Frankly, the year 2020 needs no summation. It’s the year in which the human experience has been connected more than ever before despite limitations in human contact. As such, music and entertainment took their places as rightful conduits, bridging six-foot gaps with TikTok challenges, protest music, and record-breaking Instagram live sessions. Scoring such a definitive year was a steady stream of outputs from familiar faces and a slew of new voices, strategically using the year as a catapult into quarantined ears.
Whittling down the bunch to a few definitive efforts proved to be a task. There’s a strong case to be made for many albums that didn’t make it onto our staff list, and somewhere down the line, after we’ve made sense of the events that transpired in 2020, we’ll be able to turn the focal point on the ancillary audio that arrived as a result. Catch the 20 best hip-hop albums of the year below.
So Help Me God! – 2 Chainz
So Help Me God! had its fair share of starts and stops, but when it arrived 2 Chainz did not disappoint. Lifting the title from a shelved Kanye West album, Chainz was joined by Ye for “Feel a Way,” the latest of stellar singles from the two, which also features Brent Faiyaz.
Fans of 2Chainz in any era or style will find something on the album they like. Tity Boi gets into the bangers with “Lambo Wrist” and ” Ziploc,” a bit introspective on “Save Me” and “Southside Hov,” while also dabbling in classic samples with “Can’t Go for That” and “Money Maker.” The mastery of this album is if you favor one 2 Chainz sound over the others, you still find enjoyment in everything that is created.
Queen of Da Souf – Mulatto
2020 was only a catalyst for women in Hip-Hop and leading the charge toward the future was the unlikely occurence of a child reality star who had evolved into one of Hip-Hop’s most promising stars via Mulatto. On the Atlanta native’s debut Queen of da Souf, Big Latto visits themes familiar among the vanguard of today’s female emcees. She commands attention without a thought for male counterparts on album intro “Youngest N Richest”, she oozes empowerment on sex positive cuts like “Look Back At It” and “My Body,” and reminds us that she has no issue holding her own by way of “He Say She Say.”
Southern swagger decorates the record’s final product and firmly plants Latto as the head of household as she crafts the soundtrack to a 10-piece hot with lemon pepper sprinkles.
Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon – Pop Smoke
2020 will certainly be remembered for its sudden tragedies, some of which we may never completely move past. One of those tragic moments came back in February when promising and rising rap superstar Pop Smoke, was murdered at a rental home in Los Angeles. When his 20 year-old life was cut short, a part of Brooklyn’s Drill movement died with him. With the help of 50 Cent, who executive produced Pop’s posthumous debut, we caught a glimpse of what was to come from the Canarsie native.
Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon was more than a posthumous debut. Instead, it was a reminder of a promising future for a superstar in the making. Pop Smoke’s ability to bring fans into his world of Canarsie is what made him special. While his diversity shines throughout the superstar filled album, we are reminded why we were all saying the phrase, “B-tch I’m a thotéget me lit” back in Summer ’19. On tracks like “Gangstas, “44 Bulldog,” and “Creature,” Pop’s voice brings life to the drill-infused sound. Without his physical presence, we only wonder how many more tracks like the aforementioned could’ve went on wax.
City on Lock – City Girls
City on Lock was set to be the perfect storm: JT was home reuniting the girls for what should be a true summer for the ladies, but like everything else in the world, coronavirus happened. The album arrived and had undeniable hits. “Jobs” became a staple for ladies and “Pussy Talk” served as a suitable follow-up, seemingly saving Doja Cat from the jaws of cancel culture.
Time Served – Moneybagg Yo
Don’t let the trunk-rattling beats and club bangers distract you from the fact that Moneybagg Yo can spit. At the turn of the New Year, the CMG and Roc Nation artist showed off his skill on his latest effort Time Served, matching an impressive flow and delivery with addictive bangers.
On Time Served, Moneybagg Yo inserts himself into a list of rappers who can create an album worthy of critical acclaim and spawn multiple singles of commerical success. “U Played” dominated radio waves and clubs for months, “1 2 3” still serves as a go-to for fans, and “All Dat,” showed the chemistry of what possibly was once a romance with Megan Thee Stallion. In a year where many rappers released deluxe editions, Yo’s second set of songs didn’t sound like leftovers, and “Me Vs Me” belongs on many year-end lists for performance and overall song quality.
