By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez & Heather Bushman
Here it is: the capping off of what may have been the most turbulent year in modern memory. 2020 may have been a year rife with loss, sadness, and a constant stream of tragedies. Music suffered many losses throughout the year, with names like Eddie Van Halen and MF DOOM being some of the greatest losses felt by music…it was truly a year that tested the strength of every person on the planet, be it physical or mental.
At least we had some kickass music to stay sane.
For many, music was the escape we desperately needed. As artists retreated to their homes and studios to stay safe in quarantine and produce their art, music fans had no idea for the treats they had in store for 2020. Every genre was finding some way to be successful and have some great albums come out of it. Today, we will give our shoutouts to some of the music that impressed (or failed to bump) in 2020. Music is a truly difficult, back-breaking art form to be in to begin with, so just remember.
Every artist can get some props for going through 2020. Here we go!
Most Potent Emotions:
Mac Miller – Circles
Posthumous projects are both highly anticipated and nerve wracking at the same time. The joy of having more work to remember an artist by is great, but without them here their vision can get muddler. Luckily, Circles appears to flow in album form and does not sound like a Frankenstein’s monster of songs thrown together. This album definitely leans to the more soulful rap sounds of Mac Miller’s previous album Swimming. Circles is another milestone showcasing the growth and expansion of Miller’s sound from backpack rap to soothing singer. However, he never lost sight of his rap roots as can be heard in tracks such as “Blue World,” “Hands” and “Complicated.” “Hand Me Downs” is otherworldly and emotional…I mean, literally every line is capable of triggering real emotions. Mac Miller put his soul into every pen stroke while writing this song. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been keeping it together, but I’m feeling strange” proclaimed the Pittsburgh, PA rapper. So, rest in peace Mac Miller your legacy will truly live on through your music. A true legend who showed emotion and spark on any given track. ~ Antonio
21 Savage & Metro Boomin’ – Savage Mode II
Sequels in music are usually never all that great…but if anyone was poised to beat out their previous work, it was the soft-spoken Atlanta superstar and reclusive production sage. As a sequel to the iconic and trend-setting Savage Mode, Savage Mode II is somehow both a celebration and an expansion of the duo’s characteristically dark and minimal sounds. “Runnin,” “Snitches & Rats” and “Brand New Draco” are some of 21’s best written and performed tracks yet, and the beats on tracks like “Mr. Right Now” and “Steppin on ******” are great expansions on the sounds Metro is known for producing. You hear 21 Savage’s trademark vocals and witty wordplay ride over a smooth disco beat and 90’s southern drumming on these two tracks, a perfect showcase of how far the duo have come. From front to back, it’s an improvement on every good idea the original Savage Mode had, mixing the familiar and the new in a way that every sequel should do. In many ways, it is the superior album: I can already see songs like these showing up on workout playlists for years to come. Couple this with a great cover art and Morgan “God” Freeman narrating the whole project, and you have one of the best albums to come out of the Atlanta area in the past few years. ~ T-Rod
Lorde – TBA
We got a photobook from a trip to Antarctica. We got the resurgence of the infamous onion ring review Instagram account. We got word that “the work is so f***ing good, my friend.” But alas, another year passes without an album in sight from the 24-year-old New Zealander.
In fairness, Lorde deserves the break – 2017’s Melodrama came with a massive touring schedule, and this year marks the first time she’s been able to stop and catch her breath since that release. Plus, you really can’t rush greatness. Putting pressure on Lorde to release her third studio album before she believes its ready ends in one of two ways: a) she complies and drops a project that isn’t completely satisfying to her and subsequently fails to meet fan expectations or b) she blocks out the noise and puts it out when it’s ready to be put out, which leaves us back at square one. Neither option yields particularly exciting results, so why even try? Remember, we only got Melodrama after a four-year hiatus following her debut, Pure Heroine, and that was well worth the wait. When we give an artist time to create on their own terms, the ends more often than not justify the means. We just need to trust Lorde’s process: the album will come when it’s meant to come.
