The 2010’s are almost over?!? What a decade for music…right? I think? I’m not sure music itself has gotten any better or worse. Pop music is terrible and popular rock music hardly has a pulse anymore (save us, Greta Van Fleet!). I continue to say music is better than it’s ever been, you just have to look harder to find it. There’s something out there for everyone but it’s not spoon fed to us on the local radio station or MTV like it was back in the day. Your favorite artist might be out there on SoundCloud or BandCamp and you might have to work to find them. The way I listen to music has somehow progressed and regressed in the past 9.58 years. Streaming services allow us to bring the entire history of recorded music along in our pockets everywhere we go for a surprisingly affordable monthly fee. What a wonderful world! It’s also a soulless form of consumption that leaves us with nothing physical to show for it. Thus the Ikea Kallax standing 7′ wide by 7′ tall covering the west wall of my “dining room” filled with over 500 vinyl records, a medium that started early in the 20th century and peaked in popularity 40 years ago.
Many of my favorite artists of the previous decade either slowed their output (The Roots), stopped making music completely (Mos Def/Yaasin Bey), or just didn’t make anything I liked enough to crack the list in the 2010’s…sorry, Common and Talib. I still love you guys. Not to say I didn’t enjoy their music…I just didn’t enough to put them on this list. On the other hand, a few of my favorites appeared out of nowhere this decade after long hiatuses and dropped albums that exceeded all hopes and expectations. I’m speaking of D’Angelo, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. Mostly, though, my music listening this decade was dominated by new artists: Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino, Janelle Monae, Tame Impala, Jose James, Hiatus Kaiyote, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples, and others.
And a lot of jazz.
And Prince. Mostly Prince, actually.
It would reveal my age if I said that my favorite albums of the 2010’s were a bunch of Prince albums from the 80’s and Idle Moments by Grant Green. In fact, you might actually guess something much older than I actually am, so I won’t say that. I’m going to celebrate the 2010’s by writing about my favorite 19 albums that were actually released during the decade. Why 19? I don’t know. Because it’s 2019? Because it’s easier than 20? Because it feels like a better gimmick? Just go with it. It’s an excuse to write about albums that I love. If I actually complete 19 of these, it’ll be a miracle. I’m guessing I’ll burn out on it around #16 and you’ll have to finish life never knowing what my top 15 albums of the decade were. Look at the bright side: you’ll know more than you ever wanted about 17, 18, and 19.
It’s only July. What if something amazing comes out in the final five months of 2019? Nothing is going to happen in the next 150 days to change this list. Even if sometime life-altering like another D’Angelo album or a NxWorries follow-up magically appear tomorrow I just won’t have enough time to consider them one of the best albums of the decade. It takes time to properly appreciate a great album. More than five months, anyway.
Before I get in to the list I’m going to pay quick respect to five albums that just missed the cut.
DAMN – Kendrick Lamar
Get ready for the old man to come out of me: I don’t like the hip hop nowadays. What even is hip hop anymore? Look at the list of “Hot Tracks” on Apple Music. Aside from the occasional appearance from one of the last remaining pop stars – Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, somebody named Billie Eilish, etc. – it’s a bunch of mumble rap, autotune, call and response, forgettable crap that all sounds the same. Can we all stop acting like Post Malone is good? He’s a practical joke, right. I know…get off my lawn, blah, blah, blah. As the GOAT, Black Though, once said, “To MC requires skills, I demand some shown.” Enter Kung Fu Kenny. The anomaly. The rare MC who combines skill, popularity, street cred, and critical acclaim. DAMN is so good I almost find it hard to listen to, if that makes any sense. It’s like eating your hip hop vegetables. I was having a conversation with my cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) Colin a while back and we agreed. Kendrick Lamar’s music is like Oscar winning movies. His albums are great, but sometimes (most of the time) I’d rather watch Anchorman than Moonlight. Does that make sense? I’m not sophisticated enough to truly love his music, I guess.
