20) B.o.B. – The Adventures of Bobby Ray
B.o.B’s brand of pop rap may not be for everybody’s tastes, but there’s no denying that his massive hits “Nothin’ on You” and “Airplanes” are prime examples of where rap is headed in this new century.
19) Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: The Return of Ankh
This wholly original talent followed up Part One of this ambitious and arty R&B saga with a more traditional set of her classic soul stylings. Don’t let her unforgettable nude music video upstage the rich tapestry of sounds within this work.
18) Ne-Yo – Libra Scale
Of all the modern R&B hitmakers who are mimicking MJ, Ne-Yo’s work feels the most like a tribute instead of a rip-off. This album is yet another beautiful sung selection of songs that will melt any girl’s heart.
17) Drake – Thank Me Later
A lot of hip-hop fans felt this album didn’t measure up to his mixtape breakthrough, So Far Gone. But from a sales and influence perspective, Drake is arguably the biggest rising star in rap right now and this album certainly proves he’s not afraid to take some chances.
16) Michael Jackson – Michael
The King of Pop’s first posthumous release could never live up to all the hype and anticipation. But upbeat retro numbers like “Behind the Mask” and ”(I Like) The Way You Love Me” prove Jackson’s voice and talents were still in fine form before he tragically died last year.
15) Sade – Soldier of Love
Only Sade could not make an album for a decade and return with pretty much the same, albeit sexy, style and be just as popular, if not moreso, than ever before. One of the last great R&B icons knocks it out of the park with this one.
14) R. Kelly – Love Letter
In a characteristically oddball move, the “Pied Piper of R&B” drops this earnest suite of love songs that are actually PG-rated enough to play when your parents are around. Turns out Kels croons with the best of them.
13) Jazmine Sullivan – Love Me Back
With so many R&B songstresses stressing production over vocals, the soulful Jazmine Sullivan is a breath of fresh air. She makes pain sound pleasurable in the same tradition as Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige. This rapturously reviewed album is hopefully a harbinger of more great things to come.
12) John Legend & The Roots – Wake Up!
Although The Roots’ album from this How I Got Over is strong entry in their discography — their best work was this excellent collection of classic civil rights era soul covers.
11) Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
Before this album was even released, Minaj had upstaged Kanye on “Monster”, feuded with Lil’ Kim and was called the new Queen of hip-hop. Now that her debut has finally hit the charts she has further proof that she is the most exciting female MC in the game right now.
10) The-Dream – Love King
Super-producer/singer The-Dream didn’t stray too far from the formula he used to make his first two eclectic albums, and that’s a good thing. His swooning vocals and 80s-inspired soundscapes are reminiscent of Prince in his prime.
9) Wale – More About Nothing
After his first official release Attention: Deficit underperformed commercially, DC rapper Wale returned to what he does best — killer mixtapes that utilize excerpts from popular Seinfeld episodes. Sounds strange, but trust us — it works. Wale remains one of the most inventive MCs in hip-hop.
7) Rick Ross – Teflon Don
In a year where “soft” rap dominated, Rick Ross held it down for the gangsters with another hook-filled, hedonistic album for and about hustlers. A rare rap album without filler, Ross has cemented his status alongside Lil Wayne, Eminem and Jay-Z, as one of the most powerful and charismatic MCs.
6) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Cudi followed up his hit debut album with more melancholy jams and exceptional beats on this terrific album. At a time when a lot of mainstream rap is predictable and lame, Cudi cuts through with a singularly self-reflexive take which has proven successful despite its darker themes.
5) Cee-Lo – The Lady Killer
Cee-Lo’s one-of-a-kind vocals and sly sense of humor helped the irresistible single “F**k You” become a surprise hit. But the rest of the album is a wonderfully enjoyable listen as well with infectious hooks and hilarious wordplay.
3) J-Cole – Friday Night Lights
Trust us, the next big household name in hip-hop is going to be J-Cole. His intricate yet accessible flow has already won him serious praise from his fellow rappers and with this virtually flawless mixtape he has only heightened the anticipation for his eventual major label debut. If J-Cole is the future rap, rumors of the genre’s demise are clearly unfounded.
2) Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Hands down the best, most expansive album by a new artist this year. Monáe borrows from Prince, Hendrix, George Clinton, hip-hop and more — yet she still carves out a niche all her own. She can make you dance, rock and swoon, oh, and did we mention she’s gorgeous too? This sprawling album should go down as a modern classic.
1) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
After nearly two straight years of mostly bad press, Kanye silences his critics with yet another masterpiece. Kanye gets up close and personal with his ego on “Power”, “Monster”, “Runaway” and numerous other unforgettable tracks and crafts some of his most complex work to date. You may hate the man, but you’ve got to love his musical instincts. If Grammy doesn’t finally award Kanye the top honor for this album in 2011 — they might as well call off the telecast..
- of 21
2010 turned out to be a phenomenal year for black music. Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Drake all had huge smashes with highly anticipated albums. But old favorites like Sade, R. Kelly and the late Michael Jackson held their own as well. Meanwhile, breakout performers like Janelle Monáe and J-Cole got that much closer to superstardom. In a year so full of tremendous music it’s hard to pick just 20 albums to single out as the best, but we gave it a try. Check out our picks for the most enjoyable and exciting music of this past year and see if your favorites made the list.