But screw that, honestly, because patience is a virtue that I do not possess in this situation. I want to be altruistic and assert that Lorde has more than earned the right to disappear for a year or three (because she has! She really has!), but I am too weak for such an act of goodwill. My belief in artistic integrity and my own anticipation are locked in a battle in my brain as we speak. I’ll give you one guess which is winning.
Do I wholeheartedly believe in the creative process, no matter how many desperate fans it spurs with its length? Absolutely. Am I one of said desperate fans at the moment? Absolutely. Lorde, if you’re reading this, drop the album – I’m not sure how I’m going to survive my 20s without it.
(I’m kidding, obviously. Take your time, queen, we’re ready when you are.) ~ Heather
Logic – No Pressure
Everyone doubted Bobby Hall. As one of mainstream and throwback hip-hop’s biggest figureheads, it seemed like Hall (better known by the stage name Logic) was destined to dig himself into a pit of bad punchlines and white-guy rapping stereotypes. After a string of disappointing records from the mid 2010s to 2020, many wondered how No Pressure would fare. Logic confirmed that this would be the soundtrack to his retirement, his final scratch in a career that was marked by incredible highs and lows…and it delivered, becoming not just a comeback in terms of quality, but a watershed moment in Logic’s catalogue. His last album may just be his best.
How did he do this? He finally expanded on his strengths: his love and appreciation for the hip-hop classics of old lets him revisit and add new ideas to classic beats. Whether it be spookifying of an ATLiens beat on “GP4” or the Aquemini horn embellishments on “man i is,” Logic finally found the best way to mix the old and new…but he truly shines as a performer here. His rapping on the stark intro and the heavenly “Soul Food II” is at its absolute best: the punchlines are equally funny and clever, the hooks are better performed than ever before, and he even manages to show up to party on “Celebration.” For many Logic haters, this was the first time they would appreciate Logic’s skills. For his fans, it was a wonderful sendoff for an MC who finally found peace. ~ T-Rod
Dababy – Blame It On Baby
Unfortunately, they can’t all be winners. DaBaby is still one of the most exciting entrants into mainstream hip-hop in a while, and he has tons of talent. But this record simply embodied the worst aspects of most “skippable” albums this year. This album’s tracks were a musical bread sandwich: you could eat it, it’s digestable, but you know deep down you’re gaining absolutely nothing from it. Even worse, it followed the most confusing trend of hip-hop in 2020: throwing a whole new album together for a deluxe that was entirely throwaways. It was just going through the motions this year for DaBaby unfortunately, and this album was entirely skippable because of it…
But I hope we get more from him. He has an iconic voice, great choices in beats, and a flow that never fails to make a song entertaining. Here’s to a great return from Mr. DaBaby!
The Soundtrack to Quarantine:
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Written and recorded in just 40 days straight from isolation, arriving as the first major release following the onset of the coronavirus, and timely in both the creative process and the subject matter, Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now is the quarantine album. A shocking take from yours truly, I’m sure, but hear me out (again). Listless lyrics long for the late-night raves of yesteryear, and a suffocating soundscape tightens and tightens like the close quarters to which we’ve all grown accustomed in hunkering down in our houses for weeks (Months? Years? Who’s to say?) on end. It begs to be blasted, and in any other context, tracks like “pink diamond” and “anthems” would kill at the club, but spinning this now feels like screaming into the void, hosting the party of the century for no one but you (and maybe your cat or something). There’s a rawness to this record that may never be recaptured, so specific to our current state that future music scholars may regard this as a relic, an artifact to be analyzed in order to understand just what the hell we went through. Maybe that’s a stretch, the idea that the product of Charli’s COVID-induced burst of creativity will go down in the history books, but one thing is for sure – this is how I’m feeling now, how you’re feeling now, and how we’re all feeling now ~ Heather
Best B-Sides of 2020:
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B
In a year where everyone seemed to be dropping surprise deluxes, B-side collections, and loosies, music fans were grubbing hard on artists’ freshly heated leftovers. The best of these releases was, of course, from someone who has a managed to turn her leftovers into a 5-star meal. Carly Rae Jepsen already impressed fans and critics with her 2019 album Dedicated, so for her to give a second helping so quickly was somewhat predictable…
But dammit it was wonderful.