Art Official Age – Prince
You’re probably thinking, “There he goes again mentioning Prince.” You’re right, but here’s the thing: I really love this record. Released in 2014, Art Official Age was the soul/R&B/funk sister to his band 3rdEyeGirl’s hard rocking PlectrumElectrum which was released on the same day. The highlight was an ode to morning sex called “Breakfast Can Wait” which was somehow a sexy slow jam and banger simultaneously. Amazing that he was creating at this level at the age of 56. I still miss him.
Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
I saw Vince Staples perform “Lemme Know” with Jhene Aiko on Jimmy Fallon and immediately said, “Who TF is that?” To be honest, I think Aiko steals the show on this sexy track, but he got my attention. Vince Staples is proof that you can push hip hop to new places and still possess world class lyrical skill. The music feels modern but his rapping feels like 1999, and I mean that as a compliment.
Here are two more albums that didn’t make the cut simply because they’re too new and I don’t want recency bias to be the reason why they made the list.
Originals – Prince
I’ve got a separate post coming about this album another time. Not sure if it should count as a 2019 album since most of this was recorded in the early-80’s. Just recognize that if Prince released this album in 1983 it would’ve been yet another classic in the middle of an already legendary run. Instead he just gave this music to other artists.
Ventura – Anderson .Paak
I’m certain time will place this album safely in my top 20 albums of this decade, but it’s too early. Paak will be well represented on this list later anyway, so Ventura can wait its turn.
Enough with the albums that missed the cut. Let’s get to the list. My #19 album of the decade:
New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh – Erykah Badu
This album was three months away from not qualifying for this list. Released on March 30, 2010. When I was doing my research for this list I couldn’t believe New Amerykah Pt. 2 was released during this decade. It feels like I’ve been listening to it for 20 years.
Erykah Badu is one of my favorite artists. Always evolving and innovating. Never doing what you expect. After the massive success and popularity of her debut album, Baduizm, in 1997 one might have expected her to capitalize immediately on it. She had a good gimmick going as the neo-soul girl with the headwraps and unique style. Basically, she could’ve taken that opportunity to go pop. Nope.
2000’s brilliant Mama’s Gun was proof that she was going to create her own brand of soul music instead of following what was popular. 2003’s Worldwide Underground is a jam band trip. Songs blend together as if the album was one 51-minute track. 2008’s New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War) gets dark. Every one of those albums has one thing in common and as corny as it might sound, I can only think of one word to describe it: They’re cool. Erykah has her own vibe. Her music has an atmosphere and feel that’s unique to her. She’s her own genre. Like so many of my favorite musicians, she has a tendency to vanish for years, but when she reappears with new music you know it’s going to be cool and it’s definitely going to be damn good. She never disappoints.
When New Amerykah Pt. 2 dropped in 2010, I had no idea what to expect. An album full of electric guitar and arena rock wasn’t out of the question. What we got instead was a beautiful hour of music that somehow blended the best of everything she’d done up to that point. The perfect album to spin when you just want to dim the lights, sip a drink, and unwind…like I am right now typing with a Tanqueray and OJ by my side like it’s a house party in 1996. When I started collecting vinyl early this decade my intention was only to purchase a few of my favorite albums – maybe 20 – just so I could own them. This album was on that original list. Still the perfect album to own on vinyl because it’s an amazing listen from start to finish. Not a weak moment.
Part of my Top 19 gimmick is going to be a list of awards for each album, so let’s get in to them for New Amerykah, Pt. 2.
This is a difficult award to start with on this album. There are so many songs I love here and the right choice might depend on the mood. My choice would be different driving down the road with my windows down on a summer day than it would if I’m lying on my couch in the dark listening to vinyl. I’m going to have to go with Window Seat. A stunning track about the contradiction that comes from wanting to just get the hell away and be left alone sometimes but also acknowledging that you love someone and need them around. James Poyser produced and played keys. Questlove on the drums. Thundercat on bass. Badu on vocals. That’s an all-star team right there.
The easy choice would be the entire track “You Loving Me (Session)” because it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Instead I’m going to choose the first verse on the album from 20 Feet Tall.
My love what did I do to make you fall so far from me?
