#ListWeek is officially upon us my fellow hip hop heads. 2018 was a year of unprecedented output and quality in the hip hop world; I still feel a little overwhelmed at how much incredible music was released. My brain may never recover, but like many of you, I am more than okay with that fact.
We begin the year end lists with the MCs. Masters of ceremonies. The rhyme sayers. I’ll bring you through the 10 MCs I thought killed it the most these past 12. Criteria included bars/lyrics, rapping skill, originality, discography and consistency. Shoutout to the pillars. Shoutout Grand Master Herc. And shoutout this hip hop culture. Let’s get this party started!
– Benny P
10) Westside Gunn
Although Conway and Benny also killed this year, I had to kick off the list with Mr. Griselda himself, Westside Gunn. Gunn dropped three powerhouses of hip hop projects in 2018 with Supreme Blientele, Hitler Wears Hermes 6 and an EP with Mr. Green – few people can craft the street art this dude is dropping. One of the grimiest out and that voice is iconic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Gunn embodies this trait fully.
Notable Feats: Supreme Blientele, Hitler Wears Hermes 6, FLYGOOD IS GOOD…All the Time EP, ‘Blood, Sweat & Tearz,’ ‘3 For 25,’ ‘Judas,’ ‘Dead Wrong,’ ‘London Fog,’ ‘Had Enough,’ ‘Echo Long,’ ‘Ray Mysterio’
9) J. Cole
Jermaine. Cole. Wasn’t expecting to see this name way back in January but here he is. Cole dropped the poignant KOD back in April and since has gone on a killstreak with the guest spots. Hopping on tracks with everyone from Jay Rock to Anderson .Paak to 21 Savage. Most times he stole the show on these spots too, which was impressive considering the company he often kept. Cole used his voice to the fullest in 2018…here’s to more growth and music next year. Mad love to the Dreamville head honcho.
Notable Feats: KOD, ‘Boblo Boat,’ ‘Tribe, ‘Album of the Year Freestyle,’ ‘Sojourner,’ ‘Off Deez,’ ‘A Lot,’ ‘Trippy,’ ‘OSOM,’ ‘Zendaya,’ ‘Say Na,’ ‘My Boy (Freestyle),’ ‘Shea Butter Baby’
Whenever I see this MCs name on paper the phrase “if you know you know” immediately hits my brain. Hommy obliterates any track he’s on, seamlessly splicing words and lines together with pure poetic skill. This is “designer rap” by every definition of the phrase. His voice melts into the production becoming one unified movement of graceful, unapologetic hip hop. The pillars live through Mach-Hommy.
Notable Feats: Duck CZN: Chinese Algebra, Notorious Dump Legends, OTHER ONE, ‘Sell Me This Pen,’ ‘Blue Horseshoes,’ ‘Contagion Theory,’ ‘Rare Paradigms,’ ‘Bah-Humbug,’ ‘Positive Image’
7) Black Thought
Do I even need to explain Black Thought to y’all? He’s been a tour de force on the mic for decades now, and prayers were finally answered this year in regards to some solo projects. Thought released TWO incredible EPs in 2018 with two of the game’s illest producers, 9th Wonder and Salaam Remi respectively. His raps on these projects were samurai level – listener’s ears stood no chance against his lyrical komodos. Skillset is aging like a fine Malbec.
Notable Feats: Streams of Thought Vol. 1, Streams of Thought Vol. 2, ‘I’m Gonna Make It,’ ‘Cojiba,’ ‘Roman Candles,’ ‘Diamond Cutters’
6) Mick Jenkins
My vote for sleeper MC of the year. Mick dropped a fantastic EP back in the late winter, graced us with loosies/features all year AND dropped one of the year’s best rap albums in Pieces of a Man. Anyone saluting Gil Scott-Heron gets infinite props from me. Bars, flow, meaning, swagger – Mick Jenkins can do it all. Stop hitting the snooze and drink more water!
Notable Feats: Pieces of a Man, or more; the anxious, ‘What Am I to Do,’ ‘Bruce Banner,’ ‘Cool,’ ‘Pirates,’ ‘Trust Nobody’
5) Sylvan LaCue
This might be the most surprising name on this list for some people. Let me break down how wild of a year Sylvan had. He dropped Apologies in Advance, one of the year’s most heartfelt, pure and important hip hop LPs. Then he pulled a 180º and dropped a tape of remixes/bangers, on which he outshined most artists he was remixing. Pound for pound, LaCue might have packed more meaning into his bars than nearly anyone in the game. If he was spitting, I HAD to listen. That really says more than anything else.
