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MusicNewsRumor’s 30 Best Albums of 2018

Ranking albums has to be one of the most difficult things a music lover ever has to do. Some albums featured here are full of hit songs, and some albums here might have completely slipped under your radar. With this list, I did not limit myself to leave out any projects based on genre or style of music. I also didn’t choose to only honor the albums that were necessarily the best selling of the year, either. The albums on this list are the ones that were full of quality music that I felt made an impact on listeners. 2018 was a jam-packed year of music with endless new songs and albums popping up each week. It was hard to dwindle my year-end list down to these few in such an ongoing music landscape, but I feel confident in this list, and I hope everyone enjoys reading about their favorite albums.

 

Ariana Grande Sweetener
Courtesy of Republic Records/UMG Recordings
  1. Sweetener by Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has had a difficult last couple of years, to say the least. Her life was quite literally turned upside down, hence the Sweetener album cover artwork. After some deserved time off, Grande returned to the world with this incredible album that captured this more than difficult time in her life. The tragedies and loss Grande suffered no doubt influenced this body of work, and while I hate for her sake that she had to endure such trauma, the work that came out of it is simply amazing. 2018 propelled Ariana Grande into proper superstardom, and Sweetener was the album she was destined to make. Teetering between production from the masterminds of new collaborator Pharrell Williams and pop’s go-to guy Max Martin, Sweetener gave us the best of Ariana. The whole project is a sweet and savory pop-R&B blend, but some songs draw more attention than others like the underrated Imogen Heap-interpolating “goodnight n go,” the popular female power anthem “God is a woman,” and the dreamy “R.E.M.” The song “breathin” showcases her vocal ability while bringing awareness to the importance of mental health and effects of anxiety. Grande was a constant in the news this year from her chart-topping songs and endless record-breaking achievements to the rise and fall of her relationship with Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, who also got a track named after him on the album. “get well soon” closes the album out coming in at 5:22 including forty seconds of silence, a subtle but effective way she chose to pay her respects to the victims of her Manchester concert bombing that took place on May 22, 2017. Ariana Grande came through with one of the most enthralling and quirkiest albums of the year, earning its well-deserved place on this list. MNR Must Listens: “goodnight n go,” “R.E.M,” “breathin”

 

Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
Courtesy of UMG Recordings
  1. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

Golden Hour was the time when the rest of the world finally discovered Kacey Musgraves. To many, she’s as far “country” as they’ll ever think of going, which is disappointing as the genre has so much to offer. This album refuses to fit squarely into any one category, and I love it for that. This album is a scenic drive through Musgraves’ mind, and her thought-provoking perspective on life is striking. The country music genre’s lines are being blurred, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People should be more openminded when it comes to listening to music and not get so caught up in debating which theoretical genre with which it belongs. This album is hard-hitting in such a nonchalant way as it presents itself so smoothly. While this is Musgraves’ most ambitious project yet, it is also her most accessible album. Standout tracks on this album include the look into the life of a loner on the sad and too often relatable song that is “Lonely Weekend,” “Oh, What A World” that steps back to look at the grand scheme of things, and the picturesque and boundaryless “Space Cowboy.” The most emotional song on the album just might be the just-over-a-minute track “Mother” that I wish would linger on slightly longer. It is almost pointless to single out any of these tracks as being great because every song on the album is essential listening material. Each song on Golden Hour is so thoughtful and striking, collectively forming a cohesive and honest listening experience. Kacey Musgraves might be 2018’s country music representative to the world, and while I argue that the country genre as a whole deserves more credit, I could not be happier with the success she has enjoyed over the past year. MNR Must Listens: “Lonely Weekend,” “Slow Burn,” “Space Cowboy”

 

Cardi B Invasion of Privacy
Courtesy of Atlantic Records/Warner Music Group
  1. Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B

