Since I’m writing about my 19 favorite albums of the 2010s, I always intended to share a list of my favorite songs of the decade as well. It seems odd to do this over a year removed from it, but I like it this way. The extra year gave me more time to absorb the music from later in the decade and get a perspective similar to the earlier stuff.
I just started throwing my favorite songs in to a playlist and ended up with exactly 30 songs when I was done. That seems like a nice round number to end on. I tried to keep it to one song per artist, but then it occurred to me that I spent more time listening to artists like Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino, and Janelle Monae than others. So, a few artists appear more than once on the list if they created music throughout the decade that stuck with me. The number of appearances on the list reflects the amount of time I spent listening to them…except for Prince. I listened to A LOT of Prince in the 2010s, but most of it was from decades earlier.
No further introduction necessary. Let’s get to the mixtape:
Let It Happen – Tame Impala
Difficult for me to pick a Tame Impala song. I listened to him/them steadily throughout the second half of the decade. I chose this because it’s the song I listened to most from the Tame Impala album I listened to most. The second half of this track in particular is an example of how Kevin Parker was creating sonic landscapes unlike anyone else in the 2010s. I chose this song to lead off the mixtape for two reasons: 1. It’s the first track on the album Currents, and it just feels like it should be a first track, if that makes sense. 2. This song doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the mixtape. I struggle to find any other place to make it fit in other than just letting it go first.
Heart Don’t Stand a Chance – Anderson .Paak
Nearly impossible for me to choose one song to represent my favorite artist of the decade. I don’t know why I keep coming back to this track, but I do. A perfect representation of .Paak’s music. Fun, funky, breezy, heartfelt, creative, hip hop, R&B…everything Anderson .Paak is. Plus a great line about Hall & Oates. While you’re here, check out .Paak and Free Nationals perform a chill version during their legendary NPR Tiny Desk concert. Don’t worry, you haven’t seen the last of Anderson .Paak on this mixtape.
Penthouse Floor – John Legend feat. Chance the Rapper
Who knew a song about social justice disguised as a love song could be this good? John Legend isn’t really celebrated for his uptempo stuff, but this track fits him perfectly. Legend’s voice is so special that I would listen to him sing basically anything, but that bass line is what really ropes me in on this track. John Legend + a dope bass line + a verse highlighting Chance the Rapper’s signature flow = a smooth masterpiece and one of my favorite songs of the decade.
Please Me – Cardi B & Bruno Mars
I loved early-90’s R&B and this track starts a brief run of throwback tracks on this mixtape. I don’t worship at the altar of Cardi B like most seem to, but I still respect what she’s doing. I think she’s a terrible rapper, but she has done a fantastic job of sparking outrage among the easily offended “what happened to our morals?” crowd the same way 2 Live Crew did 30 years ago. Speaking of morals, I wanna see the Venn diagram of people who think Cardi B is the downfall of society and people who voted for Trump just for fun. Anyway, she does a rock solid SWV impression on this track next to Bruno Mars and his flawless voice. I wish these two would make an entire album together because I love both of the tracks they’ve released so far. This would’ve been my favorite song in high school.
Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe feat. Solange
Janelle Monáe had so many songs that I obsessed over in the 2010’s it was difficult to choose. Ultimately I chose “Electric Lady” because songs like this make me wish we had more parties like we did in college. Drop the needle on this track and hit the dance floor. This song is just fun and infectious like a 2010’s version of Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.” I want to be at the party in this video. Also, what does Solange do on this song? I’ve been listening for five years and still haven’t figured it out.
Light Flex – Tone Stith feat. 2 Chainz
You can’t go wrong with the breakbeat from Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It).” That beat is undefeated. It’s been sampled over 2,800 times according to whosampled.com. It carried late-80’s/early-90’s hip hop as much as anything James Brown did. It worked for Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock and Kid N Play, among others. Tone Stith brought that beat back again for this throwback R&B dance party jam that was featured in Uncle Drew. I dug Uncle Drew, and my son and I have watched that dance competition scene with Shaq, Kyrie, Reggie, and CWebb at least 25 times. A perfect R&B party track.
