Join us all month long as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. After revealing our Top 100 Albums of the 2010s, we’re now getting a bit more specific with genre-by-genre breakdowns. Next up, our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of the 2010s.
The hip-hop and R&B albums that defined the 2010s masterfully combined unbridled artistry with the grandiose execution of it. Any and all possible expectations of the world’s biggest stars were not just ignored; they were completely shattered. In an era of genre-bending and blending, formulaic playlists being dictated by algorithms, and streams being celebrated like album sales, the stakes of being a hypervisible artist in the world’s most influential genre of music had never been higher.
However, even though making an indelible mark on the genre took more of a concerted effort, its most notable figures had no problem rising to the occasion.
From the stark imagery of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” to the brash and unapologetic feminism of Cardi B, artists continued in the genre’s tradition of letting marginalized people express their identities while still addressing social issues. Whether’s it’s Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or Rapsody’s “Sojourner”, the vastness of the black experience — in which systemic oppression and racism are inherent — became historicized in rap’s composition, words, and melodies. Hip-hop not only forces us to reevaluate the stereotypes that permeate our cultural zeitgeist, but the structural and institutional forces that uphold them.
The last 10 years have served as a dutiful reminder of the transformational and complex nature of hip-hop and R&B. Blackness is not a monolith, and while gender plays a major role in how stories are formulated, structured, and ultimately told, emcees boldly challenge the pervasive narrative surrounding how the two intersect. Kanye West came to terms with his loss of faith and disenchantment on Yeezus while his Watch the Throne counterpart, Jay-Z, used his 13th studio album, 4:44, as a platform for self-reflection, vulnerability, and growth.
Kendrick Lamar became the first non-classical or jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize for his revolutionary masterpiece DAMN. and a slew of younger artists — including Lil Uzi Vert, JUICE WRLD, and Trippie Redd — experimented with punk and rock soundscapes to perfect the abstraction of emo rap. The 2010s were also a time in which black women rappers refused to be relegated to the sidelines. The feud between Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj brought us back to the days where bars were considered to be formidable weapons, Beyoncé proved she can lyrically square up with some of your faves and Cardi brought home a Grammy for simply being herself.
Selecting the best hip-hop and R&B albums of the decade is not an easy feat, but it is a vital one. The genre remains the voice of a generation that uses creativity to inspire change and to obfuscate boxes that underrepresented populations are constantly placed inside. Analyzing how it has evolved means using these records as markers of change, progress, and hope. And quite frankly, we can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.
Click ahead to see our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of the 2010s…
25. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018)
From the Archives: “It’s not perfect, but the album is remarkably cohesive, the right length, and filled to the brim with songs that already feel like inevitable summer smashes. After making history, Cardi faced seemingly insurmountable hype and expectations for this album, and she brushed them off like they were nothing. She’s still finding her way, but in a way that maybe a handful of artists have accomplished this decade. It feels like she could do anything.” Read David Sackllah’s full review.
24. Noname – Room 25 (2018)
From the Archives: “Some of Room 25’s pleasures are subtle: the layered beats, the sense of humor, the way she fights for optimism in a world full of evil. But some of Noname’s other gifts are glaringly obvious, especially her lyrical gymnastics. She doesn’t just make keen observations; she sends those syllables skipping down the tongue. The pleasure of Room 25 is in hearing a master wordsmith turn words into feelings so that the feelings linger long after the words have stopped.” Read Wren Graves’ full review.
23. Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013)
From the Archives: “Beyoncé is an album in the classic sense: it’s a collection of articulate, thematically linked music. It traffics specifically in lost arts like sequencing, pacing, and mastering. It’s not concerned with moving units. It’s concerned with Beyoncé‘s self-exploration, in a complicated, incredibly intriguing way.” Read Chris Bosman’s full review.
22. FKA twigs – LP1 (2014)
From the Archives: “A majority of LP1 focuses on those beauties and tragedies of desire. What makes it a thoroughly compelling listen is its kaleidoscopic focus on the feelings’ multiple dimensions … a frankly expressed project focused on the dualism between love and lust, reality and fantasy. ‘Give Up’ is the most euphoric and optimistic of the 10 tracks. Over aquatic production and colorful synths, twigs coos about the possibility of a relationship that could persevere. We don’t get a payoff. We just get twigs resolving to touch herself in her lover’s absence on ‘Kicks’. And then silence.” Read Brian Josephs’ full review here.
21. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
From the Archives: “An album like RTJ2 is rare. Decades from now, this album may just be revered as one of the best hip-hop records of our era, the total synchronicity of two talented artists reaching the apex of their prime.” Read Pat Levy’s full review.
20. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
From the Archives: “By and large, We got it from Here… has the classic Tribe sound: a warm and crisp confluence of East Coast hip-hop, jazz, and more, all mixed and mastered impeccably. While some aspects of the sound are dated, others feel fresh. The live instrumentation — guitar, keys, bass, drums, and more played by the likes of Q-Tip, Jack White (!), and Elton John (!!) — makes the album feel as alive as any other rap release made today, while the guest vocals from relatively new faces like Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak further modernize the sound. Meanwhile, the members all come with a sense of urgency and camaraderie, allowing Tribe to recapture the energy that made them such an important and inimitable act in the first place.” Read Mike Madden’s full review.
19. SABA – Care for Me (2018)
From the Archives: “At 10 breezy tracks, Care for Me isn’t just a collection of songs; it’s an honest-to-god album that develops ideas at its own pace. Care for Me is about the woozy mix of city and family and friends and mental health … and grief. It’s about needing care and needing self-care … and grief. And maybe it’s morbid to be so interested; maybe it’s emotional rubbernecking, gawping at the wreckage of someone else’s life. It’s a grief we hope to avoid and yet a grief we can’t help tasting. SABA makes it near impossible to turn away.” Read Wren Graves’ full review.
18. Blood Orange – Negro Swan (2018)
From the Archives: “Dev Hynes writes timeless songs about the way joy and sorrow cannot survive without one another, and on Negro Swan, he has blossomed with a complete mastery of his sound. With an airtight focus, Hynes builds worlds in his music, whether it’s the stretched guitar riff of ‘Charcoal Baby’ evoking a lethargic daze or the stripped-down atmospheric ‘Smoke’ bristling with the intimacy of a private message of reinforcement from a close friend. Though nothing from the album may ever get played in a ballroom, Negro Swan is a grand work that gives credit to the pioneers of the culture while building a path forward within that framework, placing Hynes firmly in the canon as one of the most insightful musicians of his generation.” Read David Sackllah’s full review.
17. Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
From the Archives: “For the first time in a long time, an artist riding on hype surfaced with an album that lives up to the very hype that lifted it. Better yet, in time, Blonde will surpass its hype. The album’s greatest feat is its ability to expand when it’s listened to in a new mindset, each reveal seemingly so apparent that you wonder how you missed it the first time. For that, Blonde should be held as an example; it’s an album of synthesized interests without sampling, without stealing, without influence-as-copyright. He absorbs his influences, pours them through a strainer, and then filters that product once again. Frank Ocean is more than his voice, and Blonde sees him illustrate all the ways in which he’s a true artist.” Read Nina Corcoran’s full review.
16. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2015)
From the Archives: “An artist of uncompromising power and originality, he has proven that he will not, cannot conform to the expectations of the music industry, his adoring fans, or anyone else. He is a delicate, impulsive genius of rare distinction, and this defiant streak is essential to the character of his music. The two facts must be accepted in turn. With Black Messiah, D’Angelo has silenced any doubters and re-confirmed his invitation as the heir apparent to the R&B throne, whether he continues to refuse the honor or not. We can hope the critical and commercial success of Black Messiah will urge him to greater creative heights, but if it does not, we must rest happy and sated with this latest deep, diverse, and satisfying offering.” Read Kristofer Lenz’ full review.
Click ahead to see more of our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of the 2010s…
15. Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy! (2019)
From the Archives: “LEGACY! LEGACY! pulls from and perfects bits from every corner of the Chicago music scene. “BETTY (for Boogie)” is an ode to the house music that originated in her city, and “MUDDY” is powered by blues riffs in the name of the legendary Muddy Waters. Woods embodies the cultural makeup of Chicago, tackles the multiplicity of identity, and balances her dominance with flawlessly selected features that build her up. It’s heavily researched — and should be studied by others: This record could be the basis for a college course or used as an actually accurate history book.” Read Lucky Shanker’s full review.
