Top 50 Songs of the 2010's (Pt. 1: 50-26)
by Mike Scarfo:
The first half of my Top 50 favorite songs of the 2010's
Ah, the 2010's. It's nice to reminisce on the better times, as 2020 has experienced one of worst starts to a decade you could think of. Given that age-wise I am now on the wrong side of my 20's, the 2010's provided me substantial growth, both professionally and personally, as anyone's young adult years would. From moments of monumental successes, to times of unimaginable heartbreak, to everything in between, each decade that passes us by is ultimately a reflection of our life's journey in ten year increments. Music is similar in that sense: the songs of this past decade very much reflect the digital world we now live in today. Whether you point to the complete shift of music consumption through streaming services, the ever-growing opportunities for just about anyone to create music, and the transformation of social media marketing strategies, it is evident that the extraordinary leap in technology during the 2010's changed the music world forever.
Creating this list was by far one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Yes, I know, this was self-inflicted, but still; it pained me to leave off so many incredible songs. As always with my past year-end lists on the podcast, I factored in a few components: my own replay-ability, impact on the industry, and longevity. In the end, after an unnecessary amount of hours of contemplation, I am finally satisfied with this far-from-perfect list. But then again, ask me next week and I could change my mind. And that is the beauty of music.
Keep in mind, this is just my opinion, and I would love to hear what your favorite songs of the 2010's were in the comments section:
50) Eminem - Not Afraid (2010)
The tail end of the 2000's saw Eminem finally get himself healthy, sober, and back in the rap game, albeit releasing a questionable record in 2009, Relapse (with the exception of "Beautiful", one of his best songs of all-time in my opinion). Alas, even the legendary rapper himself acknowledges on "Not Afraid" that Relapse was "eh" , on which he promises to never do that to us again. He kinda did with 2017's debatably more mediocre Revival, but that's a topic for a different day. At least he dropped the awful accents.
It's only fitting that 2010's hit single "Not Afraid" proved to become Marshall's true bounce back career-saver, as he delivers bars with such ferocious emotion, ranging from topics of overcoming his battle with substance abuse, to on-going mental health struggles, all while integrating clever, inspirational metaphors that serve to motivate its audience. Yeah, in hindsight a few lines are corny. But you can't deny the genuinely relatable tones that made this song feel like Lose Yourself Pt. 2. Sure, sequels are usually never better than the original, but that doesn't mean they can't still be great. A drum-heavy banger of a beat from Boi-1da never hurt nobody, either...
49) Litany - Bedroom (2017)
Admittedly, I do listen to quite a bit of dream/bedroom pop. One song that just missed this list of the same aesthetic was FRENSHIP & Emily Warren's "Capsize" in 2016, and it could just be a symptom of recency bias, but either way this is a genre of music I enjoy: "Bedroom" exemplifies why.
UK Singer Beth Cornell is the voice behind Litany, and gives a gorgeous performance on the track, her soft and smooth vocals blending effortlessly with vibrant steel-pan drums, keys, and 808's, making for an ambiance that is a breath of fresh air. One of the best of its kind, and a song I came back to time and time again in the second half of the decade.
48) Death Grips - Get Got (2012)
And for one of the worst musical transitions in history, Death Grips comes in at the #48 spot with "Get Got". Aside from the violently disturbing lyricism, I don't know if it's the banging drums, fast paced electric guitar riffs, or MC Ride's off-kilter sporadic rhyme scheme that makes me love this song so much, but we'll go with d) all of the above. This crazed yet melodic experience gets me going at the gym like you wouldn't believe. I know they might be an acquired taste, which is putting it lightly, but once they click with you, they are hard to ignore.
47) Gotye - Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra) 
Yeah, this song was a big deal in 2011. It was everywhere; yet it was one of the most polarizing songs of that year. Mainstream radio ate it up, but media outlets and fans had mixed reviews. Some found the sound incredibly unique, while others heard it as gimmicky; the song was certainly subjected to a fair share of memes online, in essence taking away some of the song's legitimacy to it being taken as serious. I happen to side with the former.
The guitar chord and key progressions are bright and vivid, genuine emotion is felt from both Gotye and Kimbra on the track. The grooves are super tight and catchy, the lyrics ooze relatability. Am I the only one here?
