If you’ve been following Mook Life you’ll know I love a good list, so at the end of 2019 I just had to do a best of list for the whole of the 2010s. I started to look back over the decade at my favourite releases, compiling them in to a rough draft. At first this list was going to include all genres but apart from some Joanna Newsom, Van Hunt and a few electronic albums it was all hip-hop. Now this makes sense because it’s the genre that completely dominated the decade as far as quality full length releases go. So instead of being broad I decided I’d focus on hip-hop (although I have included grime projects too) and after a lot of deliberation I settled on the below list.
To a lot of people the 2010s was all about trap music, and commercially that was mostly true. This bass heavy party music started to take off in the early 2010s and grew into a cultural monolith with different scenes and sounds within it. By the end of the decade many people had grown tired of the sound, but it still accounts for the majority of mainstream hip-hop and its influence is felt throughout all of hip-hop.
Outside of the trap bubble Kendrick and J Cole were very successful on both a commercial and critical level while Kanye and especially Drake had a huge presence on the radio and billboard charts. But you know when it comes to music, I’m not about the obvious stuff. I do love some very popular albums but I think the vast majority of the best music out there comes from the underground.
Hip-hop has grown massively over the last decade which was helped by the expansion of the internet and social media. It became so much easier to share music and become part of a musical community with people from all over the world. This has allowed the underground to shine more than ever, as a completely unknown act can now reach the same audience as a platinum selling artist.
The evolution of the internet along with the advent of streaming services has turned hip-hop into an equal opportunity genre. In the 2000s, the means of creating hip-hop became widely available with easily pirated production software and more affordable equipment, so by 2010 almost anyone could access what they need to create an album. Through the 10s people no longer needed a label and large amounts of cash to distribute their music, anyone can get their music on streaming services, digital music stores and mixtape platforms. Now pretty much everyone has the means to create hip-hop and distribute it worldwide.
This ease of production and promotion lead to an extreme proliferation of projects released by artists. Before the 2010s you’d be lucky if a rapper put out an album every two years, now it’s not uncommon for them to release 3 or more in a single year, and many fans have come to expect an annual album release from anyone who wants to remain “relevant”.
There are quite a few artists that appear twice in my top 100, then there’s Blu, Tha God Fahim, Phonte, Mach-Hommy, Ka and Milo who all have 3 releases and Roc Mariano even has an incredible 5. So not only have rappers been much more prolific, many are maintaining consistency. There were far fewer acts with more than one great album per decade throughout the 00s and especially the 90s. In my opinion only MF DOOM (RIP to the GOAT), A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast managed 3 or more.
Partially due to the above factors, the 2010s was the decade when hip-hop truly expanded beyond a genre in to more of an umbrella term like “rock” or “dance music”. The sheer variety of sounds and unique scenes within what is known as hip-hop is staggering and although this growth had started in the 2000s it really came to fruition in the years following. It is truly amazing looking at the vast differences across these 100 releases.
I do enjoy a good graph, so I’ve put a couple together for further analysis. I thought it was interesting to see where these projects came from and which years had the most featured releases.
New York may not be the powerhouse it once was but in the 2010s it was still putting out the most high-quality releases with Chicago’s multifaceted scene following closely. Los Angeles comes in a distant third and the whole of the west coast, an area that was once creatively strong, only has 13 entries due to becoming a bit stagnant (although I think we’re currently at the beginning of a resurgence). Atlanta dominated the decade commercially, but when it comes to quality projects I thought it was somewhat lacking but still in at a respectable fourth place. Over in the UK, Nottingham managed to equal the countries capital, mainly due to the strength of releases from the VVV boys.
The number of featured albums per year is somewhat skewed. Aside from the fact there have been more releases year on year, I also listened to a larger portion of it as the decade progressed. Part of this was down to ease of access with the growth of streaming but also because of the constant flow of information at our fingertips.
Throughout the 00s I subscribed to Hip-Hop Connection magazine which was my primary method of finding new music. The publication’s monthly review section was extensive, covering the majority of new releases. Unfortunately, HHC stopped being published in 2009 so it became much harder for me to discover new hip-hop.
Myspace was pretty much the original social media platform and prevailed until the very late 00s (at least it was in my circles but then we were often a little behind the curve in Hull). This is important because Myspace had quite a strong music community where artists would share their work as well as many active music forums for discussion. Whatever HHC missed out I usually picked up on through Myspace. So when Facebook took over without this musical element (at the time anyway) I lost another source of hip-hop news.
As the 2010s progressed it became easier for me to find new music which you can see correlate somewhat with the above graph. In 2011 I signed up to a fairly unknown but rapidly growing site called Reddit and this quickly became a great place to keep up to date with hip-hop news. Facebook became more music friendly with many artists gaining a presence on the platform as well as Twitter becoming a social media titan, full of musicians using it as a promotional platform. Add in sites such RateYourMusic, Bandcamp and SoundCloud, by the middle of the decade it was easier than ever to discover new music, giving me an insurmountable amount of fresh hip-hop projects to listen to.