She’s bold. She’s unfiltered. She’s unapologetically Cardi B, and we love her for it. Cardi B’s bombastic personality takes center stage on her debut album that is simultaneously self-confident and vulnerable. The Bronx rapper shut down everyone who said she’d be a one hit wonder on “I Do,” rapping, “My little fifteen minutes lasting long as hell, huh?” Cardi shows that she’s more than just the “Bodak Yellow” Rapper, but she has an album full of hits. In another episode of “Stars – They’re Just Like Us!” Cardi B shows her love for Beyoncé by referencing her three times across the album. The Latin-infused “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin was the undeniable song of the summer. Every album track deserves attention, including the explosive intro “Get Up 10,” the freaky Project Pat-sampling “Bickenhead,” the surprisingly emotional “Thru Your Phone” and “Be Careful,” and the optimistic “Best Life” featuring Chance the Rapper with two of the most positive rappers trading verses. Cardi B’s appeal attracted a series of high-profile guests including SZA, Kehlani, Migos, and Chance the Rapper. Cardi delivered hit after hit in 2018, and she also delivered her sweet baby girl Kulture, her proudest achievement of all. In a year full of ups and downs, Cardi B was a source of humor with her music and Instagram account, and while often foul-mouthed, she seemed to resonate with everybody. Invasion of Privacy shows off Cardi B’s amusing side with moments that get deeply personal at times all the while remaining utterly entertaining. MNR Must Listens: “Best Life” (feat. Chance the Rapper), “Be Careful,” “Bickenhead,” “I Like It” (with Bad Bunny & J Balvin)

 

Dan + Shay Dan + Shay
Courtesy of Warner Music Nashville
  1. Dan + Shay by Dan + Shay

Dan + Shay was the self-titled album that solidified the duo as a force to be reckoned with in the music world. “Tequila” elevated them to unbelievable heights (like “sky high in Colorado” heights), and I still think it deserved more Grammy love. Both are excellent songwriters, and they capture the story in their writing that is enforced with their powerful vocals. The honesty rings true in every song on the album. With an album this exceptional, the only thing to make it better would be a Kelly Clarkson collaboration – oh wait, it has that, too! “Keeping Score” is a vocal competition between Shay Mooney and Kelly Clarkson that I wish never had to end. “Speechless” will probably be one of the most used wedding songs, but that title could easily go to any song on this entire album. I would put Shay Mooney’s vocals up against just about anyone, and Dan Smyers’ lyricism is par none. Together, their drive to produce quality music is incomparable. There are few duos as dedicated to their craft, and for that, I think they are deserving of everything they have and more. MNR Must Listens: “Keeping Score (feat. Kelly Clarkson), “Tequila,” “My Side of the Fence,” “Stupid Love”

 

Post Malone beerbongs and bentleys
Courtesy of Republic Records/UMG Recordings

 

  1. beerbongs & bentleys by Post Malone

Post Malone manages to successfully reach across genres to craft his sound, and that could not be more clear than on beerbongs & bentleys. Post Malone refuses to be pigeonholed into one category as he pulls together songs that see him rapping over a trap beat before transitioning to sing over a midtempo guitar tune. The GRAMMYs even had trouble deciding which category to put his work – rap or pop? Say what you will about Post Malone, but he has an undeniable knack for writing a catchy hook: “Better Now,” “Candy Paint,” “Psycho,” the list goes on.  I could see Posty collaborating with just about any artist out there because he is just that versatile of an artist. Virtually every song on beerbongs & bentleys is smash hit-worthy, but there’s only so many records an artist can break with one album. Malone has such a unique sound that comes across as raw and grungy but undeniably pleasant. MNR Must Listens: “Better Now,” “Candy Paint,” “Ball For Me” (featuring Nicki Minaj)

 

