During the first half of November 2019, I’ll be looking back on my top 50 songs of 2018. This is both in preparation for my 2019 list, and to perhaps help enlighten some others of some great songs they may have missed.
I’ll be doing this in 10 parts (with 5 songs each), with the first being Monday 4th, and another coming out each weekday for the following 2 weeks. So, with that said, read on, listen to some of the songs, and let me know what you think.
• Mike Will Made-It – Watching Me (ft. Rae Sremmurd & Kodak Black)
‘Watching Me’ is another surprise entry of sorts, being the second entry in my top 50 to come from a movie soundtrack, in this case the Creed 2 album produced/curated by Mike Will Made-It. This song features Rae Sremmurd & Kodak Black, and showcases Swae Lee’s amazing singing, Slim Jximmi’s fantastic rapping, and Kodak’s emotional delivery perfectly.
The hook is delivered by Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, and is easily one of my favourite things he has ever done. He sings the first 4 bars of the hook in this low, haunting tone, and then suddenly shifts into this high pitched falsetto for the remainder of the hook. As someone who isn’t usually a big fan of his high pitched singing, I think this sounds beautiful, and makes the hook one of the best parts of the song. He also harmonises with himself a bit towards the end of the hook which is a nice little touch.
Kodak Black has the first verse of the song, and was a contender for my favourite Kodak feature of 2018 (he had some great ones!), and features him utilising his emotional delivery to deliver some heartfelt bars over the simple guitar based beat. Where this feature really shines is Kodak’s versatility within the verse, with him changing up his flow repeatedly, singing at times, shifting his tone and his vocal delivery, and even ending the verse with an almost spoken delivery. This verse is really packed full of emotive bars, and the whole thing is actually superbly written. Just to give an example, Kodak starts his verse with;
“I’ve been thuggin for so long, tryna bypass,
I been doing so much wrong, I see my life flash,
Through the pain I persevered,
And I ain’t even shed a tear,
Overcoming every obstacle like I ain’t got no fear”.
The next and final rap verse is from the other half of Rae Sremmurd, Slim Jxmmi. I personally feel like Jxmmi is super underrated and actually a fantastic rapper, and this song does a great job of proving my point. On his verse, Jxmmi raps about his climb to fame and how hard he has worked and will continue working. Although his emotion doesn’t match Kodaks, you can hear the emotion in his voice and he sounds hungry, rapping hard for the first few bars, shifting up his flow suddenly at times, and even rapping with a more melodic flow towards the middle of his verse. It’s really impressive all round, being full of great lyrics too. Similarly to Kodak, I’ll just include an example from the beginning of his verse, but the whole thing is worth a peep;
“I been living like tomorrow ain’t gon’ come,
Switchin girls like my heart can’t go numb,
Pedal to the floor like I’m on the run,
All this shine, know the rain gotta come,
Gotta get mine, or it’s back to the slums”.
Overall this is a perfect example that soundtrack songs are no longer just throwaway tracks, and is a great showing of the potential of both Rae Sremmurd and Kodak Black. It combines a basic guitar based beat with some eerily beautiful melodies from Swae Lee, and some impressive emotive bars from Kodak and Jxmmi, and the result is a surprisingly flawless track, and one of the best of the year.
• Nicki Minaj – Barbie Dreams
Although I think there were some funnier one liners, I’m confident ‘Barbie Dreams’ is the funniest song of 2018. Barbie Dreams is from Nicki Minaj’s 2018 album ‘Queen’, which is an album full of great rapping and incredible songs, and the amazing thing about this song is that it delivers an absolutely hilarious comedic performance without sacrificing anything that makes her music great. It has an amazing beat, impressive rapping throughout, smart rhyme schemes and even a beat switch.
The theme on this is an interesting one, with Nicki paying homage to an old Biggie song, ‘Just Playin (Dreams)’. On the original song, Biggie rapped about his attraction to a number of different female r&b singers. On Nicki’s version she flips this, instead roasting popular male music artists and athletes. The song plays out as Nicki telling of how all the different celebrities keep trying but none of them are her type. Just as an example, one of my favourite roasts is;
“Drake worth 100mil, he always buying me shit,
But I don’t know if the pussy wet or if he crying and shit”.
This is one of many many hilarious roasts within this song, I really implore you to give this song a listen, and maybe even read the lyrics here if you don’t understand some of the references. Seriously hilarious idea and perfectly executed.
