Mook Life Music Top 100 Projects of 2018

Music

Another year down, another best albums list to put together and this one was really difficult to narrow down. In fact it was so difficult that I had extend the list from the usual 40 or 50 up to 100, and there are still a few albums I wanted to include but couldn’t quite fit in. The stream of new releases in 2018 was relentless with lots of established artists putting out projects as well as up and coming acts dropping quality work. To make things even more overwhelming, many artists put out multiple albums this year with a some having 3 or even 4 projects appearing in this list. It truly is an exciting time in music and especially for hip-hop.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying that 2018 is a legendary year for hip-hop and while I agree to an extent, I have different reasons for thinking so. It really did seem like most big names in rap had albums out in 2018 but I personally found a lot of them underwhelming. Drake, Migos, Eminem, Nas, Kanye, Lil Wayne, J Cole, Travis Scott and many other big names dropped albums but very few of them interested me. From a quality standpoint the trap scene was in decline in 2017 but in 2018 the subgenre almost felt like it was dying off. There were still some very solid trap releases from guys like Blac Youngsta, Rich Homie Quan and Ralo although they were mostly overlooked. Instead the spotlight was shining on big releases from Migos and their ilk who are putting out a sound that has gotten stale, the production is uninspired and their rap style is getting tired.

Conversely, the underground was on fire in 2018 pumping out an endless barrage of great music. The albums this year that I was eagerly anticipating often let me down but I was blown away by many releases that I didn’t know where dropping and I discovered some fantastic artists that were new to me. I’m always on the lookout for new artists and I do generally prefer underground music but up and coming artists dominated my listening even more than usual this year.

I think the most important music movement in 2018 was the boom bap renaissance that gained a lot of steam with rappers rejuvenating the sound with a new minimal grittiness. The scene started to gain traction in the last few years with guys such as Mach-Hommy, Roc Marciano, Fly Anakin and Westside Gunn but really flourished in 2018. These names continued their stellar work and were joined by the likes of ANKHLEJOHN, Estee Nack, Raheem Supreme, Nowaah The Flood and many others. Every week I discovered a new artist putting out their own brand of stripped back, raw, sample based hip-hop, capturing the mid-90s East Coast vibe and transforming it in to something fresh.

There were a number of artists pushing boundaries with their hip-hop releases, experimenting with the artform. Busdriver put together an ambitious monster of album in ‘Electricity Is On Our Side’, fusing together a lot of the sounds that he’s used throughout the years to create a psychedelic, jazzy masterpiece blended with colourful electronic undertones. Serengetiraps stretched hip-hop to breaking point on his phenomenal ‘Dennis 6e’ which acted as the last piece in the story of his Kenny Dennis alter ego. Using some of the strangest instrumentals I’ve ever heard and crafting a subtle narrative through his eccentric character this album is something that will stick with me for a long time. Underground hip-hop’s power couple Jean Grae and Quelle Chris released a poignant album examining various aspects of modern society, with an off the wall sense of humour and bizarre set of beats.

Contrary to what much of the internet will tell you, it was a great year for fans of lyrical rap. Phonte made a triumphant return with an album full of personal insights while still showing an ability to go in with some killer punchlines and word play. MC Paul Barman had me reaching for the dictionary as he spun lyrical tapestries using a complex vocabulary and poetic style, dipping in to the realms of politics, comedy and fantasy along the way. In dropping another very lyrically dense album Ka cements himself as the best pure lyricist currently active. A combination of intricate rhyme schemes, powerful imagery and elaborate metaphors prove that Ka is not only an incredible rapper but also an artist easily comparable to some of history’s greatest poets.

It wasn’t the greatest year for UK hip-hop and grime but there were still a decent amount of great releases. London usually dominates the UK urban music scene but in 2018 it was mostly acts from outside of the capital that were releasing the more interesting projects. It was a fantastic year for Nottingham as Juga-Naut released two decadent albums, Cappo & Cyrus Malachi got heavy and dark on ‘Postmodernism’ and Mez dropped an EP of back to back grime bangers. Sheffield MC Rawkid brought unparalleled levels of energy and erratic flows over some superb production on Grum Vol. 1. Even Ireland was getting in on the action as Dublin rapper Kojaque crafted the beautifully moody ‘Deli Daydreams’.