Chunky – Bruno Mars
I guess what goes around comes around because it seems like everyone has been feeling nostalgic for the 1990’s for a few years now. I thought I was done with New Jack Swing, then Bruno Mars showed up with 24K Magic and I was re-living junior high and high school all over again. More than any other track on that album “Chunky” makes my heart hurt missing the good old days.
Gidget – Free Nationals feat. Anderson .Paak and T. Nava
When I heard Free Nationals were releasing an album without Anderson .Paak I was skeptical. I was wrong. Over a year later their album is still in heavy rotation. Still, my favorite song reunites them with .Paak. As dope as .Paak is, the highlight of the song is T. Nava’s Zapp-esque vocorder performance. Paak appearance #2 on this list.
Wild For The Night – A$AP Rocky feat. Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam
To be honest, “PMW” is my favorite A$AP Rocky song, but I had to put this on the mixtape instead because it has a participant named Birdy Nam Nam. This song is on the theoretical soundtrack to our yet-to-be-made short film Devil’s Pie. I’ve told the story many times on this blog so I don’t feel the need to bring up old shit again, but one day Andy, Tyson, and I will finally make that movie and “Wild For The Night” is the centerpiece.
The OtherSide – The Roots feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn
What a decade for The Roots. They’re a household name now shining every night on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. Questlove is everyone’s favorite drummer, foodie, and human music encyclopedia. Black Thought is now deservedly widely regarded as the GOAT MC. As a long time fan of the group, the only drawback to The Roots’ new schedule is that their own musical output has slowed a bit. They still released some signature Roots hip hop in the 2010’s, my favorite of which is “The OtherSide,” a banger with an unforgettable beat, catchy piano loop, and Black Thought doing what he does best.
Waves – Joey Bada$$
Man, the first time I heard Joey Bada$$ I thought it was something from a lost Rawkus Records Soundbombing album. The precocious 17-year-old led off his legendary 1999 mixtape with “Waves”, a song unmistakably inspired by fellow Brooklyn underground legends Mos Def and Talib Kweli, among others. Find me another 17YO who could spit lyrics like…
No disrespect to Bob Mar but, yeah, another stoner
Marijuana my odor and when I get older
Hope my spermatozoa from my scrotum intercepts an ovum
Like three times, have three kids
I hope me and my wife can show ’em
Not to make the same mistakes you know that we did
Damn. Never heard procreation described so poetically and scientifically at the same time. Been waiting a few years now for a new Joey Bada$$ album. In the meantime, he gave us enough greatness on his mixtapes and albums to last us for a while. Respect.
Nobody – Rapsody feat. Anderson .Paak, Black Thought, and Moonchild
Yes, Anderson .Paak and Black Thought are two of my favorites and they make outstanding contributions to this track. However, Rapsody’s unique flow, lyricism, and honesty are what make this track one of my favorites of the decade. My two favorite rappers making music right now are Black Thought and Rapsody. Rapsody’s writing and wordplay are second to none, and she’s almost always backed by the best beats in the business courtesy of 9th Wonder. Rapsody’s first verse on this track could take the title for best verse of the decade. A quick sample:
Nobody know who real or not
Nobody still know who shot Big and Pac, I’m bothered
Prayed to our fathers for sins I committed summers
Don’t nobody know how many but we know our days are numbered
Oh my God
Nobody know the true religion
So why nobody know to show respect and mind your business?
I know prison business, but nobody know how many innocent in it
Nobody know the cure for cancer been made by the chemists
Nobody know the cost of a dollar worth less to em, Kendrick
Nobody smart enough would ever say racism ended
I get winded by the weight of it all
‘Cause everybody talkin’ shit but don’t know nothin’ at all
That last line kind of sums up the decade, doesn’t it? A beautiful track and the perfect showcase for Rapsody’s one-of-a-kind talent. Paak appearance #3 on the list.
