As we reach the halfway point of the year, Arts and Culture editor Taylor Washington analyzes some of the albums she considers as the best of 2018, so far.
Dirty Computer- Janelle Monáe
Released: April 27
Best Track: Screwed (feat. Zoe Kravitz)
After completing her “Metropolis” trilogy with 2013’s “Electric Lady," Janelle Monáe took a five-year hiatus. While the wait for new music has been long, it has certainly been worth it. Like her previous works, “Dirty Computer” is a conceptual masterpiece that combines funk and soul. Both the album and her 45-minute sci-fi film of the same name tell the overarching story of the power of self-expression in an oppressive society.
With “Dirty Computer,” Monáe is more fearless than ever, as she wears her badge as a queer, black woman with pride on tracks like “Django Jane” and “Pynk”. On politically charged tracks like “I Got The Juice” and “Americans," she draws inspiration from the world around her with lyrics that homage #MeToo and reference the Trump era. More than anything, “Dirty Computer” is a celebration of freedom, womanhood and love. For much of her career, critics tried to box Monáe into a category they saw as fit. However, “Dirty Computer” cements her status as an artist who is light years ahead of her time, in a league of her own.
Everything is Love -The Carters
Released: June 16
Best Track: APES**T
While on the European leg of their On the Run II tour, global superstars Beyonce and Jay-Z unexpectedly dropped their long-awaited collaborative effort, “Everything is Love”. While this is the couple’s first joint album, it’s been a long road to get here, so let’s start at the beginning.
After Beyonce hinted at Jay-Z’s infidelity with her critically acclaimed concept album, “Lemonade," Jay-Z confirmed the rumors to be true with 2017’s “4:44." On “Everything is Love," the Carters complete their unofficial trilogy detailing this rather tumultuous time in their marriage. While airing dirty laundry may have put the future of other couples further on the rocks, here, the Carters seem stronger than ever. On tracks like “Heard About Us” and “Black Effect," the pair address their onlookers and shamelessly stand by their promise to stand together for better or for worse.
However, the standout track has to be “APES**T," the slinky, trap-influenced anthem accompanied by a lavish music video filmed in The Louvre. While Jay-Z obviously holds his own, Beyonce is easily the glue that holds the album together. As a seasoned professional, she sounds better than ever, and exudes an air of confidence that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. On tracks like “Boss” and “Nice," Beyonce’s bars arguably rival her husband’s. This highly publicized saga between the two artists should have grown tired after "4:44," but the art it has produced has been too good to ignore.
Black Panther: The Album - Various Artists
Released: Feb. 9
Best Track: King’s Dead - Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Black
Curated and helmed by hip-hop heavyweight Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther: The Album” is a soundtrack that doesn’t need its title film to justify its existence; it stands alone by itself just fine. Although most soundtracks can feel like a hodgepodge of random scenes, “Black Panther” is a cohesive effort. Each song is carefully crafted, and cleverly presents the warring perspectives of its hero, King T’Challa, and its villain, Killmonger.
Consequently, overarching themes of the album include honor, family and redemption. At the same time, “Black Panther” is a study in the hardships and resilience of both African and African-American cultures. From radio-ready hits like “All the Stars," to more reflective moments like “Seasons," “Black Panther: The Album” is visual storytelling at its finest. Featured artists include The Weeknd, Vince Staples and SZA.
Isolation - Kali Uchis
Released: April 6
Best Track: Dead to Me
After releasing her debut EP, “Por Vida” in 2016, the 24-year-old singer expands on her retro-inspired sound in her debut album, “Isolation." At first listen, it’s fairly obvious the Colombian singer Kali Uchis is heavily inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s soul music. While she’s not the first modern artist to take inspiration from a time before their own — similar to Amy Winehouse or Leon Bridges — there’s something about Uchis’ sound that feels authentic.
Although Bruno Mars’ 2016 album, “24K Magic” felt simply felt like a ‘90s tribute act, Uchis’ homage to the music giants before her feels more complete. Only 30 seconds into its intro, “Body Language," “Isolation” already feels like the beginning of a trip into a foreign land that’s been trapped in time. The album’s lush production creates a dream-like haze paired with feelings of escapism that makes it the perfect album of the summer. Most importantly, Uchis keeps it fresh and grounded by bringing in artists like Tyler, the Creator, Steve Lacy and Tame Impala for the ride.
Invasion of Privacy - Cardi B
Released: April 5
Best Track: Bartier Cardi (feat. 21 Savage)
For those who thought the “Love and Hip Hop” alum was just a one-hit wonder, Cardi B has proven that she’s here to stay. Since its release in early April, Cardi B’s debut album “Invasion of Privacy” has been cranking out hit after hit. Tracks such as Latin-infused “I Like it” and “Bickenhead” show a playful exterior, while tracks like “Be Careful” and “Ring” reveal a vulnerable interior.
Cardi B is fun, unapologetic and just the right amount of crazy that’s kept the charm since her breakout. While her very public relationship with rapper Offset from Migos has garnered a lot of publicity, her music is all we need to keep us entertained. Cardi has been a star in the making for while, so it’s been fun to watch her enjoy the fruits of her labor without compromising her personality. At its heart, “Invasion of Privacy” is the unexpected rags to riches story you can’t help but root for.
Lost & Found - Jorja Smith
Released: June 8
Best Track: Blue Lights
With her husky voice and low register, 21-year-old U.K. singer Jorja Smith is an artist who sounds wise beyond her years. However, despite her mature voice, Smith still manages to maintain the youthfulness that’s needed to capture a life that’s just begun. Most Americans were probably introduced to Smith after her guest appearance on Drake’s 2017 mixtape, “More Life”. However, her two guest features were only a glimpse of everything the young talent had to offer.
In her debut album, “Lost and Found”, Smith is confident, cool and in control. Whether she’s singing about street violence on “Blue Lights," reminiscing about heartbreak on “Goodbyes," or looking past the facade of first love on “Teenage Fantasy”, Smith presents great lyrics. Additionally, the album’s low-key production gives plenty of room for Smith’s voice to truly shine.