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Remember when CDs came out on Wednesdays? You’d jump in the car after school and zoom over to Best Buy or Target, only to find that coveted NSYNC CD all sold out. That was just us? OK, well, blame Beyoncé, or blame the streaming platforms, but these days, more and more artists are taking their power back. From surprise releases to unconventional marketing tactics, REVOLT’s Year End Review continues with a look at the best albums that broke from the norm when it comes to the modern music industry.

A$AP Mob, Cozy Tapes, Vol. 2: Too Cozy

To launch their Cozy takeover, A$AP Mob did what your favorite rappers could only think of. They turned August into “AWGEST” and used that month to flood the scene with material. Each week culminated in the release an A$AP album. There was A$AP Twelvyy’s 12 debut and then there was Ferg’s star-studded Still Striving. But the creme de la creme arrived with Cozy Tapes, Vol. 2. Instead of doing the formulaic single drop, music video and repeat, they instead performed them for late night staples like Fallon and then when the visuals did arrive, they were bare, some distorted and all in all captivated viewers. This grassroots campaign directly touched the fans and proved the Mob are rap’s true peoples’ champs.

— Ralph Bristout

2 Chainz, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

Tity Boi made the world Think Pink. 2 Chainz didn’t just elevate himself lyrically on Pretty Girls Like Trap Music; the ATL swag king showed the masses just how deadly his marketing mind is. Not only did some of our favorite celeb beauties such as Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Erykah Badu add on to the Hairweave Killer’s hype machine for the LP’s popular weekly playlists on Spotify, but the real life Pink Trap House (with the matching pink car in front), like the one on the album cover, became an instant Hotlanta Landmark. Fans from across the globe came down south to experience it and take pictures to post on social media. The flix went viral and Chainz went on the road. The veteran MC had “Pretty Girls Like Music” themed parties at most of the major entertainment weekends prior to the album’s release and then he kept the momentum going with a tour. A tour where he performed most dates in a pimped out wheelchair due to a leg injury and had a “Trap Choir” to help hold him down.

Shaheem Reid

21 Savage x Offset x Metro, Without Warning

Taking a cue from the Joker’s philosophy, “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order,” Metro Boomin, 21 Savage, and Offset connected for the one-off project, Without Warning, that arrived just as the title suggests. The ten-track collection finds the trio striking fear into the hearts of those who oppose them, although, lyrically 21 and Offset duke it out for the position of the album’s primary emcee. While the rappers rap, Metro remains consistent as one of the best producers in today’s culture. To much of the 24-year-old producer’s credit, Without Warning is a cohesive effort that benefits greatly from his presence. Sure, “Ric Flair Drip” is the record that’s been unanimously voted as the album’s hottest, it’s 21’s bars on “Mad Stalkers” that highlights the pure disrespect that Without Warning offers, “Rims staggered, bad bitch I’ma bag her/ On my face, issa dagger/ Private flights, I’m a jet lagger/ Bitch you ain’t got no standards/ Where’s your manners?”

Rob Hansen

Brent Faiyaz, Sonder Son

Based on the earworm that is Sonder and, his own debut, Sonder SonBrent Faiyaz is going to find his way into the Best New Artist category at the 2019 Grammys. But before then, the buzz will have move past his niche market. The aforementioned projects were two undeniable releases this year, but its promotion was more word of mouth than widespread. But that’s no issue, because, after all, “Crew” initially debuted in 2016. So as a slow burn is expected, do know that this gifted singer’s heartfelt album is a promising snapshot of things to come. At 12 tracks, the record is held together by short interludes and, at times, moments you won’t typically expect from an R&B album. On “Nobody Cares,” he begins with the following: “Shit is deeper than Neiman Marcus or your Hollywood starlets/Underneath there’s niggas starving, impoverished / People don’t give no fucks, nigga / Trump don’t give a fuck/Your niggas don’t give a fuck / Your favorite artists don’t give a motherfucking fuck.” There’s nothing sing-songy about that one bit. Yet still, even with all its quirks, there’s a transparency that bleeds into the melodies thus making it one unskippable listen.

Ralph Bristout

Chris Brown, Heartbreak on a Full Moon

You’ve heard the jokes and seen the memes making light of the massive listening undertaking of Heartbreak on a Full Moon. A tracklist of 45 songs had people like, “I just got through season 1 of Chris Brown’s new album.” Definitely going through a few dozen songs in one sitting is time consuming, but nobody can front on the abundance of quality that C. Breezy brought to the forefront this past November on one project. Heartbreak isn’t just a masterpiece that had half a dozen records in heavy rotation at a time, but it was also a mastermind play that had all the songs streaming going towards the album’s overall sales. Brown went Gold in just a few days, Platinum in less than a month, and that’s not not to mention the unbelievable 39 other Gold and Platinum certifications he received in 2017 alone for an assortment of hit records released throughout his career.

Shaheem Reid

DJ Khaled, Grateful

Only DJ Khaled has the confidence to announce the title of his album with a full press conference, complete with star power like Diddy and Chance The Rapper by his side. But only he can back it up: “I’m The One” (with Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne) was his first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, “Wild Thoughts” (with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller) was inescapable, and “Shining” (with JAY-Z and Beyonce) was one of the hotter songs of the year as well. And Asahd, DJ Khaled’s son, is credited as the executive producer. Grateful, indeed.

William E. Ketchum III

N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies

In early November, the first taste of N.E.RD.’s latest album, NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES arrived seemingly out of nowhere in the form of “Lemon.” Only days after the release of the Rihanna-assisted single, the genre-altering band premiered their first full-length project in seven years in its entirety with a performance at ComplexCon. The album itself sees Pharrell, Chad Hugo and Shae Haley taking on sociopolitical issues, while continuing their tradition of pushing sonic and categorical boundaries. - Kai Acevedo