Now that August is winding down, we have to reckon with the fact that - sigh - summer is officially over. And whether or not you did anything you set out to do, you can’t deny that on the musical front, it has been a summer to remember.
And even for music’s blockbuster season, Summer ’18 was a nonstop parade of prestige albums. From the 5-point attack of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music rollout to Drake’s internet-breaking Scorpion to the long, long, long overdue arrival of Travis Scott’s Astroworld, we were given more audial treats than we could keep up with.
With autumn just around the corner (and year-end lists not long after, send help), we took a look back at the summer’s biggest albums in an attempt to crown one record to rule them all. Using a metric that weighed each full-length’s musical quality, release strategy, and merch, we have thus calculated the definitive, official champion of the best albums of Summer 2018. Ranked from worst to best, read on to see our top pick.
Nicki Minaj - Queen
Where do I even begin with this catastrophe? The rollout started off a hot mess once the release date kept getting delayed--I really don’t understand how artists in this day don’t have control over when their music is coming out, it makes zero sense. There was so much hype built up for this record and it didn’t even come close to living up to it.
Nicki Minaj should always be respected as a legend in my eyes, but Queen is not a project worth fighting for. There’s no need for me to express my disappointment because the cancelled tour really sealed the deal. As for the merch, Associate Fashion Editor extraordinaire Max Grobe was into the "Chun-Li" ribbed cuff longsleeves, but felt everything else was lackluster; the “FEFE” offerings, meanwhile, are downright disgusting. - S
Overall score: 2.8/5
Drake - Scorpion
This rollout was dragged out for so long that by the time the album finally dropped I felt like I’d been through the ringer. Of course, the drama with Pusha-T didn’t help his credibility, but I chose to overlook for too long. Dividing all of the tracks on Scorpion was the ultimate overkill--let’s be real, side B or bust!
Also, don’t tell me that this merch isn’t weak. Drake is no style icon, but the man has done so much better than this collection. Not only does he have the OVO clothing brand, but all of the merch for Views was a must cop item all 2016. I cannot say the same for Scorpion and that corny astrology sweatshirt. Max Grobe added that the Scorpion tour jacket would have been better if it resembled the one Ryan Gosling wore in Drive. Agreed. - S
Overall score: 2.8/5
G.O.O.D. Music - Pusha-T - DAYTONA, Kanye West - ye, Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E., Nas - Illmatic, KIDS SEE GHOSTS - KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Few could have anticipated the frenzied fivepoint blow that came out of the G.O.O.D. Music camp this summer. A new Kanye West album on its own is a hype-juggernaut, so when coupled with an unprecedented weekly run of studio LP’s from the likes of Pusha-T, Nas, Teyana Taylor, and the jaw-dropping synthesis of Ye and Kid Cudi as Kids See Ghosts, you could say that all eyes (or, ears) were fixed on this as the musical event of the year. But was it the end-all be-all of 2018? Certainly not.
Pusha’s DAYTONA remains the rollout’s strongest entry, with Kids See Ghosts also worthy of praise. The rest is a real grab bag; Teyana’s K.T.S.E. holds moments of brightness that fail to outshine the overall muddled result, while Kanye’s solo outing ye and Nas’ Nasir function much better as curiosity-inducing time capsules of their creators’ troubled present circumstances.
The merch that resulted from this lineup was invigorating, bolstered by that Kanye-touch, but much like its musical counterpart, it hearkens more to fond memories of Kanye’s past glories than instills any new sense of inspiration. We’ve also heard the quality wasn’t great either. Taken as a whole, the slew of G.O.O.D. Music releases has lofty peaks and damningly low valleys – an attention-grabber that could use a bit more substance and thought in execution. - J
Overall score: 2.8/5
Travis Scott - Astroworld
As we’ve all come to learn, Travis Scott is La Flame, and La Flame is Travis Scott. Crazy stage antics aside, the Houston rapper is an incredibly firey guy, even on an astrological level, as we previously discovered. We gotta hand it to Scott, as far as album hype goes, he played the long game with the help of his eternal, internal flame and it paid off.
