All photos sourced from Creative Commons.
On ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott serves as the ringmaster of an eerie, psychedelic carnival of his design, aided by creative assistance from some of the biggest names in hip hop and beyond. Letting his ambition guide him, Scott follows his trippiest impulses: beat switch-ups in the middle of songs, woozy interludes, and liberal use of syrupy autotune. Though the writing and production credits on this record are seemingly endless, the album never suffers from clutter or feels chaotic. Uncredited features from Drake, Swae Lee, James Blake, Frank Ocean and many more pervade ASTROWORLD, adding to its already unpredictable nature. However, it’s the moments where Travis is isolated that deliver the most poignant lyrics. On “COFFEE BEAN,” he explores novel introspection about his relationships and his role in the public eye, whereas “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” sees him dispense newfound wisdom. If his 2016 album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was a portrait of an artist in chrysalis, ASTROWORLD is Travis Scott in full form. Who knows where he’ll take us next.
- John Martin
S+H TOP 10 Albums:
ASTROWORLD - Travis scott
iridescence - BROCKHAMPTON
Swimming - Mac Miller
Sweetener - Arianna Grande
DAYTONA - Pusha T
Ye - Kanye West
Invasion of Privacy - Cardi B
Dirty Computer - Janelle Monáe
KIDS SEE GHOSTS - Kanye West & Kid Cudi
7 - Beach House
Brockhampton have never been known for their restraint. The thirteen-member "boy band" pumped out three albums in six months last year, each at least fifteen tracks long and brimming with diverse lyrical and musical ideas. Though at times the group could certainly benefit from a sharp editor, their maximalism and bombast have proven to be essential parts of their appeal. Indeed, while many up-and-coming rappers have been catering to the shrinking attention span of listeners, Brockhampton continue to embrace sprawling messiness and unbridled ambition in their work. And no Brockhampton album is more messy and ambitious than this year's iridescence, an expansive collection of genre-defying art-rap that combines mosh pit-ready beats with incisive lyrics and heartbreaking melodies. With forays into confessional piano ballads, neoclassical strings, and anthemic alt-rock, iridescence is at once Brockhampton's most unfocused and most cohesive album, with recurring musical and lyrical motifs holding its fifteen tracks together like the silk of a spider's web. Sure, some MCs in the group are (much) better than others; sure, the album sometimes devolves into cringeworthy emo territory. But for every weak moment on this record, there are countless moments of transcendent beauty. Take Kevin Abstract's devastating verse on "WEIGHT," for instance, in which the rapper dissects past and present feelings of insecurity atop heart-tugging strings, or the cathartic London Community Gospel Choir passage that closes "SAN MARCOS." The emotional power of these moments is undeniable. And when the album's brilliantly constructed musical arc finally lands on "FABRIC," a scatterbrained hybrid of darkness and euphoria that somehow manages to pull everything preceding it into a concise conclusion, there is no question about it: Brockhampton have arrived.
- Steven Norwalk
Mac Miller decisively departed from his days of frat rap and entered into a world of earnest introspection on his final album, Swimming. The record explores themes of self-acceptance and self-help through various relationships, breakups, addiction and tumultuous events, repeatedly using the imagery of keeping your head above water. While singing has never been Miller’s strong suit, the switch-ups between rap and song interlaced throughout the album are much appreciated, as well as the variety in production. J. Cole’s magic clearly shines on the beat for “Hurt Feelings,” while the production of “What’s the Use?” delivers a funk inspired groove that supports Miller’s reflection on his relationship with drugs. “Ladders” showcases an underlying blend of trumpets and synths, picking up in the outro when the lyrics stop and the emphasis is placed solely on the instrumental. Moments like this show how selfless with the spotlight Miller can be. In the end, we should admire how far Mac Miller came since the days of “Donald Trump,” as Swimming provides a small window deep into a mind that had the infinite respect of so much of the music world.
- Kevin ChaN
The break from the monochromatic covers of Ariana Grande’s previous albums seems to signify a new era for her, and Sweetener certainly embraces this. The album’s themes of finding growth through pain are made clear by the leading single “No Tears Left To Cry” and by the title track, but Sweetener’s influences extend far beyond the Manchester bombing and Grande’s (short-lived) engagement to Pete Davidson. It is a reflection of Grande’s life and career up to this point, examining the highs and the lows, while also commemorating the distance she's traveled as an artist. The dreamy Mariah Carey-esque head voice runs like those in “No Tears Left To Cry” and “Goodnight N Go” may be what Ariana is best known for, but tracks like “God Is A Woman” and “Breathin” show fans and haters alike that that is certainly not the limit to Grande’s vocal ability. The album is also distinguished by some of its experimental production, most notably the multiple layers of harmony and rich textures in songs like “R.E.M” and “Better Off.” Songs like these tend to be forgotten, often overshadowed by some of the singles, but these tender, intimate moments are among the most powerful ones. With someone as influential and buzzworthy as Ariana Grande, it may be easy to just skim the surface of her music, paying attention only to the cultural splashes. However, Sweetener contains a level of depth and a higher message that hasn’t previously been seen in Ariana’s music. Sweetener finished 4th on our list for 2018, but I have a suspicion that what she’s brewing for 2019 may prove to be some of her best work to date. Thank u, next.
