Join us all month long as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. Today, we continue the celebration with the Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B Songs of the 2010s.
If the late ’80s and early ’90s were the Golden Age of hip-hop, then the 2010s for the genre would be akin to a Bronze Age: a pivotal point in history that is as innovative in relation to the past as it is foundational to the developments that will come in the future.
When Nicki Minaj stopped by Queen Latifah’s talk show in 2013, the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost on either of the two legendary femcees: “I’m sitting here with a female rapper on a talk show started by a female rapper,” Latifah says to thunderous applause, which Minaj calls “a great moment for hip-hop.” At the time, Nicki was considered the torchbearer for women in hip-hop –something Latifah noted in their interview — so a new crop of women rappers, each sharing their unique styles with the world, is a sight for sore eyes that many hip-hop fans know has been a long time coming.
Besides the explosion of new artists of all genders in the last 10 years, hip-hop has seen a handful of artists make their steady climb to the top of the heap. Take Drake, for example: at the start of the decade, he was a burgeoning rapper with a debut album after first entering the public eye on TV, and — regardless of what you may think of him — he now holds multiple sales and Billboard charts records. The same can be said for rhymesmiths like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, with the latter making a successful crossover from TV to music (and back again) while Lamar is consistently lauded for releasing multiple masterpiece LPs in the span of only a few years.
In a similar vein, R&B also saw the emergence of new talents, as well as the continued success of established icons. The genre-bending ways of Janelle Monáe and Tinashe became the rule rather than the exception, laying the groundwork for newcomers like Summer Walker and Bryson Tiller to easily come in and introduce their sounds to more receptive audiences. Meanwhile, greats like Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige enjoyed their legacy status with scattered releases and music festival performances, making way for a new generation of artists ready to shape the ever-changing R&B landscape.
Up until the beginning of this decade, hip-hop and R&B remained in relatively separate spheres, with few artists daring to mix elements of both when creating their sound. Now, it’s becoming increasingly harder to pin down new releases from these artists that are purely one or the other. While pop tends to pull elements from the hot genre du jour, this cross-pollination between hip-hop and R&B has been much more fascinating to watch and much more interesting as a musical and cultural phenomenon: in these arenas created and dominated by people of color, it’s incredibly inspiring to see these artists support each other, whether consciously or subconsciously, through the blending of different sounds into their own work.
With exciting new trends, artists, and subject matter proliferating over the last 10 years, the 2020s are shaping up to be a renaissance of sorts for both hip-hop and R&B. But the question remains: what will that renaissance look like and, more importantly, sound like?
Click ahead to see the Top 25 hip-hop and R&B songs of the 2010s…
25. Pusha T – “If You Know, You Know” (2018)
Of the five albums and dozens of songs produced by Kanye West at Jackson Hole last summer, there was no beat as spicy as “If You Know You Know” and no MC as ready to eat it up. Pusha T is the preeminent craftsman of coke rap, making syllabic avalanches sound as natural as a conversation over coffee. The beat is full of bravado and humor, perfect for both punchlines and straight stunting. So much of the time, it’s both: “If you know ‘bout the carport/ The trap door’s supposed to be awkward/ If you know, you know.” The whole song is delivered this way, with half a shrug and a cocky smile. –Wren Graves
24. Travis Scott – “Sicko Mode” (2018)
It was the track that had us out like a light. As a three-part suite from the seamless opening of Travis Scott’s third album, ASTROWORLD, it doesn’t open with Scott himself, but the uncredited surprise of Drake in a rampant back-and-forth that shook 2018. As Scott’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Sicko Mode” also spent 30 weeks at top 10. With a screwed-up bridge featuring Swae Lee and posthumous vocals from Big Hawk, “Sicko Mode” was a captivating hit that wrapped up the two-tier Wish You Were Here tour dates with vomit-filled animation on the show’s projectors. The rage goes on. –Jaelani Turner Williams
23. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…” (2016)
Three minutes, two verses, one hook. That’s all it took Tribe to deliver a sprawling (and scathing) synopsis of America just nine days after Trump’s election. Q-Tip, still subscribing to the “Low End Theory”, delivers punishing production (sampling Black Sabbath) liable to punch you in the gut just as hard as their indictment on rising racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, gentrification, and gender inequality just to name a few discussion topics. Despite a recording hiatus of 18 years, the track is unforgettably urgent, featuring some of the most laser-precise bars of Tip and the late Phife Dawg’s career. –Christopher Thiessen
