The music landscape has changed tremendously since the dawn of our current decade as the internet and streaming have altered the way we consume music and given rise to the almighty playlist, casting doubts over the future of the album as an entity.
The album isn’t dead yet, though. If the last seven-plus years have proven anything, it’s that artists are still crafting complete album experiences that can’t be missed, full of incredible music that must be heard as a cohesive unit.
Below you will find the 30 best hip-hop and R&B albums from January 1, 2010, to today, ranked. The order is based on a weighted voting system that combined the individual rankings of our core writing team, and include our three standout selections for each LP.
Once again, we both expect and anticipate dissension among our readers and we look forward to you voicing your complaints in the comment section below!
Originally posted at: https://djbooth.net/features/2017-11-20-best-hip-hop-and-rnb-albums-decade-ranked
There's an aesthetic to Westside Gunn’s full-length debut that feels both familiar and completely unique in and of itself. Flygod is our modern-day Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and Westside Gunn, alongside his brother Conway and lead producer Daringer, created one of the most visually stunning and world-building mafioso rap albums of the decade. Flygod isn't just a project demanding your attention at every single sample flip. It's a tour de force that puts a gun in your face and tells you to empty your pockets while bible scriptures, luxury street raps and boom-bap drums play lookout from behind. Westside Gunn ropes you in from minute one and then locks the door behind you. Except the joke is on him—you never planned on leaving. —Matt Wilhite
YG’s debut effort is proof that the West Coast sound is immortal. Produced almost entirely by DJ Mustard, My Krazy Life is as much an ode to G-funk as it is a farewell letter. Laced with classic singles (“My N***a,” "Who Do You Love?"), YG took the zeal of regionalism and elevated it with his unique voice and punchy songwriting. Street rap and commercial tropes were more than subverted, they were given body (“Sorry Momma”). My Krazy Lifeturns every tree into a palm tree and every city into Los Angeles. He’s more than a genre-specialist, he might as well be a cinematographer. —Donna-Claire Chesman
When TDE unveiled Isaiah Rashad as their newest member in late 2013, the Chattanooga, TN native had yet to build up a much of a catalog, let alone a buzz. Cilvia Demo, released just months later, was Isaiah’s first official project, but it was obvious Top Dawg Entertainment—a label known for carefully nurturing under-the-radar talent into long-term success stories—had found themselves another diamond in the rough. Over crunchy Southern-fried soul, Zaywop delivered smooth flows and introspective rhymes that wrestled with issues like suicide (“Heavenly Father”), addiction (“Cilvia Demo”) and falling in and out of love (“West Savannah”)—most, if not all, of which can be traced back to his father’s alcohol-fueled absence. Cilvia Demo is a deeply personal and perfectly crumpled self-portrait of a 20-something rapper recognizing his father’s flaws in his own behavior while striving to be a better man for his own son. Somewhere in the nexus, Isaiah Rashad scored the soundtrack for anyone who’s been stressing for a blessing. —Andy James
Blank Face LP may have solidified ScHoolboy Q as a top-tier star capable of crafting fantastic major label albums, but Q's capability for crafting enthralling, varied projects was solidified with his second album, Habits & Contradictions. Throughout H&C's entirety, ScHoolboy oozes with an efficacious combination of charisma and insight, weaving hardened gangster-isms ("Oxy Music," "Nightmare On Figg St.") with detailed inspections of his rights and wrongs and the effects they'd had on his life thus far (“Sacrilegious,” “My Homie”). One of ScHoolboy's most intriguing characteristics as a storyteller is his ability to authentically represent his past as though he still lives there without succumbing to the limited mentality it's been known to breed. On H&C, that quality is measured out to perfection. —Brent Bradley
There's an argument to be made that only certain, mentally afflicted individuals would be able to understand the full scope of Earl Sweatshirt’s weary, and intense, second album. I Don't Like Shit... isn't as much an album as it is a personal therapy session, in which Odd Future’s former and most introverted member only finds anguish, anger, and obsessive compulsiveness in the midst of his most depressed moments. From the syrupy circle of personal hell that is “Faucet” to lines from “Off The Top” like “I'm only happy when there's static in the air, 'cause the fair weather’s fake to me,” Earl’s genius lies in the inclusivity his depression blankets over the listener, and how he manages to make the paranoia of anxiety feel as relatable as ever before. —Matt Wilhite
