To say the music this year was "good," is an understatement. In 2018 there was an augmentation of music with a social conscience that spoke to many disenfranchised communities. More and more artists used their platforms to make powerful statements about race, politics, identity, and sexuality—using their art and social media platforms to demonstrate the importance of inclusion and representation. Also, some albums just gave listeners a sense of peace in this crazy world. As the year draws to a close, let’s reflect on some of these incredible female artists who used their platform to redefine genres like R&B, rap, and pop in 2018.
Whack World, Tierra Whack
Philadelphia-bred rapper Tierra Whack, 23, is quickly rocketing to stardom. The artist's debut album, Whack World, dropped in May immediately garnering interest because of its rare sound; the pace and lyricism of every song is completely different but, somehow, the album blends perfectly. Despite this being her first album, Whack demonstrates mature artistry throughout the 15-track album of one-minute songs, building anticipation for each record and then abruptly cutting off to blend into the next number. The artist's greatest skill is her ability to marry the real with the absurd, like her comparable predecessor Missy Elliott.
Overgrown, Ivy Sole
This Charlotte-born rapper is truly a gem for her soulful voice and clever rhymes that fans got a taste of this year with her sophomore album, Overgrown. The project is a masterclass of honesty and lyrical vulnerability; Sole truly lays herself bare in every song. In songs such as “Parables” and “Achilles,” the album carefully yet intentionally discusses issues such as the artist's queerness, religion, and past family trauma with an overall tone of healing and self-forgiveness. Sole is not only a rapper, but a poet—her lyrics read almost like a coming of age tale that powerfully invites the listener to reflect and grow alongside her.
Expectations, Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko’s 2018 album, Expectations, is not only musically wonderful but incredibly radical. Many of her songs touch on her experiences as a queer woman of color, radically providing visibility for this increasingly marginalized demographic. Kiyoko is truly a chameleon of an artist, taking on every role in the creative process. Not only does she write and perform her own songs, but she also directs her own music videos. Kiyoko uses these videos to provide stunning visuals to the stories she tells in her music as seen in “Curious” and “What I Need,” featuring fellow queer musician Kehlani. Kiyoko’s music is dreamy, flirty, and fun, and the artist is using her platform to take an important stance for her community.
K.T.S.E., Teyana Taylor
Teyana Taylor wears many hats—actress, dancer, model, and singer. Most recently, the artist put n her singing hat and released her third album, K.T.S.E., in June. The album shows enormous growth from previous releases and is impressively eclectic, mixing funk, jazz and old-school R&B with hints of contemporary rap. In songs such as “Issues/Hold On,” “Gonna Love Me,” and the Kanye West collaboration “Hurry”, the artist illustrates her natural sensuality and clear vulnerability. A Harlem native, Taylor also intentionally centers her hometown in her music as seen in the old-school jazz vibe of many of her songs, as well as the anthem “A Rose in Harlem." For those looking for music that's soothing and funky in equal measure, Taylor is simply a must.
British singer-songwriter and record producer Nao first gained recognition after dropping her debut album For All We Know in 2016 with hits such as “Get To Know Ya” and “Fool to Love.” Most recently, the artist released her second album Saturn in October. The project has done well already, with its second song, “Make it Out Alive,” featured on Issa Rae’s hit HBO show, Insecure. In a recent interview with Wonderland Magazine, Nao discussed her album, noting that it “travels in a story.” Through her self-described “wonky-funk” style, Nao uses a slow tempo, pensive tone, and hauntingly soothing instrumentals to truly take her listeners on an otherworldly musical journey.
Being Human in Public, Jessie Reyez
Jessie Reyez’s sophomore album, Being Human in Public, was released this past October. As the title suggests, each song touches on the complexities that come from simply existing. Reyez’s vulnerability is imbued in every song, particularly in “Apple Juice,” which she sings “you gotta love me/ I will teach you how to love” and in “Sola,” the beautiful Spanish lullaby about breaking away from traditional gender roles and being different as a woman.
Crush, Ravyn Lenae
R&B singer-songwriter Ravyn Lenae, 19, is known for bringing funk back into the 21st century. The artist continues this tradition with her most recent EP, Crush, released last February. The Crush EP deviates greatly from the artist's previous music, demonstrating her impressive ability to adapt and grow without losing her original sound. While Lenae’s first two albums employ more of a techno sound, utilizing sound-effects and with a more sleepy, soothing tone, in Crush Lenae delivers music we can dance to, boldly bringing old-school funk into the 21st century, with a surprising contemporary twist.
I Used To Know Her: The Prequel & Part II, H.E.R
Beloved singer, Gabriella Wilson who’s better known by her stage name H.E.R., dropped her second album I Used to Know Her in two parts over the course of 2018. The album is full of anthems of self-love, confidence, and the celebration of growth. In contrast to her debut self-titled album H.E.R released in 2017, the artist used this sophomore project to display a wider range of music capabilities. Notably, H.E.R shows off her rapping skills throughout I Used To Know Her, particularly in songs such as “Lost Souls” and “As I Am.” Through powerful lyrics such as “confusing self-conscious with self-confidence” and “you’d be a fool not to take me as I am,” H.E.R powerfully illustrates her personal evolution and feminist ideals in her lyrics. In this album, H.E.R maintains the soothing voice and thought-provoking lyrics that originally hooked her fans, while adding a pulsing beat and spitting bars to take her music to the next level.
