LADIES & GENTLEMEN! It's finally time for the final 5th Element End of Year List of 2018! This has been the biggest undertaking I have done so far. Three official lists & all the lists done by people I've interviewed over the past couple of years. The publishing schedule may have been spread over 10 days, but it wouldn't be possible without weeks of writing, and months of listening to music.
To the Friends of 5E that made time to write out their lists, I fully appreciate you taking your time. For those that have taken time to read the lists, thank you. It means a lot. Every list, every article I write, I put in time to make it clean and ready to go days in advance.
But we're not here for a speech, we're here for ALBUMS! This may be a "Singles" generation, (But then again, what generation wasn't?) but Albums are still the true barometer for great artistry. Weeks, months, even years go into some albums and the artists that put the work in deserve recognition for their efforts.
This is by far the list I have put the most thought into. This whole year I've put in much more time to listening to projects. Throughout October, November & early December I have been deep listening to contenders. Out of the many albums I listened to over the year, I managed to make a shortlist of around 20. Some I didn't listen to because they were fresh in my mind already, but just for context, let me tell you how fluid this list was.
Before I began my wave of deep listening, I made a very loose first draft of the Top 10, by my last list, the list you're about to see, the No.1 album on the first draft is now in my Honourable Mentions. It was that rigorous.
But after a lot of changing, I eventually found my No.1 album of 2018, and then the rest fell into place. Before we begin, not to sound like I write for Pitchfork, but there are a lot of projects on this list that people have either not rated properly or haven't rated them at all. I haven't seen my No.1 mentioned anywhere.
With that said, buckle up! It's an interesting list (If I do say so myself) and I hope you enjoy what I've put on. The 5th Element Top 10 Albums of 2018 begins!
10. Khrysis & Elzhi - Jericho Jackson
Kicking off my Top 10 is a February release that has unlimited replay factor for me. Every now and again this year I have gone through my list of projects and with "Jericho Jackson" being one of the first on the list every time I looked, I can't front, this album always caught my eye.
This is a high level "One MC, One Producer" project. It's a match made in Hip-Hop heaven. Khrysis, member of elite beat collective "Soul Council", comes through with amazing beats and even better samples. The first track "World of Illusion" sets the tone well and Khrysis remains a constant throughout the project. But then comes Elzhi.
It has been a rough time for Elzhi since his the critically acclaimed "Elmatic". A Kickstarter project that went south and a battle with depression has kept him off his true form but in recent years he has been gradually finding form through great features. "Jericho Jackson" symbolises and solidifies his comeback. The beats are sublime, Elzhi is on point, this fought out a lot of deserving projects but this took the 10 spot simply for it's accessibility and replay factor.
Favourite Tracks: Overthinking, Self Made & Breguets
9. Masta Ace & Marco Polo - A Breukelen Story
I didn't realise this until I started writing this out... Two "One MC, One Producer" projects in a row! Glorious.
Admittedly, this project nearly crept up on me. I heard the single "Breukelen Brooklyn" and once I heard that, I was waiting patiently. I didn't have to wait long. Masta Ace really caught my imagination with his previous project "The Falling Season". The 'Story Album' format that he did was right up my alley. His next project, collaborating with Marco Polo, is no different.
"A Breukelen Story" is all about the Toronto born producer Polo. The first track "Kings" is more of a tone setter but the messaging is still great. Then begins the story. From Marco moving to Brooklyn, to getting kicked out and living in a more sketchy area, to giving his beat tape to a Producer and getting put on. Masta Ace, along with some great features, paint the picture beautifully with good skits in between. the first with his pops and last with his mother were fun to hear as book ends. This is just great Hip-Hop from start to finish.
Favourite Tracks: Kings, Corporal Punishment & God Bodies
8. Leon Bridges - Good Thing
My boy Mr Leon Bridges is next with his sophomore album "Good Thing". His first album "Coming Home" was a real throwback in every way. It's like he travelled back in time to the ol' Deep South and created an album there. But with "Good Thing", he evolved to something with a lot more confidence but kept all the qualities that he had with "Coming Home".
This album is just so damn smooth. And it's not just crooning here, although he still dips into that crooning bag, he also has tracks on here that just ooze confidence, his lead single "Bad Bad News" exemplifies this. As the Texas soul singer evolves, so does the instrumentation on this. The energy brought on the production side is something to be admired.