The intro to the title track of R.A.P. Music grabs listeners with five simple words: "Rap music is my religion." The kind of religion where communion is goblets full of Hennessey; a true player’s Pentecostal. Killer Mike may have first started his grind in 2000 and officially pledged his allegiance in 2006, but his years of hard work paid off in 2012 when he and fellow rap underdog and jewel runner El-P bottled righteous lightning in Atlanta. Following in the footsteps of his Atlanta brothers OutKast, politics and pleasure have always shared space on Killer Mike records. Rarely were they as potent as the paranoid history lesson of "Reagan" or the Wu-Tang-fueled day-in-the-life-of "Jojo's Chillin," where Mike's commanding baritone hit the perfect note between pusher and pastor. The dark pulses and breakbeats El-P brought to the table proved that they were a greater match than anyone could've realized. R.A.P. Music wasn't just one of modern rap's most lethal duos drawing first blood, it was holy matrimony. —Cinemasai
Our neo-soul saviors, NxWorries, took the question “Is there such thing as too much of a good thing?” to task with their collaborative debut. Knxwledge’s production work, his continuing innovating upon sample-based beats, allowed Anderson .Paak to further unwind and explore his voice. Yes Lawd! exists in a perfect state of harmony. Neither artist outshines the other—Kxwledge delivers a pack of his most explorative and freewheeling beats, while .Paak brings to life the lipstick-stained pages of his lover-boy journal. You fall in love with the ease of the album, then melt into the layers of intricate instrumentation. Soothing like the clink of ice cubes in a glass of whiskey, Yes Lawd! reveals itself to the listener in carefully-timed phases, until the work as a whole sticks and feels like a full-bodied classic. —Donna-Claire Chesman
It’s 2017, Donald Trump is president, and The Weeknd is a pop star. I rest my case for the universe’s absurdity. Looking at the raw content of his music on House of Balloons, it doesn’t make sense that Abel Tesfaye would eventually fill the role of “starboy.” How that persona is delivered on this mixtape, though, suggests he would one day build his empire on a foundation of pill bottles and condom boxes (or lack thereof). Songs such as the title track and “The Morning” have the veneer of pop with a dark underbelly. That darkness would actually contribute to his rise. Some music is meant to slam us into the mirror and shatter illusions, but tapes showing life at the bottom of a pit are captivating, too. Music can give us the party, the indulgence, and the afterparty, the reflection. Abel’s music is more concerned with the party, but through that, he’s been able to tap into a vein of hedonistic darkness that’s thrilling to watch, authentic or not. We always want it when we’re coming down. —Miguelito
As if the name Anti wasn't evidence enough, Rihanna’s eighth studio album is a break in the chain, swapping out club-aimed dance smashes and names like Calvin Harris and David Guetta for a wide-sweeping affair of bedroom pop and woozy alternative R&B, peppered with sultry dancehall, throwback synth rock, psychedelic covers, soulful ballads and whatever else she could stuff into her sonic spliff. Infectious and impactful as “Work” was, it was just a taste of the most audacious album of Rihanna’s career, a creative step bold enough to match a personality so assuredly confident it often outweighed the attitude of her music. Despite any intention to distance herself from the Top 40 stylings she’d become synonymous with, Anti still landed three top 10 singles; Rihanna breaking away from the cookie-cutter pop star mold to effectively mold pop to her own vision, effectively for the first time. It’s not perfect (“Woo”), but it’s an intimate affair from one of the biggest stars on the planet, one that revels in experimentation and the freedom of Rihanna to do whatever the fuck she wants, which she’s great at. —Brendan Varan
In 2010, 50 Cent passed on signing Danny Brown, who had just released a joint mixtape with Tony Yayo, to G-Unit because he “didn’t like the way [he] looked.” A lesser rapper may have sold his soul for the price of a pair of G-Unit jeans, but it was that same commitment to individuality that cemented Danny Brown as hip-hop’s most inimitable voice the following year. Spitting like Kipling with a tooth missing over beats that could double up as the on-flight playlist for a spaceship journey from Detroit to London, XXX was Danny Brown’s coming-out party—emphasis on party. From “XXX” to “Adderall Admiral,” side A captured a 30-something rockstar popping pills, blowing blunt after blunt and eating pussy like death was around the corner. From “DNA” onwards, side B uncovered the human behind the hedonism: “The thought of no success got a n*gga chasing death,” Danny cries on “30.” XXX saved Danny Brown from the failure he so deeply feared; subsequently, it also saved his life. —Andy James
