Albums of the Decade

From hip-hop to indie rock, here are the decade defining albums of the 2010s.

Kanye+West+performing+on+the+Saint+Pablo+Tour+at+TD+Garden+in+Boston%2C+MA.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Kanye West performing on the Saint Pablo Tour at TD Garden in Boston, MA.

Joe Eckstein, Contributor

As said by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “music is the universal language of all mankind.” Those words were first uttered in the 19th century still holds weight in the modern-day. Looking back at the past 10 years, music has been more than just a form of entertainment. It’s an expression. It’s a platform. It’s a movement. Beyond the production and vocals, there’s a message behind almost every track. Whether it be a story or a cry for help, we have seen major growth in both genres and artists. We saw the rise of hip-hop emerge as the most consumed genre in the world. But there were many impressive projects beyond rap that left me and other music fans wanting more. Here are my picks for the best albums of the 2010s.

Beach Fossils- Clash the Truth

With “Clash the Truth,” New York indie rock group Beach Fossils brought back the nostalgic sounds of the punk-rock movement from the 70s/80s and modernized it. With a sort of dreaminess about it, the album acts as a simple and relaxing listen through its 35-minute run time. On “Sleep Apnea,” we see a change of pace that fully embraces the aforementioned dreamy style with heavy subject matter. Nearly seven years later and “Clash the Truth” acts as a benchmark for what indie albums should strive to be.

Billie Eilish- WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

At only 17 years of age, California singer-songwriter Billie Eilish already has a firm grasp on the pop industry. While many might write her off for her quirks, you cannot deny her technical abilities. On, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?,” she takes said quirks and uses them to her advantage. Compared to other pop albums of the decade, this project is a standout in the best way possible. With the track “bad guy,” Eilish went all the way to the top of the charts with a blend of electropop and alternative R&B.

BROCKHAMPTON- SATURATION

In the span of less than a year, the self-proclaimed “best boyband since One Direction,” California based group BROCKHAMPTON put out three full-length albums. The SATURATION trilogy was a great blend of writing, production, and diversity, with each member bringing something different to the table. Any of the three projects could have found a place on this list, but the first remains the most groundbreaking. With the single “GOLD,” group leader Kevin Abstract delivers one of the catchiest hooks of the decade with, “Keep a gold chain on my neck/ Fly as a jet/ Boy better treat with me respect,” over an even catchier instrumental.

Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!”

From comedian to actor to rapper to writer, Donald Glover, better known as Childish Gambino, might very well be the most interesting man in the world. As someone who can do it all, I always felt his music lacked behind the other things he was involved in. Many of his albums struggled to stay consistent for their run times, with only a few tracks standing out. Glover then shocked fans by switching from hip-hop to a soul-funk album. “Awaken, My Love!,” may be different in the modern era, especially from a mainstream artist. But it works. Glover was never meant to be a rapper. The man is beyond talented, and this project furthers that narrative. On his hit track “Redbone,” we hear a nostalgic funky instrumental combined with Glover’s impressive falsetto.

Daft Punk- Random Access Memories

It feels like just yesterday hearing “Get Lucky” being played on every radio station. As one of the best pop songs of the decade, Daft Punk was able to return back to the music industry with such elegance. “Random Access Memories” feels like a synth-fused opera that only the French duo could pull off. Blending so many genres with their atypical electronic style makes for a creative piece of work that propelled Daft Punk back among the upper echelon of artists. As mentioned before, “Get Lucky” remains one of my favorite chart-toppers of the 2010s, with great vocals from Pharell Williams, and the head-nodding beat crafted by the two masked men.

Denzel Curry- TA1300

As one of the pioneers for the South Florida Soundcloud rap scene, Denzel Curry has come along way since his days in Carol City. After his track “Ultimate” went viral from memes, Curry’s notoriety in the game continued to grow. With one of the best years for hip-hop in 2018, Curry was a key contributor to that claim with “TA1300.” The three-act album showed Curry’s growth as an artist, while still showcasing his talent as a writer. Curry’s versatility is key, as only he can go from a trap banger like “SUPER SAIYAN SUPERMAN,” and talk about the darker side of the music industry on “CLOUT COBAIN.”