While "Good Thing" still has the throwback elements that it's predecessor was all about, it felt contemporary also and to balance both is really what makes this such a special project to listen to.
Favourite Tracks: Bad Bad News, Forgive You & Mrs.
7. Anderson .Paak - Oxnard
Here we go again! From a music standpoint, there is never a dull moment when it comes to Anderson .Paak. He's eccentric, always fresh and just so damn good! There aren't many artists where I want to know immediately when their new project is dropping, Paak is definitely in that echelon.
"Oxnard" is Paak's third album and his most polished. Credit for that has to go to Dr Dre who, as we know, is a literal perfectionist. That OCD shows, no beat, instrument or vocal is out of place. It's symphonic levels of composing.
But as it pertains to Paak, he says that this album is the album that he's been wanting to make all this time and you can feel the effort put into this. The tracks themselves are smooth, there are so many highlights on this and Paak is on top form from start to finish. The features are great and on the production side, there were contributions from legends 9th Wonder & Q-Tip, to name a couple. It's Paak all over but much tighter than the album's predecessors.
Favourite Tracks: Tints, Brother's Keeper & Cheers
6. Denzel Curry - TA13OO
Boy, this was a step up! I started to listen to Denzel Curry last year and it was clear that he had something. The energy level this guy has is like an Electric Power Plant overloading. But music wise it was good for a song but he needed more dimensions to add variety.
And then came "TA13OO". Split into three acts, "Light", "Grey" & "Dark", Curry is methodical with his content. The overall demeanour is pretty bleak but that is counter acted by his many personas. In songs like "TABOO | TA13OO" & "BLACK BALOONS | 13LACK 13ALOONS" he and the beats are floaty, reminding me of the chill dance music that my pops used to listen to. But then his energy levels spike on tracks like "SUMO | ZUMO", peak Denzel. And then he gets darker and darker from then on, nearing metal music levels.
It's a very engrossing album and in my opinion, cements him as the best of the "SoundCloud Generation" so far.
Favourite Tracks: "BLACK BALOONS | 13LACK 13ALOONS", "SIRENS | Z1RENZ", & "CLOUT COBAIN | CLOUT CO13A1N"
5. NAO - Saturn
MY QUEEN IS BACK! You know she was going to enter the list at some point and she gets into my Top 5 once again.
The reason why sophomore albums sometimes flop is because on their first they had their whole lives to think about the first and then barely any time to do the second. NAO admitted this but I dare you to find something bad about this album.
Kicking off with "Another Lifetime" that gives me chills with her voice just multiplying at the climax, it renders me speechless. The album comes from the Astrological theory of Saturn Return. Long story short, The Saturn Return is:
Every 27 to 29 years, Saturn returns to the sign it was in when you were born, a cycle called The Saturn Return. - (Via Astrostyle.com)
With that in mind, you can definitely notice why NAO called this album "Saturn". This is all about personal growth, living & learning from mistakes, romantic subtexts and just trying to get through as she nears the end of her 20's. I say that in a basic manor but the way she talks about these subjects with her angelic voice and Neo-Soul/R&B/Funk production.
This is one of those albums that are so much better if you can either relate to what she's talking about or you're like me and loves her whenever she's on a track.
Favourite Tracks: Another Lifetime, Saturn, Love Supreme
4. Buddy - Harlan & Alondra
This album is just straight up fun. I didn't hear of Buddy until this album dropped. No singles, never heard of him. Then I saw a few artists that I follow sharing it and I thought "Why not?" and it's that curiosity that has given me my No.4 album of 2018.
Originally from known Hip-Hop hotbed Compton, Buddy spends the album giving us a whistle-stop tour through his life and the life around him. Which is why it's no surprise that the first track is called "Real Life S**t". The song is what it says on the tin.
This is a small thing, but I like titles that are direct links to what the song is about. Take the (in the only words I can describe it.) super lit track "Black" where the word "Black" is said 232 times. Or "Trouble On Central" where he basically talks about the poverty-stricken environment around him.
Which brings me to why I love this album so much. Regardless of the subject matter, he can mould to it with ease. Singing on "The Blue" is like something straight from the G-Funk era. (Exaggerated by a sweet Snoop Dogg feature) "Black" is as if he wants to shove his blackness down your throat. The inspirations are so evident, it's flawless and it's such an easy album to get into.