Killer Mike opens Run the Jewels 2 by telling his rapper-producer cohort El-P to “put a mirror on the goddamn screen.” After hearing the rest of the album, that imperative may extend to the listener as well. Buddhist scholar Alan Watts said that wrestling concepts like “good” or “pleasure” away from ideas of “bad” or “pain” is impossible, their existence is dependent upon the other. RTJ2 forces us to see ourselves this way, as balances of cranial and crass, militant and mindful, and intelligent and ignorant. It’s a message that even seeps into El-P’s blend of whimsical and maniacal production. On “Early,” Mike says he “respects a badge and a gun,” three songs after he encourages opposing gang members to unite and “kill the police.” Contradictions should bother us in our leaders and cultural voices. These aren’t contradictions, however, but expressions of the way we exist. Killer Mike and El-P are concerned with living both sides to the fullest and having too much fun doing it. —Miguelito
The culmination of an epic mixtape run that saw Future abandon his pop sensibilities in an effort to double down on hedonistic, drug-addled fixes for his trap sect, DS2 no less ushered Future into his brightest spotlight yet; evolving #FutureHive from internet cult to mainstream fixture. It was a true second star turn for an artist thought finished just one year prior in the wake of a public break-up, one earned through an hour-long collection of booming trap bangers that somehow sounds as triumphant as it does distressed. From “Thought It Was a Drought”’s initial descent into the abyss of numb, detached sex by way of dirty Sprite glistening overtop ice, through the apocalyptical mania of “Groupies,” to the late-night confessional “Kno The Meaning,” DS2 distills the best of Future’s acclaimed work with Metro Boomin and Southside (and Zaytoven) into his most consistent project to date. —Brendan Varan
No one quite defines the mold of today’s internet-raised, fashion-obsessed rap spectrum like A$AP Rocky. LIVE.LOVE.A$AP was his grand arrival, an amalgamation of influences, sounds and contributors that could only happen in a digitally connected landscape. Blending blunt-fried Southern hip-hop and hypnotic, ethereal cloud rap with influences and contributors from Houston, Atlanta, South Florida, the Bay, LA, Detroit, France—to name just a few—tied together with a hubris, swag and New York spirit that could only be birthed from Harlem, Rocky’s debut was hip-hop globalization, and it sounded like an album beamed in from the future yet deeply rooted in tradition. His technical yet effortless flow may set him apart from some of the artists he’s since fathered, but his region-defying sound, penchant for threads by Raf Simmons and Rick Owens, and art/music/clothing aesthetic opened the door for thousands of rap careers. LLA not only instantly catapulted Rocky to star status, it marked the beginning of a new era in rap. —Brendan Varan
Madlib sliding him eight beat CDs—possibly in a ziplock bag—is the best thing to ever happen to Freddie Gibbs’ career. Building on collaborative EPs like 2011’s Thuggin and 2012’s Shame, Gangsta Gibbs and The Beat Konducta joined forces for a cinematic masterpiece rife with pimping and pistol whipping, ’77 Cutlasses and .40 calibers, smoking Backwoods and hitting licks. The combination of Madlib’s ’70s-sampling beats and Gibbs’ gravelly street tales felt like a velvet tracksuit over a bulletproof vest—only it’s wannabe gangstas, corny A&Rs and rappers named Young Jeezy who should be seriously considering protection (“Real” is the hardest diss song of the decade). As tough as he is on both the block and in the booth, however, Freddie Gibbs wasn’t afraid to show the “chinks in his armor”: “I hope you feel the pain I’m feeling when you hear this song,” he raps to his girl who left him for a sucker on “Deeper.” After all, piñatas can only withstand so many blows before they begin to crack—pardon the pun. —Andy James
Very rarely do we see artists of Kendrick’s caliber manage to take the best components of their previous albums and merge them into something just as iconic and boundary-pushing. DAMN. isn't just the latest instant classic from one of rap's biggest and most daring stars, it's a narrative about personal faith, hopelessness and hopefulness, and the chaotic existence of man that flips from explosive to heartfelt at a moment's notice. Kendrick fine-tunes the extroverted scope of GKMC and the insecurities of TPAB, and trims DAMN. to something completely unique and devoid of fat. DAMN. is rap album full of perfect rap songs about the very real and relatable imperfections of the best rapper in the world. Through a study of his own faith in both God and man, we as fans can finally view Kendrick Lamar as the prophet that was promised. —Matt Wilhite
