Album Book Club’s Top 100 Albums of the 2010s

The Album Book Club is a group of 47 people that highlight several albums each week and discuss them at length. Additionally, it’s a forum for loads of other music conversation and cultural exploration. ABC has a high percentage of hip-hop heads but remains somewhat genre-agnostic with regular conversation about indie rock, country, metal, electronic, pop, and R&B taking place within the group chat. In order to make a top 100 albums list representative of all our members and an entire decade, a simple discussion wouldn’t do. Instead, a spreadsheet was made and 25 members entered ratings for 333 albums. Our spreadsheet wizard Clay weighted the ratings and the Top 100 was born. If you’re interested in more of the behind the scenes and some of the stats about this list, check out this companion piece.

Several albums overlapped with Riffs & Rhymes’ previously posted Best of the Decade list. Write-ups for PRhyme, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, and Acid Rap are adapted from that list. Write-ups for Some Rap Songs, 4:44, and DAYTONA are also adapted from previous Riffs & Rhymes year-end pieces.

100. The Game – Jesus Piece (2012)

100. Jesus Piece

99. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name (2013)

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98. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (2016)

98 Run The Jewels 3

97. Future – Monster (2014)

97 Monster

96. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade (2016)

96 The Sun's Tirade

95. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts (2018)

95 Kids See Ghosts

94. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

94 Random Access Memories

93. Mt. Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (2017)

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92. PRhyme – PRhyme (2014)

92 PRhyme

Bars and beats that make you mean mug and rewind every few lines. PRhyme’s self-titled debut is a perfectly executed example of rapping for the sake of rapping. Royce da 5’9” spits over DJ Premier beats/scratches, all of which are samples from Adrian Young, with guest appearances from Mac Miller, Ab-Soul, Jay Electronica, Common, Slaughterhouse, Killer Mike, ScHoolboy Q, & Dwele (+ DOOM, Phonte, Black Thought, Joey Bada$$, & Logic on the deluxe version). That sentence feels like a ridiculous rap Christmas list and yet somehow not only did we get it, it lived up to the potential and ended before it could overstay its welcome. Royce’s raps are fairly low stakes and revolve around guns and how good he is at rapping, but depth was never the goal here. Listen to his album Book of Ryan if you want that. If Royce’s work as a solo artist was a 30 for 30 about a technically skilled and disciplined quarterback, his work as PRhyme is a highlight reel of trick plays. They won’t work all season, but boy are they fun to watch.

Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_

91. Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$ (2015)

91 B4.DA.$$

90. Noname – Room 25 (2018)

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89. Ariana Grande – thank u, next (2019)

89 thank u, next

88. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (2017)

88 Stranger in the Alps

87. Saba – ComfortZone (2014)

87 Comfort Zone

86. Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)

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85. Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (2019)

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84. Sampha – Process (2017)

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83. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (2017)

83 Pure Comedy

Comprised of nearly an hour and 20 minutes of blatant human slander and dwelling on the apocalypse, Pure Comedy is one of the more head-turning releases of the 2010s from one of its most polarizing songwriters. After 2015’s warm and infectious folk-rock opus I Love You, Honeybear, it’s no surprise Misty was panned upon Pure Comedy‘s release. A tracklist full of elaborate piano compositions on the doomed fate of mankind can tend to stir up that kind of reaction. The makeup of this album presides on its unavoidable lyrics, which encompass virtually bedding Taylor Swift (“Total Entertainment Forever”), checking social media feeds while on your deathbed (“Ballad of the Dying Man”), and longing to escape mortality (“So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”), all in the same breath. As outwardly spoken as Josh Tillman is, he’s equally condemning when facing himself (“Leaving L.A.”). Existential fear aside, Pure Comedy is beautiful, confrontational, and clinically insane. It’s a damn-near masterpiece and just one touchstone of a remarkable decade for Misty, in which he released stellar album after stellar album. Not bad for some guy who used to be known as a bum folky and the drummer of Fleet Foxes.

– Roberto Johnson // @_robertojohnson

82. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (2016)

82 A Sailors Guide To Earth

When Sturgill Simpson showed up to the CMA Awards in 2017, he brought a guitar and a Grammy trophy to Bridgestone Arena. What made Sturgill Simpson unique at that night was the fact he was not on stage. No, he was on the street corner outside of the arena. In a way, this symbolizes how many in the country industry view Sturgill Simpson: extremely talented, but not invited to the party.