The rapping itself on the track is super impressive as well, and does a great job at adding to the overall enjoyability of the song. Not only are the lyrics great, but the flows Nicki uses are fun to rap along with, she rides the beat well, and she does it all with so much confidence and swagger. She continues to change up the flows and delivery as the song goes on, and especially after the beat switch, which has her turn up the notch and continue changing things up.
For the most part the beat is quite simple, but it’s playful vibe really play into the feel of the song. The beat revolves around a looped guitar sample (from a James Brown song, Blues and Pants to be specific), and features a simple drum beat, with the bass sometimes changing up and hitting more often. There is also a beat switch towards the end of the song which is a real welcome surprise, and the beat afterwards is very different, with a spaceship sounding synth, emergency sirens, hi hats and 808s. Both parts of the beat are well crafted and sound excellent, but really shine thanks to Nicki’s presence on them.
Overall this is the kind of song that I can see being funny to a generation for a long time, but not being as popular with past generations or future generations who miss a lot of references. In saying that, as part of the generation, this song is hilarious, one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard, and is actually an amazing song as well. Highly recommended to anyone under 40, or anyone over 40 who thinks they’re ‘hip’.
• Nipsey Hussle – Dedication (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Nipsey Hussle’s ‘Victory Lap’ is an album full of gems front to back, and is one I’m glad to have listened to on release. Experiencing Nipsey’s triumphant victory lap with him before his unfortunate death in the latter Half of 2018 was a humbling experience. This song, ‘Dedication’ showcases some of Nips best bars on the album, one of his best hooks, and the thing that really takes it to another level, my favourite Kendrick Lamar verse of the year.
The beat on ‘Dedication’ is beautifully made, and has layers on layers that come apparent as the track progresses. For the most part the beat is made up of a real west coast bass, some claps, and some vocal samples/backing vocals. The backing vocals add a real layer of gloss to the track, with the female vocals sounding angelic and the male ones sounding like Ty Dollas Sign. As the song goes on, multiple synths and instruments make little appearances, most notably the funky bass line that comes in after the break down in Kendrick’s verse that sounds like something off of To Pimp A Butterfly. Towards the end of the song there is also this beautiful little piano section that leads into what sounds like a full orchestra, beautiful way to end the track.
Nipsey has the first and last verses of the song, and does a great job to not get outshone by the impeccable Kendrick feature. He does this not only by telling his story through the use of great lyrics and imagery, but by delivering it all with such ridiculous wordplay, such charisma, and such a great display of overall skill in terns of flows and delivery. His verse is about his come up from the hood being a respected rapper, but I won’t go too much into the lyrics themselves. The most impressive part to me is the solid rhyme scheme he keeps consistently going throughout. To clarify, he starts this rhyme scheme in the first verse, with the word ‘dedication’, keeps rhyming with it for the remainder of the verse, then carries that rhyme scheme into the chorus of the song, and then, just when you think he is done he carries the rhyme scheme all the way into the third verse (his second), for a total of around 33 lines using the same rhyme scheme. Honestly ridiculous, go check it out yourself.
The Kendrick verse is not only one of the best on the album, not only Kendrick’s best of the year, but one of the best features of 2018 in my opinion. Granted, Kendrick didn’t have many features last year, but none the less, this one is exceptional. I really can’t fault the verse in any way, he flows on the beat seamlessly, changes up flows with ease, has insane wordplay throughout, and all while delivering lyrically dense bars detailing his come up and his status as one of the most respected of our generation. The beat compliments him nicely with little drum breakdowns and switches in the bass line. Even the transition from his verse to the chorus has him singing a little section throwing over to Nip, it’s really the perfect example of why Kendrick is seen as one of the best rappers in the world currently.
Overall, this is just one of those songs that had so many layers that I could rave on about little parts of it for hours. Not only is it an extremely enjoyable listen to the average listener, but it’s a stylistically impressive song that is a must listen to any more serious rap fan. One of the best songs of the whole year and one of my favourite songs ever from the legend Nipsey Hussle.
• Quality Control – Movin’ Up (ft. Lil Yachty & Ty Dolla $ign)
‘Movin’ Up’ is a song off the Control The Streets 1 collab released by the Quality Control Label. This song is one of the most pop sounding songs on my top 50, due largely to the playful beat, Yachtys soft spoken bubblegum rap flow, and Ty Dolla Sign’s usual sexy singing. Regardless, this is a great hip hop song and one of the funnest of 2018.
The beat is a real core part in creating the whole pop vibe the song carries throughout, and is made up by an electric keyboard that sounds like something out of a kids show, and drums that sound like something Mustard would use; claps and 808’s. It’s simple in reality but the combination of the keyboard sound and the drums created this real light natured, boppy beat.
