As another year draws to a close, before we begin to look ahead to what the new year might bring, we’ve been taking the time to look back at the bangers that got us moving, shaking and skanking throughout 2018. Whether it’s an infectious bassline, an ability to conjure a sense of ominous dread, or just sheer lyrical mastery, these are the tracks that we’ve had to reload time and time again throughout the year. Naturally we’ll keep bumping them long in to 2019 and beyond but in the meantime let’s look back and reflect on our favourite tracks from this year. In no particular order, here we go…
Ocean Wisdom – Burning a Bridge
Ocean Wisdom has been killing the UK hip hop game for a good few years now, but 2018 was the year a wider audience finally took notice, aided by some high profile collabs with the likes of Method Man and Dizzee Rascal on his sophomore album Wizville. Packed with bangers, ‘Burning a Bridge’ is the one that makes the cut for me purely because it’s the track I’ve come back to the most. It’s a song on which Ocean Wisdom at points adopts a Migos-esque mumble rap flow without compromising any of intricate lyricism, cos we “wouldn’t like that, wouldn’t be Ocean”, all over a laidback looped guitar riff on a beat produced by Kofi. Wisdom may be criticised for a lack of lyrical content at times, but there’s nothing more sonically appealing than a rapper spitfiring multisyllabic rhymes over a catchy beat, and here Wizzy shows how he’s perfected the art.
Bugzy Malone – Die By The Gun
From the personal story of his come-up to his numerous acts of generosity in his home city of Manchester, Bugzy Malone is one of the most inspiring artists out there. I was very gassed for him to release his debut album with such success this year and off the back of its overall quality I had to put a track in this list. Whilst there were many contenders, Die by the Gun makes it for me because of how successfully Bugzy combined social commentary, story-telling and listenability into a 4 minute package, no mean-feat at all. Lamenting how ‘the hood’s an addiction’ over a mystic flute beat, he tells the story of a guy making his name in the hood, culminating in a tragic ending. A masterpiece of a track on a masterpiece of an album, 2018 was a huge year for Bugzy, and well-deserved.
Dizzee Rascal – Don’t Gas Me
Whilst 2017’s Raskit marked an impressive return to form from an MC who many thought was washed, it was at times a difficult listen due to the anger and resentment that the Grime legend transmitted through the music. That’s why it was such a pleasure to hear the Raskit man drop into the first lyric of his new EP with the bar “Feel so good I might rock my sliders”. Don’t Gas Me EP and its title track are in many ways the antithesis of Raskit, a collection of tracks made for the love of the music by a man with nothing more to prove after silencing his haters with last year’s album. The effect is magnificent, Don’t Gas Me is a track that’ll make you leap out of bed with a fat grin on your face as the stonking 2-step beat is paired with irreverent, rejuvenated Dizzie lyricism. Infectious energy and repeatable lyrics make it a track to come back to whenever you need a little something to boost your mood and it has certainly made me buss many a mid-stride skank in public cos I just “feel so good I might try a bit of lamping” or indeed “a bit of camping”.
Egoless – Empire of Dirt
Every year there seems to be one dubstep track that reaches an almost mythical level of hype. It tends to start with one night, you’re in the dance doing your ting when a certain selecta drops a certain track and your ears prick up, curiosity piqued. You look around you, everyone is wearing the same expression: eyes wide, gun fingers frozen mid-skank, bass face contorted into a look of confusion – ‘Woi! What’s this?’, the track drops, mayhem ensues and the next day the internet is abuzz with one request ‘someone find me this riddim’. Over the following weeks and months anxiety ramps up, every rave is fraught as you wonder with each new selecta, ‘will he play the track?’. Finally, after months of waiting and hearing it at a handful of raves the official release is announced, people get their hands on it and you’re unable to escape the sounds of the glorious riddim. This is what happened with Empire of Dirt, in much the same way as Sir Hiss’s magnificent Danny Uzi Vert, which we were finally officially blessed with in December 2017. Bolstered by the impressive B-side of ‘We Grow Fearful, a Stonker of a steppa riddim in its own right and the urgent, anxious ‘Avet’, Empire of Dirt and its cacophony of strings, bass and the wonderfully airy flute never failed to gas up a rave in 2018 and no matter how many times we heard it, we couldn’t get enough.
