MY 10 Favorite Albums of The Decade

By Zachary Russell

temp-post-image


With 2019 coming to a close, music fans can look back on the best albums of the decade. The 2010’s gave us tons of fantastic music: from pop, to R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and everything in between. The decade introduced us to plenty of new artists with staying power, while some veteran musicians gave us their best material.

The era of streaming has no doubt changed the music landscape, incentivizing longer albums that focus more on catchy songs that can be curated into playlists. This change is part of what makes a great album so special. An album you can play front to back, and that impacts the genre, seems increasingly harder to come by. Nevertheless, plenty of great work was released in the 2010’s.

Before 2020 is upon us, it’s worth looking back at some of the best albums to come out in the past 10 years. Here are my 10 personal favorite albums of the decade.

temp-post-image

#10 Killer Mike- “R.A.P. Music” (2012)
Before the duo became Run the Jewels, one of the decade’s best rap acts, Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper and producer El-P teamed up for Mike’s fifth studio album, “R.A.P. Music.” The result is one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade.

“R.A.P. Music” demonstrates two artists from different scenes coming together. Killer Mike, an Outkast affiliate, has a commanding voice that pairs perfectly over El-P’s hard-hitting production. Lyrically, Killer Mike is versatile, with raps ranging from political (“Reagan”) to introspective (“Untitled”) to comedic (“JoJo’s Chillin”). A highlight of the album is the narrative song “Don’t Die,” on which El-P’s beat changes with the story in the lyrics.

“R.A.P. Music” set the stage for Run the Jewels’ dominant decade, and should receive praise for its pairing of two underground legends.

temp-post-image

#9 Lorde- “Melodrama” (2017)
New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Lorde emerged to prominence in the 2010’s as one of pop’s best new voices. On her sophomore album “Melodrama,” she takes a more electropop and dance approach, making it a unique, fun listen in the contemporary pop genre.

The album starts and ends on high-notes, with “Green Light” and “Perfect Places:” two energetic hit-singles. While there is no shortage of pop songs, some of “Melodrama’s” best moments are the slow cuts that showcase Lorde’s voice. “Writer in the Dark” puts the spotlight on the vocals as only strings and piano accompany them. Lorde’s songwriting is top-notch on this album as well, with lyrics that are introspective and creative.

As an artist who doesn’t consistently release music, Lorde’s follow-up to “Melodrama” is highly-anticipated, though it’s hard to image topping such a lively, well-crafted and diverse album.

temp-post-image

#8 Flying Lotus- “You’re Dead!” (2014)
L.A. based electronic producer Flying Lotus has been one of the most active artists of the last 10 years. Each of his albums have a different sound, with 2014’s “You’re Dead!” being his most thematic. FlyLo’s jazz fusion record is one of the best albums of the decade.

“You’re Dead!” is a collection of the tracks that amount to a completed product. With the exception of a couple songs, listening to tracks outside of playing the album in its entirety is difficult. But when listened to as a whole project, the songs tie into a creative and hectic, but also beautiful and mystical album. “Never Catch Me,” “Coronus, The Terminator,” and “Moment of Hesitation” stand out as a few of the best moments from the 40-minute jazz-inspired journey.

Flying Lotus pushes boundaries on each of his albums, but “You’re Dead!” is both inventive and uniquely cohesive compared to his other work.

temp-post-image



#7 David Bowie- “Blackstar” (2016)
David Bowie was one of the most versatile artists in the history of modern music, approaching nearly every genre in one way or another. His final album, “Blackstar,” was released just two days before his death, and serves as a goodbye to Bowie’s musical career and life.

The 10-minute-long title track opens the album, and like many songs on it, Bowie sings about life and death. Songs such as “Lazarus” and “Dollar Days” invoke emotion, and are incredible songs with an array of great instrumentation. “Blackstar” is an incredible art rock album on its face, even if Bowie had not passed, giving it underlying sentiment.
Recorded while receiving cancer treatments, listening to the album after his passing is a bit eerie, but also fascinating given the themes. “Blackstar” puts a fine point on David Bowie’s life, and makes for another incredible album among his dozens of others.

temp-post-image


#6 Kendrick Lamar- “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” (2012)
Kendrick Lamar is arguably the best rapper of the decade. He released four studio albums in the 2010’s, all of which to critical acclaim. His second is his best.

“Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” like the rest of Lamar’s albums, follows a narrative. Lamar tells a story of his life growing up in Compton throughout the album, as a backdrop of West-Coast inspired beats transport the listener to a different time and place. Lamar’s storytelling ability gives the audience a uniquely personal view into his world. Add an excellent set of beats, and you have one of the most groundbreaking albums of the 2010’s. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” also strikes the perfect balance of accessibility (“Poetic Justice”) and grittiness (“M.A.A.D City” and “Money Trees.”)

