By Nick Sligh
To read more about the background of the list and my thoughts on making it, check out the introduction to my rankings. Without further ado, here are #20-11 of my top 100 hip-hop/rap albums of the 2010s list:
20. Rapsody: “Laila’s Wisdom” (2017)
The title track of Rapsody’s greatest work “Laila’s Wisdom” features one of the best hip-hop intros of the decade. The uplifting intro sets the tone for the album with a tribute to the wisdom of Rapsody’s grandmother, Laila, and her messages of empowerment, love and triumph that have shaped Rapsody’s life. The soulful production, featuring a sample of Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted, and Black,” and Rapsody’s talent combine to form a beautiful song that builds the foundation for an excellent project. The most emotionally rich and captivating work of the phenomenal career of Rapsody, “Laila’s Wisdom” showcases great lyrical ability, production value and messages of black and female empowerment executed at the highest artistic caliber.
Favorite Songs: “Laila’s Wisdom,” “Nobody,” “Black & Ugly,” “Knock On My Door,” “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love”
19. Denzel Curry: “TA13OO” (2018)
“TA13OO” is the modern trap album that delivers everything. Whether you are looking for great lyrical content, extremely hard-hitting beats or incredible flows and pure rapping ability, Denzel’s third studio album delivers it. Inspired, psychedelic, focused, passionate and about as energetic as humanly possible, the whole album is an enthralling listening experience. Any modern trap album going forward should look to “TA13OO” as one of the blueprints for how to make music deeply meaningful and also appealing to audiences encompassing everyone from longtime fans of trap to new ones.
Favorite Songs: “SIRENS,” “SWITCH IT UP,” “BLACK BALLOONS,” “SUMO,” “BLACK METAL TERRORIST”
18. Noname: “Telefone” (2012)
Chicago’s poet, activist, singer and rapper Noname delivers a beautiful and heartwarming experience on her debut mixtape. As Noname explores and reflects upon her youth and her experience as a black woman in America, her wisdom and passion is constantly charming and engaging. Incredible production, variety of flows, impressive writing and a contagious soulful joy are just some of what makes Noname’s debut so enjoyable. As one of the most feel-good rap albums of the decade, “Telefone” is the birth of a multi-talented star in Noname.
Favorite Songs: “Yesterday,” “Shadow Man,” “Sunny Duet,” “Diddy Bop,” “Casket Pretty”
17. Vince Staples: “Shyne Coldchain II” (2014)
“Shyne Coldchain II” is both one of rap’s top mixtapes and one of Vince Staples’ best projects, bringing heart, authenticity and narrative at the highest levels. “Nate,” one of the greatest rap songs of the decade, begins with chilling lines that describe experiences from Vince’s youth and the effects that what he witnessed had on him: “As a kid all I wanted was to kill a man, be like my daddy’s friends, hopping out that minivan.” The triumphant production contrasts the trauma of Vince’s background, which “Shyne Coldchain II” goes into great detail describing. The authenticity of Vince Staples is undeniable and creates some of the most genuine and poignant music possible. The genius and legitimacy of Vince make him one of the most personal and best hip-hop artists in modern rap.
Favorite Songs: “Nate,” “Earth Science,” “45,” “Progressive 3,” “Locked and Loaded,” “Oh You Scared,” “Trunk Rattle”
16. Little Simz: “Grey Area” (2019)
London’s Little Simz has helped to lead the waves of growth of rap in the United Kingdom. The 2019 release “Grey Area” is a display of one of the best pure rappers currently in the global industry. With elements of trap, jazz, soul and R&B, “Grey Area” is a collection of diverse sounds and styles. From the menacing “Venom” to the moving “Flowers” and the innovative and refreshing “101 FM,” every song is meaningful and serves a purpose. A consistent focus and vision leads to the best and most complete project for Little Simz by a wide margin. It is obvious that the 25-year-old rapper has found her sound and is one of the most promising hip-hop artists at the moment.
Favorite Songs: “Venom,” “101 FM,” “Flowers,” “Pressure,” “Selfish,” “Sherbet Sunset”
15. J.I.D: “Para Tu” (2013)
2013’s “Para Tu” mixtape only came to public light officially in 2017, when a series of leaks inspired J.I.D to release the project that he had developed out of the public eye. The young and talented Dreamville rapper’s sophomore mixtape might just be the most interestingly produced project of the entire decade. With sounds that are uplifting, gloomy, classical, angelic, psychedelic, futuristic and purely enjoyable, the production across “Para Tu” is truly a work of art in modern hip-hop that leads to the best project in the young rapper’s career thus far. J.I.D showcases an array of flows, an innovative pen and an artistic vision, for which he has come to be known. “Para Tu” sees the beauty of an undeveloped young J.I.D shining and showcasing his incredible potential while setting the foundation for a great career to follow.
