Updated: Jan 1
If there's two things we can all agree on in 2020, it's that it was an extremely tough year for a lot of us, and it was also a great year for Hip-Hop. The genre continues to grow and has more sub-genres than ever before, which is evident with this list here. As far as year end lists go, this one here is about as biased and subjective as any you will see. So don't expect to agree with a lot of it!
25. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin - Savage Mode II
Standout track: Rich N**** Shit
Best line: "I just made an opp do the running man
Keep an FN in my Cullinan" ~ 'Slidin'
The highly anticipated follow up to 2016's Savage Mode finally arrived from two of the biggest names in trap. At this point I don't think there's anyone as prolific as Metro Boomin in his lane. The 27 year old Missouri born producer is showing even more sides to his production on this sequel, most notably on the luxurious 'Rich N**** Shit' and the classic sounding 80s Hip-Hop sample on 'Steppin on N*****'. 21 Savage is always showing improvement as a rapper too, being more topical throughout and maintaining the charisma he's known for. Also, who else can say they have Morgan Freeman narrating their album?
24. Freddie gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo
Standout track: Frank Lucas
Best line: “Just let me go cause my license, insurance proper, sir
I’d hate to be on the run for smokin’ an officer” ~ ‘Scottie Beam’
Two of the very best at what they do, Gibbs & Alchemist came through with one of the most highly acclaimed albums of the year. I'm convinced that Freddie Gibbs has an unlimited amount of flows in his vault that he can flex on any given track ('God Is Perfect' backs this up). Alchemist provides a rich sound on Alfredo for the most part, but the dark and sinister beat on 'Frank Lucas' is the pick from the bunch. Give them the Grammy!
23. H31R - velocity
Standout track: big luv
Best line: "Try to disrupt the peace and I bet you won't take it from me
I will pull up to your mom and tell her, her baby ugly" ~ 'whatweleftwith'
This is the first project from Maassai & JWords as a pair, known together as H31R. JWords beats are spacey and have an ethereal feel to them, which leave plenty of room for Maassai to show her capabilities on the mic. This album definitely feels like its gone under the radar this year but if you're into experimental rap, then this might be for you.
22. Run the Jewels - RTJ4
Standout track: out of sight
Best line: “One time in the big ‘ole South, lived a lil’ chubby kid with a big ‘ole mouth
Lame writers gave him big ‘ole doubts, now the same lil’ boy in a big old house” ~ ‘holy calamafuck’
Once again, Run the Jewels deliver another strong album after a 4-year lay off. El-P was in his bag throughout this, as he still manages to innovate with his production. Tracks like ‘out of sight’ and ‘holy calamafuck’ raise the bar for all of the producers out there. Of course it comes as no surprise that both, he and Killer Mike don’t waste a single line on RTJ4. They offer their social commentary on the world today, which has them sounding like they’re going to lead the revolution more than ever.
21. Armani Caesar - THE LIZ
Standout track: The Countdown
Best line: “Fuck busting out your windows
Ima put a bomb in your Benz, do harm to your mental” ~ ‘The Countdown’
Griselda’s First Lady breaks down stereotypes of what people expect from females in rap with a very solid debut. Armani’s show stopping verse on Westside Gunn’s Flygod is an Awesome God 2 put everyone on notice for what she’s capable of doing on the mic. She then followed it up with THE LIZ which has now cemented her name as a rapper, and with it she brings enough attitude to cover the state of New York.
20. Rome Streetz - Noise Kandy 4
Standout track: Prophet and a Pusher
Best line: "I been had it clicking, doing numbers like a statistician
Me and you will never match
My swag different, I need the bag fast and that’s tradition” ~ ‘My Reality’
There’s not many guys keeping it as real as Rome Streetz. Noise Kandy 4 is a no nonsense Hip-Hop album with a classic East-coast boom-bap sound, hard bars, and crazy flows. Artists like this are necessary to keep the essence of Hip-Hop alive and Rome Streetz' music keeps that flame alight as much as anyone.
19. Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony
Standout track: A.P.I.D.T.A.
Best line: “They say it was gon’ never happen
but I survived Neverland just like the Jacksons
You never swallow slanderous lies for the devil’s satisfaction” ~ 'Ezekiel’s Wheel'
It wasn’t the album we were expecting after a decade of anticipation but nevertheless (with the assistance of Jay-Z) Jay Elec finally delivered his debut album. It may lack some consistency but there are plenty of highlights throughout. ‘Ghost of Soulja Slim’, ‘The Neverending Story’ & ‘The Blinding’ all showcase top tier lyricism whilst the closing track A.P.I.D.T.A. is one of the most heartfelt songs of the year.
18. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - Unlocked
Standout track: DIET_
Best line: ‘Know too many n***** that got semi rounds and cold like ice,
Put thorns to your crowns, you go out like Christ” ~ 'DIET_'
This was a match made in heaven between Denzel and Kenny which saw them both elevate each other’s talents to a new level. With only 8 tracks they don’t waste much time - ‘DIET’ & 'So.Incredible.pkg' show the two sides of what they're capable of doing together. A larger project to follow this up would be most welcomed.
17. Navy Blue - Song of Sage: Post Panic!
Standout track: 1491
Best line: "They killing us blind but notice our colour
They televise the demise of our brothers" ~ 'Moment Hung'
Navy Blue a.k.a Sage Elsesser has been making a name for himself as a producer over the past couple of years, but 2020 has seen him really come into his own as both a rapper and an artist. Sage taps into his conscious and speaks on important issues, ranging from personal struggles with his mental health on ‘Self Harm’ to African-American suppression on 'Moment Hung’. He’s even managed to get a Yasiin Bey feature which really speaks for itself. What’s most amazing, is that it feels like he’s just getting started.
16. Pop Smoke - Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
Standout track: Snitching
Best line: “It’s a ginger ale and Henny day, eased up on the crème brulee,
38’s on the block, a n**** won’t hesitate” ~ 'Gangstas'
Pop Smoke had so much star quality and with his most eclectic album Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, it sounds more like a greatest hits compilation, which is a testament to his hit-making abilities. Pop delivers banger after banger presented in a variety of different forms. Whether it be the hard hitting tracks like 'Snitching' & '44 Bulldog' or the more melodic sounding songs such as ’For the Night’ & ‘What You Know About Love’, the native New Yorker adapts comfortably without ever sounding forced. I'm sure this album will be remembered for years to come.
15. Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin - FlySiifu's
Standout track: Richard Pryor
Best line: "My baby girl was made in the world where welfare was living well
My Pops came to show and tell, I know it well dawg" ~ 'Mind Right'
This right here is one of the most necessary albums of the year. After all the chaos that 2020 has brung, FlySiifu’s offers some resolve and restores peace to the world for its 47-minute runtime. Centred around an imaginary record shop theme, the calming sound of this album is birthed from that of J Dilla, and has credits from notable producers such as Madlib, Animoss and Jay Versace. Siifu and Anakin's contrast in styles manage to compliment each other perfectly.
14. Mach-Hommy - Mach's Hard Lemonade
Standout track: Squeaky Hinge
Best line: "What's pocket change? What's house money?
What's stock exchange, all I know is clout, dummy" ~ 'Squeaky Hinge'
The enigma that is Mach-Hommy comes through on the full length LP, Mach’s Hard Lemonade with one of the best abstract Hip-Hop albums of the year. It seems impossible that the Newark based rapper can make a disappointing album as he continues to show his consistency with each release. The beauty of listening to Mach is that you can play his projects front to back as many times as you like, and you’ll still be catching lines you never caught before. Probably for the rest of your life...
13. Armand Hammer - Shrines
Standout track: King Tubby
Best line: “It takes blood to be a man,
Blood in, blood on your hands
Blood on the leaves, blood trails where they ran
The gang’s all here even if it ain’t a gang” ~ ‘Leopards’
One of most powerful duo’s in Hip-Hop today (made up of emcees billy woods & ELUCID), Armand Hammer bring their lyrically dense subject matter over their most eclectic beat selections so far on Shrines. The visual metaphor displayed on the artwork encapsulates the message of the album and makes their stance clear on society, even if the lyrics supporting it are as elusive as they are.
12. MIKE - Weight of the World
Standout track: alert*
Best line: “Back then my diet was the shrooms if it wasn't herbal
and threw some finance towards the booze 'cause the wound eternal" ~ alert*
MIKE has been an artist at the forefront of one of the most important underground movements happening in Hip-Hop right now, along with other notable names such as Pink Siifu, Navy Blue and Medhane. MIKE's writing is incredibly introspective and he uses his music almost like a diary, to which he's open and honest about his struggles. That's not to say that there isn't any optimism sprinkled throughout Weight of the World but MIKE’s music doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of life, and that’s what pulls me in.
11. Westside Gunn - WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE
Standout track: Goodnight
Best line: "Went up the staircase, heard his newborn cryin'
Walked in the nursery, then bullets start flyin'" ~ 'Goodnight'
The long awaited major label debut on Shady Records finally arrived this year from Griselda boss, Westside Gunn. This sounds like nothing else you’ve heard from a Shady release but this should come as no surprise after 2019’s WWCD. The contrast in styles between Gunn and Black Thought came together perfectly on the cold hearted Ishkabibble’s, whilst Slick Rick delivered two stellar verses that prove he hasn’t missed a beat, after nearly 30 years in the game. Of course this album comes with some quintessential Griselda cuts, but it's the spooky production of Just Blaze on ’98’ Sabers’ to close the show, that leaves you wanting so much more.
