The 2010s have been a decade dominated by hip-hop. While that statement is true, it also runs the risk of generalizing a ten-year stretch that was much more than rap. Pop, rock, and other genres were also meaningfully represented by brilliant works that pushed boundaries and brought new ideas to music more broadly. In all styles of music, the 2010s saw the emergence of new global superstars, established acts further cementing their legacies, and honestly, some of the best albums of all time.
Like the decades before it, the albums produced in the 2010s are a critical piece of music history, and an indication of where the medium will go in the next decade. There have been a ton of superlative albums released over the past ten years that will forever represent this decade, so let’s look at all the best ones.
100. Lil Uzi Vert — Luv Is Rage 2
Lil Uzi was already known in hip-hop circles as the second coming of Lil Wayne’s woozy, stream-of-consciousness style thanks to his Scott Pilgrim-referencing projects Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World and The Perfect Luv Tape, but no one could have ever been prepared for the monstrous hit that is “XO Tour Llif3.” Little kids sang “All my friends are dead” and metaphysical skeptics now had the perfect descriptor for their auras. And Lil Uzi Vert, who looks nothing like the traditional conception of a rapper, has become something like the avatar of a generation that refuses to play by the old rules of fashion, fun, or masculinity. Now we all do what we want.–Aaron Williams
99. Harry Styles — Harry Styles
One Direction provided Harry Styles about as much success as anybody could reasonably handle, and yet, when he decided to venture off on his own, he abandoned a lot of the things that made One Direction what it was. Instead, his solo debut leans way more into classic rock territory than radio pop, and it turns out that Styles is masterful at both.–Derrick Rossignol
98. Schoolboy Q — Habits & Contradictions
Schoolboy Q has always stood out among his Top Dawg brethren for bringing a different sort of charisma and charm to his smoked-out personality. Where Kendrick and Jay Rock are stoic and serious-minded and Ab-Soul was always a little too spacey for the average rap fan to handle, Q always nestled comfortably in the middle, projecting a contradictory, easygoing menace. He could smoke with the white boys at Coachella or hold his own in a shootout on the block without switching up a tick, a trait evident throughout his major-label debut.–A.W.
97. Lana Del Rey — Born To Die
Presently, Lana Del Rey is one of the finest in alternative pop, and as far as the public is concerned, it began with Born To Die. The exemplary album is led by “Video Games,” the defining single from her breakthrough second album, and a somber, nostalgic-yet-new track that was the seed for the many great things that followed.–D.R.
96. Migos — Culture
An odd, unifying factor of so many of the albums on this list is that many representing cumulative moments for their creators, the decisive release that delineated their crossover from underground talents to bona fide superstars. But no artist on this list can be said to have glowed up the way Migos did with Culture. Although they’d had hits both regional and national (“Versace” among the most successful), Culture had soccer moms who watch Ellen openly proclaiming their “boujee”-ness and mainstream America boasting unknowingly of their shockingly reasonable coke prices. They also introduced much of the world to Lil Uzi Vert on Culture, an album which lives up to its title and mission statement.–A.W.
95. Miranda Lambert — Platinum
Miranda Lambert had already had a hit single or two. She’d already doused the idea of what a woman in country could be, and lit the whole dang thing on fire. She was four albums in, married to a fellow superstar, and ready to talk about life’s dark underbelly on her landmark fifth record Platinum in 2014. And if Lambert was already beloved as a singles and radio artist, Platinum proved she had true grit. As her first masterpiece, and one of the most cohesive country albums of the 2010s, it was unapologetically feminine, messy, and decidedly her.—Caitlin White
94. Chvrches — The Bones Of What You Believe
Chvrches are now one of the world’s defining synth-pop groups, and their debut album was a hell of an introduction. Unlike a lot of first albums, it was clear that Lauren Mayberry and company had already found themselves, and their forceful-yet-airy electronic-pop sound was fully and confidently formed.–D.R.
93. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — Piñata
The 2010s were a decade defined by multi-talented artists pushing sonic boundaries — but sometimes dope rhymes over amazing production rule the day. That was the case with Piñata, the soulful introduction to MadGibbs that showcased just how high of a plateau Freddie Gibbs could reach with the right producer guiding him. Luckily, Madlib pointed him and features like Earl Sweatshirt and Scarface toward the moon.–Andre Gee
92. Lady Gaga — Born This Way
The trajectory of Lady Gaga’s career has varied wildly throughout the 2010s, but no matter how you feel about “Shallow,” it’s important to remember that Born This Way is only eight years old. It’s astonishing how much the world has shifted since then, especially when it comes to queer rights and acceptance, but it’s also hard not to argue that part of why it has is because of the work Gaga put in to change it. Respect.–C.W.
91. YG — My Krazy Life
Lazy comparison or not, it’s apt if only because of the proximity of their debuts and their shared narrative device of a day in the life; if Kendrick Lamar is Compton’s passive, abiding Yin, then YG is undoubtedly its “aktive,” sign-throwing Yang. My Krazy Life is the album that introduced the mainstream to “Bompton,” the flamed-up, petty crime-celebrating, gang-over-everything side of life that Good Kid, MAAD City only hinted at. YG puts his flag, his neighborhood, and the gangbanger lifestyle on full display with brash confidence and surprising self-awareness.–A.W.