The song features both rappers rapping about their respective lovers for almost the entirety of their verses. Yachty has the first verse and raps with a fun, upbeat flow throughout. His delivery is clear and it’s a super fun verse to just rap along with. Ty Dolla Sign has the second verse, and similarly raps quite upbeat, unsurprisingly with a bit more of a melodic flow than Yachty. He rides the beat exceptionally and this is actually one of my favourite features from him ever. I’m actually glad Yachty has the hook on this, which is just a simple but effective repetition of “I’m movin’ Up”. Despite being simple it is very catchy, and acts as a nice transition between the verses.
The thing that really takes this song to the next level for me personally is the lyrics, and the way each artists lyrics tie into each others verses. To expand on that, Lil Yachty starts his verse with;
“Good god in the middle of May with miles down,
Bad bitch in Santa Ana, she love a fanta,
Her favourite team is the panthers,
Favourite snack is a jolly rancher”
& similarly Ty Dolla Sign starts his verse with;
“Little boo in the month of June,
The bathing suit, sitting right by the pool,
Met in Vegas, favourite team is the raiders,
She wished the never moved from the bay though”.
Just the way the rappers bars correlate with each others so well is masterful, and is done multiple times throughout the rest of the verses. This subtle feature really takes this song to the next level for me, and makes it one of the most creative songs of the year in terms of concept and execution.
Overall, ‘Movin’ Up’ is a ridiculously fun listen, and one that sadly gets overlooked as it comes from an album people see as bloated or low quality. This song is a great example of what I look for in music, which is artists being creative musically while still making a finished product that is a pleasant listen and impressive lyrically. Just a real enjoyable bop that I find easily accessible to a large audience
• Royce Da 5’9” – Boblo Boat (ft. J. Cole)
Boblo Boat is a lyrical cut from Royce Da 5’9”’s 2018 album ‘Book Of Ryan’, and features fellow wordsmith J. Cole. The song revolves around both rappers telling a bit of a story about their lives growing up, with Royce rapping about his trips to the Boblo Island amusement park, and Cole raps about his life growing up in North Carolina. Both rappers flex their rapping skills while telling a great story, and over a beautiful instrumental.
The beat as a whole has this real cruisey atmospheric vibe, primarily thanks to the use of a chopped vocal sample from Michael Urbaniak’s ‘A Day In The Park’, which is ironically a song revolving around an amusement park setting. The beat also contains a slow, laid back drum beat, and a subtle electric guitar which plays in the background through most of the song. All the elements of the beat really come together to create this nostalgic, atmospheric instrumental for Cole and Royce to flex their rap abilities on.
Royce has the first verse of the track, and really starts the song off on a great note, bringing solid flows, memorable bars and impressive wordplay from start to end. Where the verse really shines though is the great storytelling. Royce is really personal throughout his verse, touching on such topics as losing his virginity and him and his brothers alcoholism. The way he tackles all sorts of topics from good to bad is impeccable, and he always stays on the topic of ‘Boblo Island’. Whether he is rapping about the good times spent with his family or the ‘Glass waiting on the pool floor’, he does it with such visual imagery, and without ever sacrificing the impressive rhymes and wordplay.
Royce is in no way unmatched on this track though, with J. Cole coming through with one of his best features of 2018 (and that’s really saying something). Cole shows off his versatility in a wonderful manner on this track, starting off his verse with a short singing section which is a great change up. This leads into a slightly melodic rap section, and then ya shin change it up further as he starts to go all out with his usual high density wordplay. Cole’s lyricism and storytelling is just as strong as Royce’s on his verse, and the wordplay is impressive from start to finish. Just to highlight one of my favourite parts of the verse, The does Part that Cole raps has him spit;
“Twist the cap, lift the bottle back, swig it,
Dig it, ten inch rims on my mama’s civic,
Ten inch woofers in the truck to be specific,
They bump, rattle the license plate, plus the windows tinted”.
In summary, Boblo Boat is one of the most impressive shows of lyricism of 2018, and one of my favourite collabs too. The instrumental would be amazing on it own, but both rappers do an amazing job of utilising it to show off their wordplay and tell some thoroughly enjoyable stories. Also from what I remember the video is quite enjoyable, so check that out here.
Have you heard any of the above songs before? If so, what are your opinions on them?
If you’re unfamiliar with any or all of them, I’d recommend giving them a listen when you get some time and letting me know what you think!
– Shan –