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gal-dem’s favourite albums of 2018

22 Dec 2018

Illustration by Javie Huxley

Sinking into a full-length album is one of the richest feelings and, in the harsh chaos of 2018, it was an increasingly necessary escape. Thankfully, the number of phenomenal projects that dropped has been next level, such as a 15-minute album that was the peak of imaginativeness; strikingly candid rap from some killer MCs; serene, silky soul; and one of the world’s greatest (and her husband) collaborating at the Actual Louvre.

Creativity and art are not things that can be easily ranked and weighed up against each other, so instead here’s a non-exhaustive list – and playlist – of some of the great albums and projects the gal-dem team have enjoyed getting lost in this year. In no particular order, here are our favourites of 2018:

Tierra Whack – Whack World

In what can only be described as the people’s album of the year, breakthrough Philly rapper Tierra Whack demanded the hearts and attention of music fans in 2018 with her dynamic whirlwind of a record. And Whack World is a particularly apt name for such an absorbing body of work. Comprised of 15 tracks, each one minute in length, accompanied by an all-encompassing visual, Whack established herself as a refreshing new rap force with addicting personality on a project that spans everything from absentee fathers to beloved household pets and is an exercise in humour, imagination and authenticity. Whatever is to come from the melodic pop-rapper in 2019 is bound to be spectacular.  – Natty Kasambala

Noname – Room 25

Noname’s sophomore album Room 25 excels in its musicality, presenting a more personal and anecdotal narrative to her repertoire. The album opening with ‘Self’ and ending with ‘no name’ is evocative of her exploration of identity, and how oftentimes this freedom is denied to black womxn. From her heartfelt lament for her memory to be preserved in ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ in amongst the temporality of black life, to the playful sensuality of ‘Montego Bae’ in mediating on diasporic love, Noname’s lyricism on Room 25 is unparalleled and seeped in painfully honest metaphors. Noname reminds listeners that her blackness is intrinsic to her womanhood and that her womanhood cannot be divorced from her blackness in a powerful 34-minute ode to herself and her self-worth. – Kamara Simms

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

Janelle Monae’s never been afraid to march to the beat of her own drum. Her first two albums were high concept fare illustrating the world of android Cindi Mayweather. On Dirty Computer, Janelle fully takes the wheel, breathing a new confidence and self-assuredness into her music that flows throughout the album. The self-described “funkstress” is ever present on ‘Make Me Feel’ and ‘I Got The Juice’, but she isn’t afraid to switch it up by dropping an effortless flow on ‘Django Jane’ or belting it out on ‘I Like That’. Monae’s ability to meld genres and her incandescent stage presence have always made her a superstar in waiting. With Dirty Computer, the wait is over. – Robin Jennings

Blood Orange – Negro Swan

On Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Dev Hynes thrives in the personal. Featuring the likes of Janet Mock, Kelsey Lu, A$AP Rocky and Ian Isiah, the record is a textured tapestry of voices and influences that are both intimate and blackity-black black. Unpacking the concept of the “negro swan”, something with a contradicting sense of beauty and otherness, the album serves as a tribute and embrace of the marginalised and does so in the most healing and pensive way, with a uniquely Blood Orange sonic signature. – Natty Kasambala

Rosalía – El Mal Querer

We were dragged in by the videos: hooded figures, lorries and streetwear only to stay for the mad flamenco vocals, which are like, truly mad. Translating to Bad Loving, Rosalía’s second album is an epic love story told with hand claps, sprawling melodies and ear-bending production by El Guincho that sits left of everything you expect from pop. From the disorientating, looping hook of ‘Pienso tu mirá’ to the moody shouts of ‘Malamente’ to the ‘Cry Me A River’-sampling, choral combo of ‘Bagdad’, it’s pretty easy to say nothing like this album has ever existed. – Grace Shutti

MHD – 19

If someone asked you to imagine a sweet diasporic symphony, it’s likely it would sound something like ‘Bella’ by MHD featuring Wizkid. The young, charismatic Afro Trap ambassador released his triumphant sophomore project 19 this year and confidently built on his distinctive brand of afro-inspired rap, repping his Parisian quartier and celebrating his growth. The glow up is even more evident when considering the scale and sheer length of the record, nevermind the international guest spots from the likes of Stefflon Don, Salif Keita, Yemi Alade and of course the Starboy himself. MHD’s ability to portray so much in his music beyond language barriers and physical borders is a testament to his voice and his necessity, and beyond that, something tells me he’s just getting started. – Natty Kasambala

Kali Uchis – Isolation

Swoony, silky, and mesmerising, Kali Uchis’ Isolation plumes with rich instrumentation and those distinctly soft vocals. The Colombian-American’s debut brings forth soulful, reggaeton-infused sunshine, breathless, sometimes melancholy femme-fatale romance and biting discourse so low-key you almost miss it (“kill us all off they’d take our worth, they pay us dirt / is it worth it?” is her dark summation of the music industry). All told, Isolation literally sounds like a dream you don’t want to wake up from – a sweet, whirlwind state she’s clearly aiming for, when on ‘In My Dreams’ Damon Albarn floats in to say, “the moments we are happiest / are the moments we don’t exist”. Tara Joshi

Yves Tumor – Safe In the Hands of Love

The irony of how whiteness has claimed rock music is one of the (many) reasons that Yves Tumor’s album this year felt so striking. The experimentalist has always pushed the boundaries, and while this is a characteristically weird, enigmatic, beautiful electronic record, what was especially fascinating about his second full-length was the guitars, the aesthetics (leotards! mullets!), and the swaggering vocals. With this album, Yves Tumor reclaimed rock in its alt, glam, odd form, for blackness, for outsiders, for the marginalised once more. Delicately sexual, soaring in its rage against an oppressive world, and echoing with equal parts shrieking terror and dizzying freedom, SITHOL is a collection that’s at once abrasive, disarming, and deeply comforting. – Tara Joshi