With that in mind, 2011 was a particularly strong year and felt like an exciting rebirth for the genre after a weak period. Compare this to 2016 for example where I listened to around 4 times as many hip-hop albums but still found less that I loved. 2019 is somewhat notable with a good number of entries in the top 100 but only 1 in the top 20 and none in the top 10.
Overall, 2018 would have to be my favourite year of the decade, tying 2017 for the most entries overall and 3 in the top ten. It was a year when the underground thrived even more than usual, having gained a lot of momentum in 2017. The amount of creativity and artistic energy in 2018 was very inspiring.
Below is my full top 100 hip-hop projects of the 2010s with links to the podcast episodes where I’ll be playing a track off each and telling you why they deserve their spot, as well as some nuggets of knowledge. If you just want to check out the music, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist here with a track from each release.
100 100s – Ivry
99 Blu – Good To Be Home
98 Juga-Naut & SonnyJim – The Purple Door
97 Koncept Jack$on – Newport 1000s
96 Tha God Fahim – Tha Dark Shogunn Saga Vol. 2
95 Havoc & The Alchemist – The Silent Partner
94 Phonte – Charity Starts At Home
93 P-Money – Money Over Everyone II
92 Main Attrakionz – 808s & Dark Grapes III
91 Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
90 al.divino x Estee Nack – Abrakadarbra, Alakazam!
89 Lil Yachty – Lil Boat
88 Deniro Farrar – The Patriarch
87 Denzel Curry – Nostalgic 64
86 All Hail Y.T. – Street Poisoned
85 Spank Rock – Everything is Boring
84 Rich Homie Quan – Back To The Basics
83 Jehst – The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family
82 Tha God Fahim & Jay Nice – Strictly 4 My D.U.M.P.E.R.Z.
81 A$AP Rocky – Live.Love.ASAP
80 Mez – Tyrone EP
79 MC Paul Barman – (((echo chamber)))
78 Dom Kennedy – Get Home Safely
77 Little Brother – Leftback
76 Lucki Eck$ – Alternative Trap
75 VVV – Bozo Boyz
74 OG Maco – OG Maco EP
73 Random Axe – Random Axe
72 Dj Muggs x Mach-Hommy – Tuez-Les Tous
71 Quakers – Quakers
70 Schoolboy Q – Habits And Contradictions
69 Tha God Fahim – Dump Goat
68 Cities Aviv – Come To Life
67 Sean Price – Mic Tyson
66 Paul White – Rapping With Paul White
65 Robb Bank$ – Year Of The Savage
64 Reks – Rythmatic Eternal King Supreme
63 Cavalier – Lemonade
62 Hurt Everybody – 2k27
61 Melanin 9 – Old Pictures
60 Homeboy Sandman – Hallways
59 Mach-Hommy – Dump Gawd: Hommy Edition
58 Blu, M.E.D. & Madlib – Bad Neighbour
57 Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson
56 Jehst – Billy Green Is Dead
55 Tuamie x Fly Anakin – Emergency Raps Vol. 4
54 Roc Marciano – Marci Beaucoup
53 Westside Gunn – Flygod
52 Maxo Kream – The Persona Tape
51 The Step Brothers – Lord Steppington
50 Dr. Yen Lo – Days With Yen Lo
49 Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on & Tuamie – Panama Plus
48 Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred
47 Armand Hammer – Rome
46 Dark Time Sunshine – Vessel
45 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
44 Ka – Honor Killed The Samurai
43 Roc Marciano – The Pimpire Strikes Back
42 Lucki – Watch My Back
41 Ab-Soul – Control System
40 Tree x Vic Spencer – Nothing is Something
39 Cavalier – Private Stock
38 Blu – Her Favo(u)rite Colo(u)r
37 Chris Crack – Being Woke Ain’t Fun
36 Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
35 Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
34 Estee Nack x RLX – Renaissance
33 Nickelus F – Stuck
32 Vic Spencer – Things Change, I Don’t
31 Cities Aviv – Black Pleasure
30 Knxwledge – Hexual Sealings
29 Milo – Budding Ornithologists Are Weary Of Tired Analogies
28 Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
27 Westside Gunn – Flygod Is An Awesome God
26 Manga Saint Hilaire x Lewis B. – Outburts From The Outskirts
25 Estee Nack x al.divino – THE DOOR
24 Action Bronson – Blue Chips
23 Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comdedy
22 Young Thug – Jeffery
21 Mach-Hommy – Dumpmeister
20 Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often
19 Curren$y – Pilot Talk II
18 Phonte – No News Is Good News
17 Roc Marciano – Reloaded
16 Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
15 Milo – who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
14 Ankhlejohn – Reign Supreme
13 ZGTO – A Piece Of The Geto
12 Big Boi – Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son Of Chico Dusty
11 Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine
10 Young Thug – Barter 6
9 Hermit & The Recluse – Orpheus & The Sirens
8 Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
7 Jeremiah Jae – Raw Money Raps
6 Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
5 Future – Monster
4 Serengeti – Dennis 6e
3 Cappo – Dramatic Change Of Fortune
2 Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge 2: The Bitter Dose
1 Danny Brown – XXX