Pray for Paris – Westside Gunn
Griselda’s frontman Westside Gunn delivered a stellar album back in April. Gunn’s third studio effort brings in the usual suspects for the affair, crafting a masterpiece that grasps the ear of those who may not be a Griselda listener yet and introduces them to their style.
Throughout Pray for Paris, Gunn, and guests ranging from Wale and Joey Bada$$ to the Griselda roster, find the perfect hybrid of grit and luxury. The album also brings the trademark wrestling love of the Griselda team into both the track titles, themes, and skits, without losing a single step in cohesion.
Dark Lane Demo Tapes– Drake
On Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Drake speaks to his manifestations (“Deep Pockets”), raps facts around Jay-Z’s “Song Cry” sample (“When To Say When”) and gives a peep hole view into his city-to-city nightlife occurrences as The Boy (“Chicago Freestyle.”) While a Chris Brown featured credit could’ve saved the anticipation for his inconspicuous ad-libs, it is still a fan’s dream to see the two continue to work after the success of “No Guidance.” We wouldn’t mind more collaborations.
After a series of online leaks, Drake decided to gift his fans with a 14-track mixtape before his 6th studio album release. The release shouldn’t fly over anyone’s head. Only he can drop such a punctual project that’ll further proclaims his dominance, only to be robbed of a Billboard 200 No.1 album by a country’s artist tour bundles. Anyway, as we enter the first month of 2021, CLB awaits us in 2021. Can it drop any sooner?
RTJ4 – Run The Jewels
Somehow, someway Run the Jewels continues to be underrated. The combination of Killer Mike and El-P released their fourth effort and continue to build on a synergy that showcases their talent both individually and as a unit. Simply put, Run The Jewels does not miss.
The album arrived in the midst of protests against police brutality after a string of murders of Black Americans across the country. RTJ4 is the textbook definition of protest music, arriving at a perfect time and with content so relevant it appears that the album was created at the very moment of listening.
Want to hear the anguish of Black America? Look no further than Mike’s performance on “Yankee and the Brave (ep.4);”
“The crooked copper got the dropper, I put lead in his eye / Plus we heard he murdered a black child so none of us cried”
YHLQMDLG – Bad Bunny
Bad Bunny has earned his stripes. The Puerto Rican star found himself among a group of artists charged with the resurgence of Reggaeton in mainstream music, and could have just as easily signed off with his Grammy-awarded X 100pre debut. On YHLQMDLG, however, Bad Bunny beat the sophomore slump to deepen his stake in longevity with one of the year’s most balanced outputs. The abbreviated title serves as an acronym for Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana or I Do What I Want, and on it, the urbano luminary does just that.
Artfully blending the best of the past and the present, Bad Bunny stands out as the most poignant torchbearer for Reggaeton’s current landscape. The trap roots of “Esta Cabron Ser Yo” find equal match in the Casio-laced backdrop of “Si Te Veo Tu Mama” while cushioning the classic rhythms of offerings like “Yo Perreo Sola” all at once.
Good News – Megan Thee Stallion
What a rollercoaster ride 2020 was for Megan Thee Stallion. The Hot Girl couldn’t escape controversy from being associated with you know who, so what did she do? Flip the situation, and Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya,” into a defiant anthem that lets haters and ole boy know that she can’t be stopped.
Throughout Good News, Meg is who fans have come to love her to be. A fun, sexy, sizzling spitter who is unapologetic about the way she wants to live her life. Megan and DaBaby once again show their chemistry and raise questions about a joint album in the future on “Cry Baby,” while the women of rap continue to show that there is no power better than them uniting on “Do It On The Tip.”
A collaboration that we didn’t know was needed until heard was Megan and SZA giving baddie in the bedroom energy on “Freaky Girls.” Also, the range of Thee Stallion is highlighted as she dives into the world of Popcaan for “Intercourse.” Don’t stop killing the game, Meg.
