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…
15. Frank Ocean – “Thinkin Bout You” (2012)
In an open Tumblr letter three days before the release of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean detailed the hopelessness and unmatched power of falling in love for the first time. The letter — in which he describes his summer with a man when he was 19 — proved to be the experience that inspired most of his debut album. “Thinkin Bout You” encapsulates everything about Frank’s first love: heartache, longing, and the lack of reciprocity. But more than anything, the song is a testament to the strength in being open. A large part of Ocean’s impact on the past decade has been creating a more inclusive space in hip-hop where young queer artists can express themselves openly, and “Thinkin Bout You” was just the beginning. –Jennifer Irving
14. Kanye West and Jay-Z – “Niggas in Paris” (2011)
Watch The Throne’s most infamous track crystallizes the kind of opulence most aspire to but few experience. The entire album is an ode to the cultural power and influence that Kanye West and Jay-Z wield, but “Niggas in Paris” reveals the self-awareness two of hip-hop’s most prolific auteurs possess. Two black men — one hailing from Brooklyn and the other from Chicago — have defied the odds to achieve massive success and unfathomable amounts of wealth. Rap has always glorified a good flex, but Jay and Ye aren’t just bragging about their riches: they are reminding the world that despite how it castigates blackness, they will rebelliously rise to the top. –Candace McDuffie
13. Rihanna – “Work” (2016)
Rihanna’s eighth studio album, Anti, consists of non-stop anthems with themes that range from unapologetic and confident with an air of irreverence (depending on what side of the lyrics pertain to you) to that of introspection. At the forefront of such a gem is the distinctive dancehall single, “Work”, featuring rapper/crooner Drake. You can never accuse the Barbadian queen of being lackadaisical when it comes to the execution of a proper bop with “Work” being no exception. It’s one of those catchy, rhythmic smashes that will stay active on radio rotation and our own playlists for decades to come. –Gabrielle Pharms
12. Kendrick Lamar (with SZA) – “All the Stars” (2018)
It seems obvious that this song as a whole pales in comparison to SZA and Kendrick Lamar’s solo works, both of which are revolutionary in their own right. But “All the Stars” is more than just a collaboration between two mega-stars: It’s the title track of off Black Panther, a movie whose cultural significance is arguably unmatched. Yes, it is a superhero movie, but it strays from the traditional vapidness usually inherent to its contemporaries. Instead, Black Panther delves deeper, exploring what it means to be black in both America and Africa. Although “All the Stars” only played during the movie’s credits, it simultaneously permeated radio stations and playlists everywhere, asserting its rightful dominance. –Lucy Shanker
11. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky” (2016)
When the going gets tough, sometimes the only option seems to try to escape. In “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange does everything possible: drinking, dancing, writing, sleeping, yet these things are only temporarily distracting, and the “cranes” still linger. Whether it be a symbol for a “mental clouding” of pain in her own life, the borderline gentrification found in the city of Miami, or for an increasingly polarized society, the singer is clearly overwhelmed. With overlapping harmonies she practically sighs, wishing it could all go “away.” But like the song’s album, A Seat at the Table, “Cranes in the Sky” details how these tensions and this unfair period of inequality is unbearably hard to ignore, no matter how hard you try. –Samantha Small
10. Chance the Rapper – “No Problem” (2016)
It was an epidemic: For a long stretch of 2016 (and frankly most of 2017 and 2018), the number three was inescapable. From hats to bus stops, any and all public surfaces donned “3,” a symbol of the desperately anticipated third mixtape from Chance the Rapper. And while his hometown of Chicago was used to Chance’s invasion, those outside the city limits weren’t quite ready for the explosion that “No Problem” would spark. But after just one listen to the inescapably joyful song, which boasts all-star features from Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, it’s not surprising that Chance took the world by storm. –Lucy Shanker
09. Childish Gambino – “Redbone” (2017)
When Donald Glover dropped “Awaken, My Love!”, he pulled off one of the decade’s smoothest pivots — from backpack rapper to messenger-bag Prince. On an album full of compelling soul/funk throwbacks, “Redbone” stands out for its sultry, bipolar Delfonics vibes. A paranoid slow jam, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” intertwines desire and doubt like they’re limbs tangled underneath satin sheets. Crooning ecstatically over a bed of melted-butter keys and bass, Glover sings an ode to kissing your lover’s shoulder while looking over your own. Who would have thought that the world’s most famous Wu-Tang Clan random name generator user had this in him? –Ashley Naftule
08. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow” (2017)
Before ever hearing a note of Cardi B’s music, I watched her simply receive the mic as a commentator at an MTV awards show where her tidal wave of delivery, enthusiasm, and personality captured my (and the world’s) attention better than 90% of actual 2010s VMA performances. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that this firebrand was about to unleash the best rap debut in years. “Bitch, I’m who they tryin’ to be,” went her calling card, and, as the rap game changes overnight, suddenly it was true. This was tough-talk recast as a sex worker survivalist’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. –Dan Weiss
07. Drake – “Hotline Bling” (2015)
1-800-HOTLINEBLING was the go-to dial in 2015. The single (and later a surprise bonus track from Drake’s fourth album, Views) launched the rapper back into Grammy territory, snagging Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song in 2017. “Hotline Bling” also became the template for a multitude of remixes, notably Erykah Badu’s surprise mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, which was about — you guessed it — communication. The video for “Hotline Bling” was an instant meme, a cozy, bubble jacket-donning Drake hitting a memorable cha-cha that landed him in a Super Bowl commercial for T-Mobile. Drake’s got a reputation for himself now. –Jaelani Turner-Williams
06. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright” (2015)
We aren’t alright, so we need “Alright”, the rare song that transcended art to become a tool of protest. The plea “We gon’ be alright” is a one-item list of demands from the black population to the police systemically failing them: “Let us live.” It was chanted when Sandra Bland was murdered, and things haven’t improved; rest in peace, Botham Jean. Just as “black lives matter” is interrupted by “all lives matter,” oppressors only hear “We hate po-po” and not “Want to kill us dead in the streets fo’ sho.” Sing the whole damn song until they hear every word. –Dan Weiss
Click ahead to see the very best of our Top 25 Hip-Hop and R&B songs of the 2010s plus a playlist…