Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)

It's already been a wild and unpredictable run of game-changing surprises

Janelle Monae, photo by Philip Cosores
Janelle Monae — Photo by Philip Cosores

Half of 2018 is nearly in the bank. Of what we’ve seen, most would agree it’s been a bit of everything, some of which we could never have predicted: dazzling debuts, raucous returns, experimental episodes, political pushbacks, veterans avoiding the well, the proper hip-hop album bloat and shrink, several thrones ascended to, and, most importantly, substance and style seizing the day over spectacle.

As of now, these are the 25 albums we’re most thankful for so far in 2018. Will we still love them six months from now? That becomes the next daunting question and one whose answer will only come with time and more listening. They say that the heart’s a moving target, so agree with us or not, let’s plan on meeting back here come mid-November, and see how many of these albums still aim true.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director


Jack White - Boarding House Reach25. Jack White – Boarding House Reach

Origin: Detroit, Michigan

The Gist: After all of these years, Jack White finally writes the freewheelin’ album of his dreams with Boarding House Reach. This isn’t surprising: Months before its release, the Third Man teased that it would be a “bizarre” outing, and the album is just that. It’s a freak train of sounds initially conceived on an ancient reel-to-reel while White tinkered about in a small Nashville apartment. The end result is anything but seclusive, though, and might just be the singer-songwriter’s most expansive effort yet.

Why It Rules: Well, it’s a mess, but the chaos is intriguing. That’s key, seeing how the Jack White brand was becoming a tad predictable. Ever since the guy went off by his lonesome, he’s been issuing songs that could either be filed under The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather. Boarding House Reach says to hell with all of that, carving out a new chapter for the Detroit bad boy, right down to the brilliantly effeminate album cover. Who knew the perfectionist stumbled perfectly. –Michael Roffman


Superorganism24. Superorganism – Superorganism

Origin: London, UK

The Gist: This East London eight-member collective of Very Online musicians bring a fresh sense of lighthearted fun to their self-titled debut album, entwining sound effects and audio clips with danceable melodies and a razor-sharp attention to detail. Lead vocalist Orono Noguchi cites Stephen Malkmus and Pavement as influences on her songwriting and delivery, and it’s not hard to hear the distant strains of the ’90s running through this otherwise thoroughly modern-sounding album.

Why It Rules: Superorganism is as perfect a distillation of disparate influences into effortless indie pop as you’re bound to find this year. Equally perfect for a dance party with friends or one by yourself, songs like “Nobody Cares” — which manages to be both grunge-influenced and bouncing — and the meticulously crafted “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” envelop the listener in a sunny sonic world where all the choruses are singable, and nothing seems that bad. It’s all wrapped up in a bow of meticulous production and playful experimentation, charting a bold, new course for where indie pop might be headed in the next few years and beyond. –Katherine Flynn


Kanye West - ye23. Kanye West- ye

Origin: Chicago, Illinois

The Gist: As the second album in GOOD Music’s five-album May/June takeover, ye finds Kanye West plumbing his psyche and apparent bipolar diagnosis over just seven songs in 24(ish) minutes. Guest features are mostly relegated to the hooks, while the beats—no matter how warm—are in constant mutation, leaving West to spew his numerous contradictions in real time. He confesses thoughts of indiscriminate love and murder in the opening track (“I Thought About Killing You”), places a cringey yet infectious sex jam alongside a tribute to his wife (“All Mine” and “Wouldn’t Leave”), and—with some help from PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kid Cudi, and MVP newcomer 070 Shake—transforms mental anguish into freedom on “Ghost Town”.

Why It Rules: Upon first listen, ye felt somewhat slight—more of a surface-level observation about one’s own mental health than a full-on dissection. But with every spin, it becomes clear that it was never meant to be a dissection. It was never meant to be a dissertation. Instead, West simply documents his own thoughts and views as he’s having them. It’s that lack of curation that makes ye raw, authentic, and—with his best production since 2013’s Yeezus across less than a half hour—highly listenable. Granted, you have to be interested in Ye the man to get any kind of enjoyment out of ye the album. And yes, that means being willing to reconcile his political ignorance, astronomical ego, and problematic messaging with his greatness as an artist. He doesn’t offer answers for any of the more troubling aspects of his personality on ye. He just continues to experience them. –Dan Caffrey


ty segall freedoms goblin new album Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)22. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

Origin: Laguna Beach, California

The Gist: Another brilliant addition to a brilliant discography by this unnaturally talented rock artist. Freedom’s Goblin feels like listening to Ty Segall’s mp3 library on shuffle, as we hit on florid psychedelia, steaming garage rock, proto-metal, weepy folk, and R&B grooves. Is that the iTunes visualizer we see, or did he slip something into our drink?