Janelle Monae Dirty Computer
Courtesy of Bad Boy Records
  1. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe has always been far more talented than she got credit for, but Dirty Computer proved why she deserves the recognition. This album is repeatedly referred to as one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2018 and rightfully so. Her take on music is the culmination of pop, R&B, and hip-hop with many drawing comparisons to the late great Prince. Dirty Computer was accompanied by an “emotion picture” of the same name – a stunning sci-fi visual starring Tessa Thompson that speaks out against the oppression of queer people and people of color. I would describe Dirty Computer as a lush, bold, personal, pop-funk album that exudes freedom in a political and sexual sense. This ambitious project has its brightest moments on tracks like album closer “Americans,” which advocates for inclusivity, “Pynk” with its bubbly production that is a celebration of women, and the classic quality of “Make Me Feel” that still sounds so modern. On Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe pulled the curtain back on her love and fears alike, and the product could not have been more sincere and true to the times. MNR Must Listens: “Americans,” “Crazy, Classic, Life,” “Pynk” (feat. Grimes), “Make Me Feel”

 

Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born
Courtesy of Interscope Records/Warner Bros. Entertainment
  1. A Star Is Born Soundtrack by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

A Star Is Born was one of the most successful movies of the year, and the soundtrack simultaneously succeeded in supplying a series of riveting and gripping songs. I refused to listen to the soundtrack prior to seeing the film, and I’m so glad I did. The songs are stunning in their own sense, but the context of the film allows the album to tell Ally and Jack’s story again and again. I knew Lady Gaga was going to sound remarkable on this soundtrack, but Bradley Cooper pleasantly surprised me with his vocals, especially on his solo track “Maybe It’s Time.” He really dove into this role going through months of vocal training to get his voice just right for his rockstar character. We all know and love “Shallow,” and it deserves all the success it’s getting from nominations at the GRAMMYs and Golden Globes with even more potential nominations to be announced. Lady Gaga’s poetic writing excels on these more stripped back songs like the instant wedding classic “Is That Alright?”, the wholehearted “Always Remember Us This Way,” and the absolutely heartbreaking “I’ll Never Love Again.” There are moments on this soundtrack that I would classify as some of the best of Gaga’s career as she continues to victoriously shapeshift time and time again. MNR Must Listens: “Is That Alright?”, “Shallow,” “Why Did You Do That”

 

Shawn Mendes Shawn Mendes
Courtesy of Island Records/UMG Recordings
  1. Shawn Mendes by Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes officially showed us who he is as an artist on his self-titled album, and he cemented his status as one of the artists of this generation. Shawn Mendes has captivating, flattering falsettos and vocal techniques that he has never shown off before. The themes on this album are more grown-up than his previous work making for a more honest project. The songs swing from playful and confident to love and heartbreak. Mendes is such a grounded artist who refuses to let his fame get to him, and this collection of songs proves that he is dealing with life just like the rest of us. “In My Blood” is one of my top songs of the year and saw Mendes take on pop-rock with the most candid and open lyrics. This pop-rock-R&B album certainly passes the test with its sexy jam “Lost In Japan,” the inspiring Khalid collab “Youth,” and my personal favorite “Queen,” a clever song about a stuck-up girl who treats him “like [he’s] got nothing on” her and who “[makes] beautiful look ugly.” In the midst of all this prosperity, it’s hard to remember that Mendes is only 20 years old (19 when Shawn Mendes was released), and while he has achieved a respectable amount of success thus far, I know we have yet to see the best of Shawn Mendes. MNR Must Listens: “Queen,” “Particular Taste,” “Youth” (feat. Khalid), “In My Blood”

 

Camila Cabello Camila
Courtesy of Simco Ltd./Epic Records/Sony Music Entertainment
  1. Camila by Camila Cabello

Camila was the debut solo album everyone was waiting to hear, and Camila Cabello delivered an album filled with brilliant songs proving her versatility and that she could be her own star. Camila lays the groundwork for what I’m sure will be a long and successful solo career. This album is exotic and mature but manages to appeal to fans of all ages – something that is difficult to pull off. Lead single “Havana” featuring Atlanta rapper Young Thug was the hit song that set the tone for her new sound, which is very refreshing from her Fifth Harmony days. Camila is one of those rare delightful debuts that effectively fuses Top 40 and Latin pop. The album’s most exciting moments are when she slips into her falsetto on “Never Be the Same,” on established fan favorite “She Loves Control,” and the honest “In the Dark.” Cabello excels on the stripped back songs “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Consequences,” which also got its own orchestral remix. Cabello’s solo debut simply delivered pure pop perfection. MNR Must Listens: “Never Be The Same,” “In The Dark,” “Into It”

