Here is our list of the most essential albums of the 2010s. The list was conceived and voted on extensively by our editorial board: Editor-In-Chief and Founder Bobby Rone, Creative Director, Co-Founder and Senior Editor Chunghwa Suh, Senior Editor Zac Veitch, Senior Correspondents Aviv Hart and Bayo Fasipe, with additional assistance from Correspondent Clyde Njoroge and Nick Mastri. The list is presented with no particular ranking, first with our agreed honorable mentions, followed by our albums of the decade and finally what we deemed the most essential projects of the decade. We hope you enjoy and talk back to us; we welcome criticism and debate. Thank you all so much for your readership and on behalf of all the DG staff, we wish you a blessed and joyful roaring 20s, old sports
Honorable Mentions (Gained a plurality of votes but did not achieve consensus):
10: JEFFERY – Young Thug (2016/YSL)
9: Pop 2 – Charli XCX (2017/Asylum)
8: Random Access Memories – Daft Punk (2013/Daft Life)
7: 56 Nights – Future (2015/Freebandz)
6: My Krazy Life – YG (2014/Def Jam)
5: The Epic – Kamasi Washington (2015/Brainfeeder)
4: Ego Death – The Internet (2015/Odd Future Records)
3: Live.Love.A$AP – A$AP Rocky (2011/Self Released)
2: The Money Store – Death Grips (2012/Epic)
1: 4:44 – JAY Z (2017/Rocnation)
ALBUMS OF THE DECADE
Pink Friday – Nicki Minaj (2010/Young Money)
OIL OF EVER PEARL’S UN-INSIDES – SOPHIE (2018/MSMSMS)
Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus (2010/Brainfeeder)
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae (2018/Atlantic)
Telefone – Noname (2016/Self Released)
Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples (2015/ARTium Recordings)
Doris – Earl Sweathsirt (2013/Tan Cressida)
Acid Rap – Chance The Rapper (2013/Self Released)
Rodeo – Travis Scott (2015/Epic
ANTI – Rihanna (2016/Roc Nation)
CTRL – SZA (2017/TDE)
House of Balloons – The Weeknd (2011/XO)
Take Care – Drake (2011/Young Money)
XXX – Danny Brown (2011/Fool’s Gold)
Barter 6 – Young Thug (2015/YSL)
Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013/Parkwood)
Yeezus – Kanye West (2013/GOOD Music)
Channel Orange – Frank Ocean (2012/Def Jam)
THE ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE DECADE
1992 Deluxe – Princess Nokia (2017/Rough Trade)
One of the primary revelations of hip-hop in the 2010s was its return home to New York. Not that it ever left, but with the late 2000s explosion of the internet and “blog rap” hip-hop seemed to be at least partially stripped of its localism. At least until this decade, which saw New Yorkers both embracing boom-bap tradition (Pro Era, Your Old Droog, Action Bronson) and actively rejecting it (Wifisfuneral, Bobby Shmurda, A$AP Rocky). Princess Nokia chooses to stand directly in the middle.
On 1992 Deluxe Nokia gives us both mellow, warm boom bap (“Bart Simpson”) as well as the Manic trap-influenced sounds of modernity (“Kitana”). However, what makes this record so special is not the creative blend of styles (though that is very impressive), its Nokia herself. Hip-Hop, more than any other genre, is built on persona, built on larger than life figures, built on a grandiose image. Princess Nokia is the necessary antithesis of that. She is a girl from New York cutting class to make rap music. And just like that, the most popular musical culture of all time makes its tasteful return to an apartment in the Bronx.
WHACK WORLD – Tierra Whack (2018/Interscope)
With this 15-minute album, Tierra Whack proved herself to be one of rap’s most lovable and zany characters, one of a small handful ready to turn the game on its head. In a hip-hop realm where braggadocio and competitiveness are stylistic staples, Whack World is a terrifically juicy and colorful glimpse into the animated hood-wonderland spinning inside Whack’s imagination. Her humor and wit shine bright on tracks like “Cable Guy,” “Hungry Hippo,” “Pet Cemetery,” “F**k Off”, delivered in a bouncy, unexpected Southern drawl, “Fruit Salad,” and several more. Backed by versatile production from Nick Verruto and Kenete Simms, Whack raps her ass off with unforgettable bars about hot sauce, dead dogs, board games, cholesterol, and pearl necklaces, meshing seamlessly with her glossy beats and letting the listener into her vibrant and wacky world.