90. Perfume Genius — Too Bright
Perfume Genius (real name Mike Hadreas) has a lot to say on his definitive and most commercially successful album. On Too Bright, he communicates his messages of fear and power with an arsenal of instrumental moods and his uncommonly expressive voice.–D.R.
89. Darkside — Psychic
You wouldn’t be wrong to describe the 2010s as the decade of Jaar. With his landmark Space Is Only Noise coming out in 2011, as well his work as Against All Logic and a steady stream of mixes, Jaar’s moody experiments felt limitless. But his best work yet is his collaborative album with Dave Harrington as Darkside, a record that throws words like electronic and organic out the window in favor of a world where the two live in harmony. Psychic is a transportive record that dares the listener to live inside of it, getting lost in some of the most daring and gorgeous music made in the last ten years.–Philip Cosores
88. Tegan And Sara — Heartthrob
When Tegan And Sara decided to upend their more indie-leaning sound in favor of big-room pop, there was plenty of skepticism from diehard fans and critics alike. But Heartthrob proved to be both heavy on hooks and taste, the kind of record that big pop stars like Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen would turn to for clues for their future directions. The Quin sisters have always been trendsetters, and Heartthrob showed that their powers have no genre lines. –P.C.
87. Jay-Z — 4:44
It would be scandalous — borderline outrageous, really — to insinuate that 4:44 is the first album to suggest that hip-hop could grow up (anyone who suggests as much should never be taken seriously again). It might have been, however, the first album whose reception indicated that hip-hop might be ready to grow up with its favorite artists. While 4:44 doesn’t see Jay’s most personal or ambitious material, it might be his most mature and a fascinating look at not just his thoughts, but his thought process as he enters his fifth decade of life and third(!) of rap stardom.–A.W.
86. Sharon Van Etten — Tramp
There might not be another artist this decade whose choice for their best album varies so much from person to person. The intimacy of Epic, the adventurousness of Are We There, and the bravery of Remind Me Tomorrow all have their cases to be made, but for my money, it’s 2012’s Tramp that found Van Etten at her best. From straight-ahead rockers (“Serpents”) to cinematic showstoppers (“Ask”), Van Etten proved herself to be capable of big statements that weren’t limited to what she could perform by herself. Tramp was a vision of what was to come, packed to the brim with some of the best songwriting that she’s (or anyone else this decade) has ever released.–P.C.
85. Nicki Minaj — Pink Friday
Nicki Minaj is an odd case of the price of fame, the power of womanhood, and the weight of expectation. She is one thousand contradictions all rolled into one, the potential to have been the greatest female rapper ever, and the disappointment that she never truly had any competition along the way. With that asterisk, it may seem that she never reached her peak, but she certainly came the closest on Pink Friday, where she introduced the world to her many alter egos, cotton candy world view, and utterly bonkers flow.–A.W.
84. Big Thief — U.F.O.F.
The third time is the charm, especially in the case of Big Thief. U.F.O.F. was recorded in the woods of Washington, and you can feel the influence of nature on each of the songs. Adrianne Lenker’s near-whisper is reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s throughout, with the band delivering a unique brand of psychedelic folk that envelops and churns you before spitting you out.–Zac Gelfand
83. The xx — I See You
If you were to describe The xx by a color scheme, their first two (quite good) albums felt definitively black and white, their performances using smoke and shadows to underscore a sound hinging on drama. But I See You is the British band’s embrace of the full-color spectrum, ready for prism light and mirrorball reflections to bring levity to their traditionally serious aesthetic. Standouts like “I Dare You,” “Dangerous,” and “On Hold” pulse with vivid life, impeccably produced and beaming in technicolor.–P.C.
82. Young Thug — Slime Season 3
Young Thug is so creative that its hard for his sonic ingenuity to be tamed for one project. But Slime Season 3 is one of his most complete bodies of work. The eight-song tracklist worked in Thug’s favor, as there were no wasted moments. Each song was a strong exhibition of his sinewy, uncontainable flow unfurling every which way over immersive 808-based soundscapes.–A.G.
81. Charli XCX — Pop 2
Screeching into the final days of 2017 came Charli XCX’s supersonic, futuristic Pop 2, the no-f*cks-given mixtape she was destined to make, and the song cycle that changed her career, leading the way for this year’s outstanding self-titled Charli. Between young, queer collaborators and helium-quaking beats, Pop 2 set a precedent for what to expect from Charli in the future, and who she planned to bring up with her.–C.W.
80. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
One of the most indelible songwriting voices of the decades belongs to this wry Australian, who has a way of producing one-liners that are both funny and sneaky-sad at a pace that belies her slacker demeanor. On Sometimes I Sit And Think, she sets those musings to wandering but always melodic grunge-pop.–Steven Hyden
79. Noname — Room 25
Introspective, soulful, and spitting straight-up bars, Noname took two years following up her breakout mixtape Telefone with the majestic and warm Room 25. Coming up out of the flourishing Chicago hip-hop scene, her late 2018 release nearly took over the year, proving that not only could a b*tch rap, she does so better than your fav.–C.W.
78. Sturgill Simpson — Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
On his sparkling 2013 debut High Top Mountain, Sturgill Simpson seemed like the real-life Jackson Maine before we knew who Jackson Maine was. But with Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, Simpson made it clear that he was more interested in psychedelics and metaphysics than fiddles and straw.–S.H.
