Best Rappers of the 2010's
There’s no arguing against the 2010s crucial influence on today’s world of pop culture. I mean, who could forget the time Lady Gaga stepped onto the stage wearing a meat dress, or when Miley Cyrus came swinging across our phone screens, half-naked, on a giant wrecking ball. Clearly, this 10-year span had its fair share of cultural resets, and the same can be said for much of what transpired in the rap genre as well. As old hip-hop legends slowly faded, new artists began to create dozens of subgenres, further exploring the possibilities for what rap could sound like. When comparing skill, consistency, and overall impact, there are 5 rappers that surely take the cake. In turn, we’ve created a list that features the top artists who defined the decade itself. These are the best rappers of the 2010s
1.) KENDRICK LAMAR
Projects Released This Decade: Overly Dedicated, Section.80, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, To Pimp a Butterly, Untitled Unmastered, DAMN., Black Panther: The Album
Biggest Billboard Hits This Decade: “Humble”, “Bad Blood”, “DNA”, “All The Stars”, “King Kunta”, “Money Trees”
Straight outta Compton, artist Kendrick Lamar Duckworth completely expanded the parameters of hip-hop with his fresh redefinition of gangster rap. In his 2012 mainstream debut of Good Kid, M. A. A. D. City, Kendrick redefined himself from his previous, teenage stage name of K-Dot. His third album To Pimp a Butterly (2015) incorporated elements of funk, soul, jazz, and spoken word; making it one of the most acclaimed albums of the 2010s, according to stats from Metacritic.
With over six full-length albums released in just 10 years, not a single project fails to supply some of the most influential civil rights anthems ever made. Lamar’s incredible ability to explore themes of race, identity, and pressing political issues is unmatched still to this day. And who could forget his most standout song of all, Cartoons and Cereal: a sleepless, prog-rap anxiety attack about Applejacks, Gunplay, and Wiley Coyote.
A genius at penning literary epistles. A maestro of new-age rap production. An advocate for black lives and racial equality. This is Kenrick Lamar, the one who made the times change.
2.) J. COLE
Projects Released This Decade: Friday Night Lights, Cole World: The Sideline Story, Born Sinner, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, 4 Your Eyez Only, KOD
Biggest Billboard Hits This Decade: “Middle Child,” “Wet Dreamz,” “Deja Vu,” “No Role Modelz,” “KOD”, “Work Out”
After standout moments on JAY-Z’s “A Star Is Born” and Wale’s “Beautiful Bliss.”, J. Cole was positioned as one of the most promising rappers since the start of the 2010s. Jermaine Lamarr Cole built off of this potential with the release of his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, which featured a club-style, hip-hop sound in fan favorites such as Work Out and Can’t Get Enough. Three years later, Cole completely flipped the switch, diving deep into the realm of lyrical hip-hop on 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The project delivered a fully realized narrative that traced his path from adolescence with honest and elevated rap melodies that rightfully stamped J. Cole as one of the best rappers out there.
The follow-up, 4 Your Eyez Only, played with a concept of storytelling that Cole described as humanizing “the people that have been villainized in the media.” Then, his 2018 release, KOD, dove deep into serious issues like depression, greed, drug abuse, and addiction. By highlighting his own personal struggles, as well as those of the people around him, Cole brought a humanizing effect to his work, and he did it with the finest songwriting of his career.
To close out the influential decade, J. stepped directly into the driver’s seat of record producing, founding the label Dreamville. The group has released two full-length albums, with a roster including Cole, Omen, Bas, Cozz, Lute, Ari Lennox, JID, and EarthGang. Revenge of The Dreamers III was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, while the track “Middle Child” easily became the highest-charting solo single of his career. It’s clear J. Cole is in no way done with his career, but he undoubtedly finished the 2010s as one of the best.
Projects Released This Decade: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Cruel Summer, Watch the Throne, Yeezus, The Life of Pablo, Ye, Kids See Ghosts, Jesus Is King
Biggest Billboard Hits This Decade: “N****s in Paris,” “FourFiveSeconds,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “I Love It,” “Follow God”
Despite a steep rise to fame between 2004 and 2008, Kanye West entered the next decade in a bit of a rough spot. This was after he had interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs, began to focus on his fashion line, and began to move from producing stadium hip-hop hits to never-before-heard electro-rap. Still, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy proved that West was still a powerful and relevant player in the rap game.
