In a year full of tension, isolation, and misery, a lot of people have turned to different sources of refuge to deal with the many issues we've faced this year. A lot of people have turned to music to help drift away from their issues, including me. Even though our ongoing pandemic messed up a lot of artists' schedules, there were still a lot of great albums and releases from a plethora of different artists. While I wouldn't say it was better than years like 2016 or 2018, the content and albums that were produced in 2020 were much better than 2019's class, in my opinion. And with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Travis Scott, J. Cole, Tyler, the Creator, and many more slated to release music in 2021, the future looks extremely bright.
So, as I've done in the previous two years, I've compiled a list of my top 10 favorite albums from this hectic year. This list is mostly based off personal favoritism with some critique included, as music is subjective and everyone's opinion should be welcomed and considered. That is, unless you're a Blueface fan, then your opinion is irrelevant. Let's not waste any more space and jump right into some honorable mentions, and look at some albums and EPs that just missed the cut.
(*Any album released after December 18, 2020 did not qualify for the list, and will be pushed to the 2021 list*)
- This album held some really strong replay value at the beginning of 2020, as PND knows how to make songs to vibe out to. While this wasn't the best album of his, there were some songs that really showed his vocal ability, and the production on some of the tracks were surprisingly upbeat.
Favorite Track: "SHOWING YOU"
Lil Uzi Vert- Eternal Atake
- Lil Uzi Vert stated that he was going to treat 2020 like 2016, and he definitely delivered on that promise. This album was full of energy from the beginning, as the intermittent skits give an abduction-type theme throughout the course of the album. Uzi's voice matches really well with the space-like beats, and this album matched the level of hype that was surrounding it.
Favorite Track: "Chrome Heart Tags"
- After a pretty disappointing 2019 release with Drip or Drown 2, Gunna rebounded with WUNNA, as the production matched his voice much more nicely. The deluxe version of this album really helps Gunna's case, as a majority of the deluxe tracks added outperform the initial track list.
Favorite Track: "RELENTLESS" (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
From King to God- Conway the Machine
-As you'll see in this list, Griselda dominated 2020, and Conway the Machine's album is a testament their dominance. While using his typical street lingo, Conway also delivers some introspective raps about his family, his rise to fame, and DJ Shay, who was Griselda's producer that recently passed away. Even with strong-hitting production in tracks like "Dough & Damani" and "Spurs 3", Conway's braggadocios flow is impeccable. For any fanatic of lyrical rap, this album is a must-listen.
Favorite Track: "Dough & Damani"
Manger on McNichols- Boldy James
-It's a shame that I didn't listen to this album sooner than a week ago, because this would have easily made my top 10 with more listens. This album, a collaboration with producer Sterling Toles, took 13 years to complete and is an example of why artists should take their time on projects. The instrumentals are so smooth and layered, Boldy is rapping with the most energy he's ever contributed on a project, and his lyrics are the deepest and most gut-wrenching yet. Boldy James had an incredible 2020 with 4 great releases, and this was by far his best. While this didn't crack my top 10 this year, this will likely turn out to be one of my favorite albums of 2020 down the road.
Favorite Track: "Mommy Dearest"
A Written Testimony- Jay Electronica
-After over a decade of mainly silence, Jay Elec teamed up with JAY-Z on "A Written Testimony", which was a pleasant surprise to listeners. This album has so many highlights, such as the energetic "The Blinding" with Travis Scott, to the Rihanna-sampled and messy production in "Flux Capacitor. The main highlight is the album's final track "A.P.I.D.T.A." a heart-wrenching ode to Jay's mother that was written the night Kobe Bryant passed away.
Favorite Track: "A.P.I.D.T.A."
There were also three pieces of music that I didn't consider to be full albums by these artists, but because these held so much replay value for me this year, I felt that it was only right for me to include them in my honorable mentions.
Cactus Jack- JACKBOYS
- While many were upset with the lack of songs on "JACKBOYS", the 7-pack of tracks did enough to help generate more attention towards Don Toliver and Pop Smoke's careers, which I believe was the true intent of the EP. With great additional features from Young Thug and Quavo and with the overview of Travis Scott, this EP was a great listen that held a lot of replay value for me.
Favorite Track: "OUT WEST" feat. Young Thug
Bryson Tiller- ANNIVERSARY
-After spending 3 1/2 years in hibernation, Bryson Tiller decided to bless us with "ANNIVERSARY", a deluxe version to "TRAPSOUL" that released 5 years ago. While there are some shades of inconsistency, the high points of the EP are some of the highest in Bryson's career.
Favorite Track: "Things Change"
Brent Faiyaz- F*ck The World
- If this wasn't titled an EP or mixtape by Brent himself, then "F*ck the World" would have likely made my official list, as there are so many highlights on this piece of work. Faiyaz's vocal talent comes in full display on many of these tracks, as well as a swagger and care-free personality. His 90's-inspired style is something that separates him from the rest of the R&B talent, and this mixtape is a perfect example of that.