Carly Rae’s move to a more varied sound comes full circle on this album: her lust is tangible on “Fake Mona Lisa” and “Summer Love,” matching the intimate cover in a way that only she can. With her trademark earworm hooks, great production and summertime bangers like “Felt This Way” and “Solo,” Carly Rae keeps the necessity for B-side releases alive. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to humming this album in it’s entirety. ~ T-Rod
South Florida MVP:
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – Unlocked
Angry, hilarious, catchy, abrasive, crude and refined. All of these seemingly opposing qualities reside in Unlocked, easily one of hip-hop’s most creative releases in 2020, regardless of medium. Denzel Curry’s trademark aggression and wordplay and Kenny Beats’s creative beat and sample choices are a perfect pairing on the songs of this short album. The primal energy of a banger like “DIET” or the grimy experimentation on almost every aspect of “Take It Back” wouldn’t be possible without the unique skills the duo have. Coupling an incredibly brisk album with a short film accompaniment reflects the raw amount of creative energy the duo has. Curry, a Carol City resident, is easily the best South Florida artist to drop this year. Not many albums carry the kind of raw wit on “Pyro” or the explosive sounds on “Cosmic,” and it’s all due to the SoFlo Native Curry’s skill as an artist. I can’t say much else, other that it’s a thrill ride that needs to be experienced at least once. ~ T-Rod
Best EP of the Year:
Disclosure – Ecstasy
Electronic duo Disclosure always seems to have a hit on deck, ready to get people dancing, partying, and probably looking for a bathroom after the first two. This ability make perfect house track rings true for their electronic/house epic Ecstasy, with the EP acting a fantastic prelude to their full length LP, Energy. This EP is essentially a perfection of the house formula they have crafted for years, popping out colorful banger after colorful banger with an exotic twist that would get the 2020 dancefloors popping…if there were 2020 dancefloors that weren’t a biological minefields. For the dreaded year, however, songs like “Tondo” and “Etran” were the soundtracks to midnight jam sessions in the crib, allowing a bit of levity for an otherwise scary year. This levity is further accentuated by the nature of this album: it is blissfully ignorant. “Expressing What Matters” could make a winter night seem like a summer day with it’s uptempo grooves and vocal samples, and that barely scratches the surface of this project’s positivity. It may be short, but it packs the goods.
Best Indie Album of the Year
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
There’s a poignant lyric in the Florence + The Machine track “No Choir,” the closer from 2018’s High As Hope – “And it’s hard to write about being happy, ‘cause all that I get, I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject.” I’m thinking Phoebe Bridgers caught this one and took it to heart, because her release this year took a hard left from happiness. Punisher is devastating on all fronts, giant fractures coupled with subtle cracks that chip away at your composure bit by bit. Each track is like a stab wound of a different shape and size, massive gashes and little cuts accumulating until you don’t know where the bleeding starts and stops. This was a year where I had to learn to let myself cry, sometimes even force myself to do it, just so I didn’t leave everything bottled up. Punisher helped me and many others do exactly that. I felt tears pool about Dianetics and stucco, let them slip at the mention of the dog with the bird in his mouth, and once those strings from “Savior Complex” kicked in…it wasn’t a pretty sight. Phoebe does this thing where she takes the most mundane occurrence and turns it into a moment of real emotion – a fan killed at Dodger stadium, an argument about John Lennon, 90 miles to Memphis and nothing but open road ahead. If the music of Punisher wasn’t melancholy enough, the hyper-specificity of the lyrics just twists the knife, each detail adding another layer of pain to a truly sorrowful, but beautiful, experience. ~ Heather
The Best Vibes of 2020:
Rober Glasper, 9th Wonder, Kamasi Washington, and Terrace Martin – Dinner Party/Dessert
With a lineup containing some of music’s greatest minds, a project like Dinner Party was bound to find success. A bite-sized collection of soul, jazz, and hip-hop, this small project contained some of the most beautiful and peaceful compositions of the whole year. A beautiful atmosphere prevails throughout, haunting the driving drums and vocal layers on “From My Heart and My Soul” and possessing the synths and sax of “The Mighty Tree.” This was the musical eye of the storm in 2020, a collection of songs that brought the positive energy and relaxed nature that jazz and soul are made to bring.