 

Panic At The Disco Pray for the Wicked
Courtesy of Fueled By Ramen LLC/Warner Music Group
  1. Pray for the Wicked by Panic! At The Disco

Panic! At The Disco’s sixth album is a theatrical and fun set of songs that saw Brendon Urie reinvent the P!ATD sound from the ground up. Panic! At The Disco embraces a slick new pop sound that contrasts greatly from their earlier work, but it would be a sin to let the new swagger keep you from enjoying one of the most fascinating albums released this year. Songs like “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” celebrate one’s accomplishments and achievements, while others like “Roaring 20s,” a banger of a track, were inspired by Urie’s stint on Broadway when he performed in the Tony-award winning musical Kinky Boots. Brendon Urie has one of the best voices in the industry right now, and his versatility and talent could not have shone brighter than on Pray for the Wicked. MNR Must Listens: “Roaring 20s,” “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” “(F**k A) Silver Lining”

 

Carrie Underwood Carrie Underwood
Courtesy of UMG Recordings
  1. Cry Pretty by Carrie Underwood

The lead single and title track “Cry Pretty” was the perfect introduction to this album. Carrie Underwood has every right to keep her life private, but she opened up on this album unlike any other of hers, and the result is deeply honest and memorable. Underwood blended the elements of country and pop into a beautiful Cry Pretty mixture that is sure to please any listener. Carrie Underwood seems to shine her brightest on the deep cuts of her albums. Some of these songs show us a side we’ve never really heard from Carrie like the #SpringBreak2019 anthem “Southbound” and the poppy “End Up With You.” Carrie always slips a good message into her songs like with “Love Wins,” which she optimistically sings that love will win the end, and “The Bullet,” which tells the heartbreaking story of a mother who lost her son to gun violence and “the bullet keeps on going.” One of the best songs on the album, “Ghosts on the Stereo,” is a song about a solo night in that pays homage to some of country music’s heroes like Hank (Williams), (Merle) Haggard, and (George) Jones. For at least these thirteen songs, you can get lost in Carrie UnderWorld, see that it’s okay to be human, and realize that nobody can Cry Pretty. MNR Must Listens: “Southbound,” “Ghosts on the Stereo,” “The Bullet”

 

Charlie Puth Voicenotes
Courtesy of Artist Partner Group/Warner Music Group
  1. Voicenotes by Charlie Puth

Charlie Puth opted to follow a new formula with Voicenotes, and needless to say, it worked. On this album, Puth proved that he is more than just a couple of radio hits. Voicenotes finds the perfect balance in having songs that are oh-so-catchy but continue to maintain a clever sense of songwriting. Also, can we just talk about how genius this album title is? Voicenotes is named after how Puth writes songs by starting with a voicenote on his phone before turning it into a complete track. We see him in a truly vulnerable place, especially on songs like “Attention,” “BOY,” and “Through It All.” Puth addresses some more mature topics on this album than in the past and proved that he’s a more mature artist than many might have thought of him. MNR Must Listens: “BOY,” “Empty Cups,” “The Way I Am”

 

The Carters Everything is Love
Courtesy of S.C. Enterprises/Roc Nation/Parkwood Entertainment/Sony Music Entertainment
  1. EVERYTHING IS LOVE by THE CARTERS

