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  • Noah John

The Top 25 Hip Hop Albums of the 2010s

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

The 2010s were a prolific period for hip-hop. During the last decade we have witnessed many iconic artists rise and fall as streaming took over the world and rap expanded globally while becoming the United States’ dominant genre. With the turn of a new decade, it is time to reflect on some of the best rap projects that were created during the last ten years. In this article I will rank my top twenty five rap albums and mixtapes of the 2010s, based solely on personal enjoyability. These albums, which dropped during my formative years, have greatly impacted my musical taste and pushed me to become a lifelong hip-hop fan. For variety's sake, I have decided to limit each individual artist to appear a maximum of twice on this list. Without further ado, here are the top twenty five rap albums of the 2010s:  


25. Wiz Khalifa  - Rolling Papers (2011)

During the first half of the decade, Wiz Khalifa established himself as a pop culture icon and forefront of the stoner rap movement. On his major label debut Rolling Papers, Wiz delivered a plethora of bangers such as the Pittsburgh anthem “Black and Yellow” and a fiery shout out to his collective on “Taylor Gang” ft. Chevy Woods. The album also features several more laid back, yet motivational vibes like “The Race” and “Rooftops” featuring Curren$y. Rolling Papers made Wiz a bonafide star in the rap world and perfectly captures the culture cultivated by Taylor Gang and its affiliates during the beginning of the decade. 


24. Travis Scott - Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016)

Often underrated in comparison to its predecessor Rodeo (2015), Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, provides an exciting view into Travis Scott’s psyche. While far from a lyrical masterpiece, the album excels sonically, featuring consistently impressive production and tasteful auto-tuned vocals from Scott. Birds starts strong with the two part heater “way back,” transitioning into “coordinate,”an upbeat yet moody ode to La Flame’s hedonistic lifestyle and love for designer fashion. Other standout tracks on this album include “goosebumps” featuring Kendrick Lamar, a dark banger seemingly made for raucous live performances and the more light-hearted “pickup the phone,” a fun, melodic track featuring rappers Young Thug and Quavo.


23. Young Thug - So Much Fun (2019)

The most recent release on this list, So Much Fun furthered Young Thug’s progression to becoming a household name and will likely be one of the most influential albums going into the new decade. On “Hot,” Thug, Gunna and producer Weezy crafted a horn-fueled gem that celebrates Thug’s label, Young Slime Life’s 2019 success. On other tracks like “I Bought Her” featuring Lil Duke and “Jumped Out the Window,” Thug displays his signature eccentric delivery and impressive vocal range. Given So Much Fun’s commercial success and the growing popularity of the YSL roster, it is almost certain that we will see even more rappers try to emulate Thug’s sound in 2020.


 22. A$AP Rocky - AT.LONG.LAST.ASAP (2015)

During the 2010s, A$AP Rocky established himself not only as a musical star, but also as a cultural icon. His musical peak during the decade was his sophomore album At.Long.Last.A$AP. A.L.L.A featured a captivating psychedelic cloud rap vibe, best captured on the ethereal track “L$D” and its seamless transition into “Excuse Me,” and on “Jukebox Joints” featuring Joe Fox and Kanye West, an elegant track that highlights Rocky’s lyrical capacity. A.L.L.A. is rounded out by bangers like “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” and “M’$” featuring Lil Wayne.   


21. Playboi Carti - Playboi Carti (2017)

Playboi Carti’s self titled mixtape is a wonderful display of minimalism. On the album’s intro track “Location,” Carti floats over a beautifully delicate Harry Fraud instrumental with his signature punchy sound. He then jumps into a string of tracks that utilize his chemistry with frequent collaborators, seamlessly trading bars with Lil Uzi Vert on “Lookin” and “Wokeuplikethis” and perfectly complementing the vibe of Pierre Bourne’s beats on tracks “Magnolia,” “Let it Go” and “Yah Mean.” One of the most interesting elements of these recordings is Carti’s ability to use his ad libs as a percussive instrument, filling the pockets in Pierre’s production. While Carti may lack lyrical prowess on this album, he more than makes up for it with his catchiness and effective delivery.


20. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap (2013)

One of the few mixtapes included on this list, Chance the Rapper’s 2013 project Acid Rap made a massive splash on the free mixtape site Datpiff and later on streaming platforms, due to its jazzy instrumentals and Chance’s erratic, yet catchy delivery. The albums highlight track “Acid Rain” displays his unique voice and impressive storytelling ability. The tape also features a mix of sentimental melodic tracks like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Lost” featuring Noname, and more fun, upbeat songs like “Favorite Song” featuring Childish Gambino. Acid Rap revels in  Chance’s musical flexibility and perfectly captures his eccentric personality.  