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is the exact proof of this statement. On an album dedicated to his son on how he should navigate earth, Sturgill Simpson does not hold back artistic ideas or sounds. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is filled with lush strings similar to a Marvin Gaye record but then slaps you in the face with horns more similar to James Brown. While at times, this album may sound more similar to an old school soul record, Sturgill still includes his signature country sound from his Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and High Top Mountain. The song “Sea Stories” is about as stone-cold country as an artist can get (filled with references to Nintendo games and sin). If the album cover does not captivate you, Sturgill’s stories and songs will.

Nathan Foster // @Nate20ASU

81. Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD (2018)

81 Astroworld

80. Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III (2019)

80 Revenge of the Dreamers III

79. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs (2018)

81 Some Rap Songs

Working as a collection of short, experimental and introspective vignettes, Some Rap Songs is a deep dive into the mind of Earl Sweatshirt. Buried under layers of obscure jazz and soul samples, Earl exercises full catharsis, attempting to confront the drug use and mental health battles that had worn him down since his previous record. The potency of his introverted confessions makes it his most personal and challenging album to date, albeit his most rewarding from the listener’s perspective. “Nowhere2go” and “Loosie” rank among his best songs ever.

– Roberto Johnson // @_robertojohnson

78. J. Cole – Friday Night Lights (2010)

78 Friday Night Lights

77. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

77 Modern Vampires of the City

76. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)

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This album is a perfect example of “carefree, Sunday morning sitting on the porch drinking coffee music.” While I could try for days to articulate this particular state of reflective and soothing fun, Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, manages to do so in the span of its title and hand-scribbled cover art. What’s found inside fits perfectly; a compilation of ideas and observations, each approached with cleverly observational lyrics and calm vocals from the Australian song-writer. Courtney muses about everything from the stress of corporate existence and deeper implications of consumerism on “Elevator Operator” and “Dead Fox” to unrequited crushes on “Aqua Profunda” and “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” in a way that perfectly encapsulates millennial angst.

– Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_

75. Drake – Take Care (2011)

75 Take Care

74. Saba – Bucket List Project (2016)

74 Bucket List Project

73. Brockhampton – Saturation 3 (2017)

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72. JID – DiCaprio 2 (2018)

72 DiCaorio 2 pt 1

71. SZA – Ctrl (2017)

71 Ctrl

70. Rainbow Kitten Surprise – How to: Friend, Love, Freefall (2018)

70 How to Friend, Love & Freefall

As the title suggests, How to: Friend, Love, Freefall spends its time exploring the relationships in our lives – with our friends, family, romantic partners, religion, sexuality, drugs, and the world around us. The often failed navigation of these relationships is used as a roadmap for a discussion of entering true adulthood. RKS, who met in their dorm at App State, credit the town of Boone, NC with their folksy tendencies, but the musical influences on the album are just as eclectic as its topical explorations. “Fever Pitch” is filled with heavy bass and what I can only describe as groovy guitar riffs, in addition to combining multiple vocal styles, all in under three minutes. It is immediately followed by one of the most mystifying tracks on the album, “It’s Called: Freefall,” which shines for its clever storytelling about failing friendships, shared through a lyrical conversation with the devil himself. Among jokes about the devil closing all the bars early in hell “just because,” it provides us with a line to sum up the themes and stories of the whole album, “ain’t shit free but fallin’ out, and that shit’s easy, let me show you how.” Finally, the beautifully chaotic “Matchbox” stands out with its own witty lyricism, the highs and lows within the song bringing great replay value and solidifying it as my favorite song on the album. 

How to: Friend, Love, Freefall shows an impressive maturation in sound from previous RKS releases, every risk fully paying off and leaving no doubt that wherever they go next will be just as special. It’s no wonder that, even with a mid-2018 release, this album almost single-handedly pushed RKS to my most played artist of the decade. As a whole, the album is lyrically, sonically, and conceptually captivating, providing for a contagious sound worthy of being in the Top 100 “must-listen” albums of the decade.

