Combine Culture: Favorite Hip-Hop Albums Of 2018

Sparky finishes up 2018 Combine Culture with his top 10 Hip-Hop albums of the year

The year 2018 has come to the end and before the new year starts kicking into high gear I am taking a look back at 2018.  These were my favorite albums of 2018 and without further ado here is the list:


Honorable Mention: Logic: “Bobby Tarantino II”/”YSIV”

Neither album would make the list for this year but I had to give Logic some props for two very good albums.  I enjoyed the entirety of “Bobby Tarantino II more as it was filled with just banger after banger that allowed Logic’s lyrical skills shine.  The reason why “YSIV” is on the list is that it also has some solid tracks but most importantly it has one of my favorite tracks of the year and best feature on any album this year as well on the track “Wu-Tang Forever”.  On the song “Wu-Tang Forever”  all of the living members of Wu-Tang Clan get their chance to shine on the song.  The track clocks in at eight minutes and eight seconds and with no chorus or hooks it just lets these talented rappers show their skills.

#10. Vince Staples “FM!”

On this album, Vince Staples continues to progress as not only a rapper but an artist in general.  On “FM!” Staples’ raps flow effortlessly on the beats and his subject matter while very gritty doesn’t feel like impending doom but instead, it feels like a beautiful struggle of living in an urban wasteland.  The production of “FM!” is done by Loudpvck and this is the first time they have done an album together but this album still feels familiar to the work Staples had done on the breakout album “Summertime 06”.

#9. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and The Alchemist “Fetti”

This was an awesome collaborative album but two solid MCs and producer The Alchemist.  This is the second time that this trio has worked together with the other being track “Scottie Pippen” on the record “Covert Coup”.  The album is impeccably produced where tracks weave from one track to the other seamlessly and have a very clean retro feel reminiscent of 90’s boom-bap style.  Both Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs are great MCs that work great together and their flows bounce off one another and feel extremely organic.

#8. Czarface and MF Doom “Czarface Meets Metal Face”

When I heard this album was coming I wasn’t just pumped I was elated.  MF Doom is a lesser known MC that hasn’t put out a full album since 2009 and his absence is wrapped in mystery.  Czarface is a rap trio of 7L, Esoteric and Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck.  The production for “Czarface Meets Metal Face” was done by Czarface and feels perfect in their discography.  The beats very dramatic and have a Saturday morning cartoon meets B-movie soundtrack feel.  The music is purposeful and foreboding at times to eccentric and almost zany.  The lyricism is off the wall with tons of pop culture references that span wrestling, TV, movies and even comics.

#7. Noname “Room 25”

This album truly took me by surprise.  Noname is a female MC that is tremendously talented and “Room 25” is her debut album and definitely shows off her skills.  Her lyrics are very introspective where she is not just finding her inner strength and beauty but her place in the world as well.  Her flow isn’t forceful but rather tender and sincere.  The production on “Room 25” only enhances Noname’s lyrics with smooth and soulful beats.

#6. Kids See Ghosts “Kids See Ghosts”

This was the album by the super duo Kid Cudi and Kanye West.  This album is very experimental but tremendously produce.  The blend of singing and rapping on “Kids See Ghosts” is stellar and shows off the talents of both artists beautifully.  The features on “Kids See Ghosts” are also awesome with Pusha T and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def lend their talents to a couple of tracks.

#5. Death Grips “Year Of The Snitch”

The album “Year Of The Snitch” is a sonic kick in the face.  The lyrics on this album aren’t the most important thing with a couple of tracks even being instrumentals.  What makes “Year Of The Snitch” so amazing is its musicianship.  When listening to this I was certain that every song had to have multiple samples considering how dense and layered every song is but to my surprise only 4 of the 13 songs even had samples.  The album as a whole is a crazy abstract hip-hop gumbo of metal, punk, rock and industrial music blended together.

#4. Earl Sweatshirt “Some Rap Songs”

I did a full album review of this album on this site a couple of weeks ago so I will keep this overview of “Some Rap Songs” short and sweet.  “Some Rap Songs” is an amazing record that may be minimalistic in production but still very grim and gloomy.  The songs don’t have any real hooks or choruses but the lyrics very introspective and deal with loss and depression.  Earl Sweatshirt crafted an album here that will not only be considered amazing now but could be this generation’s Madvillain “Madvillainy”.


#3. JPEGMAFIA “Veteran”

The album “Veteran” by JPEGMAFIA is a sonic tour de force for hip-hop.  It is an interesting mix of traditional rap and instrumentals.  Every song on “Veteran” feels unique from the previous one but still, everything fits harmoniously.  The tempo and instrumentation on “Veteran” are off-kilter and abstract but done in a way that doesn’t feel forceful.  Besides the production being unorthodox so are the lyrics.  Lyrically the album goes from sarcastic to angry to even vulnerable all in the same song at times.

