We’re halfway through the year, and the songs of 2018 have already brought the heat. Whether you’ve needed dirty sex jams, anthemic pop bangers, or high-octane rap tracks, artists like Rae Sremmurd, Ariana Grande, and Tyler, The Creator have all been there to deliver. There’s also been plenty of surprises to keep us going – funk has been brought from the likes of Anderson .Paak and The Internet, while a couple notable highlights from Lykke Li and John Mayer have served as major genre-switches.
Which is to say, the best songs of 2018 are an impressive bunch. Check out our list of our favorite tracks of the year (and stream them all in our playlist) below.
Aminé – “Campfire” ft. Injury Reserve
We knew Aminé was here to stay with his explosive single “REDMERCEDES” from last year. Kicking off with an actual drumroll, “Campfire” is further proof still, with a subtle trunk-rattling bass line and on-point bars from the L.A.-via-Portland rapper, who crafted yet another early 2000s-referencing ode to his prized vehicle. Aminé’s part alone is incredible, but the MVP of the track is without a doubt Injury Reserve, who comes through with a delivery so deadpan even Daria is taking notes.
Anderson .Paak – “Bubblin”
Here’s the thing about the old rags to riches story: yeah, it’s pretty great when you make it. But too few remember that once you’ve hit the top, everyone else will start coming for you. “Bubblin” is a track that deftly blends the euphoria of having the world at your fingertips with a biting, sarcastic look at all the trappings that come with it. Anderson .Paak casually reminds us that, in addition to being a world class musician, he can lay down hella bars; it’s one of his best songs to date.
Ariana Grande – “No Tears Left to Cry”
We probably wouldn’t have guessed that Ariana Grande would be included in our list of the best tracks of 2018 so far, but here goes. WHAT. A. BOP. Just when you think “No Tears Left to Cry” is going to be a typical heartfelt ballad with Grande’s opening vocals, she freaks it with some carefree breakbeats that sneak in. It’s a celebration of life – a hopeful tribute to the victims of the Manchester attack that the pop star has been grappling with for the past year. Grande’s voice effortlessly soars over the basically flawless Swedish pop production courtesy of Max Martin and Ilya. If this addictive single is any sort of indication of the rest of her upcoming album Sweetener, we’re going to be instantly hooked when it arrives in August.
A$AP Rocky – “Buck Shots”
It’s not the most accessible song on his new album, nor is it the most catchy, but “Buck Shots” is undoubtedly the most strikingly gorgeous piece of A$AP Rocky’s ambitious TESTING. Bringing his young protégés Playboi Carti and Smooky MarGielaa along for the ride is a nice personal touch of giving back to the next generation, but together the three tap into something much bigger and harder to define than anything so schmaltzy. Awash in a golden fantasia of synths, the trio reveal the aching melancholy that accompanies the dizzying heights of success.
Cardi B – “Get Up 10”
Cardi B put everyone in their place when she finally released Invasion of Privacy and completely owned 2018. On this standout track that opens the album, she narrates her rags to riches story by outlining how she managed to achieve success despite having all the odds against her. “Ain’t no runnin’ up on me, went from nothin’ to glory/ I ain’t tellin’ y’all to do it, I’m just tellin’ my story,” she spits. This Bronx rapper can drop bars for days, but every line hits hard because it comes straight from her heart.
The Carters – “APESHIT”
What a beat. Pharrell has added yet another jewel to his Vivienne Westwood-crown of excellent production with this jaw-dropping JAY & Bey collab. Dropped without warning (as Beyoncé does best), it’s a titanic reimagining of Top 40 trap, turning the genre’s most maximal form on its head and somehow making it sound bigger, opulent enough to soundtrack a visual tour of some of Western civilization’s most priceless works of art. Also on top form is the Queen herself, who out sings, out raps, and out one-liners just about everybody in the game in the span of four minutes. This, ladies and gentlemen, is art.