Lemme Know – Vince Staples feat. Jhené Aiko and DJ Dahi
I first heard this song when Staples and Aiko performed it with The Roots on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and it sent me scrambling to my phone to find it on Apple Music. Vince Staples is a multitalented artist and skilled MC and this song isn’t the best display of his skills, but I fell in love with this song immediately and never stopped listening. Staples and Aiko employ a unique delivery, rapping/singing simultaneously. Not harmonizing, but on different octaves. All of this over a booming bass line and a beat I can only describe as island/tropical. It’s hypnotic, catchy, and perfect.
Done For Me – Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani
I love Charlie Puth’s album Voicenotes. It’s got a nice, mellow, blue eyed soul vibe to it. White guy funk. This track is a modern day “Maneater.” Since my kids became old enough to form their own musical tastes it’s arguably the only album we can play in the car that all five of us enjoy. What always strikes me is that Puth seems like kind of a dork. Like the nerdy kid from band camp who suddenly found himself super famous and now he doesn’t know how to act. It’s endearing. I went to band camp. People would certainly say the same thing about me were I to find myself in the same situation. He’s not particularly cool or smooth in his videos. His dancing is mediocre. I don’t care. I like the music. However, the pairing of Puth and Kehlani in this duet is jarring. Listening to the song I’m led to believe that Puth and Kehlani are in a relationship but they don’t trust each other. In the video Puth is chilling in his pleated Dockers in a club/bedroom with a bunch of mirrors singing to a Selena Gomez doppelgänger. Then Kehlani shows up in verse two looking like the sexiest badass ever – the complete opposite of Puth – and she’s in a heart-shaped hot tub making out with Bizarro Selena Gomez. Wait…what? So, are they singing about each other, or are they both singing about being cheated on by Bizarro Gomez? I’m confused. Did Puth date Gomez and this is his “Cry Me a River” video? Whatever. It’s a dope track. The story doesn’t make sense, but they sound damn good together.
Breakfast Can Wait – Prince
Yeah, dude was in his 50’s, but the GOAT was still making amazing music in the 2010’s. This single drew more attention for the cover than for the actual song thanks in part to a legendary Dave Chappelle story told here on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon (Yes. I watch a lot of Jimmy Fallon. The Roots are on it every damned night, why wouldn’t I?). If people took the time to look past the hilarious cover and listen to the track what they would’ve heard was Prince still throwing heat. A funky, sexy track about getting some before work. I can’t help but think, “What would Prince know about being late for work because he snuck in a morning quickie?” It’s not like Prince had to head to the office. “Breakfast Can Wait” is a bit more polished, but the song would’ve fit well during 1999-era Prince. Believe it or not, Prince released five albums between 2010 and 2016 when he passed away. There was some brilliant work on those albums, but “Breakfast Can Wait” is my favorite. RIP Prince. Damn near five years since he left us and I still miss him every day.
Strawberry Bubblegum – Justin Timberlake
For one glorious week in March 2013 we were treated to “Timberweek” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Justin Timberlake participated in sketches and was interviewed frequently throughout the week, but more importantly he performed a song from his new album The 20/20 Experience every night. I don’t remember every song he performed and I’m not taking the time to look them up because at this point they’re difficult to find. I know this: One night he treated us to “Strawberry Bubblegum” and I was mesmerized. A mellow, sexy eight-minute mid-tempo journey that’s at least one part Off The Wall Michael Jackson with a hint of Dirty Mind Prince nastiness. Shout out to Timbaland’s production on this track. He adds so many layers of sound to his music that it’s easy to miss the details. He sneaks in a quick double tap of classic Casio SK-1 drum sound at the end of each measure that makes the song for me. His attention to detail is phenomenal. Timbaland is one of the all-time greats. Justin Timberlake had another outstanding decade in the 2010s full of smash hits, but this album cut is my favorite of the bunch.
