Although some rap fans believe they may not be on par with the legendary rap albums of the 1990s, over the last decade, fans of the genre have been treated to their share of memorable albums by some of this generation's best artists (and one old school group). While stories continue to be creatively told, the one thing that has become more noticeable is the subgenre that has accompanied it. From trap to drill to chopped and screwed, rap would also find its way into indie, pop, and country music.
Where these five albums rank in the pantheon of top rap albums of the past ten years will likely differ from person to person. However, each offers its own unique take on the rap genre and deserves to be in conversation when it comes to the most recent era in the ever-evolving world of rap music.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
A cultural statement blended with a socio-political tone, To Pimp a Butterfly, was Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album. Filled with thought-provoking tales of struggle, self-reflection, and controversial issues in society, Lamar takes listeners on various journeys that the African American community had to deal with using various methods of rap, spoken word, jazz, and funk.
Released in 2016, Top Pimp a Butterfly earned Lamar seven Grammy nominations and would win the Best Rap Album of the Year.
Top Tracks: Alright, King Kunta, Wesley’s Theory, The Blacker the Berry
Unreleased Track: Vegas - an epic tale intertwining gambling and love, Lamar insinuates that he’s willing to win by any means necessary, including counting cards at the blackjack table.
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
Released in 2016, Coloring Book was Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape. An eclectic blend of rap, soul, and gospel, Coloring Book features guest stars from Kanye West to Justin Bieber to Kirk Franklin and even Chicago Children’s Choir.
Released only on streaming platforms, Coloring Book may not have the humor and “weirdness” of Acid Rap, but it does show Chance’s continued growth, skill, and charisma. Coloring Book would become the first mixtape to earn a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2017.
Top Tracks: Angles, No Problem, Summer Friends
Making History: The first mixtape on Billboard 200 and the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy Award.
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Eighteen years after their last studio album release, fans of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad Jarobi White, and the late Malik Taylor (better known as Phife Dawg) celebrated as A Tribe Called Quest released what would become their final studio album.
As one of the most influential groups in rap history, the final album, which was secretly recorded, touched on current issues dealing with relationships, racism, global warming, and police brutality.
While Tribe’s final album would fail to capture any mainstream awards, it would be listed among various publication’s top albums of the year.
Top Tracks: We The People, Dis Generation
Guest Appearances: Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Jack White, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy
Released in 2018, Invasion of Privacy would be Cardi B’s introduction to the mainstream audience. Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, the thirteen-track rap/r&b/trap album would feature five hit singles and reach quadruple platinum status.
Aided by some of the biggest names in the production business as well as plenty of guest stars, Invasion of Privacy has a little something for everyone from sex to feminism to fame, wealth, and success.
Top Tracks: Bodak Yellow, Bartier Cardi, Be Careful, I Like It, Ring
Record Breaker: Invasion of Privacy would become the Billboard 200’s longest-charting album by a female rapper. It would also become Apple and Spotify’s most streamed rap album by a female. Cardi B would become the first solo female rapper to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.
J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Jermaine Cole’s third studio album would introduce him to the mainstream audience and become his first award-winning album. Capturing a BET Hip Hop Award, and a Billboard Award for “Best Rap Album”, the thirteen tracks have no feature guest stars as Cole paints a raw picture of a journey through a materialistic world, starting with the simple question “Do you wanna, do you wanna be, free? Do you wanna, do you wanna be, happy?”
Throughout the sixty-four-minute album, Cole reflects on his highly personal childhood and family experiences, and relationships.
Top Tracks: Apparently, Love Yourz, Wet Dreamz, No Role Modelz
What’s In A Name: The title of J. Cole’s third studio album is based on the address of his home growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
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