Basically as soon as Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was out, La Flame planted the seeds for Astroworld, conceptually inspired by the now defunct theme park that shaped his childhood. Announcing and previewing tracks from the album as early as January 2017, the insanely trippy “Butterfly Effect” dropped in May, with a psychedelic visual emerging in July. He toured solo and with Kendrick Lamar, encouraging his crowd to get so lit that one fan jumped from a third floor balcony at a concert in NYC, which only added fuel to the La Flame. He gradually shared details about the album across different publications, notably in a GQ cover story with girlfriend Kylie Jenner.
As Thomas Hobbs wrote in our review of the record, Travis Scott fully lives up to his potential on Astroworld. He expertly deployed guest artists like Stevie Wonder, Kid Cudi, and Drake, while also paying homage to underground Texas OGs like DJ Screw, and enlisting a diverse gamut of producers, from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to his right hand man Mike Dean.
And the merch? It does not disappoint. With everything from grinders to storage bins, Scott didn’t even need the bolstering of an OFF-White collab shirt, the collection towers over the competition on its own, like a gigantic steel roller coaster amongst merry-go-rounds. I mean, the merch was so fire that Nicki Minaj had some words about just how much Travis Scott sold, and how it certainly helped him sell digital copies of Astroworld (which were bundled with the merch, a common sales-boosting practice in 2018). Overall, La Flame delivered, and the fire is still going strong. - B
Overall score: 3.5/5
A$AP Rocky - TESTING
The anticipation surrounding Rocky’s latest may have only served to undercut its appeal, as TESTING stands as one of the most divisive releases of the year. We heralded it as an immediate triumph, yet just as many critics found the project to be lackluster, admonishing it for the very same qualities that others were heaping praise upon it for.
Time has done little to dull the glow for us; we still stan for this album, an immersive document that finds Rocky working with a huge host of collaborators and toying with all manner of genre conventions across its 16 tracks. We are also here for the merch, a line that serves dystopian sporty realness, as if anyone with a TESTING jacket is also an escapee from a high-security race-car research lab. However, my tastes are clearly quite the opposite from my colleague Max Grobe, who dubbed both the merch line and the album “forgettable,” saying the crash test dummy warning symbol screams “don’t wear this.” Many will still toss this album aside as Rocky’s monument to being uninspired, but it is undeniably one of the most intriguing things to hit us all summer. - J
Overall score: 3.8/5
Ariana Grande - Sweetener
When Ariana Grande dropped “no tears left to cry” in April, I was floored. While some may have expected more somber sonic stylings from the pop star after finding herself in the middle of tragedy with a bombing taking place at her Manchester concert in May 2017, Grande took a positive left turn. Whereas some of her previous output was Mariah Carey cosplay, the first single from Sweetener could not have been from anyone else.
The album’s announcement was made on Jimmy Fallon, where she also revealed a few track names - "R.E.M.”, “raindrops," “the light is coming,” and “God is a woman” - and performed a Kendrick Lamar cover. At first, there was nothing to write home about in terms of promo.
Little did we know, however, that Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson were probably starting to fall madly in love with each other at that very moment. For better or worse, their whirlwind romance became intertwined with the rollout of Grande’s fourth studio album, with stans of Grande and new 'Grandson' enthusiasts alike paying close attention to the duo's every move. With matching tattoos, a swift engagement, and a track named “pete” casually revealed on Twitter, there’s no denying their coupling added to the intrigue surrounding Grande’s new project.
And you know what? She delivered. Working with Pharrell on the bulk of Sweetener’s tracks, the album is a masterpiece, in my humble opinion. From an Imogen Heap cover to the Missy Elliott-featuring “borderline,” not a track is skipped when I queue up Sweetener.
As for the merchandise offerings, the whole thing is perfectly suited to her standom, and also happens to be rather on-trend. With a muted color palette save for tie-dyed pieces like a “God is a woman” mask or the lilac crewneck sweater, you can even cop a special edition fragrance if you want to smell as sweet as Ari. In all, I’d say this was an incredibly successful album on every level, and the fact that it debuted at no. 1 is a shock to no one. - B
Overall score: 4.3/5
Album of Summer 2018: Ariana Grande - Sweetener
What's your favorite album of summer 2018? Let us know in the comments below.
For more like this, check out our ranking of the best hip-hop merch of 2018.