By Nick Sligh
To read more about the background of the list and my thoughts on making it, check out the introduction to my rankings. Without further ado, here are #70-61 of my top 100 hip-hop/rap albums of the 2010s list:
70. Earl Sweatshirt: “Some Rap Songs” (2018)
From the blurry album cover to the 24-minute-total runtime and the less-than-creative title, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a short and shallow project. Since his days with Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt has shown incredible lyrical abilities and been known primarily for his wordplay and witty lyrics. A rapper that has often dealt with grief and pain in his past music, Earl finds a refreshing and emotional way to continue some of the dark themes of his early work, but with a completely different manner and sound. “Some Rap Songs” is potent, dense and captivating.
Favorite Songs: “Ontheway!,” “Riot!,” “Azucar,” “The Mint”
69. J. Cole: “4 Your Eyez Only” (2016)
J. Cole’s fourth studio album finds a rapper that is typically very self-aware at even deeper levels of introspection. Some of the most cohesive work of Cole’s entire discography is found on “4 Your Eyez Only.” With the exception of “Foldin Clothes” (Cole, why did you make this song?), every song on this album really feels like it belongs, and the quality of work is certainly there. There is a consistent mood that Cole does a great job of setting with mellow flows and smooth, jazzy production. The narrative and storytelling featured is very impressive and is truly what makes the album special. “4 Your Eyez Only” finds Cole vulnerable and the most focused that he’s been across the duration of an entire LP.
Favorite Songs: “Change,” “4 Your Eyez Only,” “Neighbors,” “Deja Vu,” “Immortal”
68. Travis Scott: “Rodeo” (2015)
Travis Scott has been one of the emerging rappers of the later part of the decade after his long-awaited “Astroworld” became a massive commercial success. However, 2015’s “Rodeo” might have been the defining project for the Houston rapper and producer. With this project, Scott was well underway with refining his sound with a trap style that is dark, psychedelic and futuristic. The style that is popularized with “Rodeo” would catapult Scott into the mainstream and lead all the way up to his current status as one of the most popular figures in hip-hop.
Favorite Songs: “90210,” “Pray 4 Love,” “I Can Tell”
67. Denzel Curry: “Imperial” (2016)
Denzel first began to make his push to the national scale and the broader hip-hop universe with the incredibly inspired “Imperial.” The hunger, ferocity and pure skill that Denzel raps with is astonishing. From the machine-gun paced flows of “Knotty Head” and “Gook,” to the dark “Story: No Title,” to the uplifting “Good Night,” Denzel crafts an immensely entertaining listen filled with an energy and sound that is uniquely his.
Favorite Songs: “Good Night,” “Story: No Title,” “Knotty Head,” “Gook”
66. Dave B: “Punch Drunk” (2015)
David Bowman, the 27-year-old rapper, singer, writer and producer from Seattle is what many would consider a product of the “SoundCloud rap” era. On his first full length project, “Punch Drunk,” Dave B was able to capture and exemplify many of the best things about how the internet has influenced rap. An ultimately relaxed LP, “Punch Drunk” finds Dave B examining his young life and getting lost within nostalgia. Smooth, jazzy and soulful production lets Dave B rap effortlessly and fuse many different sounds and styles to create a chill compilation that is simply one of the most enjoyable listens that can be found in underground hip-hop.
Favorite Songs: “Outside,” “Leaves,” “Polaroid,” “Rain”
65. Earl Sweatshirt: “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” (2014)
Following “Huey,” a fantastic intro which sounds like some combination between a sorrowful baseball game and a joyful funeral, we are introduced to Earl Sweatshirt in possibly his most pure form. A bleak and minimalist project, Earl’s pen guides the way. The writing and delivery of Earl are at the center stage of “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” and the result is a precise and dark portrait of Earl’s paranoia. Earl strips back the sounds of the mainstream, and for that matter, many of the sounds of a conventional hip-hop album. There is an obvious lack of an attempt to make this LP a mainstream compilation, and it allows Earl to shine at his most artistic form.
Favorite Songs: “Huey,” “Wool,”“Faucet,” “Grief”
64. Schoolboy Q: “Blank Face” (2016)
The first three full-length albums for Schoolboy Q were all very solid projects, but nothing in his discography compares to the eerie, psychedelic and authentic essence captured so masterfully in “Blank Face.” Not straying too far from his vintage gangster rap style, Schoolboy Q adjusts the sound enough to create a new and enjoyable sound for him. A testament to Q’s artistry, “Blank Face” makes for his most refreshing record, blending a variety of unique sounds and features, and infusing it with his authenticity, soul and energy. Often menacing, sometimes uplifting and always focused, Schoolboy’s fourth album shows what his finest work can be.
Favorite Songs: “Blank Face,”“JoHn Muir,” “Dope Dealer,” “Str8 Ballin,” “Lord Have Mercy”
63. Joey Bada$$: “B4.Da.$$” (2015)
For starters, this is possibly the best album name of the decade. The triple entendre represents an alternate stylization of Joey’s rap name Bada$$ (B4.Da.$$ = Bada$$), the phrase “before the money” (referring to a time before wealth) and the phrase “be for the money” (referring to the prioritization of wealth). Joey’s lyrical abilities are on full display, as the Brooklyn native touches on topics of money, struggle, family and growth. One of the top songs of this decade comes with “Paper Trail$,” a track containing fantastic wordplay and a clever twist on Wu-Tang Clan’s popularized acronym C.R.E.A.M (Cash Rules Everything Around Me). The beat selection is very old-school hip-hop and boom-bap influenced, with classic samples and production contributed by DJ Premier, Statik Selektah, J Dilla and Kirk Knight. The Pro Era executive stands firmly in his comfort zone and lands one of the best recent studio debut projects.
Favorite Songs: “Paper Trail$,” “Curry Chicken,” “O.C.B,” “Christ Conscious”
62. A$AP Rocky: “AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP” (2015)
“AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP” was A$AP Rocky’s successful experiment at producing a colorful combination of almost every genre imaginable while still staying true in ways to himself and the sound that his success has been built upon. Psychedelic funk, classic rock, blues, trap and many others form the varied collection of production. Surely Rocky will never fully leave his vintage brag rap behind, but “A.L.L.A” certainly sees a more serious version of himself presented with much more emphasis on lyricism and narrative.
Favorite Songs: “Excuse Me,” “Jukebox Joints,” “Pharsyde,” “Electric Body”
61. Smino: “Blkswn” (2017)
St. Louis’ own delivered one of the smoothest rap albums of the decade, and on his debut full-length project at that. Smino has the ability to bend words and flows with his southern drawl, which he constantly utilizes throughout “Blkswn.” A deeply soulful record heavily influenced by southern jazz and blues, Smino was able to create an album that is relaxing but never dull. Catchy and enjoyable hooks, melodies and production combined with Smino’s witty writing and delivery establish him as one of the legitimate artists in hip-hop going forward.
Favorite Songs: “Long Run,” “Netflix & Dusse,” “Father Son Holy Smoke,” “Lobby Kall,” “Amphetamine”
After every segment of my Top 100 rankings are published, I will be creating a Spotify playlist with my favorite songs from the albums that are in each section. Just go to my Spotify profile (@nicholassligh) where I will be posting the playlists in descending order of rank. Go to this link to view this week’s playlist for albums #70-61! I hope that my list gives credit to deserving artists and helps people that enjoy hip-hop/rap (and even those less familiar with the genre) to find new music that connects with them and that they simply enjoy.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.