Special mentions must also be made to the hip-hop focused remix of Dinner Party: Dessert. With features from Cordae, Snoop Dogg, and other prominent names, the vibes of Dinner Party turn from a dimly lit jazz club to an open mic night for the ages. No matter which version you listen to, you are bound to find something that’ll soothe the very soul. No matter if it’s a sunset drive or a night spent staring at your friend’s ceiling, the smooth sax, steady drumming, and buttery melodies will bring you to a peace that few records can.
Best Country Album of the Year:
Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
Country had some solid releases throughout the year, but none truly floored the world quite like Chris Stapleton’s layered, rustic, and enthralling epic Starting Over. With one of the most recognizable voices in modern music, Stapleton swaggers his way through the whole album with tales of heartbreak, devils, and general living in a way that is simultaneously emotional and exhilarating. This is an album so good that even someone averse to country music should check it out. The dramatic rush on “Whiskey Sunrise,” the fun energy of “Arkansas,” the bold lyricism of “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice?” Few albums can give the listener the surges of emotion one will feel when listening to Starting Over from front to back. ~ T-Rod
Back 2 Back Queen:
Taylor Swift – Evermore and Folklore
On April 27th, Taylor Swift made a rare appearance on Instagram to announce that there was “not a lot going on at the moment.” Almost two months later on July 23rd, we all found out that was very much a lie – folklore, her eighth studio album, dropped the next day. And what a turn for one of the most prolific names in pop. Instead of the manufactured foundation fronting 2017’s disappointing reputation or the sincere synth soundscape seen on 2019’s Lover (an admirable rebound), folklore is a complete change in tone, both narratively and sonically. We’re out of the workshop and into the woods, ditching the electronic instrumentation that defined Swift’s last few records in favor of a totally acoustic setup courtesy of Jack Antonoff and Aaron Desner – plucky guitars, floaty pianos, and oh, the strings. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, the way a song like “the 1” is essentially just two piano chords and an easy backbeat or a song like “this is me trying” builds on nothing but elongated notes from the strings and a brass section. Taylor Swift has spent the better part of a decade proving her versatility, and with a decidedly indie angle, folklore added yet another facet to her extensive musical repertoire. The best part? She wasn’t done yet – evermore, folklore’s sister record, arrived just under five months later.
It seems Taylor and her team had such a good time experimenting with the woodsy vibe that they just kept going. The product is a follow-up that keeps up with its predecessor, if not exceeds it in some areas. evermore offers a similar structure to folklore, acoustic instrumentals with a subtler approach to the songs than her previous pop bangers, but this time around, she takes more risks. On it, we get her first true country tune since her self-titled album (with an excellent assist from the Haim sisters), a track entirely in 5/4, and – wait for it – some honest-to-goodness swear words. It’s the dawn of a new era for Swift, and the personal and musical maturation is evident. While she’s always been a celebrated songwriter, these efforts solidify her as a storyteller, still pulling from her own experiences but adding in everything from family fables to contemporary American tales. It’s clear that Swift is hitting a new stride, offering not one but two of her best projects to date without a minute to breathe between them. She’s reaching a point of creative freedom that most artists only dream of achieving, and we’re ready and waiting to receive whatever she’s willing to drop from those sacred sessions. It’s Taylor Swift’s world, and we’re all just living in it. (H)
Take Us to Church!:
Spillage Village – Spilligion
Earlier in 2020, there was a video of Cam Newton working out at home to Gospel music, muscles rippling as choirs shouted and iron was lifted. Regardless of how his season turned out for Pats fans, one thing was made clear from this video: religious music can slap sometimes.