Crossfire – Nai Palm
I was first introduced to Nai Palm as the lead singer of Australian future-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote (more on them later). In 2017 we were treated to her solo album Needle Paw. I didn’t give it the listen that it deserved and it slipped out of my rotation quickly at the time. Fast forward to 2020 and I’m watching one of Questlove’s many quarantine YouTube DJ sets and he’s spinning the song “Crossfire.” I’m thinking, “What the fuck is this Hiatus Kaiyote song and where do I find it?” I was disappointed in my ear when I found it on Nai Palm’s solo album and realized that I had heard it years earlier and dismissed it. It’s a stunning showcase of Nai Palm’s angelic voice and guitar skills. The icing on the cake is the end of the track (not included in the video above) when “Crossfire” melts in to a cover of Tamia’s “So Into You.” Apparently Nai Palm wasn’t the only one digging this track two decades years later as Childish Gambino took a run at it as well.
Show You The Way – Thundercat feat. Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins
Yes. We’re deep into the mellow portion of the mixtape now! No bangers allowed in the middle of this playlist. If you had told me in 2010 that Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald would appear in my 30 favorite songs of the upcoming decade I probably would’ve replied with, “Oh shit, Loggins is doing a remake of ‘Playing With The Boys’ with Michael McDonald?!?” Thundercat did so much cool shit in the 2010’s and I’d love to reveal some deep cut as my selection for the mixtape, but I’m keeping it simple here. “Show You The Way” is signature Thundercat and the inclusion of Loggins and McDonald is the icing on the cake.
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe – Kendrick Lamar
When my 9-year-old daughter was a baby I would rock her to sleep at night to this song and much of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. If she heard this song now I wonder if she’d have some kind of Pavlovian response and fall asleep? Update: I just tried it. I didn’t make her listen to it. Just snuck it on in the background while she played Nintendo 15 feet away. She heard the word “bitch” and scolded me for listening to it. She’s a good kid, but she should have more respect for this song, and for me because I introduced her to Kendrick Lamar at such a young age.
Heaven On The Ground – José James feat. Emily King
We’ve reached the beautiful portion of the playlist. These next three songs are just breathtaking, in my opinion. I wrote recently about my love of José James and this song so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it now. James’s voice is not of this world and Emily King’s dreamy vocals are the perfect complement. Ballads don’t get better than this.
Fingerprints – Hiatus Kaiyote
There are so many different Hiatus Kaiyote songs to include on a Best of 2010’s list, but here’s how I know “Fingerprints” is the choice. Every time I hear the opening of this song I have an audible reaction. When it starts I instinctively stop what I’m doing and say, “Oh!” Hiatus Kaiyote somehow still brings some funk on this super chill slow song, but it’s Nai Palm’s vocals that elevate this song from something good to something that resonates in my soul.
Fool For You – Snoh Aalegra
Respect to my MacBook for trying its ass off to correct Snoh Aalegra’s name to Snow Allegra. It’s relentless. I finally got it to stop correcting Nai Palm’s name to Nam Palm. Now I’ve gotta deal with this shit. I discovered the uniquely talented Ms. Aalegra the same way I’m guessing many did: From an Apple commercial. Googling “song from Apple commercial” led me to this sick song by Snoh Aalegra and Vince Staples. When I found her album Feels and heard “Fool For You” for the first time I thought she had pirated some amazing unreleased Amy Winehouse shit that I hadn’t heard yet and snuck it on to her album. By law, nobody should ever attempt to cover Amy Winehouse, but damn if Snoh Aalegra isn’t a worthy alternative. I hate to bring her appearance in to the conversation because what a person looks like should be irrelevant and it shouldn’t take away from her soulful voice, but I’d be lying if I said my first thought seeing her wasn’t, “Wait, she sounds like that and looks like that?” Not fair. Well played, Snoh Aalegra.