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
All eyes are on Donald Glover right now as he continues to pave his own path across industries. “This is America” aggressively marked the comeback of Childish Gambino and serves as the rapper’s most political song to date. In between all the uplifting choir chanting, Glover provides an unfiltered commentary on the real black experience in America with support from an aggressive arrangement of beats. It’s the wake-up call that we deserve.
Chynna – “$ (dough)”
Chynna was one of our favorite musical discoveries last year. Her music 2 die 2 EP caught us deep in the undertow of our feelings, and we thrived down there. With “$ (dough)”, the New York rapper’s flow manages to be hard as nails and wavy at the same time, and we can’t get enough of that blown-out bassline and sinister piano line.
cupcakKe – “Quiz”
cupcakKe finally, officially collabed with PC Music and we can’t get enough. After appearing on Charli XCX singles “Lipgloss” and “I Got It” produced by the London-hailing experimental pop production crew, the Chicago rapper fired out this no-holds-barred single at the end of April. As explosive as ever, cupcakKe spits bars about everything from telling thirsty men to drink Fiji water to taking her Uber driver to Popeye’s. Practically screaming over rapid-fire synth melodies, trap, and drill beats, cupcakKe continues to prove it’s only up from here.
Drake – “Nice for What”
The level of over-indulgence on display on Scorpion was almost too much to believe, even by Drake standards. And yet the 90-minute slog was not without its high points. If anything, we can be thankful the album produced “Nice for What,” one of the giddiest, feel-good, and – most importantly – infectiously danceable singles in Drizzy’s catalog. The lovely female-empowering visual is slightly offset by some of the MC’s revelations elsewhere on the record, but regardless of any discrepancies, get ready to hear this one at every major public function you attend this lifetime.
Hayley Kiyoko- “What I Need” ft. Kehlani
All hail the queer queens that we truly deserve! Hands down, “What I Need” is one of the best collaborations of all time. Seriously, this is what happens when two brilliant minds join forces for the greater good and execute a bold vision that breaks barriers. Kehlani has been working with a bunch of artists lately including Cardi B, Charlie Puth and KYLE, but the organic chemistry between her and Hayley on this single is incomparable. Fingers crossed that we get a joint project from the singers in the not-so-distant future. #20gayteen is officially the best year ever.
The Internet – “Come Over”
This has been a remarkable year for neo-funk projects, and few can better exemplify this output than The Internet, our generation’s preeminent funk outfit, and their hugely-anticipated album Hive Mind. Lead single “Roll (Burbank Funk)” brought the party, but follow-up “Come Over” is what’s kept us captivated. The twangy, Stevie-Wonder indebted guitars pierce a meandering groove while Syd’s breathy coo lulls you into a trance, enveloping you into their world of humid, poolside yearning.
Janelle Monáe – “Pynk” ft. Grimes
In the queer utopia Janelle Monáe attempts to create on her rich new album Dirty Computer, “Pynk” must surely be its national anthem. Full of more cheeky, peek-a-boo moments of vaginal references than you can count (though that pales to the literal peek-a-boo out of clitoris-pants in the instantly-iconic video), “Pynk” could easily fall into the territory of self-parody, but it is saved by its bleeding-heart humanism. Monáe, along with Grimes in an inspired pairing, get you to rally unconditionally for the triumph of the feminine spirit – is there a message that could possibly be more necessary in 2018? We think not.
Jay Rock – “King’s Dead” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake
There is so much to love about the clear highlight from Top Dawg Entertainment’s Black Panther soundtrack that it’s difficult to pick just a few moments, but we’ll try. Kendrick Lamar effortlessly delivering one of the year’s strongest hooks and Future sputtering the phrase “chitty chitty bang murder everythang” still manage to put smiles on our face, but it becomes more clear with each passing day why this song still bangs so hard and why it’s one for the books: Jay Rock is low key a beast, and the world has been sleeping on his raw talent for too long.
