2020 was a bit of a slow year for hip-hop. That much cannot be debated. It was clear that the pandemic-ridden world was one that did not pave the way for much music in the worlds most popular genre. Many artists that have dominated charts or remained household names like A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, and many others were relatively quiet all year. In all fairness, it was the same with all corners of music. However, these 10 albums all kept the spirit going and alive throughout one of the darkest times in recent history. In the darkness, these pieces of art came up like a beacon of auditory glory for all of us to enjoy.
10. RTJ – RTJ 4
Killer Mike and EL-P never disappoint with their intricately crafted production and in-depth lyricism on some important topics such as social classism and systematic government corruption. This time, they are rather poignant and intense with their approach, further separating themselves from their early work of more “casual” rap subjects. RTJ4 is still a bombastic statement, even if can be jarring at times, the truth is what they try to talk about and thus it fits.
Best Songs: “Just” ft. Pharrell & Zach De La Rocha, “Out of Sight” ft. 2 Chainz
9. Eminem – Music To Be Murdered By
Eminem just keeps surprising everyone in the rap community on how his longevity seems to keep expanding. Now, this entire album feels like a bit of a return to form as Eminem focuses on hardcore lyrics of stimulating visuals that conjure whatever type of hyperboles that come to his brilliant mind. The real highlights of the album are when he truly sounds like he has entered a fresh part of his career.
Best songs: “Godzilla” ft. Juice WRLD, “No Regrets” ft. Don Toliver
8. Jackboys- Jackboys
This concise album from the newly formed supergroup Jackboys is an example of what’s to come for the future of hip-hop production. It breaks a couple of my own rules in that it was technically released in 2019 (Dec. 27) and that its actually a compilation album. However, these songs were hot throughout the year and Travis Scott leads this team with his signature keen eye for unique flair in a world where everyone is copying each other.
Best Songs: “Out West” ft. Young Thug, “Gatti” ft. Pop Smoke
7. Gunna – WUNNA
Gunna has exploded onto the rap scene along with a few others that are starting to pave the way for the next era of hip-hop stars and while he doesn’t quite have the recognition of some of the biggest stars, he has collaborated with just about everyone to a degree. This shows his willingness to drop great music ahead of everything else in his career. WUNNA is an underrated album that seemed to fall under the radar but its nonchalant attitude and booming instrumentals give it a great energy to vibe to.
Best Songs: “Dollaz On My Head”, “Wunna”, “Top Floor” ft. Travis Scott
6. Drake – Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Another technical rule breaker, this “mixtape” seems to be a gathering of the loosies that Drake has been working on as he proceeds to his forthcoming 6th solo album; Certified Lover Boy. The album is actually very low-fi, something that fits very well with Drake’s vocals and creates a great soundscape whenever it comes together. The issue here is that the songs on the album just never seem to connect and intertwine as well as some of his prior work, but that should not take away from the greatness in some of these tracks.
Best songs: “Pain 1993” ft. Playboi Carti, “Desires” ft. Future, “Chicago Freestyle” ft. Giveon
5. Mac Miller – Circles
The final album from a talent that was taken too soon, Circles is a beautiful swansong and emotional turnabout for Mac that solidified his penchant for having a truly special connection with his inner thoughts and self reflection. This is something that was sorely missing and still is missing from the rap world. Circles is the second in what was supposed to be a trilogy that started with Swimming, and was supposed to closeout with a true form of hip-hop purity in a third that was never made. While some could argue that it is a bit too soft to be considered a rap album, it still holds the soul of witty lyricism and attention to genre-defying production.
Best Songs: “Good News”, “Surf”, “Woods”
4. Bones – Offline
BONES released 4 albums in the year 2020 alone. He keeps putting out quality music that serves so many purposes and crosses so many genres while remaining true to his “SESH” mantra and theme that he has consistently pushed. Offline is the best of the 4, as it seems to be a good mixture of the darker tones he has adhered to in his recent releases while also maintaining the braggadocios rebellious side that he rode all the way to the top of the underground world.
Best songs: “Timberlake” ft. Juicy J, “BewareOfTheDog”, “BlancoBenz”
3. Freddie Gibbs – Alfredo
Gibbs’ third album in a row with The Alchemist has proved that they belong in the discussion for best rapper/producer combos. This album is so pleasant to listen to, where Freddie pleasantly tells the visceral tales of his past, present and future. He is criminally underrated as a lyricist as he can use wordplay to punctuate his lines with a brevity and impact that very few rappers have in this day and age. The sample-based production gives a timeless aesthetic and while Freddie is far from a classic type of rapper, he brings an old-school machismo and confidence to his music that gives it a swagger that is unmatched.
Best Songs: “Scottie Beam” ft. Rick Ross, “Something To Rap About” ft. Tyler The Creator, “Babies and Fools” ft. Conway The Machine
2. Westside Gunn – Pray For Paris
Benny The Butcher and Conway The Machine have been elusive underground favorites of the rap world for a few years now, and while they have yet to truly break into the mainstream(something they probably aren’t aiming for) they made waves with this excellent album that was inspired by their trip to the titular country of Paris. When it comes to throwing it back to a retro vibe, Pray For Paris easily sounds like it would be a fantastic listen for both fans of new school and old school hip-hop and its lyrics are so upfront and matter-of-fact that it just comes across as pure expression. It also gets bonus points from this reviewer for its constant sampling of iconic professional wrestling clips, mainly from the late 90s which gives it yet another layer of nostalgic around the project’s intricate core.
Best Songs: “327” ft. Joey Bada$$ & Tyler The Creator, “$500 Ounces” ft. Freddie Gibbs & Roc Marciano, “French Toast” ft. Wale & Joyce Wrice
1. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II
And the Best Rap Album of 2020 goes to Savage Mode 2. This album is gorgeously structured in a way that keeps its own honest vibes flowing for all of its 15 tracks/44 minutes and progressed lyrical depth along with performance quality of 21 Savage’s artistry. The narration from Morgan Freeman adds to its stern nature that strays away from the careless and reckless persona of 21’s past releases. Metro, on the other hand, has once again proved himself to be the most talented producer in the entire world and a legitimately consistent hit-making machine as he expertly crafts his beats from weaving samples into a familiar but sharply patterned percussion along with deep bass that gives it a thumping force.
Best Songs: “Rich Neighbor Shit”, “Runnin'”, “Glock In My Lap”,