Favorite Songs: “Creep Inspire,” “Heather,” “Para Tu,” “Pro – Verbs,” “Drew,” “Gustav’s Revenge Pt. 1”
14. A$AP Rocky: “LIVE.LOVE.A$AP” (2012)
“LIVE.LOVE.A$AP” knows no boundaries and presents Rocky’s most exciting project, as well as one of the most exciting debut projects from any modern rapper. The grand taste of the eccentric Rocky is unveiled to the world of music on the 2011 mixtape. Exploring old-school east coast hip-hop, cloud rap, chopped and screwed and pop rap, Rocky attempts to touch every corner of the rap universe that he can. Fantastic beat selection and an immaculate swagger translate to a mixtape that is as exciting and well-executed as it is diverse.
Favorite Songs: “Palace,” “Kissin’ Pink,” “Brand New Guys,” “Bass,” “Demons,” “Trilla,” “Houston Old Head”
13. Kendrick Lamar: “Section.80” (2011)
The studio debut of an emerging legend is always exciting and special to hear. “Section.80” is the young Compton rapper and future Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) member beginning to really find his voice and style in music. Somebody who has become known for great intros, Kendrick begins his studio debut with one of the greatest songs of his career, “F*ck Your Ethnicity.” The album is filled with great amounts of thoughtful political commentary and detailed lyricism, including “Ronald Reagan Era” and “Keisha’s Song,” among others. Not as refined as some of Kendrick’s future work, “Section.80” still provides a great collection of work that shows just how special he would come to be in the world of music.
Favorite Songs: “F*ck Your Ethnicity,” “Rigamortus,” “Ronald Reagan Era,” “Hiiipower,” “Keisha’s Song,” “Hol’ Up,” “A.D.H.D”
12. IDK: “IWASVERYBAD” (2012)
Jason Mills, better known as IDK (an acronym for “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge”), tells the gangster rap story from a perspective that is practically never seen. Coming from a middle-class background in Prince George’s County, Maryland, with two parents who were both college graduates, Mills tells the absolutely captivating story of how he ends up becoming the only person in his family to ever go to jail and to be enamored by a criminal life. The cinematic journey through IDK’s youth and upbringing touches on the aspects of the street life that he was infatuated with and all of the resulting strife and trauma that he went through. A collection of standout tracks wraps up with the heartfelt and gripping song “Black Sheep, White Dove.” The song brings together IDK’s coping with the trauma of his youth that made him the “Black Sheep” with the pain of the passing of his beloved mother, the “White Dove,” that he let down through his past wrongdoings. IDK’s storytelling, authenticity and artistic ability lead to “IWASVERYBAD” being one of the most detailed and uncut narratives presented in rap music.
Favorite Songs: “Black Sheep, White Dove,” “No Shoes On The Rug, Leave Them At The Door,” “Pizza Shop,” “17 Wit a 38,” “Mrs. Lynch, Your Son Is The Devil”
11. Vince Staples & Larry Fisherman: “Stolen Youth” (2013)
In what is one of the greatest recent mixtapes, Vince Staples and Mac Miller (whose producer moniker was Larry Fisherman) form an unlikely duo that creates some of the most authentic, beautiful and touching music of the decade. The entire project is Vince Staples’ exploration of the many factors of his life growing up in Long Beach, California, that “stole” his youth from him. Drugs, crime, violence and death all played a part in robbing Vince and many others from his background of the innocence of their youth. These themes are all expressed in Vince’s most heartfelt and emotional work over Mac Miller’s magnificent and soulful production. “Thought About You,” the signature track of the album, is Vince’s poignant narrative of his struggles to cope with all of the trauma of his youth over one of Mac Miller’s best beats of his career. The entire project is heartfelt and explores a very important theme with terrific execution.
Favorite Songs: “Thought About You,” “Intro,” “Sleep,” “Back Sellin’ Crack,” “Guns & Roses,” “Heaven”
After every segment of my Top 100 rankings are published, I will be creating a Spotify playlist with my favorite songs from the albums that are in each section. Just go to my Spotify Profile (@nicholassligh) where I will be posting the playlists in descending order of rank. Go to this link to view this week’s playlist for albums 20-11! I hope that my list gives credit to deserving artists and helps people that enjoy Hip-Hop/Rap (and even those less familiar with the genre) to find new music that connects with them and that they simply enjoy.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.