There are three schools of thought on who the artist of the decade was. Beyoncé brought high art to poptimism, pushing the boundaries of how music is consumed while continuing to be the biggest star on the planet. Frank Ocean became a generational icon, driving what became the dominant sound in ‘10s R&B and achieving a level of worship so fervent it recently got Drake booed off a festival stage.
The third – and for my money, the right answer – is Kendrick Lamar (you could argue Kanye ought to be the fourth, but…). Kendrick’s impact on the culture may not be quite as obvious as Beyoncé’s or as easily defined as Frank’s, but the evidence speaks for itself. He’s responsible for the decade’s best lyrics, best production, best guest spots (with apologies to Nicki Minaj), best soundtrack, and best album. Which one? You’ve got three to choose from, and you could make a case for any one of them.
My choice is 2015’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly. The entire 79-minute record is a classic, succeeding both as a treatise on race in America and as cutting self-analysis. The LP largely rejects au courant beats in favor of tense, jazz-influenced backdrops that provide a vivid landscape upon which Lamar’s storytelling comes to life.
“Alright” is the popular highlight. Pitchfork named it the best song of the 2010s, it was nominated across top categories at the Grammys, and it became an unofficial anthem for Black Lives Matter.
That said, I’m going with “King Kunta.” It may not be as capital-I-Important, but it’s an undeniable banger with an irresistible Thundercat bassline and a few great disses – including one allegedly aimed at Drake for using ghost writers. Poor Drake.