Alex McKillop, Editor in Chief
20. Nuk- Red Tape 2
Detroit and Michigan had a massive 2020 after bubbling as an exciting hip-hop scene for the past few years. While most of the world was locked in quarantine, Detroit rappers were grinding harder than ever. After dropping Red Tape and his biggest song to date “Opioid” with Rio Da Yung OG, Nuk finished up 2020 with Red Tape 2. It’s a short 9 track tape and is absolutely relentless from front to back. The beats are super hard-hitting and Nuk drops punch line after punch line describing his come up in his monotone, yet urgent delivery. The punch line heavy bars are filled with sports references and hilarious flex bars like “These bitches gonna need a dictionary by the way we dressing,” which keep you coming back to the project time and time again. If you like the Detroit sound or are curious about what the city has to offer, this project is definitely worth a listen.
Best Tracks: Rm 38-01, Mr. 3000, Road Trippin’, Let’s Get Baxk to Raxks
19. SHYGIRL- ALIAS
London based rapper and producer, SHYGIRL, came through with one of the most demonic projects of the year with her EP, ALIAS. At only seven tracks, there isn’t any room for misses and there are none to be found as SHYGIRL combines elements of electronic, house, and hip-hop to create a dark, menacing banger of an album. The tape really shines on the production side, it’s quite varied stylistically but all the songs come through very loud with great basslines and warped synths. This EP sounds like the soundtrack to going out and making terrible decisions with no care for the outcome. If you’re trying to get on demon time and want to hear some of the best production of the year, this EP is definitely worth checking out.
Best Tracks: TWELVE, TASTY, LENG
18. Lil Baby- My Turn
2020 was Lil Baby’s year. Throughout the year he has been unstoppable, constantly pumping out music with a new Lil Baby feature coming out seemingly every week. The core piece of Lil Baby’s monumental year is of course his album, My Turn. His biggest release to date is also his most raw, with Baby relentlessly spitting over skeletal beats, a noticeable departure from the glamorous trap anthems found on previous tapes like Harder Than Ever. Lil Baby is zoned in on My Turn, this album is relentless, and breathes hustle and grind with no frills to distract from Lil Baby’s raw motivation. Lil Baby doesn’t let up on this album, he just goes and goes and then keeps going, completely in his element. Lil Baby showed everyone that no matter what people think about him he’s going to do one thing and one thing only- keep grinding. It’s a very long tape with a ton of highlights like “Heatin Up,” “Forget That,” and the anthem of the year “We Paid.” This song is the most 2020 banger there could be, it’s dark, so raw it barely sounds mixed and sees Lil Baby and 42 Dugg going absolutely in. The darkness and hustle in this song make it the perfect song for 2020 and it showed as this was on repeat all summer long. With My Turn, Lil Baby solidified himself as the biggest rapper in the game and he is showing no signs of taking his foot off the gas.
Best Tracks: Heatin Up, How, Live Off My Closet, Sum 2 Prove, Forget That, We Paid
17. Boldy James- The Price of Tea in China
Detroit rapper and recent Griselda signee Boldy James had a super prolific year releasing four projects. This made it hard to pick which one to put on this list but I was introduced to Boldy with The Price of Tea in China and I’ve had the most time with it so this is the one I picked out of all the seriously quality music he has put forth this year. The Alchemist produced project also adds to the heavyweight producer’s prolific year. Boldly brings his subdued and drawly flow to paint vivid stories of his life in Detroit to make for a very dark and grimy project. Boldly’s rapping is really top tier as he fits a dizzying amount of rhymes within a line that you may not even notice on the first listen as his style is so lowkey. This project isn’t for everyone but if you like Griselda type lyrical street music and Alchemist production you will find a lot to love in this project. Really happy that I found out about this guy and excited to see where his prolific career goes from here.
Best Tracks: Carruth, Giant Slide, Surf & Turf, Scrape the Bowl, S.N.O.R.T
16. Lil Uzi Vert- Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2 (EA Deluxe)
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Eternal Atake but the deluxe version is some of Uzi’s best music since the original Luv is Rage. This version of the album could also be credited for the deluxe trend that was unavoidable during 2020. This tape was exactly what I look for from Lil Uzi- bangers, zany performances, and some great features. This thing is packed full of some really fun tracks that let Uzi be funny and weird, while also still really hard-hitting in his high pitched delivery. “Money Spread” is easily one of the best songs of 2020 with a great feature from Young Nudy and a criminally banging beat from Pierre Bourne. This tape is straight to the point Lil Uzi bangers and can be played over and over again.
Best Tracks: Myron, Bean (Kobe), Yessirskiii, Strawberry Peels, Money Spread
15. Brent Faiyaz- Fuck the World
Maryland singer Brent Faiyaz has made a name for himself over the past few years as one of the most unique male voices in R&B both musically and through the overall tone of his music. He mixes smooth vocals and spacious instrumentals with very emotionally cold subject matter. You won’t find typical R&B love songs on this tape, you won’t even find songs apologizing for his wrongdoings. It’s quite the opposite of all that as Brent brings listeners into his hedonistic lifestyle filled with his toxic actions and despondent attitude. He sounds like the R&B Future on here and may trick listeners into forgetting this with how sweet all these songs sound. It’s not all Future level toxicity as he has some moments where he seems to show some remorse before going right back to his hedonistic ways. The production on here is spacious and slow, giving the vibe that Brent is drunk late at night rambling to whoever will listen. Fuck the World is a refreshing and interesting take on the genre and will keep fans excited for what Brent plans on releasing in the future.
Best Tracks: Clouded, Been Away, Soon Az I Get Home, Rehab (Winter In Paris)
14. Young Dolph- Rich Slave
After well over a decade in the rap game, the Memphis legend is still releasing great music. Most of the production is handled by Dolph’s in house producer Bandplay and he does an incredible job. Most importantly, all these beats knock and this album sees Dolph leaning into more classic Three-6ix Mafia production styles with a modern feel. As always, Dolph is unapologetically himself, sometimes completely going offbeat to deliver the most important bars of the verse. He’s humorous, braggadocious, and comes onto every beat with unmatched confidence. With one of his best releases in a while, Rich Slave has everything we love about Dolph with some great beats to make for an album that sounds amazing. The recently released deluxe version of this album also has some more great tracks on it.
Best Tracks: Hold Up Hold Up, What’s da Bizness, Death Row, CrayCray, Benz
13. Westside Gunn- Pray For Paris
Buffalo rapper and Griselda Records member Westside Gunn has been making waves for the past couple of years now with his Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series. His unique voice and animated delivery have turned a lot of heads and have made him one of the most talked-about voices in the recent resurgence of hardcore hip-hop. Pray For Paris, though not my personal favorite he has ever released (check out Hitler Wears Hermes 7 for his best project) is Gunn’s most fully realized project to date. Westside Gunn combines themes of gritty street life and absurd luxury throughout this album to make for something that feels very important. Gunn’s real talent lies not in his rapping, which is very good, but in his ability to curate, which ties in well with the themes of art throughout this album. Gunn plays an executive producer role on his own album often letting the features and production take center stage while he may just come in for a couple of bars near the end of the song. This works very well as the features, from pretty much everyone who’s anyone in the lyrical hip-hop lane, are numerous and quality. No matter how long Westside Gunn is on each track, his presence is huge with his off the wall energy and excessive ad-libs. If you’re a Griselda fan or are curious to know what all the buzz is about, Pray For Paris is a great place to familiarize yourself with this brand of music that is shaking up the game right now.
Best Tracks: No Vacancy, 327, French Toast, $500 Ounces, Claiborne Kick, Party With Pop Smoke
12. Sheff G- Proud of Me Now
Sheff G has become one of the most exciting voices coming out of the Brooklyn Drill scene with a couple great projects and collabs with fellow Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow. After the release of One and Only Just 4 Yall EP in the summer, Sheff G came back to finish off 2020 with his newest tape, Proud of Me Now. If you’re going to listen to one Sheff G tape this year (which you definitely should) this is the one to check out. Sheff G takes his melodic approach to drill to a more subdued level in both directions. The darker tracks on here find Sheff G quietly scheming over completely demonic beats on songs like “Lights On” and “Eeny Meany Miny Moe.” Proud of Me Now really shines on the melodic, heartfelt songs where Sheff G pours his heart out and really makes you feel his pain. The tragically sweet “Mistakes,” finds Sheff G reflecting on his success, finding it hard to enjoy his achievements as he deals with the trauma of his past. As always, Sheff G chooses to rap over production from Great John, who has been instrumental in the creation of Sheff G’s unique style of Drill. Sheff G is still really young but has shown that he is one of the most talented voices coming out of New York with some great projects under his belt. I’m excited for him to keep making great music and if you haven’t heard his music before, you should for sure check it out.
Best Tracks: Lights On, Mistakes, Anyone, Shooting Star, Dead Broke, I’ll Be There
11. Mac Miller- Circles
It pains me to say that this is not the only posthumous release on this list, but the world has sadly lost some of our most beloved artists over the past few years. Mac Miller had a fantastic and storied career where he continuously progressed and pushed his sound leaving his fans with a multitude of great songs and projects. Circles was the album that Mac was working on before he died and producer Jon Brion finished the project and left us with a poignant final album from one of our generation’s most beloved artists. Circles is Mac Miller’s least rap focused album and most of the songs here see Mac going in a more singer-songwriter direction. There is of course the banger “Blue World,” where Mac raps with his boyish charisma over an absolute slapper of a beat giving fans the classic Mac Miller we all love. The rest of the album finds Mac quietly singing on subdued and luscious beats. The latter part of Mac’s career was defined by his unapologetic honesty, telling the world where he was at mentally and what he was going through. Circles gives the final thoughts that Mac was having in his last year on this earth. The songs are beautifully sad with the context of this album and are very poignant. It’s obvious he was a very troubled soul but always had a great deal of hope among all the hardships. On “Complications,” Mac describes himself as “Way too young to be getting old,” this line encapsulates this album and him as a person and is crushing to hear as we know what happened. This album is really lovely and the perfect close to a storied life and career from a very talented young man. RIP Mac Miller.
Best Tracks: Complicated, Blue World, Woods, That’s On Me
10. 21 Savage x Metro Boomin- Savage Mode II
I Am > I Was, established 21 Savage as one of the best rappers of this generation and one of the best trap rappers of all time. It was fitting to follow this statement album with the sequel to the tape that introduced him to the mainstream. Savage Mode II combines the gritty darkness of 21’s old music with the more mature and introspective side that he has delivered in recent years. The chemistry between 21 and Metro Boomin creates a very cohesive and consistent sound throughout. This project simultaneously brings everything fans loved about the original while sounding unique and more ambitious than before. Savage Mode II, also incorporates some softer tracks like “Mr. Right Now” and “Rich N***a Shit” that seamlessly flow into the grimy atmosphere of the rest of the album. 21’s style is so memorable and his ability to make great songs continues to grow and change. Overall this is a great project that delivered on everything that fans were expecting. If that’s not enough, Morgan Freeman narrates the album.
Best Tracks: Runnin, Glock in My Lap, Rich N***a Shit, Snitches and Rats, Brand New Draco
9. Drake- Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Haters will say that this tape is just a bunch of Drake B-sides and leaks. I don’t listen to Drake leaks so I enjoyed this project like it was new. That being said, this is one of the most understated and casual Drake projects ever. There isn’t a huge tracklist, it’s not ambitious and often finds Drake riffing on spacey SoundCloud type beats. I’m here for all of it. Drake’s kind of just vibing on some cool beats here from the likes of legendary SoundCloud producers like MexikoDro. The end result is a collection of some catchy songs with some great hooks and some memorable moments. “Time Flies” is a textbook Drake banger, “From Florida With Love” is Drake at his most lowkey ever and it’s fire. On top of all that you got the Brooklyn Drill banger “Demons” with Fivio Foreign. Overall dope Drake project as long as you don’t talk about the Playboi Carti verse.
Best Tracks: Chicago Freestyle, Desires, Time Flies, From Florida With Love, Demons
8. Dave East- Karma 3
Dave East has always had some great music, but some of his projects feel too bloated as he packs the tracklist with too much material. Understandably, he’s had this problem as Dave East is quite diverse in the directions that he chooses to go. Karma 3 is his best project yet as he takes all the things that make him a compelling and varied artist and cuts off all the fat to make a concise and quality project. Karma 3 features all the lanes that Dave East has dipped his toes into throughout the years, you have the classic stuff, R&B crossovers, insanely hard trap cuts, and even some West Coast bangers. Throughout the different lanes, Dave East always comes through rapping with conviction and confidence, showing off his raw talent as a traditional East Coast MC. His verses are filled with substance and are very heartfelt; it’s very obvious that Dave means every word he says. He respects tradition and embraces new sounds, leaning towards one or combining them both depending on the song. Along with being a solid overall project, there are some crazy highlights on this. “Unruly” with Popcaan is the collab I didn’t know I needed, “Said What I Said,” goes ridiculously hard, and “The City” with Trey Songz sounds like an anthem straight out of the 2000s with a modern touch. This is my favorite Dave East project yet and would love to hear more of this going forward.
Best Tracks: Unruly, The City, Said What I Said, Menace, Blue Story, Know How I Feel
7. Disclosure- Energy
English house duo Disclosure knocked it out of the park with this release, packed to the brim with creative, feel-good house bangers. This album may not have been able to go off in the club as it was designed, but was much needed in such a dismal year. Disclosure brings in a diverse array of collaborators such as Channel Tres, Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, Kehlani, and even Aminé and British rapper slowthai on the same song (definitely one of the weirder collabs of 2020 but it goes over surprisingly well). Though the sounds on this album are very diverse, going in R&B, hip-hop, and a lot of pure house directions, the album has a consistent sound and great energy throughout. This album is bound to be the soundtrack to parties for years to come and was just so refreshing and bright for such a dark year. The way that Disclosure both caters to their features while bringing them into their world is commendable and makes for such a lovely listen. Overall, this album is filled with some memorable songs with infinite replayability. I think some of the best songs of the year make their way onto this album and whatever your personal taste is, you will find something you will like here.
Best Tracks: Lavender, Douha (Mali Mali), Birthday, Ecstasy, Tondo, Expressing What Matters
6. Pop Smoke- Meet the Woo 2
When Meet the Woo 2 dropped, Pop Smoke was on top of the world and this was one of the most exciting albums to drop in years. After the massive success of songs like “Welcome to the Party,” and “Dior,” followed up by the original Meet the Woo, Pop Smoke had captivated the world. Meet the Woo 2, brings everything we loved about the original and just puts it on a bigger scale. The features- huge, the beats- huge, but more than anything Pop Smoke steals the show with one of the most unique voices in hip-hop history. For those who weren’t hip to him or Brooklyn drill, Meet the Woo 2 made it impossible to ignore. From grimy bangers like “Get Back” to anthemic cuts like “Shake the Room” and “Dreaming,” Pop Smoke elevated drill to levels that have never been seen before. Sadly, Pop Smoke was taken from us less than two weeks later, leaving this as the last piece of work he gave the world while still alive.
Best Tracks: Invincible, Shake the Room, Get Back, Christopher Walking, Element, Dreaming
5. Tame Impala- The Slow Rush
Australian musician Tame Impala came through with his first release since 2015’s critically acclaimed Currents. He had a lot to live up to given his prior success and he definitely delivered, expanding upon his sound and bringing it in a groovier direction than his past work. This kind of music isn’t typically what I go for but I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Tame Impala brings listeners into expansive soundscapes that are anchored by earworm grooves that make for some great psychedelic jams. This album explores the passage of time and its effects on Tame’s relationships, his past hardships, and his own well being. “On Track,” is the perfect song to get anyone through their 2020 woes with its simple yet profound message of continuing to strive through all the trials and tribulations of one’s life. The songs on this album are beautiful and feel huge, filled with earworm hooks and the perfect balance of melancholy and hope. The Slow Rush also has some straight-up bangers with “Borderline” and “Lost in Yesterday” that will be perfect to turn up to on late summer nights once the pandemic is over. Tame Impala’s ability to fuse genres and create a sound that is so much his own makes this album appealing to anyone, regardless of their taste. If Currents showed us that Tame Impala was one of the most interesting rock artists out there, The Slow Rush solidifies Tame Impala as one of the most interesting and important artists of this generation. Personally, I enjoyed Currents but this album converted me into a Tame Impala fan and is, in my opinion, his best work to date. This album works in so many different settings and for so many different moods and is one of the best projects of the year.
Best Tracks: Borderline, Breathe Deeper, On Track, Lost In Yesterday, Is It True
4. Lucki- Almost There
Lucki has been making some of the best music in the game for years now and the Chicago underground heavyweight comes again with another fantastic project. It’s hard to say which Lucki project is the best as he constantly seems to one-up himself but this may be his best to date. Though the album is still woozy and lowkey as always, Almost There finds Lucki at his most awake in years and at the same time the most hopeful. Compared to the crushing darkness of 2019’s Freewave 3, Lucki sounds like he is enjoying the fruits of his labor on this album. This album sounds like the rich version of Lucki as he spends a lot more time talking about money and cars and the beats also sound much more pristine and expensive. Like any Lucki tape, the beats on here are incredible as he flows effortlessly over dizzying synths and bouncy 808s. As fans of Lucki have come to expect, Almost There sounds almost like a diary giving a very honest insight into where Lucki is at the moment while he continues to be one of the most quotable rappers in the game. The line “We high we get fat,” pretty much sums up the despondent yet humorous personality that Lucki always brings to the table. For those who haven’t heard Lucki’s music or even those who haven’t been into him before, Almost There is something to consider checking out as it is one of the more accessible projects he’s released.
Best Tracks: At Least I Think It’s Real, Unlimited, Its Bool, Runnin With, Nigo
3. Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist- Alfredo
Freddie Gibbs’s rise to one of the most respected MCs in Hip-hop today has been long but very well deserved. With a prolific output over the past decade, Freddie has proven his lyrical talent, creative flows, and the ability to bring his own style to any kind of production he is given. His talent has allowed him to work with some of the best producers in the game, like on Alfredo where he links up with one of the greatest producers of all time, Alchemist. Alchemist’s presence on this album cannot be understated as he gives Freddie some dusty, sample-heavy beats for Freddie to completely tear apart. The samples feel so aged as if this were the recordings of a mob boss from a Scarface era mafia movie. These beats work perfectly with Freddie’s gritty subject matter, going from straight coke rap to speaking on the social issues plaguing America today. Freddie’s flow has always been one of his best features and it sounds more refined than ever on Alfredo. The way that Freddie chooses to approach each of these beats and the pockets he finds himself in is something that only he could do. He constantly changes the speed from line to line, going from drawing out every word, to packing as many as he can into the next completely seamlessly. Pair all this with a flawless guest list featuring Rick Ross, Tyler, the Creator, Benny the Butcher, and Conway and you have the best hardcore Hip-hop of the year. The features on here feel purposeful, everyone here is seriously skilled and they compliment Freddie’s performances very well. “Something to Rap About” features one of Tyler, the Creator’s best rapping verses in years, and the way Conway and Freddie play off each other’s verses on “Babies and Fools,” is completely flawless. Alfredo is yet another fantastic project for Freddie’s discography which is becoming one of the greatest in the modern era. If he keeps releasing albums like this, Freddie is on his way to becoming one of the true greats of the genre.
Best Tracks: All the tracks on here are great and flow so well into each other, it’s worth checking out the whole album. Babies and Fools though.
2. Benny the Butcher- Burden of Proof
The Buffalo-based Griselda Records has been putting out a ton of quality music for the last few years and have made their presence in the rap game impossible to ignore. Consisting of MCs Conway, Westside Gunn, and Benny the Butcher, the three are all unique in their styles while bringing the gritty, street-focused hip-hop that is the label’s brand. All of the Griselda members make great music and Burden of Proof is the best offering the label has put forth in their prolific 2020. If you love Benny’s bar heavy coke raps, the Hit-Boy produced Burden of Proof will not disappoint. On top of the gritty street bars, Benny gives a much more introspective side to him speaking on his family, his adjustment to fame, and the regrets he has from his past life. Benny delivers all this over flawless production from legendary producer Hit-Boy. The beats on this album are glamorous, filled with soul samples, a significant departure from the dark grimy instrumentals that have become the Griselda staple. Fantastic rapping, fantastic beats, and features from greats like Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Freddie Gibbs create a fantastic atmosphere for this mafioso type album. Any Hip-hop fan, whether you like classic stuff or new, is bound to get a ton of enjoyment from this project. Benny is one of the best doing it right now and this is his best project to date.
Best Tracks: Where Would I Go, Sly Green, One Way Flight, Famous, Timeless, Trade It All
1.Pop Smoke- Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon
After tragically losing Pop Smoke before he could even reach his full potential, we got our last offering of Pop’s music to be the soundtrack of the summer. Posthumous albums often feel like cash grabs filled with unfinished songs and big-name features, but SFTSAFTM feels like an example of everything Pop Smoke was and everything he could have been to make for a very satisfying final album. There are of course some classic drill bangers like “44 Bulldog,” and “Make It Rain,” but this album offers so many more sounds that Pop was beginning to explore. Songs like “Gangstas,” and the 50 Cent tribute “Many Men,” see Pop giving praise to one of his biggest influences. “For the Night,” and “Yea Yea,” are some great trap bangers that will be played for years to come. One of the most interesting things about this album are the songs like “Mood Swings,” and “What You Know Bout Love,” where Pop goes in a softer R&B inspired direction. Not only do the songs go over really well for a rapper known for his aggressive style, but they ended up being huge hits. This album shows the true potential that Pop Smoke had and is tragically good. The diversity and overall quality of the songs on this album speak to Pop’s ability to make unique and unforgettable songs no matter the style. It’s heartbreaking to know that this will be his last album but he left the world with timeless music to be enjoyed forever. As he states himself on the poignant outro “Tunnel Vision,” Pop Smoke was able to change the rap game and reach a truly massive audience in his short time as a star. RIP Pop Smoke.
Best Tracks: Aim For The Moon, For The Night, 44 Bulldog, Yea Yea, Make It Rain, Mood Swings, What You Know Bout Love, Tunnel Vision