Redbone – Childish Gambino
The evolution of Donald Glover might have been my favorite pop culture phenomenon of the 2010’s. I watched the NBC cult favorite Community from the night the pilot aired because Joel McHale from The Soup was on it. Community became one of my favorite TV shows. When I heard the guy who played Troy Barnes had some mixtapes out there under the name Childish Gambino I was expecting some Lonely Island humorous hip hop. My introduction to Childish Gambino was his mixtape Culdesac and my original thought was, “This isn’t funny. Some of it is actually really good.” Turns out he wasn’t joking. Glover spent the rest of the decade repeatedly reinventing himself and setting an impossibly high bar. Atlanta is the best show on TV. Because The Internet was arguably the best hip hop album of the decade. However, maybe nothing he did was more shocking than the turn he took with “Redbone.” Questlove expressed our shock perfectly in this IG post. There’s not a damn thing Donald Glover can’t do well.
Yoga – Janelle Monae feat. Jidenna
Hell yes Janelle Monae did more than enough in the 2010s to deserve multiple tracks on this playlist. She could’ve had more as far as I’m concerned but I had to cut it off somewhere. “Yoga” is insanely fun and catchy and this playlist needs an injection of energy after a lot of laid back music. I’ll never forget the time my family waiting in a long line at the drive-in theater on a hot summer evening. Things were getting ugly in the minivan. My iPhone read the mood and the next song to appear on shuffle was “Yoga.” Minutes later the five of us had the windows down clapping and screaming, “Baby bend over, let your booty do that yoga.” The minivan was shaking and we were getting a lot of weird looks from the people of Freedom, Wisconsin.
Suede – NxWorries
As I mentioned above, Anderson .Paak (1/2 of NxWorries along with producer extraordinaire Knxwledge) is easily my artist of the decade. Sure, I didn’t know he existed until early-2017, but he packed enough amazing music in those years to make up for missing the first two-thirds. “Suede” is my favorite song of the decade. Shit, it might be my favorite song of the century…or ever. I marvel at Anderson .Paak’s ability to take outrageous misogyny and make it laugh out loud funny. Somehow he can sing, “If I call you a bitch, it’s cuz you my bitch,” and flash his million dollar toothy grin and nobody seems to mind. It’s like we all quietly agreed to look the other way on objectification when .Paak is involved. He also has an ability like no other to deliver a ridiculous line like, “My mama said don’t trust these hoes boy, be about your loot. Now if my mama told me that, why the fuck would I listen to you?” with sincerity and soul. It’s funny and it’s offensive and it’s SO GOOD. I’m going to reference his NPR Tiny Desk performance yet again. At the end of the performance he asks for requests from the tiny audience. They shout “Suede” back at him, to which he replies, “OHHHH! I thought this was a more cultured, like, mature…so y’all like being called bitches over here? I talk a lot of shit on this song, is that OK?” Even his NPR audience just laughs at his outrageous lyrics.
I’m not done with “Suede” yet. My favorite song of the decade gets some bonus sentences. If you’re the kind of person who needs every note and sound to strike perfectly on rhythm this definitely is not the song for you. It took me months of listening to the NxWorries album Yes Lawd! before I could wrap my head around what Knxwledge was doing musically. Actually, that’s not accurate. I’m still baffled. Knxwledge refuses to acknowledge quantize and I couldn’t be happier. The beat on “Suede” is all over the place. The drum programming (Are those drums? I don’t know what’s producing that sound, but I’ll call it drums.) drags all over the place along with a ticking sound that’s also on its own time. It all comes together on the one, then it goes in its own direction again, and the cycle repeats. It’s a mess…and it’s perfect. There’s a thin line between sloppy and brilliant here, and Knxwledge defiantly walks that line for an entire album somehow never crossing the line in to sloppy territory. It’s glorious. Paak appearance #4 on this list.
This Is America – Childish Gambino
I’m not here to attempt to break down the meaning of this song or all of the Easter eggs in the video. I don’t have that much time nor am I that smart. I already let you know how I feel about Donald Glover three songs ago. I’ll say this now: Someone as talented as Glover could’ve coasted when he was writing for 30 Rock. He could’ve probably made nice living playing roles like Troy Barnes for decades. He could’ve continued making good hip hop like “3005” or any of his other pre-Awaken, My Love music. Instead he keeps pushing boundaries. Keeps progressing. Glover has mastered the art of perfecting something and moving on. He’s making art on another level. Did you watch the “Teddy Perkins” episode of Atlanta? Have you attempted to comprehend everything he’s throwing at us with “This is America” and the accompanying video? He’s telling stories that could be interpreted a hundred different ways, yet they all strike us hard in equally significant ways. “This is America” is not just good music, it makes me examine society and my role in it. More than any other artist alive not named D’Angelo, Donald Glover can just take my money. Whatever he’s doing next, I’m in.