77. Rae Sremmurd — SremmLife
When it comes to trapping music, Rae Sremmurd is one of the best one-two punches ever. The mesh of Swae Lee’s melody and Slim Jxmmi’s brash nihilism results in anthems like those that litter their debut studio album. From “No Flex Zone” to “No Type,” the Mississippi duo delivered a collection of fun bangers that are best recited at 12 a.m. — at high decibels.–A.G.
76. Kaytranada — 99.9%
Kaytranada’s debut (and so far only) album 99.9% works so well because it has something for 99.9% of listeners. The album is boosted by an eclectic batch of collaborators, like Badbadnotgood on the hip-hop-infused jazz of “Weight Off,” Anderson .Paak on the downtempo electronica track “Glowed Up, and Vic Mensa on the soulful hip-hop of “Drive Me Crazy,” cementing Kaytra as a producer capable of uniting omnivorous music fans everywhere.–D.R.
75. Cardi B — Invasion Of Privacy
Once Invasion Of Privacy dropped it became clear that Cardi B was here to stay. She did a masterful job of infusing her character and charisma over bangers like “I Like It,” and “Bickenhead,” but also getting vulnerable on “Be Careful.” Her debut project is a carefully curated collection of fun, emphatic records that will turn a function up to this day.–A.G.
74. The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Matty Healy is perhaps the most dominating and essential frontman in rock music today, and on The 1975‘s latest album, he fulfilled that role without always relying on traditionally rocking methods. This album emphatically checks so many boxes: Frenetic indie rock with “Give Yourself A Try,” catchy-as-hell guitar pop on “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” and yearning Auto-Tuned near-hip-hop with “I Like America & America Likes Me.”–D.R.
73. Mac Miller — The Divine Feminine
Across his surprisingly expansive catalog, Mac Miller seems bogged down by the weight of depression, paranoia, and his ever-present addiction demon — except on one project. On The Divine Feminine, he’s buoyed by an entirely different set of emotions, namely admiration for the healing power of women and love for one in particular. Although their relationship didn’t last and nor did Mac himself, it’s comforting to know that he got at least one moment of the pure joy that radiates throughout this recording.–A.W.
72. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
When an artist who seems to sum up a shift in the zeitgeist comes along, it’s tempting to overrate their output. But anyone who argues that’s the case with Billie Eilish clearly hasn’t engaged with the sharp, funny, observant and tender songwriting hidden under production and posturing of her debut. Don’t dismiss her as a fad, and don’t praise her as the future, at the end of the day she’s just Billie. Can’t wait to see where this goes.–C.W.
71, Tyler The Creator — Flower Boy
Flower Boy is Tyler The Creator’s coming of age album. The jarring shock rap that had previously defined him was replaced by candid reflections on existential angst and heartbreak over smooth, harmonious production. Flower Boy showed that Tyler was no longer fascinated by the macabre, but more so fixated on exploring the mundanities of life in an engaging fashion.–A.G.
70. James Blake — James Blake
James Blake’s voice is the unmistakable star of his self-titled debut, so it means a lot to say that the instrumentation is just as fascinating, like on “Limit To Your Love,” which alternates between tender piano ballad and bass-propelled breakdowns. It’s not necessarily Top 40 music, but the appeal is still broad and undeniable, allowing Blake to lead the charge of post-dubstep and still have an intriguing career once that glow had worn off.–D.R.
69. Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
As the protege of Prince, Wondaland’s queen, Janelle Monáe, had massive shoes to fill after his tragic death. She didn’t take the task lightly. Dirty Computer walks a mile in the funk legend’s shoes, then ditches them and skyrockets into the atmosphere, engaging with cosmic, feminine energy that even The Purple One didn’t have access to. I like to think that somewhere, up in heaven, he’s snapping along to “Pynk” with proud tears in his eyes.–C.W.
68. Ariana Grande — Sweetener
Ain’t it just like a pop star to take bitter circumstances and translate them into something sweet? Few artists of the modern era have faced more difficult circumstances than Ariana Grande, and even fewer have re-emerged with songs full of peace, hope, and self-confidence like the ones found on Sweetener. Affirmational lyrics and lighter, brighter melodies made Sweetener into an instant classic, one that will only get sweeter with time.–C.W.
67. Frank Ocean — Nostalgia, Ultra
Perhaps kicking off the trend of surprise-dropping an album, Frank Ocean’s debut effort Nostalgia, Ultra appeared on his Tumblr account without any prior conversation of there being a project at all. It’s a perfect introduction into Ocean’s world, filled with hazy stories of sex, drugs, and parties that are complimented by R&B instrumentals that flow under Ocean’s polished vocal stylings.–Z.G.
66. Julien Baker — Sprained Ankle
Sparse, incisive, and confessional, it’s hard to believe that Julien Baker’s debut album was originally self-released as an EP on Bandcamp. In the half-decade since its initial release, Baker’s name has become synonymous with the revitalization of ultra-personal singer-songwriters wearing their hearts on their sleeves.Sprained Ankle takes the best of Bright Eyes and Elliott Smith and translates it for today’s heartbroken.–Z.G.
