Top 30 Hip-Hop Artists of the Decade: #20-11

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.

Continuing on! Click here to go back to Part 1 of the countdown, with picks #30-21.

Now, here are the picks for #20-11:

*All photos taken at concerts reviewed on this blog in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted.

20. Wrekonize

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Wrekonize (with ¡Mayday!) at The Rockpile 2016

Top Albums/Projects:

1. Believers (with ¡Mayday!, 2013)
2. Take Me To Your Leader (with ¡Mayday!, 2012)
3. South of 5th (with ¡Mayday!, 2018)
4. ¡MursDay! (with ¡Mayday! & Murs, 2014)
5. Stuck On An Island (with ¡Mayday!, 2010)

Besides Tech N9ne himself, ¡Mayday! may have the best, most consistently great discography on the Strange Music roster. While it’s definitely a team effort by the band to put together these albums, Wrekonize has been solid as the standout emcee and lyricist in the group. He’s got the full package of sharp rhymes, witty wordplay, the ability to sing, and the ability to speed-rap like most of the Strange Music roster. While Wrekonize has also proven himself as a solo artist, he’s definitely at his best when he’s with ¡Mayday!, as there’s a synergy there that makes him stand out especially. He’s continued to push himself throughout the decade, always delivering that dopeness whether it’s over rock, reggae, soul, funk, or just raw rap, and is one of those emcees who can sound good over any beat. Definitely one of the most underrated.

 

19. Ab-Soul

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Ab-Soul at The Phoenix Concert Theatre 2017

Top Albums/Projects:

1. Control System (2012)
2. Do What Thou Wilt (2016)
3. These Days… (2014)
4. Longterm Mentality (2011)
5. Black Panther Soundtrack (with T.D.E., 2018)

Top Dawg Entertainment blew up to become one of the biggest Hip-Hop labels in the 2010s, primarily off the strength of the Black Hippy crew. Each of the four emcees in the group has their own unique style, and Ab-Soul was the one who held it down for fans of deep lyricism. Being extremely witty with the wordplay while still making songs you can jam to, Ab-Soul is one of the few modern age emcees who’s been successful at bringing traditional Hip-Hop lyricism to the mainstream audience. Even when he’s gotten a bit experimental, playing with trendy sounds on These Days…, he’s still maintained top notch lyricism and has consistently strived to blow minds when he raps. They don’t call him Young Mind Fuck for nothing, as he’s proven to have the lyrical prowess to remain relevant for years to come.

 

18. Method Man

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Method Man (with The Wu-Tang Clan) at Rebel Nightclub 2018

Top Albums/Projects:

1. The Saga Continues (with The Wu-Tang Clan, 2017)
2. The Meth Lab (2015)
3. Wu-Massacre (with Raekwon & Ghostface Killah, 2010)
4. A Better Tomorrow (with The Wu-Tang Clan, 2014)
5. Meth Lab 2: The Lithium (2018)

The Wu-Tang Clan have had a mixed reception to their new releases as a group this past decade, but one thing fans can agree on is that Method Man has been one of the rocks consistently holding them down. Between the Clan albums and his guest features on his fellow Clansmen’s solo releases, Meth has had one of the sharpest pens, putting on a rhyming clinic whenever he spits a verse. Even his solo albums this decade sound like rhyme cyphers, as he uses his Meth Lab series as a platform to put on other Staten Island emcees. In the 2019 documentary Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men, Method Man talks about writing his raps just to impress his Wu-Tang brethren, and it’s that approach and attitude towards writing that keeps his rhymes so sharp. While his Hollywood acting has taken a bit away from his musical output, Meth still had himself a solid decade continuing to slay the mic, and remains one of the sharpest emcees in any era.

