The year 2018 will be remembered for many things when it comes to hip-hop.
It was the year the genre continued its dominance over the record industry, securing its place as the most consumed form of music for the second year in a row.
This year’s numbers were even greater than 2017’s, as Hip-Hop/R&B was on pace to own an even higher percentage of music consumption based on July’s mid-year data, leaving rock and all other music forms even further in its wake.
Nowhere was that success better reflected than on the Billboard 200 charts, where hip-hop albums accounted for 18 of the year’s 40 total number ones, far more than any other genre. Those 18 also marked the most in any year, shattering the previous record of twelve No. 1 hip-hop albums set in 2017.
Those of you doing the math will also note that 30 hip-hop albums have topped the charts in just the past two years. Overall there’ve been 190 such albums to reach No. 1 (since the Beastie Boys had the first one in 1987), which means almost 16 percent of all the No. 1 hip-hop albums have occurred since January 2017.
Those numbers are amazing when you really think about it, and they’re not expected to change anytime soon (21 Savage is already slated to begin 2019’s charts with a new No. 1 album when the data is released next Sunday).
But with all of hip-hop’s highs came some lows.
Of course, we lost some of its youngest and brightest stars in Mac Miller and XXXTentacion.
And several rappers continued to get more focus on their rap sheets than their raps (XXXTentacion, Meek Mill and Kodak Black being the most prominent of those).
Then there were the rap beefs. While some ended amicably (Drake and Meek Mill are now on better terms), others didn’t. Pusha T went all Maury Povich on Drake by exposing his secret daddy status on “The Story of Adidon.” Nicki Minaj finally got the best of rival Cardi B (who previously had the upper hand) when the latter had to be restrained during an attempted attack at a New York Fashion Week appearance this fall.
And in the most unnecessary rap battle of them all, the legendary Eminem went for underdog Machine Gun Kelly with homophobic insults (he targeted MGK’s man bun). The fact that they were Interscope label mates generated speculation that their beef was a contrived attempt by the label to boost Eminem’s and MGK’s sales (it worked, btw).
But those highs and lows were a microcosm of hip-hop’s greatest year, and the albums that topped the charts from January to December continued 2018’s rollercoaster narrative.
Below is a listing of all 18 of this past year’s No. 1 hip-hop albums and a brief statement about the legacy of each. Some you’ll easily remember, while others you may be discovering for the first time (it’s possible).
Revival – Eminem. Eminem released Revival in December 2017, but it topped the Billboard 200’s first official chart of 2018 (dated January 3) and kicked off a year bookended by No. 1 hip-hop albums. That’s the good part. The not-so-good is that Revival is considered among Eminem’s worst albums, with no memorable singles to speak of. It received the lowest Metacritic score (50/100) of all his releases, which dates back 20 years and nine albums. His year was somewhat salvaged eight months later when he achieved his second No. 1 of the year, but not by much.
Culture II – Migos. In the current decade, the rap game has mostly been a solo artist’s domain. Gone are the days when groups thrived (think Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy, NWA, Tribe, De La Soul, etc.). But Atlanta-based Migos – featuring Offset, Quavo and Takeoff – has singlehandedly brought back the group concept and scored its second No. 1 album back in February. The album will be best remembered for “MotorSport,” the track featuring both Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. Of course, that was before Cardi started throwing red-bottom shoes at folks.
Black Panther: The Album – Soundtrack/Kendrick Lamar. The Black Panther soundtrack was a No. 1 success, but it will be forever overshadowed by the movie that inspired it, which wound up being the second-highest grossing film of the year and sparked a “Wakanda-forever” movement that is still alive today. Still, the soundtrack had some memorable moments, most notably the collaboration between Kendrick and SZA on the top-10 single “All The Stars.” Ending credits rarely sounded so good.
Bobby Tarantino II – Logic. The problem with having a hit as massive as 2017’s “1-800-273-8255” (the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention Hotline) is that it can sometimes overshadow anything you do afterwards. That was the case for Logic’s 2018 release, Bobby Tarantino II, billed as a mixtape followup to the first Tarantino. There was enough of a buzz to cause this mixtape to debut at No. 1, but not enough to generate any huge hits. The biggest was a collabo with Marshmello, “Everyday,” which only peaked at No. 29. Another Logic album was released in September and stalled at No. 2.