– Kathleen Chesnutt // @kathmeifucan

69. Vince Staples & Larry Fisherman – Stolen Youth (2013)

69 Stolen Youth

68. Lorde – Pure Heroine (2013)

68 Pure Heroine

67. Jamila Woods – Heavn (2016)

67 HEAVN

66. Future – HNDRXX (2017)

66 HNDRXX

65. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf  (2013)

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64. Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017)

64 Funk Wav Vol 1

Music can invoke a lot of feelings but Funk Waves Bounces Vol. 1 is the first album to ever make me feel like a season. From front to back, Funk Waves Vol. 1 is the perfect way to explain what summer sounds like to someone who was raised in Antarctica. 

Calvin Harris’ decision to find Frank Ocean under whatever rock he was hiding under and grabbing 2/3 of the Migos for “Slide” and releasing in February of 2017 was just a small preview of what was in store for the album of summer 2017. Calvin reached all across into the hip-hop & pop spectrums and came up with some combinations that shouldn’t exactly make sense but flourished into incredible tracks. On “Heatstroke,” Young Thug, Pharrell, and Ariana Grande show exactly what kind of quality product can be birthed when you give artists the tools that exhibit their strengths. Khalid and Future give us the vibes of toxicity of an unhealthy relationship while still sounding like a song you blast windows down speeding down the highway with your homies in the middle of June with “Rollin.” Not to be shown up by not being on “Slide” with the rest of the Migos, Takeoff decides to come through and body his verse on “Holiday” with Snoop Dogg and John Legend. The most surprising feature on the tracklist comes from Katy Perry on hook duty for “Feels” while Pharell and Big Sean share some verses trying to explain to women in their lives why they are over them. 

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is full of excellent features and verses from some of the biggest stars of 2017. It’s the perfect album to spin while kicking it on the beach with your crew and is Calvin’s first full attempt at providing a project of collaborations that has more than two or three songs with legitimate replay value and not just radio play (looking at you DJ Khaled).

– Trey Fisher // @KickballKobe

63. Beyonce – Beyoncé (2013)

63 Beyoncé

62. Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine (2016)

62 The Divine Feminine

61. Kanye West – Yeezus (2013)

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60. Lorde – Melodrama  (2017)

60 Melodrama

59. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo  (2014)

59 Cilvia Demo

58. Joey Bada$$ – All Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017)

58 All Amerikkkan Badass

57. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)

57 2014 Forest Hill Drive

56. Brockhampton – Saturation 2  (2017)

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55. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

54 We Got It From Here...Thank you 4 Your Service

54. The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence (2011)

54 Echoes of Silence

53. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (2016)

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52. Tyler Childers – Purgatory (2017)

52 Purgatory

On Purgatory, Tyler Childers channels the brilliant Kentucky musicians who came before him. Childers sings and sounds similar to Bill Monroe, where a “Blue Moon of Kentucky” cover would fit nicely in the tracklist of Purgatory. Childers’ love of Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains reminds listeners of Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miners Daughter” and her other classics about living in that very land.

While Childers undoubtedly used inspiration from Kentucky legends, he also took influence from his home state contemporaries, such as Purgatory’s producer, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton. Much like the country legends before them, Simpson, Stapleton, and Childers have had a large part in returning country music to its roots, and 2017’s Purgatory may be the best example of the genre coming back down to earth.

– Nathan Foster // @Nate20ASU

51. Kanye West & Jay Z – Watch The Throne (2011)

51 Watch The Throne

50. The Weeknd – Thursday (2011)

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49. Kid Cudi – Man On the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2010)

49 Man on the Moon II- The Legend of Mr. Rage

48. Travis Scott – Days Before Rodeo (2014)

48 Days Before Rodeo

47. Vince Staples – Summertime ‘06 (2015)

47 Summertime '06

46. KAYTRANADA – 99.9% (2016)

46 99.9%

45. Mac Miller – Macadelic (2012)

45 Macadelic

44. Rihanna – ANTI (2016)

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43. D’Angelo  and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

43 Black Messiah

42. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

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After they gave us the beautiful and haunting For Emma, Forever Ago, folk powerhouse Bon Iver stunned listeners yet again with their self-titled Bon Iver in 2011. There is a fuller sound to Bon Iver, with a larger band and blatant rock influence. The most standout tracks include “Towers,” an emotionally impactful feat of both melody and country-inspired harmonies; and “Holocene,” with a minimalist sound and intricate storytelling. “Hinnom, TX,” with its oscillated piano and use of reverb, foreshadows directions that Bon Iver would go down in later years. But for now, Bon Iver would mark a time in the band’s chronology in which a classic folk sound still held the most prevalence – and while this doesn’t make it better or worse than their newer projects, it presents as a source of nostalgia that one can always return to.