Faces – Mac Miller (2014/Rostrum Records)
Faces is about drugs and mental health. Not in the corny sense of a cautionary tale, but in the realistic sense. This record is fun, humorous, braggadocios, and triumphant. Until it’s not. And that crash is appropriately devastating. This record is a testament to the strength of Mac Miller, to survive such intense addiction and mental demons as he did for so long, and to make so many truly joyful tracks in the midst of these struggles, as Mac himself says, “I’m the only suicidal motherfucker with a smile on.”
Faces is not only the musical diary of a depressed drug addict, it is a tangible record of what fame and wealth can do to a good person. Within this album Mac both celebrates and struggles with his fame and riches, finding himself more lonely than ever before, regardless of how many cars are in his garage. Both triumphantly happy and cripplingly sad, Faces stands as the greatest work of a man who was lost far too soon.
Read our Mac Miller Retrospective Here
CARE FOR ME – Saba (2018/Pivot Gang)
Saba is one of hip hop’s most precise lyrical technicians, though this fact seems almost insignificant in the face of the piercing and all-encompassing grief of Care For Me. Made in the wake of his cousin and fellow pivot gang member Walter Long Junior (John Walt)’s tragic passing, care for me is a dark and emotional record that is as moving as it is melancholy. But make no mistake, this record is anything but despondent, with tracks like Smile, Logout, and Heaven All Around Me being full of color and beauty to correspond with the suffocating darkness and justifiably heartbreaking sadness of Busy/Sirens, Life, and the devastatingly personal Prom/King. The emotions on display on this record are never one dimensional. Saba is not just simply sad about his cousin, he is angry. Angry at the murderers, angry at himself for not being able to save Walter, and angry at the deafening and harrowing history of Black death in America. Despite being from Chicago, and losing people I care about in a way not dissimilar to how Saba lost Walter, I feel woefully unqualified to speak about this record, so I will let the great James Baldwin do it for me; “To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
DS2 – Future (2015/Freebandz)
Future is quite possibly the biggest, most influential rapper of the 2010s, and on the Mount Rushmore of modern trap. After toiling in pop-rap purgatory for the beginning of his career, Future hit reset and delivered a trio of album quality mixtapes not seen since peak Wayne, culminating in the excellent DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2, except Coca-Cola was hating). The first five tracks alone are near flawless, and Future remains in otherworldly form throughout. While the album is certainly not without faults, it is a complete experience that expertly showcases Future’s vocal range and dexterity while always playing to his strengths. The album will be remembered for the party starters like “Thought it Was a Drought”. “Where Ya At” and “Stick Talk”, but it is the rare moments of intimacy as shown in “The Percocet and Stripper Joint” that provide the project with great depth. A key moment in the rise of one of the decade’s greatest artists.
Die Lit – Playboi Carti (2018/AWGE)
Die Lit is instinctual. When the track starts, Playboi Carti is ready to bop. His flow moves over each beat gracefully—sometimes he hops , sometimes he slides, sometimes his voice is low, sometimes he uses that baby Carti voice, but he’s never not moving. That movement isn’t necessarily linear, though—while he’s cruising forwards on songs like “Long Time (Intro),” Carti hops around like the Windows logo on “No Time,” and his focus is astral as he ascends on cuts like “Lean 4 Real” and “Flatbed Freestyle.” While Carti’s versatile intonation and adlibs (**pew-pew, BEE!**) allow him to elevate his style of voice-as-instrument to higher highs than his first album, just as important is the chemistry between Miles and the backing band. Pierre Bourne serves as the perfect muse for the Carti sound—not only did he executive produce the album, he produced all but 4 of the 19 tracks. The peculiar, echoing synths, bouncy 808s, and ticking hi-hats have just as much vim as Carti here, but rather than clash, the two styles meld perfectly. The chemistry is obvious, evidenced by their continuing, otherworldly collaborations that continuously leak. Most of the features walk in and understand the situation, providing, with few exceptions, bouncy and energetic verses that which takes away options for the listener to not match the energy. All must die lit, and all must hail the Jay Electronica of Mumble Rap.