65. Kanye West And Jay Z — Watch The Throne
The joint project by which all other joint projects must be judged, Watch The Throne became more than a historical document of the moment Kanye West finally matched big brother or Jay-Z finally passed the torch. It’s a celebration of the pop culture dominance of two heralded figures who broke every rule and reversed every convention on their way to the mountaintop. This was no overlooked Gravediggaz or aborted Murder Inc. project. This was something entirely new, a fusion of two minds, alike but different, balling so hard motherf*ckers wanted to fine them… but couldn’t because they were on a whole other level.–A.W.
64. Lykke Li — I Never Learn
Though sad and sexy is her brand, Lykke Li’s third album takes the former and runs with it. I Never Learn is a quintessential breakup album, turning away from her spirited pop jams and replacing them with moody orchestral torch songs and heartbreaking tales of love lost. Lykke has always subverted expectations with each album release, but this mature take on introspective and personal songwriting is something that few saw coming, and many could hold dear.–P.C.
63. ASAP Rocky — Live. Love. ASAP
At least once a decade, there’s a debut project so impactful that the artist carries the acclaim and goodwill with them throughout their career. For the 2010s, it was Live. Love. ASAP, the bold debut that unabashedly melded Houston sonics with New York cosmopolitan swagger at a time when regional boundaries still existed. But thankfully, songs like “Peso” and “Brand New Guy” helped kick those gates down for good.–A.G.
62. Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues
If you were raised up in the Pacific Northwest, then you know Fleet Foxes are regional superstars, and deservedly so. This group of inimitable folkies, fearlessly helmed by Robin Pecknold, managed to become a national pastime based largely on the strength of Helplessness Blues, a stunning follow-up to their self-titled breakout. On this shimmering, existential song cycle, Pecknold unpacks grief, glory, and the blues with the same power as the old greats. Don’t let the title fool you: there’s nothing helpless about it.–C.W.
61. Flying Lotus — Cosmogramma
Flying Lotus entered 2010 in the year 3000 with Cosmogramma, an exhilarating collection of experimental compositions conceptually inspired by lucid dreaming and out of body experiences. The 17-track album melds elements of jazz, soul, hip-hop, funk, and a range of other sonic aesthetics into a fascinating whirlwind of electro-hop.–A.G.
60. FKA Twigs — LP1
FKA Twigs hasn’t released a new album since this one, and yet, the strength of LP1 was enough to keep the world interested in the enigmatic UK musician after all these years. The album blurs the lines between R&B and electronic, and the result is something that is distinctly and unmistakably FKA Twigs.–D.R.
59. Future — DS2
If Astroworld was the Stringer Bell of trap music, that showed what the subgenre could be, Future’s creative opus represented Avon, who unabashedly knew what the f*ck it was. Future didn’t recreate the wheel on his 13-track opus, but he trudged through the suite of MetroBoomin bangers with unforgettable encapsulations of nihilism and free jazz wailing reimagined for the Atlanta streets.–A.G.
58. St. Vincent — St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s self-titled album presents a perfect moment where the genius musician straddled two worlds. Sure, it was her first album away from indie labels, but it also felt like a goodbye to the indie world, one that she conquered and needed to be free of to reach her full potential. Much of what was loved about those early albums is still there, including virtuoso guitar work and soul-piercing emotional honesty, but St. Vincent is also a blockbuster in scope, portraying an artist so ready to assume her throne, she’s sitting on it in the damn cover.–P.C.
57. Tame Impala — Currents
Kevin Parker started the decade as the millennial Syd Barrett, a phase that peaked with Tame Impala’s fantastic 2012 release Lonerism. But like so many psych-rock auteurs, Parker eventually discovered the joys of pop music. He proved extremely adept at creating starry-eyed R&B on his band’s big mainstream breakthrough Currents, paving the way for collaborations with everyone from Travis Scott to Lady Gaga.–S.H.
56. Earl Sweatshirt — I Don’t Like Sh*t I Don’t Go Outside
On 2015’s I Don’t Like Sh*t I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt ruminated on the conjoining pressures of fame and adulthood. By then, the promising specter of Odd Future had faded and left room for his cynical take on music industry success. But he executed with such lyrical mastery that his existential discontent still elicited hope for the future of his rap career.–A.G.
55. Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
Natalie Mering’s specialty is writing classic ’70s AM pop melodies — the sort that Paul Williams or Burt Bacharach once composed for The Carpenters — and setting them to songs that ruminate on how technology has destroyed nearly everything essential to human life in the 21st century, from romantic love to the climate. Her defining album is Titanic Rising, the most soothing album about Armageddon you’ll ever hear.–S.H.
54. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman is a handsome singer-songwriter who sings like a choirboy and writes melodies worthy of prime-era Elton John. He’s also brutally candid about what he loves, what he hates, what he fears, and what he feels he can’t escape. That made him polarizing in the 2010s, though even detractors can’t deny the beauty, humor, and truths of Honeybear.—S.H.
53. Anderson .Paak — Malibu
It’s incredible the difference a change of scenery (and stage names) can make. After releasing four projects independently under the moniker Breezy Lovejoy, Anderson .Paak leveled up after appearing on Dr. Dre’s 2015 effort Compton with a revamped look and a silky smooth sound. Malibu, featuring contributions from 9th Wonder, Rapsody, and Kaytranada, is fitting reintroduction and an outstanding first page to the next chapter of his career.–A.W.
