Hip-hop is a word of only two syllables that holds millions of interpretations and expositions done by those who wish to influence the masses with a microphone and a beat. I will never forget how rap makes me feel, driving with my parents who played classics like the Geto Boys’ 1991 paranoid banger “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” while I could barely buckle myself in. Other times, when daily routines would drain away confidence and faith of a better tomorrow, Warren G’s “Regulate” (featuring Nate Dogg) would break the subwoofer of my mom’s ’99 Lexus.
I have a deep love for rap, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed huge changes to the genre of rap. The rise of “Clout Rap” and “Mumble Rap” was an exciting time to be a fan. I witnessed the rise of great rap artists like Kendrick Lamar, JPEGMAFIA, Chief Keef, Thouxanbandfauni, Lil Peep, Kodak Black, Playboi Carti, and many more. There are a lot of lists of the “greatest rap albums ever,” but I want to narrow them down and create a list of my top four favorite rap albums from the 2010s. These are my opinions, and the majority of rap albums I love won’t be listed. My rubric for a great album is, how consistent is the music? Do the songs fit together? Do they compliment each other? Are they all enjoyable?
good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar (2012)
Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC) is my favorite rap album of all time. GKMC is as thoughtful as it is vibrant, and I love how perfectly it can match any mood I’m in. If I’m feeling insightful, “The Art of Peer Pressure” or “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” provide heartfelt and provoking lyrics that stay with you. If I need adrenaline or confidence, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Backstreet Freestyle” hype me up. This whole album is an intimate and in-depth portrayal of Kendrick Lamar’s experience with Compton and his family life. From beginning to end, this album not only provides the listener with illuminating instrumentals and lyrics about everything Compton, but feels like the listener is alongside Kendrick while he raps of drivebys and loud parties. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” has jazzy undertones with rigid and tough drums that allow the song to teeter between sounding emotional and sounding reserved. The halfway point in the song enters a vengeful and yet inspirational tone, with Kendrick rapping “I’m tired of running” while a choir whispers in the background. The main takeaway from this album is that Kendrick Lamar, despite growing up in a violent, unjust community, still loves his city. He’s self aware about the city’s history, and instead of creating songs with a lightheartedness about the pain he and others have endured, he allows himself to become vulnerable about the drugs and gangs that are so prevalent in rap, simultaneously addressing the truth with the lore. The album is as beautiful and delicate as it is tough and raw, and Kendrick truly goes in depth about humanity, horror, and pain that so many must feel living in Compton.
The instrumentals alone keep bringing me back, but the lyrics are not to be overlooked. It is obvious Kendrick Lamar has found the secret to writing substantial lyrics while still keeping a simple format that makes a song catchy and easy to listen to. I love this album because not only does each song have meaning, but it also sounds amazing. Sometimes rap will focus too much on one thing (lyrics, gang life, drugs) and totally neglect the other side of the truth (loss, death, addiction), but Kendrick Lamar leaves nothing unspoken. Pitchfork writer Jayson Greene described it perfectly: “Listening to it feels like walking directly into Lamar’s childhood home and, for the next hour, growing up alongside him.”
Favorite Song: “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” & “Backstreet Freestyle”
Veteran – JPEGMAFIA (2018)
I remember the first time I heard JPEGMAFIA. I had tickets to his first show in Portland before I had listened to him, because a friend asked me to go. Before I went, I decided to listen. Within the first minute of “I Smell Crack” off his 2016 album Black Ben Carson, I knew JPEGMAFIA was something special. I had heard this type of glitchy, dark, electronic rap before with artists like Death Grips, Viper, and Denzel Curry, but nothing sounded remotely like JPEGMAFIA. With Veteran, JPEGMAFIA has created a masterfully weird yet addicting listen. Off the bat, “1539 N. Calvert” opens the album with an eerie melody behind quick, punchy drums that only add to the uneasiness of the song. His lyrics keep you entertained and on your feet, as you never really know what JPEGMAFIA may say next. From lines like “Give that dick to Kelly Conway” off of the opening “1539 N. Calvert,” to the murderous yet hilarious lines like “Pull up on that cracker bumpin Lil Peep” off of “I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies,” JPEGMAFIA is bold and outrageous, but reserved to the point of respect. This album is unique, maybe one of the weirdest sounding things I’ve heard out of the 2010s, and I love it. Whenever someone asks me to summarize JPEGMAFIA’s sound, I just call it a CD scratched version of a Crystal Castles & Lil Ugly Mane collab if you were playing it out of VCR player. The percussion, synths, and blunt scratching effect of each song is highly unique, and I can see this album influencing the next generation of rappers. If you ever feel like crawling on a dozen broken Dell laptops with a grape Jolly Rancher smoothie taped to your chest, I recommend listening to Veteran.