For the most part guitar music in 2018 was very stagnant, stuck in banality and repetition. I really went out of my way to check out some new bands and singer-songwriters this year but found the majority of them boring, annoying, or simply weaker clones of past musicians. It wasn’t all bad though, Mitski conjured up a gently infectious collection of rock songs while Daughters came back with a ferocious nightmare of an album. Japanese prog-rock band Koenji Hyakkei really blew me away with their utterly insane album Dhorimviskha. Brimming with Frank Zappa-esque jazz rock musicianship and some seriously diverse vocals, Koenji Kyakkei’s music accomplishes the difficult feat of being simultaneously intricate, progressive and catchy.

Below you can look through my top 100 albums and check out my podcast series where I play a track from each project and tell you what I love about them. If you just want some music then check out this YouTube playlist with a track from each project.

100. The NorthaZe – Pulp Diction 3

99. $ilkMoney – I Hate My Life And I Really Wish People Would Stop Telling Me Not To

98. J.I.D – DiCaprio 2

97. Curly Castro – Tosh

96. East Man – Red, White & Zero

95. Vic Spencer – A Smile Killed my Demons

94. Big Kahuna OG – Weapon Ox

93. Spectacular Diagnostics – Raw Studies

92. Estee Nack – #Mini Mansion Dust Vol. 2

91. Pink Siifu – Ensley

90. Lando Chill – Black Ego

89. Planet Asia x Killa Kali – Border Brothers

88. Black Josh – Yung Sweg Lawd

87. The Grouch – Unlock The Box

86. Rome Streetz and Farma Beats – Street Farmacy

85. Grems – Sans Titre #7

84. Estee Nack x Recognize Ali – Post Tenebras Lux

83. Napoleon Da Legend x Giallo Point – Coup D’Etat

82. Denzel Curry – TA13OO

81. Jeremiah Jae – Daffi

80. Dark Lo x V Don – Timeless

79. Rahiem Supreme – Black Cinema

78. Bisk – MOONSHINE

77. Kojaque – Deli Daydreams

76. Benny Sings – Beat Tape

75. Nowaah The Flood x DirtyDiggs – Private Stock

74. Action Bronson – White Bronco

73. Termanology – Bad Decisions

72. Craig Xen – Hell Bent

71. Sleep Sinatra – Sanctuary

70. Robb Bank$ – Molly World

69. LNDN DRGS, Left Brain & Jay Worthy – Brain On DRGS

68. Earl Sweatshirt – Song Rap Songs

67. Trapo – Oil Change

66. Maxo Kream – Punken

65. Break – Another Way

64. Tha God Fahim – Dump Gawd: Dream Killer

63. Rahiem Supreme – Genesis Pt.2

62. Sir Michael Rocks – Funds and Access

61. Mach-Hommy & Tha God Fahim – Notorious Dump Legends

60. Pusha T – Daytona

59. Mach-Hommy – Bulletproof Luh

58. Blac Youngsta – 2.23

57. Denmark Vessey – Sun Go Nova

56. Dom Kennedy – Volume Two

55. Jakprogresso x Aloeight – Toadmilk

54. Marlowe – Marlowe

53. Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 6

52. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

51. Blackfist – Strapped For Survival

50. Vic Spencer – STUPID

49. Mitski – Be The Cowboy

48. Estee Nack – #Mini Mansion Dust Vol. 3

47. Tha God Fahim and Smoke – Dump Gawd: By Anything’s Necessary

46. 21 Savage – I Am > I Was

45. MIKE – War In My Pen

44. Benny – Tana Talk 3

43. ANKHLEJOHN – The Yellow House

42. Knowledge – Flintlock

41. Vic Spencer – Spencer For Higher

40. Ralo – Diary Of The Streets 3

39. Googie – Floating Polygons

38. Tuamie – Emergency Raps Vol. 3

37. Saba – Care For Me

36. Juga-Naut and SonnyJim – The Purple Door

35. Homeboy Sandman and Edan – Humble Pi

34. Rich Homie Quan – Rich as in Spirit

33. Koenji Hyakkei – Dhorimvishka

32. Armand Hammer – Paraffin

31. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man

30. Manga Saint Hilare – Outsiders Live Forever

29. Lojii – Lofeye

28. Young Nudy – SlimeBall 3

27. Fly Anakin & Ohbliv – Backyard Boogie

26. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Fetti

25. Westside Gunn – Supreme Blientele

24. Nostrum Grocers – Nostrum Grocers

23. DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano – Kaos