Double Cup – DJ Rashad (2013/Hyperdub)
I remember being in high school and hearing Double Cup for the first time. I was dumbfounded by the rhythmic intricacies and sound layering executed track after track, the interplay of triplets and hemiolas, of quick kicks and even quicker hi-hats. I’m extremely far from being able to footwork, but each cut on this album was energetic enough to embolden me to try. On Double Cup, DJ Rashad demonstrates his superb ability to inspire movement by combining crisp and surgical drum hits with druggy, almost psychedelic sampling and synthing. The album is one of the best revivals of a rich subculture of Chicago house music, applying to it modern sampling methods and ambient instrumentation to forge sounds reminiscent of the highs and lows of a drug-induced trance.
Finally Rich – Chief Keef (2012/Glo Gang)
Simply put, Finally Rich changed everything. Like NWA in the 90s, Black Flag in the 80s, The Sex Pistols in the 70s, or Iggy and The Stooges in the 60s, Chief Keef made music dangerous again. It is art you cannot separate from the artist, as the mythology of the artist himself serves as explanation and citation for his music. Chief Keef had faced more harsh realities of life at 16 than many face by 80, and the harshness of his life begets the harshness of his music. And yet, play any song from Finally Rich at a party, regardless of the background of the party goers, and watch everyone go crazy. This is an entirely new phenomenon in music. While all of the artists mentioned earlier in this blurb have since garnered some pop appeal long after their prime, chief keef was a radio star immediately. Finally Rich was an irresistible mirror held up to America, showing the direct consequences of its treatment of urban (black) youth. It is drugs, sex, and violence in hedonistic proportion, as well as the architect of an entirely new (at the time) sound in both hip-hop and, oddly enough, mainstream pop. Long live Almighty Sosa Batman.
Exmilitary – Death Grips (2011/Epic)
Other girls: *listen to Death Grips*
Me: *pretty and hot*
Death Grips’ debut remains one of the most iconoclastic, abrasive records of the 2010s. Bursting onto the scene, MC Ride and co. rearranged the landscape of experimental hip-hop, and ushered in a new style of marketing, release and production that proved to be deeply influential to many of the decades biggest artists and releases. From the mind boggling energy of “Guillotine” and “Takyon”, to the rap-punk binge of “I Want it I Need It (Death Heated), Exmilitary is a total assault on that status quo of the mainstream and underground alike. Few artists have had the impact Death Grips has, and no album encapsulates that disruption quite like Exmilitary.
99.9% – KAYTRANADA (2016/XL)
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made on a bus was to listen to Kaytranada’s “BUS RIDE.” I was astonished by how precisely the pleasant tread of Karriem Riggins’ drumming and Kaytranada’s production paralleled the ebb and flow of my trip: the coming and going of passengers and melodies, the stopping and starting of wheels and percussion, the shimmering rooftops and chords. It was clear that this body of music was very much alive and animated, just as its cover promises. If Kaytranada exhibited nothing else with his debut record, it was that he could animate his listeners like few other artists could. 99.9% unveiled itself to be an impeccably groovy album, bringing together dashes of funk, hip-hop, jazz, soul, pop, and house to form a listening experience that keeps its audience on its toes. And “groovy” should not be taken lightly: every track on this album has a lively beat driven by pulsing kicks and crisp snares, complemented by impressive production (both in sampling and instrumentally) and chemistry-rich features (special shoutout to “TRACK UNO,” “WEIGHT OFF,” “DESPITE THE WEATHER,” “GLOWED UP,” “YOU’RE THE ONE,” and “LITE SPOTS”). Kaytranada’s compositions of lush, compelling harmonies and vocals pumping above buoyant drums and beats merge together to become 99.9%: an incredibly alive album.
DAYTONA – Pusha T (2018/GOOD Music)
My greatest regret as a writer is letting depression win and not writing a proper review of the career defining project that is Pusha T’s DAYTONA. The historical context of the record is now etched in rap lore: from Kanye’s series of 27 minute projects to the historic, David-and-Goliath victory over Drake in the most entertaining beef of the decade, the album promoted itself. In the blink of an eye, Push had gone from gleeful rap villain to the people’s champ, but you won’t hear that story in the music. Instead, Push sticks to his coke rap guns and delivers the culmination of two decades of consistency, and the finest rapping and musicianship of his career. The glistening Kanye West production, a perfect merger of the soul sampling style that started his career and the off the wall insanity that birthed Numbers On The Boards (a DXCEGAME song of the decade), perfectly meshes with Push’s precious rapping and storytelling ability. The understanding of pace and the power of brevity underscores the record phenomenally, from the instant classic opening track “If You Know, You Know” (Most rappers turned trappers can’t morph into us/But a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff) to the fangs-bared finale of “Infrared” (He see what I see when I see Wayne on tour/Flash without the fire/Another multi platinum rapper trapped and can’t retire), Push’s pen is knife sharp, and he goes for the throat. The defining project of a defining artist.