John Mayer – “New Light”
You know that John Mayer has the magic touch when you are converted into a hardcore fan after years of resistance within the span of three and a half minutes. This No I.D.-produced tune is a lighthearted bop that will surely make the playlist for your summer 2018 soundtrack. There’s honestly nothing better than Mayer shredding his guitar while begging to be in someone else’s company.
Jorja Smith – “Lost & Found”
It’s almost hard to believe that the rest of the world was sleeping on Jorja Smith’s irresistible R&B tunes until Drake tapped her for a few features on his 2017 project More Life. The English crooner’s talent is blinding on her debut album, Lost & Found, and the title track is an instant pleaser. “I never thought you would stay around/ It felt way too good to be real,” she sings. “I heard that good things don’t last a while.” The same could be said about her voice, but we have a feeling that Jorja will be around for a long time. After all, this is only the beginning.
Kali Uchis – “After the Storm” ft. Tyler, The Creator & Bootsy Collins
Kali Uchis’ sensual, honeyed tones find their match in none other than living legend Bootsy Collins, where the former’s sensual cooing is offset beautifully by the latter’s squelchy rivulets of groove. Tyler, The Creator is here too, offering a verse that, what it lacks in technical skill, more than makes up for in charisma. The full product is much like the deliriously zany music video; a cinematic cast of characters from a bizarro universe putting on an irresistibly funky show.
Kilo Kish – “Elegance”
Years of probing the background of high-profile rap projects have come to a head with the release of Mothe, an EP that solidified Kilo Kish’s place in today’s music scene. Any track from said EP could make this list, but “Elegance” is what hit us first and most profoundly ahead of its release. The industrial whine of synths, clanging of percussion and Kish’s breathy coos make for an electro love ballad that cuts with razor sharp precision.
Lykke Li – “deep end”
Continuing in the great tradition of musicians like Kendrick Lamar before her, Lykke Li makes a splash into the swimming pool canon with “deep end”. Coincidentally, T-Minus had his hand in producing both tracks. But nevermind her excellent choice of collaborators, this one goes incredibly hard. Those triplet trap beats and Lykke’s voice (oh, how we’ve missed it!) are pulling us into the deep end, and we like it. Her album so sad so sexy was one of 2018’s biggest comebacks so far, in our humble opinion.
Nicki Minaj – “Chun-Li”
It’s been four years since The Pinkprint, but it seems like Queen is going to be well worth the wait. As soon as you hear the saxophone on “Chun-Li”, you know it’s about to get real. Although she’s taking on a “don’t fuck with me” Street Fighter-persona rapping about being King Kong, wearing Fendi prints and Burberry trench coats we can’t afford, she brings it all back to earth with the very relatable bars “I need a Mai Tai” and “Gimme the password to the fuckin’ wifi.”
Pusha-T – “If You Know You Know”
Yes, his diss track “The Story of Adidon” is historic and will enshrine his memory even further, but when it comes to sheer, overwhelming musical moments, few had the immediate impact of this opening track to Pusha-T’s DAYTONA. In that first minute, we are reminded that Kanye West (despite offering his worst solo work to date) is still unmatched in his ear for production, that Pusha-T is delivering his best bars since at least Clipse’s Lord Willin’, and that together, the two of them hold a potent dynamic that is capable of producing pure, sonic magic.
Rae Sremmurd – “Powerglide” ft. Juicy J
Sampling Three 6 Mafia’s “Side to Side”, Rae Sremmurd cooked up a new classic with “Powerglide”, which successfully slides into place alongside their previous hits. With a delivery switching between visceral and vibey, with punchy lines like “slime green paint / peanut butter inside” and Swae Lee’s breathtaking falsetto, not one detail goes unnoticed. And we haven’t even mentioned Juicy J yet, who serves up another sublime guest verse and manages to fit in a largely-unnoticed line “R.I.P. Lil Peep, I gotta slow down on them Xans.”
