2018 moved fast, and our year end list reflects that, the most eclectic and representative array of music we’ve seen at These Days yet. The fast-food model of music consumption has never been more prevalent, so the feat of dropping a cohesive album that stops listeners in their tracks, shocking them into focus, and holds their attention not just for 40 minutes but for weeks and months at a time has never been more impressive. This year we as listeners have been blessed with some certified classics - music that fans will not only listen to, but debate and revere, for years to come. We’re just happy we got to be a part of it. And as lovers of Chicago music, how could you not be grateful? Here’s our top 10.
Delacreme 2
There was certainly no shortage of great music from Chicago artists this year, but there was one project I anticipated more than most. The release of Delecreme 2, Femdot’s follow up to his 2013 debut mixtape, marks a milestone moment in the young emcee’s life and career in music. Painting a very vivid picture with each verse, Femdot continues to showcase his storytelling prowess and lets his growing fanbase in on very personal moments of growth and introspection. Whether he’s celebrating his accomplishments, or struggling with the question of “what’s next?”, Femdot’s often complex,  but always honest approach to conveying those experiences to his listeners in a very digestible way has cemented his spot on this list.
Written by
Brent Butcher
Jean Deaux
KRASH wastes no time strapping you into the seatbelt and whipping you into a journey laced with upbeat climates, audio skit pit stops, and cruiseable melodies. The project is well-balanced with vibes of disco-funk, new and old-school hip hop, as well as classic and experimental r&b. Toting production from Saba, ThemPeople, Smino, ROMderful, A-Mac, as well as a heavy contribution from Phoelix, KRASH’s genres and tones, get thrown in a variety of directions in a short amount of time, but at a comfortable pace. Through a handful of bone-chillingly realistic-sounding skits, Jean Deaux provides doses of relatable imagery to the music. Creating the imagery displays Jean’s penmanship, which is better than ever. The further Jean takes you into the album, the more forms of writing and vocality she shows, to the point it’s hard to tell when she’s rapping or singing. Calling on drea the vibe dealer, Zero Fatigue’s Bari and Ravyn Lenae, and Kari Faux, Jean’s KRASH finds more voices to mix up the ride.

More than anything, Jean Deaux’s KRASH marks a milestone in her career, it represents getting over the bar she set for herself months ago when she decided to paint a new portrait for her fans to keep. With KRASH, Jean takes a leap into the next leg of her artistry, one of balance and perseverance that will no doubt carry over into 2019 in more ways than one.
Written by
Franky Dono
Still Trippin'
DJ Taye
DJ Taye brought us on a footwork tour through his life in Chicago with Still Trippin’. Everything from the cinematic album art to the bold midnight vision conveyed across 16 tracks made this project carry an air of importance. For the youngest member of Teklife it was a breakout album, garnering attention across the country with looks everywhere, from us at These Days, to Complex, to the New York Times. But more than anything, Still Trippin’ manifested two ideas - a love letter to footwork, the genre consistently breathing life into Chicago underground music, and an homage to the man who helped start it all - DJ Rashad. Rashad is gone, but the memory remains, and then some. Teklife is going harder than ever. L’s up. Still Trippin’.
Written by
Ray Mestad
How could we not include one of Chicago’s staple duo’s after the release they gave us in late August? Sonically engrossing (to say the least!), Ohmme’s 2018 debut album enthralls listeners with spunky guitar riffs, poetic lyricism, and free-spirited ideas. Attitude bellows across the entirety of  their 9 collective tracks - a result of the pair’s two years of focused writing. Whether it’s their demanding tone that accompanies tracks like “Water” or the reflective and resilient stance taken on “Sentient Beings”, Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham gave us their complete, creative selves on yet another one of their impressive projects that is Parts.
Written by
Carlos Castillo
G Herbo & Southside
Depending on when you were first introduced to Herbert Wright III’s music, you either know him as Lil Herb or G Herbo. Both names represent a different stage in his life and music career. Lil Herb is the raw, rambunctious teenager rapping his ass off over cold dDrill production. G Herbo is the more experienced, OG willing to take his time to paint heartbreaking images of remorse and his upbringing over soul samples. In 2018 though, we were all introduced to Swervo, G Herbo’s freewheeling alter ego. Teaming up with trap- producer extraordinaire Southside, Swervo straps the listener into a luxury sports vehicle and takes them on a high- speed adventure through freeway traffic. The album introduces itself with an introspective opening verse reflecting on life and mortality over a simple piano. Once the drums kick in at the 45- second -mark, though, it’s 0-60 in 2.5 seconds with guns blazing the rest of the way before eventually pumping the brakes towards to the project’s conclusion. By the end of it all, you’ll reminisce on the exhilarating thrill ride that was, and be eager to go on another.
Written by
Alejandro Hernandez
Sen Morimoto
Sweet harmonies fill a listener’s ears at the opening bars of Sen Morimoto’s Cannonball!, one of the shortest albums on our long-play year-end list. Sen enters behind, talk-singing, adlibbing, cooing and melodically rapping in more layers than a tray of filo. From such beauty we walk into a song that must be blasted to fully hear some of the vocals, which are trippily mixed. They swirl across the musical plane until replaced by eerie ambient vocals and polyglottic bars.