10. Westside Gunn - Pray for Paris
Standout Track: Euro Step
Best line: “How you figure you n***** iller? You illin', millin', and shillin'
Icon, what a wonderful feeling, put holes in your building” ~ 'Euro Step'
Westside Gunn has often proclaimed that he’s “your favourite curator’s, favourite curator” and he may have never lived up to this more so than on Pray for Paris. Pulling in legendary producers such as DJ Muggs, DJ Premier and The Alchemist to create his most polished project so far. Inspired by his appearance at fashion week in Paris at the beginning of the year, Westside exhibits his drug influenced raps over the most luxurious collection of beats in his career. The Griselda Records founder deserves just as much praise for his rapping as he does for his executive producer role in crafting his projects.
9. Boldy James - The Versace Tape
Standout track: Monte Cristo
Best line: “Told my mama, don’t pray for me, pray for these parasites
We pray for Paris, now we on the terrace out in paradise” ~ 'Long Live Julio'
Boldy James had the best year of his career so far with four highly praised projects. What may have raised a few eyebrows, was his Griselda debut being entirely produced by Vine sensation, Jay Versace. Any scepticism must surely have been erased now, after the young producer pulled from rare jazz/soul samples to create the subtle atmosphere for the cool, calm and collected Detroit rapper. Don’t be fooled by the understated production though - Boldy is really talking that talk when you listen closely.
8. Playboi Carti - Whole Lotta Red
Standout track: New Tank
Best line: Umm... this seemed like a good idea until now.
*Best ad-lib: "Slatt!" ~ Various tracks
If there was a more controversial album this year, then I must have missed it. From the Satan inspired merchandise (that also sparked copyright claims), to the artwork, to even his private life with ex-girlfriend Iggy Azalea - Carti has been dividing everyone's opinions, and the music he's put out has been no different. On Whole Lotta Red, Carti continues to walk the line of skeletal trap beats that verge on being experimental and thrive in their minimalism. The 24 year old trendsetter embodies the attitude of punk more than ever before on this, most notably on 'Stop Breathing' where he explores new vocal tones. If you're looking for lyrical Hip-Hop then this isn't the right place to search for it. The project is full of bitesized bangers with simple refrains on tracks like ‘New Tank', 'Meh' & 'On That Time' that come in fast and get out quickly. Ironically, the latter is what a lot of listeners have been doing too.
7. KA - Descendants of Cain
Standout track: Sins of the Father
Best line: “My birth right like a Sumerian,
Made it out the belly with my cut like a cesarean” ~ 'Unto the Dust'
On Descendants of Cain, KA continues to blur the lines between rapping and poetry over his sparse production, on arguably his strongest solo album to date. Honestly, just read the lyrics to this and you can't help but be mesmerised by his vivid storytelling. Even his husky voice offers the perfect tone to relay his powerful messages. I'll leave you with this double entendre because I don't think anyone else could write a line like this on the planet -"on a path for power when half a dollar was hated by many men".
6. Stove God Cooks & Roc Marciano - Reasonable Drought
Standout track: Burt & State
Best line: "Got a driver drive my chopper, it got chauffeured up
The work just landed, we gon’ make it snow for months" ~ 'Money Puddles'
The rookie of the year for Hip-Hop in 2020 has no doubt been Stove God Cooks with his debut album, Reasonable Drought. From being signed to Busta Rhymes’ Conglomerate label, to now having his debut album produced entirely by Roc Marciano, the Syracuse rapper has all the co-signs he’ll ever need. Roc Marci’s pimpish beats are some of the best in his career and Stove God’s wit on the mic shines from start to finish with his charismatic punchlines. Whether it’s the minimalistic ‘Money Puddles’ or the jazzy ‘John Stark$’, Stove's timing and delivery already has his name in conversations with some of best rappers doing it today. Not to mention he probably sings more than any other rapper outside of Drake.
5. Westside Gunn - Flygod is an Awesome God 2
Standout track: Rebirth
Best line: “Everybody think they fly now, but ain't nobody flyer
You ever cooked a half a brick in the air fryer?” ~ ‘Michael Irvin’
The 3rd and final project on this list from Westside Gunn is his most rough and ready one from the bunch. It barely sounds mixed or mastered but the gritty samples on tracks like ‘Buffs vs. Wires’ & ‘One More Hit’ are what pulls me into Westside Gunn’s world more than anything else. Fresh off his album Reasonable Drought, Stove God came in and tore up all three of his features, meanwhile Armani Caesar introduced herself to the world on 'Lil' Cease' and Rome Streetz bodied his verse to close out the album. Westside showed everyone that even with his ever-growing fame, he will never forget where he came from.