– Emily Woods // @emilywoo56

41. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana (2019)

41 Bandana

40. Vic Mensa – Innanetape (2013)

40 Innanetape

39. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017)

39 DAMN.

In an interview with Zane Lowe, Kendrick says, “To Pimp A Butterfly would be the thought of changing the world. DAMN. will be the idea, ‘I can’t change the world until I change myself.’” While DAMN. is a reflection of Kendrick, it is also a reflection of America.

To Pimp A Butterfly ends with a hanging question to Tupac about Pac’s perspective on the butterfly and caterpillar being completely different, but also one and the same. When played in the reverse order, DAMN. starts with “It was always me vs the world. Until I found it’s me vs. me.” This can be seen as a reference to Tupac’s album Me Against the World. It foreshadows that Kendrick may now be attempting to actually answer the question Tupac couldn’t in his own way. However, he makes the journey so that the listener can choose their own route.

DAMN. can be played forwards or backwards, as on the collector’s edition. At the same time, the album is split into two parts. It’s like there is a mirror between tracks seven and eight, “PRIDE.” and “HUMBLE.” Each track has a mirror version. The seventh song in the forward version, “PRIDE” is about humility, while the seventh song in the backwards version, “HUMBLE” is about pride. In the forward version, the third song “FEAR” shows Kendrick accepting God at the end of the song, while the backward version’s third song, “YAH,” shows Kendrick abandoning God. This pattern of reflecting songs is constant throughout the entire album.

As a whole, the forward version of DAMN. represents Kendrick’s rise to Christianity, acceptance of weakness over wickedness, and shows us a path to humility. When we listen to DAMN. backwards, Kendrick loses his humility, succumbs to wickedness, and is eventually killed.

The album isn’t a perfect progression from one side to the other though. The narrative of the album doesn’t actually change when played forwards or backwards. Only the feeling changes. Kung Fu Kenny is a mirror of America and DAMN. is a mirror of itself by being able to be played backwards. DAMN. is truly an album of reflection, and we get to pick our own path through it as if it were a Goosebumps book.

– Clay Hogan // @C4rt00nsNCereal

38. Mick Jenkins – The Water[s] (2014)

38 The Water[s]

37. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)

37 I Dont Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside

36. Mac Miller – GO:OD AM (2015)

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35. Tierra Whack – Whack World (2018)

35 Whack World

34. Future – DS2 (2015)

34 DS2

When Activis decided to discontinue production of their cough syrup in 2014, it’s doubtful they knew they would end up being the direct inspiration for one of the most polarizing trap albums of the 2010s.

On July 17th, 2015, The Mayor of Misogyny, The Toxic Titan, the one and only Future blessed the world with arguably his most accessible album, DS2. With the assist from Metro Boomin executive producing the project, Future is here to make sure everyone knows what it is he does with his free time and how he behaves. 

DS2 starts somberly with “Thought It Was a Drought,” where Future makes sure everyone knows that Activis is no longer being produced or distributed and that he has no problem getting his hands on it nor fucking your bitch in his Gucci flip flops. The one feature on the entire project comes (as no surprise) from friend, long time collaborator, and superstar, Drake. The two take this track to call out any of their “friends” who decided to come out of the woodwork and expect financial assistance. If you weren’t around when Future was broke, hungry and hoe-less, don’t expect to be around now.

Throughout the project, Future uses “Groupies,” “Rotation,” “Rich $ex” and “Real Sisters” to make sure there is absolutely no question that Future is no longer hoe-less, actually quite the opposite, Future has a catalog of women to use at his disposable. 

In 2015, Future’s net worth was roughly $8 million. Does someone with 8M need to be participating in home invasions? Absolutely not, but that doesn’t stop Future from letting you know in “Stick Talk” that nothing is safe, not your house from him and his gun nor your girl’s butt from his thumb. Introspective is not a word that most people would use to describe Future and how he presents himself but he takes the time with “Percocet” and “Stripper Joint” and “Kno The Meaning” to focus on his life experiences, may it be taking acid for the first time with some strippers or losing two-plus years of music on a hard drive when his DJ got arrested for weed in Dubai.

DS2 undoubtedly has some of Futures biggest hits which earned him more mainstream exposure and ended up evolving into Future being able to “Fuck Up Some Commas” without worrying.