Favorite Track: "F*ck the World (Summer in London)"
10. Amine- "Limbo"
Before 2020, I had typically thought of Amine as an artist that was capable of one really big hit per album, but didn't provide much consistency to the table. This was based off hit singles like "Caroline" and "REEL IT IN" off previous albums. After listening to "Limbo", my opinion on Amine completely changed, and I believe this is his most cohesive project to date. There's a lot more substance in this project than in previous ones, and Amine tackles different topics such as interracial relationships in "Becky" and racism in America on "Burden", the death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant, and multiple cuts about relationships. However, the biggest theme surrounding the album deals with the pressures of growing up and rising to fame, while Amine is also learning how to evolve mentally and emotionally. While this project isn't submerged with features, every addition bolsters the project, especially the repeating vocals from Charlie Wilson and Vince Staples' feature on "Pressure In My Palms". Injury Reserve, aided by a wonderful verse from the late Groggs, steals the show on "Fetus", a beautiful track about the hopes and fears about having children, which is even more depressing when listening to Groggs' verse. Amine's flow is spot-on throughout the album, and his vocals keep increasing with every release he puts out. I was really impressed with this album, and I'm very excited for Amine's career development.
"Fetus" feat. Injury Reserve
"Roots" feat. JID, Charlie Wilson
"Pressure In My Palms" feat. slowthai, Vince Staples
9. redveil- "Niagara"
A lot of underground rappers came up onto the hip-hop scene this year, and there might not have been a more dramatic rise to the limelight than redveil's rise in 2020. After Anthony Fantano rejected and bashed fans' claims to listen to the 16-year old rapper, I decided to give him a listen, and I was really intrigued with this album. There's a strong Earl Sweatshirt and MAVI influence on "Niagara", which is eminent in his production that is filled with choppy and scattered vocal samples. He displays impressive lyricism on each of these tracks, and he has the vocals to match the production on each track. In a more calm and scenic track like "Grass", he has a much more laid-back flow, and in a high-tempo track like "5500" he displays a lot more enthusiasm and energy, in which both instances make for a compelling listen. What makes this project even more impressive is that the majority of these tracks were solely produced by redveil, which to pair with impressive lyricism is a real treat. Throw in the fact that, once again, he is only 16 YEARS OLD, and you'll understand how impressive this project is. Even Tyler, the Creator listed "Drown"; another amazing cut off the project; as one of his favorite songs of 2020, culminating a breakout year from redveil. His potential is through the roof, and I'm looking forward to his next release to see even further progression from the young artist.
"5500" feat. Gio
"Grass" feat. Cameron Bolden
8. Pi'erre Bourne- "The Life of Pi'erre 4" (Deluxe)
Pi'erre Bourne made an appearance on my list from last year, as the original TLOP4 album was ranked #4 in 2019. Bourne blessed us once again with a deluxe version of TLOP4, and after listening to this project countless times over the year, this follow-up easily deserves a spot in my top 10 albums of 2020. While there isn't much substance here lyrically, I do think there's an improvement from his previous release, and his flow on many of these tracks is still right on point. Once again, the production on this deluxe is immaculate, and the transitions are so smooth between tracks as the whole album feels like listening to one long song. Bourne still displays versatility between high-energy tracks like "Growing Pains" and softer tracks like "Deja Vu", and even including both elements on "Sossboy", in which the beat switch feels like deflating a balloon. With these releases over the past two years, Pi'erre Bourne has proved he is not just Playboi Carti's sidekick, as his own music has proven to be just as infectious and fun to listen to.
7. Don Toliver- "Heaven or Hell"
After breaking onto the rap scene in 2018 with an incredible feature on Travis Scott's "CAN'T SAY", it's easy to say that Don Toliver has had a dramatic rise in the rap industry in his young career. After a few standout performances on the "JACKBOYS" EP, Toliver released "Heaven or Hell" with the assistance of crew leader Travis Scott and legendary producer Mike Dean. It was a vast improvement from his previous "Donny Womack" project, as "Heaven or Hell" has a more complete and cohesive feeling to it. When listening to the album, it feels like one big drunk spree of a night, as Donny takes you through the thrills of his new-found fame as well as the negative aspects of it. This album has Travis Scott's influence all over it when considering the production, especially on tracks like "Euphoria" and "After Party". Toliver's vocals are so unique and are on full display, as he has a voice that sounds great on almost any beat, as evident by this album and his additional features this year. Don Toliver's career is off to a scorching hot start, as he has made a name for himself as one of rap's best young talents.