Notable Feats: Apologies in Advance, Florida Man, ‘3:33,’ ‘Answer Machines,’ ‘Tuesday,’ ‘Hour Glass,’ ‘January,’ ‘Capulets & Montagues,’ ‘Truth Hurts,’ ‘Pot of Gold’
4) Royce da 5’9″
Nickel Nine! Once he lit up the booth at Funk Flex I knew it was over. 2018 was going to be the year of Royce. This dude rapped so sharp this year, so vicious. Over twenty years in and he sounded more hungry than he’s ever sounded. Book of Ryan was gorgeous and that second PRhyme album is timeless hip hop. Bow down to one of the Midwest Kings.
Notable Feats: Book of Ryan, PRhyme 2, Funk Flex Freestyle
Turning tragedy into triumph almost seems impossible. Even when we succeed the pain of the past may still linger. For this artist though, I hope he feels absolute bliss. Saba turned the horrific death of a family member into a downright beautiful composition of music in 2018 with CARE FOR ME, his most personal album and hands down of the year’s best. Can’t stress what that album has done for me, my mind and my overall outlook on life. Truly groundbreaking. Saba also dropped five songs in five weeks to end the year, on top of putting out possible verse on the year on Noname’s album. Love to Saba, respect to Pivot Gang and long live John Walt!
Notable Feats: CARE FOR ME, ‘Stay Right Here,’ ‘Ace,’ ‘Beautiful Smile,’ ‘Excited,’ ‘Where it’s At,’ ‘Papaya,’ ‘Blood,’ ‘Puddles,’ ‘Lights Went Down,’ ‘Dark Knight,’ ‘What Kings Do,’ ‘Dream a Geanie,’ ‘Unfriendly Black Hotties’
2) Milo/Scallops Hotel/Rory Ferreira
No artist on this list exhibited more growth this year than the young god Rory Ferreira. Formerly known as Milo, the rap poet laureate put out three projects this year – each vastly different in their own gifted way. The tape he dropped under his Scallops Hotel moniker was one of the most slept-on all year, and his final Milo album budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies still levels me upon each listen. Close out the releases with a collab allbum with Elucid and there you have it. No one is spitting like this MC right now. He’s playing 5-D chess while most are playing checkers, and his vocabulary is second-to-none. Major props to the dude for opening his own business via Soulfolks Records & Tapes – which after visiting a few times – I can say is one of the East Coast’s freshest hip hop havens. Long live Ruby Yacht.
Notable Feats: budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies, Nostrum Groocers, Sovereign Nose of (Y)Our Arrogant Face, opening up SoulFolks Records & Tapes
1) Roc Marciano
Before I even made this full list I envisioned Roc at the top spot. He was the MC of 2018, consistently putting out hot shit season after season. RR2 is a certified street classic, brimming with authentic, raw New York City sounds. KAOS – Roc’s collab album with DJ Muggs – is as gritty as it was well-rapped. Add in one more stellar album in Behold a Dark Horse and that’s three dynamite projects featuring some of the best the culture has to offer. Marci worked with everyone from Black Thought to The Alchemist to Westside Gunn to Royce da 5’9″ these past 12 months, establishing himself amongst elite company. The phrase “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” comes to mind when I think of this dude. His style was refined to sheer fly excellence in 2018, and the crown belongs to Marci.
Notable Feats: Rosebudd’s Revenge 2, KAOS, Behold a Dark Horse,, Warm Hennessy, ‘The Appetite,’ ‘Golden Moments,’ ‘Respect My Gun,’ ‘When Dope Was Fresh,’ ‘Dice Game,’ ‘Kevlar Tux,’ ‘Dean Martin Steaks,’ ‘Ric Martel,’ ‘Dubs & Losses,’ ‘Take it All,’ ‘Supernova,’ ‘Let’s Begin,’ ‘Direct’ & ‘Roman Candles’
Honorable Mention (more possibly to come)
Benny the Butcher
Tha God Fahim
Doctur Dot & Johnny Venus
Erick the Architect, Meechy Darko & Zombie Juice
Solace & AK the Savior
images via Royce da 5’9″, Funk Flex, Hot 97, Westside Gunn, J. Cole, Mach-Hommy, Matthew Bokor, Black Thought, Mick Jenkins, Sam Schmieg, Billboard, Sylvan LaCue, Jonathan Benavente, Royce da 5’9″, Jeremy Deputat, Saba, Jeremy Deputat, Rory Ferreira, Andrew Doench, Village Voice, Roc Marciano, HotSoupNY & All rightful photographers
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– Benny P