The 40 best albums of 2018

Our forty favorites albums published in 2018

This was almost Mission Impossible: we chose about forty of the many records that have surprised us, cheered us up, conquered us this year. Finding a guiding principle is equally almost impossible, as the artists’ genres and regions of origin are so eclectic. Just like the editorial policy we are trying to keep here: the ears wide open to all the music that is linked to Africa. Whether it was produced locally, whether it was born in the West among the diasporas, whether they took from or even were inspired by African heritage, we are interested in all of them. Everyday we have been trying to make you discover some of it, meeting with the artists who produce them.

Thus, in the selection that follows (which, strictly speaking, is not really classified), Southern Madagascar’s tsapiky played by Damily stands alongside with the nu-soul of Akua Naru; South African and Congolese rappers (Earl Sweatshirt, Baloji) rub shoulders with stars of jazz (Shabaka Hutchings or Jowee Omicil); Paris-based raï brass-band Fanfaraï mixes with the afrobeat of Seun Kuti or his Brazilian cousins Bixiga 70… But enough with this foretaste, and let’s focus on the essential: from Kenya to Trinidad via Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, London and Paris, here is a trip in forty halts within the year that has just ended. Enjoy!

Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist and Deezer playlist.

40. Thabang Thabane
Matjale

Matjale sees Thabang Tabane take his rightful place in an illustrious lineage. Releasing along-overdue debut album, the percussionist and deep musical obsessive shows the indelible influence of his father’s music. He is the son of the now late Philip Tabane, a legendary guitarist regarded as the architect of South Africa’s malombo style. He’s guided by a fiercely independent ethos, informed by the African spiritual perspective which became malombo music.

Releasing it on newly-founded, independent South African label Mushroom
Hour Half Hour, he, together with labelmate Sibusile Xaba (who released 2017’s
Unlearning / Open Letter to Adoniah) has picked up that musical baton: charting new, divergent directions for independent music made in a South African image. As an album, it’s carried through with a loping, instinctive sense of groove. Thabang Tabane takes a single-minded approach: he hones an insistent, enchanting sense of groove.

39. Hollie Cook
Vessel of Love

At just 30, Hollie Cook has already released her third album, Vessel of Love. She always turns the ‘80s “reggae lovers rock” into a melancholic tropical pop, a very personal style she has created to accompany her sensual voice towards pop-ular shores. With Vessel Of Love, Hollie Cook’s sound has developed once again, as she effortlessly maintained the perfect balance between contemporary influences and a nostalgic spirit. Signed onto North-American label Merge Records, this latest album marks the first collaboration of the artist with prestigious producer Martin ‘Youth’ Glover (U2, Guns N’ Roses, Paul McCartney, The Verve…).

38. Adekunle Gold

About 30

Adekunle Gold’s About 30 saves us from the prevailing pop sound dominating the year. After leaving YBNL, Adekunle established the 79th element band and released the most anticipated album of the year so far. With only two pre-released track, “Ire” and “Money”, Adekunle teamed up with DYO, Flavour, Seun Kuti and the Lagos Community Gospel Choir to create what is beginning to look like the best alternative music album of the year. About 30 is Adekunle’s mature, cohesive and creative attempt at progressive music.


37. Akua Naru
The Blackest Joy

The Blackest Joy is the latest offering from US hip-hop artist/activist Akua Naru, with this being her third studio effort. The album is a mixture of genres ranging from Jazz, Blues, Hip Hop and Soul, with a feelgood factor that comes with deeper lyrics that should not go unmissed. Akua also incorporated different languages like Swahili or Sesotho, representing the different cultures she experienced travelling.