The following tracks tread an unseen line. Sen is inarguably a great musician, known to play keyboard and saxophone simultaneously in his live show. Most notably, at his performance with Nnamdi Ogbannaya at the Empty Bottle in November, Sen pulled it off in a forearm cast. It’s impossible to hate on drive of that measure, and 88Rising and our beloved Sooper Records have both been working hard to push an album that couldn’t be less pop if it tried. It feels purely of creative impulse and love for the craft, and behind it all Sen is tirelessly swinging an axe through genre walls, pausing only to toot out a catchy melody and wink at the camera, as if to ask, “Bro, do you even innovate?”
Written by
Sam Glaser
They say it takes five years to blow up overnight, and that was definitely the case with Grapetooth. A labor of love and the product of a close, years-long friendship (and one assumes many drunken nights) between Twin Peaks guitarist Clay Frankel and producer Chris Bailoni AKA Home-Sick, Grapetooth appeared this year as a fully-formed entity – booked to open for friend and collaborator Knox Fortune before ever formally releasing a track. So named because of their penchant for cheap red wines, Grapetooth are a band who don’t take themselves too seriously – but certainly take their influences seriously. Citing Yellow Magic Orchestra and sounding a lot like New Order, their self-titled debut offers up boozy slide -guitar sing-alongs, 80s-indebted synthy earworms, and some of the most fun we’ve had with music this year.
Written By
Kevin Shark
The sophomore slump is an easy pitfall, but Smino didn’t even come close with his 2018 follow up to the critically acclaimed Blkswn. NOIR is another big project, with 18 capital-letter tracks that carry the listener on a journey of Smino’s skills as a vocalist, taste in beat selection, and signature tongue-in-cheek humor that’s made his personality so infectious to the music world. Smino is self aware, with an album cover showing the TV watching Smino watching the TV, an almost perfect alignment with the cultural malaise and the position Smino finds himself in. The album is a firm declaration of Smino’s consistency and staying power, and while most of his fans will likely still prefer Blkswn, there’s sure to be many that advocate for NOIR as the better project, something time will only tell.
Written by
Ben Levine
Room 25
An album that almost never was from an artist that claims no name, Room 25 marks yet another remarkable body of work from hometown heroine Fatimah Warner. What the follow-up to Telefone had in store is something fans have pondered since the 2016 debut had time to settle in, but it’s clear no one thought more deeply on that than Warner herself as the question echos all the way into the opening words of the album. After a series of hypotheticals about what Room 25 could be, what the appropriate context is, and who it may represent, Noname set the story straight “…actually this one for me.”

That sentiment is one of the governing factors of Room 25 and perhaps the most identifiable change from our last time hearing from its narrator. As personal as her previous works were, Noname gives herself over to a new level of honesty over the 35 minute offering, and seems to let more of her whole self show. Setting down the necessarily careful tone that colored much of Telefone, Room 25 lets other aspects of her personality have a voice - including humor and pettiness - which helps to maintain lightheartedness after innocence lost  

As the project plays on, “Blaxploitation” and “Prayer Song” solidify that the self actualization established in the introduction would serve as yet another tool to further another major theme of her music: shining light on social injustice & crafting her perspective of the black experience.

To handle the responsibility of musically matching the mind and message behind Room 25, Noname enlists frequent collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Phoelix for executive production. Together, they brought in an impressive group of musicians to create the live instrumentation that set the tone of each of the project’s twists and turns, while and polishing things off with carefully selected features from their incredibly talented friend group.

With Room 25, Noname shares a clearer and more confident view of herself and her music, one that doesn’t beg the same questions as it looks to the future.
Written by
Eric Montanez
Care for Me
My first experience with Saba’s CARE FOR ME came at a listening party. Held just before the albums release in a space filled with friends, family, and collaborators – though, with Pivot Gang, what’s the difference? - we all donned headphones to listen to the project for the first time. Likely intended to keep unreleased tracks from leaking in the background of Instagram Stories, the headphones had the added effect of magnifying a key theme of the album – that even in a room full of friendly faces, we’re often left to process grief on our own.

And indeed, the best album of the year opens with the simple confession, “I’m so alone...” From there, Saba lays bare an oftentimes challenging gauntlet of complex emotions and self-reflections by turns deeply personal and universally relatable. The album deals primarily with trauma and loss – that of his cousin and integral Pivot member John Walt – but also paints a portrait of a young man grappling with his worst tendencies in love and friendship, with survivor’s guilt, loss of innocence, mental health, insecurity, racism, sexism, celebrity, and social media.

An album in the truest sense – CARE FOR ME begs to be listened to in order, and uses its few memorable features thoughtfully. The production duo of Dae Dae and Dauod lend gentleness and abrasiveness exactly where Saba’s words call for each respectively; and Saba unspools those words with an endless array of styles, vocal intonations, and rhyme patterns - the sum total of which add up to some of the most impressive and dexterous rapping this side of Kendrick Lamar.

Heartbreaking, breathtaking, and occasionally even funny, CARE FOR ME is the work of a fully-formed artist stepping into the national conversation. Though it’s taken Saba and Pivot Gang from the westside to Tiny Desks and sold-out opera houses halfway around the world, it somehow still feels like just the beginning for him.
Written by
Kevin Shark