And now, I can’t recall cause of the fall selective memory
Then you, you built a wall, a 20 foot wall so I couldn’t see
But if I get off my knees I might recall I’m 20 feet tall
I shouldn’t even attempt a “Favorite Lyric” award because I might expose myself as simple. A songwriter as good as Erykah Badu could write something and mean one thing and I will likely misinterpret it as something completely different. Maybe that’s what makes it good songwriting. It allows the listener to interpret it in his or her own way regardless of the writer’s intent. So, at the risk of sounding like a fool, I interpret this verse as a declaration of self-worth. Regardless of the meaning, I’m constantly in awe of quality songwriting. How does one take whatever she must’ve been feeling at the time she wrote this song and turn it in to something so poetic?
Also, don’t worry. I won’t attempt to get this deep with every album. When I get to the (spoiler alert!) NxWorries album and analyze the lyrics to “Suede” it’ll be a lot lighter.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
Is “Window Seat” a chill song? Yes, but it’s been mentioned. The winner of this one is Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long. Erykah has a history of writing songs about life as a woman in love with a hustler. She started this with “Other Side of the Game” on Baduizm and continued on other albums. This track is another chapter in the story. I know you’ve gotta get your hustle on. I’ll miss you while you’re gone. I’ve heard it before, but it works on this track. The part that makes this my favorite is the background “ooh” vocals that take the place of instruments and float over the drums throughout the entire song. Another in a long line of Badu tracks with a cool, unique vibe.
Favorite Hype Song
There is not a winner on this album, and that’s not a bad thing. This album is way too chill to have a hype song on it. If there is one, it’s Jump Up in the Air and Stay There, but that song feels like a single that got tacked on at the end of the digital version because it’s not even on the vinyl.
Favorite Happy Song
Easy choise: Turn Me Away (Get Munny). The beat is funky and infectious as hell the lyrics are clever. Makes me smile and nod my head every time I hear it.
Best Supporting Actor
This award goes to anyone involved in the album I’d like to recognize. On New Amerykah Pt. 2 that person is James Poyser. If that name sounds familiar to you it might be because he’s likely best known as the guy who plays piano and attempts to keep a straight face every week while Jimmy Fallon writes his thank you notes on the Tonight Show. What people should not realize is that Poyser is a badass musician. He’s been collaborating with Badu for years and his contributions on piano/keyboards are all over this album. Don’t sleep on James Poyser just because he can’t keep a straight face during Thank You Notes.
Just some closing thoughts on Erykah Badu and this album. Erykah is my favorite female vocalist. Easily. It’s not even close. It’s not that I necessarily think she has the best voice. She has a one-of-a-kind voice and crazy range, but it’s not necessarily the best voice in the traditional Whitney Houston mold. She makes music that I love every single time. I wish she was a bit more prolific. This was her last proper album (she did have the amazing But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape in 2015) and it’s nearing 10 years old. I’d love to hear more from her, but you can’t rush greatness. Everyone isn’t Prince cranking out a new record every year for 40 years. Prince is the exception. I much prefer someone who takes their time and makes something great over someone who would accept mediocrity in the name of a paycheck. Erykah Badu has only given us five studio albums in 23 years, but I love all of them. She also marches to the beat of her own drummer no matter what and even if you don’t like it you have to respect it. Like I said, after the Grammys in 1997 she could’ve rushed out an album full of pop radio hits. That’s not what she wanted. Because of it I think she’s viewed as a bit of a flash in the pan or one hit wonder by people who stopped following her around 1999. She’s always done it her way and I love her for it.
That’s it. I had to go back to the beginning of the decade to get my list started. I don’t have a timeline for this, so I can’t promise when you’ll see #18. It might be tomorrow. It might be September. Knowing me, maybe never! My MacBook monitor is flaking out on me. I’ve got colorful lines flickering vertically and horizontally. Not great. I just got an outrageous quote to get it fixed. That alone could squash this list before it even gets started. Even if I never get to it, I’ll give you a hint about the next album anyway: It came out AFTER March of 2010. That should help. Also, the artist is considered by many to be a monarch. And the album is named after a beverage that he or she may have made when life handed him or her lemons. You’ll never guess!