#2. Royce Da 5’9″ “Book Of Ryan”

Royce Da 5’9″ may have decades in the rap game but “Book Of Ryan” is no doubt the best album of his career.  The album is extremely introspective with at times Royce Da 5’9″ even stating that he was making the album so that he could explain his life to his son.  The lyrics are not only personal but extremely dense and can go from vulnerable to very braggadocious and then back again flawlessly.  “Book Of Ryan” also has amazing features as well with heavy hitters like Eminem, J. Cole, and Pusha T just to name a few all on the album as well.

#1. Pusha T “Daytona”

This was my favorite album of the year and it hasn’t changed since the day it came out.  The production on “Daytona” by Kanye West is some of his most dark and foreboding since Yeezus in 2013.  The production is not just dark but it is also very precise and at times becomes very sparse to let Pusha T lyrics breathe.  Speaking of Pusha T, “Daytona” is one of his best albums lyrically where he balances the gritty with the bombastic.  This album also started probably the biggest rap beef of the year with the diss track “Infrared” that pitted the artist Drake up against Pusha T.



The Review of Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”

In the Christmas edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”

This week I decided to give a review to Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”.  I figured it would give you the reader time to check out the album before Christmas and potentially Christmas parties that may happen this weekend.  If you haven’t heard of rapper/producer Jonwayne that is completely understandable since most hip-hop fans aren’t familiar with him.  He is considered an underground rapper and definitely doesn’t get radio play.  The other thing that makes this album even more surprising is that Jonwayne is a very self-reflective artist that many would deem depressing and raw with his emotions which makes this record even more jarring.

This album is what is called a beat album where yes there are some lyrics and singing but they are sparse and far from a focal point.  “Yuletide Bangerz” like the rest of Jonwayne’s discography has songs that have very focused beat but a layered in a meticulous way and can be very sample heavy.  The samples in “Yuletide Bangerz” are either classic Christmas songs or from samples of dialog from famous Christmas movies and episodes of television.  The song “Sticky Bandits” is a layered track that takes parts from the movie “Home Alone” and weaves them smooth snare drum percussion groove that transforms a tired Christmas classic to a song that you can bob your head to.  Also in the album, the song “Tis The Season” samples the Muppets and creates a silly scat from a Muppet and transforms it into a fun song with a funky groove.

“Yuletide Bangerz” has already performed a couple of Christmas miracles and it isn’t even December 25th yet.  It sampled the dreadfully annoying song “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and actually made a cool song by adding a spaced-out synth groove with additional percussion elements to it.  The second Christmas miracle is using dialog from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Jingle All The Way” in an artistic way which is something that no one on earth thought could happen.  Other very recognizable samples on this record are by Christmas heavy hitters like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and yes even Mariah Carey.

For the most part, this is a very fun that will not just catch hip-hop heads but fans of Christmas music off guard with not only the quality of the album but the reverential treatment that the music and dialog samples are given.  This album is perfect for most Christmas parties as long as there aren’t any small children just because of the samples from National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation have some salty language.  I am still flabbergasted by this but this does for Christmas albums what J Dilla’s “Donuts” did for hip-hop.  It shows not just a respect for the samples and music being used but expands the potential for the genre of music.

*Writer’s Note* This album isn’t available on most streaming apps but can be found on the bandcamp app.



The Review Of Ice Cube’s “Everythang’s Corrupt”

In his latest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews Ice Cube’s newest album “Everythang’s Corrupt”

When listening to Ice Cube’s new album “Everythang’s Corrupt” I couldn’t help but think that Ice Cube has turned into the hip-hop equivalent of the aging rock star and how he fits into Sick Boy’s “Unifying Theory Of Life” from the movie “Trainspotting” (careful clip isn’t safe for work, but is available down below).  If you can’t watch the clip I will paraphrase it, with artists they have a strong peak and then once they are beyond their peak they are never really as good and everything else they do after their peak is hot garbage.  Well, that is what “Everythang’s Corrupt” is.

There are many problems with “Everythang’s Corrupt” by Ice Cube the first is probably Ice Cube himself.  I do believe that what Ice Cube is saying he feels and has experienced but it seems like he is trying to force that feeling.  In Ice Cube’s work with N.W.A. and his first four solo albums, he had a raw intensity and a menacing experience.  Now it doesn’t have the same fervor and the lyrics come across as contrived.  The track “Still In The Kitchen” perfectly encapsulates this where Ice Cube raps about still working hard and still having that same anger and drive.  In this and most of the tracks, he just sounds like he was obligated to rap like that.

