Editor's Note: This is part of a series of lists looking at some of the best albums to be released this century in a variety of genres. Part 2 of the hip-hop list will be published Wednesday 9/12.
If you Google “the best hip-hop albums ever,” chances are you’ll find countless pages listing albums from the likes of Nas, Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., which are all wonderful and impactful albums, but many new hip-hop albums are seemingly overlooked because of how highly we value albums from the 90’s. This list contains ten albums made between the year 2000 and now that have been culturally impactful, genre changing, lyrically magnificent or conceptually brilliant.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar
“Nothing more influential than rap music/ I merge jazz fusion with trap music/ I mix black soul with some rock and roll.” Kendrick Lamar summed it up best on his “Black Friday” verse, with “To Pimp A Butterfly” (TPAB), Kendrick took a road in music that had yet to be explored. “TPAB” was one of the biggest risks taken by any rapper in recent years.
Musically “TPAB” was filled to the brim with jazz, rock & roll, early hip-hop and soul influences that on paper looked as if it seemingly couldn’t work, but with A-list producers in his ring Kendrick effortlessly pulled off a magnificent sonic journey. Along with musical excellence, the entry album is lyrically peerless, every song is overflowing with carefully executed bars that are culturally relevant, tongue in cheek, playful, heart wrenching and extremely complex.
With all that under “TPAB’s” belt it would have already been a classic, but Kendrick weaved every song into an album wide narrative leaving breadcrumbs in every song hinting at where the album was headed. “TPAB” ends with one of the best reveals/outros of any rap album ever, a casual conversation with none other than Tupac. It should come as no surprise that “TPAB” made it to this list but as “TPAB” is one of modern days most respected works of art, it would’ve been a crime to leave it out.
Must Listen to Tracks: “King Kunta,” “These Walls,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright.”
“We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” by A Tribe Called Quest
No album in 2016 was more disrespected than A Tribe Called Quest’s last album “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.”
Tribe’s last album was excluded from the Grammy’s Rap category, it wasn’t nominated even though critics unanimously rained down praise for the legendary groups last effort. “We Got It From Here” was a two disc album that covered everything from the 2016 presidential election to the passing of original Tribe member, Phife Dawg. Even with 20 years in between albums the group’s iconic production and lyrical delivery was unchanged, some might even say improved.
This album was the sendoff Tribe deserved. From their first release in 1990, up to “We Got It From Here,” their discography is close to unmatched with their quality and consistency. This album is a landmark in hip-hop’s history because it’s the end of a very long era for a group that influenced so many up and coming artists.
Must Listen to Tracks: “We the People….,” Dis Generation,” “Lost Somebody,” “Movin Backwards.”
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West
After Kanye’s now infamous VMA blunder he went into hiding in Hawaii where he would meticulously craft his maximalist masterpiece, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” “Dark Fantasy” is a work of art revered as one of hip-hop’s most treasured creations. Every inch of Kanye’s fifth album is serenaded with immaculate production, grand anthems and iconic verses.
Much of “Dark Fantasy” is one large posse cut, meaning that Kanye collected verses from label mates, close friends and relevant musicians to curate a feature-filled album with little to no musical misses. One of “Dark Fantasy’s” most beloved cuts “Monster” includes the input of Jay Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver and Nicki Minaj (who is able to claim one of the most memorable verses that one might make the far stretch to say launched her reign as queen of rap).
Through “Dark Fantasy” Kanye explores his relevance, fame and ability to be his own worst enemy and the invisible clock counting down the days until he and his work are forgotten. The heart and soul of “Dark Fantasy” is its nine-minute track “Runaway.” The track is mesmerizing, and it solidified Kanye as an iconic producer and recording artist. “Dark Fantasy” raised the bar for quality music so high that many of his peers’ works pale in comparison.
Must Listen to Tracks: “Power,” “All of the Lights,” “Monster,” “Runaway.”
“Flower Boy” by Tyler, The Creator
After a handful of musical missteps in the form of “Goblin” and “Wolf,” Tyler, the Creator became fully realized and put his best foot forward to create the immensely vivid world that comes to life while listening to his fourth album, “Flower Boy.”
What is truly revolutionary about the album is the fact that Tyler is one of the first mainstream rappers to come out as bisexual or gay (it’s still unclear). This kind of action helps the hip-hop culture by making the genre more accepting of all types of rappers. Tyler’s “Flower Boy” contains hard hitting villainous tracks like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time,” alongside the calm meditative tracks “Garden Shed” and “Boredom,” without making either feel out of place. The duality of these songs next to each other could speak to Tyler’s classic aggression, while slowly unveiling his softer side that he’s hidden away for so long.
Must Listen to Tracks: “See You Again,” “Who Dat Boy,” “Garden Shed,” “911 / Mr. Lonely.”
“Madvillainy” by Madvillain
The hip-hop duo consisting of rapper MF DOOM and producer Madlib resulted in one of the largest underground albums ever to catch the attention of such a large audience.
In a sample-ridden hour and six minutes, “Madvillainy” creates a dark, yet goofy masterpiece focused around experimental production, and MF DOOM’s classic monotoned lyrical delivery. It’s hard to put into words why “Madvillainy” is so captivating. It could be because it’s full of spontaneous moments leaving listeners on the edge of their seats throughout the whole album. It could be the mysteriousness of the duo’s work together. It may just be the spectacle of absurd geniuses that MF DOOM and Madlib bring out of each other.
Whatever it may be, “Madvillainy” shows that despite your level of stardom, whether you’re filling arenas or just rapping on a sidewalk, as long as your work is quality and innovative it will always be recognized.
Must Listen to Tracks: “Accordion,” “Meat Grinder,”” America’s Most Blunted,” “Figaro.”
Colton Newman is the photo editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Coltonperson.