14. Kanye West and Jay-Z – Watch the Throne (2011)
From the Archives: “There’s nothing more exciting than watching an artist perform at their highest potential, full of confidence, and willing to teach any challengers a lesson. Okay, I lied. Watching two such artists trade bars is better. On Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West are braggadocious and egotistic, but damn do they earn it. This is royalty music. It’s the sound of winning a championship. It’s “Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, game six.” But for all the ego within, Watch the Throne is a surprisingly poignant record where Ye and Jay discuss religion (“No Church in the Wild”), gang violence (“Murder to Excellence”), and offer freedom through entrepreneurship (“Made in America”). This album is the most straightforward hip-hop record Ye released this decade, and that is its greatest strength.” –Christopher Thiessen
13. Drake – Take Care (2011)
From the Archives: “Of all his solo cuts on the record, ‘Headlines’ is the ultimate demonstration of his newfound level of domination. For once, he’s almost self-deprecating, offering up a realistic portrayal, sans hype, of his growth. Even when he’s at his most cocky and self-assured, there’s something raw and relatable about him. Mix all that with an ultra-catchy beat of studio-manipulated strings and this number is, without a doubt, Drake’s most powerful single to date. Over the course of some 18 months, Drake has become quite a novice in the genre, well on his way to mastering new and exciting ground. Take Care hints at such a future, and for once, we can all look at his resume with a sense of beaming optimism. Perhaps we should start thanking him now.” Read Chris Coplan’s full review.
12. Anderson .Paak – Malibu (2016)
From the Archives: “For its lyrical and musical scope, Malibu brings to mind a number of excellent albums, ranging from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions to, yes, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Proving himself to be more than a unique voice on a Dr. Dre album (there have been plenty of those over the past quarter century), .Paak seems to be in total control of his talent. It might be a challenge for him to make something as relatable and soulful as Malibu again, but fortunately, the album has the kind of substance that suggests he’s built to last.” Read Mike Madden’s full review.
11. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (2013)
From the Archives: “Chicago’s drill scene divides audiences, critics, and peers, artists like Chief Keef either vilified for glorifying the city’s violence or given credit for shedding light on the ever-growing body count. In some ways, Chance the Rapper stands entirely apart from that scene, his acid-washed production and trademark ‘igh!’ emanating miles away from Keef’s spare rumbles and ‘bang bang’ ad-lib. He sings ballads, reminisces about the orange color of Nickelodeon VHS tapes, and once sampled indie rockers Beirut. And to be sure, Chance is often quoted as drawing inspiration from Kanye West and Michael Jackson, decidedly non-drill influences. But as different as Acid Rap and Finally Rich may be, Chance is rapping both from and of that same world, his unique voice offering a different view of the city he loves.” Read Adam Kivel’s full review here.
10. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (2017)
From the Archives: “Every statement outside of his music is accompanied by an implied shrug, but his songs contain a photo-realistic attention to detail that belies the premise that he doesn’t care. His lyrics are trimmed of useless fat, leaving only lean, sinewy ruminations on a harsh world that are tougher to chew and harder to swallow than click-friendly soundbites. On his new album, Big Fish Theory, Staples continues to perfect his brand of nuanced nihilism while exploring new sounds that should put the music industry on notice that the future is now.” Read Greg Whitt’s full review.
09. Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)
From the Archives: “Ultimately, there’s something refreshing about Solange’s dreary, almost funereal compositions. Earlier in her career, Solange defined herself by what she was not. Here she evades definition entirely, bolted steadfast to the burden of the past, but stubbornly careening toward the future, life through death. Solange is R&B as hell.” Read Stephen Kearse’s full review.
08. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017)
From the Archives: “Listening front to back or in reverse, DAMN. is an album with no resolution, driven by what might be the boldest statement Kendrick Lamar has ever made — the suggestion that he could, in spite of every dollar, every win, and all of his promise, still slip through our fingers and manage to disappear. How many other young, black men have been looked over, under-appreciated, and ultimately lost the exact same way?” Read Karas Lamb’s full review.
07. SZA – Ctrl (2017)
From the Archives: “Concerned with elevating the genre to something that is completely her own, SZA trades in the kind of alchemical magic that can only be derived from the intersection of youthful indiscretion, sincerity, and naïveté in her approach to the stylistic pillars of R&B. Somewhere between the house built by Frank Ocean’s monotone and falsetto and Migos’ signature trap cadences, SZA’s unique manipulation of language in performance moves far afield of clever euphemisms and the temporary high of rap entendres or gospel runs to focus on the deliberate deconstruction of words. Her approach to song structure is one that accommodates bespoke production and the angsty weight of her statements. Practically sounding out her thoughts, she gives tangible shape to emotion and establishes a clear respect for the craft of delivery.” Read Karas Lamb’s full review.
06. Kanye West – Yeezus (2013)
From the Archives: “Yeezus feels very proto- something, the roots of some aesthetic that has yet to be minted. It’s revolutionary at its most urgent, as on “Black Skinhead”. It’s an album for the books, one that indicates West’s hunger for exploration while always sounding like it could become extraordinarily popular, even for him. This is the level that things could be at.” Read Mike Madden’s full review.
Click ahead to see the very best of our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of the 2010s…