KISS 5 – K Camp
K Camp’s “Lottery” was poised to reintroduce the skilled hyphenate to mainstream audiences, once more strengthening recognition of his penchant for addictive selections. Instead, the incorrectly-referenced track feuled the racial disparities between Tik Tok influencers and left the Atlanta songwriter to add a paranthetical Renegade to the official title as a measure that ensured his streams matched the buzz. Months later, enter KISS 5, the lush hybrid of R&B and Hip-Hop elements that reminded all within an ear’s listen of just how talented and calculated K Camp is.
K Camp is familiar with stardom and dominating radios with a smash or two but at the height of the streaming era, his status as an underapprciated artist is quite apparent. With selective production and aptly-sourced features KISS 5 is a wistful winner, seducing even the pickiest of aural suitors.
From King to a God – Conway the Machine
A dark horse candidate among Hip-Hop fans for album of the year is Conway the Machine’s From King to a God. The Griselda representative digs in and shows why he is one of rap’s rising talents.
The debut album from the Griselda rapper matched him alongside some of the best spitters Hip-Hop has seen like Havoc, Method Man, and Lloyd Banks. Not only did Conway hold his own, but he may also have gotten the best of all of them. Add in the work of DJ Premier, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist, and group producer staple Daringer, and Conway emerged as one of the key voices of the new decade.
A Written Testimony – Jay Electronica
When a rapper announces an album it’s rare that it becomes a rolling headline on CNN, but that’s how crazy a Jay Electronica release in 2020 is. In February, Jay Elect announced A Written Testimony, an album that he detailed was “recorded over 40 days and 40 nights”, spanning from December 26th. Fans waited for a formal release for a decade after he stole the hearts of Hip-Hop with a dazzling display of rapping on “Exhibit C.”
Jay Elect would tease online “My debut album featuring Hov man, this is highway robbery.” Who knew that would both be a bar and fact, JAY-Z made his presence felt throughout the album and delivered the first bar of many across the album. But that doesn’t distract from the work of Jay Elect who shows that his formal debut was worth the wait. A who’s who of producers appeared in Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, No I.D. and The Alchemist, while vocal appearances from The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Travis Scott, James Blake, and James Fauntleroy cemented this album as a moment.
The album would peak at No. 12 on Billboard, however, the impact of the album isn’t laid in numbers, evident by “A.P.I.D.T.A.” becoming one of the singles highlighting a tough year that we all had.
Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 – Lil Durk
Go back through the records that have come out of Chicago in the past few years and you will see that Lil Durk is the three-time MVP of the Windy City. Durkio is rounding into his prime as an artist after emerging from the city’s drill scene. If you check the hottest singles and albums of the year and you will find Durk as a featured artist, but his greatest achievement of the year is Just Cause Y’all Waited 2.
Durk’s ability to deliver melodic street tales was on display over the course of the album, along with underrated lyricism, cadence, and hitmaking ability. Evidence of the depth of Durk’s talent is the “3 Headed Goat” single, where he holds his own alongside another Chicago star in Polo G and arguably the biggest rapper of the year Lil Baby. Don’t sleep on Durk cause he is heating up.
Savage Mode II – 21 Savage
On “Glock In My Lap,” the sequence of producer tags that arrive from Southside, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., and Metro Boomin is quite the indication of just how far 21 Savage and Metro Boomin have come since the orignal iteration of Savage Mode (as if Morgan Freeman-narrated interludes weren’t evidence enough). They arrive over ominous organ chords, warning of the danger up ahead, doubling as indication of just how pertinent Savage Mode II is in its projected place in the timeline of Atlanta’s musical canon.
On the project, Metro Boomin flirts with his most ambitious production to date while 21 Savage comfortably delivers violent punchlines with amusingly flattened glee (I can’t smoke my opps/’Cause all my opps is dust). As the duo return to make a movie out of the namesake that transformed both men into respective stars, the nine-track Savage Mode II walks a fine line between the energy that surrounded Atlanta’s streets in 2016 and the catalog that continues to reel in listeners in 2020 and beyond.
Burden of Proof – Benny the Butcher
Benny the Butcher gave everyone a warning as soon as the Burden of Proof album opened: “Yo, last year was ’bout brandin’, this one about expandin’.” The Butcher’s brand is so strong that a bullet can’t even derail his progress.