Favourite Tracks: Hey Up There, Trouble On Central & The Blue
3. Akua Naru - The Blackest Joy
Okay. As some of you know, I saw Ms Lauryn Hill live earlier this month. And if you know Ms Hill, you know what she's about.
Take that, and imagine Ms Hill had a University named after her. Akua Naru went to that fictional University and took a course called "Embracing Blackness".
The reason I'm creating this imagery is because from listening to this album, I get HEAVY Lauryn Hill vibes but more directed to the black experience and loving the skin you're in. (Extra "relatable" points if you got high melanin.) This album is so beautiful, Naru is such an elite lyricist. Her voice is commanding and orders you to listen to her gospel.
Speaking of gospel, there's some great choir support sprinkled throughout this album and just adds to the unapologetic blackness that this album exudes. There's also great references to significant black figures such as Serena Williams & James Baldwin to name a couple. Hip-Hop beats, enticing African instrumentation. This is one of the blackest albums you'll ever listen to, it's also a great feminist piece and it comes from an artist that you've probably never heard of. That makes it that much more special for me.
Favourite Tracks: Sweat, Made It & Baldwin's Crown
2. Murs - A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable
Murs has consistently been one of the most underrated artists in Hip-Hop and this album is his "Open Book" album. Where he just tells you all the demons he has been fighting and all the trials he has gone through.
Divorce, custody battle, money trouble, a momentary high in finding love again, only to have a stillborn baby with his fiancee. Add on the effects of all that, including not wanting to live on the song "Melancholy".
You would think that would be the whole album, but even with all of that, Murs finds the time to entertain the listener. "Superhero Pool Party" is exactly what the title says. It made me smile. Regardless of the subject matter, whether they're borderline suicidal or so funny it will make you laugh, Murs balances it all and it's a real roller-coaster of a listen. And shout out to producer Seven, the beats on here are inch perfect for whatever the subject is. Emotional, reflective & some of the best lines you'll hear on an album this year.
Favourite Tracks: The Unimaginable, Powerful & Celebrate
1. Ocean Wisdom - Wizville
My No.1 Album of 2018 goes to CAMDEN'S FINEST, Ocean Wisdom.
I don't know where to begin on this... I'll admit, when I first listened to this, is was amongst many other popular releases at the time so I didn't really respect it the way I should've. But then I gave it the respect, I sat on my chair, hooked up my Bluetooth speaker and went for a full on deep listening session.
I have never needed a break between songs so often. This album hurt my brain but in the most positive way. The lyrics on here are so fast paced and so clean that it was a war of attrition to keep up!
But we're only scratching the surface on how fire this album is. Combine Wisdom's stupidly amazing skills with the pen, mic & breath control. The beats on here are such a perfect blend of 90's US Hip-Hop & UK Rap. The beats are the best of both sides of the pond. And then we come to the features... Not only does he get Method Man on a track, Dizzee Rascal on a track, Rodney P & Roots Manuva on a track... He WAXES THEM ALL! It doesn't matter how legendary the features are, you know exactly who's album this is. It's Ocean freaking Wisdom and don't you forget it.
This has everything a traditional UK (based) Hip-Hop fan could possibly want. And as a UK (based) Hip-Hop fan, this is the benchmark. I told you all that UK Hip-Hop is coming... I give you exhibit A... "Wizville".
Favourite Tracks: Brick Or Bat, Ting Dun & Righteous
August Greene - August Greene
Blood Orange - Negro Swan
Children of Zeus - Travel Light
Clyde Guevara - FreeJAH
Freddie Gibbs - Freddie
Ice Cube - Everythangs Corrupt
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Jay Rock - Redemption
J.Cole - KOD
Jungle - For Ever
Kamaal Williams - The Return
Nines - Crop Circles
Noname - Room 25
Phonte - No News is Good News
Protoje - Matter of Time
Ray BLK - Empress
REASON - There You Have It
Royce Da 5"9 - Book of Ryan
Saba - CARE FOR ME
SiR - November
SoulChef - Foreign Affairs
Sylvan LaCue - Apologies in Advance
The Internet - Hive Mind
Various Artists - 9th Wonder Presents: Jamla is The Squad II