The 2010s decade had a lot talented music creators showing up on the scene. While some acts quickly shot to the top of the charts and commercial success after the first album release, others remained under the radar for the most part. We saw the rise of talents including rappers, songwriters, producers, bands and everyone in between. Just to name a handful, the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons, Justin Bieber, Deafheaven, DJ Khaled certainly dominated the headlines in the media as much as they did the music charts between 2010 and 2019. But some music creators, no matter how many glowing initial reviews they received or how promising their talent seemed, for some reason that just did not translate to mainstream music success. Jorja Smith is one example of an artist that seemed to had a bright future when she debuted in 2016 and went on to feature with some of the music industry’s top stars including Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars. Unfortunately, that earlier momentum did not (yet) bring her mainstream success. There are certainly countless examples of music creators who didn’t get the recognition they deserved in the last decade, but here are our 10 picks.
Which music creators do you think deserved more accolades in the last decade?
10 Most Underrated Music Creators of the 2010s
1. Ariel Rechtshaid
With a few notable exceptions, producers rarely get the individual notoriety they deserve. 40-year-old in-demand producer has shepherded a handful of the biggest indie acts (and beyond) of the last decade including Blood Orange, Vampire Weekend, Haim, Sky Ferreira, Charlie XCX, Adele, Madonna, Usher, U2, and Beyonce. As a teenager he dropped out of school to form his first band, a punk-ska outfit called The Hippos. Through contacts made during tours with The Hippos he began to receive inquires about working as a potential producer. He scored his first hit in 2007 with “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s. In 2012 he connected with Diplo for a collaboration on Usher’s “Climax.” In a 2019 interview with the Creative Independent, Ariel attributed his success to caring about the musicians as individuals and as artists. “I care about what’s in their heart and what it is they’re trying to express, whether it’s from an aesthetic standpoint or from an emotional standpoint.”
There’s no debate that Top Dawg Entertainment ruled the decade. There was just no stopping the record label’s bevy of talented spitters, led by its flagship members Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, from taking the music industry by storm. With that in mind, it may come as a surprise, however, that their ascension was due in large part to the brilliance of their engineer, MIXEDBYALI. An engineer is the final pitstop separating rough recordings from release day. Their job involves applying the final mixes to a project, making sure the sequencing and sounds are crisp enough to be consumed by music fans worldwide. Kendrick Lamar’s 2011 independent debut project Section 80, mixed by Ali, placed Lamar and TDE firmly on the map as a force to be reckoned with. Even without the backing of a major label and state-of-the-art audio professionals, the album sounded bold and refined, rare for a rapper just beginning his career. Ali’s impressive streak continued in the following years by engineering TDE members Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q on their own breakout albums, Control System and Oxymoron respectively — each time adjusting his mixes to the unique style and vision of the artists headlining it. Recently, Ali has branched out from the TDE umbrella, mixing some of hip hop’s most acclaimed artists and projects in the process, including Mac Miller’s Divine Feminine, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy. Life as a music engineer involves loads of painstaking work that is rarely gloried, but Ali doesn’t mind — thriving in the shadows and emerging as one of the most underrated figures in the music industry.
3. Devin Townsend
Devin Townsend has been a prolific vocalist/guitarist/composer/producer since the ‘90s but remains a popular (and polarising) cult figure. You see, Heavy Devy—as he is affectionately known—has has only ever been concerned with chasing the sounds in his own head, commercial considerations and trends be damned. In the past decade alone that has meant making exuberant hybridized europop/metal (2009’s Addicted and 2014’s Z2: Sky Blue); introspective ambient new age music (2011’s Ghost); ghostly, haunted country music (2014’s Casualties of Cool); epic, theatrical and idiosyncratic rock and metal (2009’s Ki, 2011’s Deconstruction, 2012’s Epicloud, 2014’s Z2: Dark Matters, and 2016’s Transcendence—did I mention that he was prolific?). He finally capped the decade with 2019’s completely bonkers Empath, which is itself a monumental testament to the man’s immense creativity, utter disregard for genre labels, unimpeachable artistic integrity, and possible literal insanity. Whether you love him or hate him, to know him is to respect him.
4. Shabazz Palaces
Ishmael Butler (formerly Butterfly of the Grammy-winning 1990s hip-hop act Digable Planets) and Tendai Maraire are abstract, free-thinking hip-hop artists that merge rap with African percussion and jazz. Their first two albums Black Up (2011) and Lese Majesty (2014) solidified them as minor critical successes, but the broader fanbase never arrived. Experimental companion albums titled Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines arrived in 2017 expanding minds and tapping into the neo-psychedelia of artists like Ariel Pink. They’re making the most interesting rap music of the decade while the majority of the genre’s popular artists fall into an increasingly narrow bandwidth.