The Griselda roster is full of talent but the darling of many Hip-Hop fans is Benny. On Burden of Proof, Benny shows there is no such thing as the sophomore slump in him. Teaming together with Hit-Boy, who should be considered as Hip-Hop’s 2020 MVP, The Butcher stepped outside Daringer’s production and showcased that he can be an artist for the mainstream.
The Griselda squad was present with Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn, but Benny also showed the ability to hold his own with a variety of artists. Rick Ross and Freddie Gibbs styles are cousins to the Griselda brand, but the range to align next to Big Sean, Lil Wayne, and Dom Kennedy and not waiver in his abilities or delivery shows Benny is special.
King’s Disease – Nas
On King’s Disease, we get a vintage formulation of Nasir Jones, marking a return to familiar territory for Queensbridge’s crowned storyteller. On the effort, Nas tirelessly combs through memories that span from his hustling days in Dinkins-era New York to grandiose accounts of visits to The Tunnel with Chris Lighty.
Here, Nas activates the bard that characterized his claim to fame. King’s Disease is the follow-up that Life Is Good deserved with Hit-Boy silencing familiar groans of Nas’ ear for beats and supplying the 47-year-old with the frame for a late-career entry that supplies the oxygen previously cut off by 2018’s NASIR.
Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial – Roddy Ricch
As a technical late entry in 2019’s musical calendar, Roddy Ricch’s Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial rightfully dominated the first half of 2020 as the Compton emcee proved to be the sum of all of Hip-Hop’s parts. In a sense, Roddy Ricch has evolved into a Frankenstein of the most commercially-appeasing aspects of every great rapper in the past few years.
The piano backdrop of “Intro” calls on Meek Mill’s “Dream & Nightmares,” the Mustard-produced “Ballin” is only one of the more prominent Young Thug rips, and alongside Gunna on “Start Wit Me”, swapping in Lil Baby would leave no interrogation. Roddy’s magic with the album, however, is that it ultimately works. The end product is a marvelous case study in reinventing the wheel. Roddy is a student of the game and if his debut is any indication of his studious efforts, the future is bright.
Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs & Alchemist
Freddie Gibbs is on one of the more impressive album runs we have seen. Tagging with the hottest producers you can find, Gangsta Gibbs masterfully floats across their scores. His pairing with The Alchemist for Alfredo is divine, possibly the solo album you give to a Hip-Hop fan who managed to miss everything else in the genre during the year and wants to hear one offering.
Gibbs finds a way to tap into pandemic signs, partnering his own past with Michael Jordan’s Last Dance tales on “1985:”
Quarter thang to a whole thang, whole gang workin’/Hit a bitch with that extended clip or that revolver/Shit’ll serve the same purpose/Geekers beamin’ up to Scotty in my crack lobby/I can smell the ‘caine burnin’/Michael Jordan, 1985, bitch, I travel with a cocaine circus
And that’s just the opener.
As the album goes, Gibbs and Ross find a way to ode Hip-Hop heroine “Scottie Beam” in their own pursuit of a wife before he goes bar for bar with Tyler, the Creator in one of the more unexpected duels of the year on “Something to Rap About.”
Al executes his own genius, creating the scene for Gibbs on his own, matching the grit of Griselda in features and doing some of the best work we have heard in years. Just give Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist the Grammy already.
My Turn – Lil Baby
Seven project releases within the first two years of his musical career should be proof enough of Lil Baby’s dedication. With My Turn, Atlanta’s crown prince paired this dedication with consistency to craft one of year’s strongest displays of growth in music. On the project, Baby’s place is secured. He’s no stranger to lofty pursuits and lavish ways of living, but he’s finally used to such spoils resulting from a chance stab at rap.
Such security characterizes his cadence on project opener “Get Ugly,” and yet his lyrics can’t seem to let go of a past that weaves its ways into his current hustle. Standouts alongside familiar collaborators such as Gunna, Moneybagg Yo, and Young Thug, and Lil Uzi Vert are testament to Baby’s penchant for sticking to what works. He’s transitioned from Lil Cali superstar to 4PF boss, adding value to rising signees like 42 Dugg and Rylo Rodriguez in the process.