The act of creating a classic album is an inexact science to say the least, some people spend almost a decade trying to make a classic (think Dre’s “Chronic 2001” or D’angelo’s “Black Messiah” ), while other’s seemingly come out of no where with an album so dope and an artist so relatively unheard of the whole internet has to scramble and say “who the fuck is this??” (think Clam’s Casino’s genius “Instrumentals” or Death Grips “Exmilitary” (although obviously there was some groundwork laid down before those projects dropped)). Arguing about what albums will end up as classics is just as perplexing, some people think any album ever by their favorite artists is a classic just because Kanye or some other “legend” made it, for this articles purpose lasting impact will not be measured and albums will be judged solely on their sonic merits. The criteria really is how much fun I have while listening to the album, how great the backing music is , how beautiful or engaging the vocals are, and how it comes together as a whole to create a full picture. I will only go back to 2010 because this list could already be wayyyy longer. So lets get started!
15. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
I live in Chicago, if I didn’t put Acid Rap on this list I might as well have packed my bags and run myself out of town before the angry mob did it first. Still, I really didn’t need much coaxing to include it, here are some of the great things Acid Rap has done for me:
1. Gave me a platform to relate to just about every other music listener in Chicago, 2. Introduced me to Noname Gypsy, 3. Rekindled my love for Twista, and 4. Provided the backdrop to an entire unforgettable summer. The concept is that the album is a trip, listen to Pusha Man and you will see that the concept was carried out without a hitch.
Listen: “Acid Rap”
14. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
This is Freddie Gibbs breakout work, before this album he was an overqualified titan of the underground with a flow so razor-sharp I’d often get Stillmatic flashbacks; Freddie Gibbs is the midwest’s Nas, there I said it. Before this album I was totally crazy to say that, now I’m only partially crazy. Nas’s career is not known for some defining punchlines or song, it’s known for his consistent flow in which he painted vivid pictures of what drug dealing life was like; all the suffering you see and eventually becoming numb to it, yet at the same time I always felt Nas’ and Gibbs’ larger points were that you never truly become numb to death and anguish, which is why consistently through their music they always continue to observe these things and put them in their songs. They are as much actors living their roles to make a point as they are saluting fanatics dedicated to their hoods and lifestyles. Nas always knew he wanted to escape the hood and so did Gibbs, they could never stop representing their homes but they were always destined to ascend that life. Madlib deserves a lot of credit too, the beats on here were soooo much better than Gibbs usual assortments on his previous projects (another thing Gibbs and Nas have in common; spotty beat selection) and it definitely took the album in a more consistent direction which was nice in terms of end to end cohesion.
13. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Note: before this album I hated on Drake A LOT. Now, I don’t take back all of that prior hate, before this album Drake was still juggling the whole “am I some masculine gangster or am I this soft body womanizer” schtick and he just didn’t have a handle on it yet, “So Far Gone” and “Take Care” were steps in the right direction in terms of developing a clear image of who he was as an artist but “Nothing Was The Same” is the moment where we see stop seeing Drake as a celebrity and start seeing him as an extension of us, that’s when you know your brand has ascended business altogether, fans don’t want to buy your work, they want to BE your work or feel like they already are. The difference between “Forever” back in the day and “Poundcake” now is that Drake was trying to stand on a pedestal before, on this album he kicked the pedestal off and started hanging from the ceiling, he was a vulnerable man just as human as the rest of us. “From Time” is a beautifully honest song.
12. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
“Thinking About You” is the most perfect R n B song of all time, it’s the most perfect single to one of the best R n B albums ever, without hearing that song first I doubt would have given Channel Orange as much of a chance as I did but man was it worth it. Andre 3000, Earl, and Tyler The Creator make appearances while Frank sings his heart out, I never thought Frank was the greatest singer but his lyricism and song structure just could not be matched. This albums lasting impact is going to be a lot of children being conceived to it, an entire generation probably.
Listen: “Channel Orange”
11. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
The second album from super duo Killer Mike and EL-P is like spending the whole night railing lines of coke while tearing down establishment and chopping off the heads of corrupt cops and politicians; maybe we can’t do all of those things in real life but thank god theres an album that captures all the anger of our times and puts it into one place to cook and stew and rage. It’s a therapeutic exercise really, turn your speakers all the way and blast it, you will feel better for it after.
10. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Earl’s album really struck me because it seemed to be entirely reflective of my generation, here we are as a people evolved beyond anything that could’ve been imagined in the dark ages of man yet as a people we can barely make eye contact in casual conversation. This album is about how our desktop has become the hub of our lives and our addictions (and I don’t just mean illegal narcotics) have become forcefields shielding us from social interaction. Interestingly it has been found that the opposite of drug addiction is not cold turkey sobriety, it’s meaningful social relations with people that keep us clean, so for us to always be spending our time on social media thinking we’re interacting when really we’re just being glorified hype machines we are opening the door to addiction. You may think this is a little too deep of a read into the album but I saw Earl live performing this thing and the aspect of the performance that struck me most was how Earl interacted with the crowd, he was talking like some comment section troll just kind of loosely making fun of random people for no apparent reason with a clear lack of a connection between himself and the audience. Technology has made us more disjointed as a people and communication has never been harder.
Listen: “I Don’t Like Shit”
9. The xx – Coexist
The xx’s sophomore album is brilliant, chill and thoughtful. I’ve always loved the soft male vocals and soft female vocals combining to create a sonic chemistry so pure it makes me think of Simon and Garfunkel. The reverb entrenched guitars, rolling back beats, “ooohs” and “ahhs” dance around to make the best kind of headphones music. Don’t sleep on the impact these two have had on the music industry either, Drake and The Weeknd owe a lot to the xx’s spacey aesthetic whose influence would later culminate over onto projects like “Take Care”. Regardless, when I want to sit back and reflect I put on “Coexist” and float away into the stratosphere.
8. Asap Rocky – Live. Love. Asap.
Hits like “Purple Swag” and “Peso” put Asap Rocky and his entire team on the national radar, it put Clams Casino on the national radar, hell it even kinda put Spaceghostpurrp on the map for better or worse. I never thought Rocky did some great job rapping technically on this album, but that is exactly why it succeeds, the beats on this thing are too spacey and atmospheric for a Kendrick Lamar spitting multisyllabic rhyme schemes (although that would’ve been really fucking cool), but ASAP chilling smoking a blunt while sipping some lean? PERFECT.
Listen “Live. Love. Asap.”
7. Big K.R.I.T. – Return Of 4eva
This is technically just a mixtape but it has the cohesiveness and effectiveness of an album and then some; KRIT produced and wrote the whole thing keeping the emphasis on his humble southern upbringings, a perfect execution of an underdog story. Soul samples, hard trunk rattling beats, and the perfect balance of introspection and energy.
Listen: “Return of 4eva”
6. Danny Brown – XXX
Drug addiction and being thirty years old and still basically a struggle rapper is a good way to reach rock bottom. This is one of the most original albums of any genre I have ever heard but be warned it’s dark, misogynistic, and has a dry, twisted sense of humor.
5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Fresh off the experimental binge and insecurity that was “808s & Heartbreak” Kanye asserts himself as raps alpha male, grabbing just about anyone who was relevant in the mainstream at the time to jump on this album, Kanye wanted to work with his musical peers and be challenged to take his craft to a whole new level. “Blame Game” comes to mind when I think of my favorite overall tracks of the past 5 years as well.
4. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
The production on this album is nuts; the mixing and masterings absolutely fire and if you have a pair of good speakers you will be extremely pleased and appreciative. Drake is at peak lyrical level while maintaining the honesty that we rewarded him for on his previous two albums. This album is effectively the same thing as when a player you always expected would be great in some sport just gets all their shit together and wins the championship, like Lebron in Miami.
3. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
This album is no doubt going to end up as a classic, it may well already be one. I don’t have to reiterate what’s already been said but I will say this: Kendrick Lamar will never make another album like this nor should you expect him to, just be thankful this exists and don’t ever try to judge the rest of his work in comparison because it just won’t be the same, if you love him let him grow.
2. Kanye West – Yeezus
This album is extremely fun and it turns right just as you expect it to turn left, you can’t help but get caught up in the pure energy that Kanye can still muster up 6 albums in, it’s like Michael after the first few championships, at some point you just realize this guy just always has a chip on his shoulder and is so driven you can’t help but be somewhat turned off and on at the same time. It’s a balance of different types of power and vulnerability that make the greats act the way they do, maybe they shouldn’t be forgiven for being dicks, but lets not let that interfere with the amazing music.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
When this dropped I set aside a couple hours to give it a fair listen and then realized that would not be possible, I needed to listen to this thing more, then more, everywhere I went this was the accompanying music, I couldn’t get enough of it. That is the definition of a classic album, I felt the same way about Illmatic the first time I heard it and really still am decoding it’s inner messages.