The Top 7 Records Defining 21st Century Music (So Far)
Posted on September 02 2019
It’s crazy to think that we’re almost 20 years into the 21st century. In just two decades, we’ve seen huge culture shifts that have made music videos all but obsolete, rapid advancements in digital streaming services, and even the resurgent popularity of vinyl records.
So who are the artists who’ve made the most iconic and acclaimed 21st century music? In no particular order, let’s take a look at some of the most influential artists and albums of the 21st century so far.
OutKast - Stankonia (2000)
A lot of critics and fans consider Stankonia to be among the first rap masterpieces of 21st century music. Just listening to OutKast’s genre-defying blend of pop, funk, and rap, it’s easy to see the appeal.
When it was released, Rolling Stone referred to it as “one of the best albums of the year” for 2000 while The Village Voice praised OutKast’s fourth studio album and follow-up to Aquemini released in 1998, calling their verses “disarmingly subtle.”
The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
The mid 2000s propelled many indie rock outfits to the forefront of popular music, and none more so than The Strokes’ with their debut album, Is this It.
The British Phonographic Industry deemed the album “certified gold”, and it stayed on the Billboard 200 for a whopping 58 weeks. As a seminal and still-influential rock album as far as 21st century music is concerned, Is This It even garnered a perfect 10 rating from NME, in which reviewer John Robinson called it, “one of the best debut LPs by a guitar band during the past 20 years.”
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (2012)
With segue tracks inspired by popular films and candid lyrics speaking to Frank Ocean’s own feelings of emotional vulnerability, Channel Orange was one of 2012’s most iconic albums, and a rap album that continues to define the 21st century.
The album features a rich blend of genres from psychedelic influences to electro-funk, soul, jazz, and funk. It also features Earl Sweatshirt from Odd Future, with cameos by Outkast’s Andre 3000, John Mayer, and Tyler, the Creator.
Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
Radiohead is by now a legacy in their own right, with a number of critically acclaimed albums. From OK Computer’s tech-heavy nuances to the late grunge classic The Bends, it wasn’t much of a surprise for critics and fans to find that Kid A would be such an enduring influence for 21st century music.
While the lyrics and subject matter drew from poetic, almost mythic influences, Kid A propelled Radiohead’s sound into the 21st century with an abundance of electronic samples. Kid A also went on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and in 2012, Rolling Stone placed the album at 67th for its list of Top 500 Albums of All Time.
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
21st century music has, across many genres, drew from retro influences. But in a completely new direction came Sound of Silver, the Grammy-nominated second studio album from LCD Soundsystem.
The album gave mid-2000’s dance and electronica a range of emotional resonance, with the Guardian highlighting the sentimentality and “devastating emotional punch” of songs like “All My Friends” and “Someone Great.” Incidentally, The Guardian also named Sound of Silver album of the year for 2007.
Beyoncé - Beyoncé (2013)
A list of iconic 21st century music wouldn’t be complete without Beyoncé. No other recording artist has coupled messages of empowerment, feminism, strength, and self-expression with popular music sensibilities and arena-packing star power.
In 2013, Beyoncé released her fifth studio album and combined her signature blend of contemporary R&B, soul, and electronic music along with her already impressive vocal range to create an eponymous album that spent 185 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200.
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (2006)
With Back to Black, Amy Winehouse cemented her status as 21st century music’s first British soul icon. The album went on to win the Best Pop Vocal Album the year it was released, and today, Amy Winehouse’s legacy endures with contemporary artists such as Duffy and Adele citing the album as a seminal influence. In 2018, there was even a documentary that featured archival footage, never-before-seen interviews, and commentary from the album’s producers.
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