music 2018

I’m sure we complained about how saturated we are with music every year going back decades. But what feels New is how contentious and volatile history can now seem, via the discursive transparency of social media.

The generalist critic has never felt more irrelevant, less in tune with what’s happening. Feels like former ‘generalist’ critics have retreated from even being aware of what’s happening, never mind incorporating that context for their readers. Instead, they celebrate the marginal and ideologically righteous (unless/until it turns out the artist isn’t all that righteous). I get the impulse, and often find myself reaching for work that’s obscure but interesting.

In another part of the critical internet, millions of YouTube views generated across the genre give any critic an imprimatur of tapping at the zeitgeist. This underlines a redundancy of critics-as-documentarians (*transcribes track titles with high YouTube counts for the record*) and suggests an increasing urgency for critics to carve out distinct political-aesthetic POVs. (And, for music journalists, the urgency to have a unique ‘beat.’) If your list is just a succession of popular rap songs (“x has more views than y”), what are you really contributing?

The critical base, then, feels polarized–playing it safe aesthetically by celebrating any type of regional rapper w buzz you think could end up w a mythic backstory, or playing it safe politically & completely ignoring the contradictory, complicated, problematic fandoms of rap’s audiences altogether. Music has always been for me (and I think for most people) a majorly social art form, and ignoring the context (or dismissing it as ‘buzz’ or ‘hype’) is a mistake; at the same time, being unable to stand up to the crowd & represent something true about your own experience (‘taste’ but also principles) is equally irresponsible. Interesting coverage exists, i think, inside this tension.

(The industry itself is even worse, of course; as rap takes up more & more of the streaming revenue, yet rarely has access to the pop charts…others have written about this more eloquently than I.)

For me, the most interesting music this year beneath the radar came from places like Memphis, Detroit, and Florida. Chicago had a strong year on the media-friendly side of things, although even then it seemed to come up short on year-end lists and the like, now that those sites seem more swamped by content than in previous years. (It’s a weird time when Saba gets Best New Music but doesn’t make Pitchfork’s best of the year, or made-for-TinyDesk act The Internet doesn’t make NPR’s.)

But I’m criticizing a game I’m no longer playing–outside of a stray Greedo interview & this Chief Keef piece, I haven’t published anything this year, my first major break from doing full time music writing since ~2011, and first break doing regular music writing since… 2005? idk. Career-wise, I’ve started doing consulting work behind the scenes, and as soon as you cross that bridge there are, obviously, conflicts with serious critical work. I’m sure most people who bothered clicking this link know I’m sincere (or stubborn) about my tastes, & not particularly interested in brainwashing people into liking something that’s Actually Bad, but in the event you stumble across the list & don’t know me already, I’m disclosing this to be transparent.

The last thing I’d want, though, is for someone to conflate my career choices with a disparagement of criticism as a medium. I certainly don’t think the art is any less useful or important than when I started doing it. (Can you even quit criticism? Once you start thinking that way it’s impossible to stop.) I love music criticism and always will and believe it’s more important than ever, that you need people who are incentivized to push at cross purposes with the profit motive & give you what’s real from an informed, thoughtful, POV that is wholly their own.

Best Albums 2018

Mr. Fingers Cerebral Hemispheres
Trouble Edgewood
Doja Cat Amala
Chief Keef Back from the Dead 3
The 1975 A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
Yves Tumor Safe in the Hands of Love
ZMoney Chiraq Mogul
Sun El Musician Africa to the World
Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
Lil Durk STTS3
Hailu Mergia Lala Belu
Sheck Wes Mudboy
Syclops Pink Eye
Roy Kinsie Blackie
Chris Crack Being Woke Ain’t Fun
Saba Care for Me
Skee Mask Compro
Don Toliver Donny Womack
Rico Nasty Nasty
Trippie Redd A Love Letter To You 3

Some songs not from 2018

Adriano Schiavo “Goodbye”
Maurice Fulton presents Jacky Sangster “You Give Me Good Feeling”
Poppie from TW feat. Chunky “Bankrolls”
Jose Gonzalez “Far Away”
Chris Rae “Thinking of You”
Kashif “Bed You Down”
Karen Ramirez “Looking For Love”
Brian Harden “Is it All from my Baby”
Ivy “This is the Day”
AMR Dee Huncho “Not My Brother”

51 songs from 2018

50. Nesta “Melody”
49. Bandland Zz “By Myself”
48. King Von “Crazy Story”
47. PG Ra “Show My Ass”
46. CalBoy “Envy Me”
45. Big Boogie “Got Me Fucked Up”
44. Black tha Don & Asa2Times “Bizerk”
43. Swervoo “I Want a Dirtbike”
42. Solo the Dweeb “Bussin”
41. The Internet “Roll (Burbank Funk)”

40. Jax Jones & Years&Years “Play”
39. Trinidadian Deep “Dear Owen”
38. Lil Peep “Life is Beautiful” (2018 version)
37. Husalah “Nyeusi”
36. NBA YoungBoy “Drawing Symbols”
35. FBG Duck “Slide”
34. Kacey Musgraves “Lonely Weekend”
33. Khalid feat. Ty Dolla $ign and 6lack “OTW”
32. CupcakKe – Crayons
31. Doja Cat “Roll With Us”
30. Playboi Carti “Mileage”

