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 #30-21 of my top 100 hip-hop/rap albums of the 2010s list:
30. Jay-Z & Kanye West: “Watch The Throne” (2011)
Very rarely is the rap world treated to such a combination of stardom as it was with “Watch The Throne.” Two of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time simply coming together for a full-length project is a feat in and of itself. The execution is what would be expected from two individuals who are so talented. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaboration results in one of the most epic and exciting projects of the 2010s and is a thorough showcase of the chemistry — in both style and vision — between two of rap’s all-time greats.
Favorite Songs: “Otis,” “Ni**as in Paris,” “No Church In The Wild,” “Made In America,” “Murder To Excellence”
29. Mick Jenkins: “The Water(s)” (2014)
One of the most lyrically gifted artists in hip-hop, Chicago’s Mick Jenkins delivers one of the most well-executed and impressive conceptual mixtapes in modern rap. Using water as a metaphor for truth throughout, the entire project revolves around the commentary and philosophy of Mick, using the water metaphor in various creative ways to express his points. The production is smooth, soulful and jazzy, which serves as a great compliment to Mick’s style. There is even an aqueous-type feel which is created throughout the album by the samples and production. Overall, “The Water(s)” lays a blueprint for what a modern concept album can look like at its highest level of quality.
Favorite Songs: “Healer,” “Martyrs,” “Shipwrecked,” “Who Else,” “Jazz,” “Comfortable”
28. Common: “The Dreamer, The Believer” (2011)
Nearly 20 years following his first album release, Common came through with the No I.D.-produced “The Dreamer, The Believer.” No I.D. crafts one of his finest production works ever, with soul samples, beats and instrumentals that compliment Common’s style perfectly. In the midst of a beef with Drake, which Common addresses with the great diss track “Sweet,” Common made a triumphant return after a string of sub-par albums following an incredible early entrance to rap. Not as political as some of his earliest work, “The Dreamer, The Believer” is still an extremely impressive project lyrically. Common’s rap proficiency and No I.D.’s incredible production give the Chicago lyricist his best album since 2005’s classic “Be.”
Favorite Songs: “Celebrate,” “Lovin’ I Lost,” “Ghetto Dreams,” “Sweet,” “Gold”
27. A$AP Rocky: “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” (2013)
Harlem rapper and A$AP Mob member A$AP Rocky was one of the most colorful and adventurous artists of the decade. With multiple quality full-length projects, all with different styles and sounds, Rocky’s creativity was on full display. Building off of the momentum of one of the greatest modern rap mixtapes, Rocky came through with a showing of his artistry and versatility by way of “LONG.LIVE.A$AP.” Old-school East Coast-style hip-hop receives a nod with the six-feature “1Train.” Club bangers are present with “F**kin’ Problems,” “Wild for the Night” and “PMW.” Triumphant songs like “Hell” also coexist with somber and introspective tracks like “Phoenix” and even dark, grimy trap like “Jodye.” Rocky’s swagger is on full display, and his versatility and talent fully backs his always-present confidence.
Favorite Songs: “Hell,” “1Train,” “F**kin’ Problems,” “Fashion Killa,” “Jodye,” “Goldie,” “PMW,” “Ghetto Symphony”
26. Flatbush Zombies: “BetterOffDEAD” (2013)
One of the most talented modern rap groups in hip-hop came through in its most uncut and best form on “BetterOffDEAD.” Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott all mesh perfectly with their vintage lyrical styles and Erick’s nearly-flawless production. As the title suggests, the 2013 mixtape mainly revolves around very dark themes. Passion, energy and raw emotion are continuously on full display, and the personalities of each member are so vividly presented that it’s nearly impossible not to be captivated. This defining moment for the Flatbush trio was also one of the defining moments for underground rap and modern East Coast hip-hop.
