In history books, 2018 will be remembered as when Travis Scott unleashed a temporal rift that allowed disembodied voices of music’s past and present to echo throughout the psychedelic darkness.
Whether you dub it homage or rehash, abomination or innovation, the ‘Sicko Mode’ beat change was everywhere, along with the song’s uncredited costar. Barring that infamous half-a-bar, Drake didn’t get much sleep this year. Riding the buzz of Blocboy JB’s viral ‘Shoot’ dance, he and Tay Keith cooked up a barely-recognizable follow-up to Blocboy’s single ‘Rover’ that allowed the Memphis rapper his top 10 debut.
Influence and inspiration was also transmitted along the axis of power: Drake put Miami breakouts City Girls on a song uncredited, left Big Freedia off the ‘Nice for What’ video, and suddenly developed a vocabulary that flows more naturally from grime artists like AJ Tracey. Cross-cultural exchange was not just flowing, but awash.
Cardi B hopped on a boogaloo beat with Bad Bunny and J Balvin to ride the Latin trap wave, while Puerto Rican superstar Ozuna dazzled on his Spanish-language full-length Aura. Inveterate New Yorker A$AP Rocky recruited Skepta, grime’s international spokesperson, to throw their praises to the heavens. Stefflon Don and Tiggs da Author helped introduce Afro bashment to Americans, while fellow Londoner Yxng Bane interpolated a familiar Cactus Jack melody into something entirely his own.
NSFW: Comedy veteran Lil Duval engineered a viral hit that managed to charm even children, at least in its censored version, while the video for CupcakKe’s ‘Duck Duck Goose’ was briefly removed from YouTube for sexual content. Confident in her own sexuality, Megan Thee Stallion honored her H-Town Hotties (as well as Southern rap influences like UGK and Three 6 Mafia) on Tina Snow.
The streets were the most authentic grounds for show-and-prove talent this year. Young Dolph released some of the year’s most arresting work, while Nipsey Hussle and YG reunited to create a song to unite Crenshaw and Compton. (In the video, the soundstage is perfectly divided by blue and red.) Imprisoned folk hero 03 Greedo turned in one of his most inventive performances of the year (“Brr, my ad lib!”) alongside Freddie Gibbs, a man who knows how the prospect of serious time feels.
Individualistic and innovative newcomer Blueface made his entré to the mainstream; mixtape veterans (and Young Thug disciples) Lil Baby and Gunna joined their mentor in the echelon of the inescapable. Son of Slime SahBabii swam through album delays to bring us a love song with his signature dreamy, aquatic sound.
In an age where most releases are forgotten in a relative blink, the most timeless work came from those who subverted expectations: take bbymutha, a self-made internet sensation and mother of four with a Chattanooga drawl. This particular track’s inclusion is our way of saving space while also including the manic and confrontational Rico Nasty, whose futuristic nü-metal nostalgia warped musical frontiers all summer.
Leikeli47 self-produced not just her unstoppably sticky single ‘Girl Blunt’, but her entire album. Also showing the singular vision of a creative auteur, Tierra Whack’s Whack World stunned critics with its sixty second songs and stylized videos.
Juice WRLD and Future, on both their collaborative full-length project and the track included here, moved melodic rap to darker places than anyone was comfortable going.
On ‘Blacksploitation’, Noname explores what W.E.B. Du Bois named “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” over a jazz track played by her live band. She’s mentioned by her first name, Fatimah, on the last track on our playlist.
Over the course of seven and a half minutes, Saba chronicles the events leading up to the death of his cousin, the Chicago-based R&B artist John Walt. It’s one of the year’s most arresting and vulnerable pieces of art: any genre, any medium.
01. Travis Scott – ‘Sicko Mode’
02. Nipsey Hussle – ‘Last Time That I Checc’d’ [Feat. YG]
03. Drake – ‘In My Feelings’
04. Freddie Gibbs – ‘Death Row’ [Feat. 03 Greedos]
05. Blocboy JB – ‘Look Alive’ [Feat. Drake]
06. Cardi B – ‘I Like It’ [Feat. Bad Bunny & J Balvin]
07. Ozuna – ‘Escape’
08. AJ Tracey – ‘Butterflies’ [Feat. Not3s]
09. Stefflon Don – ‘Pretty Girl’ [Feat. Tiggs Da Author]
10. Sahbabii – ‘Boyfriend’ [Feat. T3]
11. Yxng Bane – ‘Both Sides’
12. CupcakKe – ‘Duck Duck Goose’
13. Lil Duval – ‘Smile Bitch’ [Feat. Snoop Dogg & Ball Greezy]
14. A$AP Rocky – ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’ [Feat. Skepta]
15. Megan Thee Stallion – ‘Hot Girl’
16. Blueface – ‘Next Big Thing’
17. Lil Baby & Gunna – ‘Drip Too Hard’
18. Young Dolph – ‘Kush on the Yacht’
19. bbymutha – ‘Lately’ [Feat. Rico Nasty]
20. Leikeli47 – ‘Girl Blunt’
21. Tierra Whack – ‘Hungry Hippo’
22. Juice WRLD – ‘Lucid Dreams’
23. Future – ‘Hate the Real Me’
24. Noname – ‘Blaxploitation’
25. Saba – ‘PROM / KING’
Lorena Cupcake writes about every facet of culture. Find their insightful coverage on music, food and more at lorenacupcake.com.
Keep up with all of FACT’s Best of 2018 coverage here.