Thankfully, Spillage Village brought the slaps on Spilligion.
A semi-conceptual mixture of hip-hop and religious themes, Spilligion showcases both the strengths of its curators (Mereba, 6LACK, Dreamville artists JID and Earthgang, and more) and the creative potential of rapligion. The album maintains a fine balance between hip-hop bangers and church hymns: “Baptize” is a sinister banger, “Mecca” is an ode to peace, “Shiva” is the prototypical hip-hop struggle that is fought through faith, and “End of Days” felt all too real in a year like 2020. It’s a tour through some of the world’s most prominent faiths, but it never loses focus on the human aspect of religion and the enjoyable aesthetics of rap…two of music’s most spiritual genres clashing in a beautiful firestorm. As the album ends with a wholesome, spiritual acoustic-sing along in “Jupiter,” one can’t help but feel like they underwent a bit of a spiritual journey themselves! ~ T-Rod
Best Pop Album of the Year:
Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
Rina Sawayama was the Avatar of music genres in 2020: with every sound that she came across, she found a way to master it and use it in a way that was both elegant and kicked ass. Sawayama was easily this year’s best pop release, and one of recent music’s most varied records. 3 tracks in, and you’ve already experienced a fine mixture of emo rock, dance pop, metal, and electronics that sounded completely natural. Sawayama truly displayed her mastery of the musical elements in this album, hopping around the music family tree and making each song sound fresh, infectious, and steeped in raw emotion. Few albums can have an energetic banger like “Paradisin'” rub shoulders with an introspective ballad like “Chosen Family.”
Sawayama is more than just a glorious mixture of mainstream music’s greatest sounds and some incredible catchiness: there’s real weight to Sawayama’s writing and vocals throughout. The punkish energy of “STFU!” shows that the pop queen is ready to take the world with hellfire and bravado, the swagger and grooves on “XS” show Sawayama’s stage presence can surpass most rock stars, and the dramatic writing on the incredible “Snakeskin” shows that Sawayama is capable of shedding raw emotion and gifting it onto the listener. It is easily the most balanced record of 2020, containing both eccentricity and suaveness in every second of every song. If this is the direction of pop music to come…we’re very excited for where it’s headed. ~ T-Rod
Rock Album of the Year:
HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
(The Haim sisters are exhausted, and they have every right to be. Este, Danielle and Alana have proven their musical prowess time and time again with two solid studio albums and a handful of hits like “The Wire” or “Want You Back,” so it’s baffling that their place in the industry is still simplified to the question of what it’s like to be women in music. It’s done to death at this point, the idea of HAIM or their contemporaries being enigmatic or novel solely because they’re women and not because the music they’re making is enigmatic or novel (which it is). For the better part of their seven-year career, the idea has dominated the HAIM conversation among music journalists, and with their third effort, the group sought to put the age-old question to rest. They succeeded in magnificent fashion. “Women In Music Pt. III” is their most ambitious and developed project yet. Some of the group’s best lyrics can be found on tracks like “I’ve Been Down” and “Man from the Magazine,” and the instrumental exploration on tracks like “3 AM” and “All That Ever Mattered” absolutely pays off. Fuzzy distorted guitars meet deep synth basslines, smooth saxophone passes and easy acoustic plucks to create a diverse soundscape that absolutely shouldn’t work – but it does. It’s folky, funky and so much fun, all while maintaining a level of musical coherence and sophistication that only the savviest of artists could manage. As for the question of what it’s like to be women in music, HAIM never explicitly answers, but with massive critical acclaim and a pair of Grammy nominations to their names, I’m guessing they’d say it’s pretty cool. ~ Heather
Still Got It:
Juicy J: The Hustle Continues
