For a while there, it seemed like the hip-hop industry was on shaky grounds – a landscape dominated by ringtone raps and one-hit wonders.
Thankfully there was a major shift coming into 2010. The competition was fierce, rappers were pushing the boundaries from all angles and everybody was stepping up their game.
Drake came through and forced Kanye to step up his game, Nicki came through and forced Drake to step up his game, Kanye delivered and forced Jay-Z to step up his game. It was a case of steel sharpening steel and the hip-hop world benefitted from this.
From veterans to newcomers, New York to Toronto, 2010’s best of the best features one of the most diverse line-ups we’d seen in a long time. Here are the top five best rappers alive of 2010.
Here are the top five best rappers alive of 2010.
5. Rick Ross
Notable releases: Teflon Don, Ashes to Ashes (mixtape), The Albert Anastasia EP
Key guest appearances: DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” Kanye West “Monster” & “Devil in a New Dress,” Chris Brown’s “Deuces (Remix),” Diddy’s “Looking for Love (Remix).”
Observers studying Rick Ross’ moves since his Port of Miami days would have been hard pressed to predict that the MMG boss would have ended up where he did, especially with 50 Cent coming for that ass.
But that’s part of Ross’ game plan and hustle – keep working, keep putting out music, ignore the bullshit and it was only in a matter of years that the Bawse found himself on top. Telfon Don remains one of his successfully records to date, critically and commercially – the album had one of the biggest first week openers in 2010.
With production from longtime collaborators The Inkredibles and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League as well as from the hottest producer at the time, Lex Luger, who provided the one-two knockout blows of “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” – Rick Ross had secured a lavish platform for his outrageous rhymes.
While far from being one of the most lyrical rappers in the game, Ross showed massive improvements in his rhyme game – rapping comfortably next to Jay-Z on “Free Mason” and stealing the scene from Kanye on “Devil in a New Dress.”
2010 would prove to be a crucial year for Rick Ross’ career – the critical success of Telfon Don helped shape the public’s perception of him and enabled him to get in a position to keep winning in the years to come.
Notable releases: Thank Me Later
Key guest appearances: Lil Wayne’s “Right Above It,” “Gonorrhea” & “With You”, Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin Music,” Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life,” Chris Brown’s “Deuces (Remix).”
Very few up-and-coming rappers have been given the same opportunities as Drake was when he was coming up in the rap game. Sure, he’s extraordinarily talented and has a great work ethic but it was also helped tremendously having Lil Wayne and the YMCMB machine behind him.
Good thing for Drake, he took those golden opportunities and ran with them – bodying his features on Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Chris Brown records and making sure he capitalised on the growing momentum.
Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, was one of the most hyped up albums to date. With production from Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and Kanye as well as features from T.I., Young Jeezy and Jay-Z, expectations were high for the Toronto rapper and he didn’t disappoint.
The album ended up moving almost 500,000 copies in its first week and scored a top 10 hit with the Kanye-helmed “Find Your Love.” With both critical and commercial success, Thank Me Later catapulted Drake straight into the rap A-list and put him in a position to dominate the industry in years to come.
3. Big Boi
Notable releases: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Mixtape for Dummies: A Guide to Global Greatness (mixtape).
Key guest appearances: Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope,” B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You (Remix).”
The gift and the curse that follows Big Boi around. On one hand, he’s partnered with Andre 3000 and together as OutKast, they’ve created a handful of timeless records that have shaped hip-hop and endeared themselves to fans forever. On the other hand, he’s partnered with Andre 3000, one of the greatest rappers of all time which means he’s forgotten about at times.
It must have been with this thought raging in his mind that Big Boi set out to create his debut solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. It was a big fuck you to those who thought he couldn’t drop a great record without 3 Stacks.
Well the doubters were absolutely wrong. Big Boi proved he could create a cohesive, exciting masterpiece with his partner-in-rhyme; bringing the classic OutKast funk with a modern touch.
And for those hip-hop heads who forgot Big Boi could spit? Well, he showed them didn’t he? Fifteen full tracks of Big Boi just straight bodying the beats like it was 1998 again and reminding fans he is definitely one of the best rappers alive.
Notable releases: Recovery
Key guest appearances: Nicki Minaj’s “Roman’s Revenge,” T.I.’s “That’s All She Wrote,” B.o.B’s “Airplanes, Part II,” Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie (Part II),” Lloyd Banks’ “Where I’m At.”
Encore was when Eminem was on drugs, Relapse was when he was flushing them out. So it only makes sense that on Recovery, where Em had been clean for a decent amount of time, features some of his strongest rhymes to date.
Doing away with the silly accent and subject matter, Em took a more personal approach to his content, resulting in a new rapping style with a much more aggressive flow which featured heavily in tracks like “Not Afraid.”
Aside from the rejuvenated energy, Em also scored one of his biggest hit singles to date – the Rihanna-featured “Love the Way You Lie” – which topped worldwide charts and became his best selling songs of all time. On the strength of this success, Recovery became one of best selling albums of 2010, selling nearly 6 million copies within a year of its release.
At this point in time, Eminem is simply a hip-hop phenomenon. He can shut himself off from the outside world for months on end, only to come back with an album to dominate everybody.
1. Kanye West
Notable releases: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, GOOD Friday cuts – “Power (remix),” “Runaway Love (remix),” “Good Friday,” “Lord Lord Lord,” “Christian Dior Denim Flow,” “Don’t Stop!” (with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell Williams as Child Rebel Soldier), “Take One for the Team,” “Don’t Look Down,” “The Joy,” “Looking for Trouble,” “Chain Heavy,” “Christmas in Harlem.”
Key guest appearances: Rick Ross’ “Live Fast, Die Young,” Kid Cudi’s “Erase Me,” Chris Brown’s “Deuces (Remix),” Lloyd Banks’ “Start It Up,” T.I.’s “Welcome to the World,” Nicki Minaj’s “Blazin’.”
I have to admit, deciding on the best rapper alive of 2010 was a pretty easy choice. No other rapper could have been a suitable pick other than Kanye West.
After the incredible success of his 2007 album, Graduation, Kanye was on top of the world. He had beat 50 in their highly publicised sales battle, “Stronger” was burning up the charts and smashing the clubs, he had his personal anthem in “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” he had both the streets and the radio on lock. Nothing could have gone wrong.
Then everything did go wrong.
808s & Heartbreak was his avant-garde way of expressing his grief. While the record is touted today as immensely influential to rappers like Drake, Future and Kid Cudi – at the time hip-hop heads were turning on him. Then the whole Taylor Swift thing happened and suddenly Kanye was in exile.
But that wouldn’t last long.
One by one, the Good Friday cuts started coming in. Kanye was just giving away incredible records like “Christian Dior Denim Flow,” “Good Friday,” “Looking for Trouble,” “Chain Heavy” and plenty more, showcasing his GOOD Music crew and signalling that he was coming back to hip-hop.
Then when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dropped, it was instantly hailed as a masterpiece from all corners – it was Kanye’s greatest achievement to date. From the stirring opener “Dark Fantasy” to the Gil Scott-Heron vocals closing out “Who Will Survive in America” – the album was a spectacular display of Kanye’s incredible abilities as a rapper, producer, songwriter, composer, arranger and much more.
Not to mention his lyrical game was getting better and better. If Graduation showed a massive improvement in Kanye’s rhymes, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a whole another level. Album cuts like “Gorgeous” and “So Appalled” featured him taking it back to the ’90s era where he competed with the likes of Raekwon, Jay-Z and Pusha T for the best verse.
There’s nothing else to – Kanye West was the best rapper alive in 2010.