22. Juga-Naut – Bon Vivant

21. ANKHLEJOHN – Ankh Nasty

20. Chris Crack – Thanks Uncle Trill

18. MC Paul Barman – (((Echo Chamber)))

18. Cappo & Cyrus Malachi – Postmodernism

17. Mez – Tyrone EP

16. Ramirez – Blood Diamonds 2

15. Tha God Fahim and Jay Nice – Strictly For My D.U.M.P.E.R.Z

14. Roc Marciano – Behold Dark Horse

13. Black Milk – Fever

12. Chris Crack – Being Woke Ain’t Fun

11. Milo – Budding Ornithologists Are Weary of Tired Analogies

10. DJ Taye – Still Trippin’

9. Cavalier – Private Stock

8. Rawkid – Grum Vol. 1

7. Nickelus F – Stuck

6. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae – Everything’s Fine

5. Busdriver – Electricity is on Our Side

4. Hermit and The Recluse – Orpheus vs The Sirens

3. Phonte – No News is Good News

2. Kenny Dennis – Dennis 6e

1. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge 2: The Bitter Dose

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Mook Life Music: Top 50 Projects of 2017

Music

So here we are at the beginning of 2018, a perfect time to reflect on all of the music releases that 2017 had to offer. After having such an abundance of amazing projects in 2016 I thought last year started off quite slowly, there was a decent amount of good music but not a whole lot of great albums. Things really picked up around June though and I’ve struggled to keep up with everything.

2017 was an incredible year for underground hip-hop, a year that saw boom bap make a comeback in a fresh, evolved form. There have been a number of artists creating gritty, minimal and soulful hip-hop for the past few years but in 2017 the sound really exploded. With cold blooded raps about crime and street life, and a vibe reminiscent of mid 90s Ghostface but more stripped down. Griselda records have been gaining quite a lot of attention with releases from Westside Gunn, Conway and Benny, but it’s Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim who have dominated 2017 musically. The sheer amount of music those two have dropped is incredible but the consistency of it all is what really impressed me.

The king and originator of this minimal, soulful hip-hop, Roc Marciano dropped an almost perfect album this year, packed with cold lines, complex rhymes and lavishly understated instrumentals. Planet Asia also continued to excel at this sound as he teamed up with heavyweight producer Apollo Brown on Anchovies, one of the strongest releases I’ve heard from either of these artists.

Elsewhere on the underground we had one the hardest boom bap albums I’ve ever heard as Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on and Tuamie give us ferocious bars on knocking beats with Panama Plus. Milo and Homeboy Sandman both dropped poetic masterpieces with dreamily smooth instrumentals and we got weird with Quelle Chris’ superb Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often. Billy Woods and Elucid combined forces again to bring us an apocalyptic soundscape on their brutal album Rome. Wiki, J.I.D, Nolan The Ninja and Lando Chill all cemented their places as the future of the underground as they refined their sounds and all dropped focussed, cohesive albums. In the later part of the year we were also treated to another colourful album from Open Mike Eagle who continues to deliver insightful, witty and often emotional compositions.

It was a strong year for UK releases with a number acts evolving their sound a breathing new life in to the scene. UK veteran Jehst dropped one of his strongest albums to date with Billy Green Is Dead, creating his signature gloomy vibe but with a fresh set of interesting instrumentals. Melanin 9 went lo fi with Old Pictures and Strange U crafted a bizarre electronic project laced with no nonsense political bars. Nottingham MCs Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage combined for a neon phantasmagoria of brilliant poeticism and hip-hop absurdity.