This album deserved better. After years of fans asking for it, they finally got the joint album from music’s first couple, and they couldn’t have been more unappreciative. Unfortunately, the world stopped and carried on. That is not to take away from the quality of the album, however, as it pulls from the best parts of Beyoncé and JAY-Z to culminate in their long-awaited joint effort. “APESHIT” shows off a deservedly confident and cocky power couple, while songs like “NICE” got an assist from one of the most wanted men in music, Pharrell. Everything Is Love rounds out the trilogy of albums from Beyoncé with Lemonade and JAY-Z with 4:44 that sees the two addressing their marital troubles and celebrating their black pride. MNR Must Listens: “APESHIT,” ‘HEARD ABOUT US,” “BLACK EFFECT”

 

Troye Sivan Bloom
Courtesy of EMI Australia/Universal Music Australia Pty Ltd.
  1. Bloom by Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan had a stellar 2018 from his critically acclaimed sophomore album to starring in an Oscar-contender film “Boy Erased” and getting nominated for a Golden Globe for the movie’s original song, “Revelation.” Bloom was instantly compelling and stands out among other pop releases as its intensity and personal subject matter make for a revealing collection of songs. Sivan is unapologetically queer, and this album is a celebration of that.  The Ariana Grande-assisted track “Dance to This” is ready for the dancefloor, while the personal “Seventeen” tells the story of a young relationship. This album has its bops, midtempos and everything in between, and its ten tracks will only leave you wanting more. MNR Must Listens: “Seventeen,” “Dance to This (feat. Ariana Grande),” “My My My!”

 

Morgan Wallen If I Know Me
Courtesy of Big Loud Records
  1. If I Know Me by Morgan Wallen

Morgan Wallen is on his way to be a force in the country music world following the success of his singles “The Way I Talk,” the massive hit “Up Down” featuring Florida Georgia Line, and current single “Whiskey Glasses.” On his debut album, Morgan Wallen knows who he is as an artist, and his voice has that perfectly rough-around-the-edges sound that gives the songs that extra kick. “Had Me By Halftime” is an original twist on a love story, “Talkin’ Tennessee” refers to his Tennessee upbringing, and the title track “If I Know Me” might be the catchiest song on the whole album with its clever rhymes and humor. Morgan Wallen is unapologetically himself, and we love him for it, and that couldn’t be more clear than on “Redneck Love Song” when he sings, “My neck is red, my collar’s blue, and I love you.” Morgan Wallen’s songwriting and vocal range signal that he is on his way to be an absolute star in country music. MNR Must Listens: “If I Know Me,” “Had Me By Halftime,” “Happy Hour”

 

J. Cole KOD
Courtesy of Dreamville, Inc./Roc Nation
  1. KOD by J. Cole

“Choose wisely.” I think J. Cole is vastly underrated, and it has become increasingly popular to hate on him lately. KOD steps up to show all the naysayers just what Cole can do. KOD has three subtitles: Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons. The album is meant to be interpreted through these three lenses, and you can listen to it each time and walk away with something different. “Photograph,” a standout track, speaks to the struggles people of every age can relate to with the introduction of social media into our lives. On it, he raps, “Fell in love through photograph. I don’t even know your name. Wonder if you follow back. I hope to see you one day… Love today’s gone digital, and it’s messing with my health.” This concept album shines a light on the side effects of fame and the pain we all go through as human beings. MNR Must Listens: “Photograph,” “ATM,” “Kevin’s Heart,” “KOD”

 

Devin Dawson Dark Horse
Courtesy of Warner Music Nashville
  1. Dark Horse by Devin Dawson

Devin Dawson’s Dark Horse mixes country with his rock influences to make a stunning first impression to the world with his impactful songwriting skills and smooth voice. With co-writing credits on all twelve songs, it’s clear that Devin Dawson is a talented writer, especially evident on his songs like “All On Me” and “Asking for a Friend” that paint a picture of all the emotions of a relationship. Title track and album closer “Dark Horse” speaks to how Dawson says he has always felt, singing, “No, it ain’t that I’m self-conscious, I’m just conscious of myself. I side with the outsiders, those long shot last round fighters, anyone who ain’t afraid to stray off course,” which so many can relate to. I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next from Dawson. Bonus: He just released a new live version of this album titled Dark Horse: Songs in the Key of F (Live), and every track was recorded in the room each song was originally written in with the songwriters he wrote each song with. You know, just in case the album wasn’t great enough the first go around, he had to go and outdo himself a second time. MNR Must Listens: “All On Me,” “Asking for a Friend,” “Dark Horse”