Alright – Kendrick Lamar
I don’t usually agree with Pitchfork. To me they’re the epitome of music snobbery, and as a self-proclaimed music snob myself I mean that as high praise. I hold them to a higher standard than others because they’re fantastic music-obsessed writers and as a mediocre music-obsessed writing novice I value their opinions. When they give an album I love a 6.1 I call them pretentious snobs because I think, “I know music. What are they hearing that I’m not hearing?” So, I lash out and mock them on my blog, but you can be damn sure they’re the first website run go to when I want to know a music expert’s opinion on anything I’m hearing. When I read their “The 200 Best Songs of the 2010s” and saw “Alright” at the top of the list I just nodded and thought to myself, “They got this one right.” “Alright” was the best song of the decade. If you’re thinking I just referred to “Suede” as the best song, re-read it. I said it was my favorite. There’s a big difference. Shawshank Redemption is the best movie I’ve ever seen, but Anchorman is my favorite. If you don’t get that comparison I don’t know how else to describe the difference.
I saw José James online recently making the argument that white people have no business singing “Strange Fruit.” I agree, and I view “Alright” the same way. I could never understand what Kendrick Lamar felt when he wrote this masterpiece, nor can I understand what it feels like to be black in America. I do agree strongly with JFK’s quote, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” I guess I’m saying that while I can’t relate to everything Kendrick is saying in “Alright” I empathize and feel what he’s saying in my soul. This song could still never mean as much to me as it does to someone living the experience he’s rapping about. I still think it’s the best song of the decade. It’s just a fucking brilliant, once-in-a-generation song.
Prayer – D’Angelo
D’Angelo came back in the 2010s! What a career. He appears once a decade, drops a generational album, and vanishes. This album easily has 3-4 other songs that could’ve qualified for this list, but something about “Prayer” stands out to me. If there’s an award for “2010s Song That Has the Ability To Move Me To Tears For No Apparent Reason” this one would win in a landslide. D’s ability to express his spirituality make me question things about my own life. “Prayer” would also win the award for “Most Jarring Headphone Listening Experience.” The first time I heard this song in my brand new Sony WH-1000X M3 headphones I thought they were broken. There’s so much going on and D’s vocals begin and end so abruptly it takes a moment to adjust. Then you settle in and the music and lyrical content are so good it’ll make you weak in the knees. If you take the word “soul” literally when you talk about soul music, then this song is the epitome.
Blessings – Chance the Rapper feat. Ty Dilla $ign, Raury, BJ The Chicago Kid & Anderson .Paak
I love Chance the Rapper. I mean I love him as a person. He seems like a great guy. Always upbeat and promoting something positive. His music is hit or miss for me, but when he does hit, he crushes it. His verse on this track is one of my favorites of the past decade. His flow has never sounded this good and his message is inspiring. I wanted to end the playlist on something uplifting and this fits perfectly. We all need his optimism right now. Paak appearance #5 on the list and looking back I don’t think it’s enough.
Whew! This one took me a minute to write. If you’re still here, my gift to you is a link to this playlist on Apple Music so you can enjoy it in your headphones, ear buds, car, or however else you enjoy your music.
Damn. WordPress is supposed to embed that playlist and make it look cool and instead I have this mess every time I try to embed an Apple Music playlist. Help! Anyway, I still have eight more albums I’m excited to write about. My brother has also introduced a topic that I’d like to tackle on this blog and I hope he joins me. I’ll save the reveal for another time. Wherever you are I hope you’re not freezing, and I mean that literally. Stay safe out there.