52. David Bowie — Blackstar
Few artists who came of age in the 1970s put out some of their best work in the 2010s. But David Bowie was never typical. Unlike his peers, he wasn’t trying to recreate past glories. With his overwhelming swan song Blackstar, Bowie made an album he could’ve only created at that specific moment in his life, a haunting electro-jazz opus that meditates fearlessly on death.–S.H.
51. Jamie xx — In Colour
The xx’s not-so-secret weapon, Jamie xx, doesn’t quite put a wall between himself and his band on his solo debut, but rather establishes a new artery in his sound’s vibrant, beating heart. His bandmates appear, as does Young Thug, but it’s really Jamie’s show, using disco memories, dancefloor ghosts, and late-night club visions to inform a kaleidoscopic album built on pristine taste. No other album released this decade sounds equally great before, during, and after a night out.–P.C.
50. Nipsey Hussle — Victory Lap
There’s some irony to the fact that it took nearly a decade for Nipsey to deliver an album that would make it on a “best of decade” list, but the craftsmanship behind Victory Lap justifies every second he spent creating it. As a summation of his Marathon philosophy, Victory Lap comes just shy of perfect. As his final testament, it’s damn near a historical artifact.–A.W.
49. Mitski — Puberty 2
Mitski‘s fourth LP, Puberty 2, was built with intention, to push Mitski through the ceiling of DIY. As it would turn out, the record, which deals with issues of racial identity and depression through calculated cinematic compositions, would catapult Mitski into the mainstream, resulting in a direct support slot on Lorde’s 2018 Melodrama arena tour.–Z.G.
48. Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next
When we look back on 2019, it will probably be remembered as the year of Ariana. Releasing two deeply thrilling pop albums in a matter of months, headlining Coachella, breaking chart records set by The Beatles… oh, and doing it all while grieving the loss of a long-term romantic partner and a broken engagement. Thank U, Next was the gracious response of a woman in the middle of crisis, finding the kind of resilience within herself the whole world could use.–C.W.
47. Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
Coloring Book turned out to be a wildly polarizing departure from Chance’s sound on Acid Rap, but the sincerity that buttresses his attempt at making music you can play in the car with your mom is undeniable. Chance’s cheerful personality, rampant gospel sampling, and inadvertent, goody-two-shoes flexing may be grating for some, but it’s quintessentially Chance The Rapper at his self-declared best.–A.W.
46. The War On Drugs — Lost In The Dream
Once Lost In The Dream was released in 2014, comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty quickly became staples of articles and reviews written about The War On Drugs. But this sweeping modern arena-rock classic doesn’t lift from the past as much as reimagine those icons for a modern, more melancholy age.–S.H.
45. A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Rap fans waited for nearly a decade between albums and Q-Tip, Phife, and the gang did not disappoint. Of course, in the intervening years, their sound matured and expanded, growing to include contributions from longtime collaborators Busta Rhymes and Consequence, but in the end, Thank You 4 Your Service is a fitting capstone to their legacy and a loving tribute to their dearly departed member Phife Dawg.–A.W.
44. Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel…
The fact that we’ve only gotten a single Fiona Apple album in the last seven years is downright… criminal. Jokes aside, The Idler Wheel… doubles down on her oddball proclivities, trembling vibrator, and poetic justice, joining the ranks of 2010 greats like no time had passed at all.–C.W.
43. Grimes — Visions
Visions is one of the finest examples of the fact that iconic music can come from anywhere: Grimes recorded the whole thing in Garageband, the simple-yet-robust application that comes stock on every Apple laptop. “Genesis” became huge thanks to its viral spread across the internet, but unlike a lot of things online, Visions was built to last.–D.R.
42. Pusha T — My Name Is My Name
When Pusha decreed “I don’t sing hooks“ on album opener “King Push,” he set the stage for one of rap’s most self-assured, sonically pleasing excursions through pyrex paradise. He had a lot to prove on his debut solo album, and he delivered. This is the best place to say it: With My Name Is My Name, Pusha started the legendary post-duo rap catalog that people longingly ascribe to Andre 3000.–A.G.
41. Disclosure — Settle
Disclosure became instant stars with their stunning debut album, as it topped the UK charts and the US electronic charts. While that was thanks in part to guests like Sam Smith and AlunaGeorge, it was ultimately the English duo’s ability to bridge the gap between electronic and pop without compromising anything on either front that made Settle such a classic.–D.R.
40. Chromatics — Kill For Love
While many might remember this decade as the one that didn’t see Chromatics release ‘Dear Tommy,’ it’s easy to forget the anticipation is based on this woozy, synth-driven classic that the band dropped in 2012. There might not be a better album for a nighttime drive in history, with everything from a Neil Young cover to pulsing, yearning originals establishing the band’s place as vibe creators of the highest order.–P.C.
39. Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels 2
Close your eyes. Now, count to f*ck. What an incredible commandment. What an aggressive, unapologetic, anti-authoritarian, antiestablishment musical statement from two of rap’s most underappreciated veterans. With a sound like 5,000 ballistic missiles bearing down on a cowbell factory, a chip on their shoulder harder than a hunk of cement wrapped around rebar, and the combative philosophy of Che Guevarra on steroids, Run The Jewels announced themselves on their first album, but set up shop and refused to leave on album two.–A.W.