Kanye’s next album Yeezus, was even more diverse, receiving mixed reviews from fans and critics. Looking back, it’s easy to say the project was simply ahead of its time, and that no one had expected rap to go in this direction entering the 2020’s. Still, the album itself is deep from the depths of Kanye’s brain, and this has always been his greatest talent: rearranging the familiar in a way nobody had thought to before.
After 2015, it seemed as though West’s ability to marshall chaos transitioned from the words in his lyrics to the tweets and posts on his social media. Despite the well-received Life of Pablo and the decent production on Ye, Kanye continued to prove controversial with his outspoken opinions on religion and politics. Still, despite his strange fixation on Donald Trump, it’s hard to say whether or not West’s latest music is relevant to what’s happening in rap or pop. It’s up to the listener to decide, but you sure can’t dismiss his incredibly impressive 10-year run through rap’s history.
Projects Released This Decade: Thank Me Later, Take Care, Nothing Was the Same, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, What a Time to Be Alive, More Life, Views, Scorpion
Biggest Billboard Hits This Decade: “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What,” “In My Feelings,” “One Dance,” “Hotline Bling”
Regardless of how sick you get of Drake’s overplayed radio hits, there’s no denying that the star has found a groove that works for him. With over 170 million records sold, four Grammy Awards, and the most top 10 placements on the Billboard Hot 100, Drake is rightfully classified amongst the world’s best-selling music artists of all time.
Drizzy’s decade began with Thank Me Later, a cookie-cutter A-list rap album that did what it needed to do, but hardly portended the zeitgeist dominance the next nine years would see. That all changed on Take Care. Whether you consider it his finest hour or not, this is undoubtedly the project on which Drake became Drake, delivering all the unique idiosyncrasies, sounds, and themes that would become synonymous with his brand. From there, every project came with a 2 a.m. record and something the whole family could get down to at weddings. But whether or not you categorize Drake’s music as somewhat of a popularity contest, you have to commend his ability to morph any track into an inescapable earworm.
Closing out the decade with projects such as More Life, Scorpian, and Care Package, it seems Drake had lost a part of what made his early music so unique. Still, each track was nowhere short of stellar production and big-name collabs that would send a select few songs right up to the top of radio charts. Drake is not to be underestimated, and he never fails to deliver a crowd-pleaser. On one of his more underrated singles of the last few years, he warned, “Bury me now and I’ll only get bigger.” Ten years in, he feels like he’s just getting started.
5.) MAC MILLER
Projects Released This Decade: K.I.D.S., Blue Slide Park, Macadelic, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, GO:OD AM, Best Day Ever, The Divine Feminine, Swimming
Biggest Billboard Hits This Decade: Self Care, Weekend, Dang, Donald Trump, Loud, Smile Back, Knock Knock
From the young, ambitious throwback-style of his early raps, to the jazzy, virtuoso of his later production, Mac Miller is as diverse as they come. After nearly a decade of releasing 10+ independent projects, the late rapper has left us nothing short of a masterpiece in rap repertoire.
Attaining massive success from his first two mixtapes K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, Miller released his debut album Blue Slide Park in 2011. The project not only paid homage to his hometown city of Pittsburgh, but it also became an impressive statement that displayed Mac’s overall talent and passion for both hip-hop and alternative genres. His seventh mixtape Macadelic, arrived the next year featuring appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Juicy J, and Lil Wayne. Miller’s efforts to experiment were well heard, and the boundaries of modern rap were commonly crossed. In Watching Movies With the Sound Off, GO:OD AM, and The Divine Feminine, Miller brings a unique side to every project. No two tracks ever sound the same, and each album reflects a different time of life for the rapper.
A pair of non-album singles “Buttons” and “Programs” kept Miller busy into 2018, when he issued his fifth album Swimming. A month after its release, Miller passed away tragically, but not without the love from his fans. Immediately, seven of his albums posthumously charted on the Billboard 200, as mourning flans ran to listen to their favorites tracks. Both Swimming and the post-humous album Circles completed Miller’s “Swimming In Circles” project, as Miller uses his lyricism to dive into anxiety, depression, and other issues revolving around mental health.
No matter what era, Mac Miller’s music will always be a powerful resource for anyone going through a trial in life. His ability to capture love in every track is what makes him such an influential rapper in the 2010s. And while Miller’s voice may have been lost at the conclusion of the decade, no unit of time can contain his impact on the world of music.
Contributor: Sarah Kloboves