Octavian ft. Krimbo – Sleep
A Drake co-sign can certainly be a welcome boost to a young artist’s career, but not everyone who gets one can capitalise on the hype successfully. But not everyone is Octavian and he most certainly has. There was a buzz around him in January after Drake posted a video of him singing 2017’s ‘Party Here’, which over the year the rapper has ignited into a sonic boom as the South East London rapper has gone from strength to strength. This culminated with the September release of his ‘Spaceman’ mixtape a rapid-fire assembly of eclectic tracks which captured the artist’s hit-making ability. Very few artists have mastered the mixture of musical integrity and radio friendliness, but it’s something Octavian fulfils with ease. For me ‘Sleep’ is the most impressive incarnation of this, recruiting Krimbo he creates a kind of pseudo-drill track, with all the grittiness you’d expect from the verse paired with a jubilant sing-song hook. It’s a combination that sounds incongruous but the JRick production ties it together into the perfect package, and the trademark Octavian beatswitch feels like a breath of fresh air each and every time you hear it. As the track clocks in at just 2:47, it always leaves me wanting more.
Cadet & Deno Driz – Advice
A young g who broke through and an artist who’s finally getting the recognition he deserves after years in the game, 2018 was a mad year for both of the guys on this track. Both of them had a slew of impressive releases this year, as well as appearances in Rapman’s viral Shiro’s story series, but this linkup takes the cake. It’s not always easy converting insta freestyles into hot tunes (think my yé is different) but these guys did it to full effect, racking up 14 million views on the official version of advice. Not only is it a banging track but it pulls off humour in a way that few genuinely good songs manage “I ain’t tryna be like youuuu (why not bro?) / I heard your closure tuuunnne”. Hopefully Deno will continue to reject Cadet’s gyallist manoeuvres and focus on bringing us some more heat in 2019, because at the tender age of 16 the potential is fully mad.
DE-TU – Sippin’
White Peach continued to go from strength to strength in 2018 with a large array of impressive releases. Sippin was actually a B-side on WPR033 (Koshi being the A-side track) but for me it was the best of the release. Great vocal tracks are something of a rarity within dubstep; dubplates and VIPs aside, vocals rarely make up a core component of a riddim in a genre dominated by resounding basslines and unpredictable breakbeats. Here once again though, the exception proves the rule, with original vocals laid down by one of the DE-TU duo marrying perfectly with the progressively darker production. A satisfying step to the rhythm, wubs in all the right places and restrained yet satisfying drops make this a near-perfect dubstep track
Skepta & Wizkid – Energy
Summer, with its long days, shining sun and carnival vibe, often spawns the waviest tunes and this is no exception. Wizkid and Skepta epitomise the laidback summer vibe on this number, with its syncopated drum rhythm and mellow piano chords providing a silky backdrop to some laidback Skepta bars all topped off with a butter smooth Wizkid hook. The video adds another level to the whole thing, showcasing Nigeria’s natural beauty and transporting the viewer to their happiest place, where the bad energy is far far away.
Dave – Hangman
There aren’t enough superlatives in the world for me to talk about just how highly I rate Dave. Sometimes it can be annoying when an artist you love blows up, for any number of reasons from tickets to release dates, but that could never be the case with him because he deserves every bit of success he gets, the guy’s nuts. Artistry, musicality, lyricism and charisma are qualities that Dave literally oozes and although he’s only released two tracks this year, both of them could be on this list. Whilst Fredo collaboration ‘Funky Friday’ was undoubtedly the bigger hit, ‘Hangman’ for me was the more important. One of the reasons I love Dave so much is that he has an ability to articulate things that I’ve felt and thought in ways that I could never manage, and he makes it sound good in the process. On Hangman he wears his heart on his sleeve as he tackles London’s murders and his own thoughts on it (and tweets about it), dealing with fame, haters and more. He delivers his content not only with unflinching honesty but some of the smartest wordplay and slickest similes of anyone rapping today, I can’t wait to see what he’s got for us in 2019.
And there you have it, my top 10 tracks. There are certainly plenty more that I considered putting in but just missed out – let us know what you think we’ve missed out in the comments!