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The Best Albums of 2018

There were many ways to make an album in 2018. Artists like Drake and Migos put together long, streaming-friendly projects that left little on the cutting room floor. Meanwhile, G.O.O.D. Music headed to Wyoming and experimented with a seven-song format that stripped each project down to its most necessary elements. Across the board, we heard stories about artists who tinkered with albums until the very last moment, turning in verses mere hours before files needed to be uploaded to streaming services.

No matter how the music was created, there sure was a lot of it. Somehow, the pace kept accelerating, and every Friday we were treated to more material than we knew what to do with. This was a memorable year for hungry newcomers and established veterans alike, and there were many more than 50 great releases. These are Complex’s picks for the best albums of 2018.

50. Migos, ‘Culture II’

Label: Quality Control Music/Motown/Capitol
Released: January 26

Did Culture II live up to the high expectations we had for Migos after Culture? No. Is Culture good enough that even a mid version has plenty of slaps to go around, including a handful that y’all slept on? Absolutely. Almost a year later, highlights like “Stir Fry” still hold up, showcasing the Migos at their goofiest. But let’s talk about those sleepers. “Gang Gang”? A beautiful song about friendship. “Bad Bitches Only”? Home to one of 21 Savage’s best moments of the year. “Open It Up”? A reminder of exactly where the trio came from, after “Bad and Boujee” was colonized by fraternities nationwide last year. At an hour and 45 minutes, there’s plenty of fat to trim, and one could more than fairly argue that Culture II only reinvented Culture’s wheel. But there are certainly worse things to reinvent. —Carolyn Bernucca

49. Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Some Rap Songs’

Label: Tan Cressida/Columbia Records
Released: November 30

Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs might be the most contentious album on this whole list. In the days following the record’s release, as the songs got aired out loudly in the Complex office, consensus quickly formed—it was a miss. But then something started shifting. For some of us, tracks that seemed strange when aired back-to-back with the latest from the Quality Control assembly line, opened themselves to reveal profound challenges and joys within the context of the album as a whole. Earl is dealing with topics like his own mental health and his father’s January 2018 death, and the sound of the record reflects that. It’s lo-fi, with static and seemingly random vocal samples around every corner. But Earl treats the lo-fi nature of the process in the same way that Guided by Voices did in their heyday—the noise and difficulty becomes the mood, and adds depth to the record’s themes. While Earl Sweatshirt’s latest opus might not have won over the whole office (yet), these are Some Rap Songs that, love them or hate them, you won’t be able to get out of your mind. —Shawn Setaro

48. Mariah Carey, ‘Caution’

Label: Epic Records
Released: November 16

After her interesting year(s) in the public eye, which featured everything from an awkward reality show on E! to an equally awkward New Year’s Eve performance, bouncing back with a slapper of a 15th studio album didn’t seem like it was in the cards for the supreme diva—yet here we are. Ascending to her throne, Mariah Carey found a way to reestablish her unique blend of hip-hop, pop, and R&B into a release that flows effortlessly. Sure, tracks like “The Distance,” with a powerhouse of talented artists behind it (Skrillex, Lido, Poo Bear, and Ty Dolla Sign) should be no-brainers, but you’re still not ready for the emotional gut punch when the bass drops under that heavenly hook. Lil’ Kim’s “Crush On You” gets a fresh coat of paint on the empowerment anthem “A No No,” and current sensation Gunna finds a way to flex with Mariah like it’s nothing on “Stay Long Love You.” For anyone wondering if Mariah still has it, Caution is the perfect release to quiet that talk. —khal

47. Kamasi Washington, ‘Heaven and Earth’

Label: Young Turks
Released: June 22

After Kamasi Washington built a name in the industry through his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, many discovered the Los Angeles tenor saxophonist’s debut album, The Epic, which was released mere months after Kendrick’s opus. Three years later, Washington returned with a robust assortment of free-thinking jazz excellence on Heaven and Earth. Washington spreads his message out over two discs (three, if you found the hidden third companion, The Choice), finding a way to build all-encompassing anthems that ignite revolution; just peep the spoken-word bits from “Fists of Fury.” Washington revamps a Bruce Lee theme, but manages to take that concept and use it as a rallying cry for the voiceless who are working towards a better tomorrow with few tools at their disposal. Familiar names like Thundercat and Terrace Martin are featured on the project, but they don’t overshadow Kamasi’s vision in the slightest, showing just how powerful his emerging voice is. Tune out the world—both the heavenly and earthly parts—and open your mind to this. —khal