 

Keith Urban Graffiti U
Courtesy of Hit Red Records/Capitol Records Nashville/UMG Recordings
  1. Graffiti U by Keith Urban

Keith Urban worked his crossover magic on Graffiti U, an album that rides right on the line between any definite genre. For those who are not so hung up on labelling its genre, the album is just really good. Influences range from pop to reggae to dance and everything in between. Keith Urban is an incredibly talented musician who appreciates all types of music, and this album and its various shapeshifting forms are evidence of that. Urban is a champion for women on “Female,” he samples Merle Haggard on opener “Coming Home” featuring Julia Michaels, the Ed Sheeran-written love song “Parallel Line” is an underrated gem, and “Drop Top” featuring Kassi Ashton is unrefutably fun and must be played while “driving with the drop top down.” Keith Urban soars on Graffiti U with its encapsulating beats and witty lyrics. MNR Must Listens: “Drop Top” (feat. Kassi Ashton), “Parallel Line,” “Horses” (featuring Lindsay Ell), “Never Comin Down”

 

Drake Scorpion
Courtesy of Young Money/Cash Money Records
  1. Scorpion by Drake

Drake’s grip on the charts is undeniable, and Scorpion broke more records this year than everyone could keep track of, but the real question is: Did the album live up to its hype? And the answer is yes. Drake gave his fans exactly what they wanted when he gave them a two-disc album – one side is more rap-centric while the other side is more centered on R&B and singing. The ones we all know are the hit song “God’s Plan,” the Lauryn Hill-sampling “Nice For What,” and viral sensation “In My Feelings.” There are some underrated gems on the album like the Mariah Carey-sampling “Emotionless” from Side A and the sweet “Summer Games” from Side B. The album comes in at an hour and a half long, but there aren’t any songs that really deserve to be cut. Listeners are sure to find at least some songs they like because he delivered all the best versions of Drake. MNR Must Listens: “Summer Games,” “Emotionless,” “Nonstop”

 

The 1975 ABIIOR
Courtesy of Dirty Hit/Polydor Records/Interscope Records
  1. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975

The 1975 have been one of the biggest bands of 2018, and A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is one of the most complex albums released this year but definitely worth giving a try. It really taps into the struggles of today, and each song paints out a scene with its lyrics. The 1975 really took it to the next level with this album. Fortunately for us, this is just the first of two albums that are coming, as they are planning to release another new album in 2019, so you better believe expectations are high for that one, too. MNR Must Listens: “TOOTIMETOOTIME,” Be My Mistake,” “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

 

Bazzi COSMIC
Courtesy of Atlantic Records
  1. COSMIC by Bazzi

We were introduced to Bazzi with his viral hit, “Mine,” earlier this year, but he proved on COSMIC that he had even more great, catchy songs to offer. His sound is just so fresh and different from his peers and a breath of fresh air in a sometimes redundant pop landscape. Taylor Swift gave her stamp of approval including “Mine” in her Songs Taylor Loves Spotify playlist a few months back, and he opened for Camila Cabello on her North American tour. Cabello later joined him on the remix of one of the album’s standout songs “Beautiful.” His style doesn’t lean directly in one direction toward just pop or rap or R&B, rather he mixes all these into one interesting sound, and I look forward to hearing even more from him in the future. MNR Must Listens: “Gone,” “3:15,” “Mirror”

 

Christina Aguilera Liberation
Courtesy of RCA Records/Sony Music Entertainment
  1. Liberation by Christina Aguilera

