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Wayback Machine: Best Hip Hop of the 2010s
The C.R.E.A.M. of Rap and R'n'B from the last decade.
When I was a youth, I only listened to ‘heavy’ music, and foolishly, I wore that narrowmindedness as a badge of pride. Eventually, I grew out of that shit and I was starved for new sounds and experiences. In the 2010s, I made a concerted effort to listen to more hip hop. I mean, rap and R'n'B were the dominant music genres in the world for a reason, right? What’s all the fuss about? As it turns out, most of it is, how you say, ‘trash.’ (Or at least, I think it’s trash.) But there are many diamonds in the rough if one knows where to look.
Most of the artists in this list are effectively mainstream hip-hop acts today. But over the last decade, they’ve carved a name for themselves, stepping out of the underground with a unique voice and something to say—beyond pointless hood beef, drug talk, playin’ ho’s, and drinking lean.
Here are my picks for the Best Hip Hop Records of the 2010s.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (2012)
For those who love the supergroup duo Run The Jewels (more on them below), this record is the genesis of that holy union. With beats courtesy of rapper and producer Jamie ‘El-P’ Meline, Killer Mike’s fifth album R.A.P. Music is a classic in the waiting. Scathing social commentary and insightful political analysis collide with thick and fast hood anthems and Southern-fried hooks.
Run The Jewels – S/T (2013)
Embracing the obvious chemistry the pair showcased on R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike and El-P decided to team up once again for Run The Jewels. Four albums, a Grammy-nomination, and nearly a decade later Run The Jewels haven’t looked back. This album was released on the internet for free and it’s democracy in action with wall-to-wall bangers.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (2014)
This record was my introduction to Gary, Indiana maestro Freddie Gibbs and I’m thankful for it every single day. Gibbs is a once-in-a-generation storyteller: talented, funny, hard as nails, yet still emotionally and philosophically curious. With acclaimed producer Madlib laying down a platform of old-school beats and lush soul samples, Gibbs flays open his psyche on Piñata, interrogating hood feuds, the death of loved ones, his relationship to cocaine and women, masculinity, and the corruptive influence of fame and success.
(The real video for the track below is age-restricted—watch it here.)
Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt (2015)
Man, this whole record bangs. What a vibe. It’s incredibly diverse and a true testament to Freddie Gibb’s versatility as a performer and artist. But if you needed any further convincing, just listen to the red hot single “Fuckin’ Up The Count”—it’s got it all: rattling snare, lowrider bass, liquid flows, earworm hooks, and hard-hitting samples pulled from the mean streets of The Wire.
Westside Gunn – FLYGOD (2016)
While Griselda Records might be on track for worldwide domination in 2021, as little as six years ago they were still on the ground, grinding through the snow-covered, windblown streets of Buffalo, New York. Adding to the most prolific studio output of the crew, Westside Gunn’s FLYGOD is the archetypal document for their movement. On this record, Gunn creates the mood and atmosphere that’s become his signature: sharp-shooter one-liners, stellar guest features, grimy beats, and cold-as-ice, coke rap bars. It also features arguably my favourite rap hook of the last decade: “I dye my cocaine black.” Word.
Denzel Curry – Imperial (2016)
The conversation in American hip hop has always oscillated between ‘East Coast vs West Coast.’ And if I’m being honest, that’s really just a ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ It also overlooks all the iconic rappers that have come from outside that bi-coastal dichotomy (like the Indiana-based Gibbs or Atlanta’s Killer Mike). To that point, enter Denzel Curry. Imperial certainly wasn’t his first project, but it did put the Florida rapper on the hip hop map. Spacey beats, rapid-fire flows, and monstrous hooks—this record has all the elements of another sleeper classic.
YG – Still Brazy (2016)
I love listening to iconic 90s G-funk: The Chronic, All Eyez On Me, Doggystyle, and of course, Regulate...G Funk Era. It’s super fun and feel-good, but with the rise of Southern hip hop in the 00s and trap in 10s, that style was mostly seen as a nostalgic mode. That is until California’s own YG breathed new life into the format with Still Brazy. It’s got plenty of hood bangers and dark synths but beneath that flashy exterior, there’s also a heady meditation on gangsta life and paranoia.
Brockhampton – Saturation I-III (2017)
I might be cheating here by including what’s technically three albums as one, but it’s my newsletter, so what the hell. In 2017, Brockhampton blew everyone’s minds with their eccentric blend of rap, R’n’B, and indie, infusing their monster sonic output with charm, wit, and thematic cohesion. Each chapter of the Saturation trilogy has its stand-out moments, so it’s really hard to play favourites with this thirteen-member-strong artist collective. Just listen to them all and thank me later.
Anderson .Paak – Oxnard (2018)
Speaking of eccentric R’n’B, no one does it quite like Anderson .Paak. On Oxnard, he puts his windows-down, summer breeze Malibu style into stylistic overdrive, pulling in big-name collaborators like Pusha T, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. This is the stuff I put on when I need to blow out the cobwebs, let loose, and have a good time.
Denzel Curry – ZUU (2019)
Closing things out, Denzel Curry doubles it up with another slate of contemporary hip hop jams. While 2018’s Ta13oo was dark and stormy, focusing on mental health and perception, ZUU is a love letter to Curry’s hometown of Miami. It’s fun, catchy, vibrant, and it totally bangs; the perfect closer to a super-strong decade of hip hop.
Stream the full playlist below: