Before we really dive into the main point of this post, take a second and congratulate yourself with a pat on the back, a shot of liquor, a drag from some green you have laying around, or whatever you deem fitting for yourself. You made it through this hellish year that proved to be difficult, exhausting, and beyond worthy of two middle fingers in the air. From the coronavirus pandemic to social justice protests, to a president that did anything but lead this country to the land of milk and honey that it was once proclaimed as, there are more than enough reasons to want nothing to do with anything 2020 related ever again.
But here we are. Ready to turn the chapter to hopefully something better. However, before we do that, there is something we can appreciate about this year and that is of course: music. Over the past twelve months, we received a great collection of hip-hop projects, many of which helped us forget the reality that surrounded us. As we’ve done every year, the writers for this site have narrowed down the list of 50+ albums we enjoyed in 2020 to our favorite ten (bold, italics, underline, and emphasis on “favorite”).
Some of these albums serve as timestamps for us this year. Jay Electronica reminded us that all things are possible with the arrival of A Written Testimony with Jay-Z, Westside Gunn blew our minds with Pray For Paris, Freddie Gibbs continued his hot streak on Alfredo with Alchemist, and Steve God Cooks became a newfound favorite at the DopeHouse.
Enough from me though. Go on and scroll to check out our ten favorite hip-hop albums from the year. Once again, these are our favorites. Have I warned you? Yes. Will someone read this and still ask why [insert artist] isn’t on the list? Yes. Will they express their grievances in the c-section? You can bet on it. Regardless, enjoy and happy holidays. – Wong
I didn’t think it would be that easy for Freddie Gibbs to follow up his sublime 2019 album Bandana (with Madlib), but did he ever with Alfredo. Now paired with producer Alchemist, the two have made maybe the best album of their careers. Gibbs attacks the haunting synths of “God Is Perfect” with a sinister bounce, before jetting to Miami in search of a “Scottie Beam” with Rick Ross and gliding effortlessly throughout “Look At Me.” The end result? Alfredo gave the pair their highest-charting album to date, and their very first GRAMMY nomination to boot. – Mek
If you know me, you know I love luxury drug rap in all forms. And a trip to Virgil Abloh’s Off-White fashion show in France inspired one of Westside Gunn‘s best releases to date in Pray For Paris. One of the most soulful and extravagant rap albums of 2020, Gunn balanced Griselda grit (“George Bondo”) with stylistic exuberance (the album standout “Versace”) and radio-ready sensibilities (“French Toast”). Expanding his range by inviting DJ Premier, Wale, Joey Bada$$ and even our best friend to the runway, Pray For Paris was one of the top drops to come from the Griselda camp this year. – Meka
There’s a reason Benny the Butcher bears the name he does. However, if for some reason you forgot, his Burden Of Proof album is the perfect reminder. Bringing the same stink-face-bars to the table, Benny’s second album received a more modern backdrop thanks to production from Hit-Boy. As a result of tracks like “Trade It All,” the introspective “Thank God I Made It,” and the quotable-heavy “Sly Green,” Benny’s latest body of work is undoubtedly a top-three effort from any hip-hop act this year. And with an additional supply of bars coming from Conway the Machine, Freddie Gibb, Rick Ross, Westside Gunn, Lil Wayne, and more, it’s hard to deny the beauty of this album. – Wongo
Conway the Machine‘s From King to a God is just one of multiple projects to arrive from the Griselda collective this past year. And if you ask me it’s one of the best. While there’s no need to pit each member against each other, it’s hard to ignore the quality of the Machine’s latest body of work. His second release of 2020, following LULU with Alchemist, the album is said to be an “appetizer” to his Shady Records debut (God Don’t Make Mistakes, dropping in early 2021) but FKTG is easily a full course meal.
Right out the gate, Conway is in go mode on “From King,” before trading bars with Method Man (“Lemon”), doubling up with “Dough & Damani,” addressing police brutality and systematic racism within Amerikkka on “Frontlines,” pouring his heart out on “Forever Droppin’ Tears,” and taking Khrysis production to task on (the far too short) “Jesus Khrysis.”
Backed with support from Method Man, DeJ Loaf, Freddie Gibbs, Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn, Lloyd Banks, and others, Conway excels while leaving fans with more than enough confidence that the Griselda rapper will once again deliver the goods on GDMM. – Shake
“Hey Mek, you should listen to Reasonable Drought when you have the chance. I think you’ll like it a lot.”
Shake had no idea how right he’d be.
Before it’s all said and done Roc Marciano‘s legacy will be forever etched in the annals of hip hop, rejuvenating New York’s street rap scene and inspiring many artists (while reminding everyone who he is on his own project, Mt. Marci). Drought is a “full circle” moment for Roc: the former protégé of Busta Rhymes, now working with his latest protégé in Stove God Cooks. Combining Roc’s signature production with Cooks’ controlled-yet-unhinged brick talk made for one of the most entertaining crack rap albums of the year. Over the course of 12 songs, the God compares his work to Cinderella’s glass slippers (“Rolls Royce Break Lights”) before getting it baptized in a church parking lot (“Bread Of Life”), treats the base like a San Diego Padre (“Jim Boeheim”), brands himself as the “Celine Dion of the kitchen” (“Burt & State”), and boasts that he can get someone to shoot his name into a detractor’s car door… in cursive (“John $Tarks”).
Ladies and germs: meet my favorite rapper of 2020. – Meka
Roughly twelve years ago I attended a panel in Los Angeles with the likes of Just Blaze, Pete Rock, 9th Wonder and a few other deejays/producers, when I would see — and ultimately speak to — Jay Electronica, who was standing quietly to the side. After our conversation, another attendee asked me who he was. I simply responded, “You’ll know soon enough.”
It may have taken roughly ten years, several Winter and Summer Olympics, and one infamous Roc Nation announcement, but at long last Jay delivered the first anticipated rap album of the pandemic with A Written Testimony. And yet, the first voice you hear doesn’t come from the reclusive rapper, it’s from the person who signed him all those years ago: Jay-Z. Uncredited throughout the album, Jay trades the Roc chain for a Five-Percent Nation pendant and acts as the Ghostface Killah to Jay Elec’s Raekwon on eight of the album’s ten tracks. Some have criticized the features, as at times Jay can seemingly overwhelm his contemporary on tracks like “Ghost Of Soulja Slim” or “Shiny Suit Theory” (which has aged like fine wine, ten years after its initial release). However, Jay Elect’s own influence, his personal beliefs, and teachings buoy the bulk of Testimony, as the two wax poetics about The Last Judgement (“The Neverending Story”), their respective legacies (“Ezekiel’s Wheel”), death (“A.P.I.D.T.A.”) and even Jay’s own reluctance to drop an album (“The Blinding”). It may have taken 13 years since he first arrived on the scene, but Jay E. was finally able to meet those lofty expectations.
Now, can it not take another 13 years for a follow-up? – Meka
Without a doubt, Royce 5’9 is one of the more underrated rappers in the game, but the Detroit legend is finally getting his flowers in a year where he dropped off his first self-produced album. The Allegory arrived at the top of the year and has been heralded as some of Royce’s best work. Its 22 songs present Nickel as a true old head who’s experienced damn near everything a life has to offer. He now returns to deliver these lessons to listeners in an hour-long presentation with quality appearances from T.I., Cyhi The Prynce, Vince Staples, Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and more. In addition to it all, the project even gifted him a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap Album” as well. – Wongo
Boldy James has been one of the hardest working artists in rap, and the grind paid off in not one, not two or three, but four mandatory listens in the last calendar year: The Price of Tea In China, The Versace Tape, Manger On McNichols, and Real Bad Boldy.
Reuniting with his My 1st Chemistry Set co-conspirator Alchemist (who is in the running for the best hip hop producer of the year), The Price of Tea In China finds Boldy showcasing his relaxed and almost conversational flow all over songs like “Carruth,” “Surf & Turf” and “Scrape The Bowl” as he took listeners on a ride through his side of Detroit.
From there, he and longtime producer Sterling Toles breathed new life into vocals first recorded between 2007 and 2010 on the beautifully ominous Manger on McNichols (arguably the best of the bunch).
In August, James then made his official Griselda debut with the release of The Versace Tape, where he enlisted in the talents of social media personality-slash-beatsmith Jay Versace (who was responsible for sending us to heaven on Westside Gunn’s Pray For Paris standout “Versace”) – who in turn ran roughshod behind the boards. The end result is Boldy flexing over some of the most soulful backdrops in recent memory, from the horny goodness of “Maria” and “Long Live Julio,” and the head-nodding burns of “Nu Wave” and the piano-driven “Cartier.” The Versace Tape is if crack rap met The Rat Pack on the corner of a dark Detroit street. Plus, “Brick Van Exel” is easily one of Mek and my favorite song titles of 2020.
And if that wasn’t enough, James capped off his already brilliant year with Real Bad Boldy, where he shed even more light onto his life before rap over some atmospheric production from Real Bad Man. We also got another Stove God Cooks feature; and who can complain about that? Seriously, thought, Boldy James is in consideration for MVP of the year. – Shake
After a strong breakout in 2018, the following year concluded without much of an appearance from Lil Baby. However, 2020 barely got underway before the ATL rapper got to work and dropped his second album, My Turn. Its release kicked off a grasp Lil Baby would hold in the hip-hop world, driven by the success of “We Paid” and the undeniable replay value of the entire project as a whole. When you’re able to tap into life’s struggles like Baby does on “Emotionally Scarred,” while flexing big muscle on a track like “No Sucker,” and make it all a seamless experience? This writer will always be here for it. – Wongo
Now, this is one of the projects many of us — especially those that pledge allegiance to the TDE collective — spent much of the year waiting for. After a string of delays, REASON’s New Beginnings finally arrived in the fall and the wait was very much worth it. The Del Amo native’s TDE debut is a brutally honest tale that appreciates the new horizons he’s landed upon while revealing the fears he holds for the future. REASON’s pen leaves a streak of fire on tracks like “I Can’t Make It” and “Fall,” while its best display comes on the outro track, “Windows Cry,” a near five-minute confession to every new artist’s worries and fears as they officially enter the music business. – Wongo
On top of our Top 10, below you can find another round of releases we all respectively rocked with throughout the year. And on a more selective note, all three of us will be sharing our personal favorites later this week.