 

17. Kanye West

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Kanye West at the Air Canada Centre 2016

Top Albums/Projects:

1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
2. Watch The Throne (with Jay-Z, 2011)
3. Yeezus (2013)
4. Cruel Summer (with G.O.O.D. Music, 2012)
5. The Life of Pablo (2015)

Kanye West made his debut in the mid-2000s and was seemingly unstoppable when it came to making classic, generation-defining albums, but has since seen a steady decline in the 2010s. Many publications are rightfully calling My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy one of the most influential albums of the decade in any genre, as it effectively set the tone for both mainstream rap and pop music for the next ten years, and was a key piece that led to the blending of pop and rap. As great as the album is though, Kanye’s experimentation on his subsequent albums has left fans divided, and some might say he’s had more misses than hits this decade. His most recent rap albums range from mediocre to flat out boring, although his recent switch to gospel music is interesting while it’s still fresh. Kanye’s early work solidifies him as one of the all-time greats no matter what happens next, but if the careers of Ma$e, DMX, and No Malice are any indicator, it will be a tough task for him to make a complete comeback to Hip-Hop in the 2020s after the move to gospel – and that’s okay.

 

16. J. Cole

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J. Cole at the Air Canada Centre 2017

Top Albums/Projects:

1. 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
2. Born Sinner (2013)
3. KOD (2018)
4. Friday Night Lights (2010)
5. Revenge of the Dreamers III (with Dreamville Records, 2019)

J. Cole entered this past decade chasing fame with songs like “Blow Up,” and after experiencing the celebrity lifestyle, he’s seemingly reverted to avoiding the limelight towards the end of the decade. Having now built his own record label, Dreamville Records, with its own roster of artists, he’s moving into the 2020s passing the spotlight on to the younger generation. His journey in between these two points is where he’s captivated his massive fan base, becoming one of the most popular rappers in the world and showing exceptional growth as a songwriter. Now most known for the meaningful messages in his music and his honesty, it’s great to see an artist like J. Cole dominate the mainstream the way he has, no longer chasing pop trends but being true to himself with the upmost authenticity, and still regularly going platinum (with no features). He started the decade as a student and has taken everything he’s learned from achieving fame to now become a teacher.

 

15. Ghostface Killah

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Ghostface Killah at NXNE Port Lands Festival 2016

Top Albums/Projects:

1. Twelve Reasons To Die (with Adrian Younge/Apollo Brown, 2013)
2. Ghostface Killahs (2019)
3. Apollo Kids (2010)
4. Sour Soul (with BADBADNOTGOOD, 2015)
5. Wu-Block (with Sheek Louch, 2012)

Before we reached the 2010s, it was debatable which member of the Wu-Tang Clan had the best solo discography, but over the course of the decade Ghostface Killah separated himself from the pack, adding another seven albums (plus a few collaborations) to what was already one of the best discographies in Hip-Hop. Ghostface pushed himself as a lyricist this past decade, following scripts and telling cohesive, fictional stories in his albums that play out like Broadway musicals. Keeping himself diverse, he used other albums to give fans more of that hardcore street rap they like to hear from him and Wu-Tang, while also adding to the mythos of his Pretty Toney and Tony Starks personas. With albums like Twelve Reasons To Die and 36 Seasons, Ghostface Killah has arguably made a case for himself as the dopest storyteller in Hip-Hop, and the diverse range of music he makes on top of the storytelling raps is what puts him among most respected emcees of all time. GFK is a timeless emcee who makes timeless music, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down going into the 2020s.

 

14. Joey Bada$$

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Joey Bada$$ at Time Festival 2016

Top Albums/Projects:

1. B4.DA.$$ (2015)
2. 1999 (2012)
3. All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (2017)
4. Summer Knights (2013)
5. Escape From New York (with Beast Coast, 2019)

In a sea full of young, new-school rappers filling their songs with auto-tuned vocals and trap-style beats, Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era emerged as a breath of fresh air when they came out rapping over ’90s-inspired boom-bap production. Very much a student of classic Hip-Hop, Joey Badmon started the decade off in a limited niche paying tribute to the golden age of rap, and has since evolved to find his own sound. His major debut B4.DA.$$ should be considered one of the classics of the decade, as he crafted a near flawless album that appeals to both new-school and traditional Hip-Hop heads, and he’s only grown his fanbase over the years. He’s since found a balance between the new-wave trap style of production and his Brooklyn-rooted sense of lyricism, developing into his own as an artist. Capping off the decade by bringing together his Pro Era crew, along with The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies to form the supergroup Beast Coast, Joey Bada$$ is set to potentially have himself an even bigger decade in the 2020s.

