Hip-Hop Springboard: The best of late 2018



With end of year lists winding down and holiday music just relinquishing its grasp on speakers nationwide, the last weeks of the year present an odd time in the world of new music releases. Yet with regularity, artists seize the moment to drop records spark excitement for the new year. Hip-hop artists continue to dominate streaming charts and push the genre forward. Here’s the best of the genre released during the ‘hinge’ between years. No matter what your taste in hip-hop, you’re sure to find something to match your taste.

“War in my Pen” by MIKE

Following in the footsteps of Earl Sweatshirt’s singular “Some Rap Songs” from earlier last year, “War in my Pen” utilizes a relentlessly experimental approach to lo-fi hip-hop. It should come as no surprise that MIKE treads similar ground to his close friend and collaborator. However, the sonic palate for the album still scans as remarkably fresh. The knotted mutations of each beat wrestle themselves as MIKE grapples with his mental and domestic struggles.

MIKE’s abilities as a lyricist, which were already proven on 2017’s excellent “MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE,” continue to sharpen here. “My poppa wanted peace and I inherit his dream,” spits MIKE on album highlight “October Baby.” With music as self-assured and incisive as this, you can hear him scrawling closer to his goal.

“X 100PRE” by Bad Bunny

Puerto Rico rapper and international sensation Bad Bunny is most familiar to most Americans via his feature on Cardi B’s “I Like It” and his Drake-featuring single “MIA.” “X 100PRE” stands to change that by asserting Bad Bunny as an excellent artist in his own right. His combination of reggaeton and trap is very familiar – hip-hop titans in the U.S. and Canada have been copping the sound for years – but on “X 100PRE,” the sound is deeper, richer, and twisted into far more interesting song structures.

“X 100PRE” has its fair share of dancefloor shakers, but the record really shines during its more soulful numbers. From its shapeshifting latin opener “NI BIEN NI MAL” to its synthpop nightdrive centerpiece “Otra Noche en Miami,” Bad Bunny propels his album with emotional vocal performances rise to each musical occasion. Every track deserves a spot on a club DJ’s playlist. “X 100PRE” brings a depth and smoothness that will hypnotize listeners on the first play and, on the second, light up the dancefloor.

“I Am > I Was” by 21 Savage

21 Savage is a master of dark vibes. While previous projects married his stone-cold delivery to gorgeously minimal beats from Metro Boomin and company, they lacked explosiveness and diversity of texture. Earlier in 2018, 21 Savage dropped a huge hint that the pattern was about to change. “Don’t Come Out The House,” a collaboration with Metro, featured two whispered verses that were colder than anything 21 Savage had dropped before.

“I Am > I Was” continues that tradition of intense experimentation. The beats fluctuate between old school samples and gritty trap bangers which push at the boundaries of tradition; Savage himself exercises different flows and tones to match. While the rapper is yet to drop a true masterwork, the ambition running through the project hints that he’s not far from it. True to the album title, 21 Savage is getting better over time. Watch out, 2019.

“Icedancer” by Bladee

Swedish cult cloud-rapper Bladee has had a bizarre year. He dropped his most streamlined record yet in “Red Light,” got panned by the most famous music critic on the web, and returned with a pair of his most abstract tracks on “Exile.” Then, just before the end of 2018, Bladee dropped “Icedancer,” which is both a spiritual successor to previous mixtape “Working on Dying” and a wonderfully refreshing release in its own right.

Bladee’s lyrics mostly follow in the spacey, despondent tradition he’s established, but they often dive into legitimately interesting spaces. Over its runtime, “Icedancer” reflects on Bladee’s consumerist obsession, the tension between his relationships and career, and his conflicting feelings towards his own art. The record’s excellent production, a collection of lo-fi yet gorgeously melodic beats from longtime collaborator RipSquadd (production duo 7evaa and lusi), ranges from pleasant to transcendent.

“Icedancer” offers a refreshingly experimental step away from the overly-smooth “Red Light.” Each of the record’s bizarre pitch shifts, lo-fi production choices and unexpected samples point towards a fresh start for Bladee where he can again rewrite himself as an artist.