Earl Sweatshirt- Some Rap Songs

“Some Rap Songs” might be the epitome of unexpected from an artist. But that just fits the M.O. for Earl Sweatshirt. After about a three-year hiatus since his last release in 2015, Earl returned to hip-hop with his first effort in the experimental side of the genre. With abrasiveness and abruptness, “Some Rap Songs” is not for the casual fans listening. However, listening to it for what it is, you realize how creative the project truly is. Earl as usual puts on a show with his lyricism and wordplay over great lo-fi production. “The Mint” remains one of Earl’s all-time best tracks, with the hard-hitting piano matching well with the rapper’s somber themes.

Father John Misty- Pure Comedy

It is safe to say that Josh Tillman, better known as Father John Misty, has a huge distrust of America. More specifically, the government. What initially started out as a rant at a concert, Tillman turned his soapbox moment into not only an incredible track but an even better album. Talking about the revolution, virtual reality, and “the comedy of man,” nothing is too taboo for Tillman to discuss. Combine that his incredible songwriting and production, you get a beautifully mixed project detailing the current state of our country. On “Total Entertainment Forever,” Tillman questions the use of technology in the modern era, and how it will be the end of us all. The mix of instruments makes for a song where the lyrics don’t match the beat.

Frank Ocean- Blonde

It had been a while since we had heard from Frank Ocean. Four years pretty much. With his 2012 release of “Channel ORANGE,” the Odd Future member solidify his place as one of the best young stars in music. And then he vanished. For years fans were waiting for something else. Then it came. “Blonde” is beyond beautiful. We could have waited another four years and it would have been worth it. From the deeply-emotional lyrics to amazing production value, Frank lived up to the expectations and then some. “Pink + White” remains as one of my favorite tracks from the artist, with his as usual impressive vocal performance, and soft and relaxing piano instrumental supporting it.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib- Bandana

It was a toss-up between “Bandana” and “Pinata” for which Freddie Gibbs & Madlib album to put on this list. I decided with the former, but that’s no knock against the latter. “Bandana” is hip-hop at its purest. Freddie brings the lyrics and Madlib supplies the beats to make what feels like a rap equivalent of Jordan and Pippen. Madlib’s production and sampling are stellar as always, and Gibbs’s brash voice goes well over the soulful production. “Education” has Gibbs go against Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Black Thought for the best verse over and soft piano and chorus in the background.

JAY-Z- 4:44

For years, JAY-Z has been arguably the biggest name in hip-hop, and even music in general. After his rise in the 90s, Shawn Carter didn’t stop there, and since then has become one of the most successful African-American musicians ever. With “4:44,” we see a more vulnerable person than we in prior efforts. Following the scandal between him and wife Beyonce Knowles, Carter opens up to the fans and this is our first look inside the rapper’s mind. Whether it be issuing a personal apology to Beyonce on the self-titled track, to advising fellow African-Americans on “The Story of O.J.,” this side of JAY-Z is as good as he has ever been.

JPEGMAFIA- All My Heroes Are Cornballs

If I was forced to pick a song that best describes Maryland rapper JPEGMAFIA the best, I would pick the opening track off of “All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” The title alone of “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” showcases that isn’t your typical rapper. As an experimental artist, the man better known as Peggy by fans is always pushing the boundaries. As someone who writes, produces and mixes everything himself,  Peggy’s most recent effort sees him progress to a more melodic approach for his music but doesn’t forget about his roots of abrasiveness on his 2018 record, “Veteran.”

Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

September 13, 2009. The day Kanye West became the most controversial figure in entertainment. His incident with Taylor Swift at the VMAs is still talked about to this day, becoming a career-defining moment for West. How would he react to the public backlash? By embracing the hate. To this day, it is hard to find an album as good as “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Almost any of Kanye’s albums from the decade could have made it on to this list, but MBDTF remains his magnum opus. Incredible and risk-taking production, stellar mixing, lyrically and sonically terrific. Some of his best tracks come off of this project. As an artist who is always changing demeanors, we see Kanye as the flawed perfectionist on this project. “Runaway” expresses what this album means to the music industry. Those simple piano keys lead up to one of the greatest tracks in Mr. West’s entire catalog.

Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly

In a genre-spanning nearly four decades, Kendrick Lamar has already earned a spot as one of the greatest to ever do it. Much like Kanye, any of Kendrick’s albums could have made it on this list. But “To Pimp a Butterfly,” is considered by many to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time. And it’s hard to agree against that statement. This isn’t an album. It’s a work of art. Something that only happens every once in a generation. The jazz and funk samples on “To Pimp a Butterfly” are used beautifully, but the real takeaway from the project is the meaning. Every song is loaded with deeper themes of race, depression, equality. Kendrick put it all out there. It is hard for a project like this to be influential because only Kendrick Lamar could do it. No other artist could craft a project of this caliber. It also features one of the greatest anthems of all time in “Alright,” which signified hope for the African-American community during troubling times in the country.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS- KIDS SEE GHOSTS

From a technical standpoint, this album shouldn’t make this list. “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” is the collaborative effort between Kanye West and Kid Cudi, and I was only going to keep this to one album per artist. But this project is just too good to keep off the list. It goes beyond hip-hop and blends many genres aimlessly, making it hard to pin it down to just one aspect of music. Seeing Kanye and Cudi work so well off one another makes listeners lust for more than just seven tracks. “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” was the reinvention that both artists needed. It sees them push the boundaries of what hip-hop is. Just take a listen to “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2).” That one track does rock and roll better than any true artist of the genre did that entire year.

King Krule- The OOZ

“The OOZ” to me feels like what would happen if Miles Davis did a modern-day rock album. That’s high praise for English artist Archy Marshall. To put it simply, this album feels so cool. That may sound like an elementary way of putting it, but this gives off the feeling of many classic jazz artists, such as Davis, but with a dark twist. Archy’s droning vocals go well with the melancholic and eerie instrumentals that feel fresh out of a 50s crime movie. It’s refreshing to hear a heavy jazz influence, especially in a genre outside of hip-hop. On “Dum Surfer,” we see a track that starts out incredibly mysterious, but as it progresses, the drums come in, then the guitar, and then the saxophones to make an unearthly track of the best kind.

Mount Eerie- A Crow Looked at Me

Arguably one of the hardest albums to listen through, “A Crow Looked at Me” is Phil Elverum’s story of his life after the passing of his wife. The pain in his voice and words brings both chills and feelings of melancholy about any listener. It makes you want to remind a loved one how much they mean to you, as you never know what could happen to them. As incredible of an album this is, “A Crow Looked at Me” is not for a casual listen. Production and mixing is an afterthought when discussing it. With many hard-hitting lyrics, the one that hit me the hardest came on “Seaweed,” where Elverum sings “What about foxgloves?/ Is that a flower you liked?/ I can’t remember/ You did most of my remembering for me.”

Playboi Carti- Die Lit

The saying “less is better” feels like the perfect way to describe Playboi Carti. “Die Lit” may not be the most intricate or deep album to come out this decade, but that not what it’s trying to be. Instead, it acts as a simple and fun trap album that anyone can jump in and listen to. Carti’s charism carries himself over the wide variety of production coming mainly from known collaborator Pi’erre Bourne. From darker, grimy tracks like “Lean 4 Real,” to the more upbeat, video-game-like “Shoota,” this album is more than meets the eye. Carti has now emerged as one of the biggest commodities not only in the trap scene but the whole rap game.

Pusha T- DAYTONA

Pusha T is the epitome of “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” After his rise to fame with his brother No Malice with their group Clipse, the Virginia artist has made a living off of his lyrics about his days selling cocaine. His name even pays homage to those days of his life (Push a ton). Despite the subject matter remaining the same in the majority of his songs, he still finds a way to make it interesting. “DAYTONA,” sort of flips the script on that narrative, sharing the pros and cons that came about his prior hustle. Making every lyric count, Push proves once again that he is always in the conversation for one of the best of this generation. Combine that with Kanye’s impeccable production creates the best hip-hop album of 2018. Closing track “Infrared” was the setup track against fellow rapper Drake to set up one of the best diss tracks of all time with “The Story of Adidon.”

slowthai- Nothing Great About Britain

With the U.K. grime scene continuing its rise in popularity, newcomer slowthai has already emerged as one of the genre’s brightest faces for the future. “Nothing Great About Britain” is the perfect blend of trap beats with political commentary and became a surprising release for 2019. While his approach with his flow might be difficult to adjust with compared to typical rappers, slowthai has found his footing in a growing genre with many artists in high demand. Getting a feature with arguably grime’s biggest name in Skepta on the track “Inglorious” helped propel his name even further. “Doorman” features a great blend of punk rock with grime, showing off slowthai’s versatility on a highly diverse track.

SZA- Ctrl

When you think of Top Dawg Entertainment, the first name that comes to mind for the majority of people will be Kendrick Lamar. But who comes second? ScHoolboy Q? Jay Rock? In actuality, it should be SZA and her work on “Ctrl” should be enough reason as to why. While many might pinpoint her success to her incredible vocals, I feel that big part “Ctrl” is her ability as a songwriter. and conveying a wide range of emotions throughout this project. Tracks like “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” brought this album much-needed attention, but deeper cuts like “Drew Barrymore,” show SZA at her very best, giving off vibes of Amy Winehouse at times.

Travis Scott- Rodeo

Upon my first time hearing Travis Scott, I almost immediately wrote him off as another generic artist. And now here we are at the end of the decade, looking back at Scott’s commercial debut as possibly the best trap album ever. Yes, the album is highly influential to what the trap scene looks like today, with the psychedelic and spacey sound that Travis pioneered becoming a source of inspiration for many artists. But there will only ever be one “Rodeo.” Travis may not be your traditional rapper, but I’m sure he’d rather be considered an artist first. “Rodeo” is a highly creative project that draws heavy inspiration from Kanye’s “808s and Heartbreaks,” as well as “Yeezus.” making for a high-risk/high-reward album that reaped critical acclaim. Many tracks featured incredible beat switches, but that one that takes the cake goes to “90201,” which takes a heavy-synth intro and switches it to an upbeat piano second half detailing Travis’s journey through the music industry.

A Tribe Called Quest- We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

Many rap acts of the past have struggled to adjust to the modern sounds of new artists. New York group A Tribe Called Quest had no trouble adjusting to the change, and even stayed true to their 90s jazz-rap roots. “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” is the group’s way of paying homage to fallen member Phife Dawg, who passed away a year before the album dropped. Beyond a tribute, this album serves as a surprisingly effective look at the state of politics in the current Trump era. Tribe’s leader in Q-Tip delivers a poignant chorus on the track, “We the People….,” with “All you Black folks, you must go/ All you Mexicans, you must go/ And all you poor folks, you must go/ Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/ So all you bad folks, you must go,” of course being a not-so-subtle jab at the big man in the White House.

Tyler, The Creator- IGOR

As a music fan, it has been an absolute pleasure seeing Tyler, The Creator finally come into his own as an artist. As someone who seemed to struggle finding his identity in the industry, Tyler now has blossomed into more than just an edgy rapper from his days of tracks like “Yonkers.” With “IGOR,” we see him fully embrace his alternative R&B side, while still blending in elements of his past hip-hop career. What is most impressive about this project is that Tyler wrote, produced and arranged the entire album. Hearing the emotions of Tyler dealing relationships continues the trend we saw on his 2017 album in “Flower Boy.” Being incredibly vulnerable makes for great songwriting on his part, and his ability to sample and produce is put on full display. “I THINK,” samples the great Kanye hit in “Stronger,” and makes for a techno-esque track that gives off an 80s pop song vibe.

Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory

“‘Big Fish Theory’ is electronic album of the year @GRAMMYAdvocacy,” is high praise from Vince Staples himself. The California rapper has never been shy to express his opinions, but he might have been on to something with this tweet from 2017. “Big Fish Theory” caught many off guard with how experimental and electronic it sounded coming from a hardcore/conscious rapper like Vince. But it works so well it would seem as if Staples had been doing this his whole career. While it may not be as groundbreaking as other albums mentioned on this list, “Big Fish Theory” is a huge jump for such a young artist. Vince’s charism pairs perfectly with the wide array of techno instrumentals. The track “745” has a G-funk bassline about it that Vince puts a spin on with an electronic influence.