Six years separate Liberation from Christina Aguilera’s last album, Lotus, and fans were anxious to get the new project. “Accelerate” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz was the first song released, and it marked an obvious change in direction. The standout from the album is the Demi Lovato duet, “Fall In Line,” which brought together two powerhouse vocalists who refuse to be silenced. “Like I Do” featuring GoldLink saw Xtina go where we’ve never seen her go before, and it earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance, so the risk was worth it. With production from Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, MNEK, among others and writing credits from Tayla Parx, Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, and Jon Bellion to name a few, this album was destined to be good. Liberation showed us a different side of Christina Aguilera who never chooses to just play it safe. MNR Must Listens: “Fall In Line” (feat. Demi Lovato), “Deserve,” “Like I Do” (feat. GoldLink)

 

Mariah Carey Caution
Courtesy of Epic Records/Sony Music Entertainment
  1. Caution by Mariah Carey

“Proceed with caution.” With Caution, Mariah Carey – one of the most successful artists of all time – found a way to release an album that fits into the current landscape but does not turn her back on those classic Mariah tunes we crave. “The Distance” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, with its cheerleading chants and bouncing production, is the song I keep going back to and deserves to be her next big smash. The Lil’ Kim-sampling “A No No” sounds so fresh despite the throwback sample, and I could totally hear a remix featuring Lil’ Kim and Cardi B, so stay tuned if that ever comes to fruition. “Portrait” is the ballad of the album and was almost the title of the album, and it is proof that Mariah’s voice has not aged a bit. At only ten tracks, some fans might have been left wanting more, but be grateful we got this. Not that she needed to do it, but Caution proved that Mariah Carey is the unparalleled Queen of R&B – just in case you forgot. MNR Must Listens: “The Distance” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), “A No No,” “Giving Me Life” (feat. Slick Rick & Blood Orange)

 

Kane Brown Experiment
Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment
  1. Experiment by Kane Brown

Kane Brown is one of the most successful country artists in today’s streaming era of music, and he has found the perfect formula to bundle his patented country-pop-hip-hop-R&B sound into a package that is accessible to all fans of music. He is such a talented songwriter, and his beautiful relationship with his wife is abundantly clear in his lyrics, especially on songs like “Good As You,” singing, “It might take a hundred lifetimes to do, but baby, I just wanna be good as you.” Brown is biracial and has said he sees himself as an outsider in Nashville, but I hope that by now he can see that fans have fully embraced him and his talent. Tucked in the album is a hard-hitting song not to be missed titled “American Bad Dream” that speaks out against the unnecessary and endless school shootings in the US: “Now you gotta take a test in a bulletproof vest, scared to death that you might get shot.” Kane Brown’s sophomore album is far from a sophomore slump and definitely a successful Experiment as it draws from all his influences of other artists and genres. MNR Must Listens: “Good As You,” “Weekend,” “One Night Only”

 

Nicki Minaj Queen
Courtesy of Young Money/Cash Money Records
  1. Queen by Nicki Minaj

Queen is an admittedly boisterous effort that sees Nicki Minaj claiming her self-proclaimed crown. I’m sure even diehard fans would agree that the album would have benefited from a less problematic rollout had everything gone as planned. Regardless, the album is stacked with an impressive list of heavy-hitting features including Ariana Grande, Eminem, Swae Lee, The Weeknd, Future, and Lil Wayne. “Ganja Burn” is one of the best intros of 2018, bringing out a side of Minaj where she takes on a singing-rapping hybrid sound that people either love or hate. Like many of this year’s rap albums, it may have a few too many tracks, but there are certainly some clever raps in there if you’re willing to listen. MNR Must Listens: “Ganja Burn,” “Majesty” (feat. Eminem & Labrinth), “Good Form”

 

Bebe Rexha Expectations
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
  1. Expectations by Bebe Rexha

