For us music nerds, new release Friday—or Tuesday, before 2015—is like Christmas every single week. Santa may not be coming down the chimney, but more often than not, exciting new music is available on our favorite DSP. Most weeks, you’ll find me with a glass of bourbon in the wee hours of the morning hoping to stumble upon a masterpiece, followed by a reading of Yoh’s candidly eloquent takeaways. It’s one of my favorite weekly rituals.
Not all release dates are created equal, though. There are plenty of Fridays, typically early in the calendar year, where no noteworthy albums arrive. We’ve also experienced the paralyzing letdown of delayed releases. Thanks, Kanye. But sometimes, every so often, we experience the blessing of multiple masterpieces Friday, of an ultimate showdown (again, thanks, Kanye), of having to decide, “Seriously, what do I listen to first?”
As another decade comes to a close, let’s look back at the best, most memorable release weeks of each year in the ‘10s. Some of these dates were immediately monumental; others require the context of the entire decade. Either way, here are ten release weeks that defined a decade of hip-hop and R&B.
Editor’s Note: Some albums listed were released a day before or after the global release day. We’ve grouped album releases based on when they first appeared on Billboard. However, the dates represented below are for the release weeks, not the weeks of their Billboard debut.
2010: Week of November 22
Birthed out of Kanye’s self-exile to Hawaii, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is arguably the most important hip-hop event of the decade. The album is at once an exercise in brutal self-reflection, production maximalism, experimental self-expression, and wide-reaching community. The release of the album was larger than even Kanye himself, while the record remains his magnum opus.
Nicki Minaj, who boasted “50k for a verse, no album out” on Kanye’s “Monster,” broke out with her debut, Pink Friday, quickly becoming one of hip-hop’s most dynamic voices. Elsewhere, Lloyd Banks’ HFM 2 carried G-Unit into a new decade (though they would soon fall from relevance), and Curren$y delivered slick performances over funky instrumentals on his Pilot Talk sequel.
2011: Week of November 15
Perhaps more than any early ‘10s album, Drake’s Take Care shaped the sound of the decade to come. Drake’s smooth vocals and melodic raps combined pop, hip-hop, and R&B more effectively than anyone before him. But while pop hits “Take Care” and “Headlines” would push pop into a woozy, laidback direction, Drizzy wasn’t afraid to bring bars on high-energy bangers “HYFR” and “Lord Knows.”
While Take Care didn’t experience any commercial competition (has Drake ever?), another actor-turned-rapper named Donald Glover pitched his tent on Camp and set the stage to become a late-decade phenom. Meanwhile, Louisiana rapper Webbie experienced mild success with his brand of bouncy Baton Rouge rap on Savage Life 3; a young Rapsody released her third Jamla mixtape, featuring Kendrick Lamar; and underground veteran Quelle Chris released his debut, Shotgun & Sleek Rifle, featuring Danny Brown, Denmark Vessey, and Roc Marciano.
2012: Week of July 17
Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE release date requires some explanation. At a time when album leaks were a real concern for the recording industry, Ocean’s label staggered the release, delivering his debut on iTunes a week earlier than the promoted store date. The wide release for Channel ORANGE came on July 17, the same day Nas claimed the best-seller spot with Life Is Good.
Seven years later, Nas’ return to form—and his last record until his summer 2018 clunker with Kanye West—remains one of the most successful boom-bap records of the decade, featuring the lush jazz stylings of No I.D..
These two albums are a nice reminder that the past and the future are always in conversation with each other.
2013: Week of June 18
With just a clear jewel case and a blank CD, Kanye’s Yeezus is the sound of shedding the past and innovating from a blank slate. The album is abrasive, brave, and commanded listeners to stand at attention with its minimalist and industrial production.
Ye remained on the throne with the release of Yeezus, but brazen and hungry emcees J. Cole and Mac Miller challenged the self-proclaimed god. “When I say that I’m the greatest, I ain’t talking about later / I’ma drop the album the same day as Kanye,” Cole raps on Born Sinner standout “Forbidden Fruit.” While neither sophomore record overtook Yeezus, Cole and Mac landed at No. 2 and 3 on the charts, respectively, and solidified their places as new voices of hip-hop.
That same week, former Interscope signee Freddie Gibbs was forced into the ring when his debut album ESGN leaked weeks before the planned release date. ESGN wasn’t the breakthrough that Gibbs likely was hoping it would be, but the album set the stage for his gritty collaboration with Madlib on Piñata the following year.
2014: Week of December 15
Just in time for Christmas, Nicki Minaj dropped The Pinkprint and laid out plans for a new woman-driven hip-hop sphere. The record didn’t hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (it’s hard debut on top when Taylor Swift drops the same week), but the impact of Nicki’s humorous, captivating, and unabashedly feminine voice created a ripple effect that finally opened the floodgates for women to win in hip-hop—and win big.
