2010s: Favorite 100 Songs of the Decade

"Psychadelic Passion" by Devante Xiyon

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series



BED · OFFICE · GYM · BATH · COUPE
ALLEY · BONFIRE · CLIFF · VOID · BEYOND

The BONFIRE is not where we gather, but why we gather. From epic sing-alongs to social rallying to communal mic-sharing, this mix creates space for celebratory experiences and dramatic intimations of the universal. The fire here is to warm our hearts, not our dinner.

PART 7: “BONFIRE” mixed by Willcoma


Creek Boyz

“With My Team”

[00:00]

[Cross Creek]

It was all about community and feeling. The Creek Boyz’s now-legendary posse-cut yoked the enduring pain of loss to the unalloyed joy of friendship — the feeling that anything’s possible because of the people at your back. Set to honeyed, unobtrusive production by A2rBeatz, the Baltimore quartet sounded at once thrillingly loose and spectacularly practiced. The hand-offs from rapper to rapper were barely-there smooth, every ad lib darting in at just the right angle. Member ETS Breeze’s supple delivery was a whole sensual universe unto itself. But it was the crew’s intoxicating harmonies that elevated “With My Team” from sung storytelling to a felt experience. We were invited to share in their hurt, their communal strength, and their good vibes, which emanated effortlessly from their raps like a life-giving glow. Friends died, mothers cried, and memorial t-shirts were printed, but there was hope to be found in each other, and that proved enough to electrify an entire fucking city, and eventually the world. Yeah, it’s gon’ be fine.


Yung Lean

“Leanworld”

[02:50]

[Self-Released]

Lay me down, concrete love. I blinked through watery eyes that stared bloodshot at an LED screen. I saw myself, and it wasn’t in a reflection. I saw myself in a green haze of light. Then I was floating through a skyline – not actually floating through a skyline, mind you – but I saw the cityscape of Los Angeles in the year 2019. I’ll see you in another life, when we are both cats. And then I saw myself in a garden among the weeds, among the soil. And I was home. Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space.


Kendrick Lamar

“Alright”

[06:35]

[Top Dawg]

The pressures of excellence weighed on Kendrick Lamar like an anvil, both in real life and in the narrative of To Pimp a Butterfly. “Alls my life I has to fight,” he brashly intoned at the top of “Alright,” the centerpiece of this grandiose, intimate jazz rap masterwork. His foes included the police (they want him dead in the street) and his doubters in Compton (Lamar’s own Nazareth). And of course, there was the temptation that had been hounding him since at least good kid, m.A.A.d. city; it beckoned with promises of houses, cars, and reparations. He knew this materialism was dubious, but that was the game, and he had been pimped into it. Prostrated beneath all these millstones, Kendrick heard a reprieve by way of Pharrell: “We gon’ be all right…”


Angel Bat Dawid

“Black Family”

[09:49]

[International Anthem]


If this were Tiny Mix Tapes’s Favorite Basslines of the Decade list, it would consist of Angel Bat Dawid’s “Black Family” and… well, just that would be enough, really. A spiritual jazz number that incidentally alluded to the subgenre’s misnomer, reminding us how all jazz music could be spiritual, all spirituality music. A piece whose intricacies lay hidden in its simplicity. A solo expression of community from a multigenerational one-woman ensemble. A single lyric, its affirmation brilliantly repeated like the revolutions of the sun: “The Black Family is the strongest institution in the world.” And that bass…


Rihanna

“Higher”

[16:06]

[Roc Nation]

Here are some shamelessly cheesy questions concerning Rihanna’s “Higher,” an anthem for those shamelessly and cheesily in love: Do you have someone? Do you want to? Have you ever? Where are they now? Have you stared at a fire sitting next to someone, their gaze fixated on the same glowing ember as yours? Have you ever been a little tipsy and wanted to tell them everything all at once? Do the words escape you? Do you feel you could be more creative, but I love you is the only thing that comes to mind? Do you feel cliché? Awkward? Cheesy? Have you ever opened a space inside someone else that fits you so perfectly that all you have room for is two short verses from a desperately genuine love song? Do you feel sad, nostalgic, high, anything? Has Rihanna ever explained something you felt, something you didn’t even know was there, but always has been? She did that for me with “Higher,” when she had “a little bit too much to say,” so she said it all by saying very little in a short but triumphantly intimate, beautiful love song. And the shamelessly cheesy romantics like myself simply couldn’t get enough of it.


