Top 10 Rap Albums of 2018

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Why not, right? After doing the Top 10 Singles list, obviously this was next. In the years to come, I’ll definitely be putting more time into these, and assembling a panel of experts, too. For now, though, you’re stuck with me and my opinions.

Let’s begin.

Rebirth of the Slickest was the best rap album from Vermont this year. While VVS Verbal is a Bucktown USA artist from Flatbush, it was Es-K who produced the entire project — and brought along keyboardist Danny Whitney and DJ / producer / man of taste Crusty Cuts for some proper scratches. This is a serious LP, stacked with features from General Steele, Buckshot, Sadat X and Craig G. There are levels to this, and Es-K is patiently putting in work to reach the top.

Jarvage Vol. 2 was a knockout release. This is a perfectly constructed homage to 90’s rap that transcends being a tribute project. That’s largely because Jarv has become such a beast on the production front: not only are these all throwback bangers with big, beautiful mixes, but the album has been assembled with obsessive loving care. You will be picking out references and jokes in your headphones for weeks to come with this one.

Problem Child has to be one of the best debut albums Vermont has seen so far. Young artist HANKNATIVE poured his soul into this one and worked with a smart, self-critical team of creators to make it shine. And hot damn, does it shine, bud. Somba’s engineering work is impressive, and so is the sheer range of this album, sonically and topically.

Ewe Gross was a mostly instrumental project predicated on sheep puns. Despite that, when Wool See — f/k/a IAME of Oldominion and Sandpeople — steps out front to rap, he’s dropping some of the best verses I’ve heard this year. He can go political without sounding like a boring scold, and he can go personal with the emo journal trappings so many other writers have to lean on. This has never left rotation since I got it.

Uninvited Guest was a lean and mean album from a master at work. True, Raw Deff is technically a 603 artist, but 1) we’ve always claimed him as family, and 2) every guest feature on this album? Is from Vermont. Raw Deff is, without question, one of the most gifted rappers we’ve got, and the scariest part is, he just keeps improving every couple months. The cover art is hilarious, too.

ILLiterature was a real achievement of a project. The crew at JynxINC has been making rap music — lots of it — for a long time now. In recent years, their quality control took a quantum leap and they’ve been securing top-notch features from the underground ever since. When Eyedos dropped his Guerrilla Bars album last year, it was a statement much bigger than Vermont’s borders. (Really, tho.) ILLiterature is cut from the same cloth, and he’s got a posse this time. This is a wall of crushing, cut-throat, boom bap lyricism.

Gangsta Trail Mix was one of the biggest surprises of the year. The homie Mavstar has evolved into a completely different emcee and he did justice to every track here. ILLu, of course, continues to whump out bright, catchy soul chops and cinematic beats. That combination goes a long way here, and I’ve been surprised by how many artists I’ve spoken to in the past week who said this was their favorite local album of the year. Props to the team.

Collision would be ranked a lot higher if it wasn’t such a fucking tease of a project. Sam. can really spit when he wants to; he seldom does that here. It’s not like he has to — dude can really sing, and more importantly, he’s not trying to bar out on this project at all, it’s an artistic statement. As a business card, this is a small, perfect slice of R&B infused rap music from a natural talent. Besides, teasing is good business: just about everyone is looking forward to Television, the debut album from his 99 Neighbors crew, which drops on New Years Day.

Alabaster Samovars gives zero fucks about your opinions or expectations. Their eponymous-ass debut is a weird, uncompromising album built around luxury space jazz beats and one of the most distinctive emcees Vermont has ever heard. That would Philly producer Remington Iron and Burlington (soon Chicago, alas) rapper The Marijuana Pot Man. This LP is a fully-formed universe unto itself; this is bespoke flames.

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Considering the fact that 2018 was the single biggest, busiest year in the Vermont hip hop scene to date, it’s remarkable how few albums came out. Huh. There are a lot of big names conspicuously absent here — which suggests that 2019 might see a lot of long-awaited, heavyweight LPs dropping.

This is both good and necessary, because that, that is the next level for our barely-born 802 “scene.” I’ve been alive long enough to have seen albums declared dead about a dozen times now — and each successive wave of world-changing technology has failed to make good on that threat.

(Hell, I still remember back when our albino intern Miguel first hauled a eight-track tape machine into our lushly carpeted leather control room, ranting about car stereos killing radio, and how the future was disco singles. He was right … for about eighteen months.)

It’s still all about selling records. Nothing is going to push this wave further than a few choice albums blowing up outside of state lines. So, do that. Make great records. Pay for great art. Get someone qualified to mix and master your tracks. Think strategically about how to promote it and release it.

See you next year.

Justin Boland