46) OnCue - Me, Liquor, & God (feat. Night Beds) 
OnCue is one of the most underrated artists in the country, period. His melodies are ear-grabbing, his lyricism is always honest and raw, I never understood how he didn't pop. I've been listening to OnCue since I came across his 2011 single "Feel Tall", which nearly knocked "Me Liquor & God" off this spot.
But man, how he flips this 2015 Night Beds track of the same name, it's awesome. Three years later I'm still so engaged with it all the way through. The passion OnCue is rapping with, the purity of addressing his problems; it's a gut-wrenching song. Only fitting this was a highlight off his Perfectly, Tragically, Flawed - EP of the same year, a perfect way to describe all of us. This is a gem that may have slipped by you this decade.
45) Freddie Gibbs - Pinata (feat. Domo Genesis, G-Wiz, Casey Veggies, Sulaiman, Meechy Darko, & Mac Miller) 
Freddie Gibbs is your favorite rapper's, favorite rapper. Whether it was his solo releases Shadow of Doubt (2015) and Freddie (2018) that I thoroughly enjoyed, or his collaborative projects with Madlib, Pinata (2014) and Bandana (2019) that are in the conversation with some of my most-listened albums of the decade, Freddie had to make this list. And Madlib and Freddie might be my favorite producer/rapper duo in the game right now (even if The Alchemist has something to say about it).
The track is just insane. Madlib's production is on point. Domo Genesis of Odd Future, snaps. Casey Veggies, another underrated artist in the 2010's, flows over this beat in such a unique way. Meechy Darko of the Flatbush Zombies, one of my personal favorite rappers, does what we expect of him, with his dark, menacing delivery. Mac Miller highlights a lyrical ending verse that caps off one of best posse cuts of the 2010's.
44) Run the Jewels - Thursday in the Danger Room (feat. Kamasi Washington) 
In 2013, Run the Jewels quickly became one of the most intriguing experimental/alternative hip-hop acts of the decade. Comprised of Atlanta legend Killer Mike, and zany New York producer-rapper El-P, the chemistry between the two right out the gate was palpable, and only grew stronger as the decade progressed.
Their best installment of the decade, in my opinion, was RTJ 3, and "Thursday in the Danger Room" is the perfect blend of electronic and jazz hip-hop (thank you Kamasi Washington) and conscious bars. As both are social activists, (Killer Mike certainly being the more prominent of the two) it only makes sense that their lyrics relay struggles for black people in America, social injustices, and racism just to name a few themes. They've been talking about these issues for quite a while now, and this year's RTJ 4 is no different. These dudes are one a kind.
43) Emotional Oranges - Built That Way 
The Emotional Oranges are by far the most compelling pop-act we saw in the 2010's, albeit in the very last year of the decade. They gained massive cult-like attention early on within the last year or so, and seem to have sustained it, but to be fair I still don't think they have truly popped yet. Yeah that was a bad pun, I know. Let's forget it and move on.
Maybe it truly is the mystique of the duo that makes them such interesting musical artists, similar to The Gorillaz in the 2000's. Going by pseudonyms, "Emo" and "V", the duo has claimed they just want to live normal lives, almost as if they're uncomfortable with the harsh realities that are often synonymous with fame. It's a fascinating loophole that is clearly paying off.
"Built That Way", my favorite song in their discography, is a beautifully crafted neo-soul/modern pop jam that errs on the side of TLC or Destiny's Child. It's a song about honesty and knowing yourself in a relationship. I call it the "woke love song of 2019". After two successful 8-track albums in 2019, I am looking forward to seeing what they do in the 2020's.
42) Teyana Taylor - Rose In Harlem 
Teyana Taylor flips 2Pac's "The Rose That Grew From Concrete" poem into an R&B banger. Her performance is amazing and I take nothing away from it. But damn, how does Kanye West continue to do this so well? The way he mixes the sample in with a heavy 808, blending in some gorgeous strings by the end of it, it's an addicting instrumental. That sample is so damn catchy. I guess this is why he calls himself a genius.
