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My favorite hip hop albums of the 2010s

In 2010, I was kinda tuned out of the rap game. I'm not saying there was no good hip hop music in the late 2000s. There was definitely some good stuff. Big names like Kanye, of course. Some underground guys like Big K.R.I.T. and Wale were releasing great stuff. But there was also a lot of trash. Overall, it didn't hold my interest.

In 2012, by chance I heard Goldie on the radio. It sounded new, fresh, interesting, exciting. I wanted more. I started seeking out new hip hop music, and I was rewarded by discovering a ton of incredible new artists. This is why, even though I was born in 1985 and started listening to hip hop in the 90s, the 2010s are my decade for hip hop music. And as the 2010s are coming to an end, I'm feeling nostalgic for what a great decade it was.

So here we are. I'm going to go through the 2010s, starting in 2011, and talk about my favorite albums from each year. Why start in 2011 rather than 2010? Because that's when A$AP Rocky's first mixtape dropped.

And just to pre-empt any controversy (as if anyone is going to read this): this is just personal preference. Things I enjoy. I'm not rating skill or talent or artistic merit. And I'm probably also being dumb and forgetting some albums.

My favorite hip hop album of 2011:

A$AP Rocky - LIVE.LOVE.A$AP

As mentioned above, I didn't even know who Rocky was until Goldie came out, so I didn't hear this mixtape until the following year. But, damn. This is the GOAT mixtape. As a big fan of the Three 6 Mafia dating back to the 90s, I hadn't realized how much I missed that kind of sound - dark, lo-fi, hazy. Credit SpaceGhostPurrp and Raider Klan for bringing it back, but credit Rocky for the first classic album in the Three 6 revival movement.

Favorite tracks: Bass, Brand New Guy, Purple Swag

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2012:

Lil Ugly Mane - Mista Thug Isolation

Lil Ugly Mane has similar influences as Rocky (Three 6 Mafia, Raider Klan), but takes it in a somewhat more aggressive direction. He's not the MC that Rocky is, but in Mista Thug Isolation he improved from "cringeworthy" to "good enough". His flow still isn't great. He has some funny and meaningful lyrics at times. But this is really about the production and the ambiance. Classic.

Favorite tracks: Lean Got Me Fucked Up, Throw Dem Guns, Wishmaster

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2013:

A$AP Rocky - LONG.LIVE.A$AP

Oh, A$AP Rocky again? Well since Goldie is what started this, of course the album Goldie's on is going to be on this list. I remember before the album dropped, the second single Long Live A$AP came out. And I was worried. I was worried Rocky was going to sell out in his debut album and make something boring and generic. Instead, he makes this weird fucking song a single? Dope.

Favorite tracks: Angels, Long Live A$AP, Suddenly

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2014:

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata

This is one of those "I didn't even know I wanted this, but now that you mention it, I need it" collaborations. Gibbs is one of my favorite rappers and Madlib is one of my favorite producers, and the combination is incredible. Really raw, hard rapping over really classy, interesting beats.

Favorite tracks: Bomb, Knicks, Thuggin'

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2015:

Nickelus F & Shawn Kemp - Trick Dice

Shawn Kemp one of the many names that Lil Ugly Mane uses. Here you get the same incredibly production he always brings, plus a better rapper on top of them. In contrast to 2012's Supasonic when he made an album with a worse rapper. This album made me a fan of Nickelus F and got me into his other stuff, which is pretty awesome too.

Favorite tracks: Clusterfuck, Paragraph Of My Life, Protein

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2016:

Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

Echoing what I said in the previous section about Ugly Mane's mental health, this album made me worried for Kanye. I mean, just look at the album cover! WTF is that?

And it's not like this is my favorite Kanye album. But it is my favorte album of 2016. Is this the beginning of the end of 2010s hip hop? Maybe so. A lot of the artists mentioned above did not again equal their early 2010s peaks. That's not to say it's all bad from here out, but it's just not quite the same density of awesomeness.

Favorite tracks: No More Parties In LA, Ultralight Beam, Wolves

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2017:

Brockhampton - Saturation 2

New shit! Brockhampton came out of nowhere and released three albums in 2017. For me, Brockhampton has three things going for them:

  1. Great production from their in-house producers. Kind of lo-fi, kind of poppy, and definitely distinct.

  2. Kevin Abstract is a good rapper with a lot of charisma.

  3. The rest of the rappers are at least good in small doses, and they have unique styles. I don't know if anyone but Kevin could stand on their own, but when you have like 6 different guys contributing verses, that can obscure a lot of flaws.

I like all their albums, but for some reason I cannot articulate, Saturation 2 is my favorite.

Favorite tracks: Gummy, Junky, Sweet

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2018:

Pusha T - Daytona

Okay, all the little 7 track Kanye albums in 2018 were good. But Daytona is the best. Push is simply one of the best rappers of all time, and his beats have always been incredible, dating back to Clipse rapping over Neptunes beats. I don't know how much credit I should give Push for the production, but since it's always so consistently awesome and unique, I give him a fair amount of credit. And then on top of that, like I said, he's a phenomenal rapper.

Also, I never would have thought there would be another contender for "best song named Santeria"!

Favorite tracks: If You Know You Know, Santeria, The Games We Play

Honorable mention

My favorite hip hop album of 2019:

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana

Piñata still sounds fresh, so it doesn't feel 5 years old. But it is! Finally, the sequel. It's just as good as Piñata, for many of the same reasons. And I love all the weird samples in the transitions between songs. Basically:

Favorite tracks: Cataracts, Crime Pays, Half Manne Half Cocaine

Honorable mention

None yet! Peggy, don't disappoint me!

Conclusions

It definitely seems that the underground scene from the early 2010s has faded, which corresponds to the number of albums in the "honorable mentions" each year. Hopefully the 2020s has something new in store for us though!