Favourite Albums of 2018 Part 1

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

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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

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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

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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

DqyWdN_XQAA8SO0After 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 – WSTRNwstrn

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

 

On The Come Up – Noname

Next up, we have Noname. Anyone who is familiar with that Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop realm might be familiar with the name Noname (brilliant pun, see what I did there?). As well as having features on a few songs with Chance The Rapper she’s befriended and worked with new school names like Mick Jenkins, Xavier Omar and Smino.

Here you have quirky, young black Chicago native doing what one would say is the equivalent to Slam Poetry…and it is dope! Excuse my colloquial English. While her artistry roots are found in poetry circles, Ms. Fatimah Warner has always had a love for music as wide reaching as it comes. She cites her inspirations being blues musicians Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf from an early age as well as Tina Turner, Jay Electronica and Tony Morrison. Her love for music, passion for poetry and being around other Chicago creatives helped evolve a pursuit into rap.

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After the delays and a shift in musical  direction, she released her debut project ‘Telefone’ to become one of the most critcally acclaimed albums of 2016; one of the reasons being that it bent the rules of what we define as Hip-Hop. Sure you have gender benders all around but Noname is different and Telefone was a breath of fresh air. Centered around important telephone conversations that Noname has had over the years, Telefone speaks of black women’s strife and also highlights the struggles of growing up in her Chicago hometown with a unique blend of melodies, rap/poetry and out-of-the-box production. Definitely long awaited as well, three years in the making. But being able to endure life experiences and put it into your music makes for true art. For her , it was the introduction officially and finally to who Noname is as an artist.

Despite controversially not appearing on the XXL Freshmen Class of 2017,

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she still has managed to develop a name for herself and her mixtape featured on The Skinny’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2016’ and Noisey’s ‘The 100 Best Albums of 2016’ as well as a coveted appearance on NPR Music’s notable ‘Tiny Desk Series’. Now fans in America and beyond sit and wait for her next project to drop ‘Room 25’. The hope is that she doesn’t delay for three years AGAIN but releases in timely fashion and carries on the momentum that she has. Will she remain an independent is not known but the path she treads is most definitely working for her.

 

“I don’t typically think about myself when I’m thinking about making music like [I’m a female rapper and this is my role in Hip-Hop], I’m more so just making art…”