The Hip hop genre has been described as one of the most far - reaching movements of the last three decades; it is not just about the music, it's a unique era of culture in which the art, music, fashion and language have become ubiquitous and global. Hip hop is unpredictable, with many artists finding many ways to express their inner demons, love, heartbreak, depression and the joy that life brings. From the dirty Favelas of Rio De Janeiro, to the rough council estates of England and ghettos of New York, Hip hop is a reflection of everyday life for many bright talents.
Hip hop has never been as diverse as it is now in 2017, it may be tough to declare if we are in fact experiencing the second golden age of the genre, but it is definitely a wonderful time to be a fan. It is rather daunting to sift through a ton of outstanding albums that have been released since 2010, and it is impossible to honour every release - notable exclusions are inevitable. This list highlights some of the very best Hip hop albums of the past decade, making sure to include personal favourites also.
Please note that this list is in no particular order:
1. Killer Mike - “R.A.P Music (Rebellious, African, People)”
Killer Mike has been ruling the world of Hip hop for quite some time now as one half of Run The Jewels. But, his solo album R.A.P Music is easily capable of rivalling anything in the RTJ back-catalogue. On this record Mike doesn't have a very complex rap style, he is very direct and straight to the point for the most part. Killer Mike's impressive storytelling paints a detailed picture of how ugly life really is in the south. I love how the feeling of distrust within the system is conveyed, and how anti-social and political charged most of the tracks are. The songs criticise rappers romanticising with the gang life, selling drugs and keeping it too real, telling the listener how that can encourage the youth to walk paths that lead them to death or life in prison.
The political themes remain constant throughout the whole the LP, but I love how Killer Mike is never afraid to reveal his vulnerabilities, his fear of death and leaving his loved ones behind. On the 'Untitled' track, he says: "Will my woman be Coretta take my name cherish it? Or will she Jackie O, drop the Kennedy, remarry it? My sister says it necessary on some Cleopatra shit. My grandmamma said nope, never that it's sacrilege, tend to agree because the thought is so disparaging ". 'R.A.P Music' is no one-note like his previous solo releases.
It is also worth mentioning that the legendary producer/rapper EL-P produced the album in its entirety, offering a noisy, bombastic and synth heavy production. Nevertheless, every single song is varied and in possession of a southern style. With rattling high hats, loud and crispy snares and deep melodic basslines, El-P's production brings Mike's high energy rap style to a completely different dynamic.
Highlights from this album are:
- Don't Die - Untitled - Reagan
2. Aesop Rock - “Skelethon”
Among Hip hop enthusiasts, Aesop Rock has become one of the most prominent figures in the modern underground rap scene. With amazing lyrics that contain absurdist imagery, clever metaphors and tons of nerdy references, Aesop Rock might be one of the nerdiest rappers to ever pick up a mic. He's also widely known for having the largest vocabulary of any rapper out there. He truly is a unique Mc; with multiple classics under his belt , a consistent catalogue and a career spanning over 20 years, Aesop Rock is truly a Hip hop legend.
After the release of None Shall Pass, fans had to wait five years for Skelethon and it lived up to the hype. Skelethon is arguably the definitive Aesop Rock album. The album as a whole, conveying truths of becoming someone he didn’t appreciate after the tragic death of label mate Camu Tao and his divorce, is incredibly thoughtful. It is his most personal and revealing work yet, busting his heart wide open on tracks like "Gopher Guts", where he raps "I have been completely unable to maintain any semblance of relationship on any level, I have been a bastard to the people who have actively attempted to deliver me from peril". Throughout the album his sadness, anger and regret are on full display. On Skelethon there is absolutely no simplicity, his lyrics are a task to unravel, his penchant for wordplay is strong and he flows like those beats were destined for him. I love how he can put so much detail into his lyrics about things that pass many of us by on a regular basis, making them sound so eerie and cold.
The true beauty of this album is how the production sets the tone for every song. For example on the track "Ruby 81", I love how those cinematic synths create a gloomy scenery for the story of a boy who falls into a pool only to be saved by the family dog while the adults are distracted by the 4th of July fireworks. On "Racing Stripes" there is awesome bouncing bass and percussion that work so well with the story about a friend giving himself a bad haircut. Aesop Rock is a fantastic producer and it is amazing to see how he packs equal measures of detail into his beats as as he does in his lyrics.
Highlights from this album are:
- Gopher Guts - ZZZ Top - Tetra
3. Death Grips - “The Money Store”
Death grips burst onto the scene in 2011 with their breakout mixtape Exmiltiary. With terrifying lead vocalist Mc Ride and his maniac vocals, combined with his violent lyrics and the group’s overall extreme noisy style of production, a lot of people were left stunned and confused. The group’s debut album The Money Store is one of the catchiest experimental albums of all time. The hooks are so well crafted that they will stick with you for week. Mc Ride's rough vocals work so well with the insane production, almost like an instrument in itself.