English singer-songwriter Mahalia has been garnering fame throughout 2018 with the periodic release of singles such as “No Pressure” and “No Reply.” On September 21 the artist released her EP Seasons, a beautiful collection of love songs that made even more lovely by the artists soulful, silky voice. Mahalia is a master of creating truly pensive music, and Seasons is no different; the artist's vulnerability shines throughout the album, in the heartbreaking love letter of “Good Reason” and the acoustic ballad “That’s Ok.” Mahalia’s appeal is more than her beautiful voice, as she illustrates on this album through her beautiful acoustic rhythms and poetic words, seen especially in her monologue in “One Night Only,” a song which she also used to illustrate her visual artistry with the beautiful music video featuring Kojey Radical. The artists’ combination of acoustic rhythms, R&B background beats, and radical spoken word is truly not to be missed.
Room 25, Noname
Chicago rapper and musician Noname is a storyteller. The Chance the Rapper protegé delivered a sonically-splendid experience with her second album, Room 25. The artist delivers powerful messages about race, black womanhood, and other important societal issues with a personal twist so that the listener feels as though they are hearing pages straight from the artist’s journal. Noname is not just a rapper, but a true poet—her songs are powerful, to listen to more than once and thought on deeply. The artist employs a range of sounds throughout the album; while the first song, “Self,” is almost completely acapella, others such as “Blaxploitation” and “Prayer Song” use voice recordings and funky percussion to drive the songs home. Noname is not only important musically, but this artist has a very powerful political message that all need to hear.
Lost & Found, Jorja Smith
I doubt you missed Jorja Smith’s debut album, but just in case you did: the 21-year-old English singer-songwriter released her first album in June. The album received praise and quickly topped R&B charts both in the States and in the UK. The album mainly focuses on Smith’s adolescence and the artist's first struggles with love. This theme can be seen particularly in the song “Teenage Fantasy” in which Smith uses her powerful lyrics and gorgeous music video to make a poignant commentary about the illusions surrounding teenage romance. Smith’s album is as personal as it is self-reflective and has a song for every mood—upbeat, pensive, and just good old fun.
Flight Mode Vol 4, IAMDDB
UK hip-hop artist and rapper IAMDDB dropped Flight Mode Vol 4 in June. Her flow is truly special; the artist switches between rapping and singing with complete ease. The album is beautifully cohesive, each song containing a funky beat up front with a slower, almost dragging melody hovering underneath. Authenticity remains of the utmost importance to this artist; in an interview with Dazed, IAMDDB noted, “I literally just say what's on my mind; I’d describe my sound as eclectic, real, and authentic.” IIAMDDB’s sound is not only real but infectiously fun; you can’t help but nod your head along while listening.
Letra, Lava La Rue
Lava La Rue dropped her debut album in June. Letra is a funky collection of songs; each doing something very different musically, but they blend together seamlessly. The artist's dedication to her craft despite her unusual childhood is truly inspiring; in an interview with Dazed La Rue divulges how she grew up in and out of foster care until she was about 16 years old. Despite this, the artist always had her dreams set, and knew she wanted to make music for a living. La Rue demonstrates her original artistry throughout the album, starting with the spooky rap that is “Desktop” and continuing through to the 90s-inspired rap ballad “Widdit.” The artist shows off her rapping and singing skills in “Letra,” sometimes even in the same song such as in “Touch (My Mind).” Though new to the music scene, La Rue is truly something special and will surely blow up very soon.
Winter Songs, Cleo Sol
Simply put, Cleo Sol’s debut album Winter Songs is heartbreakingly beautiful—through her deeply personal lyrics and sultry, clean voice, Sol delivers music that is pensive, melancholy, and powerful in equal measure. What stands out about the album musically is Sol’s instrumentation, such as the intentional use of percussion to drive the beat in “Why Don’t You” and “Try and You Try”, and her occasional use of flute to add lighter notes to several songs. With lyrics like “Sometimes I still doubt myself/ But at least now I love myself," each of her songs essentially functions as a love letter to herself, and a reminder of her resilience and growth as she navigates the world.
Isolation, Kali Uchis
To listen to Isolation is to travel through time; the album is a beautiful fusion of funk, disco, soul, and classic R&B that both takes the listener back several decades to the 70s and propels them forward to an exciting new musical future. In this second album, Uchis delivers an artistry that is stunningly unique. Through her classic use of harp and xylophone, Uchis creates a vibe that is both soothing and funky in equal measure, putting her listeners at ease and giving them a fun beat to sing along to. She further demonstrates her artistry through several stunning music videos, including "Dead to Me" and "After the Storm," featuring Tyler The Creator.