"Euphoria" feat. Travis Scott, Kaash Paige
6. Westside Gunn- "Pray For Paris"
2020 was the year I was formally introduced to Griselda records, and "Pray For Paris" was where it all began. While many can find his voice to be annoying or unpleasant, Westside Gunn is an incredible curator, and proved that on his best career work thus far. It's an album inspired from a trip to Paris for multiple fashion shows, and this was Flygod's homage to the trip. Gunn's lyricism is arguably at its' best, the production and sampling used give this album a vintage and lavish feel to it, and the skits that randomly appear are actually interesting and engaging to listen to. "Versace" was even produced by former Vine star Jay Versace, as WSG flows over a "Clark Sisters"-sampled beat about his luxurious life and reminiscing about lost friends and family members. The features on this project are outstanding, between the two cuts of the three-headed Griselda monster (WSG, Conway, Benny the Butcher), as well as the inclusion of Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creator on "327". Freddie Gibbs absolutely steals the show on "$500 Ounces", one of the best rap cuts of the year, and Westside Gunn also contributes his best on this track. This was all-around incredible performance from everyone included, as "Pray for Paris" helped Griselda gain more recognition of their dominance in 2020. For someone who has released over 25 projects, this is the best work Westside Gunn has ever released.
"$500 Ounces" feat. Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano
"327" feat. Billie Essco, Joey Bada$$, Tyler, the Creator
5. Kid Cudi- Man On The Moon III: The Chosen
After almost 5 years since he released "Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'", Kid Cudi completed the "Man On the Moon" trilogy with his third installment titled "The Chosen". Cudi did not disappoint with this album at all, and the concept of this album is so interesting to watch unfold. The first act deals with him drinking and partying his life away, only for that lifestyle to turn into a state of madness and isolation, an overall mix of emotions coming from Cudi himself. Cudi openly admits and talks about his struggles with mental health, including a beautiful message found the track titled "The Void", where Cudi thanks his fans for sticking with him over spacious and soothing production. The album ends with Cudi discovering his love for himself and standing victorious in the trials and tribulations he has faced, which if you follow his career is a truly beautiful sight that unfolds. This is arguably the most personal that Cudi has gotten with his audience, as he has songs dedicated to the relationships between himself, his mother, and his girlfriend. The space-like production remains a constant throughout, as does Cudi's famous hums. This is arguably the best album Cudi has released since the second piece of the "Man Of The Moon" trilogy, as "MOTMIII" delivers a message about mental health and self-love that is so important to hear, especially during a pandemic. This was a beautiful album from Kid Cudi, and easily one of my favorite pieces of work from him.
"She Knows This"
4. Benny the Butcher- "Burden of Proof"
While Benny the Butcher doesn't release as much music as his Griselda counterparts, "Burden of Proof" was easily one of the best rap albums of 2020. Benny the Butcher raps with the spirit of a young JAY-Z, as his braggadocios flow allows him to steal the spotlight from anyone else touching the same record as him. While his content typically involves his previous life of drug dealing and living in the streets, there is more introspection coming from "Burden of Proof" in form of reminiscing on his previous mistakes, owning up to them, and reflecting on the tribulations he faced in order to become the man and artist he is today. Hit-Boy gave arguably his best production in 2020 on this album, which is impressive given how many artists he collaborated with this year. Features from Freddie Gibbs, Lil Wayne, and Conway the Machine shine very brightly in their respective tracks, but Benny is still performing at his highest level throughout the album. In a year where Griselda dominated the rap industry, "Burden of Proof" was the best project that the group released in 2020, as Benny the Butcher established himself as one of the most talented rappers in the industry.
"One Way Flight" feat. Freddie Gibbs
"Burden of Proof"
"War Paint" feat. Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn
3. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin- "SAVAGE MODE II"
There might not be a more dynamic trap combination than 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, and their highly-awaited release of "SAVAGE MODE II" was proof of that statement. 21 Savage performs at his highest level on this album, as his creativity and technique seems to improve with each album that he releases. The energy and imagery that is given off this project is so vivid and clear, and 21's charisma provides for such a compelling listen. The addition of Morgan Freeman for the intertwined skits and interludes were such a great touch, as they add to the grimacing, dark, and murderous theme that surrounds the album. The man who is mainly responsible for this vibe is Metro Boomin, who continues to make his case for not only the best producer of the current generation, but one of the best rap producers of all-time. The production on this album is extraordinary, as he knows exactly how to set 21 up for perfection and does a wonderful job at constantly switching certain aspects of each track to avoid continuity. A prime example of this is on "Many Men", where Metro includes a smooth transition from the previous track, a horrifying twist of a sample from "Many Men" by 50 cent, and even 50's vocals from the original song along with Morgan Freeman vocals to close the song. It's tracks like these that pose a conversation about Metro Boomin joining the film industry and making music for movies, as it could be a way to showcase his skills on a broader platform. Even songs like "Steppin' On" and "Brand New Draco" give off some elements of some 90's-era rap, just like the album cover does. This was one of my favorite listens all year long, as this duo never fails together and always creates something sonically incredible.
