraps the entire project. The 23-year-old’s fleet, singsongy raps manoeuvre through piano-centric arrangements, which build sets for the scenarios he’s reliving. There is a sense of journey to be had. Opener “BUSY/SIRENS” provides us with initial anxious thoughts, relatable in every sense. He bravely relives the trauma through “LIFE” and he retells Walter’s horrific account in “PROM/KING” but by the final act “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME”, he makes peace with his demons and rests assured that Walter is in a better place, looking down over Saba and so he is truly not alone.
Lady Lady – Masego
The Virginia R&B musician’s debut album is the mark of a turning point of his career. His previous efforts have gone above and beyond to prove his ability purely as a talented musician, but Lady Lady makes the case for Masego as a masterful writer and song creator. Masego is mature and so is his content as he dedicates this project to the women – those loved and lost, those who’ve taught him hard lessons along the way, those who haven’t entered his life yet.
His music is sophisticated. 80s R&B with hints of smooth jazz along the fringes, building on his famed “trap house jazz” sound. Masego reveres women highly, his ode to black women on “Queen Tings” doesn’t go amiss and he’s definitely not one to discriminate as “Old Age” proves. Culminating at the end with “Black Love”, a lush ballad which he dedicates to his potential bride at the altar, Lady Lady essentially offers a wide-ranging glimpse into the different facets of woman, presented in a soulful vocal package by a Masego who’s come of age.
Glory Sound Prep – Jon Bellion
After disappearing into deafening silence for two whole years once the fanfare of his debut album The Human Condition eventually died down, Jon Bellion was able to provide us the greatest follow-up to such a big album.
Full to the brim with Bellion’s signature adlibs and production ticks, the album is host to a smooth blend of hip hop, rap, pop and even a New Orleans jazz band, while managing to sound not only cohesive but also larger than life.
One of the few people I’d consider able to sing just as good as he can rap, the album spans several different themes. We find Jon reminiscing on his come-up in “JT”, speaking on the harsh realities of social media on “The Internet” and just having beautifully crafted but honest dialogue about his own insecurities in life and love. There’s also a beautiful orchestrated medley dedicated to all the mothers out there featuring Quincy Jones himself. At only 10 tracks long, Glory Sound Prep is an enjoyable listen.
DOU3LE 3AK – WSTRN
It felt like the West London trio-turned-duo had a lot to prove. With the unfortunate loss of bandmate Akelle, the odds were stacked against them. A few hot singles but could they put together a body of work that could stand strong? And the answer is yes. DOU3LE 3AK encapsulates the myriad of sounds within the UK very well. Whether its Trap, Rap, Dancehall, Afro swing or R&B, WSTRN’s versatility is something of marvel.
Hailee makes a strong case for himself with his knack for creating punchy and catchy melodies and choruses and Louis Rei, with his distinctive tone and flow, demonstrates his ability to conceptualise and shows that he can bar with the best of them. They didn’t leave Akelle out, with “Soon Home” a gentle reminder of the talent that we have been missing and an honest account from the man clearly set to reunite with his brothers one day soon. It’s rare that an artist can put together a project that s sonically diverse and still works but WSTRN have done that.
But of course, I can’t have them all. In good spirit, honourable mentions must go to:
- Purple – A2
- Ghetto Gospel II – Ghetts
- Seasons – Mahalia
- November – SiR
- Godfather II – Wiley
- Milky Way – Bas
As we conclude part 1, be sure to check out part 2 here