This is the final installment of my favourite albums of the decade. This section features anomalies, personal stories and further lyrical waxing over some of the most influential albums of my formative years. If you have enjoyed this list, consider following this blog for more content in the future!
5. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE (PART I) (RELEASED MARCH 2013)
Aside from Carly Rae Jepsen’s jaunt into the world of synth-pop, those who know my music tastes may view this as the other elephant in the list. However, this album is a far cry from the boy-band N-Sync JT, and even a departure from the more and more palatable FutureSexLoveSounds (still a great album that holds up today). On this album we find Timberlake in his neo-soul, 30s swing and power-pop bags all in one. The 20/20 Experience weighs in at a substantial 70 minutes of run-time over only 10 tracks. However, unlike you might suspect, it does not outstay its welcome. There are timely switch ups provided within songs and commendable style changeups throughout the track listing, all while maintaining a sense of cohesion thanks to production legend Timbaland handling the instrumental side. Timberlake’s voice is at the same time sass and sex on many of the tracks such as the opener “Pusher Love Girl,” or “Strawberry Bubblegum.” These tracks, and more, seem like an ode to a courtship turned successful relationship and offer a sense of happiness often not shared through traditional pop music where sourness and heartbreak are often the popular flavours. Although the anthemic “Mirrors” is really hard to top (a moment of pop perfection in my eyes), my personal highlight of the album is the closing track “Blue Ocean Floor.” This is a balletic, spacey final thought, offering the idea of just how much someone can fall in love. In one sense this track, and some others on the album are somewhat romantically controlling and objectifying, on the other, they produce some of the most genuinely heartwarming and sensual moments in pop and R&B this decade. My only wish is that he could have left it at these and somehow named it the 10/10 Experience. The less said about Part 2, the better.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Pusher Love Girl, Strawberry Bubblegum, Blue Ocean Floor
4. FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA (RELEASED JUNE 2019)
This is the sole representative from 2019 on the list, a fair image of how weak the year has been both in quantity and quality compared to 2017 or 2018. That is to take nothing away from Bandana though. For those who loved Piñata like myself, 5+ years seemed like an eternity to wait for another collaborative album from Madlib and Freddie Gibbs. However, these five years, especially for Gibbs, were such a whirlwind that one can not blame him for taking his time. From a false rape accusation seeing him locked up in Austrian jail to the critical success of Shadow of a Doubt, as well as the two severely underrated 2018 projects, the eponymous Freddie with producer Kenny Beats and Fetti with Curren$y and production from The Alchemist. Bandana features the perfect mixture of songs that can somehow be grimy and lo-fi yet also dazzlingly varnished. Gibbs is completely and utterly in his bag across every single last track producing texture upon texture with a myriad of flows and quotables. In addition to all of this, the few criticisms I had for Piñata (see Part III of this project), have been ironed out here with only the slightest hint of filler here in the tracks “Massage Seats” and “Gat Damn” – even though the latter seems like a bit of personal enjoyment considering the music video released after. There are minimal features but where they are placed makes complete sense and every artist kills it. As if this wasn’t enough, Madlib took to Twitter the day after the album’s release that he actually created all of these instrumentals on his iPad. Bandana is the kind of album where my favourite track can change day by day because it’s just that solid and spectacular throughout.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Crime Pays, Fake Names, Giannis (feat. Anderson .Paak)
3. KANYE WEST – MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (RELEASED NOVEMBER 2010)
Anyone who knows me and my background in writing will know that I am somewhat of a Kanye West stan (musically, not with the other bs). My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) is the very act of indulgence that it seems like Kanye needed in his discography the whole time. It’s a right of passage for someone with such an imposing ego to come back just two short years after the dreary but excellent 808s & Heartbreak (message me about my MA Thesis if you wish to read more about my thoughts on this project) with an album dripping in maximalism. There is nothing subtle about this album, nothing that you can really call all that ‘indie’ or ‘lo-fi’ about it. It’s beauty lies in the layers of instrumentation, expensive samples A+ features and crowd-surfing radio smash hits. And yet it’s an album that does what Kanye does best – piss people off. For MBDTF to have a 94/100 rating on metacritic and only win the Grammy for “BeSt RaP AlBuM” and not Album of the Year is a travesty of the highest proportions. Having said that, we all know that the Grammys is hottest garbage around so it came as little surprise. This is the true definition of a superstar album released by a pop and rap icon.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Devil in a New Dress (feat. Rick Ross), Runaway (feat. Pusha T), Hell of a Life
