As we now enter the 2020s, a lot of Hip-Hop fanatics are of course discussing who the best rappers of the 2010s were. It’s a tough task to narrow down a list to a Top 30, but here’s one of many attempts to do it. The 2010s was a challenging decade, as many artists who we consider among the greatest of all time dropped their classics in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and didn’t have as much output in this past decade. Newer artists who just emerged may have had a stronger output in this decade than the golden age legends who inspired them.
The 2010s also saw an evolution where Hip-Hop has now overlapped with Pop music, and it’s a challenge drawing the line between great emcees who are part of Hip-Hop culture, and trendy pop stars who happen to rap. Mainstream Hip-Hop of this past decade was often defined by rappers who weren’t really focused on rapping well, with more emphasis put on melodies, adlibs, flows, emotion, vibes and waviness. While many publications aren’t drawing the distinction and pretend as if the entire underground culture doesn’t exist, this list makes an attempt to put all artists on an even playing field regardless of popularity. Despite the shift into Pop music, there were still plenty of great Hip-Hop artists in both the mainstream and underground, and this list simply attempts to acknowledge the artists who put out the best Hip-Hop music in this decade.
So let’s get into it! Here is Part 1 of the countdown, looking at my picks for #30 – 21, but first, some honourable mentions who didn’t quite make the cut:
Benny The Butcher
Conway The Machine
*All photos taken at concerts reviewed on this blog in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted.
30. Freddie Gibbs
1. Bandana (with Madlib, 2019)
2. Piñata (with Madlib, 2014)
3. Shadow of a Doubt (2015)
4. Freddie (2018)
5. You Only Live 2wice (2017)
It’s a tough task emerging from a place like Gary, Indiana and becoming the only emcee from your city to gain international acclaim, but Freddie Gibbs put in the work all decade to establish Hip-Hop’s sound for his home state. An emcee with style and attitude, it’s Freddie’s personality that shines most in his music. He’s slowly been building up his fan base all decade long, improving his skillset with every album he drops, to the point where last year’s Bandana was widely recognized in Album of the Year conversations. He’s built a strong discography full of cocaine tales of hustle, struggle, and betrayal, and in particular has been able to strike lightning with his collaborations with Madlib on the beats. Even after such a strong decade with several dope albums, Freddie Gibbs’ star power is still rising, and he’s bound to blow up even more in the 2020s.
29. Danny Brown
1. XXX (2011)
2. Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
3. Old (2013)
4. uknowhatimsayin¿ (2019)
5. The Hybrid (2010)
Danny Brown has established himself as one of the dopest voices and personalities in Hip-Hop. Between the vocal range going from either rough aggression to the playful high pitch that made him famous, and the high energy, party-loving personality, Danny Brown brings back memories of listening to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but with a dose of Detroit competitiveness instilled in him. Beyond that, he has the punchlines, the comedy, and the tales of struggle that all tie together to make him a unique artist that definitely stood out this decade. Musically, it’s been dope to see him go from making hype party music by blending EDM and rap in a unique way to having a rap-heavy project produced entirely by Q-Tip for his latest release. Danny Brown is continuously evolving, and we look forward to seeing what he has in store for the next decade.
28. Earl Sweatshirt
1. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)
2. Doris (2013)
3. Earl (2010)
4. Some Rap Songs (2018)
5. Feet of Clay (2019)
Earl Sweatshirt had all the hype behind him when Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All emerged from California’s underground scene at the top of the decade, and he’s been constantly evolving as an artist ever since. As with most of that Odd Future clique, Earl started off as a hardcore emcee with a borderline obnoxious teenage personality, standing out as the sharpest rhymer in the group, and has since grown to make more compelling, thought-provoking music as an adult. While still serving up potent doses of rhyme mastery, Earl’s music has matured over the course of the decade, seeing him take on mental health and substance abuse in his lyrical content. He has also pushed fans with more challenging listens in recent years, going for a lo-fi, lyrically dense style on Some Rap Songs and Feet of Clay. While each project of his sounds vastly different than the last, Earl is going to continue to be an interesting artist to pay attention to well into the 2020s.
27. Lupe Fiasco
1. Friend of the People (2011)
2. Tetsuo & Youth (2015)
3. Lasers (2011)
4. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album (2012)
5. Drogas Wave (2018)
While Lupe Fiasco arguably dropped two classic albums in the 2000s, his follow ups in the 2010s have had the fans divided. He transitioned from the Electro-Pop flavoured Lasers to the super bar-for-bar lyrical density of Drogas Wave, but has always remained one of the most lyrically gifted emcees in the game. While the infamous Lasers album had a more blunt, direct style of lyricism, Lupe has gradually over the course of the decade gone back to his niche of dropping poetic gems that take years of listening to fully unpack. He’s been unable to strike that perfect balance he had on Food & Liquor and The Cool, where the music was both lyrically poetic and easily digestible, but some would say it’s worked in his favour, making him known as one of Hip-Hop’s strongest lyricists that takes effort to listen to. Lupe Fiasco seems to release music on his own terms now, with no regard for song length or marketability, which makes him interesting to pay attention to whenever he does drop new music.
