From Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly to Swans’ To Be Kind, this decade has had tons of amazing albums of all genres and forms.
These are the albums that I feel have the best elements in their own respective genres. Whether it be hip hop with fantastically produced instrumentals and complex and clever lyricism, or experimental music with loud, abrasive, and transgressive production along with violent and surreal lyrics, these albums are important to their respective genres and have great replay value.
Before I get into my actual list, here are some albums that I absolutely loved from this decade, but did not quite make the top ten list:
- Bloom – Beach House
- The Powers That B – Death Grips
- A Crow Looked At Me – Mount Eerie
- Twin Fantasy – Car Seat Headrest
- Yeezus – Kanye West
- good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar
- Veteran – JPEGMAFIA
- Benji – Sun Kil Moon
- Blackstar – David Bowie
- KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
- We got it from here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
- 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.
- Caligula – Lingua Ignota
- The Glowing Man – Swans
- Blonde – Frank Ocean
- Unsilent Death – Nails
- Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood
- CLPPNG – clipping.
- A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
- IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
10Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
On their second full-length album, Seattle-based Americana and indie rock band Fleet Foxes perfect the act of introspective, romantic, and poetic lyricism; beautifully arranged and mellow production; and incomparable vocal harmonies, exerting a heavy influence on upcoming and aspiring folk/rock bands. Not only is this album a sonically pleasing piece of art, but it sounds so much better than their previous debut self-titled album. This album sounds grander, more ambitious, more expensive, and a lot more cohesive than their debut. Although their self-titled album was really good and sounded much better than artists like them at the time, Fleet Foxes showed gargantuan improvement when they released Helplessness Blues. If you are looking for a relaxing and gorgeous sounding folk album, or an album with amazing and romantic lyricism that tells a story, I highly recommend giving this one a listen.
9Piñata – Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and iconic hip hop producer Madlib team up for a cold-blooded, fantastic hip hop album in which both of these guys bring out the absolute best in one another.
Not only is Madlib’s production on this album amazing as always, with great samples, great loops, great mixing, as well as odd and unique instrumental choices, but Gibbs put on a fantastic rapping performance; it is unlike any he had ever done with his previous solo albums, and it greatly surprised me when I first heard this album. His rhyme scheme, his flow, and his pen game is on a level that, in my opinion, separates him from a lot of his contemporaries. Although it may not be as great as Madlib’s past collaboration albums, such as Masdvillainy with legendary rapper MF DOOM, I still think that Piñata is not only a great example of Madlib proving himself to be the greatest producer of all time, but also an instance of two artists working together to bring out the best in one another in a fantastic way.
8Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
On his sixth full-length studio album, Detroit rapper Danny Brown proves himself to be one of the most unique voices in hip hop right now. Danny’s high pitched and nasally voice, combined with the sharp, psychedelic, and smooth production, makes this album a very odd listen, to say the least. The instrumentals on this album can range from tons of different atmospheres—from trippy, warped, and psychedelic, to the point where you feel like being slowly sucked into a black hole on tracks such as “Downward Spiral” and “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” to insanely loud and catchy instrumentals on tracks such as “Really Doe” and “Ain’t It Funny,” which is one of my favorite hip hop tracks of the entire decade. The features on this album are also impressive. Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a handful of features on this album. However, the features do not steal the spotlight from Brown’s incredible rapping and unique and strange voice, which makes for one of the craziest and wackiest listens for me personally.
7Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Pianist, singer/songwriter, and former Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) proves himself yet again to be one of the most talented lyricists and composers of the decade. Not only is this album beautifully arranged, composed and produced on all fronts, with piano, guitars, violins, and saxophone, but the lyrics on this album go from absolutely hilarious and politically charged to introspective and poetic, which is a huge part of what sells this album to a lot of people. Even if you take away the amazing lyrics, the overall sound of this record is somber, moody, and gorgeous; it sounds exactly like something Billy Joel would make. I definitely think that is one of the most beautifully arranged albums of this entire decade, and makes for an uplifting, relaxing, and sonically pleasing listen.
6Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
Former Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt released what is easily one of the most emotionally heavy, depressing, and hard to listen to albums of this decade. This album not only has incredible abstract production with great loops, samples, and mixing, but Earl’s emotional, poetic, and gut punching lyrics about his depression, drug abuse, and his father leaving him at a young age make for a serious listen. On one hand, the instrumentals on this album are great and show how talented of a producer Earl is. But on the other hand, I will admit, it is not super easy to listen to this album due to the depressing and heavy lyricism. Regardless, though, I still think it is one of the most lyrically and conceptually promising albums of this decade. Earl yet again proves himself to have one of the best pen games in hip hop right now, no question. If you are looking for a conceptually packed album as well as a fantastic sounding aesthetic, I highly recommend this fantastic album.
5The Money Store – Death Grips
The Money Store makes this Sacramento industrial hip hop and avant garde electronic group Death Grips one of the most interesting, forward thinking, and boundary pushing music acts of all time. This album is not only arguably the best album in their entire catalog, but it is probably the most important as well. This album was not only praised by the small handful of Death Grips fans at the time, but it also caught the attention of several popular media outlets such as Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, and Rolling Stone, and because of this, the group got the recognition that it most certainly deserved for being one of the most creative and boundary pushing music acts of this decade. Some of my favorite Death Grips tracks are from this album. “Get Got,” “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “Hustle Bones,” “I’ve Seen Footage,” and “Hacker” are all amazing and are some of my favorite hip hop tracks ever. If you want to get into Death Grips but do not know where to start, I suggest starting with this album.
4My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Iconic hip hop artist and producer Kanye West’s fifth studio album is his magnum opus, his glorifying return to hip hop, and one of the biggest second winds any artist has ever enjoyed. This album is not only my personal favorite Kanye album of all time, but I and many other Kanye fans hold it to be one of, if not the, most important and groundbreaking moment in his entire career. After Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs, it looked as if Kanye’s career was put on life support. Even after the release of Kanye’s previous studio album 808’s & Heartbreak, a lot of hip hop fans counted him out of the modern hip hop scene. However, all of this changed when Kanye released this amazing album. On this album, Kanye adresses themes of fame, relationships, race, discrimination, and the perception of his persona. Tracks like “Dark Fantasy,” “POWER,” “Gorgeous,” “So Appalled,” “Devil In A New Dress,” and “Runaway” are all amazing songs, and are some of the best in Kanye’s catalog.
3To Be Kind – Swans
Post-rock, noise, and experimental band Swans is one of the most intriguing and odd bands of this generation. The incredibly stretched out, psychedelic, and crescendo type songs that appear on every single Swans album make for an experience that is not for everyone, especially the impatient. On this album specifically, Swans embrace that exact sound. Each track is very long, starting off slow and low key, but then grow much louder later in the song, making you believe that the beginning of the song felt like forever ago. On this album, Swans incorporate great guitar and bass riffs, as well as fantastic drums. Like with every Swans album, this is both an artistic statement and an experiment on how people have been indoctrinated and oversaturated by formulaic and incredibly boring and generic music that is short, easy to listen to, and does not challenge the mind in any way at all. Swans is the exact opposite of that, and that is why I love this band, and this album.
2You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters
Rhode Island noise rock band Daughters create what is arguably the scariest, loudest, most visceral, and haunting album of the decade. Now I will admit that noise rock is a genre that definitely is not for everyone, but the people who do like it will not get enough of this album. The loud distorted and haunting guitars, the blaring and abrasive drums, and the insane vocal performances make this album one of my favorite noise rock albums of all time. Whether you can tolerate noise rock as a genre or not, you cannot deny the creativity and the incredible risks bands like Daughters take when making these types of albums. This album is even more of a leap of faith, and even more of a haunting experience than their debut self-titled full length. You Won’t Get What You Want is hundreds of times more extreme and finely tuned than its predecessor. I highly recommend this album if you are a fan of noise or industrial rock.
1To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Where do I even begin with this absolute masterpiece of an album. Everything about this album is just so amazing, from the funky, jazzy, and smooth production, to the incredibly poetic, detailed, and meticulous politically charged lyricism; Kendrick’s harsh and raspy voice on this album as well, makes it the best album of the 2010’s and in my opinion, the greatest hip hop album of all time. Not only does this album sound great, but the messages and themes Kendrick conveys and explores on this album are beautifully told and preached and completely break the boundaries of what is taboo in mainstream hip hop music. At the time of this album’s release, a handful of the tracks on this album stood as African American power anthems, especially as police brutality regularly made headlines. This album is an impeccable masterpiece, and I highly recommend it.