19. Drake & Future - What a Time to be Alive (2015)

Given the massive triumphs of Drake and Future’s 2015 solo albums If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and DS2 (respectively), their collab project What a Time to Be Alive’s lone failure was its inability to live up to its impossible expectations. However, despite receiving lukewarm critical reception initially, the pair did in fact deliver a solid collab project that has grown on many listeners and stood the test of time. The two brought heat immediately on the intro track “Digital Dash,” produced by Metro Boomin and Southside, and never looked back, delivering bangers like “Diamonds Dancing,” “Scholarships” and “I'm the Plug,” that display their natural chemistry. What a Time to Be Alive was a pivotal moment in Metro Boomin’s ascension and a fitting victory lap for Drake and Future’s 2015 success. 


18. Migos - Culture (2017)

Although Migos enjoyed success during the first half of the 2010s, with hits like “Versace” (2013) and “Fight Night” (2014), the trio of Atlanta rappers Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff, crafted their most consistent full length project with their second studio album Culture. Culture propelled Migos into the mainstream with its catchy flows and quotable lyrics on tracks like “T-Shirt,” “Get Right Witcha” and “Slippery” featuring Gucci Mane. The album also hosted beats from many of the best Atlanta trap producers like Nard & B, Zaytoven and OG Parker. Ultimately, Migos’ natural charisma and chemistry make Culture one of the decades most memorable projects.


17. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris (2013)

Often overshadowed by Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt paved his own lane as Odd Future’s best lyricist during the early 2010s. His most artistic project during this period was his debut studio album Doris. Doris features some of Earl’s most personal, sentimental lyrics on tracks “Chum” and “Sunday” featuring Frank Ocean. Earl also crafted darker, grittier sounds on tracks like Hive, which features remarkable guest verses from fellow west coast rappers Vince Staples and Cassie Veggies. Doris confirmed Earl’s spot as one of the decade’s premier lyricists and artistic minds.


16. Mac Miller - Watching Movies With the Sound Off (2013)

While Mac Miller’s evolution from being a cheerful, go-lucky backpack rapper to a dark, introspective lyricist began with his 2012 mixtape Macadelic, his 2013 sophomore album Watching Movies With the Sound Off was a true artistic breakthrough. Kicking off with the dark, psychedelic intro “The Star Room,” featuring Mac’s alter ego Delusional Thomas, WMWTSO features many experimental tracks, several produced by Mac himself under the alias Larry Fisherman. In addition to his consistently strong lyrical performance, going toe-to-toe with lyrical heavyweights like Earl Sweatshirt, Ab Soul and Jay Electronica, Mac also reached new heights as a singer on “Objects in the Mirror,” produced by Pharel. 


15. Lil Uzi Vert - Lil Uzi Vert vs the World (2016)

In 2016 Lil Uzi Vert exploded into the mainstream with mixtapes Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World and The Perfect Luv Tape. The former tape took over the entire summer with Maaly Raw produced bangers “Canadian Goose” and “Money Longer.” Uzi also displayed his ability to effortlessly craft melodies on “You Was Right” and showed off his unique vocal ability on “Grab the Wheel.” Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World announced the emergence of the soundcloud generation to the mainstream and is a testament to Uzi’s massive versatility. 


14. Chief Keef - Finally Rich (2012)

In 2012, sixteen year old Chief Keef burst onto the scene with his debut album Finally Rich, a project that had a plethora of hits and very few misses. Together with producer Young Chop, Keef produced several drill bangers like “I Don’t Like” featuring Lil Reese, and trap ballads “Love Sosa,” “Finally Rich” and “Hate Being Sober,” supported by high profile features from 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa. Finally Rich is a raw, unapologetic album that helped popularize Chicago drill and became a blueprint for many emerging artists.


13. Lil Wayne - The Carter IV  (2011)

While Lil Wayne carved his legacy as a rap legend during the 2000s, he also had many fire releases as a veteran during the 2010s and influenced countless young rappers. On his 2011 album The Carter IV, Wayne masterfully flexed his sharp wordplay and expressive delivery. The First half of the album is particularly impressive as the consecutive tracks “Blunt Blowin,” “MegaMan,” “6 Foot 7 Foot,” and “Nightmares of The Bottom” bestow an overload of bars. Wayne also successfully crafted several slower, more emotional songs on this tape like “How to Love” and “She Will,” featuring his then emerging prodigee Drake.


