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.
Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4Eva - K.R.I.T. had already been paving his own lane in the underground for a little while, but this is probably the best of his unique sound from his early days.
Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne - This is definitely not of the "new school" that I talk about in the intro, but still, it's just a damn good album from front to back.
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.
Ethelwulf - The Wolf Gang's Rodolphe - After a couple "influenced by Raider Klan" albums, here is an actual Raider Klan album! Great production, great rapping, and I love that it includes a good chopped and screwed version of every song. I'm not sure why Ethelwulf changed his name to Xavier Wulf after this, because Ethelwulf was a cooler name. At least he didn't go full Yasiin Bey.
Flatbush Zombies - D.R.U.G.S. - Excellent debut mixtape of the Flatbush Zombies. Speaking of the Flatbush Zombies, people always love Meech and Erick but hate on Juice, but I like Juice. He's just as good as the other two members, and they would be lacking without him.
Nas - Life Is Good - Another entry from an old school artist, but this is one of the best albums from one of the all time greats, so it deserves a mention here.
Spark Master Tape - Syrup Splash - Weird debut mixtape from the weird anonymous Internet rapper.
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.
Action Bronson - Blue Chips 2 - Great beats, great flow, funny lyrics. You could say that about almost any Bronson project, but this is my favorite.
Denzel Curry - Nostalgic 64 - More Raider Klan shit!
Flatbush Zombies - BetterOffDEAD - Another great effort after last year's D.R.U.G.S. Sadly, they won't make this list again.
Pusha T - My Name is My Name - Push's debut solo album could have won in some other years. I also love his "Wrath of Caine" mixtape from earlier in the same year.
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels - The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with Killer Mike and El-P. Distinctive production and fun lyrics to rap along to.
Spark Master Tape - The #SWOUP Serengeti - Like the Flatbush Zombies, this is his 2nd awesome mixtape in 2 years, and also his last mention here. He released some great loosies on Soundcloud after this and I was hyped for his next project, but then he disappeared for a couple years. When he came back, he was still good, but not quite the same.
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.
Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica - A departure from his sound up to this point, but it works.
Bones - Skinny - Bones was releasing a ton of mixtapes around this time, so I just kind of randomly picked one. Some of the best lo-fi hip hop.
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2 - Just as good as the original was the previous year.
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.
A$AP Rocky - AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP - Not quite up to his previous efforts, but still good. Maybe I'd think higher of it if Multiply made the cut. The flows are more sophisticated here than on his first two projects, but part of the beauty of his earlier work was how simple it was. His old stuff is just more fun to rap along with than ALLA.
Future - DS2 - Peak Future. Future can certainly be accused of making the same song over and over again, and this album is no different. But it's a damn good song! Especially this version.
Lil Ugly Mane - Oblivion Access - Another Ugly Mane album! This one is really fucking weird. Weird to the point where I was worried about his mental state when I listened to it, as if it was a cry for help. This album is a little hit or miss, but the highs are sublime.
Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth - Brilliant album. Artistic. Meaningful. Deep. And also full of bangers. I keep coming back to this more than any of Lupe's other albums.
Maxo Kream - Maxo 187 - Maxo has a bunch of great songs, but hasn't quite put together a great album IMHO. This is his closest. It has a really weird, dark sound that stands out as unique. And Thirteen is one of the hardest songs of all time.
Pusha T - King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude - Not sure what's going on with this title, split into three parts with a dash and a colon lol. Great album, though. I'm a huge fan of intro tracks. Pusha T, even dating back to his Clipse days, always had great intro tracks. This one might be his best though.
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.
Denzel Curry - Imperial - Probably Denzel's most polished album. There's a lot of variety here too, from hard songs like Knotty Head (With a Rick Ross feature! Denzel is big time now!) to more melodic tracks like This Life. I like all of it.
wifisfuneral - Black Heart Revenge - wifi is at his best making lo-fi hip hop, not wholly unlike Bones. He has a few good projects, but this is my favorite. His newer stuff has gone away from this style, which I think is unfortunate.
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:
Great production from their in-house producers. Kind of lo-fi, kind of poppy, and definitely distinct.
Kevin Abstract is a good rapper with a lot of charisma.
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.
$uicideboy$ & Germ - DirtierNastier$uicide - The Boys have a lot of good tracks, but IMHO no cohesive great album. So I'm putting this EP here, because even though it's short, it's awesome. Especially Here We Go Again.
Juicy J - Highly Intoxicated - Related to above... my biggest problem with the $uicideboy$ is that they just aren't very good rappers. I love the production though. So here we have a mixtape by Juicy J produced largely by the $suicideboy$? That's my shit.
Lil Peep - Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1 - Peep is another guy who I don't think has a great album, but has a ton of tracks I love. I'm listing this project rather than another because Benz Truck is what got me into Peep.
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"!
JPEGMAFIA - Veteran - This is some wild shit. I wanted to pick this over Daytona, but I just can't do it because there's a few songs on here that I'm not a huge fan of. Then again, you gotta give Peggy bonus points for dissing my boy Varg on I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies, like how does he even know who that is? lol
Nickelus F - STUCK - This is just as good as Trick Dice.
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:
madlib: chops up another soul track— brandyn (@bwandyn) June 28, 2019
freddie gibbs: gangsta gibbs, kane train, cocaine, bitch
me: this is exactly what i wanted, thank you
None yet! Peggy, don't disappoint me!
Update from 2020: Peggy did disappoint me a bit. All My Heroes Are Cornballs is fine, but it's not as good as Veteran and it doesn't quite deserve an honorable mention. Instead, another album came out of nowhere to earn honorable mention:
- Clipping - There Existed an Addiction to Blood - I've listened to them a bit in the past, but never got hooked. This hooked me, hard. The concept of "the ghetto as a horror movie" is not new, but man they executed it flawlessly. Just listen to this. There's a few other incredible tracks too.
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!