Why It Rules: Never underestimate the power of having a great band at your disposal. With The Freedom Band in his corner — an all-star ensemble that includes bassist Mikal Cronin and Cairo Gang leader Emmett Kelly — Ty Segall can now truly go for broke in his songwriting and playing. And what comes from that power and flexibility is a downright indulgent collection of songs, like going for the popcorn upgrade at the snack counter because it’s only 50 cents more for a jumbo. This album is equally luxuriant and filling, with one of Segall’s most heartfelt ballads and his nastiest riffs nestled cozily together. –Robert Ham


Father John Misty's God's Favorite Customer Artwork21. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Origin: Rockville, Maryland

The Gist: Josh Tillman’s alter ego, Father John Misty, set out to discover himself and scoff at the world at large on Pure Comedy, but in doing so, he almost lost the woman he won over throughout the course of I Love You, Honeybear, leaving him broken, manic, and lost as he attempts to find his way back home.

Why It Rules: Over his last three releases, the line has become more than blurred between Tillman and his alter ego, never more so than on God’s Favorite Customer, an extremely honest portrayal of Misty’s – and likely Tillman’s – marital problems. The end result sees Misty at his most desperate, heartbroken state, making a solid comedown record that doesn’t quite hit the profound highs of its predecessors, but gets carried quite a long way on the back of its honest songwriting. –Steven Edelstone


Natalie Prass -- The Future and the Past20. Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past

Origin: Richmond, Virginia

The Gist: “Keep your sisters close/ You gotta keep your sisters close to ya,” sing the backing vocalists on “Sisters”, the seventh track on Natalie PrassThe Future and the Past. It’s a perfect, exemplary moment for Prass’ more R&B-influenced sophomore effort, a collection of songs that are the product of some careful reworking after the election of Donald Trump. Prass has reflected deeply on this particular cultural and political moment and distilled it into a portrait of a fighter who is determined not to lose herself, give up hope, or become any less human in the process.

Why It Rules: Prass is a deft and precise songwriter, but the big orchestrations featured on The Future and the Past, a natural progression from her very produced debut, are the real showstoppers here. Even on more minimalist tracks like “Hot for the Mountain”, lounge guitar licks, piano chords, and steady rhythms assert themselves under Prass’ airy vocals, creating earworms that will stick in your head for days. On top of these sounds are bigger ideas than the ones Prass worked through on 2015’s Natalie Prass; “Ain’t Nobody” tackles reproductive rights while “Ship Go Down” combats the feeling of helplessness engendered by endless, terrifying news notifications. It’s a hopeful record for a hopeless time. –Katherine Flynn


sob rbe gangin Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)19. SOB x RBE – Gangin

Origin: Vallejo, California

The Gist: Vallejo rap quartet SOB x RBE (the “x” is silent) capitalize on their standout collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on the Black Panther soundtrack, the frenzied “Paramedic!”, with a second album that may as well be their first. Young, hungry, and ready to take on the world, GANGIN is that pivotal moment where they could evolve from stars in the making to just plain stars. Or supernovas.

Why It Rules: Despite topping off at a potentially unwieldy four members, each quarter of SOB x RBE carves out a distinct vocal identity on GANGIN. And rather than bank on the trap leanings currently washing over Atlanta, they take a note from Vallejo forefather E-40 with beats that hearken back to the trunk-rattling ’90s. The allure of GANGIN lies not in what SOB x RBE are saying, but how they’re saying it. The throwback production and relentless energy of the group’s four MCs set them apart from their more leaned-out, chilled-out brethren on the opposite coast. Supernovas indeed. –Dan Caffrey


Courtney Barnett's Tell Me How You Really Feel

18. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Origin: Melbourne, Australia

The Gist: Unassuming Aussie rock star Courtney Barnett returned with her second full-length record, as insightful, off-kilter, and melodic as ever. Barnett has always been a beautifully idiosyncratic wordsmith. Her lyrics are wry, personal, and sometimes painfully sincere. With Tell Me How You Really Feel, she pushes her sound forward while still retaining her identity, establishing that she’s an artist with enough talent and nuance to have a long and powerful career.