Autre Ne Veut

“Drama Cum Drama”

[17:52]

[Olde English Spelling Bee]


Then-mysterious Autre Ne Veut took their striking, fully-formed shape in the silvery dawn of the 2010s, a pop cloud radiating sugared holograms of flesh in pain and in ecstasy — a speak-and-spelling Al Green, a runny watercolor Francis Bacon. “Drama Cum Drama,” at the halfway mark of their self-titler, was a bed of pretty, decaying electric jolts trimmed with Christmas-in-the-80s candy keyboards. Gooshy, splayed-internal-organ vocals growled and soared through gargled lyrics and a joyful, longing mantra of “gotta be alive,” holding back a late-in-the-game climax: a delirious just-can’t-wait falsetto swoon anticipating an unintelligible something “to be there in my heart tonight.”


Japandroids

“The House That Heaven Built”

[22:07]

[Polyvinyl]

What is the meaning of life? It’s a question that has stumped us since the dawn of rational thought. Is life really that complicated though? Sometimes, sure. Other times, however, the meaning of life really can be as simple as cracking open some cold ones, putting your arms around your favorite people, and scream-singing “The House That Heaven Built” in unison until God themself knocks on the front door and tells you to shut the hell up, this is a family neighborhood. “The House That Heaven Built” was a rock anthem to end all rock anthems, a complete and utter jam that burned the candle at both ends, threw the candle in the air, and then blew it up with a shotgun.


The National

“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

[27:03]

[4AD]

“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” followed me through the decade like an old sweater. One that you never wear, so that when you do, you’re conscious of its age and the maudlin contours of memory that hang from it. If I had an old sweater band in the 2010s, then The National were certainly it, and I mean that endearingly. 2010’s High Violet was a marvel for me during my high school years, and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was its wistful dénouement, less an anthem than a eulogy for that unique strain of nostalgia that’s at once happy and sad. In its essence, it was an open embrace of the past and the future, both a sunset and a sunrise, depending on your vantage point. And like everyone, I had many vantage points in the 2010s. Life changes, we change with it, but certain artifacts stay with us. For me, one of them was this song, packed away in the closet, not so much gathering dust as absorbing time, waiting to be worn again when the weather was right. I never really understood the lyrics (What, or who, is a Vanderlyle? And who, or what, are the geeks?), and I don’t think anyone ever did — even now, googling them feels like a betrayal of their malleability, words that somehow become specific in their vague appeal to the universal: “All the very best of us/ String ourselves up for love…” Sometimes I listened to this song on repeat for months, sometimes I didn’t listen to it for years only to have it resurface in the most peculiar way. And now, here it is again, waiting for me to press play like so many times before.


Kanye West

“Ultralight Beam”

[30:57]

[Def Jam]

This is my part nobody else speak, this is my part nobody else speak. Pause, gasp, apophasis. To those who could never speak, who were never heard. To those who could speak but got all choked up. To those who could not and still cannot breathe. A chorus gathering to voice a silence so insistent even Kanye gets quiet. For all the latter-day posturing, proselytizing, and profiteering — the convert’s sweaty hands stretching toward a gilded dais — this moment of hush evoked another sort of entity. Illuminated by the ultralight beam: an ensemble looking not for asinine redemption, but a modest clearing in which to sojourn.


Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

“Round and Round”

[36:19]

[4AD]

Sometimes brilliant things are kinda dumb, like a song called “Round and Round” anchored by a bassline that sounds, duh, circular. The words echoed the bass (“We die and we live and we’re born again”) and the chorus summoned an optical illusion (“I’ll back you up/ As your frontman”). The dreamlike synth vamp led nowhere at all. Constant motion blurred into a feeling of total stasis — kinda like bein’ alive, right? Brilliant. Just how many of Ariel Pink’s phone calls were we privy to this decade? Was this all some kind of joke?

Click to the next page to hear the “CLIFF” mix by B. Levinson.

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series


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