By “Under-the-Radar,” I simply mean “not mainstream.” Music lovers who closely follow new R&B or rap releases may recognize these names, but my goal is to share great non-mainstream albums that didn’t have a high profile or the attention they deserve. Here are 10 albums from 2018 for you to discover.
Ivy Sole is quickly making a case for herself as one of the rising female rappers to keep on eye on. Talented and moving female rappers are gaining more exposure in recent years. Aside from the obvious Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, there’s Noname, Princess Nokia, Rapsody (Grammy nominated), Tierra Whack, Kamaiyah, Rico Nasty, Stefflon Don (XXL Freshman 2018), and Megan Thee Stallion. This North Carolina rapper details narratives about family, femininity, spirituality in this accessible yet thoughtful album, singing and speaking to listeners with an expressive alto voice. She still finds time for humor, sampling a hilarious feel-good vine of a woman saying, “Put your mind to it, put your grind to it, and you can do it.”
Out of all the artists on this list, Knowledge the Pirate has the least amount of listeners. With 2,269 listeners every month, he does not have the same level of exposure as other musicians, but the quality of his work provides clear evidence that he is deserving of much more attention. He narrates a frank, unembellished tale of street life through his lyrics and poignant sampling for his beats.
- Roots of a Thug
- Born Pimp
Fun fact: I met SiR during TDE’s Championship Tour concert in Mansfield, Massachusetts. November further confirms that he’s the next big R&B artist. Much like the sci-fi-esque album cover, this project is kaleidoscopic and otherworldly, experimenting with unconventional sounds. SiR’s voice is nostalgic and silky, and he’s able to use his gentle voice to convey a wide range of emotions.
- That’s Alright
- Something Foreign
88Rising is a media company and record label showcasing Asian and Asian American talent in the music industry. In the last few years, they’ve received media attention for representing an often overlooked but robust demographic of hip-hop and R&B musicians. Head in the Clouds compiles their artists and features other rising stars, creating a fun, exciting, and poignant project with a promising future for these budding musicians.
- La Cienega (Joji, NIKI)
- Let it go (Higher Brothers, Blocboy JB)
- Midsummer Madness (Joji, Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, AUGUST 08)
Prior to her first studio album, I knew Sophie from Vince Staples’s excellent album, Big Fish Theory (2017). Her immensely wide and always surprising sonic palette made me look forward to her solo works, and she flaunts mind-bending avant-garde electronic music in Oil. Commenting on the frenetic and kaleidoscopic nature of modern social life, Sophie broadens listeners’ ability to enjoy electronic music as a stand-alone.
One of Top Dawg Entertainment’s newest signees, Reason’s first album reminds us all why TDE is the undisputed top hip-hop record label in the game right now. Reason ditches arrogance for introspective tracks that speak to his lyrical skills and a keen ear for complementary beats. I am very excited for Reason’s future projects and how he will develop as an artist.
- Better Dayz
- Summer Up
Conner Youngblood dwells and revels in simple moments, simple sounds, and simple emotions, but he makes split seconds last a lifetime by constructing poignant and distinct environments in each song. cheyenne is all about landscapes: it is about being somewhere at a specific time, and being aware of simply being, that makes this album a pleasant and enigmatic experience. Conner Youngblood has a gift of making the ordinary sound extraordinary, and I hope to see him progress in the future.
- Los Angeles
- The Birds of Finland
- My Brother’s Brother
Quarterthing is lean and mean. Joey Purp doesn’t waste a second on this incisive album, stunning listeners with his persuasive bravado but sharing rare glimpses of a hint of fear and self-doubt. The production creates a tense atmosphere, almost like walking on a tightrope. It never overpowers the vocals, rather providing a perfect complement. Joey Purp masterfully balances persona and instrumentals as well as confidence and humanity.
- Godbody – Pt.2 (feat. RZA)
- Paint Thinner
- Lebron James
When it comes to rap record labels, TDE is a powerhouse – no doubt about that. But 2018 was the turning point for J. Cole’s label, Dreamville, with a series of releases that show off their arsenal of talent. With Milky Way from Bas and DiCaprio 2 from J.I.D, Cozz is the next rising rapper up Cole’s sleeves to challenge TDE as the reigning champion. Cozz drips with confidence and introspectiveness with a powerful delivery and smooth instrumentals. Largely dealing with internal struggles, Cozz’s dark music reminds me of a smooth Jay Rock.
- Zendaya (feat. J. Cole)
- Demons N Distractions
- Badu (feat. Curren$y)
Young Fathers showcase their own harmonic language through this enjoyable experimental hip-hop album. Sampling jazz and classical instruments, they feature a richly textured, old-fashioned sound. With a lot of funky rhythm and surprises in each track, this project showcases a refreshingly varied palette of sounds and leaves me wanting more music from this exciting group.
- See How
- Border Girl