Why It Rules: On Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett is fed the fuck up. Tracks like “Hopefulessness” and “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence” are a beautiful expansion of her trademark insight into being an anxious wreck, but single “Nameless, Faceless” and the scorching “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” are the fulcrum of the record, which dives into the psychological consequences of existing as a woman in the world while finding a way to end on a gentle and deeply human note, rather than a bitter one. –Kayleigh Hughes


 Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)17. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Origin: Norfolk, Virginia

The Gist: Historian is a massive achievement, a devastating but gorgeous musical examination of memory, loss, and identity. Lucy Dacus has always been a clever and reliable indie rock singer-songwriter, and Historian displays how she has absolutely blossomed as a musician and storyteller.

Why It Rules: Dacus’ voice is pure even as it trembles, even as it betrays longing and heartbreak. Throughout Historian, the super-smart singer is able to deeply intellectualize her experiences while still loading them with raw emotional immediacy. She’s thoughtful, committed to telling this story and interrogating these painful truths, hopefully turning them into songs more beautiful and clear than the difficult experiences that she’s working from. As a musician, Dacus keeps herself brilliantly reserved until just the right moments, skillfully employing absences of sound so as to make the surging fuzz of a guitar and the swell of her voice hit the listener like a landslide. –Kayleigh Hughes


twin fantasy 2018 version new album Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)16. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Origin: Leesburg, Virginia

The Gist: “Hi, my name is Will Toledo. I’m that kid you hated in grade school who could just fly by the seat of his pants and get those gold stars you spent mornings and nights pining over. Want proof? I just took an old album of mine and managed to deliver one of this year’s better rock albums. It’s okay if you hate my guts for being naturally prolific because you’ll absolutely love my music. See you around, folks.” Yeah, that pretty much explains Twin Fantasy (Face to Face).

Why It Rules: All joking aside, Toledo is the type of singer-songwriter that critics used to champion on a weekly basis during the glory days of ’80s college rock. He’s like a young Gordon Gano, kicking out sprawling songs like the nearly 14-minute epic, “Beach Life-in-Death”, or the 16-minute saga of “Famous Prophets (Stars)”, that reach for the stars without having to stand up. Again, that may irritate you, but those hooks demand nothing but love. Hey, at the end of the day, we’re all just nervous young humans. –Michael Roffman


beach house 7 album Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)15. Beach House – 7

Origin: Baltimore, Maryland

The Gist: Seven albums in, Baltimore-based Beach House have proven that they’re incredibly good at being themselves. Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals and Alex Scally’s immersive instrumentals once again cohere into an experience that is disorienting in the best way, documenting impressions and moments in a way that is both mysteriously obfuscated and immediately visceral. 7 finds the duo teaming up with producer Sonic Boom to create a heavier sound than the tinkling, dreamy melodies that made their name on early albums like Devotion.

Why It Rules: Beach House are an endlessly creative, well-oiled machine, and 7 is the perfect exemplification of Legrand and Scally’s partnership. Songs like “Dive” start off slow and gradually introduce new elements like driving drumbeats, delivering listeners to a very different place than they were in when the song began. Through a bevy of production tricks like shimmering fades and dissolves and the rich, booming quality of Legrand’s voice, it’s not hard for a listener to imagine themselves experiencing the music on some kind of timeless astral plane — the transformative journey that people have come to expect, and even depend on, when playing a new Beach House record for the first time. In this way, and many more, 7 delivers the goods. –Katherine Flynn


Jeff Rosenstock - Post-14. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Origin: Long Island, New York

The Gist: Traveled garage rocker Jeff Rosenstock released his third solo outing, POST-, on the very first day of 2018, a decision (intentional or not) that imbues the sprawling protest to follow with a couldn’t-wait-another-day sense of urgency. And given that most songs were written in response to the 2016 Presidential Election, we might wonder how Rosenstock sat on them for an entire year.

Why It Rules: Hip-hop might be seen as the genre where politics and injustice get addressed, but Rosenstock reminds us that few things sound more rebellious and feel more cathartic than a rock band blowing the windows out of a garage. But POST- runs so much deeper than just feeling pissed off over election results. “These songs are about losing hope in your country, yourself, and those around you,” explains Rosenstock. Songs like “USA”, “Yr Throat”, and “All This Useless Energy” perfectly capture the overwhelming feelings of trying to find balance among people we thought we knew in a country we no longer recognize. Rosenstock is one of the few songwriters to truly tap into the wide range of complex emotions that Americans are wrestling with during this administration. To hear your mind and heart shout-sung back at you makes it all the more clear that this cannot become our new normal. –Matt Melis


Snail Mail Lush Album Art Cover Art Red13. Snail Mail – Lush

Origin: Ellicott City, Maryland

The Gist: Right before the summer of 2018 formally kicked in, but long after its spirit arrived in the form of rivers of sweat down our backs, 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan released her knockout debut full-length record under the name Snail Mail, expressing vulnerability and confidence in equal measure.

