So we have the last disclaimer in UGF's wrap up from me, Dimxsk! So picking my favorite albums of the decade was not easy, and I've found that familiarity really plays a role so most of these are from the earlier half of the past ten years. They are albums that I keep returning to in a world where you can easily listen to a great album that's new to you every day for years. The albums I pick tend to be melodic, folk influenced with the ability to really draw the listener into the world the artists behind the works are trying to cultivate. There are several concept albums and some real unusual works on this list. I had a lot of trouble ordering the list as well, so you can basically look at it as either top 5 or top 10 albums, with the upper and lower rankings virtually equal. Oh and a lot of you will probably not agree with it, feel free to share yours below! With that here are my favorite albums of the decade, and Merry Christmas / happy holidays / Happy New Year to all of you.
1. The One Man Band Broke Up by Ceschi:
I find that when it comes to Ceschi there's a split between fans who prefer his work with Factor, or his work with DJ Scientist. With only two tracks of the alleged second full length album with Scientist ever released (as Ceschi & The Raincoatman) there's no way to be sure if they could've repeated what they did with The One Man Band Broke Up. But I have to say as much as I love the Factor produced gems that came later, I find myself returning to the darker world of One Man Band more often, and I find it more compelling in a lot of ways. Not only does it feature some incredible and cinematic production ("Half Mast", "Long Live the Short Lived", "Bad Jokes") from DJ Scientist but it fits the amazing and so often dark songwriting and rapping from Ceschi. Not to mention he's managed to tie it all together in a loose storyline that became an almost visual narrative for me upon my first listen to it all the way through. My favorite aspect of the album however is the amazing folk material and interludes that really make Ceschi the musician that he is (the sweeping piano and unexpected banjo / whistling work he does on "Lament for Captain Julius" alone is worth the price of the whole album), and I absolutely love the classic rock influenced closing track "Julius' Final Song" (when he begins rapping out of nowhere at the bridge it's as effective as a David Gilmore solo for me). Nothing Ceschi's done before or since has been bad, but I feel like the soul and story of One Man Band is something that will always stand alone. That's why this album is my favorite of the decade, and why I have to keep putting Ceschi at the top of my lists. He's the best.
2. Vessel by Dark time Sunshine:
I'll keep this brief because I think I've alluded to this album now four times this month. I've mentioned before that Vessel came out around a time of great difficulty for me. I've listened to it countless times and I find that it offers both an escape from hardship and a rallying cry to face hardship head on. Onry's lyrics are often so strange on the surface, but like a dream they capture the most human elements, often simply in tone over actual words. Zavala's production takes them to a new level here, and while ANX was by no means a shabby album, Vessel holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to the duo and showing me just how awesome Onry can be.
3. The Volume in the Ground by Adeem:
Adeem is an undeniably talented lyricist, but I often don't find his work as fascinating when it's straight up indie rap. While he's got a good voice and his poetry can be dope, until this album I'd heard nothing that really set him apart for me as a recording artist. Volume in the Ground introduced me to something different, he blends elements of folk, blues, gospel and rap (who knew he could play guitar), along with a depression era concept to create a captivating album with some real bangers ("Mean & Evil") as well as great melodic songs ("Gone Gone", the fiddle at the bridge is gorgeous). I love every track on this album, and I often recommend it to people who claim they don't like rap. They often still don't like rap afterwards but at least then I know they come by that opinion honestly.
4. Lawson Graham by Factor:
I feel like it was around this period in his work that Factor really began to cultivate his own unique sound. Following up Chandelier, which was amazing, was no mean feat and enlisting the help of live musicians and some amazing vocal talent really elevated his work to a new level. Not only does Lawson Graham contain some of my favorite tracks by some of my favorite artists (Gregory Pepper, Barfly, Pigeon John, Radical Face) it also introduces the world to the duo forever after known as Common Grackle. Very dope and very creative work with amazing tracks from beginning to end.
5. Tapwater by Swordplay & Pierre the Motionless:
I'm not sure how I wound up getting this album, but I was so glad I did. From the very beginning it was so radically different from anything I'd heard before that I found myself hitting repeat over and over just to wrap my mind around what I was hearing ("When the Hurricane Comes" with it's angsty singable chorus and "400 Years of a Most Murderous Thirst" which makes the sound of someone sucking the last vestiges of liquid in a cup through a straw one of the most creative uses of sounds I've heard in a while; not to mention with Ancient Mith, Ceschi, James P. Honey, Filkoe and Reindeer it's the best weirdo posse cut I've ever heard). Not only does Swordplay have an amazing singing voice and poetic style, but Pierre the Motionless' production makes use of beautiful melodies and insanely creative percussion (his band's debut album is worth a look btw). This album introduced me to everything that is Isaac Ramsey and his second solo full length out this year as Swordplay was amazing as well. Highly recommended for fans of everything from rap to punk rock. And it looks like he just released a free EP through Fake Four's Freecember campaign, check it out here!