Half of the albums in the on Spotify and Apple Music reggae top 10 are Bob Marley albums. That goes to show you how to many American and global listeners, their knowledge of reggae begins and ends with the name Bob Marley outside of the dancehall stars of the 90s/00s. When Chronixx arrived on the scene in the early years of the decade, he seemed destined to change that. His debut LP, Chronology debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes reggae top 10 in 2011. Although his voice and lyricism is reminiscent of reggae legends of the past, he proved that he can also drop bars over boom-bap production and craft R&B ballads. He featured on Hip Hop and R&B albums with Joey Badass, Diplo, Lil Simz. His music makes you want to be a better person. Just listen to this. Perhaps the new decade will bring him more spotlight to his positive lyricism and inspirational music.
6. Emily King
Emily King is an outstanding singer-songwriter, she can depict a story through song masterfully. Her albums Seven, in 2011, The Switch in 2015, and her new album this year Scenery are all introspective works of life. Her soul and modern RnB style resonate with people of all ethnicities and genders. Ms. King’s vocals are pristine and wistful, and it is like a calm wind during a spring day. Her new album Scenery is a story about growth with influences of jazz, the ’80s, and modern RnB, 80s rock, and soul. Ms. King’s music is the definition of an innovative and circuitous arrangement.
Ms. King’s first debut album East Side Story, nominated for Best Contemporary R&B album of the year, her album was inventive, sultry, and multifacet arrangement and story. Ms. King’s music is powerfully introspective and looks deep at the parts within oneself. For example, the various relationships people have, either it being between two friends, family, our yourself. Ms. King uses the influences of 80s hip-hop, rock, RnB, and soul to create an ethereal atmosphere for growth and connection. The music industry has someone speaking about deeper issues that is continually touching and impact multiple people, but she hasn’t been showcased as one of the most influential musicians of the decade.
7. Frank Ocean
In 2009, Christopher “Lonny” Breaux was just another New Olean displaced by Hurricane Katrina working odd jobs in Los Angeles. Then, as a new decade turned in, as if by some sort of cosmic switch, Breaux matamorphosed into Frank Ocean. Since then Frank Ocean has worked on some of the most successful music projects of the decade as a singer, songwriter and producer. Beyonce called the help of Ocean for her albums “4” and the self-titled “Beyonce”. He has also worked on Justin Bieber ,John Legend, Kanye West and Jay-Z. It is even reported that he wrote the hook for “No Church in the Wild” in minutes and recorded his piece in one take. And then there are his own albums. Frank Ocean is a recurring name on numerous “Best Album of the Decade” recaps with “Channel Orange” and “Blonde” seen near the top end of almost every one of music publication’s recaps.
Yet with all that success and obvious talent, Frank Ocean still seems not to dwell in the limelight like his contemporaries. Perhaps this is by design for an artist who deliberately shies away from the spotlight. Nonetheless, the guy deserves much more mainstream recognition than he gets.
8. Tobias Forge of Ghost
The metal band Ghost has put out 4 albums in the last decade but has still barely scratched the surface of stardom. They’ve gone from a relatively obscure Swedish band to playing stadiums in the States, but there is still a lot of division in the metal community. There are fans that love their work but there are just as many people that think they’re just a flash in the pan (even with 4 albums). Those who dismiss them fail to see how the band is completely rewriting what it means to be a metal band today.
Not every artist has the ability to reach inside our souls and pluck the strings of our heart as if it’s an instrument. However, Labrinth does. His soulful songs like “Jealous” and “Beneath Your Beautiful” are the type of songs which are not created very often. Labrinth’s songs will make your vulnerable side come out and take by over the strong facade we put on.
Is it Malik Flavors, Quasimoto, Jaylib or Madlib? Keeping up with Otis Jackson, Jr many names or rather alter egos is as difficult as keeping up with his discography. The producer from Oxnard, California, wields a discography that is highly diverse, prolific, and accomplished. Besides his own records in all those names, he has brought his looping samples, rare beats and love of jazz to records by Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, Talib Kweli, Freddie Gibbs and many more. The man has been working since 1993 but doesn’t seem to have quite got the recognition he deserves. Otis Jackson, Jr by any other name would be the same talented producers on the same level as, if not better than, any other producers we hear about every day. Perhaps recognition will catch up with him once he learns to stick to one name.