38. Bon Iver — Bon Iver, Bon Iver
When Justin Vernon became an indie superstar in the late ’00s, it was assumed that he was Wisconsin’s answer to Fleet Foxes and Bright Eyes. But with his wildly ambitious second LP, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, he showed that he was more interested in being the Midwestern Radiohead. But for all of its brainy prog-rock flourishes, Bon Iver, Bon Iver always keeps the focus on small moments that build to overwhelming emotional catharsis.–S.H.
37. The Weeknd — House Of Balloons
It wasn’t that long ago that The Weeknd got indie kids around the world into R&B on his debut mixtape, House Of Balloons. The Weeknd’s maiden effort is full of bold experimentation, which is perhaps best exemplified on “House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls,” an audacious two-parter that is as undeniably catchy as it is adventurous. It might have been hard to predict that he’d become one of the biggest pop stars in the world, but he came out of the gate as on of its most interesting.–D.R.
36. LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening
Upon its release, This Is Happening was supposed to herald the end of LCD Soundsystem. Throughout the record, James Murphy pleads for someone to “take me home,” as he sings on the brilliant synth-pop banger “I Can Change.” Of course, LCD would be back several years later, but that development doesn’t dull the power of this farewell to prolonged adolescence.–S.H.
35. J. Cole — Forest Hills Drive
The album that kicked off the long-standing, bordering-on-tiresome “platinum with no features” meme for J. Cole remains his best. It not only represents the first time he crafted a project without label interference or the pressure of making hits, but it’s also a turning point for how rappers produce, promote, and release music in the streaming era, taking an unprecedented amount of control over their presentation and public perception. For J. Cole, this was the moment he became a man of the people.–A.W.
34. Taylor Swift — 1989
Most artists can’t genre-hop with the kind of precision 1989 embodies, with its sick beats, sleek synths, and Auto-Tuned vocals — but Taylor Swift isn’t like most people. When her beloved Red was overlooked for the Grammys it deserved, she went full tilt at that award show windmill. 1989 was victorious, and Swift has been ruling pop ever since.–C.W.
33. Beyonce — Beyonce
It was the album that stopped the world and that turned Beyonce from a successful pop singer into a global icon. Surprise releases are now referred to as pulling a Beyonce, and this Houston queen rules the world from whatever throne suits her purpose — motherhood, historic headlining sets, documentaries, or breakup-makeup records with her husband, Jay-Z. But Beyonce started it all. Five years later, it sounds just as powerful. And so does she.–C.W.
32. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree
During the creation of Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave experienced unthinkable tragedy when his son died suddenly and unexpectedly. While it’s not directly addressed on the album, it’s impossible to hear songs like “I Need You” without the context this added, with Cave adjusting some lyrics on the album during the recording to speak to the themes of death and loss. Cave seems to embrace contemporary sounds on the devastating and open-hearted album, complete with a millennial whoop on “Rings Of Saturn,” making a generational artist feel like a match for every generation, even the one his lost son was a part of.–P.C.
31. Angel Olsen — Burn Your Fire For No Witness
When an artist fulfills their massive potential, it is always something special to witness. On Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, the Ashville-based songwriter did just that, taking her classic country vocal tics to unexpected places, be it the straight-ahead indie rock of “Forgiven/Forgotten” or the more free-flowing experiment of “Windows.” Over the years that would follow, Angel Olsen would further evolve, but Burn Your Fire For No Witness felt definitively like great artist realizing the breadth of their powers, supremely confident and emotionally generous.
30. Drake — Nothing Was The Same
Nothing Was The Same is the strongest testimonial of Drake’s versatility. “Pound Cake” and “All Me” are highlights of he and 40’s subcutaneous, ever-impactful wheelhouse. But he also maintained a stranglehold on the charts with anthems like “Worst Behavior” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which is undoubtedly one of the best pop songs of the decade. That he ran the table with a svelte 15-songs is even more impressive.–A.G.
29. Lorde — Pure Heroine
An experiment in pop minimalism, the debut full-length from teen wunderkind Lorde set a precedent for finding success in the “weird.” While many pop artists in 2013 were focused on extravagance, Lorde was able to cut through the noise by dialing it back and letting her razor-sharp lyricism and wit lead the way to stardom.–Z.G.
28. Vince Staples — Summertime 06
It takes an artist with a truly bold vision to begin his official major-label career with a high-concept double album executive produced by one of the most iconic figures in hip-hop. Fortunately for Long Beach’s new favorite son, he not only has a bold vision, but a cynical, sarcastic, starkly singular one as well. He knows “life ain’t always what it seems,” but he’s also so sure of himself as an artist and a person that his risks barely seem like risks at all, just a carefully measured blueprint for the next direction of reality rap.–A.W.
27. Robyn — Body Talk
Honestly, between “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend,” this album deserves a breakup anthems purple heart. Whatever our dear Robyn went through to give us these two diamond-cut pop songs, it was worth it. Did you know she also has a song with Snoop Dogg on this record? Simultaneously classic and ahead of her time, Body Talk is proof that Robyn’s decision to bet on herself couldn’t have been more on the money.–C.W.
26. The National — High Violet
Indie rock’s best band continued to put out consistently great albums this decade, but the most beloved just might be 2010’s High Violet. The album that ushered The National into larger theaters and arenas, High Violet appropriately contains some of their biggest anthems, including the indispensable concert staple “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”–S.H.