36. DJ Khalab
Black Noise 2084

Black Noise 2084 opens a portal where displaced rhythms, chants, screams and dreams collide with a quaking bass, a vortex of shattering synths, jazz rains and emotion all together. Empires for millennia thrived across the African continent and Empires are being willed to rise. Emerging from dystopian roots,Khalab “the marabout of the beats” has led his assembly of messengers to invoke this myth of cathartic liberation. Black Noise 2084 features the voices of musical voyagers seeking new pathways: Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, Tamar “The Collocutor“ Osborn, the master Gabin Dabir, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Tommaso Cappellato, Prince Buju and Clap! Clap!. Within the tapestry of Khalab’s Black Noise 2084, the myth moves through its cycle of life, initiations and ceremonies with a cast of unnamed messengers.


35. Anthony Joseph
People Of The Sun

In People of the Sun (or P.O.S., the acronym for Trinidad’s eclectic capital, Port of Spain) you’ll find practitioners of steelpan, soca, Orishas, and rapso (a potent mix of Black political verse, calypso and soca) working alongside the musician Anthony Joseph, following musical paths traced by the elders, and fusing it anew with modern R&B, soul, rock, and broken beat. Far from being an old-fashioned aural sepia rendition of the past, nor a digital reckoning of the present, what we have here is a fusion, resolutely pointing towards the future.

With its various participants, People of the Sun will bring Joseph’s vision, as well as the music of Trinidad and Tobago, to listeners far beyond its shores, making this particular piece of the Caribbean puzzle glow more than ever, underscoring its motto: “Together we aspire”Never before have these words resonated more intensely.


34. Ady Suleiman
Memories

Ady Suleiman has already received high praise since he’s joined the ranks of the new Neo soul voices in the UK and the US. At 25, he propels this often light-hearted musical genre into the peaks and valleys of his mental health, taking ownership of his illness and singing freely to an original soundscape. It’s enough to make us question not just our mental health but our “musical health” too… Like Ady, the record mixes the rough, urban, hip hop beats with the sweet, soulful, and more commercial side. “The album talks about feelings, not so much mental problems. It’s more about how I lived with all of that as a young adult, because I wrote this record when I was 19.

Ady, now 25, has only just released Memories. He had to break free from a major label and create his own label in order to release it. His label, Pemba, is named in homage to the island of the archipelago of Zanzibar where his father was born and where he feels both “at home and out of place.”, he clarifies. “This record took years to release because Sony, who had signed me, was constantly postponing its release. I ended up saying stop and I created Pemba. I don’t get any royalties, because everything is paid to Sony, but at least my music is available,” explains Ady.


33. Niagara
Apologia

“Apologia” is the first full-length by the trio of Alberto, António and Sara, expanding their organic machine music into hazy, fresh territories. Most tracks in here are concise, around the 3-minute mark, and they appear to us as openings to a fertile underground stream, ever moving. We are shown glimpses of some other world that simultaneously looks ancient and a patchwork of today’s moods of exotica. Throw in some sparse synth work reminiscent of Blade Runner ‘s skyline and you can hardly tell if this sounds like the future or some distant past.

Longer tracks “6:30” and “Siena” help you settle along this pan-tastic journey, acting as centerpieces to the album. “Siena” displays the loveliest flute vibes and gentle synthetic stabs adding to the groove. Fourth World PLUS.


32. Blinky Bill
Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales

With his first solo album, Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales (Lusafrica/The Garden), DJ, rapper and producer Blinky Bill puts Kenyan modern music on the global map.

It is largely in his studio of Nairobi that leading figure of underground Kenyan and backbone of the collective Just A Band, recorded his album: 12 groovy tracks between rap, funk, nu soul and electro which favour the vibrant Kenyan urban scene (Muthoni Drummer Queen, Sage..) and more widely African (Petite Noir, Sampa the Great, Nneka). A feel good album that owes its coherence to the haunting flow of this prolific experimenter and to its impeccable production.


31. Nasty C
Strings & Bling

South African Hip hop head honcho Nasty C has blessed fans with some new heat with the release of his album Strings & Bling. The uber talented music sensation is known for some hard bars and hit lyrics and this album is no different. After the astounding success of his debut album Bad Hair, which introduced fans to a skilful MC, the new album cements his place as a wavy trapper and a smart, intuitive rapper. With rap songs like ‘Jungle‘ and ‘Blisters‘ or pop songs like ‘Gravy‘ it has been dubbed as one of the rappers best releases yet.