Piñata – Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (2014/Madlib Invazion)
Piñata is the definitive magnum opus of gangster rap, a chilling autobiography written by a bona fide Gary, Indiana Vice Lord. Hip-hop has become rife with posturing and fraudulent Braggadocio, but Gibbs’ lyrics channel a level of undeniable reality that is both petrifying and electrifying. Gibbs finds his place within one of the primary archetypes not only of hip-hop, but of American culture in general: the sympathetic villain. Gibbs makes no attempt to sugar coat the various dastardly deeds that he so vividly and graphically describes, but is wary of glorifying them as well. Beneath this harrowing life of crime there exists a moral compass, one that even Gibbs himself crosses at times, predicated upon loyalty, self sufficiency, and survival. Contributions from architects of the gangster rap genre such as Raekwon and Scarface only serve to reinforce this record’s already diamond-plated credibility. In addition, the entirety of the production is handled by Madlib, a fact which in itself holds a tremendous amount of weight. 10 years removed from Madvillainy, the album people believe to be his masterwork, Madlib proved once and for all that he not only still has it, but that it’s unlikely he’ll ever lose it. Piñata is a contemporary classic.
Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweathsirt (2018/Tan Cressida)
SRS finds Earl yet again pulling the flap back to his life yet again. Around this time, he’s been in New York, running around with the underground scene there. The influence of those acts can be felt vicariously and literally. The direction of the production here—hazy, out of time loops and dirty chops—is clearly due to the influence of producers like Ade Hakim and Slauson Malone. Earl’s abstract, wandering flows are influenced by the of the rappers around him–Earl name drops MIKE and Medhane, while Standing on the Corner and Navy Blue make appearances respectively. Content-wise, we find Earl in a place of growth. When he addresses material familiar to his catalogue—his parents, isolation, women–he seems to be coming to new places of closure, and samples about black dialect and bars about “crackers piling in to rape the land” show some ongoing growth in his own self-conception as a black man. Yet while there is much growth to be celebrated, Earl is aware of the balance that comes with it. The decade has made Earl familiar with loss, and, most recently, the deaths of his father and uncle influence the record. But, while the heaviness of loss is apparent—“Peanut,” a eulogy for Earl’s father, feels like wearing a waterlogged shirt—the importance of celebrating of life is also just as apparent, especially on the sunny, trumpet-filled album closer, “Riot.” The result of chasing and exploring this duality, as well as his own growth, has seen Earl return to the public eye with a strong, clear voice, and some of his most exciting and challenging material of his career.
Read our full review here
Black Messiah – D’Angelo & The Vanguard (2014/RCA)
The release of Black Messiah marked the end of D’Angelo’s 15-year hiatus from music. Since his (also amazing) 2000 sophomore album, Voodoo, D’Angelo had been absent from the national spotlight, but he returned without missing a beat. Black Messiah is a magnificently funky take on his neo-soul style that utilizes orchestral arrangements, devious basslines, prophetic lyricism, enchanting singing (but we already knew about D’Angelo’s golden pipes), and so much more. Departing from his tight and shiny vocal harmonies that characterized his previous work, Black Messiah totes a more rugged, raw aesthetic, which fits perfectly with punkish jams like “Ain’t That Easy,” “1000 Deaths,” and “Prayer,” but also with euphonious ballads like “Really Love,” Sugah Daddy,” “Betray My Heart,” and “Another Life.” The experimental approach taken by D’Angelo perfectly matches the ethereal accompaniment provided by The Vanguard, and the result is a fresh and fantastic elaboration on his impressively soulful abilities, the raw-but-mellifluous Black Messiah.