- chris donohue
It is astonishing how quickly DAYTONA draws you in. With a mere 21-minute runtime, Pusha’s latest work is hardly longer than an EP, but it hits harder pound for pound than anything else you will hear all year. The obligatory Drake diss aside, DAYTONA deals with Pusha’s street past as a drug dealer, with each of the album's seven tracks dripping with the rapper's charisma, powerful lines and flawless, Yeezy-produced hooks. From the killer guitar riff on “Games We Play,” to Tony Williams’ gripping chorus on “Hard Piano,” to the Latino vibe of “Santeria,” DAYTONA is a heart-pumping thrill. Pusha hits the ground sprinting with no warm-up, and stays heated til the end with a snarling, fire-breathing delivery. And he doesn’t care if you’re keeping up: If you know you know.
- Alex Kloss
Two years ago, Kanye released The Life of Pablo, which, like every Kanye album before it, turned the hip hop world on its head. Naturally, expectations for the follow-up were high. By far his shortest full album to date, Ye was wholly different from the spiritual and gospel influences that characterized Pablo, the heavy electronics of Yeezus, or the epic 68-minute grandeur of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His first major work since his spectacular meltdown in 2016, Ye is a manifestation of Kanye’s self-proclaimed “superhero recovery.” It is emotional and revealing, displaying the very real fragility behind the rapper's larger-than-life superstar persona. Without a doubt, he is painstakingly aware of this image and repeatedly toys with it on the album. He drops the lines “Let me make this clear, so all y'all see/I don’t take advice from people less successful than me” and “Baby, don’t you bet it all/On a pack of Fentanyl” on the same album while being dead serious about both of them. Controversies regarding his political meddling and supposed ghostwriting are hard to ignore, yet Ye remains an album that shines despite (and maybe partly due to) its brevity and leaves us craving something more. Whether Yeezy will deliver as he had promised earlier this year when teasing Yandhi—as of now indefinitely delayed—is unclear, but here’s hoping.
- Alex kloss
Invasion of Privacy
After Cardi B released her number one single “Bodak Yellow,” fans waited in suspense for what would come next from the charismatic rapper. Cardi's debut LP, Invasion of Privacy, did not disappoint. A blend of trap, reggaeton, and R&B, Invasion of Privacy gives us all a taste of Cardi’s bad bitch lifestyle: “She Bad” and “Best Life” grant us confidence in the unapologetic celebration of success, while “Bodak Yellow,” “Drip,” and “I Like It” can pump up a crowd, no matter the situation. The rest of the album is solidly “Cardi”: she is the only rapper who could turn her real life so openly and unapologetically into a trap album so widely received and celebrated as it is.
- Audrey Valbuena
The third studio album and first visual album by singer-songwriter-actress Janelle Monae is an exhilarating extravaganza that’s a feast for the ears and eyes. The record, a delicious blend of funk, pop and R&B, was accompanied by a 46-minute dystopian sci-fi film of the same name upon release. Dirty Computer is a celebration of femininity, sexuality, and of the self. The songstress oozes confidence and power on every song, rendering listeners unable to resist. From the show-stopping ode to womanhood “Pynk,” to the addictive, sensual, Prince-esque “Make Me Feel,” to the impassioned and emotional “Americans,” on which Monae protests against racial and gender inequality in America, Dirty Computer is as bold as it is soft; it’s as bright and bubblegum as it is defiant and unabashed. Here is Monae laying every bit of herself on the table, and the result is a beautiful, brazen symphony that has most definitely marked Monae as one of the most formidable forces taking the pop and R&B worlds by storm.
- Sofia bening
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Kanye West & Kid Cudi
Just as ye embodies its cover art , so too does Kanye West’s third Wyoming project, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, which finds West collaborating with his protégé Kid Cudi. The Murakami-made cover art is airy and delicate, like the last chorus of “Cudi Montage” or West’s piano-centered production on “Reborn.” However, the 23 minute long album is also haunted—not only by the ghosts on the cover art, but by West and Cudi’s struggles with mental health. The presence of inner-demons is felt throughout, though West and Cudi reach their apex of cathartic exorcism in the middle of the album with “Freeee” and “Reborn.” And perhaps the most potent parallel between the album's cover art and its music is the ethereal blending: just as the watercolors on the album art meld together, so do the tracks on the album, bleeding into each other and allowing the listener to engage with the piece as a whole and not just as a collection of seven independently great tracks.
- Peter Pribyl Pierdinock
Seven albums into their career, dream pop auteurs Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally somehow find a way to redefine what a Beach House album sounds like, delivering their most expansive and enthralling release since 2012’s Bloom. The new album comes with a new producer in the form of Sonic Boom, who previously produced albums for MGMT and Panda Bear. With a change in their creative process, Beach House is messier and more chaotic than ever before, dipping their toes a little deeper into shoegaze on tracks like “Dark Spring,” while further exploring the vast range of emotions Victoria’s voice can evoke. After releasing two lackluster albums in 2015 and a B-Sides project in 2017, I was afraid that Beach House had defined their intoxicating sound so distinctly that they were doomed to write the same beautiful song over and over again. On 7, they tear down old formulas, sift for the ideas that work, and much like the collage on the album cover, piece the remnants together into something remarkable.