Why It Rules: Lush sounds like summer break, like having so much time to think and feel, and only just beginning to realize that it might not be that way forever. Throughout Lush, Jordan’s voice is round, full, and unabashed. Her guitar is just as brazenly honest, the instrument working almost like a supporting vocalist or lyrical companion to the singer. The album is not without its moments of youthful myopia, but rather than sparking bitterness or jadedness, Jordan simply brings out in the listener a deep and aching empathy. –Kayleigh Hughes


du5m5r2umaa5cjt Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)12. Kendrick Lamar and Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album

The Gist: For easily the most anticipated inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler tapped Kendrick Lamar and his pals at Top Dawg Entertainment to soundtrack the vivid world of Wakanda. What came to fruition is a muscular 50-minutes of A-list hip-hop and R&B, all from superstars like The Weeknd, SZA, Vince Staples, Future, Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, BadBadNotGood, Ab-Soul, Anderson. Paak, and, oh yeah, James Blake. In other words, it’s basically Coachella: The Album.

Why It Rules: Look, these kinds of star-studded projects are traditionally dead on arrival — most of the time, everyone trips over each other or wedges in lame ass lines tied to the movie — but there’s so much creative life in Black Panther: The Album. Everyone tries to write The Big Single, and when you have K. Dot for the assist (at least most of the time), it’s hard to fuck that up. Vince Staples sounds like he’s spitting verses from a hoverboard on “Oops”, The Weeknd puts another club anthem on demand with “Pray For Me”, and both Kendrick and SZA wield some of their 2017 magic into the all-too-addicting ballad, “All the Stars”. It’s a soundtrack that leaves everyone looking like an antelope in headlights. –Michael Roffman


Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of

11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of

Origin: The Gist: Wayland, Massachusetts

The Gist: Like a journey through a Graceland-like mansion where every room has been designed and decorated using a computer-randomizing program, Daniel Lopatin invites you to explore the glittering weirdness and small pockets of absolute beauty contained within the walls of his latest album, Age Of.

Why It Rules: Everything you need to know about how Lopatin has found the threads connecting high art and low culture is that, on this new album, he samples both a modern classical piece by Jocelyn Pook and a MAD TV skit. Apparently, nothing escapes his gaze, and his music is all the better for it. Age Of was built by trial and error between Lopatin’s ceaseless production and soundtrack work. The album’s scattershot feel is, in that way, a feature, not a bug, keeping your attention centered as he goes from noisy fireworks to beautiful, Asian-inspired post-trap to future R&B. –Robert Ham


Artwork for Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy

10. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Origin: New York City, New York

The Gist: After topping the charts with her breakthrough single “Bodak Yellow” in 2017, stripper-turned-social-media-star-turned-rapper Belcalis Almanzar, aka Cardi B, cemented her status as a dominating force in pop and hip-hop with the release of Invasion of Privacy. Anyone expecting a thrown-together mishmash of singles was quickly proven wrong; as we’re all learning, underestimating Almanzar never pays off. Expect to hear cuts from this brilliantly brash and clever album blasting from car windows all summer.

Why It Rules: It becomes evident upon even the first listen to Invasion of Privacy that there’s something truly substantial behind Almanzar’s rags-to-riches story: a tireless work ethic and raw talent in spades. With lyrics like “This that collard greens, cornbread, neckbone, back fat/ Get it from my mama and you don’t know where your daddy at” on the Project Pat-sampling “Bickenhead”, Cardi asserts her own identity while putting haters in their place. Her flow is acrobatic and nimble, and her wordplay is frequently very funny. She’s also unafraid to showcase a more vulnerable side on tracks like “Be Careful”, warning a cheating boyfriend of the damage he’s capable of doing. With the bar set this high, we can only imagine where Almanzar will take us next. –Katherine Flynn


dave east paranoia 2 mixtape stream listen Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)09. Dave East – Paranoia 2

Origin: Harlem, New York City, New York

The Gist: A sequel at least in name to last year’s Paranoia: A True Story, the latest from this Harlem rapper with the Nas co-sign carries on the New York rap tradition. Decidedly less commercial than its immediate predecessor, Paranoia 2 returns to the Kairi Chanel mixtape vibe that initially endeared him to lyrically minded hip-hop heads.

