A Few Albums That Defined the Decade

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Published on UIC Radio

Music in the 21st century emerged with innovative musical styles that took a lot of experimentation and innate talent to surmise. Similar to Miles Davis in the 1970s or The Beach Boys in the 1960s, the 2010s created music genres and styles that opened up our senses and emotions to sounds that we didn’t think we had. The following albums are those projects that opened listeners up to a new and creative world of sounds that influenced the decade.

Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly

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Springing into popularity with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2012, Lamar served as one of modern Hip-Hop’s influential talents and a figure to be focused on for the years to come. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City shined a light on Lamar’s eloquent and refined lyricism while also celebrating the era’s “Hip-Hop sound,” with head-nodding bangers and titillating basslines.

However, To Pimp A Butterfly refined Lamar’s regal position in Hip-Hop with sounds and a narrative that wasn’t able to reach the respect of a wide audience until its inception.

In the album, Each song contained different characters and verses that molded an ongoing narrative. Lamar used this approach, as he did in Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and refined his characters to reflect the enmeshing of Jazz, Hip-Hop, Soul, and R&B. The result is a poetic journey that celebrates music history in general while reflecting upon the political and social turbulence of our time.

Playboi Carti — Die Lit

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Anyone who looked towards Playboi Carti for their esoteric and odd-sounding bangers was satisfied with Die Lit, but much more happened after its release. At the age of 21, Playboi Carti manages to make an album that resonated with listeners who were active in the popular Hip-Hop scene, as well as the underground listeners who were actively looking for new sounds to discover.

Somehow, Carti infused the sounds of today with sounds that weren’t thought to have been relatable. Ethereal chords with drilling drums and snares never have sounded so lucid and different for a while.

Flying Lotus — Cosmogramma

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A personal favorite growing up, Flying Lotus is an artist who defines his sound as “just music.” Cosmogramma is more than just music. The project released in 2010 was an orchestral journey that took the listener to a space of its own; a world for aural therapy. Receiving help from the likes of Thom York of Radiohead, his personal friend Thundercat, and samples of his late great Aunt, Alice Coltrane, Lotus included odd sounds of starships and harps with the entanglement of Jazz and Electronic music.

Cosmogramma helped popularize the seamless mix between Jazz and Electronic music, while also introducing the vivacity of Lotus’ mind. Listeners from all over the world bounced to the track while pondering to masterpieces such as .

There isn’t an album or project that sounds like it to this day. The likes of Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and Robert Glasper made Jazz relatable again, and it all started with Cosmogramma’s release.

Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Electronic music became more powerful in the 2010s, such as the short-lived advent of Dubstep to the now grandiose influence of EDM music. However, something crept in between these two that silently led a mass of listeners to a realm which they could enjoy and basque in for the upcoming years.

is a 2011 arthouse film that was not meant to flourish the way it did in the following years. The film that decorated the nightly underground L.A. scene gave audiences a new world to divulge in. Drive was impactful for this particular audience in part due to the ominous and pulsating music throughout the film.

The film included ambient Electronic music from the likes of , , and , as well as the eerie orchestral pieces from composer Cliff Martinez. Somehow, the music added to the harrowing tone of the film, giving way for audiences a genre to divulge in. Besides the soundtrack for the film , I can’t recall another soundtrack that had such an impact as Drive’s.

Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy

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When I went to see Tyler, The Creator for his Flower Boy Tour in 2018, I was amazed to see the crowd that was waiting hours in line to see their hero. Teenagers and young adults wore yellow shoes and had flower embalms on their hoodies. Tyler’s fanbase, transformed from rowdy skaters to jovial younglings, were represented with Flower Boy. Despondent lyrics lacquered with bright and jovial instrumentals reciprocated with a lonely bright hopeful youth.

involved Tyler’s most ambitious liner notes and instruments up until , with sunny electric chords and exciting string sections. This minor shift in his style officially removed the “Rapper/Designer-only” label and helped him evolve into a fully-fleshed artist, which he would later clarify in his album, .

Although, allowed younger ears to open up to softer themes and happier tones which didn’t involve much Pop appeal. Skateboarders were not ashamed to listen to tracks such as or . At times bombastic and other times moving, the album exemplified our hazy Summers spent under the bright sun for years to come.

DIIV — Oshin

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is a pure example of Dream Pop. Other Indie Rock bands that try to perfect the subgenre don’t quite reach the full potential had with . was a compilation of vibrant and joyful tunes that sound almost dreamlike.

Zachary Smith’s vocals hover in the background, as the guitar strings skip and slide all around its hemisphere. The distance of these tracks is what made the “dreamlike” vibrations come to life, with many fans curdling to DIIV for their brief moments of escape.

Tracks like and exemplify the inner mind of careless youth, sprawling and singing a field void of reality. , later on, released albums that had a personality of their own, but will always be the one fans will reminisce their days of carelessness.

As the 2010s come to an end with many more projects that defined the decade, the 2020s will surely bring a new plate of delicacies, maybe even more invigorating and revolutionary than before.