Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 10
If To Pimp a Butterfly did anything, it established Kendrick Lamar as a storyteller. He made the black experience a shared experience and so “Alright” was adopted as the urgent rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement. His verses articulated the pain, sorrow, and loss as he tackled the themes of existence, self-worth, temptation and Black America. It seamlessly blended hip hop, jazz, spoken word, funk into what many would consider a perfect album. This will be Kendrick’s legacy for decades to come. – Ashna Yakoob
Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (2018)
Quality: 7, Cultural Splash: 10
Damn, Kendrick’s Pulitzer Prize winning album, is not as tightly woven or meticulous as To Pimp a Butterfly. It functions as a kaleidoscopic fever dream in which Lamar explores sin, fate and choice. The album opens: “It is wickedness?/ Is it weakness?/ You decide.”
Are we predisposed to something inherently evil within us? Or are we just composed of a series of moments of weaknesses that come to define us? It is a dizzying exploration into Lamar’s psyche that rarely allows for even a moment to breathe, taking the listeners down to a spiral to an eventual enlightenment in Lamar’s origin story in “Duckworth” (or not, depending on the order you listened to the album).
You simply cannot outshine To Pimp a Butterfly and its concept, yet Damn. makes a fantastic effort to do so. Out of the releases of the entire decade, these two stand out to me for different reasons. To Pimp a Butterfly pushes us to overcome adversity, yet Damn. takes a more ambiguous approach in its message, declaring that humanity is morally ambiguous at best, making us thankful for the moments we don’t succumb to wickedness. – Ashna Yakoob
Klein: Lifetime (2019)
Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 3
Susan Sontag says in her classic essay “Against Interpretation” that “real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” Klein’s Lifetime is one of the few projects that has ever made me nervous. It’s a daring exploration of sound and experience that I can only describe as both unnerving and revelatory. Real art, if you will. – Gene Pak
Lana Del Rey: Born to Die (2012)
Quality: 1, Cultural Splash: 10
You are 100% lying if you don’t think this mediocre album is one of the most culturally important albums of this decade. The video for “Video Games” alone set off an endless stream of equally terrible recreations of fake Super 8 montages. And let’s not forget the countless singers that tried to recreate Lana’s somber “ingenue” bellows. This is for the girls who drink Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice! – Gene Pak
LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (2010)
Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 8
This is Happening is a neurotic combination of youthful dance music and uncomfortable subject matter that succeeds by making an existential crisis something to dance about. James Murphy tackles his fleeting youth, anxieties, and romantic woes altogether in an album that doesn’t let you forget your worst concerns as you attempt to escape on the dance floor. It was also released as LCD Soundsystem’s last album, marking a bit of a cultural moment for the decade. – Ashna Yakoob
LCD Soundsystem: American Dream (2017)
Quality: 7, Cultural Splash: 5
Despite the announced finality of This is Happening, Murphy soon came back with American Dream, an exploration of the perils of capitalism and the tendency of middle-aged men to discuss their youth and glory days at the expense of the current youth. However, no matter how much Murphy is pushed into adulthood, his themes of of fleeting opportunities and sorrow persists, making his contributions to the decade filled with reality checks and impossible fantasies. – Ashna Yakoob
The Lonely Island: Turtleneck & Chain (2011)
Quality: 3, Cultural Splash: 8.5
My name is Olivia Mukherjee and according to Spotify’s metrics, The Lonely Island was my top artist of 2019. With 37 hours of listening to the musician-comedian troupe under my belt, I have one thing to say: it’s actually good music, you guys just aren’t fun.
While 2009 was the debut year of The Lonely Island, with their album Incredibad (featuring such hits as “I’m on a Boat” and “Jizz in my Pants”), Turtleneck and Chain fits within the parameters of the WQHS list. (If you haven’t listened to The Lonely Island before, start with Incredibad.) Arguably their most star-powered album, Turtleneck and Chain features such names as Nicki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, Michael Bolton, Santigold, Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Beck, and Akon. Being one who laughed explosively out loud in a 200-person lecture when a professor said “69,” this album was written for me, and for all of my mentally thirteen year old comrades. If you enjoy well-produced songs about your dick malfunctioning, having sex with your friends mom for the holidays, and jerking off in the woods, I think you’ll like it too. – Olivia Mukherjee
Lorde: Pure Heroine (2013)
Quality: 7, Cultural Splash: 8
When I listen to Lorde’s Pure Heroine I am transported back to middle school. Following the immense success of “Royals” I like many tweens and teens instantly fell in love with her debut album. For me, this is the album that hooked me into music. I remember illegally downloading every song from Youtube onto my iPod shuffle. Written and performed by Lorde when she was just 16 years old, as I listened to Pure Heroine, I felt like I had found music that was written for me for the first time in my life. In “White Teeth Teens” and “Love Club” I felt and connected into Lorde’s profound feelings for belonging and acceptance while “Tennis Court” and “400 Lux” tapped into the new sense of freedom that I was just beginning to grasp.
The album is a perfect little time capsule that brings me back to simpler times. When I listen back to these tracks, I am not only overwhelmed by nostalgia and reminders of the awkwardness of growing up, but I am also impressed by Lorde’s musicality and maturity. “Ribs” has this intense, ethereal intro that leads into lyrics that feel timeless: “And I’ve never felt more alone/ It feels so scary, getting old.” “Buzzcut Season” is another one of those tracks that seems too wise from an artist so young. Lorde seems so aware of her youth as she sings lines about growing up while being exposed to the horrors of war and the outside world.
In the end, what makes this album so good is Lorde’s self-awareness on the album. She knows she’s capturing the moments of her youth that are so fleeting and it feels perfectly packaged on this album. – Julia Davies