22. FKA twigs – “Two Weeks” (2014)
If we could know what the sirens of Greek mythology sang to seduce sailors to their deaths, it’d probably sound close to FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks”. It evokes the feeling of a mesmerizingly horny hymn — twigs’ lush, breathy falsetto feels utterly incantatory layered over that silken drone of synth and rumbling drumbeat (courtesy of Arca and co-producer/writer Emile Haynie, respectively). While the song is a pure exaltation of female sexual prowess, the vein of tenderness in the way she makes promises like “I’ll put you first, just close your eyes and dream about it” is what makes it completely spellbinding. –Aline Dolinh
21. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass” (2010)
After a series of ballads (“Your Love”, “Moment 4 Life”, “Right Thru Me”) from her Cinderella-story debut album, Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj hit pop stardom with “Super Bass”. Backed by the melodic rasp of co-songwriter Ester Dean, the flossy track was an ode to men of all types, but especially those who made Minaj’s heart pound (or rather, boom-badoom-boom-bass). As Minaj hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, her mixtape heyday was merged with international notoriety. The fluorescent video for “Super Bass” was filled with male eye candy galore and a tantalizing neon lap dance that still glows nine years later. –Jaelani Turner Williams
20. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.” (2017)
Kendrick Lamar’s prophetic lyricism — and bombastic execution of it — makes him one of the best and most imaginative emcees of our time. The meteor-storm production of “Humble” perfectly compliments his performative prowess; Pluss and Mike WiLL Made-It concocted a torrential and unrelenting beat fitting of K. Dot’s modernism. On “HUMBLE.”, the rapper boasts about his superiority with cinematic specificity, which makes his claims an easy sell. Kendrick is fully aware of both his cultural currency and his sonic fearlessness–traits that made his the first rapper ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. This track is an undaunted reminder that he not only sets trends, he masters them. –Candace McDuffie
19. SZA – “Love Galore” (2017)
Before Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” came the “Angry Girl Summer”, a less-branded but equally impactful phenomena prompted by the June 2017 release of SZA’s Ctrl. “Love Galore” lives on this cataclysmically emotional record, one that, in a tightly packed 14 songs, made a whole generation of women feel seen and heard because its inability to hide the ugly. On “Love Galore”, SZA is painfully spiteful, oozing with confidence and yet remains self-destructive. She’s disastrously in love — but equally regretful. “Love Galore” isn’t a love song: It’s a synopsis of a bitter confrontation, both of her own harmful tendencies and an arduous relationship. –Lucy Shanker
18. Rae Sremmurd – “Black Beatles” (2016)
Though “Black Beatles” is inextricably linked to the Mannequin Challenge, the track’s less-viral music video does a far better job of capturing what made the song such a triumph. From the walk across Abbey Road to John and Yoko’s bed-ins, brothers Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee relocate The Beatles’ most iconic imagery from England to Atlanta, where they pair a slow-motion trap beat by Mike WiLL Made-It with brags and boasts (Slim Jxmmi’s “me and Paul McCartney related” takes top prize here) sure to ruffle the Boomers in your life. The result is the freshest hit from the duo behind some of the decade’s leanest party rap, one that resurrects the perks of rock stardom without any of their prior pretensions. No wonder Paul himself is a fan. –Tyler Clark
17. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls” (2013)
“Life fast, die young, bad girls do it well.” A chant for the ages. M.I.A. didn’t have to go this hard on “Bad Girls,” but she did it for the millions of bad girls all across the globe who exude a rebellious, progressive and iconoclast spirit — who in their towns and neighborhoods and worlds make their own picture of what life should look like. “When I get to where I’m going, gonna have you trembling,” M.I.A. spits over a hypnotic beat. “Bad Girls” is all ferocious, invigorating physicality, perfectly captured in the song’s music video (one of the best of the decade, no question), which features a crew of badass women driving hard through the Moroccan desert. –Kayleigh Hughes
16. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face” (2015)
The King of Pop cast a long shadow over the 2010s. Even as damning revelations about him continued coming to light, there were still countless pop artists angling to channel that Thriller magic into their songs. Leave it to the reigning champion of performatively sketchy R&B to do Jacko better on tape than anyone else. Leveling up from his mixtape days as a faceless and sinister Lothario, The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye hopped on a blockbuster Max Martin/Payami production with his inner MJ dial cranked to 11. Singing over a bowel-shaking bassline, Tesfaye makes numbness sound good — Off the Wall good. –Ashley Naftule
Click ahead to see more of our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B songs of the 2010s plus a playlist…