6. Good Bye by Wolf Hotel:
Another of those albums I've mentioned a few times in my decade wrap up posts, Good Bye is the best EP you've never had a chance to hear, as it was only sold at some shows in Seattle I believe for a limited time. It's on SoundCloud for streaming now however, and you're depriving yourself of an experience if you don't check it out. Barfly's weathered voice, signature weirdo delivery, and intelligent storytelling have never sounded better than over Graves 33's folk influenced production. Short but sweet at 4 songs and an intro, I don't believe I've ever heard a hip hop EP that had such a lasting impact on me.
7. Saturday Night by Friday Night:
I can't even begin to express how much I like this album. Fantastic electronic production ("Jaqui". That's all I gotta say.), an engaging storyline and concept, and two emcee's with a depth of weirdness and creativity rarely heard these days (Serengeti and Hi-Fidel) make for an album that flows like an indie film, as the antics of Umar and David lead them from unlikely adventure to even more unlikely adventure. Like a really weird but weirdly pleasant dream, I feel like some of Serengeti's best work was with this collaboration (partly because whenever I started to get tired of his vocals Hi-Fidel changed it up for me) and their eponymous debut Friday Night was worth a listen as well, although I didn't get into the concept quite as much.
8. Parts of Speech by Dessa:
I wanted to include Dessa on this list, but like trying to find a single song to sum her up I couldn't really pick which album deserved a spot. Finally I chose Parts of Speech, her second full length because I feel like this was the album that established Dessa as the "rapper for grown ups" that she is. Absolutely beautiful songwriting, she also departs a bit from her mostly rap roots to put together some stirring singer songwriter material such as "Sound the Bells", and one awesome Springsteen cover "Going Down" which gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. Dessa is the best Doomtree artist hands down, and this album really shows what makes her special.
9. Owl by Qwel & Maker:
This album belongs on here for the touring musicians anthem "El Camino" alone (damn I wish I'd thought of that song last week), but the duo of Qwel & Maker have always given us great material, and Owl is just one such collection. Maker is an amazing producer (just listen to the scratching he does at the end of the title track) and Qwel is one of the most listenable nerds and poets I've heard. He can be rapping about anything from the horrors of alcoholism to gnostic Christianity and it's always hip hop and always dope. If you like rap I feel like you'll like this album. "Gin River" actually makes me tear up sometimes, I've known a few people just like that girl...
10. Blood Bone Piano by Otem Rellik:
And finally, one of the more underappreciated producers and songwriters of the decade, we have Otem Rellik's masterpiece Blood Bone Piano. One of the things I love about the indie scene is that we get to hear the earliest recordings of some of these musicians (whereas major label bands, you usually don't get easy access to those garage day works), and in Rellik's case we can see just how much he's grown as an artist. Blood Bone Piano has some of his best songs to date featured on it, and he's really perfected his brand of circuit bending folk rap to create tunes with real accessibility and emotional depth. Quirky, moving and beautiful, the title track is absolutely fantastic and would do fine on the radio if it wouldn't be immediately killed for not having the right endorsements. But enough of that...
Get Dimxsk's favorite album of the decade, The One Man Band Broke Up right here! And now...
This decade was the best decade for rap music yet. When you use the term "greatest" I suppose you should factor in general success, appeal, and influence. When using anything else though (e.g. "Top," or "Best" or "Favorite") I think it really just comes down to the person making the list. As such, my list is based on what I liked the best this decade.
9. Gunwings by Sapient: Gunwings is the sole remix project on the list. Sape takes his 2010 "Barrels For Feathers" and upgrades nearly every one of those tracks with a severely improved instrumental. Even better, he adds in some additional verses for more improvements - most notable of which are Josh Martinez' verse on "Beauty In The Filth Redux" and Sape's ode to his newborn on "Stronger Redux." A rare remix project that makes the original (which was great on its own) really unnecessary.