The production of Ice Cube’s “Everythang’s Corrupt” is another factor that lead to my dislike of the album.  The simplistic but theatrical beats have been what Cube has been using since “War And Peace Volume 1” and that was 20 years ago.  The thing I don’t understand is when many artists get older they experiment and sometimes the results are poor Cube went the other way and just thought I like this one sound and won’t change.

There were some bright spots on “Everythang’s Corrupt” but they were very hard to find.  The song “Ain’t Got No Haters” is a song that evokes a lot of nostalgia and feels very reminiscent of the “Lethal Injection” period of Ice Cube’s career and felt like a slight breathe of fresh air in comparison to the rest of the stale production.  Also the track “The New Funkadelic” was an enjoyable song that had a nice bounce and lighter feel.  The last good track on the album was “Good Cop Bad Cop” but that was a song on the reissue of Ice Cube’s legendary record “Death Certificate” from two years ago.

If you have never heard of Ice Cube I would recommend the first N.W.A. album or the first four Ice Cube solo records.  That’s where Cube was at his best and really made listeners feel his emotion and thoughts.  Now Ice Cube still has the same thoughts but hasn’t evolved the way he delivers them and it just became derivative of his own work.  I would tell readers to check out the songs I mentioned that were bright spots and skip the rest.

I do have a note for readers.  The rest of the year is very sparse with upcoming album releases so I will be reviewing stuff from this week’s release and last week.  I apologize for this but I can’t control the music industry.



*Photo by Adam Bielawski





The Review Of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs”

Sparky’s newest review on Combine Culture is “Some Rap Songs” by Earl Sweatshirt

The album I review this week is a departure from the album I reviewed last week.  Both albums may be hip-hop albums but are very much diametrically opposed.  The album last week “Oxnard” by Anderson .Paak was very much a musical tour through Southern California this week’s album Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs” is a stripped-down no-nonsense view into Earl Sweatshirt’s psyche.

“Some Rap Songs” isn’t going to wow people with the musicality of this very raw and gloomy album.  In fact, none of the songs have a real hook or chorus to grab the listener.  This album also won’t hold your hand and make you feel comfortable.  “Some Rap Songs” has extremely somber low key musical production that was mostly produced by Earl Sweatshirt himself.  With nine of the fifteen tracks with samples from old blues and jazz songs that were slowed down and dirtied up to mimic the very downtrodden introspective rhyming on “Some Rap Songs”.

The entirety of Earl Sweatshirt’s discography is very stripped down with the artist preferring to let his rhyming and emotions do the work.  “Some Rap Songs” is no different.  All but two tracks on “Some Rap Songs” are under two minutes long.  With the way that Earl Sweatshirt constructs songs as the listener, you can tell that he something to say and isn’t beating around the bush.  “Some Rap Songs” is a much more self-reflective album than most hip-hop albums and as whole tracks feel more like diary entries than actual songs.

This album isn’t without its potential hits.  The track “NOWHERE2GO” is likely to be the song that will propel “Some Rap Songs” up the charts and on to playlists.  The track with its relaxed beat and very matter of fact rhyming make it easier to listen to than many of the tracks but also still fit in with the rest of the songs on “Some Rap Songs”.  Another track that really stood out for me was the song “Eclipse”.  The track also had no hook or chorus to speak of but the rhyming was soul-searching and with the chime loop in the beat of the song just grabs you and refuses to let go.

As a whole, I enjoyed “Some Rap Songs”.  It was a no-frills deep dive into the mind of Earl Sweatshirt.  It had a very definitive sense of pace and direction.  When listening to “Some Rap Songs” I had no question what the artist was trying to achieve and where he wanted me the listener to go.  Many musicians struggle to get to the point and tell their story.  Earl Sweatshirt on his album “Some Rap Songs’ shows that is definitely not a problem for him.


Photo by Eli Watson



The Review Of Anderson .Paak “Oxnard”

Sparky reviews new album “Oxnard” by Anderson .Paak in his latest edition of Combine Culture

When listening to the album “Oxnard”by Anderson.Paak, I kept on thinking of two things.  The first was this album feels very new and old at the same time.  The other was that this is an extremely funky album.  Anderson .Paak’s “Oxnard” is a very original but also would feel totally at home during the West Coast rap scene from the early 1990s.

“Oxnard” is an album that takes its roots in the funk era of the late 60s early 70s.  The first two tracks of “Oxnard” start out a little slower and more soulful but the moment track three starts you know that this is as much of a funk album as it is a hip-hop album.  In general, the whole album feels like it had to have the blessing of Bootsy Collins before it went to print because the vast majority of tracks on “Oxnard” have this bass-line groove that is infectious.