30. Orquesta Akokán
Orquesta Akokán

Akokán means “from the heart” in Yoruba, a dominant African language throughout Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian cultures and religions. A huge part of the sacred and secular music was born off these cultures and religions ; and long after the abolition of slavery, the music has kept on travelling the globe. “Orquesta Akokán” is the name of this orchestra, which is reminiscent of the Banda Gigante of Benny Moré, aka “El Sonero Mayor.” Orquesta Akokán, also the name of the album, proves to be a magnificent tribute to a musical color and to an era whose music had seemingly disappeared without any trace, just after the death of its shining stars: the likes of Arsenio Rodriguez, Prado Perez, Benny Moré, and Israel Lopez Cachao…

The Orquesta Akokán dabbles in the Cuban repertoire, with rumba and bolero, and also pays tribute to Elegua, the deity of caminos, who opens or closes all roads and paths. Throughout the different styles, a special care is always given to the sound. The Afro-Cuban drums, the glittering chandelier of brass, Pepito Gomez’s voice that lingers, full of emotion… The album rightfully resurrects an era that we had never lived ourselves, and thanks to Orquesta Akokán, has a seemingly long life ahead.


29. Baloji
137 avenue Kanyama

The album 137 Avenue Kaniama is the confirmation of the formidable artistic statement we all became aware of from the release of Hotel Impala, Baloji’s first solo album, in 2008. It is the distillation of a rhythmic atmosphere which calls on the musical heritage of the 1970s, that era of artistic apotheosis, when Afro-American artists were inspired by African music and vice versa. We are in a patchwork universe here, rich in words, parables, a universe of stories, poetry in motion, which points a finger at the failings of our societies, now ravaged by collateral damage from globalisation.


28. Ammar 808

Maghreb United

AMMAR 808 is a member of Tunisian funky folk music band Bargou 08. The band  features the singers Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco), Sofiane Saidi (Algeria) and Cheb Hassen Tej (Tunisia). Maghreb United offers an electronic version of ancient North African music. “The past is a collective heritage,” explains AMMAR 808. He started the project a year ago, after working with the lauded Bargou 08, searching for something to link the sense of what has been with what will be. “It’s what we all call on, what we all share… I’m trying to weave threads from folklore and mythology into futurism. And I’m not necessarily projecting a positive image; from all we can see, things aren’t going in the right direction. What I hope is that it will raise an alarm.” Yet there’s also plenty of hope here.

With singers from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, songs from the Targ, Gnawa, and Raï histories, and a TR-808 alongside a distorted gumbri (Mehdi Nassouli), gasba flute and zokra bagpipes (Lassaed Bougalmi), this album reaches out to encompass the entire Maghreb area of North Africa. “The album isn’t so much about a united Maghrebi region, but how we can connect while observing our differences – our differences are also our connection – and using them to unify as humans.”


27. J. Cole

KOD

Once again this year J. Cole caught his fans off guard by unveiling at the last minute the release of his new album KOD (‘Kids on Drugs’, ‘King Overdosed’, ‘Kill Our Demons’), without any teasing strategy, no official statement, or even a single premiere.

The new project is not as jazz oriented as his previous album 4 Your Eyez Only released two years earlier, but J. Cole continues to explore the themes that are dear to him: anti-materialism, responsibility of speech of Hip Hop artists, addiction, racism, lack of solidarity in the black community…


26. Okzharp x Manthe Ribane
Closer Apart 

Okzharp and Manthe Ribane is producer Okzharp teamed up with vocalist, artist and dancer Manthe Ribane. Working closely with photographer and film maker, Chris Saunders on this project, they all hail from South Africa, where Manthe still resides, although Okzharp lives in London where he is a DJ and producer, and where he had initially cut his teeth in LV – one of the first acts to sign to Hyperdub. When Okzharp left LV, he spoke to Chris about an idea for a film, and was introduced to Manthe – who was then a dancer and choreographer for Die Antwoord – as a possible lead. They hit it off, and upon hearing Manthe singing to herself, they started collaborating musically, releasing two well-received EPs on Hyperdub, recorded in Joburg and London respectively.

