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 #10-1 of my top 100 hip-hop/rap albums of the 2010s list.
10. A Tribe Called Quest: “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” (2016)
After an 18-year hiatus as a group, A Tribe Called Quest returned triumphantly to the center stage of rap. Nearly two decades after its previous album, the legendary rap group came back to send its goodbyes to rap. The ending was one of the most poetic results imaginable. Following the unfortunate death of member Phife Dawg, the other three members (Q-Tip, Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad) finished the album and sent off their final work as a group. Beautiful production, timeless lyricism and the significance of the moment allowed A Tribe Called Quest to finish its rap journey in glorious fashion and bid its poetic farewell.
Favorite Songs: “Enough!!,” “Solid Wall of Sound,” “Movin Backwards,” “Black Spasmodic”
9. Isaiah Rashad: “Cilvia Demo” (2014)
Isaiah Rashad, a product of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was able to achieve a beautiful combination of the best things of the old and new in rap music on his first full-length release with the TDE label. Isaiah Rashad quickly mastered the art of drawing on the nostalgia of old-school hip-hop while infusing his music with his own sound and special southern twist. “Cilvia Demo” exudes soul in every moment, and Rashad’s smooth deliveries and heartfelt writing create a project that feels deeply-personal and warm. Rashad’s struggles are so bluntly and emotionally presented that the deeply vulnerable messages of the album immediately endear the young rapper to the listener. Sweet, soulful and personal, Rashad delivers an inspiring compilation with rare intimacy.
Favorite Songs: “Heavenly Father,” “West Savannah,” “Tranquility,” “Hereditary,” “R.I.P Kevin Miller,” “Brad Jordan”
8. Jay-Z: “4:44” (2017)
“4:44” is one of the most mature and inspiring albums ever created in rap. Jay Z’s 13th studio album shows a truly graceful aging. With his skills as sharp as ever, Hov gives by far his most open and vulnerable work. From his rhymes to his business investments, this album far eclipses the wisdom of any previous album work even for a rapper who has always been wise. The great ones are able to adapt to the times while still retaining what makes them special, and “4:44” is proof that Jay-Z not only has the ability to adapt, but to thrive and to still be one of the best rappers in the world, regardless of the current state of rap music. Jay-Z has a legitimate case for being the greatest rapper of all time, and his work on “4:44” serves as some of the most valuable evidence for this claim.
Favorite Songs: “Smile,” “4:44,” “The Story of O.J.,” “Caught Their Eyes,” “Legacy,” “Moonlight,” “Marcy Me”
7. Chance The Rapper: “Acid Rap” (2013)
No single mixtape defines the Soundcloud Era of rap quite like “Acid Rap.” The Windy City’s Chance The Rapper displays a youthful energy and creativity that makes this mixtape a clear contender as one of the greatest rap mixtapes of all time. Production, from start to finish, never falters. Neither does Chance’s delivery, which is infused with pure joy and passion that makes it impossible for the listener not to smile. The entire project feels like a giant potion that can only be created with youth, a vivid imagination and dopamine. “Acid Rap” was a defining moment in rap, with every second of the mixtape being a refreshing burst of joy and excitement back into the heart of hip-hop music.
Favorite Songs: “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Favorite Song,” “Smoke Again,” “Lost,” “Juice,” “Good Ass Intro,” “Pusha Man,” “Everybody’s Something,” “Chain Smoker”
6. Vince Staples: “Summertime ‘06” (2015)
The 20-track and 2-disc “Summertime ‘06” was a masterful display of authentic storytelling. The talented rapper from Long Beach, California, delivered some of his most focused work, with every track seeming to fit perfectly in its place and fit its own piece in the puzzle that is the coming of age of Vince Staples. Struggling with trauma, paranoia and growth, Vince approaches some of life’s most complex issues with a precision and simplicity that is rare. With production largely handled by the legendary No I.D., the beats are aligned terrifically with Vince’s deliveries and tones throughout the album. Although it may seem like one big discomforting horror story to some, Vince is simply telling his authentic and often cynical story “Like It Is,” and doing it at the highest level in rap.