Okay, back to Teyana: her emotional delivery on the track is palpable. She absolutely murders this song from start to finish. Above all, I love the message: often times it can be the ones closest to you that end up hurting you the most. We've all been there. It's relatable without trying too hard, and definitely one of my favorite R&B songs in a while.
41) Mac Miller - Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza 
If you were in high school in the early 2010's, Mac Miller's mixtape K.I.D.S. was most likely a defining moment in your life. Sampling the old-school classic 1995 Lord Finesse "Hip 2 da Game" instrumental, Mac raps relatable bars coupled with a laid back, confident flow that was simply infectious. The Pittsburgh rapper blew up from here on a national stage, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, in 2018 we lost him far too soon.
There were so many Mac songs that could've taken this spot, but honestly, "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza" is too timeless. RIP to a hip-hop legend.
40) Miguel - Face the Sun (feat. Lenny Kravitz) 
Miguel is a talent that really made a name for himself throughout the 2010's. While I was never a huge fan of any of his full-length projects, he still had plenty of tracks throughout the decade that I was very much into, "Face the Sun" being one that garnered serious staying power.
A powerful deep cut on his 2015 Wildheart album, Miguel crafts a gorgeous psychedelic-rock ballad that hits so many different emotional tones, acting as a one-last-ditch-effort towards a lover he claims he belongs to. He hits some vocal runs in the last leg of this track that are just stunningly poignant, all while Lenny Kravitz delivers some amazing washed-out electric guitar chords. This is Miguel at his very best.
39) Sam Smith - I'm Not the Only One 
Sam Smith seriously might have the voice of an angel. He's so gifted with such a powerful timber in his voice that somehow is able to still be soft at the same time. This song exemplifies that notion perfectly.
I love the piano chords and violins, especially at the end, the feeling they capture is so grand. Despite the mellow, sadness Sam portrays from a lover's unfaithfulness, there's an underlying feeling of acceptance. He essentially has two choices: accept that this person will never change, or accept he's better off without this person who does not value him. It serves as a groundbreaking moment. There's a feeling of relief coming from Sam at the end, as he is able to finally face this reality and come to terms with it. The British singer was so successful in the 2010's, winning multiple Grammy's, and a song like this is still as good now as it was in 2014.
38) Masego - Tadow (feat. FKJ) 
In terms of instrumental, this is easily one of my favorites of the last few years. Masego's saxophone sounds perfect over FKJ's production, making for a smooth jazzy tune. Masego's vocal performance is not only versatile, but the "Tadow" refrain will stick in your head. He exudes so much charisma on this track. It's sincerely a pleasant surprise, and Masego pulls off a modern jazz song that most would only dream in accomplishing.
37) Healy - Unwind 
Healy is a relatively unknown artist, but nonetheless extremely talented. "Unwind" is probably one of the best songs of the decade that you never heard before: a beautiful aesthetic of piano chords, hi-hats, and wavy vocal samples, Healy creates an atmosphere that allows the listener to literally unwind. Lyrically, it's all about that exact sentiment: relax, take a deep breath, and appreciate the subtle nuances of life.
In a world where we are constantly on the go, and the anxiety in us all grows by the day, a song like this is necessary in your library. I went back to it regularly over the last few years of the decade as a meditative outlet. Press play and see for yourself.
36) Purity Ring - Push Pull 
After first hearing Purity Ring on Danny Brown's "25 Bucks" (which nearly made this list) I quickly realized I had to hear more. The Canadian electro-pop group is uniquely captivating, bordering on experimental sounds, that show how much this genre of music evolved in the 2010's.
"Push Pull" depicts lead singer Megan James struggling with starting anew; this person or place she is referencing is difficult to just walk away from, but ultimately she knows it is the right thing to do. Finding the courage, on the other hand, may not be as easy as it seems. With glistening keys and synths, this song feels like you're in a vortex. Thankfully after 5 years, we finally got more Purity Ring in 2020. It was about time.
35) Joey Bada$$ - Hardknock (feat. CJ Fly) 
Who said boom bap was dead? Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era resurrected it into the mainstream in the 2010's, and are unsung heroes for helping keep it alive today. His single "Love is Only a Feeling" or a multitude of tracks off of his acclaimed 2017 album All-Amerikkan Badass easily could've made this list, but "Hardknock" is just too impressive to leave out. Joey wrote most of his acclaimed debut mixtape 1999 when he was just 15 and 16 years old, which makes it even more impressive. Joey's mature bars and flows were unheard of for a kid his age at the time, and he has only grown as an artist since.
