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 #50-41 of my top 100 hip-hop/rap albums of the 2010s list:
50. J Cole: “2014 Forest Hills Drive” (2014)
“J Cole went double platinum with no features”. By now, everybody has probably seen the memes, but they really do have some merit. “2014 Forest Hills Drive” was truly J Cole’s breakthrough album. After a group of mixtapes and two studio albums, Cole was still looking for the album to really put him into the top echelon of the rap industry. This album delivered on this aim. From the intricate storytelling of “Wet Dreamz” to the album’s biggest hit “No Role Modelz” to the emotional and uplifting “Love Yourz”, Cole provided something for a wide audience and delivered his most successful project yet.
Favorite Songs: “03’ Adolescence”, “Wet Dreamz”, “No Role Modelz”, “Apparently”
49. Elzhi: “Lead Poison” (2016)
Former Detroit-based Slum Village Member, Elzhi, brought incredible lyricism and writing to his sophomore studio album. “Lead Poison” is one of the greatest recent displays of lyricism and delivery from a severely underrated artist. One of Elzhi’s trademark abilities is his vivid storytelling, which is constantly present in “Lead Poison”, particularly in songs like “Friendzone”, “Weedipedia”, and “February”. All of these songs present soul, emotion and lyrical work that is to be admired. The personal and captivating Detroit emcee coasts smoothly and effortlessly over a variety of soulful, old-school hip-hop-influenced beats.
Favorite Songs: “Friendzone”, “Alienated”, “Weedipedia”, “February”
48. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: “Piñata” (2014)
As the first project from what would come to be one of the best current rapper and producer duos in hip-hop, “Piñata” is one of the most innovative and refreshing gangster rap albums in the modern era. The Gary, Indiana-native rapper Freddie Gibbs and the famous producer Madlib show one of the most unique chemistries that led to a glorious collection. Two artists with very different styles and backgrounds, the typically hard and menacing “Gangsta Gibbs” meshes effortlessly with the soulful and jazzy background of producer Madlib. An unlikely duo comes through with some of their own best work that happens to work excellently as a collective masterpiece.
Favorite Songs: “Shame”, “High”, “Harold’s”, “Lakers”, “Robes”
47. Big K.R.I.T: “4eva Is A Mighty Long Time” (2017)
Justin Scott, better known as Big K.R.I.T, represents the South with a unique pride and passion. Spirituality and introspection are constants in “4eva Is A Mighty Long Time”, withScott developing an album that really allows listeners to get a better understanding of his personal life and his struggles. In a time where the Atlanta trap scene seems to dominate much of the hip-hop scene of the South, “4eva Is A Mighty Long Time” feels like Big K.R.I.T’s attempt to preserve lyrical, jazzy, soulful rap and give the South deeper representation outside of just Atlanta trap music.
Favorite Songs: “Drinking Sessions”, “Price of Fame”, “The Light”, “Bury Me In Gold”
46. Capital STEEZ: “AmeriKKKan Korruption” (2012)
Beast Coast and Pro Era founder, the late Capital STEEZ, certainly made his mark on modern East Coast hip-hop before his unfortunate passing in 2012. The spiritual, witty and philosophical lyricist left us with only one individual full length project. “AmeriKKKan Korruption” is a mixtape full of political commentary, lyricism, wordplay and a true old-school East Coast hip-hop feel. One of the marvels of this album was that Capital STEEZ was only 18 years old at the release of this project. Who knows what could have been given the potential displayed in one of the best mixtapes of the decade?
Favorite Songs: “Dead Prez”, “135”, “Dead on Arrival”, “Vibe Ratings”
45. J Cole: “Friday Night Lights” (2010)
Before he was a superstar rapper, J Cole was a young kid from Fayetteville, North Carolina and the first signee to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label. In retrospect, many would consider ‘mixtape J Cole’ to be a completely different artist than ‘album J Cole’. The hunger and emotion shown by Cole throughout “Friday Night Lights” is extremely captivating and instantly makes him an intriguing rapper worthy of listening to. J Cole delivers some of his most emotionally-rich and promising work along with some of his finest rapping that results in a top-tier modern rap mixtape.
Favorite Songs: “The Autograph”, “Premeditated Murder”, “Home For The Holidays”, “Villematic”, “Before I’m Gone”, “See World”
44. Rapsody: “Eve” (2019)
Looking at the tracklist of “Eve” gives the listener a good idea of what the album is about. Every track is named for a Black female icon, with tracks including “Serena” (Serena Williams), “Maya” (Maya Angelou) and “Sojourner” (Sojourner Truth) among many others. In the third studio album for Rapsody, she continues her messages of Black empowerment with a new twist and an innovative approach. Rapsody uses her ever-strong lyricism and artistry to explore a long line of important Black women in an album of triumph and empowerment.
Favorite Songs: “Iman”, “Sojourner”, “Ibtihaj”, “Whoopi”
43. J.I.D: “The Never Story” (2017)
J.I.D introduced himself to much of the rap world with his studio debut “The Never Story”. An Atlanta native who found his rap start through the Spillage Village collective, J.I.D quickly came onto the main scene of rap due to his incredible writing and rapping ability. Already showing the potential to be a rap legend, J.I.D’s flow and lyricism can compete with practically any current artist. “The Never Story” is a compilation of diverse production, soul, narrative and pure rap. Every song showcases great writing, but J.I.D’s verses on “Lauder” will go down as some of the best lyrical work of the entire decade. This will likely be a debut that is looked back at as an introduction to one of the greats in rap.
Favorite Songs: “Lauder”, “D/vision”, “Hereditary”, “All Bad”, “NEVER”
42. Vince Staples: “Big Fish Theory” (2017)
When looking at total body of work from the decade, very few rappers did quite as well as Vince Staples. Vince managed to put out a group of seven high-quality projects with no real weak spots in his discography. If I had really wanted to, I could have considered all 7 of these major projects in the top 100, but for the sake of the list, I thought it was unfitting to give one artist seven spots. Nevertheless, “Big Fish Theory” was some of Vince’s boldest and most adventurous work. His second studio album plays host to a highly experimental combination of electronic, rap house and avant-garde dance music. Vince utilizes a variety of sounds in his production selection, but lyrically never strays too far from what he does best. “Big Fish Theory ” is a very well-done chaotic and artistic journey through the paranoia of Vince Staples.
Favorite Songs: “SAMO”, “745”, “Party People”, “BagBak”, “Big Fish”, “Yeah Right”
41. EarthGang: “Mirrorland” (2019)
Two of the original members of Spillage Village and now two members of J Cole’s Dreamville Records, EarthGang (Johnny Venus/Olu and Doctur Dot/WowGr8) released their Dreamville debut with the mystical “Mirrorland”. The duo paints a “reflection” of their city of Atlanta, and displays from start to finish their incredible flexibility and versatility. The transitions between trap, funk, jazz rap, neo-soul and R&B are so seamless and well-executed that it is hard to even notice how many different styles exist in tandem with each other. The vocal and rapping abilities of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot are present throughout, and are always in sync with the array of production that is offered. The comparisons between EarthGang and legendary Atlanta duo Outkast have already begun, and for good reason, given the style and incredible potential made apparent with albums like this.
Favorite Songs: “Top Down”, “Bank”, “Proud Of U”, “Fields”, “Wings”
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 50-41! 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.