The third section of the collection of my favourite albums of the decade includes a variety of styles, albums I liked so much that I have the vinyl and perhaps even a hot take or two. Enjoy!
15. RUN THE JEWELS – RUN THE JEWELS 2 (RELEASED OCTOBER 2014)
Airports are the epitome of unnecessary stress, even when you’re using them to go on holiday. I first listened to Run the Jewels 2 on a trip from Chicago O’Hare to Toronto and through all the incoherent rigmarole of the journey, this album provided a light at the end of the tunnel. At first glance, it’s like listening to two friends at the cafeteria lunch table playing with words and fusing a chemistry to the beat. Then you dig deeper and hear just how crafted, layered and detailed El-P’s beats actually are. Then you dig deeper into his and Killer Mike’s lyrics and realise just how witty and poignant they are to the current affairs landscape. And all of a sudden Zack de la Rocha is smacking you round the face like a leaping fish onto a fishing vessel. This album is an upgrade to the first one in all ways. The lyrics are darker and funnier all at the right times. The beats are grimier, slap harder and yet are somehow more experimental. There is no way that anyone could mistake this as the typical sophomore slump. But we didn’t even get to the best part yet: this was a free download from their website, and they still managed to garner first week sales (yes, actual purchases) of 12,000. If you’re looking at an airport trip in the near future like me and need something to take your mind off the mounting crowds, screaming children and uncoordinated tourists then I still highly recommend purchasing some noise cancelling headphones and blasting this album until you don’t care anymore.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Jeopardy, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1
14. FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – PIÑATA (RELEASED MARCH 2014)
I would argue that outside of mainstream acts, Freddie Gibbs has had one of the best decades within Hip-Hop. Starting off with mixtape growth and his debut album ESGN, Gibbs and producer Madlib formed a partnership and ended up releasing the now renowned Piñata. I was skeptical about this relationship as the only Madlib-involved rap album I’d heard prior to this was Mm.. Food with MF Doom. As a new fan, that album is a real struggle to listen to and find consistent replay value so I was concerned that Gibbs may be dominated by Madlib’s unique blaxploitation-sample style. Fortunately, on this album Madlib limits his skits and chopped passages to the beginning or end of the tracks and relies on a more mellow style to allow Freddie Gibbs to shine both lyrically and flow-wise. The album takes you through the gangsta lifestyle that Gibbs grew up in – from cooking up crack and visiting his favourite chicken shop to beef with former collaborators and tumultuous romantic relationships. The only thing holding this album back from its true classic potential is that it becomes a bit bloated in the middle section. Tracks such as “Uno” or “Robes” could be removed and provide little value thematically or sonically. I also firmly believe that “Shame” and it’s beautifully smooth sample work should have been the closing track.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Thuggin’, Broken (feat. Scarface), Shame (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)
13. KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN. (RELEASED APRIL 2017)
Truth be told, as a consumer I was a little disappointed in 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, regardless of whether that may be perceived as a forced hot take. That album had little to no replay value outside of three or four tracks and was generally more confusing than intriguing to me. I find DAMN. to be rather a happy medium between TPAB and Lamar’s debut Good Kid m.a.a.d city. It applies similar thematic and personal traits in terms of thinking about a life outside of the realm of music, but also features a strong enough narrative through the messages of the protagonist Kung Fu Kenny. DAMN. features two banging singles that, as Lamar often makes them, feature well within the album track listing as well. The rest of the album has terrific replay value with a large variety of styles musically and vocally. Ultimately, what I believe makes Kendrick Lamar albums so special is that they are not only these monster narrative epics that could be studied in higher education institutions, but also bitesize pieces of art on their own that can be enjoyed thoroughly within the playlist culture of today. If you want a truly detailed breakdown of the theme, lyrics and music of DAMN. as well as other Hip-Hop and R&B albums, I highly recommend the Dissect Podcast presented by Cole Cuchna. Listening to podcasts like these, you will never believe just how much thought can go into dissecting the meaning of ostensibly simple musical pieces.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Lust, XXX (feat. U2), Fear
12. NONAME – ROOM 25 (RELEASED SEPTEMBER 2018)
After a run of pure male rapping on this list, coming in at number twelve is Chicago poet and rapper Noname. I first encountered Noname back in 2013 on Chance the Rapper’s 2013 mixtape Acid Rap (which has unfortunately aged more like milk than wine in my opinion). I honestly thought nothing of her feature negatively or positively, until seeing her name pop up alongside other Chicago artists I was listening to such as Mick Jenkins, Saba or Joey Purp. Her 2016 project Telefone presented the picture of a rather deinty, yet feisty and witty young woman delivered rather subdued spoken word pieces over intricate but soft instrumentals (check out “Diddy Bop” from that project as an example). Room 25 builds upon these established premises and sees Noname promote more jazz and soul fusions within her work. Room 25 is smart, sexy and charismatic but dealing with issues of inferiority complexes, breakups and moving cities. Noname stands as one of the newer-age acts that I’m the most interested as to where her music and career go next. I would love to see what she could do over some darker or more experimental instrumentals and how she could switch up her flows to make her more prominent in a song without losing her signature style.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Window (feat. Phoelix, Ace (feat. Smino & Saba), Part of Me (feat. Benjamin Earl Turner & Phoelix)
11. BIG K.R.I.T. – 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME (RELEASED OCTOBER 2017)
Being just the right age to become a mixtape geek through high school, Big K.R.I.T. is one of the few rappers that I feel like I’ve grown up with through the years. Because of this I may have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to his releases, nevertheless, there is no denying the man is extremely talented. Combining the classic Mississippi southern drawl, production credits on hundreds of songs as well as the vast majority of his own catalog, and wordplay and storytelling that makes you feel like you’re listening to a mixture of a Baptist pastor and your own grandfather, K.R.I.T. is a true representation of the modern M.C. Unfortunately, due to other circumstances, outside of his early mixtapes, he had rarely shined when it came to studio albums. The moment that I heard the lead single for 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, “Confetti,” I knew something had changed. I distinctly remember walking down the streets of Helsinki listening to that and the second single, “Keep the Devil Off,” thinking about what could happen if this was consistent for a whole album. Never was I expecting a double of such magnitude. The first disc on the album is said to resemble more of K.R.I.T.’s artist persona and what the less-knowledgeable audience may perceive him to be like. The second disc is where we get to the real meat and potatoes of his personality. Although I could take or leave several tracks from the first disc, the second is damn near impeccable. The combination of “Price of Fame” and “Drinking Sessions” – tracks about the balance of being in the public eye and an alcohol addiction he developed – should bring a tear to even the coldest heart. It’s hard to say what the zenith of an artist’s career is when that career is still happening before you, but all I can say is, for me, this album is extremely difficult to top.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Mixed Messages, Price of Fame, Drinking Sessions (feat. Keyon Harrold)
Feedback and comments are always appreciated. Have you found something interesting in these albums too? What albums would make your list?
Part IV coming soon as we enter the top 10!