? – XXXTentacion. In announcing this album back in January, XXXTentacion said the following: “This album’s not about the words, it’s about the feeling…it’ll be very hard to understand, but very easy to listen to…it’s not what you’re expecting, even if you feel like you understand my music, be prepared to not understand this music.” The album was thus an amalgamation of different music genres – including alternative rock – making it arguably the most eclectic release of the year by a hip-hop artist. Despite X’s troubled past, no life is worth losing so young, including his.
Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B. Former stripper and reality TV star Cardi B unleashed her greatest talent behind the mic. Her rap game was undeniable and her flows were uniquely hers (without the need for doll-like gimmicks). Critics praised Invasion as one of the best albums of 2018, and rightfully so. Cardi’s was the only album to secure Grammy nominations for both Best Rap Album and Best Album overall. Even if the Grammys weren’t under fire for their recent poor history of recognizing women, Cardi would be a shoo-in for at least one of those awards.
KOD – J. Cole. J. Cole asserted his elder statesman status on this album – his fifth consecutive No. 1 release. The album’s tracks may have deepened the divide between the old-heads and the younger generation of rappers. But at least J. spoke truth when he cautioned the youngens about the perils of being in the music industry and the dire aftermath that follows when your career inevitably fades and you’re relegated to reality TV shows. Preach, J. Cole, preach!
beerbongs and bentleys – Post Malone. It’s clear now that Post Malone doesn’t like the “rapper” label. So we won’t bestow that upon him here. Still, his songs belong in “hip-hop” until further notice (remember, rap does not always equal hip-hop). I expect that future Post Malone albums will stray further from the genre and eventually the industry will get it right, but for now…he’s hip-hop. Note: this album contained two No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 – one of three hip-hop albums this year to do that (the others were by Drake – Scorpion had three – and Cardi B).
Ye – Kanye West. Kanye got his album out right before Drake unleashed Scorpion, so Ye’s No. 1 had the benefit of good timing. It also moved Trump’s favorite hip-hop artist into a brief tie with Eminem and ahead of Drake with his eighth No. 1 release (until Drake reclaimed the tie with Scorpion and Em later dealt Kamikaze). As for Ye’s seven tracks? Well, at least they weren’t horrible (I’ve always been partial to “Ghost Town,” his collabo with G.O.O.D. Music singer 070 Shake). Ye’s tracks weren’t horrible, but they didn’t light the world on fire either.
Oh, and we’re still waiting for that Yhandi follow-up…
Scorpion – Drake. I’ll be brief (since the album wasn’t): three No. 1 singles that totaled 29 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 (a record for any calendar year). At one point in June, Canada’s biggest export owned over half the songs in the top 40. Needless to say, Drake’s ubiquity was on steroids in 2018, and shamelessly so. Note to Drizzy: no more feature-length films disguised as albums… please???
ASTROWORLD – Travis Scott. When all is said and done, 2018 will likely be remembered for its three best hip-hop albums, Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, Pusha T’s Daytona and this one. La Flame went all “Sicko Mode” on us and created one of the dopest tracks of the decade, and got an unlikely No. 1 Hot 100 single and a few Grammy nods in the process.
Oh, and dismiss all of that talk about Travis boosting his sales with merch bundles, all artists do something to get an edge… Nicki included.
Kamikaze – Eminem. Kamikaze may forever be remembered as the album that was at the center of one of the most contrived rap beefs in hip-hop history. It was Em’s surprise follow-up to Revival and it was slightly better received than its predecessor. But the lowball fight he picked with his label mate Machine Gun Kelly, which resulted in the venomous, but now-forgotten diss track “Killshot,” took Eminem down a notch in the street cred department. He does now stand alone, however, as the rapper with the second-most No. 1 albums behind Hov.
Iridescence – BROCKHAMPTON. You know how you can look at an oil slick or soap bubbles or fish scales from different angles and see different colors being refracted. That’s iridescence. It’s also one of the best ways to characterize the first No. 1 album by the eclectic hip-hop collective Brockhampton.
No one expected much hip-hop radio support for this alternative group, but the critics loved them, which should have translated to at least one Grammy nod. Just how non-mainstream is Brockhampton? Their release was the only hip-hop album this year to reach No. 1 this year with more traditional album sales (79,000 copies) than streaming and track-equivalent units (22,000). But that just means there wasn’t a hit single dominating airwaves. Truth be told, the whole album is worth a listen. It’s not too late to show ‘em some love.
Tha Carter V – Lil Wayne. Weezy’s long-awaited return didn’t disappoint, either critically or commercially. It was streamed more in its first week out than any other album besides Drake’s. Tha Carter V thus became Weezy’s first No. 1 album in seven years, and was a bit of redemption after his release from Cash Money finally became official in June 2018.
Wayne’s album featured a mix of older and younger artists, including Ashanti, Snoop Dogg and Nivea on the older side, and Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, XXXTentacion and Nicki Minaj on the current scene. The song “Uproar” was being pushed as the single, but “Mona Lisa,” featuring Kendrick, was the album’s most popular, peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in October.
NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES – Metro Boomin. After serving up beats for so many others in the trap game, the highly sought-after producer released an album under his own name and brought some of his favorite artists to the party, including Travis Scott, Swae Lee, 21 Savage, Gucci Mane, Kodak Black, Offset and Drake, among others.
More noteworthy than the album’s tracks, however, is the interesting bit of trivia involving NAHWC’s chart run. It was sandwiched between a No. 1 classical album (by Andrea Bocelli) and a No. 1 album by a black country artist (Kane Brown). With Metro Boomin having the year’s only No. 1 album by a producer, the triplicate of Bocelli, Boomin and Brown made for a chart sequence that we can say with confidence has never happened before and likely never will again.
Championships – Meek Mill. The last four weeks of 2018 featured four different No. 1 hip-hop albums, the first time a year ended that way. After Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD made a return visit to the top in early December, Meek Mill continued rap’s reign at the top with Championships. It was his second No. 1 overall (his first was in 2015) and it capped a comeback on both a professional and personal level after Meek was released from jail in April.
Many people have rallied behind Philly’s top rapper regarding his legal troubles and celebrities likewise turned out in droves on Championships’ feature spots, including Cardi B, Ella Mae, Kodak Black and 21 Savage – to name a few. After just two weeks, the only single from Championships still ranked in the top half of the charts is the Drake collabo “Going Bad.”
But Meek has kept his name out there by simultaneously becoming more of an activist and working to clear his name. In other words, he’s creating a legacy far greater than what a No. 1 album or a banging track can do. And it’s that life victory that the appropriately named album personifies most.
Skins – XXXTentacion. Two artists had two No. 1 albums each in 2018… Eminem and XXXTentacion. Sadly X didn’t live to see his second one. But Skins was a legit album – one of three that the Florida rapper announced in January – not like so many other posthumous releases where opportunistic producers cobble together a bunch of unfinished tracks to capitalize on the recently departed.
Among Skins’ standouts is the eerie “Train Food,” a minimalistic track featuring X’s detailed one-on-one encounter with the personification of death. That real-life eventuality will forever be a blemish on 2018 and a reminder of just how fleeting life can be, particularly for young black males. In another twist, XXXTentacion’s death partially inspired the next No. 1 on this list, also by a fellow Florida rapper.
Dying to Live – Kodak Black. As one of hip-hop’s brightest and (still) youngest stars, Kodak represents the current rap counterculture unlike any other. But Dying to Live also has more introspection (like “God Sent,” “Malcolm X.X.X.” or “Close To The Grave”) than one might expect from someone his age and with his crazy history. Speaking of which, many have rallied to his defense whenever Kodak’s lengthy rap sheet comes up, but – like it or not – the legal issues are a big part of his story, and a public part at that, so they will come up. Plus, he does little to shed that image on many of Dying To Live’s 16 tracks, continuing an internal struggle he’s acknowledged in his rhymes and in interviews.
But the album still has its street bangers, which, for a 21-year-old rapper and his followers, is what’s most important. Plus he spits some mean bars on the album’s best track “Could Of Been Different,” where he laments a homie gone awry.
Bottom line: Lil Kodak isn’t trying to be anyone’s role model… yet. But maybe his recent decision to relocate to the left coast will allow him to continue his growth journey… and continue to live.
Now ranked best-to-worst (just the Number Ones)…
- Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B.
- ASTROWORLD – Travis Scott
- Tha Carter V – Lil Wayne
- Iridescence – BROCKHAMPTON
- Black Panther: The Album – Soundtrack/Kendrick Lamar
- Scorpion – Drake
- ? – XXXTentacion
- Culture II – Migos
- KOD – J. Cole
- Ye – Kanye West
- Skins – XXXTentacion
- NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES – Metro Boomin
- beerbongs and bentleys – Post Malone
- Dying to Live – Kodak Black
- Championships – Meek Mill
- Bobby Tarantino II – Logic
- Kamikaze – Eminem
- Revival – Eminem