2018 finally saw the release of Bebe Rexha’s official debut album after writing countless hits for other artists and a series of her own EP’s and singles. Expectations sounds so fresh, and every song would fit right in on pop radio today, but it also brought me back to albums like those by her influences No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Lauryn Hill, and Destiny’s Child. No two songs sound the same on this album, showcasing the versatility she has as an artist. Many were introduced to Rexha when they heard the record-breaking pop-country hit “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line, one of the year’s biggest songs, but she has fought long and hard to get where she is today. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line helped expose her to an entirely different fanbase than she was used to as she has written for Eminem, Rihanna, G-Eazy, and Iggy Azalea, so needless to say she has been in the industry for quite some time, and I know she’s here to stay. MNR Must Listens: “Knees,” “Ferrari,’ “Meant to Be” (with Florida Georgia Line), “I’m a Mess”

 

Black Panther Soundtrack

Courtesy of Top Dawg Ent./Aftermath/Interscope Records

  1. Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, SZA & Various Artists

The “Black Panther” soundtrack, helmed by Kendrick Lamar, was an event in itself; not to mention that it was for one of the biggest blockbuster movies of the year. Lamar recruited a list of all-star contributions from SZA, The Weeknd, Khalid, Jorja Smith, Jay Rock, and Travis Scott to name some. The album is bursting with black pride and unapologetically African. On a year that might be considered an “off-year” for Kendrick Lamar, it was far from it. MNR Must Listens: “All the Stars” (Kendrick Lamar, SZA), “Pray For Me” (Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd), “King’s Dead” (Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake)

 

Travis Scott ASTROWORLD
Courtesy of Epic Records/Sony Music Entertainment/Cactus Jack/Grand Hustle
  1. ASTROWORLD by Travis Scott

Rap albums have become increasingly long, with some admittedly lingering on for too long, but Travis Scott’s 17-track project found a way to keep it interesting all the way through. The album is a carnival in itself as he has recruited an impressive guest list of featured acts; just some of which include Drake, Swae Lee, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Tame Impala, 21 Savage, Quavo, Juice WRLD and James Blake. The features were not listed on the tracklist, and that only made it more exciting when you heard A-lister after A-lister hop on a song. Interpolated with his iconic catchphrases, “it’s lit!” and “yeah!”, ASTROWORLD is a futuristic, autotuned carousel ride. “SICKO MODE,” has such original, quirky production, and with Drake and Swae Lee featured, you knew fans were going to love it. 2018 has been a big year for Scott from the birth of his first daughter Stormi Webster with Kylie Jenner to this #1 album and endless sold out shows. This entire album is a psychedelic rollercoaster with massive bouncing beats, and it seamlessly flows tracks. MNR Must Listens: “SICKO MODE,” “CAROUSEL,” “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” “WAKE UP”

 

Chloe x Halle The Kids Are Alright
Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment
  1. The Kids Are Alright by Chloe x Halle

Chloe x Halle have shaped their very own definitive sound, and The Kids Are Alright shows all the different sides to one of music’s next big things. The sister duo is probably best known for being Beyoncé’s protegées, which is an achievement in its own to be proud of, but they have proven they deserve to be respected as artists in their own right. The album was released alongside its own 10-minute short film named after the album, pulling a page right out of mentor Beyoncé’s handbook. 2018 was a big year for Chloe x Halle, from the release of their debut album to starring in the Freeform series “grown-ish,” and I don’t expect them to slow down any time soon. MNR Must Listens: “Grown,” “The Kids Are Alright,” “Happy Without Me,” “Hi Lo”

 

Ella Mai Ella Mai
Courtesy of 10 Summers/Interscope Records
  1. Ella Mai by Ella Mai

This self-titled debut was front-loaded with two successful singles, “Boo’d Up” and “Trip,” and the rest of the album definitely lives up to those songs. She interjects to narrate throughout the album, and it only elevates the listening experience with its seamless presentation. Each song is its own embodiment of Ella Mai but listening in album format takes the listener on a smooth journey. This album really wraps you up in it, and the slick production combined with her perfect vocals makes for an undeniably relaxing experience. R&B really found its way to the mainstream again in 2018, and Ella Mai is one of the driving forces behind that. MNR Must Listens: “Trip,” “Whatchamacallit” (feat. Chris Brown), “Shot Clock”

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