Provided by: XXL
There was a lot of music that was released in 2018, a decent amount of it was very good. But the artists I’m talking about today are the people that made the biggest strides in popularity or artistic growth throughout this past calendar year. So without further ado, here are the five biggest winners in music during 2018.
For the first year plus of 21 Savage’s rise to success through projects such as Savage Mode and Issa Album, I was not impressed with what I saw from the Zone 6 rapper.
21 sounded boring and unenthusiastic on a lot of his material, with the saving grace for a lot of his songs coming from the production being passable or if Metro Boomin happened to make an appearance.
A lot has changed since the release of 21 Savage’s debut, however. His collaborative project with Metro Boomin and Offset from the Atlanta trap phenomenon Migos, Without Warning, has stuck with me as being an extremely chilling and cold-blooded rap record in 2017 and I had high hopes following that as that did have some of my favorite songs of the year such as “Ghostface Killers” and “Rap Saved Me”. The Atlanta rapper also had his first number one hit that year by hopping on Post Malone’s “Rockstar”
21 truly impressed for most of this year by dropping one fire guest verse after another. The contributions that he made on albums from the likes of Travis Scott, Quavo, and Meek Mill maintained the murderous attitude he had back in 2016, but he has refined it to be more comedic and expressive.
Savage also dropped his sophomore album, i am>i was, which continues the improvements that have been made this year. He manages to dig into his bag of tricks and come out with some gems on songs like “a lot”, “asmr” and “4L”. A lot of highlights on this record show that 21 Savage is still on a good path going into 2019.
Also, I can’t talk about 21 Savage’s great year without talking about his exceptional performances on Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes. On “Don’t Come Out The House”, 21 Savage breaks into a whisper mid-verse which stands as one of the best music memes of the year. “10 Freaky Girls” does not have anything as eccentric as a whispering verse, but 21 packs the track out with as many quotables he can fit onto one track.
21 Savage has my full attention going into the next couple years.
Juice WRLD took the world by storm with his debut album Goodbye and Good Riddance and has the world at his disposal heading into 2019.
Emo rap seems to be the big trend for 2018 with inspiration from artists such as Lil Peep and XXXTentacion and is the zeitgeist among up-and-coming rappers building popularity on Soundcloud. Juice WRLD has become the biggest star in that sub-genre following the losses of the previously mentioned Peep and X.
Juice WRLD is eerily similar to one of his biggest contemporaries Post Malone, but he has still managed to build his brand behind heartbreak anthems such as “All Girls Are The Same” and “Lucid Dreams”, the latter of which hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
Juice has also been one of the most in-demand features throughout the year following his breakout album. He has lent his vocals to tracks with Travis Scott, Trippie Redd and Kodak Black, while also making a collaborative album with Future title WRLD on Drugs, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
I think that emo rap might be a fad that will pass in a couple years, but Juice WRLD will be a strong leader for this movement over that time.
At the beginning of 2018, J.I.D. was flying under the radar for most fans of mainstream hip hop. The Never Story was a solid debut album and he had the support of J. Cole’s Dreamville record label but J.I.D. was still underground to most people.
J.I.D. didn’t come out with anything that topped the charts or broke the internet, but he still made his mark and gained notoriety as a solid lyricist.
The first half of 2018 was quiet for the “East Atlanta Playboy” until he earned a spot on the coveted XXL Freshmen List. J.I.D. was one of the artists with the most to prove with his cypher performance, and prove himself he did.
Music critics and Youtubers all agreed that J.I.D. blew the rest of the field out of the water with both his solo cypher and his duo freestyle with Ski Mask the Slump God. He seemed so natural moving between flows and came in with a bunch of creative metaphors while having a solo cypher was longer than any other Freshman.
He followed this up with one of the best hip hop projects this year with DiCaprio 2. Cap 2 is not a thematic wonder; it simply features 14 tracks of J.I.D.’s charisma at an 11 while spitting freely about whatever comes to mind. There are so many highlights on here from the entertaining anti-drug anthem “Off da Zoinkys” to J.I.D. trading bars with J. Cole on “Off Deez” to the witty banger “Westbrook”, which features an undeniably hype hook from A$AP Ferg.
J.I.D. is one of the most underrated MC’s doing it right now, but I think that he will be on the rise over the next couple years as more guest spots and projects attract attention.
For all of the other artists on this list, I would say that each one of these artists can build on what they have accomplished this year. Kanye West is the exception.
As much as I would love for Kanye to come out every summer and drop a bunch of incredible seven/eight track records, I doubt that he will replicate the lightning in the bottle magic that he put on display during May and June of this past year.
With Kanye’s personal life, fashion moves and Twitter account out of the picture, this has been Kanye’s most productive year in over a decade. This might even be his most productive year ever, with five albums released in the span of five weeks.
Personally, I think that every single album that West dropped in those five weeks had some sort of value and I liked a couple (if not all) of the tracks on every release. Three of the five albums (Pusha T, Kanye’s solo project and Kanye’s project with Kid Cudi) rank among my favorite hip hop albums of the year.
Each album had something new or different about it. Kanye didn’t make a couple instrumentals, copy and paste them a bunch of times and then throw the acapella versions over it. The instrumental palette of each album is switched up to best fit who was performing on it.
Pusha T’s album, Daytona, sounds fit for a convertible ride down in Florida while flexing all the jewelry you could possibly imagine. Kanye’s solo record, is pretty stripped back and has very simple mixes to fit the raw and personal tone of West’s lyrics. Kids See Ghosts is experimental and combines elements of hip hop, rock, grunge, R&B, and psychedelic music to create a mind-bending experience that features so many amazing lyrical moments from both West and Kid Cudi. Nasir shows just how old and out of touch Nas is, but personally I think Kanye brought some classy production that could’ve been great had another artist performed on it. Lastly, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. had the smooth production that one would expect for a soulful R&B album.
Overall, Kanye’s 2018 was extremely busy and he left his mark on this year in a positive way (when you’re talking about his music, that is).
Travis Scott was already a prominent protege of Kanye West in the years leading up to 2018. But 2018 launched him into the stratosphere and La Flame has become one of the biggest pop rap stars of this generation.
Scott has not made a bad move this year aside from letting Nav put his terrible feature on “YOSEMITE”. His business dealings with Nike, Jordan, Virgil Abloh and his own record label, Cactus Jack Records, have all panned out beautifully. It seems there is nothing that can stop Travis Scott.
Astroworld had the second biggest first week of any album (only Drake’s Scorpion did better) and his merchandise was selling like hot cakes. The Astroworld Tour was Travis’ first ever arena tour and it was the hottest tour of 2018’s fourth quarter. The aforementioned Cactus Jack Records also signed Sheck Wes, who instantly legitimized the label with the success of “Mo Bamba”.
Scott has managed to become one of the biggest names in music while simultaneously becoming more creative, which is not something most popular artists can say (looking at you Maroon 5 and Coldplay). Astroworld has production and song structures that push the boundaries of modern trap music but still manages to light a spark in the listener.
A massive 2018 has me very excited for what is to come for Travis Scott in the near future.