29. Mick Jenkins “Understood”
28. Don Toliver “Around”
27. Xxxtentacion “Sad!”
26. Ozuna & Ele A El Dominio “Balenciaga”
25. Kane Brown “Weekend”
24. Tokyo Jetz “No Problem”
23. Travis Scott “Stop Trying to Be God”
22. The 1975 “Give Yourself a Try”
21. Blueface “Deadlocs”
20. Juice WRLD “Lean Wit Me”

19. Rico Nasty “Trust Issues”
18. Sango feat. Smino “Khlorine”
17. Rod Wave “Heart 4 Sale”
16. TisaKorean “Dip”
15. Chance the Rapper “I Might Need Security”
14. Prince Kaybee ft Busiswa & TNS “Banomoya”
13. Dominic Fike “King of Everything”
12. Chief Keef “Black Proud”
11. Valee “VLone”

10. El Hitta “Aww Yea”
9. Kanye West & Lil Pump ft. Adele Givens “I Love It”
8. Hailu Mergia “Yefikir Engurguro”
7. Peggy Gou “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)”
6. Mozzy “In My Prayers” (original/YouTube beat)
5. Calvin Harris & Sam Smith “Promises”
4. Sun-EL Musician “Sonini”
3. Rich the Kid “Plug Walk”
2. Saint Jhn “I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night”
1. Sada Baby & Drego “Bloxk Party”

So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 20 – Rio Mac & ChaseTheMoney


Episode 20 celebrates the production team most known for propelling Valee into a GOOD Music deal through Def Jam: Rio Mac (Part 1, and interview with an exclusive, lengthy DJ mix) and Chase The Money (Part 2, interview only). Rio, has been producing for years and first broke onto the scene with King Louie’s “Too Cool” seven years ago, and has since developed a stark, spare style responsible for the sound of narrative-driven rappers like Ty Money as well. ChaseTheMoney, originally from St. Louis, has a style which gives a tight focus to a noisier, busier style.

Rio came through David’s living room for an interview with Charne and David, while Chill and David decamped to Chase’s downtown hideaway for a quick interview session….

Part 1: Rio Mac (interview + mix)

Part 2: ChaseTheMoney (interview)

So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 19 – D.Brooks Exclusive


D. Brooks is a producer/beatmaker whose work with West Side rapper Dreezy on her first mixtape Schizo helped launch her career (she’s now signed to Interscope and has since done songs with Gucci Mane and Kodak Black); his work with Baton rouge rapper NBA YoungBoy last year on single “Untouchable” has more than 100 million streams on YouTube with zero radio play, an incredible level of popularity for an underground record. It was recently awarded a platinum certification.

D. Brooks’ strength is to convey an emotional resonance that feels that much more genuine, that much more heartfelt, than the work of the next producer. Lately, he’s been working with the talented Englewood rapper KD Young Cocky; the two collaborated on one of David’s favorite songs last year, “Slippin.” The two are working on an upcoming project called Squad Goals, and this mix features some unreleased, exclusive tracks from the duo.

Part 1 is a mix by David & Charne.

Part 1: David & Charne

Part 2: D.Brooks

So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 18 – Vic Lloyd


Chicago hip-hop’s “Big Homie,” Vic Lloyd has been a rapper, DJ, mentor, streetwear designer (see his Sensei line) and store owner, and one of the city’s most important cultural figures. He’s worked with anyone who’s anyone in Chicago hip-hop at one time or another. Vic is a DJ with a fingerprint-unique identity, a sound driven by Chicago’s taste for classic soul reimagined for a contemporary context.

This episode was recorded December 17, 2017 at David’s place in Chicago, IL.

Part 1: David Drake and Charne Graham

Part 2: Vic Lloyd [On Audiomack cuz SoundCloud is tripping]


So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 17 – Tree


Cabrini Green’s own MC Tree G is a critically-acclaimed rapper-producer whose sound broke to some international recognition in 2012, an example of the wide-ranging sound of Chicago’s diverse hip-hop scene. Though there were label deals in the works, things don’t always work out–first among them, the desires of an artist and the expectations of showbiz. In a rare interview, Tree talked with David and Charne about his career, and played an exclusive mix of the music that made him who he is. Recorded last spring, this was originally intended as episode 8 but is being released out of order because we feel like it.

Part 1: David and Charne’s Mix


Part 2: Tree Interview & DJ Mix

So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 16 – DJ King Marie


Part 2 is an interview and mix by DJ King Marie. Catch DJ King Marie spinning coast to coast, but mostly in Chicago, where she has regularly destroys East Room with a trademark mix of hip hop and juke records. A Native Chicagoan, Christine Marie has also rocked residencies in New York and LA, and recently worked as tour DJ for Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids.

Part 1 is a mix by David and Charne!

Recorded August 13, 2017.

Part 1: David Drake & Charne Graham mix

Part 2: DJ King Marie Interview & Mix

So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 15 – Gemini Jones


So Many Shrimp Radio Episode 15 features the hardest working DJ in Chicago, the one & only DJ Gemini Jones. Gemini Jones is a widely respected DJ who Charne first discovered six years back, when she was spinning at the legendary Shrine nightclub. She’s known not just for being an adept pro DJ, but also for her eclectic sets which mix music new & old, and keeps things Chicago by incorporating juke music alongside hip-hop, house, dancehall, and R&B.

Part 2 features an interview with Gemini and a DJ mix.

Part 1 is a more-adventurous-than-usual mix by David Drake and Charne Graham.

Part 1 – David & Charne’s Mix


Part 2 – Gemini Jones’ Interview and Mix
[Download here; stream here. Soundcloud removed it because the industry is lame]