Rejjie Snow – “Charlie Brown” ft. Anna of the North
There is a lot going on in this highlight from Rejjie Snow’s inspired debut. Mixing in the occasional whiff of a trap snare, plinking yacht-rock keyboards, loping lines of guitar, and blinding synths is quite a genre-cocktail, and that doesn’t even touch on the lyrics that cover everything from smuggling heroin to school to testicle-licking, closing it all out with a singalong ‘na na na’ chorus. Amazingly, it never feels like too much – in fact, it’s just enough.
SOPHIE – “Faceshopping”
SOPHIE delivered the goods once again, and by goods we mean cutting edge pop music that leaves us in disbelief. Directing an orchestra of blown-out drums, metallic clangs, and cyborg backing vocals that seem to disintegrate and reassemble from one second to the next, SOPHIE comments on the intersections of hyperreality, whether it’s plastic surgery or the timeline. “Faceshopping” also features unreal vocals by Cecile Beleave – from the heavenly bridge to the ASMR-inducing way she pops her p’s, we’re completely hooked.
Teyana Taylor – “WTP”
The oh-so short but oh-so sweet closer to Teyana Taylor’s debut album proper is the undisputed champ of the project. Kanye retains his signature production hallmarks and flavors it with enough ballroom and club stylings to make you jump out of your chair and start voguing. Special note must also be made of Mykki Blanco’s unreal guest spot, fully connecting the sonic threads of the track’s homage to underground queer culture. You would be hard pressed to find a better mantra in music this year than her instantly iconic command to “Save your tears, hunny/ you’re a motherfucking diva!”
Tommy Genesis – “Lucky”
Tommy Genesis is gearing up for the release of her debut full-length album and so far, every single that she has released from the project has been a hit. “Lucky” shows Tommy expanding her horizons as she dabbles with reggae tones, but her confident demeanor hasn’t wavered whatsoever as she spits all of her lines with swagger. We’ve also never heard a lyric more blunt than “look at my face / only thing more perfect is my pussy.”
Travis Scott – “STARGAZING”
ASTROWORLD as a whole serves as one of the year’s finest examples of a record that is excellently produced, from start to finish. Picking an individual track from such a concise whole is tricky, and yet something about the project’s opening track “STARGAZING” makes it seem worthy of further praise. Perfectly capturing the feeling of a derelict carnival, Scott doesn’t pull any punches in the opening seconds, knowing how crucial it is to immerse our ear fully in his world from the word ‘go.’
Troye Sivan – “Bloom”
In which the self-described “pop twink” from Down Under makes good on years of work and has truly grown (er, bloomed) into the popstar that was promised. Truly, Troye Sivan’s upcoming full-length and its sugar-rimmed explosion of a title track could not be better-named. With sparklingly crisp percussion straight out of an ’80s shopping mall and lyrics that are definitely not a metaphor for penetration of any kind, “Bloom” arrives fully-formed and ready to be your summer fling.
Tyler, The Creator – “OKRA”
Despite being described as a “throwaway song”, “OKRA” is casually a contender for the hardest rap track of the year. It’s certainly the hardest thing Tyler’s dropped in years; a far cry from the bubbly, funk-laced jams that populated last year’s glorious Flower Boy. And while that record is pretty much perfect, “OKRA” is a welcome reminder that, when he wants to, Tyler spits fire like no one else can.
Vince Staples – “Get the Fuck Off My Dick”
When Vince Staples announced a GoFundMe page to fund his early retirement, we weren’t entirely sure what was going on, but we were intrigued. Enter “Get the Fuck Off My Dick” – Staples’ first single since his extremely underrated 2017 album Big Fish Theory – and the best PR strategy we’ve seen in ages. Publicity stunts aside, it’s still a stand-out track; a new anthem that can be applied to many scenarios. Staples successfully claps back at critics with style, grace, and humor, and most importantly, it sounds dope – from the piano-led melody to the syncopated beats, we can’t see how this track isn’t one of the best of the year so far.
Keep up with the songs you need in your life in our Best Tracks of the Week series.
- Words: Jake Boyer, Bianca Giulione, Sydney Gore