It’s officially the halfway point of 2018, which means many people have begun reflecting on their favorite projects of the year so far. It really does seem like it was only January yesterday, but here we really are, a week away from July.

However, I wanted to do things a little differently when picking my Best of 2018 so far. As Day & A Dream’s resident R&B connoisseur, I knew I would have the R&B part covered.

Sexing and leaving are the language of the day in today’s R&B – but how do you have R&B if the singers don’t have soul?? Thankfully, in 2018, soul is coming back in a big way. The first six months of the year brought with it many amazing R&B projects, many of whom may have flown under the radar due to many rap titans shaking up the airwaves. There were also people I left off (Patrick Paige, SiR, for example, and Mya), who might make my final 10 for the year.

I just wasn’t sure if I could pick up the slack on the rap/hip-hop front. There were some AMAZING rap albums dropped over the last few months, but I was certain I would miss something.

So I reached out to BJTheBlogger, founder of The Music Panel, an emerging musically-inclined collective that prides itself on rating and sharing quality music. The Panel even drops a weekly playlist, “The Shuffle Game,” made of up random selections from every Panel Member’s music library. I don’t know rap as well as I ought to, perhaps; but BJ DEFINITELY knows hip-hop.

We decided to collaborate: I’d handle the year’s best in R&B so far, and she’d handle the year’s best in rap so far. We didn’t rank them, mind you – that’s for the end of the year. We DID list them, unranked, with our four favorite tracks from each particular album. So even if you don’t run the actual album, you can AT LEAST hear what we liked most about it.

So here are my Top 10 R&B Albums of 2018 So Far. As a bonus, you can head on over to BJTheBlogger’s website and peep Her Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2018 So Far; and you can run the respective playlists of all of our favorite songs from each project, down below.


Chloe x Halle, The Kids Are Alright

It’s a pretty big deal to be cosigned by arguably the best performing artist of this generation. Chloe & Halle Bailey started out as mere YouTube sensations before being brought on as one of the flagship artists on Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment brand. In the time since, the sisters have made themselves known slowly but surely.
With a big co-sign, too, comes immense pressure to live up to. Being handpicked by Beyonce means you have to BRING IT. Thankfully, Chloe x Halle did exactly that on their major label debut, The Kids Are Alright. An album that showcases their immense maturity in spite of their age, as well as their immense potential to be even better, The Kids Are Alright reminded listeners that “age ain’t nothing but a number” still holds true when it comes to female singers with a story to tell.


Top Tracks: Happy Without Me f/ Joey Bada$$, Drop, Fake f/ Kari Faux, Cool People

 

Arin Ray, Platinum Fire

Arin Ray went from being a participant in the X-Factor singing competition talent show to becoming one of the biggest surprises of 2018. The Cincinnati-born crooner rode the wave of a successful breakout single – the YG-assisted “We Ain’t Homies” – into even harder and better breakout album in Platinum Fire. Arin benefits from the presence of many guests, from Ty Dolla $ign to DRAM to Terrace Martin (on the jazztastic album closing title track), but Arin’s falsetto and entrancing voice never get drowned out or overpowered by the guests. Even if it doesn’t manage to go “platinum” – and at the very least, it OUGHT to go gold – there’s no mistaking that Arin Ray’s LP is indeed absolute fire.

Top Tracks: Skeemin, Take f/ Ty Dolla $ign, Damn, Stressin’

 

Alina Baraz, The Color Of You

Up until 2018, all most people knew of Alina Baraz was her stellar collaboration with Galamatias, Urban Flora. But this year changed all that, as Baraz spread her wings solo on a new project, The Color Of You. Baraz picked up where Bruno Mars left off in 2016 – and, unintentionally, kicked off this year’s current trend – by dropping an album with fewer than 10 tracks (9 to be exact).

“Electric,” Baraz’s 2017 collaboration with Khalid, may be the record that made people want to look out for The Color Of You, but it’s far from the LP’s sole keeper. Baraz relies on soft jams that are highly infectious and melodies that creep along just enough to set a mood. In the process, she stands apart beautifully as a solo artist and, for the Urban Flora lovers, gives them new flowers to appreciate.

 

Top Tracks: High, The One f/ Jada, Floating f/ Khalid, Yours

 

The Weekend, My Dear Melancholy,

Part of the reason it was so difficult for many to digest Starboy, The Weeknd’s 2016 album, was because it was such a vast departure from everything fans knew about Abel Tesfaye. Change can be good, but such an abrupt change can be jarring. Which is why, when the album artwork for My Dear Melancholy, first popped up on the internet, oldhead Weeknd fans rejoiced because the art by itself called to mind his early mixtape artwork on projects like House of Balloons.

While the so-called “Starboy” is going anywhere anytime soon, My Dear Melancholy, is a nice reminder that The Weeknd can still make self-destructive, beautifully bluesy records for broken people. It’s a short suite of sorts that not only satisfies the senses but also serves as a good appetizer for The Weeknd’s alleged part-two of the project (hence the “comma” in the title) coming later this year.

Top Tracks: Call Out My Name, I Was Never There f/ Gesaffelstein, Wasted Times

 

Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

Six years. That’s how much time had passed since we’d gotten a FULL Janelle Monae project. Wondaland fans might want to count Monae’s ‘Wondaland’ Records compilation LP, but we won’t. The good news is, time allows for concentration of craft and genuine focus on putting out something memorable.