The song is a thoughtful reflection about the consequences of our decisions in life, and recognizing our role in creating the life we truly want for ourselves. Our intentions during the journey are far more important than the end goal, simply because the latter wouldn't be possible without the former. It's a concept most teenagers don't consider. With colorful story-telling and metaphorical language, Joey paints a picture of poverty and negative influences through a clear-conscience lens that is well-beyond his years. When you combine all of that, along with a solid CJ Fly feature, it sums up to "Hardknock" as one of the best hip-hop songs of the decade.
34) Beyonce - Don't Hurt Yourself (feat. Jack White) 
I'm not one for drama, but if the byproduct is quality music, well then you got me. I'm not going to speak on the Jay-Z/Beyonce relationship troubles that basically turned into an album-feud, both of which were equally vulnerable and reflective in their own ways, but it truly amazes me how in hindsight it appears to have benefit them in the long run. It's a testament to their greatness.
Historically speaking, I've actually never been much of a fan of Beyonce's music if I'm being honest. By no means is her music bad, but outside of a handful of songs, she's just never resonated with me like that. I've always respected her music from a distance; there is no denying the achievements and influence Queen B has had on modern music today. This song, and Lemonade as a whole, changed everything for me. She captures her inner rock-star on this track with an assist from Jack White, who may be one of the best guitar players I have ever seen live. This song is fierce, emotional, and by the end has you unsure of whether to run a marathon or go tell off the person you hate the most. Either way, Beyonce got the W in this one. Sorry, Hov.
33) Michael Kiwanuka - Cold Little Heart 
I first heard this song when I started watching the hit HBO series Big Little Lies, and instantly I was shazam-ing it. "Cold Little Heart" has so many instrumental layers to it: piano, strings, percussion, backing vocals, a brilliant Michael Kiwanuka vocal performance. The inclusion of sporadic electric guitars at the end of the hook give the song a necessary contrast and bring it all together. The radio edit version is great, but I highly suggest listening to the 9-minute album version, as it has such an incredible build to it.
Since, I've become a huge fan of the UK singer's work, as his self-titled album from 2019 made my year-end list. I truly believe he's an artist everyone should be acquainted with for his beautiful instrumentation and his voice that seems to just float over it. One of my favorite indie-rock/easy-listening artists of the decade.
32) Denzel Curry - Ultimate 
Denzel Curry made HUGE waves in the 2010's. Whether you refer to his early mixtapes such as 2016's Imperial, his breakout album Taboo in 2018, or his short project in 2019, Zuu, Denzel has quickly emerged as one of my favorite hip-hop artists, period. I really wanted to put "SIRENS" featuring JID in this spot, but "Ultimate" is the song that got me into Denzel, much like most people. Plus, considering how viral this song went, it's only fitting it makes this list.
Whether it's the industrial, brash, banger of an instrumental, or Denzel's unrelenting energy, this song is in-your-face and flat-out addicting the more you listen. Denzel's ability to switch flow patterns mid-verse, or change his cadence at any given moment, he is without question one of the most engaging artists in hip-hop right now, and he's only improved since this track. "Ultimate" has been at the top of my workout playlist for years, and it never ever fails me. He is the one, and the only, Denzel Curry.
31) James Blake - Barefoot in the Park (feat. ROSALIA) 
Longtime fans of the show, I know what you're thinking: didn't I have "Where's the Catch?" featuring Andre 3000 as my favorite James Blake song from 2019? Yes, I did. You caught me. Allow me to explain.
James Blake certainly pivoted with his sound in early 2019 upon the release of his Assume Form album to a much more lo-fi hip-hop style. While "Where's the Catch?" initially caught my attention, I have to admit it was always Andre that pulled the weight of that song for me due to my lifetime infatuation with OutKast.