The album has a softness and openness that contrasts with the tougher sound of the EPs. “The new music is a 360° turn, Manthe explains. It’s an expression of my ‘Lady’ side. I grew up listening to jazz, classic and gospel, I am a very soft spoken person, and it resonates with being confident with that.


25. Mélissa Laveaux
Radyo Siwèl

Melissa Laveaux is determined to reinvent herself. With Radyo Siwèl, she steps forward by stepping back to the past, that is, the past of her parents birthplace: Haiti. Although only fragments and traces of the past remain, the memories burn bright. Her album title speaks directly to this idea. “Radyo” denotes the idea of a transmission that can get lost. “Siwèl” alludes to the popular songs of of the Bann Grenn Siwèl, the troubadour orchestras that, through their poetic lyrics, would convey the history and identity of the Haitian people and stand testimony to their resistance.

Radyo Siwèl definitely recounts the history of Haiti but it also tells the story of a re-imagined history, written by Laveaux, who only knows the country through the eyes and stories of her exiled parents. “When you are a refugee, no one needs to know your past, to know where you come from. You can build another past, to shape what you want to happen next.


24. Mr Eazi
Lagos To London

Nigerian star of Afrobeats Mr Eazi unveiled a new mixtape Lagos To London, which as its name suggests, brings together naija and English artists, but not only. We find Maleek Berry, Burna Boy, Giggs, Chronixx, Sneakbo, Diplo, Rudimental on the tracklist of this project of 15 tracks oscillating between Reggae-Dancehall, Naija Pop, Afrobeats, and Hip Hop.


23. Farai
Rebirth

Farai’s debut album (a collaborative project between London based vocalist Farai and artist, musician and producer TONE) documents a process of recovery. For the eponymous vocalist of the project, Farai, music has always been personal.

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in London, her lyrics are coloured by the different cities she’s lived in, and how that series of different homes has shaped her perspective. Rebirth weaves together South East London landmarks, the bare-bones ethos of post-punk, and the experience of being part of the African diaspora. The record is the biggest stepping stone yet in a journey which Farai started in 2012. She hit a period of feeling burnt out, and started attending weekly music therapy classes, where she started writing poetry and music for the first time. It charted a new direction, one that’s brought her to the exciting point where she now stands.


22. Angelique Kidjo
Remain In Light

Global pop star and three-time Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo has partnered with super producer Jeff Bhasker (Rihanna, Kanye West, Harry Styles, Bruno Mars, Drake, Jay-Z) to create Remain in Light. With her own version of Remain In Light, she celebrates the genius of Talking Heads, Brian Eno and the touchstones that made the original so revered, yet she injects it with her euphoric singing, explosive percussion, horn orchestrations, and select lyrics performed in languages from her home country.

Remain In Light features appearances byVampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Blood Orange, Tony Allen, Angelique’s longtime guitarist Dominic James, and Magatte Sow (percussionist for the Black Panther film score). Visual artist Kerry James Marshall collaborated on the album artwork.


21. Popcaan
Forever 

Popcaan‘s album Forever is the dancehall album to listen to in 2018. Produced by Dre Skull, Forever is a pure concentrate of the best Caribbean vibes, all perfectly rooted in the era with hints 0f R&B, hip hop, and even pop. It offers several instant classics like “Silence”, “Firm and Strong” or the awesome “Wine for me”.