46. The Weeknd, ‘My Dear Melancholy,’

Label: Republic/XO
Released: March 30

On My Dear Melancholy, the Weeknd took a slight detour from pop dominance to wear his heart on his sleeve. The six-song project is arguably his most personal to date, with the 28-year-old artist channeling the pain, regret, and aftermath of multiple high-profile breakups. Lyrics about his relationship with singer Selena Gomez and its upsetting end are spread throughout, like on “Call Out My Name,” where he sings, “I almost cut a piece of myself for your life.” Bella Hadid, who the Weeknd has since rekindled a flame with, is also referenced, but in a more affectionate manner: “Wasted times I spent with someone else/She wasn’t even half of you.” While My Dear Melancholy, is less accessible than Starboy or Beauty Behind the Madness, and is not quite as captivating as the Trilogy series, the project has its moments of excellence on songs like “Wasted Times” and “Try Me.” Moreover, it showcases the Weeknd opening up more, which can only bode well for “Chapter VI” of his catalog. —Edwin Ortiz

45. Playboi Carti, ‘Die Lit’

Label: AWGE/Interscope
Released: May 11

Playboi Carti’s Die Lit is one of the most fun rap albums of the year. Carti’s voice is an instrument in and of itself, which makes the album feel like a producer tape as Pi’erre Bourne’s hypnotic beats and the rapper’s hazy flow prop up a horde of standout features. The support Carti provides doesn’t diminish his importance, though; he holds his own on solo tracks and alongside everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to neo-R&B darling Bryson Tiller. The album is half trappy lullabies (“Lean 4 Real,” “Fell in Luv,” “FlatBed Freestyle”), half club bangers (“Choppa Won’t Miss” and my personal favorite song of the year, “Poke It Out”), which makes it perfect for the pregame, the function, and the postgame—mans contains multitudes. Die Lit makes the inarguable case for all that mumblin’ shit. —Carolyn Bernucca

44. Anderson .Paak, ‘Oxnard’

Label: Aftermath/12 Tone Music
Released: November 16

Anderson .Paak likes to take his time. He's a lot like his mentor Dr. Dre in that way. It’s been nearly three years since the release of his breakout project, Malibu, but the California native was careful not to rush the follow-up. Instead, he formed a tight bond with his band the Free Nationals and broadened his skill set in preparation for an ambitious album that builds on the silky G-funk sound of his earlier work. Oxnard lacks cohesion at times, and the album takes a few songs to really find its footing, but Anderson’s nose for joyous melodies and forward-thinking instrumentation is enough to right the ship by the project’s midway point. He even finds a way to weave the stylings of big names like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Pusha-T into the fold in a way that feels natural and unforced. Yes, Lawd! —Eric Skelton

43. SiR, ‘November’

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Released: January 19

Back in January 2017, the world learned that Top Dawg Entertainment had signed SiR, and I was elated. I’ve been a fan since at least 2015, when he officially released his debut project, Seven Sundays, through the indie label Fresh Selects. Fast-forward to January 2018, and SiR put a winner on the board for TDE with November. It sounded rich and inviting when it was first released, but with the passage of time, the album settles into the mind more deeply, with an intoxicating effect. “Something Foreign,” a 2017 single featuring SiR’s labelmate Schoolboy Q, sounds at place in the context of November, which glides and dips like a flock of birds flying synchronistically over an ocean. Even “I Know,” which hits a little harder, sounds sweet coming out of SiR’s mouth. November is yet another gem from TDE. —Kiana Fitzgerald

42. Westside Gunn, ‘Supreme Blientele’

Label: Griselda Records
Released: June 22

Westside Gunn named his second studio album in tribute to Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele, but it does more to invoke Only Built for Cuban Linx…, with the roles reversed: the high-pitched Gunn as Ghostface, but in the starring role this time around, and Benny the Butcher as his deeper-toned, detail-oriented foil (“Blood on the money when they got paid back”). The record is Ghost-like in other ways as well. Westside Gunn frequently raps, Tony Starks-style, over soul samples with the vocals still included. But there’s a whole lot more to Supreme Blientele than its reference points. The rapping is sharp and vivid throughout, and the guests turn in superb performances that serve as a counterpoint to Gunn’s style. The beats are beautiful, too. Varied and understated, they are the perfect canvas for Westside Gunn’s street stories. GhostDeini would be proud. —Shawn Setaro