"Mr. Right Now" feat. Drake
2. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist- Alfredo
Freddie Gibbs is on an incredible run of success with his previous releases, and there's a serious shot that The Alchemist-assisted record titled "Alfredo" is his best album yet. The Kane Train steamrolled his way through 10 incredible tracks like a speeding locomotive, all gas and no brakes. His flow is unparalleled from any other rapper, as he raps so effortlessly with such complexion and variance on his style. There's no better examples of this than on tracks like "Frank Lucas" with Benny the Butcher as the two battle off in a dark and bar-heavy atmosphere, and in "1985" where Gibbs compares himself to Michael Jordan while comparing his "cocaine circus" to those of the mid-80's Chicago Bulls, as described in "The Last Dance" documentary. While he does rap about his typical street content like drugs and violence, he also touches upon subjects like racism and police brutality on "Scottie Beam" with Rick Ross. Because this album was released during the height of the peaceful protests across the country, the mantra "my execution might be televised" was one that hit especially different during a vulnerable time. On "Something to Rap About" with Tyler, the Creator, Gibbs raps about his involvement with drug-dealing and about his experiences in court and in jail, while Tyler paints a vivid picture with his verse and raps about his newfound superstardom. The Alchemist continues to prove why he's one of the most exceptional producers of all-time with some stellar use of samples in this album to give the album a luxurious feel. There are also transitions that help the album flow continuously through one listen, and cuts from Bernie Mac and Biz Markie add a comedic flavor to the album. Make no mistake, as Freddie Gibbs is the true star of this show, and you can make a serious case that Freddie Gibbs has the best rap albums in both 2019 and 2020 with "Bandana" and "Alfredo". "Alfredo" was an easy choice for rap album of the year, and Freddie Gibbs is also my selection for best rapper of 2020.
"Frank Lucas" feat. Benny the Butcher
"Babies & Fools" feat. Conway the Machine
"Scottie Beam" feat. Rick Ross
1. The Weeknd- "After Hours"
We are so lucky to be living in the same lifetime as The Weeknd, he simply does not miss.
Abel Tesfaye blessed our ears with his most recent album in almost four years in "After Hours", and there is so much content to take in with this album. When listening, I feel like there are elements from each of his previous projects on here, but also an added new flair of 80's synth pop. With tracks like "Until I Bleed Out" and "Escape from LA", there are some dark-themed aspects that you could find that are similar to songs off of both "Trilogy" and "Kiss Land", while songs like "In Your Eyes" and "Heartless" are very reminiscent of his latest album, "Starboy". There are so many different themes to explore on this album, his dives into so many personal conflictions on this album. In the beginning of the album, he's be fighting loneliness and need for companionship in tracks like "Alone Again", which is a synth and vocal-crazed intro that is, quite honestly, one of the best tracks I've ever heard and hits a little too close to home since we've been mostly isolated during a worldwide pandemic. Towards the middle of the album we begin to see a more reckless, disloyal, and toxic versions of The Weeknd, especially on tracks like "Escape from LA" and "Heartless". The partying, drugs, and constant amounts of meaningless sex eventually catch up to Abel, as he begins to address his issues and problems with his previous relationships on both "In Your Eyes" and "Save Your Tears". This leads to the masterpiece that is the self-titled track "After Hours" which is the inevitable realization of his issues being the demise of his relationship and a last-ditch effort of reconciliation, and there are so many beautiful twists and turns located in this track. The album closes with "Until I Bleed Out", a horrific ending to the album which sees Abel trying to tear himself away from his crazed personality and including the sinister line "I keep telling myself I don't need it anymore". Even the deluxe version adds more substance to the album with tracks like "Nothing Compares" and "Final Lullaby". This is one of the few albums I've listened to where I'm glad there are no features involved, as The Weeknd's performance is so dominant and engaging as the album and story unfolds. The ongoing theme that The Weeknd exhibits does the album wonders, as the environment of Las Vegas and the constant use of the color red ties in perfectly with the album's content. The production is immaculate, the lyricism used is immaculate, the themes and motives relayed are immaculate, the album in its' entirety is immaculate. I could rave on for days about how great this album is, but I'll summarize it in a more simple fashion: "After Hours" is my clear-cut choice for the top album of 2020, and was without a doubt my favorite album to listen to in 2020.
"Until I Bleed Out"
"Escape From LA"
If you've made it this far, I appreciate you for taking the time out of your day to simply view my opinion. If you agree with my list, you have a great taste in music and you are awesome. If you don't agree, you still likely have a very good taste in music, as music is subjective to everyone. Unless you're a Blueface fan. Make sure to let me know on Twitter your favorite albums of 2020, as we say goodbye to one of the craziest and most discouraging years in recent memory.