So I’ve kinda been AWOL for most of this year. I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad writer’s block for one reason or another. I just wanted to use this piece as an opportunity to shake the rust off and give my opinions on hip hop in 2018 that I — as someone who was raised a soft suburbanite — can’t and don’t expect any readers to take seriously.
I mentioned in last year’s recap that I felt hip hop was in a state of limbo, and that rap music didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go. In some ways I think that still holds true. It seems like commercial rap is clinging on for dear life to the trends that’ve had the genre in a stranglehold over the last two or three years. Rappers both new and established seem petrified at the idea of leaving the comfort zone that has established itself, because nobody knows where to go next. Melodic trap lives on for better or for worse…and from what I can tell, it’s actually gained some footing back in the game. Last year I got the sense that there was a bit of exhaustion in regards to that sort of music that I no longer seem to find. People seem like they’re totally satisfied with the prevailing trends remaining firmly in place, which I can’t knock since everybody has their own tastes; however, I’m a little disheartened by the stagnation. I also can’t pretend like I’m not sick and tired of the representative sound of hip hop being so sanitary and watered-down when the music was built off a spirit of defiance and grit.
This is all anecdotal though. I can’t say for sure whether my observations are actually accurate; all I can say is I’ve been hearing a lot of Travis Scott and Drake, and it’s made me want to “accidentally” crush my own windpipe.
Fortunately for those who have tastes that aren’t exactly satisfied by that sort of music, an almost comical amount of projects were dropped by underground rappers this year. It reached the point where, unless you are in certain settings, there was really no reason for you to pay attention to anything going on that you didn’t like. In the maybe three pieces I’ve written in the last year and a half, I’ve spoken a countless amount of times about the new-age boom bap movement that has taken root in the underground. For some reason, this time last year I figured that this movement’s growth would merely be incremental. Couldn’t tell you why, and at this point I feel pretty fucking stupid for ever holding that belief. The flood gates have been opened and they’re not shutting any time soon. Last year this particular scene was still budding, but this year it’s clear to anybody with the ability to use a computer that the underground is alive. It’s stronger than it’s been in 15 years, maybe somebody should let DJ Booth know.
In the last 12 months, I’ve become familiar with a lot of newer artists. Daniel Son, ANKHLEJOHN, CRIMEAPPLE, Asun Eastwood, and Eto have caught my ears the most. That’s not to take anything away from anyone else, but a huge chunk of my favorite albums this year were released by these guys. Since mid-2017 and even earlier, they’ve released a metric fuckton of incredible projects with shocking consistency. Artists have seemingly upped their output this year…which is also something I’d like to talk about. They’ve been releasing project after project, with many ending 2018 with upwards of four or five; in the past, I likely would not have been thrilled about it. I would have said something about oversaturation serving to dilute the artist’s overall impact for me. I’m not sure that’s how I feel anymore though, at least not with certain artists. More attention is being paid to structuring a body of work. I partially credit the return of vinyl and cassette for that. If people are making albums that they want to release on an analog format, they put a greater effort into trimming the fat and eliminating filler. You can’t just skip a track, so every song needs to serve a purpose. Generally, this results in projects being compact and packing a punch. In comparison to when artists were dropping three 70-minute long mixtapes a year in addition to an album, projects don’t end up sounding as rushed or bloated. That is mainly where my ambivalence toward this practice stemmed from. Having several shorter projects in a year is a great way to accomplish the same thing without sacrificing quality control, and frankly I would quite like it if more of my favorites started releasing more regularly.
I’ve also noticed that producers have been branching out a bit more from the minimal style that Roc Marciano, The Alchemist, and Daringer used to pioneer the sound of this movement. I’m pretty glad about that, because for a little bit I was afraid that people would overdo the minimalism and make it feel stale. I’m once again relieved that I was wrong. I have to give a huge shout-out to Futurewave, who is pretty handily my favorite producer out right now. His work on Pressure Cooker and Physics of Filth is just utterly astounding. It’s everything I love about hip hop. I also want to mention Big Ghost Ltd.; while I’ve enjoyed his work for a while now, his beats on Aguardiente and especially Van Ghost show that he’s continuing with the steady incline he’s been on essentially since coming out as a producer.
This year hasn’t only been about new artists though. I’m very happy with a lot of vets. Roc Marciano obviously comes to mind — he released three albums that I really like, with Behold A Dark Horse putting up serious competing for the position of my favorite album in his discography thus far. One of those albums, Kaos, was produced by the legendary DJ Muggs, who’s had a remarkably strong year himself. He’s actually been on a hot streak since his album with Meyhem Lauren last year, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be ending anytime soon; in addition to Kaos, in 2018 alone he released a strong Soul Assassins album, an EP with Meyhem, reunited with Cypress Hill for their best album in two decades, and is set to release albums with Eto, CRIMEAPPLE, and Mach-Hommy next year. Black Thought finally released some solo projects and while they were a little lacking in substance, he made it perfectly clear that he is the most dangerous emcee on the face of the planet. Shad and Blueprint released utterly gorgeous records. People may clown me for this next statement, but they can fuck themselves. I think Eminem brought it with Kamikaze. I consider that to be his best and most genuine album since 2002, which absolutely shocked me because Revival was the epitome of a career-ending album. Royce 5’9” also released his best and most personal album to date this year, alongside a strong PRhyme outing with DJ Premier.
He’s been hyping up a Bad Meets Evil reunion album at shows overseas lately, so I’m really hoping that’s something we see next year. Unrelated, but I’m looking forward to the next Run The Jewels album, too.
Of course, there are a number of vets who once again didn’t release the albums they’ve been promising for years now. At this point, I should know better than to expect Redman, Ghostface, and Busta Rhymes to drop those records…but I’m a moron. Overall though, despite a few of my earlier complaints I found 2018 to be the strongest year hip hop has had since I’ve been a fan. There truly is room for everything in this day and age, a while that lends itself to music and artists I’m really not a fan of, it’s also led to some incredible material and future legends. I hope to be more active next year than I was this year to offer my unsolicited opinions and takes…just like all of the hip-hop writers for whom I hold a seething hatred, because the way things are going I only see good things in store for 2019.