Why It Rules: Right out of the gate, P2 demonstrates its mettle with the kaleidoscopic “Talk to Big”, a veritable state-of-the-state moment for Dave East that covers more ground in four and a half minutes than most rappers’ entire mixtapes. From there, he bolsters his street bona fides on cuts like “Powder” and “I Can Not”. The beats exude soul, namely the ruggedly real style one might’ve caught across 110th or 125th Streets back in the day. Fittingly, he name-drops David Ruffin while spilling personal details on the moving “Corey”, and the graphic storytelling of “I Found Keisha” offers depth you can feel in your chest. Whether Def Jam will allow Dave East to be Dave East remains to be seen, but in the overcrowded hip-hop marketplace, his unflinching artistry deserves an audience. –Gary Suarez

Stephen Malkmus - Sparkle Hard08. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Sparkle Hard

Origin: Portland, Oregon

The Gist: Four long years after their last release, the deliciously titled Wig Out at Jagbags, Stephen Malkmus and his balmy Jicks return with an equally delicious follow-up. Spread out over 11 tracks, the former Pavement frontman meditates on a changing world by changing with it, leaning on newer toys like an Auto-Tune and Mellotron. He even gets audaciously political without all the gimmicky trappings that traditionally comes with being an aging white rocker trying to stand on a soap box.

Why It Rules: For all those reasons and more, Malkmus arrives at top form on Sparkle Hard, sounding like a bonafide bard of his generation. Make no mistake, he still knows how to get silly, but it’s the type of silly one might attribute to whimsically clever authors like Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. Songs like “Bike Lane”, “Kite”, and especially “Shiggy” prove he still has his eye on the stage, while deeper cuts like “Solid Silk” and “Middle America” hint that he’d just as well stroll around the neighborhood. –Michael Roffman


ASAP Rocky - Testing07. A$AP Rocky – Testing

Origin: Harlem, New York City, New York

The Gist: On this sprawling, ambitious effort, A$AP Rocky stays true to the album’s name, dipping his toes and tongue into sounds and musical ideas that are filled with color, movement, and a few Herculean doses of psychotropics. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, his third eye has been squeegeed to a blinding gleam.

Why It Rules: The long-delayed and much ballyhooed Testing was released at both exactly the wrong time and at the perfect moment. Rocky had to compete with the tidal wave of hype that accompanied Ye but managed to survive it and come out victorious. This album will be the one to usher in a new era of experimentation in the studios and minds of the next generation of rappers. Thanks to the genre-blurring productions Rocky and his many collaborators dreamed up and his rhymes that dig deep into his psyche while keeping a clear, steady gaze on the often desperate state of American life. –Robert Ham

Sleep's The Sciences

06. Sleep – The Sciences

Origin: San Jose, California

The Gist: With almost no forewarning, doom metal gods Sleep returned from hibernation with the release — on 4/20, natch — of their fifth studio album. As with their 2014 single and their devastating live performances, time has only made this trio weightier and more purpose-driven. That purpose? To get everyone listening as high as they are.

Why It Rules: Check with your doctor to make sure your body and mind are sturdy enough to withstand The Sciences. On this brilliant record, Sleep play as if trying to be heard from the bottom of a tar pit. This new album is boiling hot and moves with the momentum of an asteroid demolishing everything in its path. For our sake, this group offers up small shafts of light in the syrupy dark: the bong rip that kicks off “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and naming a song “Giza Butler”. They may be evil, but they’re having a hell of a lot of fun. –Robert Ham


kacey musgraves golden hour Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)05. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Origin: Golden, Texas

The Gist: Country sensation Kacey Musgraves pivots gently into pop music mode on her sixth studio album, incorporating elements of disco, R&B, psychedelia, and the friendly pulse of a drum machine into her earthy odes to loves gained and lost.

Why It Rules: True to her outlaw country roots, Musgraves’ decision to make music with an even wider reach still came from her self-crafted playbook. Her aim has never seemed to be for world-dominating success, but instead the kind of crossover delights that her forebears like Dolly Parton and Crystal Gayle found during their heydays. Songs like “Lonely Weekend”, “High Horse”, and the torch ballad “Rainbow” aren’t written to tap into the sound of today; they’re built for longevity. Golden Hour is an album not just for 2018, but for the ages. –Robert Ham

Isolation by Kali Uchis

04. Kali Uchis – Isolation

Origin: Alexandria, Virginia

The Gist: We are blessed, for powerhouse vocalist and all-around delight Kali Uchis has delivered unto us a gift we do not deserve: an ultra fresh, deeply cool, super futuristic soul record the likes of which we can not hope to receive ever again — until Uchis’ next record.