The Money Store is the group’s most savage and finest work to date, and their aural chaos has never sounded as tasty as it does here. There are songs about drug abuse, murder, thievery, BDSM, suicide, underground fighting arenas and utter depravity, which are further complimented by thundering drums and some of the best production I have ever heard on any album. I can honestly say, if you are into experimental music and you haven't heard of this album, simply listen to it right now and thank me later.
Highlights from this album are:
- Lost Boys - B*tch Please - The Cage
4. Kendrick Lamar - “To Pimp A Butterfly”
It is crazy how much Kendrick Lamar has improved as an artist when you compare To Pimp A Butterfly to his sophomore efforts. Not to say that his last album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, wasn't great, but nobody could have expected him to improve from such a high note. On this record, Lamar's personality shines, his amazing lyrics blend beautifully with the music, his fantastic flow has you nodding your head and stunned, at the same time.
This album is widely considered modern music's greatest concept album - he became the icon millions know, right here. On To Pimp A Butterfly there isn't a trendy beat in sight, no ‘Backseat Freestyle’, ‘Maad City’ or ‘Swimming Pools’. The album is produced by Thundercat, George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Flying Lotus, Terrace Martin and many more funk/jazz and Hip hop musicians.
The album takes you on a trip through Kendrick's fame, his personality and questions of race/pride, the power of wealth, Hip hop culture, police brutality and black on black crime. The socio-political themes are powerful and one thing I love about Kendrick is how he is able to add a personal touch to everything he talks about on the album. A beautiful spoken word piece about the struggles with his identity as an African-American and finding peace with God ties the album together nicely. It is denser and more challenging than Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and more rewarding once you unpack the true emotion and pain on display here.
As mentioned, the production was handled by many funk/jazz musicians. There's free jazz on ‘For Free (Interlude)’, funk elements on ‘Hood Politics’, groovy R&B vibes with ‘These Walls’, and heavy hitting boom bap drums on ‘The Blacker the Berry’. The production on this album is easily comparable to D’Angelo's Black Messiah. Kendrick has released the album of the decade and set himself apart from the pack with this record, no questions.
Highlights from this album are:
- Momma - How Much A Dollar Costs - For Free (Interlude)
5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - “Piñata”
Before Piñata, Freddie Gibbs was making noise with his hard hitting and menacing trap bangers. Although some fans were satisfied with his albums and mixtapes he was releasing back then, I personally felt that there was something missing. He had a great flow and his deep vocal tone blended well with the content of his raps but to me he needed a great producer to bring it all to life. On Piñata, he links up with one of Hip hop's most beloved and respected producers: Madlib. With Madlib's smooth vintage production style and Gibbs's impeccable performance, the two would set out to make Hip hop history.
This album captures so much of the desperation in every broken neighbourhood in America today, as well as the environmental vices and those who lack the value of human life. Each song offers a glimpse into a brutalised community, with a sincere vision of the mindset of the individuals who are caught up in the everyday hustle for survival. Gibbs’ feeling of shame and regret is the concept of the song ‘Broken’; "surviving off cold cuts and cold spam, can't see eye to eye with my old man hiding my insecurities with this gang flag". It is rare find a producer/rapper pairing with the sheer chemistry of Madlib & Freddie Gibbs, and I hope that the next album is as good as Piñata - it is truly a masterpiece. Highlights from this album are: - Shame - Thuggin - Bomb
6. Kanye West - “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Kanye West is one of the most influential figures in Hip hop and possibly the man of the decade - a Hip hop legend arguably responsible for a lot of blossoming rap careers. His approach to music has always pushed Hip hop sonically into a new space and it's amazing to see how far he has come. Sympathising with Mr. West isn't easy. Whether it’s his anger, his politically incorrect rants or his obnoxious statements he really is one of the most divisive people in the music world today. As ugly or outlandish as his personality may be, his music for the most part is so beautiful it melts one’s heart. His great taste in music has him sampling and working with some of the best musicians working today.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye's best album, it's his masterpiece and most importantly it is one of modern music's most accomplished albums. Everything Kanye had done up to that point he mastered on this record. This album purely represents his chaotic personality, it's loud, bombastic and as braggadocios as ever. The album may boast a bit too much, but he's extremely vulnerable at times. Expressing the pain of his mother passing, his damaged love life and achieving fame beyond his wildest dreams. What's most impressive about this album is spotlighted on ‘Runaway’, I love how Kanye is able to manipulate his vocals to the point that they sound like a distorted guitar. The ending of the track is almost as long as a standard Hip hop track, clocking in at almost four minutes; it shouldn't work, but it does, it's just so beautiful and gives the track so much life. The themes of heartbreak and insecurity are running strong throughout the record. The album takes the listener through West's deepest thoughts and emotions over a perfected collection of all of his signature sounds. It is astounding.
