Pitchfork, the most trusted voice in music – their words not mine – recently published an article listing the ‘Best 200 Albums of the 2010s’. List articles work for obvious click-bait reasons, but considering it’s the end of a decade it’s probably a good time to do an article like this. It sure had me clickin’. Though I’ll usually click on any major Pitchfork headline since the credibility of music powerhouse Rolling Stone has gone down the gurgler in recent years. 200 albums is a list for someone with too much time on their hands, or an article written by someone trying to impress their editor. In any case, I skipped to the top ten, and only really paid any attention to their number one pick. Pitchfork awarded the number one album of the past ten years to Frank Ocean’s Blonde. A questionable pick if I had ever seen one.
I never fully understood the Frank Ocean hype. I like his music, I listened to Blonde but I enjoyed his first album Channel Orange much more. But as a number one pick of the 2010s? Surely the most trusted voice in music could have come up with a better pick than that. Blonde came out in 2016, just after the mid-way point of the decade, and amongst political turmoil in the United States that has really defined majority of the past ten years – even though it only started within the last four. The story behind Blonde is much more interesting than the album itself – how Ocean was stuck in a contract with some major label and released a bullshit record so he could be rid of the deal, then made Blonde. That’s a basic explanation, just Google it.
Pitchfork’s minimal justification for their number one pick explains, “The year 2016 crystallized the political disaster right under the surface. People theorized that we needed anthems to get us through the dark night. Big choruses, hooks as wide as highway signs, regular percussion that could gird us from chaos. But our mood was languorous; jingoism was the problem in the first place. We wanted the blurred, the softened, the existential. “Inhale, in hell, there’s heaven,” Ocean sings on “Solo,” capturing the whiplash experience of being young in this country in one line. Blonde is one synonym for American.”
I’m sure keyboard warriors would argue with me saying that “Blonde did things for music that no other album did.” Yeah righto mate, thanks for that blanket excuse. But the internet warrior has a good point, shouldn’t the best album of the decade do something? Shouldn’t the best album kickstart a trend, or rather bookend one? That’s how I’d go about picking something as illustrious as this. And it got me thinking.
Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should be the number one album of the 2010s. And in Pitchfork’s defence, they did have it at number two. For all those who’ve been around long enough, you’d know my views on Kanye West, particularly his 2010 album in which I recorded an AFTER THE HYPE video on last year. I said it was worth the hype, after years of rejecting the album due to what I now call Kanyeitis (too much Kanye West in a short period of time). I’ll reiterate what I praised in my video though. West’s production style was unlike anything else at the time. One moment heartbreaking, the next extravagant and lavish. He complimented his feature artists like no other producer, and paved the way for how to treat a feature artist on a track. The album is cinematic, equal parts personal and entertaining from the opening track Dark Fantasy to closer Who Will Survive in America. It elevated the pop commercialism of rap whilst pushing both hip-hop and production techniques into the next decade, to the point where it’s still rarely matched. Even by Kanye himself. It’s an audacious record which finally showcased the meticulous methods of Kanye West, elevating himself beyond celebrity in the 2010s.
And while we are on the topic of West, I’d even take an argument for his 2013 album Yeezus, an album I have also rejected since its inception. Yeezus isn’t my favourite Kanye album, though it does have one of my personal favourite tunes on it: New Slaves, which I have only just discovered in 2019. I did not like Black Skinhead on release, or the self-proclamatory song I Am A God. Kanye’s attitude on Yeezus certainly rubbed me the wrong way, though six years after its release I can see the positive affect it had on the hip-hop world. Yeezus’ production style popularised, and commercialised, the abrasive and aggressive production style that we now consider ‘radio friendly’. Look at the likes of Denzel Curry’s 2018 album Taboo, or Tyler the Creator’s Cherry Bomb, Injury Reserve’s discography, even the rise of JPEGMAFIA’s commercialism, would not be as successful if it was not for Yeezus driving through the popular-psyche with its abstract, aggressive, punchy production. That may be a stretch for some, hell it was even a stretch for me when I thought about it. I’d take an argument for Yeezus paving the way for the hip-hop that still exists as we close the decade. Fuck you Kanye for making me reference you twice in one article.
But then there’s Kendrick Lamar’s love-letter to hip-hop, his 2016 album To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s my favourite hip-hop album of all time, and a bookend on a generation of G-Funk, gangster, jazz and underground rap. Kendrick fuses styles from both east and west coast rap, showcasing a transformation for not only himself, but the hip-hop genre. The technique in skill, production and arrangements on TPAB have not been matched this decade, as it’s stylistically different to anything Kanye West could release. If this album came out in 2010, then I think my choice for number one would be different, but I don’t think we’ve seen the repercussions of this album in the zeitgeist yet. As for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, we’ve seen an evolution of not only hip-hop, but popular music, thanks to that album. In fairness, there are no other substitutes for the number one position.
I can’t really stick it to Pitchfork, they did have MBDTF at number two. But I just can’t get behind their choice in Blonde. But persuade me. I’ll listen to your argument, even if it may be incorrect.
Now since we’re here, I’ll list off a handful of what I believe to be the best albums of the decade. Maybe I’ll write more on this subject. This article was really just an excuse to get my thoughts down on paper.
Note: these aren’t in order.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Wide Awake – Parquet Courts
To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
Blackstar – David Bowie
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest
Djarimirri – Gurrumul
1989 – Taylor Swift
Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Lonerism – Tame Impala
Igor – Tyler, The Creator
Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest