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Best Albums of 2010s

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Continuing with our Hip-Hop History Month celebration, which will also be highlighting the best rap albums released during the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, we’re now bringing it full circle and current with the best projects released just last decade in the 2010s.

To quote one of the emcees included on this list, what a time was it to be alive!

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2010s hip-hop was the first era that was impacted by the now-standard digital boom of streaming services. The rules changed completely sometime around 2015, resulting in odd occurrences like songs from an entire album occupying the Billboard Hot 100 all at once, songs regularly debuting in the top 10 then falling off completely a week later after streams subsided and music industry pillars like record stores and, yes, even the once-vital CD becoming damn-near obsolete. On a positive note, the new platform did open the floodgates for more emcees than ever to be able to enter and bypass the gatekeepers at record labels. Essentially, they ushered in the mindset of becoming your own boss by way of utilizing Bandcamp, SoundCloud and/or directly uploading to a Digital Service Provider themselves — DSP is the preferred term now.

With that said, the albums we chose to include on this list reflect emcees that understood the digital assignment described above and ended up making some of the most timeless rap records of this era. Listed in no particular order, no repeat rappers and only one selection per year, we think these 10 rap LPs reflect the 2010s to a tee. We’re willing to bet your fave isn’t on here, and you probably won’t agree with some of the selections and/or albums we decided to choose from a specific lyricist. All we can say is one thing: bring on the beef! We’re ready for a good debate if you are.

Keep scrolling for our list of the 10 best rap albums of the 2010s in celebration of Hip-Hop History Month, and as per usual let us know where we got it right and who we maybe should’ve left off:

1. Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010)

The decade started off strong with a game-changing contribution from “The Old Kanye,” quite possibly the last time we’d ever see this version of him again actually. From Harvard-level production to street savvy lyricism, not to mention a “monster” feature that helped catapult the career of then-rising female emcee Nicki Minaj, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will forever be remembered as Ye’s final masterpiece before his decade-long fall from grace.

Standout Track:
“Monster” (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver)

2. Danny Brown, ‘XXX’  (2011)

One of the most surprising new emcees that broke onto the scene in the early 2010s was eclectic Detroit rapper Danny Brown. We can promise you that you’ve never heard anything like XXX, from his erratic-yet-essential flow and pearl-clutching lyricism to a general uniqueness that cemented his place as a trendsetter. No wonder why both SPIN Magazine and Detroit Metro Times named him as their 2011 Artist of The Year.

Standout Track:
“Pac Blood”

3. Nicki Minaj, ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’ (2012)

While we’re currently living in an era where female rap is damn-near eclipsing the fellas, the shift started slow and with one particular Queens-bred queen: Onika Maraj, better known to her “Barbz” brigade of fans as Nicki Minaj. While her 2010 debut album solidified her star power, it was the follow-up, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, that made her a household name with help from a globally award-winning smash lead single.

Standout Track:

4. Jay-Z, ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ (2013)

Two decades into the rap game by this point — more on that in our “Best Rap Albums Of The ’90s” list! — Jay-Z became akin to garnering a demand for his studio albums unlike any of his contemporaries, predecessors or successors in rhyme. That didn’t change with Magna Carta Holy Grail, marketed as somewhat of a famous art piece in itself, with Hov displaying a confidence and creativity that made for a more mature rap record then what was being offered thus far.

Standout Track:
“Picasso Baby”

5. J. Cole, ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ (2014)

Starting the beginning of J. Cole’s “#1 with no features” era that his fans love to tout, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a master class display of amazing production by the Dreamville head honcho himself paired with equally clever lyricism (“My only regret was too young for Sade Adu / My only regret could never take Aaliyah home / Now all I’m left with is hoes up in Greystone / With the stale face cause they know it’s they song”). Of all the five projects he released during this era, this one was the clear shining star. 

Standout Track:
“No Role Modelz”

6. A$AP Rocky, ‘At. Long. Last. A$AP’ (2015)

Bringing the ranks of rap back to New York City where it started, Harlem-bred emcee A$AP Rocky created a movement during this time with his A$AP Mob crew that many hadn’t seen with such a cultural impact since Cam’Ron and Dipset a decade prior. On At. Long. Last. A$AP, his sound shifted to a degree that his talent superseded boom bap altogether by incorporating psychedelia, indie rock and all sorts of spacey elements that influenced many LPs to arrive after it. 

Standout Track:

7. Drake, ‘Views’ (2016)

By this point in his career, Drake was the certified golden boy of rap: each of his prior albums had reached #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, going three-times, six-times and four-times Platinum, respectively. Views completely shattered all those accolades to become his most successful project to date. Actually, it was such a viral craze that he literally was able to ride off the first single for a whopping 9 months before the album even dropped!

Standout Track:
“Hotline Bling”

8. Kendrick Lamar, ‘DAMN.’ (2017)

Two words: Pulitzer! Prize! While it would’ve been easy to include every one of Kendrick Lamar’s albums on this list, from his breakout 2011 mixtape, Section.80, to the flawless 2012 official debut LP, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the work he put into DAMN. definitely deserves to be highlighted in its own right. We’re just glad that, from the chart-topping album and #1 singles to being the first-ever rap record awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music, K. Dot was able to stay ‘humble’ the whole time. 

Standout Track:

9. Travis Scott, ‘ASTROWORLD’ (2018)

Although the album’s legacy ended in literal tragedy, ASTROWORLD at its peak was hands-down the biggest album of 2018, even overshadowing the GRAMMY-winning grand debut of Bronx-bred beauty Cardi B. Aside from the fatal festival that followed, Travis Scott was on top of the world with this one and had everyone from Nike to McDonalds wanting in on his star power.

Standout Track:
“SICKO MODE” (feat. Drake, Swae Lee & Big Hawk)

10. Tyler, The Creator, ‘IGOR’ (2019)

Tyler, The Creator has emerged in more recent years as the closest thing to a second coming of Pharrell Williams, his self-admitted idol and now-frequent collaborator. While his Odd Future era earlier in the 2010s was shrouded in lyrical controversy, a very viral disbandment and even allegations of Satanism, his solo act cleaned up substantially by the time of his 2017 LP, Flower Boy. That project would eventually set him up to go from superstar to supernova in the rap game thanks to the production, features and overall creativity put into IGOR

Standout Track: 
“EARFQUAKE” (feat. Playboi Carti, Charlie Wilson and Jessy Wilson)