20. Bixiga 70
Quebra Cabeça

For their 4th album, Quebra Cabeça, the Brazilian afrobeat big band bring forward more complexity to their musical puzzle and also welcome the electronic vibrations of the São Paulo megalopolis to the studio. “What we put on top of [the African influence] is essentially the urban music of São Paulo,” they say of Quebra Cabeça. “This city is a huge influence on us. It has that sense of urgency, always running to catch up.” By continuously absorbing their everyday life in a cosmopolitan city, the band relays the voices of communities that advocate the great and precious variety of Brazil’s society, largely shaped by the culture of African slaves and their descendants, altered through the contact of a new territory. Their recent collaborations with Ghanean singer Pat Thomas and Nigerian saxophonist Orlando Julius illustrate this spirit.


19. Vince Staples
FM!

FM! is rapper Vince Staples’ third album. A surprise album, with a very West-Coast sound and featuring guest friends and rappers Earl Sweatshirt, Ty Dollar $ign, E-40 or Kehlani. More conventional than his previous album Bigh Fish Theory, this one is dedicated to his fans, as he explained on his Instagram account: “As artists we are nothing without the fans. I took time off from recording my next album to make a very special project dedicated to my biggest fan and supporter since day one. He said he needed something that represented him and where he comes from so here it is. Thank you for years of loyalty, I do this for people like you.


18. Muthoni Drummer Queen
She

Muthoni Drummer Queen is a musical and cultural firebrand with a timeless,
thought-provoking, genre-bending, afro-diasporic sound, which, is an infectious
club and radio-friendly fusion of african drum patterns, hip-hop, reggae/dancehall and neo-soul/blues. Her live performance seamlessly weaves together singing, rapping and drumming, embodying at once the consciousness of Lauryn Hill and flawless choreography, costuming and delivery à la Beyoncé. Muthoni was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya in a lower middle class home. While she knew she wanted to be a performer in the footsteps of Michael Jackson, her family strongly discouraged her from her intended musical forays.

She is her third album, produced with the same team of producers, two Swiss beatmakers, Jean “Hook”Geissbuhler and Greg “GR!” Escoffey. Each song of the albums are a portrait. For example, the song “Suzie Noma” is former sugar-baby who decided to change her life and start her own hair salon business. Suzie and Muthoni met in their early 20s and Muthoni made Suzie a promise that if she ever went into business, she would invest in it. Fast forward a few years later and Suzie is finally changing her life and Muthoni has made good on the promise and the song is written in the days before the launch of the salon and at the point where Suzie’s new dream to become the master of her own destiny is manifesting into reality.


17. The Maghreban
01DEAS 

01DEAS is the first LP of producer Ayman Rostom aka The Maghreban. An odd release for the hip-hop beatmaker who never liked house, yet was able of bringing new colors to it. Maybe that the success of other bands mixing jazz and house (like St Germain or I:Cube) and the explosion of the house music scene after 2010 pushed him onto paths of composition he had never explored until then. In « Strings » for example, Ayman offers us a very steady and precise house, that he likes to jostle with a saxophone that sometimes merges into the beat, or sometimes plays the counterpart. 01DEAS, as rich as it is colorful  – just like his cover –, gives the listener the impression of entering into the modular sequencer of Ayman’s studio, and navigating through his repertoire, playing with the cables he plugs and unplugs. Those are primary ideas that make you want to listen to the next ones: perhaps they will lead us to Alexandria, the city of The Maghreban’s father.


16. Various Artists
We Out Here

We Out Here captures a moment where genre markers matter less than raw, focused energy. Surveying the album’s running order, it could easily serve as a name-checking exercise for some of London’s most-tipped and hardworking bands of the past couple of years. Recorded across three long, fruitful days in a North West London studio, the results speak for themselves: they’re a window into the wide-eyed future of London’s musical underground.

The album bottles up some of the vital ideas emanating from that burgeoning movement. A reflection of how London’s jazz-influenced music has reached outward into new spaces, the sound of the record draws from a wide pool. There’s plenty of crossover between each of the groups, too, speaking to the close-knit circles which make up the scene; shared line-ups reflect the mutual coo.