12. Kanye West - Yeezus (2013) 

Like most Kanye West releases, Yeezus was highly controversial upon its release but has recently received more widespread acclaim. The album features Kanye in his most raw, egotistical form, as he declares himself a deity on “I am a God.” On “New Slaves,” he delivers a scathing critique of 21st century racism and materialism, with the tracks second verse being one of the best of all time. Yeezus flourishes in its minimalistic, industrial sounding production and Ye’s ability to ironically compare political themes to his personal tribulations, such as on “Blood On the Leaves,” where he throws autotune laden vocals over an epic flip of civil rights anthem “Strange Fruit.” 


11. Drake - If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)

On If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’s intro track “Legend,” Drake Boasts: “If I die, all I know is I'm a motherfuckin' legend.” I can’t think of a more fitting way to kickstart the album that cemented Drake’s legacy and marked his artistic highpoint. IYRTITL features something for everybody, with countless dark, trap-influenced bangers like “Energy” and “6 Man” and lyrical triumphs on “You and the 6” and “6PM In New York.” Drake also returned to his R&B roots on tracks like “Jungle,” an emotional tune about an uncertain relationship amid rising fame. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a timeless album that fully exhibits Drizzy’s multiple talents.


10. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)

While some projects need time to grow on their listeners, 2014 Forest Hills Drive is the type of album that you only need to listen to once to fall in love with. The album is full of lush instrumentals that are relaxing, yet demand the listener's attention. It features masterful storytelling, as Cole paints vivid pictures of his childhood on songs like “Wet Dreamz” and “03 Adolesense.” FHD is also incredibly self aware, as Cole rips apart the contemporary rap game on “Fire Squad,” reflects on his upbringing on “No Role Modelz,” and expresses gratitude and for his family and many blessings on “Love Yourz.” 


9. Future - DS2 (2015)

Future’s second studio album DS2, is a captivating and honest look into his life of excess. Like all of Future’s releases, the album holds many bangers like “Thought it was a Drought,” “Real Sisters” and “Stick Talk,” all guaranteed to turn up any club or concert hall. However, Future also addresses the downsides of his fast life and frequent use drug use on tracks like “The Percocet and Stripper Joint” and reflects on losing homies to the criminal justice system on “Kno the Meaning.” Throughout the entire album, Future’s raw delivery and nihilistic lyrics perfectly compliment its dark, psychedelic production. The result is his most consistent project and a certified trap classic.


8. Joey Bada$$ - ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (2017)

On ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, Joey Bada$$ effectively distanced himself from the “golden age” boombat style of his earlier releases, while not compromising his lyrical performance. This album is a shining example of contemporary protest art as Joey tactfully addresses the struggles of being Black in “Amerikkka.” The most powerful iteration of this is the outro track “AMERIKKKAN IDOL” where Joey explicitly condemns the U.S. government and mass media. On “LEGENDARY,” Joey and J. Cole spit a plethora of introspective bars over a beautifully syncopated jazz rap instrumental. Joey also demonstrated his ability to make a substantive mainstream hit with “DEVASTATING” and showed his awareness of his West Indian roots on “BABYLON” featuring reggae artist Chronixx. ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a refreshing demonstration of consciousness in an era where trap and cloud rap has become dominant.

 

7. Travis Scott - ASTROWORLD (2018)

Travis Scott’s most recent album ASTROWORLD is a testament to his curating ability and the power of collaboration. The album’s intro track “STARGAZING” immediately sets the tone with its trippy production, exhilarating beat switch and Scott’s autotuned crooning. “SKELETONS,” featuring contributions from The Weeknd, Pharell and Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, and “ASTROTHUNDER,” an otherworldly track with John Mayer and Thundercat, show Travis’ ability to manage diverse musical talents to create genre blending hits. Yet, Scott is still the star of ASTROWORLD, delivering several fire verses on songs like “HOUSTONFORNICATION,” perhaps his most exciting lyrical performance to date. 


6. Playboi Carti - Die Lit (2018)

With his debut studio album Die Lit, Playboi Carti delivered an experimental project that transformed his unique flow into an even more interesting, avant garde style. On the intro track “Long Time,” Carti brings an emotional performance that reflects on his long awaited success. On tracks “R.I.P” and “R.I.P. Fredo” featuring Young Nudy, Carti and Pierre Bourne, combined popular trap sounds with Carti’s heavy punk rock influence to create a vibe perfect for mosh pits and festival crowds. On “Flatbed Freestyle” Carti reached new levels of vocal expressionism with his increasingly incoherent, yet enthralling “baby voice” flow. The album also features alluring, futuristic production, like on the otherworldly Indigo produced track “Lean 4 Real” featuring London Grime icon Skepta. Carti exudes immense confidence all over Die Lit, making it a perfect tape to pick up your day and get you in your bag.  