"Barefoot in the Park" is a song I always mentioned as the "1b" best song off of this project so to speak, but at this point, it might as well stand alone on its own. James Blake and ROSALIA's chemistry is undeniably poignant. The song is flat out some of the most gorgeous lo-fi R&B you'll hear from this decade. Despite the recency bias, given how many times I've replayed this song in such a short amount of time, it has to be this high on this list based on the uniqueness and the flawless execution. If you don't get into your feels from this song, I question if you're even human.
30) Chance the Rapper - No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz) 
How dare I not pick a song off of Acid Rap ? Relax Chance stans, that would have been too predictable. As a project, I love Acid Rap, but to me there isn't a song that would be worthy of a Top 50 song of the decade. Ironically, even though I am not religious at all, I connected with Coloring Book more than Acid Rap. I definitely enjoy gospel-sounding music, and Chance pulled it off better than I ever could have thought.
Let's face it, "No Problem" is an anthem. This song was EVERYWHERE when it came out. I love the high-pitched sample. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz add killer verses. It's undoubtably one of the best sing-along songs of the decade.
29) Travis Scott - Stop Trying to Be God (feat. James Blake, Kid Cudi, Philip Bailey, & Stevie Wonder) 
Sure, you could make a strong case for "Antidote" being the best, most influential song of Travis Scott's discography. But there's something about "Stop Trying to Be God" that I just can't ignore. I think in large part, this song ultimately showcases how far musically Travis has really come, and the talent he possesses when it comes to composing melodies. You won't find a better example of this than their performance of the song at the 61st Grammy Awards.
The fact he was even able to pull off this kind of lineup is impressive in itself. The atmospheric production that tows the line between heavenly and ominous. Travis' crooning auto-tuned vocals, Philip Bailey's smooth hook, James Blake's gorgeous solo, classic Stevie Wonder harmonica, and Kid Cudi hums to top it all off. Now they're just spoiling us.
28) Ryan Caraveo - Peanut Butter Waffles 
Ryan Caraveo is another artist, much like Healy, who is relatively unknown in mainstream music, but has a massive cult following. The best way I could describe his sound would be something in between Jon Bellion, Kid Cudi, & Hippie Sabotage. His 2019 album Butterfly Boy was without question my favorite project of that particular year; there hasn't been an album I've connected with front-to-back quite like it in a long time. There were so many songs I could've put in this spot from that album, but "Peanut Butter Waffles" just made the most sense.
This song is a perfect blend of indie pop, alternative, and hip-hop. The lyrics are so honest, raw, and relatable. I talked about this song ad nauseam in our Top 25 Songs of 2019 podcast episode, if you want to hear my full analysis check that out. On PBW, Caraveo is able to hit emotions of loneliness and anxiety in such a poetically poignant way, that like I said, connected with me so much off of the very first listen. It has been in constant rotation in my Spotify since. Just click play above and follow along with the lyrics, you'll see what I mean. Make sure you check out Butterfly Boy in full if you haven't already.
27) Bon Iver - Holocene 
Bon Iver is my favorite meditative, lo-fi artist to turn to when I feel the need to relax and let go. His music is so beautiful and moving, and this song is the perfect example. "Holocene" is the definition of timeless.
A gorgeous, heavenly instrumental backed by an acoustic guitar, with subtle blends of piano chords and lo-fi percussion throughout. I have always been fond of the way artists like Bon Iver, and historically, James Blake, utilize drowned-out autotuned vocals. Justin Vernon's vocal performance on this song is one of the best of the decade, no question.
26) Big K.R.I.T. - Miss Georgia Fornia (feat. Joi) 
I have said this so many times over the last few years along with one of my closest friends Danny, but Big K.R.I.T. is the most underrated and under-appreciated hip-hop artist of this generation. I have loved him since his early mixtape days in the 2010's, and his evolution as an artist cannot be overstated. His double LP in 2017 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time is one of the best of the decade (spoiler alert) and was the peak of his musical prowess.
"Miss Georgia Fornia" uses some classic southern sounds, and depicts his move to LA and his journey to being a major label artist. Joi's vocals are perfect for this song, especially on the INCREDIBLE violin-driven outro. Overall, "Miss Georgia Fornia" showcases K.R.I.T.'s true ear for instrumentation and creating music as a whole. This man is what a true artist is all about.