Top 10 albums of the decade – by Jonathan Johnson

Top 10 Albums of the decade

This time of year I normally write my top ten hip hop albums of the year. However, I believe that this is a golden decade for all music genres, with seminal music that has been the soundtrack for the last 10 years. Although the dominant genre of this decade I could not restrict my favourite albums to just hip-hop. I appreciate many genres of music and for this reason I have given 10 albums that I think were the best of the 2010s.

  1. Drake – Take Care (2011)

In 2011, Drake produced an album that provided mixed reviews from hip-hop purists with his use of melodic mix of RnB and rap lyrics. I remember literally arguing with my 20 year old nephew at the time that it wasn’t a ‘real’ hip hop album. Songs like Marvin’s Room, Take Care, and Shot for me made me think that although great music this was not the traditional hip-hop formula. The 20 track album also has hard hitting hip-hop bangers such as Headlines, Lord Know (feat Rick Ross) and HYFR (feat Lil Wayne).  Arguably Drake’s only classic album, this is one that I regularly revisit and recite lyrics on my way to work. If you haven’t heard this album and are a fan of hip hop, where have you been?!!

  1. Bruno Mars – 24k Magic (2016)

Bruno Mars has been one of the most consistent artists of the 2010s with three albums that have varied in sound and approach. One thing you can say is that quality music has been consistent from the RnB singer. Arguably his sophomore Unorthodox Juke Box is his best album, however 24k Magic grabbed me from my first listen. As I am writing this, I am literally playing both albums to make sure that I am choosing the right one. Hits like 24k Magic, Finesse feat Cardi B and that’s what I like are songs that will have you nodding your head and bouncing those shoulders whilst going about your everyday life. Slow jams like Calling on my lovelies and Versace on the floor will also provide you with classic slow jams that you can play to set the mood.

  1. Disclosure – Settle (2013)

As a garage and funky house lover in the late nineties and noughties I have always got an ear of new sounds coming from the club scene.  Latch feat Sam Smith was the breakthrough single from the Duo which ruptured both the clubs and the radio. Other tracks like White Noise (feat Aluna George, Boiling (feat Sinead Harnett) and Voices (feat Sasha Keable) gave me a healthy dose of the funky house sound in this decade. If you missed it I would certainly recommend that you visit this as the sound is still timeless.

  1. Sam Smith – In the Lonely (2014)

With such a strong introduction to Sam Smith through Disclosure and great collaborations with Naughty Boy I was certainly intrigued of what a Sam Smith Album would sound like. I remember buying this as part of a £5 first week promotion from Amazon Music. Thinking ‘£5 what’s the worst that can happen’ I walked into an album that had so much soul and hard hitting Ballads. Aside from the hits like stay with me and I’m not the only one, this 10 track album songs like I’ve told you no and leave your lover oozed passion and pain. This is definitely not an album to listen to after you have broken up with someone but Sam Smith clearly captures the art of using music as a therapeutic release.

  1. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)

I am no huge fan of Beyoncé but after listening to Lemonade I had to question myself if I was now part of the Beehive!! With the emergence of Memes in 2015-2016 I could not escape people talking about this album. There was just something so different about Lemonade from all the other Beyonce albums I had heard in the past. The stripped bare lyrics of songs like Hold Up, Don’t Hurt Yourself (feat Jack White) and Pray you Catch me caught my attention. Especially when this was clearly about the biggest rapper of all time. This aside this 12 track album was a great piece of work and again highlights that great creativity comes from hurt.

  1. Stormzy – Gang Signs and Prayer (2017)

Admittedly It has only been 3-4 since I have been fully following the grime/UK Hip Hop scene and I found Stormzy’s debut album refreshing as it had a clear concept and delivered both hard beats in cold, big for your boots and a sense of self and social consciousness on Bad Boy, and Blinded by your Grace. GSAP also provides a soft sultry sound with songs like Cigarettes and Cush and Velvet. If someone from another country wanted a UK hip-hop album that you could listen to back to front from the 2010s I would show them this album.

  1. J.Cole – 2014 Forest Hill Drive (2014)

Forest Hill Drive already grabbed me with the title coming from Forest Hill South London.  But gimmicks aside this is J.cole’s classic project that delivers a relatively soulful paced album that displays Cole’s lyrical and storytelling ability. His previous albums before were ones that tried to chart top with a ‘radio record’. With Forest Hill Drive he was stripped bare on songs like January 28th, 03’ Adolescence and Hello. In songs like Apparently and Wet Dreamz Cole even creatively shares his neglect to his mum when she was losing their family home and his first sexual encounter to lose his virginity. All of the songs on this concise 13 track album is has great substance and actually lets you into J.Cole the emotional artist.

  1. Jay-Z – 4:44 (2018)

4:44 was one of the albums that made the world realise that Hip Hop has grown up with true elder statesmen that can still shape and influence new hip-hop generations. There is not  wasted lyric on this album with Jay-Z showing on songs like the Story of OJ and Smile that at 48 he still can rhyme with the best of them. What makes this album so special is the promotion of black excellence, and the US injustices to Black People in Family Feud (feat Beyoncé) Moonlight and Legacy. Purely produced by No ID the album presents exactly where Jay-Z is lyrucally and the personal challenges that he has faced including his Infidelity, a Miscarriage and his feuds with Kanye West.

  1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2012)

We want the Old Kanye!! In 2012 Kanye launched the weekly G.O.O.D Friday releases  one of the most memorable album roll outs of the decade. The free music tracks wet the appetites of Kanye fans and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy delivered. From beginning to end  album is near flawless with great production on songs  like All of the Lights, Devil in a New Dress feat Rick Ross and Power. The Hip Hop all-star features from Jay-Z and Pusha T to Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross allowed Ye to create a timeless project that showed Kanye at his peak. Say what you want about the current Kanye antics this is one of the albums that raised the bar for all music this decade.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

‘I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time ‘bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas’. Wow what an album. Kendrick’s Good kid, m.A.A.d city was such a strong breakthrough album I had no idea that he would be able to elevate his sound further with To Pimp a Butterfly. The Pulitzer prize artist made an unorthodox, jazzy west coast hip hop album that is engaging and layered where you always find something new every time you listen to it. The concepts on songs like the Blacker the Berry, Hood Politics and How much a Dollar Cost paints pictures so vivid of the Compton Hood, the underprivileged and the environment that he used to inspire him to rap. For a deep album that is also enjoyable with undeniable bangers like I, King Kunta and Alright which just fit so right together. Definitely a highlight of the decade.

Written by Jonathan Johnson

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