15. Seun Kuti
Black Times 

Black Times is the fourth album by Seun and Egypt 80, the extraordinary dance orchestra founded by Fela Kuti. Inherited by the 14-year-old Seun in 1997, the younger Kuti has been building the most accomplished and honest album to this day. “Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs,” says the 34-year-old singer, bandleader and musician.  With this mighty new album including features from Carlos Santana and Robert Glasper, he honours the revolutionaries who have gone before and rallies the torch-bearers to come.


14. Elza Soares
Deus é Mulher

Deus é Mulher is a bible for transgression, a manifesto for activism addressed to the oppressed minorities of Brazil and anywhere else. This anti-reactionary time bomb should be placed into the hands of anyone who has the courage to fight. “Nós não temos mesmo sonho e opinião / Nosso eco se mistura na canção / Quero voz e quero o mesmo ar / Quero mesmo incomodar,” Elza Soares confesses in “Língua Solta”: “We don’t share the same dreams and opinions / Our echoes merge into this song / I want a voice and I want the same air / I really want to provoke.” The 80-year-old veteran music diva and her team are in a league of their own, truly too dangerous to be let on the field of panem et circenses that has long ruled the society.


13. Zuli
Terminal

Terminal’ features prominent Egyptian rapper Abyusif, newcomers Abanoub, Mado $am and R-Rhyme, and the mysterious Mecca-based vocalist MSYLMA.

This is an album inspired by my own personal experience in the city I live in. I just happen to be an Egyptian musician and the city just happens to be Cairo; my experience in Cairo may very well have more in common with that of an Indian accountant in New Delhi than of another Egyptian musician in Cairo.

Terminal draws from an abstract narrative of increasingly frequent cycles of ego-death and rebirth; its effect on everything from self-image and worldview, to the creative process, its fruits and the various masks/identities assumed in the process. The rap verses that feature are all either autobiographical or come from a place that is unique to each individual rapper; some of whom happen to be Cairean, and some who are not; the point is that it doesn’t really matter that much in the end.” – ZULI


12. Makaya Mc Craven
Universal Beings

Paris-born, New England-raised, long-time Chicago-residing Makaya McCraven has been at the forefront of genre-redefining movements in jazz since 2015, when he introduced the world to his unique brand of “organic beat music” on the breakout album In The Moment. Culled, cut, post-produced and re-composed by Makaya using recordings of free improvisation he collected over dozens of live sessions in Chicago, through incubation and experimentation, In The Moment established a procedural blueprint that he has since been sharpening and developing.

Makaya McCraven puts forth an ambitious new work – Universal Beings – a culmination of concepts conceived by In The Moment, and his most elegant and  articulated work yet. He created an album that musically spans deep spiritual jazz meditations, pulsing post-bop grooves and straight-ahead boom-bap, Makaya McCraven defies the simplifications of revisionism and regionalism while celebrating the sounds, settings and stories that define the provenance of his work.


 11. Deena Abdelwahed
Khonnar 

Pronounced “ronnar”, Khonnar is a term that makes the most of Tunisia’s cultural and linguistic spectrum. It evokes the dark, shameful and disturbing side of things. The album breaks down the codes of bass, techno and experimental music, and writes the manifesto for a generation that does not seek to please or to conform, taking back control of its identity – with all the attendant losses and chaos. “Khonnar is like a secret, like a taboo that everyone knows… and when it’s out in the public it is dangerous,” Deena Abdelwahed explains.


10. Kamasi Washington
Heaven & Earth

When Kamasi Washington released his tour de force LP, The Epic, in 2015, it instantly set him on a path as our generation’s torchbearer for progressive, improvisational music that would open the door for young audiences to experience music unlike anything they had heard before. Washington followed that work with collaborations with other influential artists such as Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Run the Jewels, Ibeyi and the creation of “Harmony of Difference”.