Highlights From This album are:
- Runaway - Blame Game - Hell Of A life
7. Open Mike Eagle - “Dark Comedy”
From the city of Chicago and a former member of the Hellfyre collective, Open Mike Eagle has helped popularize the Avant garde/art rap sub-genre of Hip hop. His clever metaphors, insanely hilarious punchlines and extremely left field artistic instrumentals set him apart from the other underground MC's of today. He truly is a unique rapper. On his fourth studio album, Dark Comedy, Open Mike Eagle pens a solid, relatable, thought provoking and, at times, funny record. Most of the songs on this album are catchy and it is amazing to see how much personality these tracks possess.
Open Mike Eagle deals with a host of problems here, such as racism, sexism, depression, addiction, and trying to stay true to himself and make it as an artist in a genre where people own a £1,500 PC and a £500 phone but illegally download a £10 album. The production throughout the whole record is absolutely fantastic, from boom bap beats to glitchy instrumentals this is Open Mike Eagle's best album to date and one of the best albums to come from the underground Hip hop scene.
Highlights from this album are:
- Qualifiers - A History Of Modern Dance - Information
8. Joey Bada$$ - “B4DA$$”
When this album came out Joey was barely twenty years old. He gave us a rewarding slice of 90's era rap with these incredible sounding, vintage beats. With Production from Chuck strangers, Statik Selektah, J Dilla, Lord Finesse and The Roots, all of the beats pack so much flavour and the raps are just outstanding all the way through. B4DA$$ showcases the true essence of Hip hop that far preceded the young rapper.
On this album Joey showcases incremental growth as an Mc, tackling a range of subjects that New Yorkers face while still carrying that classic Hip hop sound on his shoulders. On the song ‘Piece Of Mind’, Joey pens a letter to a friend who has been locked up for a long period of time. The song itself pays homage to Nas's classic ‘One Love’ and such laid back, jazzy beats. On ‘Paper Trails’, Joey writes about the trappings of fame and the everyday financial struggles accompanied with a moody beat that set the tone for the track perfectly. All of the instrumentals work so well with Joey's rap style and the whole record is amazing in its entirety.
Highlights from this album are:
- Paper Trails - Piece Of Mind - Like Me
9. El - P - “Cancer 4 Cure”
A career spanning well over twenty years, head of the pioneering Definitive Jux label, one third of the legendary group Company Flow, production work with tons of Hip hop elites like Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock, and numerous classic solo albums, El Producto has defined the East Coast underground Hip hop scene. He has experimented in almost every sub-genre in rap music today and also with jazz music after his solo-debut. Today he is ruling the hip hop world alongside the aforementioned Killer Mike, releasing some of the best albums of this decade.
As an artist, and a long-time producer, his past is behind him; El P has evolved from his early days with lyrics more abstract than ever before, of which pack ton of dense word play. El takes you through the mind of a person suffering with paranoia on Cancer For Cure. The production is absolutely incredible, with a lot of buzzsaw bass, boom bap beats caked with distortion and tons of gloomy, tasty synths. EL P’s production skill is truly ground-breaking here. Every track has so much to offer, with fantastic lyrics from EL P. The features only add to the concept.
The album features verses from Danny Brown, Killer Mike, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire who delivers a jaw dropping double-time flow with amazing punchlines without breaking a sweat. At times, after listening to this I don’t even trust my mind, the album’s second half takes a dark and personal turn. Whether El P is running from the government or describing the life of an addict, his lyrics are so well written that you can feel every emotion as if it were your own. Every song hits harder than the previous one, so picking your favourite El P album is now a lot harder with Cancer 4 Cure in his catalogue.
Highlights From This album are: - Full Retard - 4$ Vic - Oh Hail No
10. Danny Brown - “Atrocity Exhibition”
Atrocity Exhibition was only released a year ago and is still receiving rave reviews to this day. It is an album that will speak to and inspire generations of musicians - a classic in the making, but for now it remains one of modern music’s best albums. Atrocity Exhibition takes you on a journey through Danny Brown’s troubled mind, his addiction, suicidal contemplation and memories of being a drug dealer. The clanking, abrasive, cluttered and soulful instrumentals just work so well with his vocal content. Every instrumental paints an ugly picture of the world Danny is in, and his rhyme scheme is jaw-droppingly clever.
"Lost" is my favourite track on the album; the manipulated female vocal on the instrumental is catchy yet haunting alongside the whistle running through it. Immediately to follow is ‘Ain't It Funny’, its house influenced instrumental greatly compliments the lyrics concerning just how messed up his life is from such heavy drug-use. From the very first track and all the way to the end it is as if you’re on a downward spiral with Brown. It stands as one of the most unique releases of the decade, and it will inspire so many artists in the years to come.
Highlights From this album are: - Lost - Ain’t It Funny - Downward Spiral