5. Joey Bada$$ - 1999  (2012)

At just 17 years old, Joey Bada$$ delivered one of the best mixtapes of all time with his debut project 1999. 1999, as the title suggests, employed a sound well beyond his years, with its classic boom bap style beats and sharp lyricism. The wordplay on this project is comparable to hip-hop classics like Nas’ Illmatic, with countless multi-syllabic rhymes and double and triple entendres on tracks like “Survival Tactics” and “Killuminati” with the late rapper Capital Steez. On “Hardknock” featuring CJ Fly, Joey drops one of the hardest verses of all time on the third verse, with countless clever lines like “Who the kid spitting behind the bars like a con-position” and “I kick it like Nike they’ll soon adjust to it. ” 1999 showed incredibly artistic maturity for anyone, muchless someone as young as Joey, and kick started his run as a premier artist throughout the decade.


4. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly  (2015)

In 2015, Kendrick Lamar secured his position as a hip-hop legend by crafting a masterful concept album that incorporates historically Black music forms from several eras. For instance, the flying Lotus produced intro “Wesley’s Theory” featuring George Clinton and Thundercat utilizes funk stylings and Terrace Martin’s saxophone contribution, while the next song, “For Free? (Interlude)” features spoken word poetry over a bebop instrumental. The album also contains deep lyrical content as Kendrick addresses personal depression and survivors guilt on songs like “U” and expresses racial empowerment on tracks like “King Kunta,” “Alright” and “Complexion (a Zulu Love)” featuring Rhapsody. The entire album follows a complex yet coherent storyline, held together by a reoccuring poem that develops between tracks and explains Kendrick’s butterfly analogy: feeling trapped in a cocoon then learning to spread his wings and fly. 


3. Kendrick Lamar -good kid m.A.A.d city (2012)

While To Pimp a Butterfly fastened his legacy as an all-time great, Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city made waves in the hip-hop world with his elite lyricism, exciting delivery and candid description of K-Dot’s coming-of-age in Compton. The album is a Tarintino-esq, nonlinear day in the life narrative that describes Kendrick’s attempt to stay on a straight path amidst a climate of gang violence. The most vivid illustration of this dynamic comes on “The Art of Peer Pressure,” where Kendrick recounts being persuaded to participate in a robbery by manipulating his voice to play different characters. Perhaps Kendrick’s biggest achievement on GKMC was the deceivingly conscious mainstream hits “m.A.A.d city” and “Swimming Pools,” an anti-alcohol, drinking anthem. While To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s most experimental album, good kid m.A.A.d city reigns supreme on this list due to its greater overall replay value.


2. Mac Miller - Faces (2014)

Mac Miller’s magnum opus Faces is a dark depiction of the late rapper’s struggles with depression and drug addiction that exhibits his capacity not only as a rapper, but also as an elite producer. Over half of the album, which has a beautiful jazzy and psychedelic sound, was produced by Mac himself under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman. Mac skillfully incorporated various interesting samples on the project’s instrumentals. For instance, he cleverly flipped John Coltrane and Duke Ellington’s classic 1963 recording “In a Sentimental Mood,” on the song “Diablo,” which also features some of the best bars of his career. An interesting element of Faces is its juxtaposition of uplifting beats with darker lyrics. Mac’s lyrics throughout the project frequently acknowledge his own mortality, making them haunting to listen to now, given his untimely death. For example, on “San Francisco,” Mac raps: “I suppose I'll die alone from an overdose of somesorts.” The mixtape also benefits from its outstanding guest appearances, including Earl Sweatshirt’s verses on “Polo Jeans” and “New Faces Volume 2.” Despite containing 24 songs and being nearly an hour and a half long, every track on Faces adds unique flavor to the project.   

 

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

The best album of the decade brings us back to its beginning. While Yeezus showed Kanye master tactful minimalism, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy succeeds as a maximalist expression of his grandiose persona. The album seamlessly fuses elements of several genres, including baroque pop, rock, electro, soul and world music. Directing a litany of high profile artists and incorporating a team of respected producers, MBDTF displays Kanye’s curating genius. For instance, “So Appalled” features jaw dropping verses from Jay Z, Pusha T and Cyhi the Prince, while “All of The Lights” employs background vocals from over a dozen different artists. Kanye also delivers several of his best verses on this project, with sharp cultural criticism on the progressive rock influenced tracks “Power” and “Gorgeous,” where he performs with a vocoder. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy established Kanye as an all-time great musician and is arguably the greatest rap album ever made. 


Honorable Mentions: Noname - Room 25 (2018), Young Thug - Barter 6 (2015), J Cole - Born sinner (2013), Rae Sremmurd - Sremmlife (2015), Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book (2016)

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