Favorite Songs: “Club Soda,” “Palm Trees,” “Amerikkkan Pie,” “G Tearz,” “LiveFromHell,” “MRAZ,” “222”
25. Earthgang: “Shallow Graves For Toys” (2015)
Few projects that I have ever listened to have shone through with so much potential as “Shallow Graves For Toys.” The infectious energy of the Atlanta duo is enough to make any project incredible. The energy, paired with some of the most unique production in modern rap music and the unreal talent of Earthgang, creates one of the most exciting listens possible. “Sweet Haste” showcases Earthgang’s abstract style and lyricism over some of the most unique production that hip-hop saw over the last decade. The chaotically-triumphant production of “16 Albinos in the S.W.A.T.S.” and the ultimately soulful and passionate “No Peace” provide a pleasant diversity of sound. The uncut and yet refined style of Earthgang’s members play into their own favor, as they are allowed to explore basically every kind of hip-hop music well, all of it done very successfully. “Shallow Graves For Toys” is one of the most exciting showcases of historic levels of potential.
Favorite Songs: “Sweet Haste,” “16 Albinos in the S.W.A.T.S.,” “No Peace,” “The F Bomb”
24. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: “Bandana” (2019)
Following 2014’s collaborative modern classic “Piñata,” it truly seemed like the rapper-producer duo of Freddie Gibbs & Madlib could not make a better album. 2019’s follow up “Bandana” proved otherwise. A showcase of the duo’s amazing chemistry, many of the strengths from “Piñata” are carried over while presenting new, but similar, street rap and narratives on this album. Confident, tough, refined and wise, the second full-length release from the two has no real weak spots. “Bandana” is simply another masterpiece of production and rapping from the now-iconic duo of “Gangsta” Gibbs and Madlib.
Favorite Songs: “Palmolive,” “Practice,” “Freestyle Sh*t,” “Fake Names,” “Giannis,” “Cataracts,” “Soul Right”
23. Joey Bada$$: “1999” (2012)
Joey Bada$$’s debut mixtape has proven to be his greatest work so far. The Pro Era member and Brooklyn’s Own came onto the scene with one of the most promising debuts of the decade and of hip-hop history. Joey manages to craft his own version of the East Coast boom-bap style that he stays so devoutly loyal to from front to back. One of the most shocking facts of rap in the past decade is that Joey Bada$$ was 17 years old when he released his classic mixtape. Wise and talented beyond his years, the lyrical content and delivery in the entire project is outstanding. “1999” truly set the foundation for what has been a very successful career so far for Joey. It is rare to find a project that is this great, let alone from a 17-year-old rapper.
Favorite Songs: “Hardknock,” “Survival Tactics,” “Don’t Front,” “World Domination,” “Snakes,” “Waves”
22. Lupe Fiasco: “Drogas Wave” (2018)
Arguably the greatest lyricist ever in rap music, Lupe Fiasco executes one of his finest works with his seventh studio album. Both sprawling and dense, “Drogas Wave” is a thought-provoking journey and an incredibly detailed concept album. The album builds off of a story surrounding a group of slaves who are thrown off of a ship going from Africa to the West Indies. Rather than drowning, the slaves stay alive and manage to live under the sea. The album provides thought-provoking and intricate commentary on societal issues, racial injustice and the African American experience, among many other topics. The wordplay, lyricism, layered meanings and rhyme schemes throughout the album are astounding and further cement Lupe’s pure abilities as a rapper. One of the deepest and most thought-provoking listens of the decade, “Drogas Wave” is the result of one of rap’s finest talents refining his artistic expression to the fullest. (Side note: Hamza Zahurallah covered this album in a fantastic October 2018 Daily review).
Favorite Songs: “WAV Files,” “Manilla,” “Sun God Sam & The California Drug Deals,” “Stack That Cheese”
21. Kendrick Lamar: “DAMN” (2017)
Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for “DAMN,” making him the first-ever non-jazz or classical artist to receive the honor. One of Kendrick’s greatest feats was his ability to make an album that was very commercialized and much more pop-oriented than almost all of his previous work, while maintaining the meaningful content that makes him one of the world’s most renowned rappers. Featuring Rihanna, U2 and Zacari, Kendrick’s aims for the sound of the project were very different than in his first three studio albums and much more pop-influenced. “DAMN” is a unique project in Kendrick’s discography, and another classic in his line of masterful artistry.
Favorite Songs: “DUCKWORTH,” “HUMBLE,” “PRIDE,” “FEAR,” “XXX,” “ELEMENT”
After every segment of this series is 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 30-21! 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.