2. KANYE WEST & KID CUDI – KIDS SEE GHOSTS (RELEASED JUNE 2018)
Kids See Ghosts took the number one spot for my top albums of 2018 but falls just short at number two in the decade. In this collection, Kanye proves that his 7-track EP run through June and July that year was very much capable of producing great things, even if there were some disappointments along the way (*cough* Nas *cough*). When two of my favourite artists who arguably shaped my teenage years more than any others came out and said that they are creating a collaborative project I screamed like a little girl. In that moment I was truly Ricky Bobby, not knowing what to do with my hands. After this, the artwork was released. Artist Takashi Murakami, who also designed the cover for Graduation, truly outdid himself on this striking, psychedelic piece. The colour gradient is beautiful, the placement of shapes mirrors that of a modern combination the compelling saturation of Thomas Gainsborough and the earthy textures of William Turner. It’s a perfect depiction of chaos and placidity as is the balance in the music on this album. Kids See Ghosts is a recap of past mental health traumas, dealing with current confusion and seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel. Kanye has some of his best verses since MBDTF and Cudi sounds reinvigorating like nothing we had heard since perhaps Man on the Moon II.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Fire, 4th Dimension (feat. Louis Prima), Reborn
1. KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID M.A.A.D CITY (RELEASED OCTOBER 2012)
We finally come to the number one. Reading through my thoughts on DAMN., it may have been obvious that this was going to be the one. I will take you on a little journey as to why this album is so special to me and warrants the top spot. About a month prior to the release of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City I had moved across the country to live with strangers in university housing, cooped up in the crumby attic of a house next door to the campus. I was 18, not particularly enjoying the idea of being so far away from family, knowing that I had no real idea of what I wanted to do in my life and not the kind of person that easily makes friends or trusts people. On top of this, family members health issues both past and present had left me paranoid that everything could happen without me being able to have an ounce of control over it. Consequently, (and I don’t believe I understood enough at the time) I spiralled severely into a period of depression, struggling to even get out of bed and feeling emotionally vacant, bordering on somber 24/7. I was watching the YouTube channel of DeadEndHipHop (shoutout to these guys for being a shining light through these times) and saw an extremely entertaining and positive review of this album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, so I decided to try it out for myself. Boy was I not disappointed. As the debut studio album of Kendrick Lamar, everyone in the Hip-Hop scene understood that the kid had talent, but I’m not sure so many people expected him to be able to craft such a tight narrative, a variety of both instrumental and vocal stylizations and continue so thoroughly the stories of LA gang culture made popular in the 1980s and 1990s. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a classic album, maybe not only in the history of Hip-Hop music, but music period. It transgressed so far out of the typical entrenched notion of what Hip-Hop music should be, that I even studied it for a module in the fourth year of my Bachelors Degree (to bring it weirdly full circle). For an album to be this high on the list, and for me to hold it in this high regard it has to be timed well as to effect the fibres of my life, change something about the culture that it claims and impact those in the time after its release. For these reasons, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City takes the number one spot in the list of my favourite albums of the decade.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Money Trees (feat. Jay Rock), m.A.A.d city (feat. MC Eiht), Sing About Me / Dying of Thirst
Which artists are in your top albums of the decade? What criteria were you using to decide? Do you whole-heartedly disagree with my choices? Let me know with a comment/follow/rant right here or send me a DM!