Also the week of December 15, D’Angelo broke his 14-year silence, delivering one of the most gripping performances of the decade with Black Messiah. Sitting inside the intersection of neo-soul, Parliament-era funk, and rock & roll, D’Angelo’s masterpiece was worth the wait. The album served as a blueprint in its own right for Childish Gambino’s Christmas-time classic two years later.
Releases from Nicki and D’Angelo are enough to make this 2014 release week the best of the year, and that is without mentioning Mike WiLL Made-It (featuring a swath of top rappers), YG, and Kevin Gates.
2015: Week of June 30
After months of delays due to jail time, Meek Mill’s sophomore release finally came in June 2015 and shot straight to No. 1 with an A-list feature roster and stadium-ready anthems. Meanwhile, the West Coast vibe was being revamped by Vince Staples, whose debut LP Summertime ‘06 updated the laidback Long Beach stylings of Snoop Dogg with a massive sense of social awareness. Over brooding and minimal beats, Staples delivered focused bars about the nightmarish underbelly of summer.
Also coming out of SoCal, Odd Future’s The Internet changed the sound of R&B with their first charting record, Ego Death, featuring warm jazz tones and tasty chord changes. Miguel’s steamy, psychedelic album Wildheart—one of the most genre-defying and defining records of 2015—made the biggest R&B splash, however, blending electropop, Prince-inspired rock, and smooth neo-soul vocal performances.
2016: Week of December 9
Despite the Christmas season release date, J. Cole wasn’t fixing to fill us with yuletide cheer on 4 Your Eyez Only. The austere production and sobering commentary on depression, injustice, and violence on the Dreamville head honcho’s fourth studio album are not for the faint of heart. Cole’s singular vision is at its most focused on 4YEO, a characteristic that helped the album go “Platinum with no features.”
Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only features a record entitled “Deja Vu,” which, appropriately enough, is also the title of a single on Post Malone’s breakout debut, Stoney. Save for a few executives at his label, Republic Records, it’s unlikely anyone saw Malone’s chart domination on the horizon. Stoney set the stage for his successful formula of hazy, melody-driven hip-hop ballads with ticking trap beats and thick, atmospheric synth pads.
Overshadowed by Cole and Malone were the GRAMMY-nominated debut from Atlanta’s melodic rapper-singer 6LACK and the raw energy of Ab-Soul’s Do What Thou Wilt.
2017: Week of February 24
Remember when Future released full-length albums in back-to-back weeks? The bold move was fueled by the Epic Records recording artist’s “quantity over quality” mindset, but HNDRXX found the artist delivering hedonistic anthems in prime form.
On the other side of the pond, Stormzy offered Gang Signs & Prayers, creating perhaps the biggest States-side splash in grime’s history with the high-tempo banger “Big For Your Boots” and the gospel-fueled “Blinded By Your Grace.”
It was a big day for funk-jazz-R&B fusion as well. Bass virtuoso Thundercat released his acclaimed record Drunk, featuring everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Kenny Loggins, while the Internet’s guitarist Steve Lacy dropped his groove-heavy debut solo EP, produced mostly on his iPhone.
2018: Week of August 3
As the decade progressed, the competition in hip-hop heightened. In 2018, eight of the top 10 albums were rap releases. Travis Scott surged to his second number one record with ASTROWORLD, an album that simultaneously floats in the stratosphere and grounds itself in Scott’s hometown of Houston. Hit single “SICKO MODE” dominated into early 2019 and kept tensions high, with unfeatured guest Drake throwing subliminals at Kanye during the “Adidon” beef.
On a more sobering note, Mac Miller released what would be his last album, Swimming, before his unexpected and heartbreaking death just a month later. “We are supposed to come away from this album with the notion that Mac Miller has found peace,” DJBooth’s Donna-Claire Chesman wrote upon the album’s release.
Mac’s last testament is a reminder to care both for ourselves and for those we love, whether it’s our family or our favorite rapper.
2019: Week of May 17
Biggest Release: Tyler, the Creator, IGOR
Notable Releases: Megan Thee Stallion, Fever; Slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain; DJ Khaled, Father of Asahd; Injury Reserve, Injury Reserve; Duckwrth, The Falling Man
2019 is not quite over, and there’s always room for a surprise. Still, it’s hard to imagine a period of seven days topping the week of May 17.
With a focus was on the music itself, not star power, as evidenced by unannounced features from Kanye West, Solange, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR sounds nothing like a hip-hop record, and yet, it sounds everything like a hip-hop record.
Compare this to DJ Khaled, who dropped Father of Asahd and threw a fit about coming in second. The star power was present, but for the We The Best bossman, a dedication to metrics over music turned into an L.
Other artists who released the same week but didn’t complain about their modest (or non-existent) chart positions include Megan Thee Stallion, Slowthai, and Injury Reserve.