25. Chance The Rapper — Acid Rap
Chance once called his second mixtape (album, what have you) “the best album ever.” Mileage may vary, but there’s a nugget of truth at the heart of his premise — that Acid Rap was one of the most honest, musically diverse, and groundbreaking works, such that it stands as Chance’s Illmatic moment. Everything he does will be judged against it, and so far, nothing has quite measured up.–A.W.
24. Beach House — Teen Dream
Beach House have become the defining force in dream pop over the past decade, and they started to establish themselves as a dominating force with their third album (and first for Sub Pop). “Dominating force” might not be the best phrasing, actually, as the relaxing vibes of Teen Dream are all about drifting away in beautiful moments. For a band that’s as consistent as they come, this record soars like no other.–D.R.
23. D’Angelo And The Vanguard — Black Messiah
D’Angelo’s three albums are a capsule of three different eras of Black music, and Black Messiah is a funky, incisive response to the state-sanctioned violence plundered upon Black people throughout the country. Black Messiah served as a healing, harrowing soundtrack to a burgeoning Black liberation movement. It had been 14 years since D’Angelo’s last album, but he was right on time with this one.–A.G.
22. Joanna Newsom — Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom’s music can often feel daunting in its density, and this triple album takes things to intimidating heights. But Have One On Me is more noteworthy for its warmth than its size, with the harp-playing, songwriting genius proving that heightened ambition doesn’t need to be alienating. Newsom is the kind of artist that is worth following anywhere, whose maturing voice here sheds some of its idiosyncrasies for something that is definitively timeless.–P.C.
21. Kendrick Lamar — Damn.
DAMN. doesn’t exactly top Kendrick’s catalog — a tall order by any set of criteria — to be fair, DAMN. doesn’t exactly try to. Instead, it finds the Good Kid wrestling with faith, success, and temptation in an effort to unravel the strings of fate that seemingly tied and entangled his destiny to Anthony “Top Dawg” Kiffith’s even before he was born.–A.W.
20. Travis Scott — Astroworld
For Astroworld, Travis linked with instrumentalists from several genres and had them fuse their genius with his, resulting in ambitious, motion picture moments such as “Sicko Mode,” “Stop Trying To Be God” and “Yosemite.” Travis has faced criticism for being a vibe curator more than a solo artist, but the crown jewel that is Astroworld demonstrates his power as ringmaster over a sonic spectacle.–A.G.
19. SZA — Ctrl
Singing about dick so good it kept her in a toxic relationship, the ups and downs of being a side chick, and the struggle of balancing a day job and a dream one, on Ctrl Solána Rowe presented the kind of unvarnished inner monologue that flipped ideas about “R&B” on its head. Invigorating an overlooked genre, and resonating with twenty-something millennial women for years to come, CTRL proved once and for all that SZA had the chops to compete with her superstar TDE brothers — and then some.–C.W.
18. Carly Rae Jepsen — Emotion
After several years of obscurity, and a runaway global hit, Carly Rae Jepsen set out to write a classic album, and created one of the most beloved cult classic pop records of the ’10s. Effervescent, tender, sparkling, and earnest, Emotion was a litmus test, a secret passcode, a practically perfect record that demanded all of your heart. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t at least really, really, really like this album.–C.W.
17. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
The story of Sufjan Stevens’ decade began by wildly subverting expectations with his state-free experiment Age Of Adz and ended with him performing on the Academy Awards. But in the middle, he dropped the spare, gut-wrenching, and hyper-personal Carrie & Lowell, removing all the frills of his previous full-length in favor of utter beauty.–P.C.
16. Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
The first Grammy Album Of The Year winner released this decade was also the most unexpected. The album spawned a #whoisarcadefire hashtag back when hashtags were still gaining significance, but those in the know were well aware that one of indie’s elite voices was ascending to its deserved throne. Some may argue that Arcade Fire could never top their debut, Funeral, but The Suburbs is a more nuanced, more thematically rich, and a more mature record that has only gotten better with age. And for the wave of indie rock to emerge in the aughts, this felt like a deserved curtain call.–P.C.
15. Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell
Where to begin with Norman F*cking Rockwell? The bleak, straight-faced desire despite an impending apocalypse? Hearing Lana sing beautiful send-ups of her own time instead of nostalgic odes to the past? The rambling-man lush psychedelics of “Venice B*tch”? Seven years after “Video Games” Lana finally made her masterpiece, and hearing this woman’s work has given a lot of Venice b*tches a dangerous kind of hope.–C.W.
14. Kanye West — Yeezus
The most maddening, polarizing, and, yes, exciting pop star of the 2010s (just as he was all of those things for the aughts), Kanye West pulled his most radical move with Yeezus. A furious mix of spartan goth-rap and lyrics that alternate between self-aggrandizement and self-doubt, Yeezus is Kanye at his darkest and most fascinating.–S.H.