Room 25 – Noname (2018/Self Released)
CHICAGO’S VERY OWN Noname is a prodigal talent, a god-tier wordsmith who, to borrow from one of my favorite newcomers MAVI, “writes songs you gotta read, baby”. This otherworldly writing talent is on full display on Room 25. Famously the first DXCEGAME “10”, 25 is perhaps an 11. Every beat is perfectly in sync with the vocal delivery, every track works with the ones before and after. It’s the textbook definition of an album, one that provides a cohesion of theme and style, form and content that is rare for any genre. Highlights such as the funky “Blaxploitation” and cooler-than-a-polar-bear’s-toenails “Ace” show incredible lyrical dexterity and vocal mastery in perfect harmony with jazzy melody and feeling. Rarely do we get to witness an artist with such deep understanding of self and art, and the negotiation of the two. Noname is a talent among talents, and when your second project is a Room 25, you’re already entering the “peerlessness” discussion.
Read our full review here
Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown (2016/Warp)
There had never been a rap record that sounded quite like Atrocity Exhibition, and there very well may never be another. Underground mainstay Danny Brown stretched the definition of the medium and bent genre, resulting in an album well beyond the already lofty expectations that come from making XXX. Like XXX, Atrocity is an exploration of the spiral of addiction and mental health, apparent from the opening track “Downward Spiral”. By the time you get to the absolutely mental posse cut “Really Doe ” (a first ballot selection to our songs of the decade playlist), you’re hooked on the airtight flows and supernatural production, care of trusted collaborator Paul White. From the post-punk shitshow “Ain’t It Funny” to the demonic post-trap heater “Pneumonia”, Danny is on one the entire record. The result? The defining underground record of the decade.
good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar (2012/TDE)
After the release of his 2011 debut, Section.80, it was clear that Kendrick Lamar was a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. Few could have predicted what would come next: a prodigious ethnographic concept album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. A cinematic account of adolescent life in Compton, good kid, m.A.A.d city narrates the fascinating and complex emotional turbulence faced by a young Kendrick as he battles temptation, peer pressure, violence, and substance abuse. Kendrick uses grippingly candid skits depicting his homies and parents through conversations and recordings, propelling the album’s narrative, and adding immeasurable depth to the characters and scenarios illustrated. The sentiments portrayed range from violent anger to lust to nervous anxiety to deep melancholy (especially on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”), and each is emoted as eloquently and genuinely as the last. With this album, Kendrick claimed his throne as hip-hop’s lyrical mastermind, exhibiting a stunning ability to rap about such a wide array of conflicting feelings while maintaining incredible musical cohesion. Add to his phenomenal talent the intricate and expert production contributed by Dr. Dre and Top Dawg (and others) and you’re left with one of this decade’s musical masterpieces.
THE FIVE MOST ESSENTIAL
ALBUMS OF THE 2010S, RANKED
5: A Seat At The Table – Solange (2016/Saint Records)
2016 in the United States will likely be remembered as the most tumultuous year since 1968. It will also be remembered as one of the greatest years for Black music in history, and perhaps no album that year exemplified Blackness as well as Solange’s A Seat At The Table. A true master of her craft, Solange delivered a sprawling tapestry of beauty, legacy and history. It’s a gorgeous dedication to Black resilience and success in the face of a world hell bent on thwarting it, accomplished through incredible emotional range in songwriting and singing, instrumentation and production that spanned cultures and generations, and is ultimately a gift that was for us, by us, and will be remembered by us forever. To all my niggas in the whole wide world, we got a lot to be mad about, but a whole lot more to be proud of.
4: To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar (2015/TDE)
If there was any shadow of a doubt that Kendrick Lamar was a BLACK artist making BLACK music for BLACK audiences, then it was probably erased 5 seconds into To Pimp a Butterfly, as the volume becomes loud enough to decipher the Boris Gardiner sample that opens “Wesley’s Theory”. The album was Black in every sense. It was conceived after Kendrick’s trip to Robben Island, and its political tone was shaped by the death of Trayvon Martin. Its recording sessions were blessed by generations of black artists including Ronald Isley, Bilal, George Clinton, Pete Rock, Knxwledge, Snoop Dogg, and Thundercat (to name a few). Its very image is black– niggas innumerably deep right outside the White House flexing next to Ronald Reagan’s dead body is a statement. Individual songs are a tapestry of black musical styles and moods–Kendrick’s background seamlessly switches from swaggering funk to improvisational jazz to introspective lo-fi and everything in between. Kendrick ties these seemingly scattered mini-stories together with a meta-arc of community, isolation, trauma, and survival as a black man that is so powerful that TPAB thrusts messianic status on Kenny. But while we have had to temper our meteoric expectations of the man, any re-listen only reminds you of why we felt we had to set those expectations so high in the first place—To Pimp A Butterfly remains a flawless portrait of black struggle that comes with political, personal, and communal growth.