Why It Rules: Literally every song on this album is a banger, and there are 15 songs on this album. Aptly titled, Isolation makes for one hell of a solo dance party. Uchis’ voice is gold, her attitude is fierce, her writing and perspective and lyricism are one-of-a-kind. The artist makes use of brilliant production, savvy sampling, and a kick-ass roster of guest vocalists to lend endless textures and vibrancy to her wildly creative sound. And she maintains cohesive emotional themes about being alone (even around other people) that land with elegant authenticity. –Kayleigh Hughes

Pusha T Daytona Album Cover Artwork

03. Pusha-T – DAYTONA

Origin: Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Gist: It’s been three years since Pusha T’s last album, King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, and Terrence Thornton made it worth the wait with the ferocious and near-flawless DAYTONA. I always thought nine songs was the perfect amount for an album, but DAYTONA made me believe in seven.

Why It Rules: In a lean, unblinking 21-minutes, Pusha T delivers a sharp and hypnotic rhapsody, wasting nary a second with bloat or dallying. The wordsmith drips swagger and effortlessness, even as it’s clear he’s been unyieldingly precise and demanding of every note and syllable. Kanye West has been busy digging a deep and heavily marked grave in which to toss his legacy, but he still lends his singular brilliance as a producer to every track on DAYTONA, making us all wish he’d shut up, step into the background, and just become a supporting player for more genuinely exciting and vibrant artists like Thornton. –Kayleigh Hughes


saba care for me front Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)02. Saba – Care for Me

Origin: Chicago, Illinois

The Gist: SABA has been poking his head out of the Chicago hip-hop scene since 2012, usually as part of one collaboration or another with Chance the Rapper. But it’s his sophomore album, Care for Me, largely inspired by the tragic death of his cousin, that truly marks the rising rapper coming into his own, mixing his versatile poetic flow and unique musical textures with a deep delve into processing such life-altering pain.

Why It Rules: From its inception, hip-hop has boasted (and demonstrated) the ability to depict the world in arguably higher definition than other genres of music. Much of the reason Care for Me resonates is because that while most of the songs are inspired by the recent violent loss of the rapper’s cousin Walter, a man we’ve never met, tracks like “Prom / King” celebrate and mourn loss in a way we can all identify with. The jazzy track, all piano and percussion, finds SABA looking back in pinpoint detail to his time with Walt leading up to prom and later to the day he learned his cousin was missing. It’s a window into the rapper’s memories sure, but more so it’s a look at how the grieving mind works, and one can’t help but listen and begin to think about his or her own Walter. Each track offers that type of powerful glimpse, and SABA makes it nearly impossible to turn away. –Matt Melis


Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer

01. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Origin: Atlanta, Georgia

The Gist: Appearing in Oscar darlings Moonlight and Hidden Figures hardly stopped Janelle Monáe from making music, it only gave her more time. And so, nearly half a decade after she burned dance floors with 2013’s The Electric Lady, Monáe returned to reboot our shoes with the funky, late-night charms of Dirty Computer. Though, “charms” hardly does the album justice; no, this is a big ol’ Halloween fuck fest at Paisley Park, where Brian Wilson’s sunbathing under a black light, Grimes is texting Elon Musk from a flamingo raft, and Pharrell’s making drinks for our ArchAndroid. Listen hard enough and you might hear Zoë Kravitz ordering Domino’s from a ’50s rotary phone.

Why It Rules: What, that wasn’t good enough for you? Then go spin the goddamn thing. Dirty Computer is more fun than literally anything else that’s been released this year. That’s pretty paramount at a time that’s essentially been one hard slug to the gut, and Monáe knows this. While she’s game on hosting the Thursday night rager until the break of dawn on Monday, she’s also insistent on “keeping things real,” which is why every song comes with a lesson. Now, in lesser hands, this could have quickly devolved into some queasy timeshare pitch on politics, but instead, the whole thing comes off like a celebration. Of what? Change, and lots of it. With Dirty Computer, the future isn’t unwritten or worth fighting for, the future has already begun, and it hardly feels like science fiction. –Michael Roffman