Memorable, is just one of many adjectives to describe Monae’s Dirty Computer project. A project that was so big it couldn’t be confined to a single album and had a visual component as well, Dirty Computer married elements of Monae’s previous offerings The ArchAndroid and Electric Lady, while also establishing a more confident, bold, and unapologetic artist. The homages to her mentor Prince are many (“Crazy, Classic, Life”) and so are the anthems of women empowerment and affirmation. But the best part of Dirty Computer? Learning Janelle Monae could rap – like, actually give you bars and THEN SOME rap.

Top Tracks: I Got The Juice f/ Pharrell, Screwed f/ Zoe Kravitz, Django Jane, Crazy, Classic, Life

 

TxS, Everything Is Bigger

Sometimes you stumble onto random gems on your streaming app. For me, one of those gems was finding TXS on Valentine’s Day. And being from Texas, of COURSE I’m listening to that – especially when the artist’s album title is Everything Is Bigger, just like the famed phrase for the Lone Star State.

What makes TXS dope is that, even though she has a lot of references to Texas-style music (“Do Good” calls to mind Houston’s own chopped and screwed sound), it’s not one-size-fits-all: the songbird employs various sounds, as diverse as the state itself, that come together to give the whole thing personality… also just like Texas itself. From the moment TXS insists, “Don’t do me no favors” on album opener “Big Girl,” you root for her and you fall for her spell.

Top Tracks: Big Girl, Flexin Forever f/ Dray, Lay Down, Catch’n Feelings f/ Rico Love, Pleasure P & Plies

 

Leon Bridges, Good Thing

When Leon Bridges burst onto the scene in 2015, he called to mind Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and classic male singers who could hit that perfect balance between country and soul. Bridges leaned more towards the country side on his debut Coming Home, and it was refreshing to have a Black country singer breathing life into the genre.

We knew Bridges as a country singer first; which is why Bridges’ sophomore effort, Good Thing, was so jarring… in a good way. Bridges was still a beast with the guitar, but now he was moving into Teddy Pendergrass territory, singing grown folks’ slow jams and getting the jive house jumping. It showed how versatile Leon could be, provided us with a wedding song for the next five years (“Beyond”) – and had him busting down the doors of the box we tried to put him in.

Top Tracks: Shy, Georgia to Texas, If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be), Beyond

 

Sango, In The Comfort Of

Some albums you JUST know are going to be amazing just off the strength of the first single. When Sango shared “Sweet Holy Honey,” his collaboration with Xavier Omar, the sheer light yet intoxicating feeling of it let listeners know that In The Comfort Of was not going to disappoint.

Indeed, In The Comfort Of takes comfort in its vulnerability, its conductor proudly baring his heart so that the listener occupies their feelings in any given song. It’s not all feels music, mind you – “Dance For Blessings” is proof of that. But the feels music is the most memorable part, and Sango reminded us that, when most R&B is about loving em and leaving em, sometimes loving em is just fine.

Top Tracks: Chemistry f/ JMSN, Out My Way/Around You f/ Marr Grey, RELLA, July 7, Devin Tracy, Dance for Blessings, Twogether f/ Jesse Boykins III

 

Doja Cat, Amala

Before Amala, all Doja Cat had to her name was a few isolated singles and her 2014 EP, PURRR! How do you trust that, if you’re not a real fan? What does Doja Cat do to impress you if you’ve never seen her at festivals or slept on PURRR?

The answer: drop the best possible debut album she could. Amala is sexy in every sense of the word, a magical ride that’s seductive and erotic without overdoing it. It is peppered with obvious metaphors (“Cookie Jar” and “Down Low,” duh), but the records are catchy, the hooks are easy to hop on, and Doja’s vocals hit all the right points that they’re supposed to. It not only does the fans who waited forever justice, but it introduces an entirely new legion of fans to an artist who straddles the fence of Pop and R&B and dares you to try to fit her in only the one.

Top Tracks: Roll With Us, Morning Light, Body Language, Wine Pon You f/ Konshens

 

Ravyn Lenae, Crush

Ravyn Lenae made herself a notable name in R&B when she dropped her slept-on 2016 project Midnight Marauders and popped up on Mick Jenkins’ The Healing Component album. Then, last year, Smino dropped blkswn, which included the record “Glass Flows”… and THAT’S when everybody realized that maybe this Ravyn Lenae person was going to be a problem.

Fast-forward to 2018, when the singer-songwriter shared her Crush EP. Crush manages to do what most albums fail to do, in only five tracks and less than half an hour’s runtime. Lenae relies a bit on nostalgia, reaching out to disco and ‘70s era R&B to create the sound on Crush. At times, it sounds like the EP should come with a pair of bellbottoms and a ticket to Soul Train. But that’s what works for it – the fact that a contemporary artist can make the old school, sound new again.

Top Tracks: Computer Love f/ Steve Lacy, The Night Song, Sticky


So that’s the best so far. And the good thing about it? There’s still much more good R&B in the months to come, hopefully.

Hear BJ’s ‘Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018… So Far’ Playlist

Hear Brad’s ‘Best R&B Albums of 2018… So Far’ Playlist