– Trey Fisher // @KickballKobe

33. Daniel Caesar – Freudian (2017)

33 Freudian

32. NxWorries – Yes Lawd! (2016)

32 Yes Lawd!

31. Joey Bada$$ – 1999 (2012)

31 1999

30. Freddie Gibbs – Piñata (2014)

30 Piñata

29. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)

29 Run The Jewels 2

Killer Mike started Run the Jewels 2 with “You finna look at history being made in this muthafucka!” He didn’t lie. This hard-hitting, no holds barred, slugfest of an album takes us on a trip into Killer Mike and El-P’s worlds. The two bounce off each other flawlessly over El-P’s production, putting together a clinic on how to construct a rap album. There is nothing missing: compelling one-liners, emotional story-telling, politics, sex-positive raps, and a flawless track listing.

Disclaimer: do not listen to this album near any brick walls you wish to remain intact.

– Clay Hogan // @C4rt00nsNCereal

28. JAY-Z – 4:44 (2018)

28 444

A JAY-Z and No I.D. collaboration that few suspected, 4:44 sees Brooklyn’s finest living MC rapping from a new perspective than his fans are accustomed to. It’s a much more personal look at the massive success that Jay has attained over his illustrious career. From openly confessing to cheating on Beyoncé, to embracing his mother’s sexual orientation, to critiquing his own business decisions, these are takes that most never imagined coming from a man of his mogul status.

What exactly did it take? The opening lines of the title track say it all: “I apologize, often womanize/took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eyes.” This track is one of many moments where JAY-Z shows a previously unfamiliar sense of vulnerability (“Smile”). Jay’s analysis of success isn’t limited to its effect on those close to him either; he spends as much time self-reflecting on his wealth and how it has impacted his own attitude as he’s become a father and an older individual in general (“Kill Jay Z”).

The themes of 4:44 are what makes the album so intriguing, but the music is every bit as entertaining, just as every hip-hop head would hope. With Jay and No I.D., these are two of the game’s best doing some of their greatest work more than two decades into their career. That alone is worth a salute.

– Roberto Johnson // @_robertojohnson

27. Frank Ocean – Endless (2016)

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26. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY! (2019)

26 Legacy! Legacy!

25. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)

25 Lemonade

24. Danny Brown – XXX (2011)

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23. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love (2016)

23 Awaken, My Love

22. Kendrick Lamar – Section .80 (2011)

22 Section.80

21. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR (2019)

21 IGOR

20. Tame Impala – Currents (2015)

20 Currents

19. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia ULTRA (2011)

19 Nostalgia, Ultra

18. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

18 Atrocity Exhibition

17. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy (2017)

17 Flower Boy, Scum Fuck

16. Mac Miller – Swimming (2018)

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15. Noname – Telefone (2016)

15 Telefone

14. Pusha T – DAYTONA (2018)

14 Daytona

Few things are as established as Pusha T’s rap regimen. When Push is in the kitchen, you know what’s on the menu: slow flows, show-stopping punchlines, and cold-ass cocaine raps. DAYTONA is unquestionably great, simply for its airtight performances on both the rapping and production side. It’s hard not to believe the album didn’t benefit from being the first of G.O.O.D. Music’s midyear releases in 2018, too. Each project that followed was simply not up to the bar it set. The same can be said for the entirety of rap albums in that year. If you know, you know.

– Roberto Johnson // @_robertojohnson

13. Smino – blkswn (2017)

13 blkswn

12. Mac Miller – Faces (2014)

12 Faces

11. Anderson .Paak – Malibu (2016)

11 Malibu

10. Mac Miller – Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013)

10 Watching Movies With The Sound Off

June 18th, 2013: Kanye West, J. Cole & Mac Miller each dropped an album. J. Cole was 2nd and Mac Miller wasn’t 3rd.

After Macadelic’s release got the hip-hop world to start to pay attention to Mac Miller as a serious threat, he decided to release WMWTSO and use it as a platform to make you question what it is you think you know about him and his life.

WMWTSO starts out with three tracks that I can only describe as an acid trip, where you felt you discovered who you truly are as a person. With “I Am Who I Am” & “Objects In The Mirror,” Mac does what he does best and actively makes you think about what your life is about and what you care about. Mac enlists the help of Action Bronson and Schoolboy Q on “Red Dot Music” and “Geez,” to make you question what it is Mac & Friends really do in their free time and Who the F*ck is Mac Miller.

