100 Best Albums of the 2010s, Ranked by Rolling Stone - Rolling Stone
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The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

Pop felt more ambitious than ever, voices from the margins broke through in every genre and great records kept coming at us from every direction.

In the 2010s, the biggest artists were also some of the biggest innovators — from Kanye West creating his monumental over-the-top opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Beyoncé connecting her life story to a history of African American expression on Lemonade to Chance the Rapper blowing up with a free mixtape that was full of psychedelic realism to Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves and Frank Ocean pushing the limits of the conservative genres they eventually broke out of entirely.

Country had its most adventurous decade ever, whether that spirit came through in the fire-spitting lyrical honesty of the Pistol Annies, the hardbitten literariness of Jason Isbell or an almost unclassifiable work like Sturgill Simpson’s soul-tinged song-cycle A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. After being left for dead in a chillwave puddle 10 years ago, indie-rock got back to its gloriously messy guitar roots, with bands like Parquet Courts, Japandroids and Car Seat Headrest making fantastic albums. If indie-rock looped back to the Nineties, hip-hop did the opposite, evolving faster than any other style of music as it got more emo (thanks, Drake) and more political and more sonically deep-space out-there all the same time. Meanwhile, icons like Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and John Prine kept up with the youngsters by making some of their best music in years, 

What was so fun about the 2010s was the way so many artists from across genres seemed to draw from the same well of wide-open possibility, of discovery happening in real time; this is reflected in the albums that made our best-of list. For instance, David Bowie had been making music for nearly 50 years when Kendrick Lamar released his sprawling, self-interrogating hip-hop masterwork To Pimp a Butterfly, but Bowie, eternally living in the moment, still took major influence from Kendrick in crafting his incredible farewell album Blackstar; and it’s thanks to mutable pop visionaries like Bowie that the world can even imagine a pop context for something as challenging and multi-faceted as To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a shame those two won’t be hooking up to make music together in the decade to come.   

RELATED: ROLLING STONE’S BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE LIST

 

kanye west my beautiful dark twisted fantasy
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Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

Forget, if you can, the red hat, the outrageous tweets, the overpriced sweatpants. (We’d ask you to forget 2018’s half-assed Ye too, but chances are you already have.) Remember, instead, the gravity-defying artistic leap that Kanye pulled off with his fifth LP. Stung by the ferocious backlash to his 2009 VMAs meltdown — a moment that, quaintly in retrospect, seemed like rock bottom for his public image — he hid out in Hawaii and emerged with the ultimate case for his genius/jerk-off duality. The secret sessions at Avex Honolulu Studios saw Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Justin Vernon, and others turning in career-best performances under the guidance of Kanye’s absurd yet effective house rules (“NO HIPSTER HATS”….”JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP SOMETIMES”). Presiding over it all was the greatest producer of his generation, pulling from 40-plus years of popular music to spin his symphony of wounded pride, from the lush falsetto soul of “Devil in a New Dress” to the heavy-metal thunder of “Hell of a Life.” And while he memorably heaped contempt on racist cops and the South Park writers’ room, Kanye saved the most bitter shots on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for himself (“Blame Game,” “Runaway”). Under all the bluster, this is a concept album about his own inability to stop breaking America’s heart. Nearly a decade later, it still hurts. —S.V.L.

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