Since their creation, the idea of superheroes has always been a fascination of mankind. However, that idea of superheroes and music have rarely crossed; that is until Kanye and JAY-Z brought us Watch the Throne. At its core, Watch the Throne is an album about black excellence. From the way that excellence is broadcasted from the high heavens on “Ni**as in Paris” to the contrast it has to the murderous existence many black Americans suffer through on the aptly named “Murder to Excellence,” it’s a celebratory album of two black superheroes at their absolute peaks of notoriety. Watch the Throne, as well, is an album about the past, present and future of both Ye and Jay’s existence in rap, and an engraving of their legacies. It may not have been the best album of the decade, but you’d be damned to find a more timely and exhilarating experience in the last 10 years. It’s literally the stuff heroes are made of. —Matt Wilhite
Despite being the biggest music superstar on the planet, Drake has yet to earn the coveted “classic” certification on any of his albums, save for the ongoing debate around his sophomore album. Take Care’s influence is undeniable, and its 2013 GRAMMY win for Best Rap Album was not a gaffe; apart from its spiritual predecessor, Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak, no rap artist had ever bled their broken heart onto wax so effortlessly, and none have since, Drake included. Six years after its release, Drake has diluted Take Care’s legacy with more popular and more confused albums, eschewing his relatability in favor of radio play. But for those of us whose heartbreaks were mended—er, reopened—by his 2011 masterpiece, his artistic climax shall not be forgotten. —Kareem Sheikh
Recently, I wrote that Vince Staples was our modern-day Alfred Hitchcock, and his debut album, Summertime '06, is his version of Psycho. It’s a taut, menacing journey that’s genius lies in Vince’s ability to make you restless in your seat. What Vince Staples has always excelled at, beyond just an ability to rap extremely well, is the techniques he uses to envelop us within his narrative. Whether it’s through the distorted street anthems of “Norf Norf” and “Lift Me Up” or the melodic abyss of “Summertime,” Vince and executive producer No I.D. create an unrelenting experience through the inferno of Long Beach with Vince as our Virgil. On “Summertime,” Vince raps without confidence that “this could be forever baby,” knowing full well this album serves to prove that the end of time is the only thing saving he and everyone else. —Matt Wilhite
Music is subjective. What some will consider the best, others will vehemently disagree with, labeling a masterpiece a piece of garbage. Whether or not you consider A Seat at the Table Solange's best album, it is by far her most important. This is an album that one can only write once finding a sense of inner-self and coming to terms with a sense of place in the world. What A Seat at the Table captures with brilliance is a black woman’s identity and experience, giving a voice to everything from racial prejudice to beautiful self-acceptance in the purest artistic form. There’s no fear in her approach, no tip-toeing to make everyone feel inclusive. This is soul music that bears her soul, a portrait of Solange that no camera could ever capture, and in doing so, it is a reflection of so many women. Music this pure, honest, and candid exists far beyond the release date. —Yoh
D’Angelo makes potent music. It hits you all at once but the residue reveals new layers every time. I’ve been unpacking the meanings and music of Black Messiah since it first fell out of the sky at the tail end of 2014. It’s hard to imagine any album hitting the musical thresholds that neo-soul landmarks Brown Sugar and Voodoo did, so D, with assistance from Q-Tip, ?uestlove and Kendra Foster, reached back musically to aim even higher. After being away for fourteen years, he used his redemption to inspire the first steps out of the tunnel. The hardened resilience of “The Charade,” the feet-shuffling rhythms of “Sugah Daddy” and the fleeting joy of “Back To the Future” shined bright in the midst of the height of Black Lives Matter and a rejuvenated soul movement. Never betraying your heart and being whatever leader you can be can carry us into 2018 or 2035. Black Messiah is living proof that you can’t rush greatness. —Cinemasai