Well, with 2020 coming to a close it is appropriate to look back at some of my favorite albums of the year. Now, this list or format is not in order because depending on my mood I enjoy different albums at different times. Also, comparison can be a thief of joy at times so this will be praise for some great albums. Some are fun, some are short, some cover pain and one is only four tracks. That is the beauty of music, not all music is music is the same in terms of build, but that very difference makes it beautiful.
Drake – Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Now, let us put our “right foot up, left slide, left foot up, right foot slide”. Dark Lane Demo Tapes was a collection of leaks/throwaways and a monster hit from Drake. As far as surprise mixtapes go this was definitely a great collection of songs from Drake. “When To Say When” and “Chicago Freestyle” were two great homages to past legends. The former sampled Bobby Glenn’s Sounds Like a Love Song which Jay Z previously sampled on Song Cry. The latter was a masterclass of Drake’s talking his talk while paying homage to Eminem’s Superman. It doesn’t hurt that the accompanying music video with both songs mashed up was phenomenal to say the least. On the other hand, the lead single Toosie Slide was a radio friendly song with all the catchiness associated with Drake. This mixtape was a perfect way for Drake to put his stamp on this year without releasing his album. Special recognition should be served to Not You Too and Time Flies. Those were two super chills songs which helped make the post-work drive’s home a bit easier. Traffic is less infuriating when vibing out to the instrumentals of these afore-mentioned masterpieces.
DVSN – A Muse In Her Feelings
What is there to say about such a perfect collection of r&b songs?
“Dangerous City” is a stands out as a cut above the rest of the tracks. The up tempo instrumentals and the accompanying verses from Ty Dolla $ign and Buju Banton hit the right notes. Another standout track is “Courtside,” where Jessie Reyez and DVSN collaborated masterfully, running what amounts to a perfectly executed three man weave. Okay, bad basketball puns aside, the song is terrific and deserves its fair share of praise. Pivoting to instrumentals, “Outlandish” consists of soothing Super Mario-like sounds. Now, that is what makes the instrumentals genius work because Super Mario games are anything but soothing. It is tough to narrow down sections of the album above the rest. However, if I twist my arm enough I would have to say that tracks four through seven makeup an elite quadrant. The aforementioned “Courtside” and “Dangerous City” bookend “Miss Me” and “No Cryin” in this year-defining four track run. (One final note on the album, shoutout to Snoh Aalegra for her wonderful feature on “Between Us.”)
21 Savage and Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II
Well, one of the greatest rap producers of all time got their hands on an entire project once more, and the result was predictably an array of some of the year’s best instrumentals. 21 Savage held his end of the bargain as a phenomenal trap lyricist, and thus Savage Mode II is a project with great replay value.Metro Boomin’s blending of “Mr. Right Now” into “Rich (Guy) Shit” is incredible. The songs flow so well together that not even words can do it justice. While, the songs blend together, they do not sound repetitive at all, which only adds to the magic of what many can see as another pop rap album. On the 21 Savage front of this album, he did a great job on the sample of 50 Cent’s “Many Men.” (The man said he “need a bad girl like RiRi”, and any Rihanna name drop gets me hyped to be honest.) Overall, Metro Boomin really showed his production power on this project. 21 Savage gave each song his personal touch, and Morgan Freeman’s narration gave it a feature length film feel.
The Weeknd – After Hours
First and foremost, an album with the song “Snowchild” on it was bound to be one of my personal favorites. That song, which is not about Frosty The Snowman type of snow is possibly the song of the year, diving deep into the Weeknd’s history with substances., but he recorded pure magic with this track. The overarching theme of the song is even more complex than the typical Weeknd ballad, speaking of friends when reminiscing on dark times. So, yes the past was littered with drug use and darkness, but close friends were there. Now, in the present day The Weeknd mentions all the extravagances of his new life. The cars, the designer clothes and the women, but there is a certain loneliness through it all. The riches have left a feeling of “now what?” so to speak. He mentions that “Cali was the mission, but now a (dude) leaving,” implying even worldwide acclaim and success can’t cure his demons. Small details like “Snowchild” leading into “Escape from L.A.” are subtle, but add to an incredible album composition. Similar to the aforementioned “Snowchild”, escape is a song portraying The Weeknd’s disdain for his new life. Lyrically, the Keanue Reeves/Constantine fighting for my soul nod was incredible, followed up a mention of his spyder Porsche having “black on black Venom covered seats”. Few things are better in music than well executed pop culture references. Ultimately, this aforementioned two pack of songs really uplifts what is generally a tremendous album. On the album singles front, “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” were two songs that were truly addicting. On the other hand, it would be wrong to not mention “In Your Eyes” amongst the standout tracks, as well as other album cuts that make the album a fantastic experience. In the end, the Weeknd is quickly climbing up music lore as an all time great artist.
Giveon – When It’s All Said and Done
One of the most unique and soulful voices in music gave the world an elite four song EP this year. When It’s All Said and Done almost served as a notice of “I’m here, but the best is yet to come.” That is not to say that this EP is not great, because it is definitely top tier R&B. Perhaps Giveon’s voice gives him a leg up on a lot of singers, but his lyrical content is also top notch. The deep inflections in his voice really drive home the pain he speaks of in every track. Not to mention Snoh Aalegra’s contributions on “Last time,” which really helped elevate what was already an elite performance by Giveon. The California native reached a higher plane of existence on “Stuck on You.” The pain expressed in this song is so conflicted yet self-reflective, it is almost impossible not to relate. “Waiting for you even how you treat me, You’re my baby even when you leave me”. That perplexing feeling about love is so common, silly and painful all in one. Standing there hoping that the person who is perfect in our mind will come back is an almost universal experience. Being stuck in love can be like being stuck in quicksand, and logic is thrown out the window. Ultimately, Giveon gave a glimpse of his talent, and is one to watch moving forward.
So, thank you to all these wonderful artists who provided some tremendous artwork this year. Now, there are definitely other great albums out there, and this is by no means a definitive list. It just felt right to sit around and sing the praises of these five projects. The projects most heavy in rotation definitely deserve to have some flowers thrown on them.
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