13. Frank Ocean — Channel Orange
Rooted in themes of decadence, excess, and love, Frank Ocean‘s proper debut album cemented him as one of the modern era’s most visionary songwriters through his use of narrative devices and surrealistic imagery. It fused elements of jazz, electro-pop, and R&B, all whilst proving that Frank Ocean had a story to tell, and that he was just getting started.–Z.G
12. Solange — A Seat At The Table
The always introspective Solange really gets into her artistic bag on A Seat At The Table. It was made in the spirit of “F.U.B.U.” — for us by us — us meaning Black Americans. “All my n***** in the whole wide world / Made this song to make it all y’all’s turn / For us, this shit is for us,” she eloquently croons over a jazzy New Orleans-inspired soul production. In a cosmos where Black culture is seen as a repository for the world to take and not give credit, A Seat At The Table prevails with “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Cranes In The Sky,” and “Mad.”–Cherise Johnson
11. Kacey Musgraves — Golden Hour
In a decade when popular music seemed harder to define than ever, Golden Hour was a rare common touchstone. A country album that sounds like a pop album that feels like an indie album that speaks to listeners who normally don’t care about country, pop, or indie music. Golden Hour has impressive breadth.–S.H.
10. Rihanna — Anti-
The sultry, beat-driven slink of Anti- immediately set Rihanna’s long-awaited eighth album apart from her past work. After a decade of playing by the commercial pop playbook, Robyn Fenty put together a simmering mix of R&B, f*ck-off siren-songs and swaggering anthems that slow-burned their way to classic status.–C.W.
9. Drake — Take Care
One of the most-held strikes against Drake’s claim at top-dog status (see what I did there?) in hip-hop is his lack of “classic” albums. In his defense, Take Care was the moment that he lived up to the potential he flashed throughout his early mixtape run, setting the sound for the next decade of rap. From the murky ’90s R&B samples to the moody introspection and hesitant celebration, Drake’s discomfiting relationship with success would soon become the industry standard, which would often sound very much like “Drake featuring Drake.”–A.W.
8. Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires Of The City
When Vampire Weekend offered up their third career album in 2013, it was impressive enough that it lived up to the strength of their previous two. But in the years that followed, Modern Vampires Of The City could be seen for the improvement on the formula that it was. The songs felt more weighty and sophisticated, Ezra Koenig’s lyrics and vocal performance more mature and well-rounded. And as the final album with co-songwriter Rostam Batmanglij in tow, Modern Vampires functioned as a sort of peak for a band that in many ways has defined with internet era of indie. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the record’s spirituality, and you don’t need to be Ivy League-educated to be inspired by Koenig’s keen insights. It was enough to make believers out of even the most skeptical.–P.C.
7. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
It’s difficult to decide on Kendrick Lamar’s best album of the 2010s, but those who choose To Pimp A Butterfly highlight Duckworth’s peak lyrical prowess while exploring the nature of pro-Blackness and Black manhood over a soulful, free jazz-infused soundscape. The album’s impact was compounded by its timeliness, as songs like “Alright” became an anthem for Black Lives Matter protests during the most important social movement of the 21st century.–A.G.
6. Lorde — Melodrama
Lorde’s sophomore album was never labeled a “concept album,” but maybe it should have been. Four years after her breakout, Ella Yelich-O’Connor returned with an album that charted the ark of a breakup, from the initial pangs of vicious spite to the onset of depression to the eventual discovery of peace in solitude.–Z.G.
5. Beyonce — Lemonade
Beyoncé unleashed her Grammy Award-winning album Lemonade as a humble way of showing she can do it all. Consistently, she revels in the expected dealings of R&B, pop, and trap as heard on “Formation.” Additionally, Queen Bey effortlessly reclaims two genres originated by black people: rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) and country (“Daddy Lessons”). As a whole, Lemonade is a nuanced collection of visual and audio storytelling that not only details her relationship with husband Jay-Z, it also unapologetically exists as a celebratory beacon of life for a Black woman out of Houston, Texas.–C.J.
4. Frank Ocean — Blonde
Frank Ocean single-handedly shifted the zeitgeist in 2016 with a sonic document of a man who found himself suddenly alone, meant to be listened to alone. It’s devastating yet serene; illuminating yet elusive. Listening to Blonde is Iike staring at a burning building, but shifting your gaze upward to find that the sky is still immaculately gorgeous today.–Z.G.
3. Taylor Swift — Red
Ask almost any Swiftie in the world what the best Taylor album is and the response will be… swift. Red is the fan-favorite pinnacle, the album that has everything; we were in a state of grace back then, even if we knew trouble was about to walk in. The last few albums of Taylor’s career have cemented her role as a pop star, and brought the drama, danger, and wisdom that success on that level necessarily entails. But darling, we’ll always have the scarf in “All Too Well,” we’ll always revere “Holy Ground,” we’ll always be “22” — and we’ll always know what color loving him was.–C.W.
2. Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye West’s decade was been an exercise in burning both ends of the candle. How does he still have such a devoted fanbase after countless offensive acts? For some, it’s because he gave us “Power,” “All Of The Lights, “Monster,” and other era-defining singles on his arguable creative opus. The 13-track album is nearly flawless, spanning soundscapes, moods, and themes that indeed created a twisted, self-assured masterpiece.–A.G.
1. Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, MAAD City
There’s probably no such thing as a perfect rap album… But as a document of a time and place in an artist’s life, there is no greater collection of recorded works this decade than Good Kid, MAAD City. Kendrick Lamar could very well have released it as an autobiographical novel and had similar impact; that it is so sonically forward-looking, boundary-pushing, trendsetting, and viscerally relatable — even for those who have zero experience with the travails of life in Compton, California — is a testament to its greatness, ensuring that you will sing about Kendrick Lamar, the good kid from the M.A.A.D city.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.