Favorite Song(s): “Curb Stomp” & “Real Nega”
Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti (2017)
This album was the soundtrack to my first two years of high school. The second song off the album, “Magnolia,” was addicting to listen to due to its simplicity. The beat has no other sounds other than its drums, bass, flute, and Carti’s adlibs. It’s highly catchy and a really good song for any occasion. The album flows with nonstop bangers, and the listener has no chance to overthink what they’re listening to, since Carti makes it apparent with his repetitive lyrics. For example on “Look” ft. Lil Uzi Vert, the chorus repeats “Look at these N****” a total of 46 times (yes I counted) within its 3:03 runtime. Sometimes I just want something that sounds good and has a groove that I can listen to mindlessly while doing activities, and this album is perfect for that. There aren’t any large topics addressed in this album, and the lyrics mostly repeat themselves every verse. It’s perfect for days when you need to build yourself up, do a boring activity, go to a party, or simply need a mindless rap song to bump loudly. Every song off this album sounds similar but different, like they are related but just second removed cousins. The production by Pierre Bourne on tracks like “wokeuplikethis*” and “Magnolia” are infectious, and only add to the seemingly effortlessness of Carti’s unique sound. Playboi Carti has brought this Jugg sound, which typically consists of a low fuzzy 808 underneath a lofi clap, while organic percussion, such as a stick slap or salt shake eases in every 3rd bar. The scarcity of stuttering high hats adds a bit of rhythm to this otherwise basic structure of music. Playboi Carti sounds like each shower thought I have of reacting suavely and swaggerly to a rude remark or flirt I received early in the day. Obviously the probability of me responding sounding cool as hell to a rude remark or flirt is pretty low, but Playboi Carti makes me feel like I did. This album, to me, is the epitome of what is cool right now, and what is probably cool to a lot of rap fans who grew up in the 2010’s. It is obvious this album is not meant to address anything big, and that listeners of Playboi Carti expect hard hitting, simple trap songs.
Favorite Song(s): “dothatshit!” & “NO.9”
“BBF” Hosted By DJ Escrow – Babyfather (2016)
Babyfather isn’t for everyone. The unconventional opening song of BBF, “Stealth Intro,” turns away many listeners as its 5:02 runtime consists of a harp being plucked underneath a high pitched voice repeating “this makes me proud to be British.” It almost seems as though the Babyfather duo is vetting their serious fans from curious passersby. What I love most about this album is how many moods are present in each of the songs. On “Greezebloc,” the song has an instrumental reminding me of a WWE entrance while Babyfather producer and MC, Dean Blunt, raps sensually relaxed atop of the flame fueled song. On “PROLIFIC DEAMONS,” a harsh low filled noise must bust many speakers, as it abruptly begins while a British man speaks spastically for over 3 minutes on the track. On “God Hour,” (feat. Micachu) the peaceful guitar compliments haunting vocals that droop over a violin which periodically comes in and out of the track. The many feelings and attitudes of this album are confusing but alluring nonetheless. What attracted me at first was my curiosity behind understanding the mentality of making something like this. Dean Blunt alone is my favorite artist of mine, and he possesses one of the most enigmatic personas of any musician I know. With no apparent social media pages and no official artist profiles on streaming services, both Babyfather and Dean Blunt share a mysterious background. Many releases will go uploaded unlisted on Youtube with fans finding them months after their release. There are whole fan Youtube accounts dedicated to the re-uploading of each deleted Babyfather and Dean Blunt music video. Babyfather is mysterious and seems to lack any care for making its music accessible to the average listener. I love how unorganized yet intentional the whole structure of this album is. Random interludes of a British man interrupting the listening experience is common throughout the album. BBF sounds like it’s leaked, like a glimpse into Babyfather’s deleted tracks due to the abrupt endings and poor mastering of almost every song. The majority of the tracks hold an amateur aspect around the mixing and mastering of each song, with piercing high stutters on high hats and muddy 808s underneath unfitting snares. It only adds to how unique and weird the whole project is as a whole. While listening I couldn’t put my finger on what influenced this sound, which only added to the growing curiosity of what Babyfather is, who Babyfather is, and why Babyfather is. BBF is a listen to something very personal, something that sounds like it wasn’t meant to be heard by anyone other than the creators.
Favorite Song(s): “Killuminati,” “Shook,” & “Meditation”