Favorite Songs: “Jump Off The Roof,” “Lift Me Up,” “Norf Norf,” “Summertime,” “Señorita,” “3230,” “Like It Is,” “Lemme Know”
5. Kanye West: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010)
The culmination of an artistic genius who does not play to the rules of the mainstream, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is one of the most creative and influential works in modern music. Kanye West’s greatness is undeniable, and so is that of maybe his greatest work. Kanye shows his ability to curate an elite listening experience that does so many different things artistically and at such a high quality. From production to vision to delivery, it is simply one extravagant masterpiece of hip-hop.
Favorite Songs: “Devil In A New Dress,” “Runaway,” “Monster,” “So Appalled,” “POWER,” “Gorgeous,” “Blame Game”
4. Kendrick Lamar: “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012)
“If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?”. Kendrick Lamar’s lines in “Poetic Justice” summarize the central theme of this album: the exploration of how a good kid could emerge from Compton, California, or to quote Tupac Shakur, how the “rose grew from the concrete.” Kendrick’s jump to the mainstream never once sacrificed lyrical content, as even the songs destined for commercial success contain meaningful lyrical content. Many people’s introduction to Kendrick, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” was clear proof that Kendrick didn’t just have great potential, but that he had arrived with a true modern classic.
Favorite Songs: “Poetic Justice,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst,” “Money Trees,” “m.A.A.d city,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “The Recipe”
3. Lupe Fiasco: “Tetsuo & Youth” (2015)
An album lyrically-dense enough to warrant its own article (or even multiple articles for that matter), Lupe’s fifth studio album was a passionate return to elite artistry following the release of arguably his two worst projects. Lupe has always been phenomenal lyrically, which has never been his problem. However, “Tetsuo & Youth” contains genius production selection and concepts that are thought-provoking accompanied by music that is even incredibly enjoyable and easy to appreciate without deep analysis. Every aspect of Lupe’s album creation comes together in unison, resulting in one of the best modern rap albums.
Favorite Songs: “Mural,” “Prisoner 1 & 2,” “Dots & Lines,” “Blur My Hands,” “They.Resurrect.Over.New.,” “Body Of Work”
2. Saba: “CARE FOR ME” (2018)
Saba proved to be a talented rapper and producer very early in his career. However, most people didn’t expect the 24-year-old rapper from Chicago to create an album that would be in contention for best rap album of the decade. “CARE FOR ME” is simply the collection of a group of 10 amazing tracks, with no real weaknesses. Headlined by what is one of the greatest anecdotal rap songs ever created, “PROM / KING,” the album reflects Saba’s courageous and beautiful battle with his grief and struggles. The entire album is deeply personal and establishes Saba as a real personality in rap to be fond of. Saba’s jazzy, personal and minimalist adventure scrapes back the layers that have enveloped mainstream rap and reminds the hip-hop industry what beautiful music is.
Favorite Songs: “PROM / KING,” “LIFE,” “GREY,” “BUSY / SIRENS,” “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME”
1. Kendrick Lamar: “To Pimp A Butterfly” (2015)
The greatness of “To Pimp A Butterfly” has been previously highlighted, with it being one of the most acclaimed albums of all time, regardless of genre. King Kendrick thrust himself into the conversation of the best rapper of all time with his 2015 magnum opus. There are not many albums you can look at and say that the aim was to make the world a better place. Even fewer can be said to have actually accomplished that aim. Undoubtedly, Kendrick Lamar became the creator of one of these few works. The all-time lyrical content of “To Pimp A Butterfly” makes it feel like much more than a rap album, and more of a piece of art that defines an era of music and a way of thinking and coming to terms with the world.
Favorite Songs: “u,” “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “Alright,” “Momma,” “The Blacker The Berry,” “i,” “Hood Politics”
After every segment of my Top 100 rankings, I created a Spotify playlist with my favorite songs from the albums that are in each section. Just go to my Spotify Profile (@nicholassligh) where I posted the playlists in descending order of rank. Go to this link to view this week’s playlist for albums 10-1! 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.
Thank you to everybody who has followed along with these rankings! It has been an awesome journey sharing some of my favorite music with everybody that has read along in The Stanford Daily this quarter. I hope that this list has inspired people to discover or further explore many of the great albums that I found to be some of the best works of the past decade.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.