Once I started digging further into the album the feelings that I had about the album made more sense.  The legendary producer Dr. Dre had helped produce four of the fourteen tracks on “Oxnard”.  Dr. Dre is very famously known for bringing more funk to hip-hop.  Anderson .Paak was also heavily featured on Dr. Dre’s “Compton” album from 2015 and “Oxnard” is distributed by Dre’s record label Aftermath so the synergy between the two artists is definitely prevalent.

Anderson .Paak’s “Oxnard” leans on the musicianship of Paak and the other producers instead of samples like other hip-hop albums.  This isn’t a good or bad thing as the album does have a wonderful flow from one track to another which makes for a great listen from beginning to end.  The one thing that not using samples is that the album doesn’t feel as layered as some hip-hop albums because when using samples artists take the beat and then add layers to the sampled song to make it something wholly unique onto itself.

There are a few features on “Oxnard” but Anderson .Paak doesn’t rely on them for the album.  The first feature is on the third track “Tints” which has Kendrick Lamar bringing his incredible flow to punch up the song and gives it the feel of a hit.  Pusha T appears on the ninth track of the album Brother’s Keeper and as usual, annihilates the song and outshines Anderson .Paak.  Some other MC’s that also have features on the album are J. Cole, Q-Tip, and Snoop Dogg with the song that Snoop Dogg was on titled “Anywhere” being one of my favorites from the whole album.

If you are a fan of the 90’s era West Coast rap scene run and listen to this album because you will truly enjoy it.  Being a child of the ’80s and early ’90s this not just felt nostalgic but also felt like the next evolution of that time period.   If this era of music isn’t something you enjoy this may not be the album for you.  I thoroughly liked “Oxnard” and would recommend it and think it is one of the better rap albums of the year.




*Photo by The Come Up Show


“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Review

In the inaugural edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

This is my first of what I hope will be a weekly feature for the Combine.  We are calling it “Combine Culture”, it will be just a pop culture kind of catch-all article.  Some weeks it will be an album review for a record that I am excited about or other weeks it could be a movie or TV show that really piques my curiosity but it will be a non-sports related topic that you can talk about with others and not just be the sports guy in every public situation.  This week it is a review on the movie “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by legendary directors Joel and Ethan Coen or as they are commonly known as the “Coen Brothers” that was just released on Netflix this Friday.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was a masterfully made anthology movie that is a work of art in the truest sense of the term.  The film is made up of six individual and very different stories that display the many unique aspects of life in the Old West.  Each of the six stories in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” feels very genuine with the endings being very natural and earned.

The six-story segments in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” each have there own tone and sense of purpose.  Some of them are very dark which make the ones that have a brighter or even roguish ending seem all the more needed to bring a sense of levity to the film.  I imagine some people will view this movie in just the segments they enjoy the most with each story in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” feeling very different from one another.

Also a whole this allows the directing duo of the Joel and Ethan Cohen make a film that not only runs the gambit of human emotions but make the viewer feel that roller coaster along the way.  The movie begins with the titular story “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” a very vibrant send up to old Roy Rogers films but has a very violent undertone that accentuates its silly fourth wall breaking dialogue and almost animated like style and tone. It isn’t a sign of things to come, though as other stories in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” can be extremely dark and very somber even empty like the third story “Meal Ticket” which starred Liam Neeson who acted very well in the movie.

Also in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” many actors performed exceptionally well.  In the second story “Near Algodones” James Franco played a cowboy that has a very rough story but does so in a very understated way that helped the story.  Many actors really shined in this movie from character actors Stephen Root, Brendan Gleason and many more to even Tyne Daly who played Lacy in  80’s TV show “Cagney and Lacy”.

The three performances that truly shined in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” were Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs who plays a charming and sly character with very mischievous disposition.  The best female performance was by Zoe Kazan who had played the character Alice Longabaugh in the story “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in such a manner that was soft and subtle that many actresses would have made the character seem cliched.  But the breakout performance that stole the movie for me was by musician Tom Waits as the prospector in the story of “All Gold Canyon”.  In “All Gold Canyon” he emotes determination, triumph, and terror all deftly that would have been difficult even for the best thespians.

The directors Joel and Ethan Coen also bring an amazing visual tone to the movie “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”.  With the story “All Gold Canyon” having enthralling landscape shots to the to the vibrant “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”  story and even the dark and foreboding “Meal Ticket” story.  All of the stories in the movie “The Ballad of  Buster Scruggs” felt beautiful and unique on to themselves.

Has a whole the movie was great and I would highly recommend “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”.  it was a pleasure to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie doesn’t garner Oscar nominations as it was released the same day to a very small amount of theaters as it was released to  Netflix.  While I did enjoy this movie immensely as it is very much the art house passion project that the Coen brothers were aiming for.  This may intrigue some but it may put off others.