On the next three tracks, Mac explores the idea of death and how that feeling affects the human experience. “Watching Movies” is Mac expressing that he plans on dying with the same energy he lived with. “Suplexes and Inside of Complexes and Duplexes” brought out Jay Electronica and initiates a conversation between the angel and devil on your shoulder before you partake in an activity where there’s a very real chance of dying. “Remember” is a very humbling tale of remembering you never know who or when anyone in your life is going to die and to make sure you do nothing but make memories with the loved ones in your life. 

As a whole, Watching Movies With The Sound Off is Mac Miller’s most introspective piece of work about himself and how he processes the emotions and events in his life that came from fame and there’s no surprise it’s ranked #10 on our Album of the Decade list.

– Trey Fisher // @KickballKobe

9. Travis Scott – Rodeo (2015)

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8. Saba – Care For Me (2018)

8 Care For Me

At the beginning of 2017, things were looking up for Chicago wordsmith Saba. His album Bucket List Project (#74 on this list) brought a lot of momentum to his career and showed the world that he was one of the most promising artists out. He sold out a January 6th show at Chicago’s iconic Lincoln Hall with several members of Pivot Gang, his rap collective made up of longtime friends (MFnMelo) and literal family members (brother Joseph Chilliams and cousin John Walt), opening the show. And then on February 9th everything changed. John Walt was murdered in a stabbing over the coat he was wearing. In March, Saba’s grandfather died of kidney failure. In November, Joseph Chilliams had been brutally jumped. Nothing was safe.

Care For Me is Saba’s reflection of grief, doubts, and trauma. It’s brutally honest and candid. We are going through this process with Saba in real time. There are no answers yet, but there’s still some underlying hope. The lyrics and instrumentals are both technically impressive, but they ultimately are a background to the immense weight of the subject matter. Saba bares his soul from the beginning of the album to the end and hopefully found some amount of catharsis in the recording process. Saba provides some of his best songwriting ever on “BUSY/SIRENS” and cements himself as one of the best storytellers on “FIGHTER” and 2018 song of the year “PROM/KING.” Since this album’s release, Saba and Pivot Gang have continued to experience career growth and have stayed incredibly close. Hopefully Saba’s next album will find him in a happier place. Long Live John Walt.

– Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_

7. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (2011)

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Abel Tesfaye starts House of Balloons by telling us “you’ll wanna be high for this.” He is talking to both the woman in the story and the listener. You don’t need to take any drugs to feel the high of this album, but some argue it helps. Abel is there to show us how to be as hedonistic and unforgiving as possible. On the album’s second track, “He’s what you want, but I’m what you need,” is said with a self-confidence that would make Kanye West doubt himself. We follow his every step as he shows us his wonderland of drugs, sex, and shamelessness. Take a trip into House of Balloons to experience the thrilling, yet haunting party house of The Weeknd.

– Clay Hogan // @C4rt00nsNCereal

6. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (2013)

6 Acid Rap

Acid Rap is an album that excites from the very first listen. It’s always incredible to watch as a promising artist fully steps into their own and Acid Rap exceeds all expectations. Chance’s sophomore mixtape is a whirlwind of a project full of so many ideas and styles that led a movement of mid-2010’s Chicago hip-hop into prominence and introduced me to so many of my future favorite artists. From the dizzying lyricism of the aptly titled “Good Ass Intro” to the raw terror of “Paranoia,” this album covers a lot of ground without ever really missing the mark. It gives us a deeper look into Chance the Rapper, shows that he can keep up with stars like Twista and Childish Gambino, and introduced us to some of the most exciting new prospects in Saba and Noname. Several albums in this list owe a lot to the success of Acid Rap and it’s a huge win that a free mixtape from a relatively small independent artist ended up as our sixth best album of the entire decade.

Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_

5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)

5 Channel ORANGE

4. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. City (2012)

4 good kid, m.A.A.d city

good kid, ma.a.d. City is one of the most unique records released in the 21st century. Kendrick Lamar created a concept album about everyday life, that often times sounds like a movie about his own life. At times, Kendrick creates art that sounds like a musical version of a Van Gogh painting, like in the songs” Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” and “Poetic Justice.” Yet in the songs “m.A.A.d City,” “Backstreet Freestyle,” and “Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst,” Kendrick often sounds as if death is never too far away, more reminiscent of a Francisco Goya painting. On good kid, ma.a.d. City, Kendrick is grasping with lust, death, violence, and religion, much like the greatest artists before him in the 19th century.