26. Pusha T
1. Daytona (with Kanye West, 2018)
2. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
3. My Name Is My Name (2013)
4. Fear of God II: Let Us Pray (2011)
5. Cruel Summer (with G.O.O.D. Music, 2012)
While Pusha T made waves with The Clipse, considered one of the greatest rap groups of the 2000s, he essentially had to start over and emerge as a new solo artist in the 2010s. Becoming one of the driving forces behind Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, Push carved out his own lane, improving with every album or project he put out. Keeping up his reputation for supplying coke raps for the streets, Pusha T has been able to strike a perfect balance between mainstream and underground appeal, getting widespread praise across the board. He’s also brought some entertaining competition to mainstream Hip-Hop, famously trading diss tracks with Drake and forcing the pop star to compete at a rap level. Pusha T definitely had a successful decade rebuilding his career, and he has the longevity and respect to remain relevant to Hip-Hop on his own terms going forward.
1. Knock Madness (2013)
2. Raw (2010)
3. Pound Syndrome (2015)
4. No Shame (2017)
While Hopsin seems to have faded into obscurity in recent years, there’s no denying the wave he was on when Funk Volume was in full force. His music videos were consistently getting tens of millions of views, and he was able to tour the entire world off the music he made in his home studio, completely independent. He was living the dream a lot of Hip-Hop fans have when they’re young. Funk Volume would have probably been one of the most reputable indie labels today if the lawsuits between Hop and his business partner never happened, leading to its dissolve. While Hopsin in his prime was known for sharp rhymes, witty wordplay, and thought-provoking lyricism, he’s since started from scratch with his new start-up label Undercover Prodigy, and seems to be finding his style and sound all over again. We’re hoping he finds it and makes a comeback in the 2020s.
24. Tyler, The Creator
1. Flower Boy (2017)
2. Cherry Bomb (2015)
3. Wolf (2013)
4. IGOR (2019)
5. Goblin (2011)
It’s amazing to see how much a person can change in a decade. Tyler, The Creator started off as the head of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, making loud, hardcore, violent Hip-Hop, but over the course of the decade has evolved into a standout, multitalented solo artist with enough mass appeal to regularly make trips to the Grammy Awards. He played a fictional version of himself on his first three albums, the Bastard – Goblin – Wolf trilogy telling a psychedelic tale of a troubled teenager with murderous tendencies, and since then has pushed his way out of his hardcore niche to become one of the most acclaimed producers of the decade. With heavy influences by Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, Tyler continues to be one of the most unique artists of the current landscape, with no one else looking or sounding like him. He may not be the sharpest emcee, but his style, sound, constant experimentation and ability to tie entire albums together is what makes him stand out as an artist.
23. Sean Price
1. Imperius Rex (2017)
2. Mic Tyson (2012)
3. Price of Fame (with Lil Fame, 2019)
4. Random Axe (with Random Axe, 2011)
Even though he passed away in 2015, Sean Price left a lasting impression on Hip-Hop throughout the 2010s. Known for his blunt, in-your-face attitude, Sean P shined most with his personality, and was able to back it up with his rhymes. The Brooklyn bully would often rap about beating the shit out of wack rappers, always keeping it entertaining and staying true to himself. With a career dating back to the 1990s, Sean P rapped like he had nothing to prove to anyone, always delivering hard rhymes and standing out no matter who else was rapping with him on the track. Never compromising and always keeping it 100% raw and hardcore, Sean P was one of the most unfuckwitable emcees of all time, and is surely missed.
22. Celph Titled
1. Nineteen Ninety Now (with Buckwild, 2010)
2. KILLmatic (with The Demigodz, 2013)
3. In Death Reborn (with Army of the Pharaohs, 2014)
4. The Unholy Terror (with Army of the Pharaohs, 2010)
5. Heavy Lies The Crown (with Army of the Pharaohs, 2014)
While the Army of the Pharaohs crew as we know it today emerged in the mid-2000s, the 2010s saw them swarm the underground with a ton of releases amongst its many members. Branching out for side groups/projects or solo albums, the AOTP brand remained strong, and Celph Titled continued to be a standout emcee in the squad. He may be lacking the solo material of some of his groupmates, but Celph always draws attention whenever he spits a verse. Between his unique sportscaster-like voice and his Big L-inspired knack for clever punchlines, Celph Titled is always entertaining to listen to whenever he gets on the mic, although the graphic, hardcore lyricism isn’t for everyone. If you’re a fan of hardcore battle rap though, Celph Titled has been one of the kings of the last decade.
1. The Incredible True Story (2015)
2. YSIV (2018)
3. Under Pressure (2014)
4. Everybody (2017)
5. Bobby Tarantino (2016)
When Logic first emerged and started to make waves, my first impression was that while he can rap his ass off, he had no original style or flavour to call his own. You could say this remains true to this day, as for better or for worse, he’s been a chameleon able to blend and adapt to all styles of rap, and he has tackled damn near every style of rap already established. What’s made him stand out and win over fans is his personality, as over the course of the decade he’s let the world know who he is and what he stands for, pushing messages for mental health and racial equality. While he’s had a mixed reception with Hip-Hop heads, some calling him “corny” for the way he comes off as preachy in some songs, his skillset when it comes to rapping over any type of beat is something that cannot be denied.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the countdown, with #20 – 11 dropping next Sunday!
UPDATE: Click here to go on to Part 2 of the countdown!
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