Defining albums of 2010s rap: Kendrick, Kanye's masterworks
I’m not going to pretend I’m a music expert by any sense. I’ve never taken any music classes of any sort, nor do I understand esoteric terms in the field like “synth” or “vocals.” That being said, I did play alto saxophone in elementary school, so I do have a strong background in jazz.
So, like every other overconfident, slightly deluded young man, I will take a stab at something I have no experience nor knowledge in, and expect people to attribute merit to it anyway.
When I reflect on this past decade in music, two albums reign supreme over all others.
Kanye West’s 2010 masterpiece, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is the first and foremost. After abrasively interrupting Taylor Swift onstage during the 2009 VMAs — prompting then-President Obama to call him a “jack*ss” — Kanye was exiled to Hawaii by the only person capable of taming the callous man: himself.
It was there that he and a super team of rap legends and budding stars alike collaborated on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Nicki Minaj made her primetime debut with a fiery verse on “Monster,” and established legend Jay-Z, who instigated the start of Kanye's career by hiring him as a producer, also drops a possessed verse on the same track.
That being said, Kanye is the driving force behind this work. The album’s best tracks, “Gorgeous,” “Power” and “Runaway,” are all driven by Kanye's distinctive tone.
Released in 2010, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” accordingly set the tone for a decade of brilliant rap.
Kanye declined both in mental and musical capabilities after “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” pumping out two more quality albums in “Yeezus” (evidently, a humble man) and “The Life of Pablo.” Kanye hasn’t released an album of, you know, actual music since, opting for garbling sounds and incoherent ramblings instead.
Luckily for hip-hop enthusiasts, Kendrick Lamar took the torch from Kanye just in time, preventing a vacuum of über-talented artists in the field. As with all rap albums since, Lamar's iconic debut, “Good kid, M.A.A.D City” takes inspiration from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
That being said, “Good kid, M.A.A.D City” is not one of the two albums that impose themselves in the collective consciousness of this decade. That title would go to Lamar’s second album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
“To Pimp a Butterfly” is an intersection of Lamar’s depression, self-hate, regret, life in Compton and broader issues facing the Black community, and it works perfectly. Like all of his major-studio albums — which are all of the highest tier — Lamar raps through different perspectives using different tones and tells a compelling narrative throughout, culminating in a slight self-indulgent fake interview with fellow West Coast legend Tupac.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” is a much more collaborative effort than “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” as Lamar does not produce his own work. Rather, a team led by headphone connoisseur and slightly-noted rapper Dr. Dre produced the album.
That established, Lamar’s lyricism more than makes up for the lack of work he puts into producing. Every verse Lamar writes trumps essentially everybody else’s work.
Still, while both these albums explore the issue of racism, the way they were treated at award shows display that it is still alive and well.
Despite being clearly superior, Kanye’s masterwork failed to garner even a nomination for Album of The Year, while Adele’s “21” took it home. This is not to trash Adele at all. It was a great album, and she has an unparalleled singing voice, but it is still absurd that Kanye's album was metaphorically segregated to the Best Rap Album category.
Far more absurd was the snubbing of “To Pimp a Butterfly." While Lamar’s work did get nominated in the Best Rab Album category, he lost out to Swift’s “1989."
Swift’s masterful pen is shown here: “Take me home / Just take me home / Yeah just take me home, oh / You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye.”
While I didn’t want to detract from Adele, I have absolutely no problem doing so with Swift. Her album was absolutely nothing compared to “To Pimp a Butterfly.” “To Pimp a Butterfly” will be and already is a lasting influence on music and politics, while “1989” will be forgotten just as quickly as Swift.
It’s almost as if 12-year-old girls are deciding the Grammys. But the reality is, it’s just a bunch of old, archaically minded fools. They’ll be gone soon enough, and maybe then the ideals of Kanye and Lamar will be realized.
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