Cupcakke – Ephorize

The 21-year-old Chicagoan and former church poet-turned-rapper is, in the accurate words of Mykki Blanco, “one of the best lyricists and rappers out there right now, period.” Ephorize, her third studio album, sees the rapper blend her trademark X-rated honesty with thoughtful disclosures of personal pain and triumph, all with masterful wordplay. It’s also one of those rare albums with no fillers – every song is a smash. ‘Crayons’ is a delightful, upbeat tribute to the LGBTQIA+ community – “Transgenders are people/So I’mma treat ’em equal” – while closing song ‘Fullest’, a Latin-inspired banger, is so full of euphoric self-love that you’ll leave the album ready to rise above any haters. – Rebecca Liu

Empress Of – Us

There was a weight to Empress Of’s dark but stunning first album, Me, that Latinx artist Lorely Rodriguez found hard to keep reliving. Her second LP, Us, follows a move to LA and finds that weight lifting off her shoulders – all immersive, polished, bilingual pop sounds that counter bad with good. Sensational lead single ‘When I’m With Him’ soars melodically, while tackling the realities of pretending in a long-broken relationship (“I can’t help but repress / all of the signs telling me that I’m not fine”). Through gorgeous storytelling and plush production, Us sweetly captures levity in anxiety and the dreamy state of feeling safe with someone. – Tara Joshi

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

2018 has been, in Ariana’s own words, “one of the best years of my career and the worst in my life”. How she managed to juggle personal calamities to achieve record-breaking professional success is beyond us all. In Sweetener, the ponytailed diva departs from the (still good) dancefloor bangers of Dangerous Woman for a more experimental sound that blends poppy fun with unfiltered introspection. Whileno tears left to cry’ and ‘god is a woman’ have attracted well-deserved acclaim, ‘goodnight n go’ and ‘get well soon’ are delicious, sugary-sweet anthems for an album that, in the words of the songstress herself, “issa bop but also has chunks of my soul in it. Here you go.” – Rebecca Liu

Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

‘Bodak Yellow’ seemed primed to be a one-hit wonder. Many artists have cracked under the pressure to live up to the hype of hit single, but not Cardi B. Aside from her predictable but still embarrassing feud with Nicki Minaj, the Bronx rapper took every win in 2018. She’s a paradoxical puzzle; brash but refreshing, strategic yet uninhibited and she showcases all of those facets of her personality on Invasion of Privacy. Deftly manoeuvring between the hype anthems she’s become known for with bangers like ‘Money Bag’ and ‘Bartier Cardi’ and more vulnerable entries such as ‘Careful’, Cardi B’s crafted one of the best debut albums in years. – Robin Jennings


Music’s power couple completed their trilogy of marital woes with an album about how much they love each other (they meant it so much it’s even on Spotify). The best thing about this release is Gangsta Bey, sending forth her holy trinity of Migos flows, auto-tune and references to her bank account, best showcased on her ‘Apeshit’ verse which she bodied live in South Africa. Jay-Z’s contribution is good, but we all know that Bey is the real star here. Not a single award will be won with this one, but not every day be an innovator. Some days do it for the culture. – Grace Shutti 

Jorja Smith – Lost & Found

With ‘Blue Lights’ being released back in 2016, it was about time our girl Jorja Smith brought forth her debut album ‘Lost and Found’. The singer infused an R&B, trip/hip-hop and soul sound as the album displayed her journey in how she fits into a confusing world. The 21- year-old UK singer brings us into her personal thoughts that some of us might find relatable. In the opening track ‘Lost and Found’, Smith wonders, “why do we fall down with innocence” and, in ‘Teenage Fantasy’, she confesses, “I need to grow and find myself before I let somebody love me/because at the moment I don’t know me”. Throughout the album, she takes a journey of self-discovery and love, and encourages you to take it with her. – Ngina Mwendo

Rico Nasty – Nasty

New York rapper Rico Nasty’s first major label mixtape hits you in the chest. Largely dominated by her harsh metal persona, Trap Lavigne, Nasty finds Rico snarling over a brash variety of productions – largely from the incredible Kenny Beats – luxuriating in her rage, and encouraging you to do the same. As much as it’s angry, though, sometimes it’s just fun too – ‘Ice Cream’ for example finds bouncy GameBoy-style synths and, sing-song, bravado-filled innuendo. Confident, crass and gloriously in-your-face, Nasty finds Rico ambitious and thriving.  – Tara Joshi

Scroll down for our honourable mentions roll call and to follow our ‘Best of 2018’ playlist on Spotify.

Honourable mentions:

The Internet – Hive Mind, NAO – Saturn, Fatima – And Yet It’s All Love, 6LACK – East Atlanta Love Letter, Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics, Leon Bridges – Good Thing, Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD, Brockhampton – iridescence, Pusha T – DAYTONA, Odunsi (Thé Engine) – rare., GAIKA – Basic Volume, Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E, serpentwithfeet – soil, Ray BLK – Empress, duendita – direct line to My Creator, Vanjess – Silk Canvas, Brent Faiyaz – Lost, Chloé x Halle – The Kids Are Alright, Dizzy Fae – Free Form Mixtape, Octavian – Spaceman, Saba – Care For Me, Smino – Noir, Ghetts – Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament, Mariah Carey – Caution, Sudan Archives – Sink, Zilo – The Nature of the Beast, Earl Sweatshirt – some rap songs, Ravyn Lenae – Crush EP, Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen, Hamzaa – First Signs of Me, Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload, Junglepussy – Jp3, Yuno – Moodie, Clairo – diary 001