Washington’s new soophomore Heaven and Earth is a double album containing 2.5 hours of new music. The “Earth” side represents the world Kamasi sees outwardly, the world that he is a part of. “The Heaven” side represents the world he sees inwardly, the world that is a part of him. “The world that my mind lives in, lives in my mind.


9. Bamba Pana
Poaa

Jumanne Ramadhani Zegge aka. Bamba Pana is one of the core producers, alongside Jay Mitta and Sisso himself, of the Sisso studio – a central hub for MCs and producers of the Singeli scene in the Mburahati ghetto on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam. Along with his peers, Bamba Pana uses a laptop and software to update the local, usually acoustic and instrumental style of Singeli, computerizing its hyper rhythms and zinging melodies for the needs of younger, contemporary crowds in an upfront, direct way that has translated far beyond its East African roots.


8. Hailu Mergia
Lala Belu

Lala Belu is not a reissue. It’s Hailu Mergia’s first record in fifteen years. He, drummer Tony Buck and bassist Mike Majkowski form a trio for this new album that consists of six songs. Six tracks may seem short, but they don’t fall short. In the melancholic reverie of “Tezeta”, the galloping tune of Mergia’s accordion teleports the listener to the expanse of the eastern Ethiopian lowlands. In the frenetic and disturbing “Addis Nat”, the drum beats are punk. Then there is “Gum Gum” and its latin-jazz nonchalance… This is what ethio-jazz is: it’s all class and eclecticism, and it’s right at the fingertips of Hailu Mergia and his bandmates. Mr. Mergia concludes with Yefikir Engurguro, a sublime piano solo that contemporaries Keith Jarrett and Abdullah Ibrahim would certainly envy.

Hailu Mergia is alive and well, now more than ever. He is most likely thinking about his next gig, or his next fare. His album, by the way, is like taking a taxi… all the way from Addis Ababa to D.C.


7. Kendrick Lamar
Black Panther

The highly anticipated soundtrack of Marvel movie Black Panther orchestrated by Kendrick Lamar was released in February. As promised, it doesn’t take more than one listen to realize that this album is simply a huge work. Its tracklist reveals a 5-star casting with Anderson .Paak, Jorja Smith, The Weeknd, Travis $cott, Future, Khalid, Vince Staples, James Blake, Mozzy, 2Chaninz, SOB x RBE, Swae Lee, as well as the hard core of TDE label, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, SZA and Ab Soul, and South-African artists Babes Wodumo, Reason, Yungen Blakrok et Sjava.


6. Burna Boy
Outside

The Nigerian reggae-dancehall artist released the flamboyant Outside LP in January, his third album, opening the 2018 album season by setting a very high standard. Not a single one of the 13 tracks on the album is to be skipped. From start to end, Burna sings with his dancehall-infuenced vocal signature. Burna Boy is seen adventurous by using instrumentals that are almost unusual or not the norm for an afrobeats artist, and each beat gets to blow us away, although they belong to different genres (hip hop, afrobeats, dancehall…). The album’s opening track “More Life”, produced by Baba Stiltz, was supposed to feature on Drake’s album of the same name. “Ye” is certainly one of the best songs of Outside LP,  driven by vocal sampling and rich harmonies. It’s a great example of the sound on the album.


5. Georgia Anne Muldrow
Overload

As part of the fabric of Los Angeles’ hip hop / jazz / soul avant-garde since 2005, Georgia Anne Muldrow has built a mightily impressive discography and a reputation to match during her career as a vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician. It is fitting that in 2018 she should sign to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder imprint – a record label deeply embedded in LA, with a ton of shared history and a united vision of the future – to release her stunning new album. During her 12-year-career, she has earned the respect and admiration of listeners and peers alike via her incredible talent, not only as a vocalist and songwriter spanning jazz, soul and hip hop, but also for her long standing role as a producer and musician.