As well as the hip-hop releases out of England there was some fantastic high energy music coming out too. Grime’s popularity stays strong as the legendary Wiley dropped Godfather, gaining him significant recognition overseas. My favourite grime release of 2017 came from Manga Saint Hilare on his Lewi B produced album Outbursts From The Outskirts, delivering back to back bangers. UK drum & Bass was on top form with Kings Of The Rollers members Serum & Voltage putting out an LP of chest rattling tunes while Alix Perez curated a compilation of forwarding thinking D&B flavoured electronic mayhem on 1985 Music’s Edition 1.

Although I didn’t love a lot of 2017s trap releases there were some notable exceptions such as the solid collaboration between 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin, Future’s self-titled album and Young Thug’s melodic Beautiful Thugger Girls. Rich The Kid, Jay Critch & Famous Dex had one of the catchiest trap mixtapes I’ve ever heard in Rich Forever 3 and Kodak Black got soulful on his laid back Painting Pictures LP.

There was some real experimentation on the bass heavy and electronic side of hip-hop this year. Ethereal released the terrifying Mankind, packed with abrasive beats and slurred raps while Kweku Collins gave us a beautifully off-kilter, R&B laced album. Chicago’s Supa Bwe channelled his inner pop punk fan to create a uniquely energetic melodic hip-hop project and fellow Chicago native Lucki expressed the sadness of an addict on Watch My Back. Pushing the boundaries of hip-hop to their limit was Zelooperz and Shigeto on their challengingly futuristic project A Piece Of The Ghetto that had me hooked for most of the year.

All these releases and many more made 2017 a sublime year for music. Check out my official rankings below and listen to the corresponding episodes of my podcast to get a taste of these projects for yourself.

A track from each release (where available) on an Apple Music playlist here.

A track from each release in the top 50 (where available) in a YouTube playlist here.

50. 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin – Without Warning

49. Oh No x Tristate – 3 Dimensional

48. Conway – G.O.A.T. (Grimiest of All Time)

47. Future – Future

46. Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 5

45. Cdot Honcho – Takeover

44. Lando Chill – The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind

43. Strange U – #LP4080

42. Al Divino – Dump Gawd: Divino Edition 2

41. Serum & Voltage – Strike Back

40. Tha God Fahim – Tha Ineffable Conflict Of Roosevelt Creek

39. Supa Bwe – Finally Dead

38. Malanin 9 – Old Pictures

37. Babylon Dead – 2000 BD

36. 1985 Music – Edition 1

35. Tiron & Ayomari – WET: Wonderful Ego Trip

34. Branko – Branko Presents: Enchufada Na Zona

33. Yung Simmie – Big Smokey

32. Wiley – Godfather

31. Dom Kennedy & Hit Boy – Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil

30. Rich Homie Quan – Back To Basics

29. Kweku Collins – Grey

28. Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

27. Shigeto – The New Monday

26. J.I.D. – The Never Story

25. Nolan The Ninja – YEN

24. Zed Bias – Different Response

23. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

22. Homeshake – Fresh Air

21. Tha God Fahim – Tha Dark Shogunn Saga Vol. 2

20. Lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent

19. Ethereal – Mankind

18. Kodak Black – Painting Pictures

17. Jehst – Billy Green Is Dead

16. Famous Dex, Jay Critch & Rich The Kid – Rich Forever 3

15. Mach-Hommy – DUMPMEISTER

14. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

13. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

12. Manga Saint Hilare x Lewi B – Outbursts From The Outskirts

11. Homeboy Sandman – Veins

10. Milo – Who Told You To Think

9. Tha God Fahim – Dump Goat

8. Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on & Tuamie – Panama Plus

7. Armand Hammer – Rome

6. Mach-Hommy – Dump Gawd: Hommy Edition

5. Lucki – Watch My Back

4. Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often

3. VVV – Bozo Boys

2. ZGTO – A Piece Of The Geto

1. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge