It’s only recently that I’ve broadened my taste in music to stuff that isn’t rap. A couple years ago I got into Arcade Fire and Radiohead, which may be different, but it’s still super mainstream and not exactly the greatest departure. This year, however, something clicked in me and my taste evolved into something far more well rounded and sophisticated.
This list does not reflect that. My taste may be more well rounded now, but when I think about the decade as a whole, these are the albums that I found to be the most incredible and almost all happen to be rap. The list does include JPEGMAFIA though, the man who got me to listen to more female artists from genres I had never had much of an interest in. His newest album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs (which just barely missed this list), features Helena Deland and Buzzy Lee. I loved their voices so much that I checked out their solo stuff, and wouldn’t you know it, I loved that too. From there, I found Weyes Blood and her incredible 2019 album Titanic Rising, and I got even more into Angel Olsen than I was before. I suppose I should give partial credit to my mother as well for the Tomberlin recommendation, which also contributed to my new love for all these artists. It’s really too bad they couldn’t make this list, but they all deserve an honourable mention at the very least.
So in no particular order, here are the best albums of the decade according to a kid who started the decade at only eleven years old and listened almost exclusively to rap and Frank Ocean:
#1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
The first of three generic picks on this brief list is my quintessential Kanye contribution. This album goes from personally and emotionally poignant to “Yeezy reupholstered my pussy” in seconds, and I can’t help but adore it. The Life of Pablo wishes it could be this successful at being an absolute clusterfuck of an album. Every song is doing something completely different, and I couldn’t tell you a single moment where it doesn’t work. Power and Runaway are generation-defining bangers. Hell of a Life is an irreverent leviathan. Gorgeous is on a level of lyrical poetry Kanye has never achieved since. It’s an unmatchable magnum opus, and despite Kanye’s recent decline in quality, he will always be able to say he made My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and for that I am grateful.
#2. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
This album is topping everyone’s lists for a reason. TPAB somehow manages to be both incredibly important and musically genius, a combination Kendrick had perfected in Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, but is even perfect-er here. Rather than tell a story of Kendrick’s experience growing up black and poor in Compton like on GKMC, TPAB tackles the already complicated topics of poverty and black identity from as many perspectives as possible – from a homeless man begging for a dollar, to himself, the “biggest hypocrite of 2015”. King Kunta is an upbeat banger about a man whose legs were cut off. Institutionalized is a multi-faceted, jazzy cut in which Kendrick struggles with leaving the ghetto. u is a rollercoaster showing a dark, self-deprecating side of Kendrick, the polar opposite of the loving, uplifting i. The album has only gotten depressingly more relevant in the nearly five years since the album was released, and Untitled Unmastered (2016), the album of TPAB rejects, continues its themes. Even UU is brilliant, which only goes to show how incredible TPAB is on its own.
#3. Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016)
I didn’t like this album for two years. Two entire years of my life, I deprived myself of readily available Frank, and I will never forgive myself for that. I listened to Solo, Ivy, Pink+White, and Solo (reprise), but I avoided all the other songs. Why? I have no idea, 17 year old me was a moron.
Split right down the middle, Blonde, or Blond as it reads on the album cover, is an exploration of two sides of Frank, each song in the first half contrasting its second half counterpart. Love and lust, masculinity and femininity, and bisexuality are just some of the ideas that coalesce to create one of the most innovative and devastating albums of the 2010s. Channel Orange, while arguably on par with Blonde from a purely musical standpoint, doesn’t have the cultural significance Blonde possesses. This is one of those albums that will represent the 2010s once we’re far removed from the decade. Ugh, who am I kidding, all we’re gonna remember in 30 years are mediocre Drake LPs.
#4. Anonymuz: Vice City (2016)
It’s likely you’ve never even heard of Anonymuz before, let alone this 2016 concept album. He’s a Miami-based rapper I discovered back in 2014 and I’ve been following him religiously ever since. Despite Vice City being so amazing, he never blew up the way I’d hoped he would, but it looks like all that is about to change. His recent friendship with the far more famous Denzel Curry has landed him on many music outlets’ radars as of late, and his music has been showing up during NBA games. The tracks they’re playing aren’t his best, but if that’s what it takes to get people to listen to Vice City, I’m more than happy.
Vice City has three acts: Loss, Vice, and Salvation. Loss begins this narrative of being lost in the neon lights and violent nights of Miami from the perspective of a man “living a life [he] should’ve escaped from”, a life of, well, vice. The album crescendos until the songs Pride and Before the Fall play, the aggressive, vicious two part climax that precedes the third act’s dénouement. If there’s one complaint I have about the project, it’s that Before the Fall should simply be called The Fall, because when describing it I have to say “the song Pride comes before Before the Fall”. I love the idea of playing with the biblical quote, but I wish it weren’t as obvious and confusingly phrased. Regardless, the two songs are possibly the best on the album, along with the first act’s Vice (feat. Madi Larson), which is hands down the most poetically glorious song in Anonymuz’s discography, paired with a dreamy, floaty electronic beat. The story, the bars, the beats, everything about Vice City begs to be acknowledged as one of the best of the decade, so please check him out.
#5. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran (2018)
An army vet who toured in Iraq raps about extreme violence, memes, liberalism, mental health, the death of rock n’ roll, and the inevitably satisfying death of Morrissey. Could an album possibly say more about the 2010s? This is a time capsule that could be opened one day hundreds of years in the future and confuse the shit out of some post World War 5 humanoids. Peggy’s lyrics are often hilarious (the opening line of the album, “I need all my bitches same colour as Drake”) and poignant (“I am a thot/Fuck it, I am a opp/Wrist cut, wrist cut, wrist cut/Gray death on the block”), and all of them in some way reveal the lowest of lows we’ve reached in the past decade. The abrasive, industrial, and sometimes wildly uncomfortable sounds Peggy uses as his beats seem like a natural evolution to Kanye’s Yeezus, an album that only narrowly missed this list, and sets the bar for what rap can and hopefully will look like in the future. Peggy is ahead of his time.
Tune in next week for my list of best songs! Then the week after that for TV! Then maybe I’ll take on the herculean task of putting together a decent top 10 movies of the decade list.