8. Sad, Fat Luck by Ceschi: "Sad, Fat Luck" is merely 9 months old, but it already breaks into the Top 10. If "Broken Bone Ballads" is a tear-me-apart album, this one is a build-me-back-up album, and a fitting start to the 'farewell Ceschi' trilogy. There's still societal and political despair tones throughout the project, but Cesch has a way of making sure that triumphant optimism via solidarity shines through nearly every one of these grand tracks.
7. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West: Definitely the most cinematic album on the list and arguably the most impactful rap album of the decade. Everything about Kanye - rhymes, production, song writing - is at its peak here and he really puts you through the wringer in terms of sound experience, in all the right ways. And it's not just about Kanye, the guy gives Pusha T, Nicki Minaj, and even Fergie some of the biggest verses of their careers!
6. King Snake by Nocando: "King Snake" is what earned Nocando my top rapper of the decade. Coming off of the amazing career defining "Severed," Nocan once again channels that sense angst and moodiness, but gears it towards more lowkey dark pop tracks that shine just as much in terms of hooks as they do in terms of verses. This decade absolutely put to rest this weird idea that battle rappers can't make good music.
5. Fast Times At Trillmont High by Toussaint Morrison: Everything is a concept album these days, but when it comes to actual concept albums - this is the best of the decade by far. A new teacher arrives at Trillmont high and quickly learns the ins-and-outs of the meanings of life through the lens of high school. The soundtrack is Toussaint rapping very very well over pumped up versions of yesterdecade's biggest pop radio hits. Pretty much everything I'm looking for in "conscious" rap.
4. Welcome To Success by Paranoid Castle: Kirby Dominant and Factor may very well be my favorite rapper/producer combo. Factor always manages to capture Kirby's great comical depression raps perfectly and Kirby always makes the most of the god Factor's production. The duo's debut, "One Way Ticket" tracked the grey quest for prosperity. The sophomore release, "Champagne Nightmares" tracked the living of the high life. It was fitting then that the trilogy's end laid out what happens when the champagne and parties start to grow old. And the duo sure go out with a bang! Factor's retro production is a highlight in his amazing 2010s catalogue, and Kirby's smile til you cry rhymes have never been better.
3. Goodbye & Good Riddance by Juice WRLD: The best and most defining emo trap album likely ever. Juice was a young black kid from Chicago who combined a midwest rap work ethic with pop/punk-esque melodies and turned making internet music on his own into a career. I love this album for its simplicity and focus, but also for its subtle use of "technical" aspects (certain multi-schemes and punches) that only us indie heads could appreciate.
2. Slump by Sapient: Sapient is one of the best rappers ever. One of the best producers too. And "Slump" sounds like the project he was always destined to ascend to. Maybe you have to live in the PacNW to fully appreciate things, but the album paints me a picture of surviving in some rainy muddy post-apocalyptic forest and coping with things via some post-ironic sense of humor. The syrupy boom bap, the sweet keys, and the crooning that may as well be rapping earn this the spot of almost best album of the decade.
1. 10 Haters by Flash Bang Grenada: You may remember some pop culture rap duos from 2011. There was that horrible Jay-Z and Kanye album. That forgettable Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka project (I listened but couldn't tell you a thing about it.) You may even remember that weird movie thing Snoop and Wiz Khalifa did. The duo that actually delivered, and moreso than any act (duo or not) throughout the decade, however, was Flash Bang Grenada. Flash Bang was really like lightning in a bottle. Take one of the best and most celebrated underground rappers ever in Busdriver and pair him up with the constantly bubbling battle rapper/Low End resident/Hellfyre Club founder/soon-to-be Cosmic Zoo founder Nocando. Then collect 10 instrumentals from some of the biggest beat scene producers and just let the two guys rap and have fun - the result is all killer. The song concepts are clever and lasting. The bars are hilarious. The schemes and deliveries, coming from the Blowed, are of course the best you'll ever find. The hooks are infectious as is the production. Everything about the album is what I love about rap music. Like all good things, however, Flash Bang wasn't destined to last (the follow-up song they did on the "Dorner v. Tookie" mixtape was far from what it should have been and the relationship of course eventually fell apart.) We'll always have 2011 tho. We'll always have "10 Haters."
[Note: I'm doing a Top 25 Projects of the Decade list over on my RYM page which will drop at some point. Check there for more picks including projects from Open Mike Eagle, Nicki Minaj, Jellyfish Brigade, Myka 9, and more.] - Trylemma
Get Trylemma's favorite album of the decade, 10 Haters on iTunes or Amazon today!
Thanks for taking the time to follow us on this reflective journey. Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, and we hope you keep tuning in for rarities and more from UGF.