“Overload [the album] is an experiment in restraint,” she explains. “I pack myself into something as clear as possible with the help of gifted artists from all over the world. The live show is an experiment in interpretation. That’s when [my band] The Righteous and I unpack into a joyful noise. Both of these dynamics have been striving to balance themselves within me since birth… since wanting to record anything. And by the grace of Patience, Discipline and Devotion, a sweet spot has started to appear.


4. Petite Noir
La Maison Noir / The Black House

La Maison Noir is Petite Noir’s third noirwave projects. Noirwave is a movement created by Petite Noir and creative director RhaRha, with its roots in music but with a vision firmly fixed on the creative future. Responding to current cultural movements centered in Africa – arising against a backdrop of international anxieties concerning borders, nationhood and globalisation – Noirwave offers followers a citizenship which rejoices in freedom of (physical and creative) movement. It is through the lens of noirwave that La Maison Noir was created. Diverse yet instantaneous, the EP’s six tracks are imbued with a spirit that leave an indelible memory. The forthcoming mini-album features contributions from New York-based rapper-poet Saul Williams and Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown, whom Petite Noir had previously collaborated with on Brown’s 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition.


3. Noname
Room 25

His first album Telefone brought a breath of fresh air onto the hip hop scene. With Room 25, the promising Chicago-based artist Noname sets the bar very high with the release of a perfect album with a unique musical richness. Noname distills her flow – between rap and spoken word – with a sweet melancholy. As she explained in an interview for The Fader: “For me, the fact that I don’t use a name increases my creativity, as I’m able to do anything.”

Recorded between Los Angeles and Chicago and produced by Phoelix, Room 25 borrows to jazz, rap, soul and R&B. She invited Smino and Saba (who produced the song « All I Need » from her previous album). The result is an extraordinary and out-of-time work, that reminds a cult and timeless album, Mama’s Gun, Erykah Badu’s second LP released 18 years ago already.


2. Sons Of Kemet
Your Queen Is A Reptile

After the release of Wisdom of the Elders, a stellar album that shakes up the codes of jazz, Shabaka is back, this time with his first-ever band, Sons Of Kemet: two drums, one sax and one snorkel. In this new album, they decided to revisit history in order to pay a tribute to its Queens, its Black Queens (Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Nanny of the Marroon from Jamaica, Yaa Asantewa from Ghana, Albertina Sisulu…) as opposed to the Queen of England, a symbol of oppression… Shabaka still flouts the conventions of jazz, oscillating between rap, calypso, dub or even spoken word. We travel between the New Orleans, the Caribbean and the Middle East. With Your Queen Is A Reptile, Shabaka offers his own way of looking at the past and history.

His approach is Afrofuturist in the sense that “with all the groups I’ve worked with, I always wanted to change the typical image that one can have of the music made in the Caribbean, in Africa, or by the African diaspora, through instrumentations and concepts that lead people to think, ‘Oh, it doesn’t sound like what I had imagined Caribbean music or jazz would be!’ In a sense, I am trying to question the clichés.


1. Earl Sweatshirt
Some Rap Songs

Some Rap Songs is Earl Sweatshirt’s third album. The rapper, whose real name is Thebe Kgositsile, is a member of the Odd Future collective. As he explains, this album is partly about the death of his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, a South African poet and activist. His old man’s voice is featured on « Playing Possum », alongside his mother’s, Cheryl Harris, a law teacher. On the last track of the album, « Riot! », you can hear a sample of the rapper’s uncle, the late South African jazz giant Hugh Masekela, who died at the beginning of the year too. The album also has two collaborations: one with New York rapper and producer Navy Blue on the excellent « The Mint », and on on the song « Ontheway! » featuring the crew Standing On the Corner.

Some Rap Songs shows an uninhibited Earl Sweatshirt, navigating on the border between jazz and hip hop, with syncopated productions, lo-fi effects and deconstructed samples. Earl doesn’t fail Throughout the 25-minute 15-tracked album: he brought the standards even further and with a genius that proves he is still there.

Click here to find out more of our favourites from this year.