4. Conway the Machine - From King to a God
Standout track: Spurs 3
Best line: “He screaming “I can’t breathe”, cop ignoring all his pleas
Hands in his pocket, leaning on his neck with his knees” ~ ‘Front Lines’
It was only a matter of time before Conway the Machine would release his official debut album after a countless amount of acclaimed mixtapes. Often this jump can mean sacrificing the sound that got you there in the first place to appeal to a wider audience. Tracks like ‘Fear of God’ with DeJ Loaf and the Murda Beatz produced ‘Anza’ have Conway going in a slightly more commercial direction but he pulls it off effortlessly. However, this doesn't mean he's sold out his original sound by any stretch of the imagination as there are constant reminders throughout, such as the fierce 'Juvenile Hell' and the grimy second half of 'Dough & Damani'. Albums like this are extremely important as they have the power to bridge the gap between generations of Hip-Hop listeners.
3. Roc Marciano - Mt. Marci
Standout track: Wicked Days
Best line: “My humble abode once belonged to Dutch Schultz
Coke up to my elbows. I still own the Elephant Man’s bones
Rare stones make my hands look like Thanos.” ~ ‘Eye of the Whorus’
There’s not much more you can say about Roc Marciano, and his influence in the underground Hip-Hop scene over the last 10 years. He’s practically fathered the sound of street raps over drumless beats that have defined the past decade. What’s crazy is that he’s entering the start of a new decade and somehow he’s still managing to show improvement. His pen is as sharp as ever with standout lines throughout such as “the Mac's sounding like Ali hitting the speed bag” & "keep the iron in the jeans, like they need ironing”. As well as delivering the slickest one-liners of the year - he also handles the vast majority of production on Mt. Marci, that see’s him going in his darkest direction yet. The nightmarish instrumental of Broadway Billy has Kool Keith gliding over it with his wit, whilst the eerie Wicked Days has an almost disturbing refrain from Trent Truce, before Roc gets in his bag and finds the pocket over the minimalist “beat”. The New York native is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
2. Your Old Droog - Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition
Standout track: Pravda
Best line: "Go fetch me something on the rocks with a twist
but before I rock, I don't get twist, I'm a specialist
Need at least 40 racks to work on a setlist
If I don't get that, bricks getting flipped like Tetris" ~ 'Matryoshka'
Your Old Droog continues to level up every time he drops, with sharper lyricism and even more abstract instrumentals. On Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition we hear Droog building upon 2019’s Jewelry with him embracing his heritage, only this time he's tapping more into his Ukrainian descent. It gives the album a very personal feel with its deep rooted, Eastern European influenced beats (courtesy of Argov for the most part), and it makes for one of the most original Hip-Hop albums you will ever hear. It seems the rap community is starting to take full notice of his ability as an elite level lyricist too, with notable features on this album. Maybe the greatest Hip-Hop moment of the year is the posse cut with legendary emcees Black Thought and El-P joining Droog’s frequent collaborators Mach-Hommy & Tha God Fahim for a 6-minute bar-fest on 'Pravda'. 'Uzbekistan' has Phonte sounding as amazing as he's ever been with insane wordplay on lines like"I'm in the gym every day with no off switch, so when they size me up for crucifixion my CrossFit". Your Old Droog holds his own with the best of them and going forward there seems to be no boundaries to what he can achieve.
1. Benny the Butcher - Burden of Proof
Standout Track: New Streets
Best line: "Real n***** look in the mirror and see each other
I look in my nephew's eyes and I see my brother
Sometimes I gotta look away 'cause it hurt so much
How that n**** died so young and he was worth so much"
This collaborative project has everything you could ever want from a Hip-Hop album. Hard bars, introspective writing, hooks that will stay in your head all day, and a perfectly crafted selection of versatile beats from none other than, Hit-Boy. Benny has developed as a writer to where his pen stretches further than the coke raps that have made him so popular. Touching on topics such as the passing of his brother, being raised by a single mother, and of course boasting about his status in the rap game. As brilliant as Benny is, the features on this album are just as impressive. 'War Paint' has Gunn doing what he does best, whilst Conway delivers a verse of the year contender. Freddie Gibbs brings his charisma on what already sounds like a classic hook in the making on 'One Way Flight'. 'Timeless' had Lil' Wayne sounding hungry again and Rick Ross continues to impress with his features this year on 'Where Would I Go'. Benny has already established himself as a respected name in the underground rap scene, but with Burden of Proof this feels like the beginning of a special run in the mainstream.