– Nathan Foster // @Nate20ASU

3. Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)

3_Blonde

When Frank Ocean finally reemerged from his seemingly endless period of silence, no longer was he the breakout R&B star who had taken the industry by storm with his cosmic mesh of hip-hop and neo-soul on 2012’s Channel Orange. Now, he was music’s most infamous and admired recluse and the art he was about to unveil would solidify him among the decade’s great songwriters and artistic visionaries. Blonde is one of the most singular records of the era and the definitive Frank Ocean release. It’s an enchanting statement on millennial angst, apathy, and love through the lens of Ocean’s otherworldly pop-soul. The product is perhaps a more avant-garde direction than many listeners probably ever imagined Ocean’s music going, but the results were and still are undeniably captivating. From the raw and emotionally-stirring textures of “Ivy” to the sparse and soothing arrangements on “Solo” to the unbearably intimate atmosphere of “White Ferrari,” Blonde is an adventure into identity and melancholia that has been matched by few other contemporaries.

– Roberto Johnson // @_robertojohnson

2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

2_MBDTF

With the rollercoaster of a decade Kanye West has had as easily the most polarizing figure in music, it’s easy to forget where he was in 2010. Through the 2000s he rose from a producer for JAY-Z that happened to rap on the side to one of the biggest names in hip-hop, in terms of both critical acclaim and commercial success. He regularly reinvented himself and made classic album after classic album to move him from friend’s with the G.O.A.T. to a serious contender for the throne (no pun intended). But in 2009, he hit a rough patch and it looked like everything might be swept away. Though it’s revered as a classic album by many now, West’s late 2008 album 808’s & Heartbreak was met with a lot of initial pushback from people not ready for the autotuned crooning that would define the ’10s. Then at MTV’s 2009 Video Music Awards, he had an infamous interaction with Taylor Swift. By the media response, you would think he had murdered someone. The sitting president called him a jackass, Lady Gaga pulled out of their planned co-headlining tour, and the media had a new enemy #1.

In 2010, Kanye West knew that he would have to make a perfect album to get public opinion back on his side. So he did. He took over a studio compound in Hawaii for a few months and hosted a “rap boot camp” of the best talents in the world. I highly recommend reading this entire Complex piece on the recording of the album. Everyone is on this album and no one feels out of place. Justin Vernon, Pusha T, Nicki Minaj, Chris Rock, Rihanna, Jay Z, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Elton John, & Raekwon all find their niches and never distract too much from the fact this is Kanye’s album. It’s an opulent, maximalist presentation of hip hop that could never be recreated. Kanye doubled down on everything that had made him great before and ascended to something special for his magnum opus. Tag on the GOOD Fridays promotion for months before the project and the Runaway short film that accompanied the album and you have one of the greatest artistic accomplishments of the decade all in its first year.

Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

1 To Pimp A Butterfly

To Pimp A Butterfly is the instant classic of the 2010s. Immediately upon its release, pubs began to commend it for being “unapologetically black,” a sentiment that was top of mind a mere seven months following the Ferguson protests. To Pimp A Butterfly was different from anything else at the time – a clash of funk, jazz, and rap led by master musicians such as Sounwave, Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and, of course, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.

As time went on, people finally began to grasp what the album was: Kendrick’s grappling with the balance between his fame and fortune and his relationship with God. It has a strong narrative. It’s the story of Kendrick losing himself in the industry, finding God again, discovering his roots in South Africa, to him finally returning home to assume his role as a prophet. It’s a Christian album at its core, but it’s even more human. You wouldn’t expect to find the protagonist of a Christian rap album fucking the female partner of the man who killed his friend while the killer is still locked up, or drowning his emotions in a bottle of alcohol while sobbing in a hotel room. It’s there though.

To Pimp A Butterfly will likely continue to age like wine and be the album that best describes the middle of the 2010s: a mix of extreme racial consciousness, as well as stark pain as confusion. It’s the story of survivor’s guilt in a world where everyone wants a piece of a man wants to find his way home. It’s a story that will never feel outdated.

Jimmy // @TheInfinityJims

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