Kendrick Lamar’s second album made him a superstar in contemporary hip-hop. It is one of the most essential albums in a decade filled with great rap music.

temp-post-image

#5 Kanye West- “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010)
Kanye West released his fifth studio album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” at the beginning of the decade. Not only does it stand as one of the best hip-hop albums of the 2010’s, but also West at his creative peak.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is best described as extravagant. The production on songs like “Power,” “All of the Lights,” and “Hell of a Life” is quite unlike anything that Kanye, or anyone, had made before. Lyrically, he fuses social commentary with tales of celebrity and excess, which fit over the instrumentals perfectly. The featured artists compliment the album without flaw on nearly every track, most notably “Devil in a New Dress.”

Kanye West entered into a new phase of his career in the 2010’s, with his most recent work being very polarizing. Still, both fans of ‘new’ and ‘old’ Kanye can recognize how good of an album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is. Depending on who you ask, it’s Kanye’s greatest work.

temp-post-image

#4 Frank Ocean- “Channel Orange” (2012)
R&B artist Frank Ocean emerged from rap collective Odd Future as one of the best solo artists of the 2010’s. While Ocean’s 2016 effort “Blonde” is more acclaimed by some than his debut, “Channel Orange” features a collection of beautiful vocal performances and diverse production, making it one of the decade’s best albums.

The album touches nearly every base one could think of in the realm of neo-soul and R&B. Soft songs like the hit “Thinkin Bout You” and “Pink Matter” showcase Frank Ocean’s voice the most, while “Pyramids” and “Sweet Life” are songs that pair his great voice with exciting production that pull from many genres. The variety of instruments and sounds heard on “Channel Orange” separate it from “Blonde,” which is also an incredible listen, although more atmospheric.

Given Frank Ocean’s sparse output of music, “Channel Orange” should be appreciated as one of music’s best voices at his most creative.

temp-post-image

#3 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib -"Piñata” (2014)
The collaborations between Indiana gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs and West Coast producing legend Madlib made for some of the decade’s best hip-hop. 2014’s “Piñata” stands out for its chemistry, and is highlighted by some great features. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s work should be recommended to anybody nostalgic for 90’s hip-hop.

It’s hard to overstate how well Madlib and Gibbs sound together. Madlib’s signature style of chopped soul and jazz samples over lo-fi beat loops serve as the background for gritty, yet introspective lyrics. Gibbs’ flow, heard on standout tracks like “Thuggin’,” “Bomb,” and “Uno,” make him one of the most talented rappers to emerge this decade.

“Piñata,” as well as its 2019 follow-up “Bandana,” feature two artists from different sides of the hip-hop spectrum creating an excellent piece of work. “Piñata” checks every box one would look for in a rap record.

temp-post-image

#2 St. Vincent- “Strange Mercy” (2011)
Released in 2011, “Strange Mercy” is the third studio album by rock artist St. Vincent, real name Annie Clark. Of the three solo albums she would release in the 2010’s, this is her most captivating.

The biggest takeaway from “Strange Mercy” is the emotion it gives off through both the vocal performances and the music. While often cryptic in her lyrics, Clark’s singing and guitar playing creates a certain mood to the album, all while never giving the listener two songs that sound the same. “Northern Lights” and the title track both stand out for the way they build up and explode with energy, each in their own way. “Year of the Tiger” gives the listener a sense of fulfillment, and is the perfect way to end the album.

Some of Clark’s best work came out in the 2010’s. “Strange Mercy,” an album that is both brooding and lovely at times, is her most inventive and conceptual.

temp-post-image

#1 Kamasi Washington- “The Epic” (2015)
L.A. based saxophonist and band leader Kamasi Washington was known for collaborating with Terrace Martin, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar before releasing “The Epic” in 2015. His three-hour long debut introduced him to a wider audience, and cemented him as one of the most talented acts in contemporary jazz.

“The Epic” takes on a wide array of jazz styles, with Washington’s saxophone leading the way. Some songs feature beautiful vocals like “The Rhythm Changes” and “Cherokee,” but most songs are instrumental pieces, none of which are boring. While some songs are slower, pieces such as “Final Thought” and “The Message” are energetic from start to finish.

Washington and The Next Step have released great work since their debut, including a couple EP’s, and 2018’s full-length “Heaven and Earth.” However, nothing can quite match the ground they broke on “The Epic.” While the runtime is very long for one sitting, each album in the three-part set is beautiful in and of itself. “The Epic” is a great introduction to the genre for those interested in jazz, while also pleasing veteran listeners.