Unapologetically black. That’s how I liked my music this year. Not just black, per se, (though that was where my head was tbh) but unapologetically whatever it was trying to be. That could be unapologetically pop. Unapologetically fun. Unapologetically woke. Whatever. Just make me feel like it’s real, that I’m real, that who I am and what I am is not only okay but brilliant.
King’s Dead did that for me from its very first notes. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, James Blake, and Future with my favorite of all the songs on the epic Black Panther Album (Music from and Inspired by the Movie) is ultimately a villain’s anthem but one that reeks of authenticity. It sounds like California. Black California from the bay to the South of LA. When Jay Rock says, “My name gon’ hold up. My team gon’ hold up,” I feel that shit.
My last.fm charts will say that All the Starz from the same album is my top track, but it’s treating King’s Dead from the Black Panther album and Jay Rock’s Redemption as two separate tracks. Combined, it’s close to 100 spins.
The 2018 Mixtape
My methodology this year for figuring out my faves was to look at each month separately rather than focus on my listens in aggregate though those numbers were a secondary factor. My mixtape reflects my favorite song of each month from January through November as well as my favorite discovery.
I like this approach better because it acknowledges the rhythms of time more than the inertia of routine and the impact of the Spotify algorithms on my listening behavior. So instead of seeing a playlist dominated by a few albums and artists, you’ll hear some tracks that I forgot I loved right next to the records that I played the hell out of for a few weeks at a time. There’s a little symmetry here as well with a song featuring Sza—artist of my favorite track of 2017—and ends with a song by Janet Jackson who I have admired since I was knee-high and who just got nominated for the Rock & Roll hall of fame. She’s still got it.
I haven’t looked at many of the end-of-year lists yet, so I don’t know what the consensus is around the top releases though I’m guessing some of my faves like Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy are on them. I know they are both GRAMMY nominated for Album of the Year. They weren’t my very top albums this year despite trying hard to convince myself otherwise.
Black Panther—both the compilation mentioned above and the Ludwig Göransson score—set the tone for everything I would listen to for the rest of the year. It primed me for Jay Rock’s full length, an artist I wasn’t checking for before King’s Dead and his instant anthem WIN which was the theme for the LA Sparks season well before it was played at nearly every sporting event the rest of the year. The score re-ignited my interest in film compositions which led to an April filled with the soundtracks to Arrival and Annihilation and Westworld and many a Black Mirror episode. Combined, Kendrick Lamar’s curated playlist for the best black popcorn movie ever released and that score was the best thing going all year. Full stop.
Beyond that, I enjoyed grown folks hip hop from Beyoncé and her husband and Phonte. I liked expansive sounds from The Midnight Hour and Abstract Orchestra, clever reworks from Kelela, and a pretty perfect pop album from Ariana Grande who is, perhaps, an even more interesting artist than she is a celebrity. She, too, is figuring out how to be unapologetically herself with each release.
My Fave Albums of 2018
Black Panther Album & Black Panther Soundtrack
Redemption – Jay Rock
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
Everything is Love – The Carters
Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B
No News is Good News – Phonte
The Midnight Hour – The Midnight Hour
Sweetener – Ariana Grande
TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES – Kelela
Dilla – Abstract Orchestra
Shout-out to Drake for great singles and better videos. Jordan Rakei, Nightmares on Wax, and Little Dragon for great live shows. Rapsody, Gifted Gab, Noname and Princess Nokia for providing excellent counter-programming to the overwhelming masculinity and aggression still dominating popular hip-hop. And Aretha Franklin and Mac Miller for having existed.
Thank u, next.