 

13. Jay-Z

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Jay-Z at the 2017 Made In America Festival in Philadelphia

Top Albums/Projects:

1. Watch The Throne (with Kanye West, 2011)
2. 4:44 (2017)
3. Everything Is Love (with Beyoncé, 2018)
4. Magna Carta… Holy Grail (2013)

As the world’s richest rapper, Jay-Z has been focused on his business ventures and social activism more than his music this past decade, and yet he has remained one of the most influential and prolific figures in Hip-Hop. Still making waves with each album he released, Jay-Z’s biggest musical impact this decade may have been the way he set the prescedent for middle-aged emcees over the age of 45 to succeed in the mainstream, bringing Hip-Hop to uncharted territory. The culture seems to only move forward as Jay moves forward, as he’s one of the very few emcees in his age bracket to achieve consistent success in terms of both album/concert sales and critical acclaim, reaching untapped domains with every new release and every stadium filled. While his earlier releases of the decade felt like he was simply having fun rapping over party tracks, his most recent work has him making his claim as Hip-Hop’s elder statesman, rapping about family values, generational wealth, and political issues like systematic racism. He’s the pioneer of what Hip-Hop can look like at the age of 50, and will continue to drive the culture forward as long as he has something to say in his music.

 

12. Eminem

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Eminem at the Shady XV Cypher 2014; photo taken from rap-up.com

Top Albums/Projects:

1. Hell: The Sequel (with Bad Meets Evil, 2011)
2. Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013)
3. Kamikaze (2018)
4. Recovery (2010)
5. Shady XV (with Shady Records, 2014)

Eminem may have recieved a mixed reception to a lot of the music he put out this decade, but he has remained one of the sharpest rhymers there is. Ever since becoming sober and releasing the highly pop-influenced Recovery album at the top of the decade, he seems to have lost his sound, trying out different things with his production and his voice throughout the years but never quite achieving the magic he had in the late ’90s and early 2000s. While his bar-for-bar rapping ability is prolific as ever, his songwriting has seen a significant decline, as his verses turn into rambles and he rarely sticks to a sharp, potent 16 bars anymore. Still, we’ve seen competition repeatedly bring out the best in him, whether it’s friendly sparring with Royce Da 5’9″ on tracks as Bad Meets Evil or actually attacking opponents like Machine Gun Kelly on diss tracks. Regardless of his recent albums being tainted by some lackluster songs, Eminem has proven there still aren’t many emcees who can rap at his level, as he continues to bombard every verse with endless rhyme patterns, showcasing a master skill level.

 

11. Shad

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Shad at The Mod Club 2016

Top Albums/Projects:

1. TSOL (2010)
2. Flying Colours (2014)
3. A Short Story About A War (2018)
4. Boarding Pass EP (with DJ T.Lo, 2014)
5. Melancholy and the Infinite Shadness (2012)

Canada has a rich history of emcees who have made names for themselves over the years, but there aren’t many who have built such a consistently great discography as Shad’s. Having the whole package from incredible wordplay, sharp rhymes, versatile flows, and meaningful content, Shad has proven to be one of the most gifted emcees Canada has seen. While his musical output lately has been limited by his time hosting the Netflix documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution (Season 4 dropping this Friday!), he’s still attached to the culture and drops nothing but quality. The 2010s saw Shad at the height of his skill, as he won a Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year for the worthy TSOL, continued to showcase witty wordplay and great songwriting on his subsequent albums, and continued to push his own creativity with the cohesive, tightly tied concept album, A Short Story About A War. The multitalented emcee has many different avenues to pursue, including most recently joining the cast of the theatrical play/musical Anywhere But Here, but we have a feeling he’ll return to rapping at some point in the 2020s.

 

Stay tune for Part 3 of the countdown with the Top 10 dropping next Sunday!
UPDATE: Click here to go on to Part 3 of the countdown!

 

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