3: Lemonade – Beyoncé (2016/Parkwood)
Look: You were either conscious in 2016, or you weren’t, and if you were, then you know why Lemonade is here. Beyoncé was already in a class of her own, already the artist of a generation. An icon, if ever there was one. Still, fresh off of her deeply personal and masterfully crafted projects 4 and Self Titled, she delivered Lemonade, a visual album that the phrase “monumental” fails to encompass. She transcended genre, journeyed the history of Black music, and displayed the process of grief and forgiveness with better clarity, honesty and emotion than any piece of musical art I have encountered in my long 22 years of life. Lemonade is not only an artistic masterpiece, but it is innovation of celebrity itself –something Beyoncé does like no other. We fail our icons by treating them as such. On Lemonade, Beyoncé shows us her vulnerability and strips back all we make her out to be; she is Beyoncé the person, the woman, a Black woman who bleeds the same as us. But because she is Beyoncé, she gives us that blood in three acts. From the betrayal and paranoia in “Pray You Catch Me”, to the unabashed anger of “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, the first half of Lemonade is a comedy. As the album transitions to its second act, the emotional rollercoaster through “Sorry”, “Love Drought”, the Black reclamation of “Daddy Lessons”, and heart wrenching ballad “Sandcastles”, it becomes a gorgeous tragedy. In its final act, forgiveness, “All Night” and “Freedom” provide the light at the end of the tunnel, in love, life, and race. Lemonade refuses to tell us a story in a singular literary genre; as Beyoncé cannot be singularly categorized, her work cannot be given any kind of absolute interpretation. It’s a story about love, specific and timeless; it’s a story about our most disturbing desires of other people, of our wives, of our celebrities. Lemonade is one of the greatest explorations of womanhood, Blackness, pain and forgiveness we will ever see.
-CS & BR
2: My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (2010/GOOD Music)
In a way, we have Beyoncé and Taylor Swift to thank for this national treasure. Kanye West’s drunken onstage rant during Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMA acceptance speech sent him spiraling into infamy, shapeshifting from one of music’s most beloved performers to a pop-cultural supervillain. In his hibernation, West assembled a dream team of rappers and musicians and conceived of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: an outspoken, quasi-apologetic, self-exposing musical monument. On this record, Kanye’s relentless attention to detail is carried out over 70 minutes of hip-hop maximalism where every decision, every lyric, every note is finely orchestrated to the tune of Kanye’s herculean sermon only after uncompromising processes of deliberation amongst rap’s most lauded heavyweights. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy thus becomes an unreal exploration of Kanye’s psyche, his beautiful dark twisted fantasy where he bears his candid emotions regarding life, love, fame, insecurity, and more. From “Dark Fantasy,” the record’s colorful, stage-setting opener, to “All of the Lights,” the strobe-like, anti-media anthem, to “Runaway,” the album’s unapologetic and incredibly vulnerable apex, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the most bare, defiant, and towering musical projects our generation has ever seen.
1: Blonde – Frank Ocean (2016/Boys Don’t Cry)
I was 14 years old, about to start high school when Channel Orange came out. That album taught me more about myself than any object of media I had consumed to that point.
Blonde came out on my first day of college, and no object of media better encompassed the feelings of transition, progress, anxiety and reflection I had at the time.
No album captures and showcases the passage of time and the weight of memory quite like Frank Ocean’s opus, Blonde. The genreless masterpiece defies categorization and convention, opting instead for innovation and synesthesia, creating a totally encompassing universe of love, loss, regret and growth. You can hear it in his voice too–his already singular singing talent has only improved with age, as heard in the breathtaking pitch shifts on tracks like “Nikes,” “Self Control,” or “Seigfried.” The songwriting is as intricate as ever, and few artists ever have been capable of creating the sonic narratives and landscapes that Frank can. From the sparse instrumentation, choosing strings over drums, to the Homerian epic that is Nights, every detail on Blonde is as bold as it is subtle. A perfect album came at a perfect time; it will be remembered for generations