“And I’m still spending paper back from 1995” Memphis legend Juicy J proudly proclaims on “1995,” one of many highlights on his 2020 album, The Hustle Continues. Juicy J has always been one of the greats, and this album proves that despite being in the game for more than 20 years, he’s still hustling…and he’s still got it. This album is loaded with Memphis flavored bangers that suit his hypnotic hooks and devastating flows; even when he’s smoked out like on “GAH DAMN HIGH,” he flexes harder than your favorite rapper. Despite being in his 40s, he has more hunger in his voice than any MC under 30 years old, bringing a menacing character to songs like “LOAD IT UP,” “BEST GROUP,” and “KILLA.” Working alongside a hefty amount of collaborators, Juicy not only proves that he’s had a monumental influence on almost everyone in hip-hop, but he still works with those he’s influenced incredibly well. I can’t think of any MC that can go toe-to-toe with Conway, Lil Baby, and Wiz on the same album and make it seem entirely natural. Juicy J is the secret weapon veteran in hip-hop, and an album like this serves as a perfect reminder of this fact. ~ T-Rod
Genre? What’s That? (Best Genre-Mashing Album of 2020)
Gorillaz – Song Machine Season 1
You know that feeling when something you need miraculously comes through to heal your soul? As 2020 drew to a chaotic finish, the world needed something to distract themselves from the strange times it was facing….
Thankfully, Damon Albarn and Jaime Hewlitt’s collaborative, virtual, cartoon project Gorillaz delivered a musical buzzer beater for the year with Song Machine. As a collection of the excellent singles that the project dropped throughout 2020, Song Machine captured the bizarrely perfect nature of Gorillaz. Whether you hear Schoolboy Q killing the spooky “Pac-Man,” Elton John and 6LACK harmonizing with Albarn on “The Pink Phantom,” or St. Vincent singing about partying on “Chalk Tablet Towers,” you’ll be floored by the stellar production, career-defining performances, and Albarn’s eclectic choices in song structuring and guest voices. He balanced guests and his own vocals in a way that is as precise as a surgical cut, giving longtime and new fans a great soundtrack to quite possibly the strangest year in modern memory. ~ T-Rod
Wake UP! Most Underrated Artist
CJ Fly – RUDEBWOY
STOP SLEEPING ON CJ FLY GODDAMMIT!
With that out of the way, I am proud to say that RUDEBWOY is one of the finest releases of this year. With the characteristically old-fashioned boom bap sound that Pro Era brings to their hip-hop releases, RUDEBWOY sounds right at home in hip-hop’s golden age…but CJ Fly brings that age into his mind. RUDEBWOY is a fantastic dive into his psyche and upbringing, mixing in nostalgia and danger in a way that feels incredibly refreshing and satisfying. Fly’s rhymes are simultaneously smooth as butter and sharp as a dagger, perfect to nod your head to in the car or analyze for clever wordplay and details. It’s the ideal hip-hop release that we feel no one discusses enough; we hope that even here, we can give this great album it’s flowers. ~ T-Rod
Best Alternative Rock Album:
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Few albums quite captured the oddity of 2020 like The Strokes’ gorgeous comeback record, The New Abnormal. Produced by Rick Rubin and made for an audience hungry for more material from Julian Casablancas and the gang, the album is equal parts familiar and bizarre. When songs like “Bad Decisions” bring to mind 80s classiness and present-day romantic temptation, one can’t help but feel in a new environment that they vaguely remember, but cannot recognize. Casablancas’s trademark angst and youthful energy can be felt on the digital rock anthem “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” while maturity blazes through the passionate longing of “Not the Same Anymore.” Every idea clashes with itself, making simultaneously jarring and beautiful anthems that hardly feel as long as they are, especially on the masterful “At the Door.” Synths blaze alongside guitars throughout some of the outfit’s most progressive and odd tracks yet, bringing heavenly pleas on “The Adults Are Talking” and gargantuan sadness on “Ode to the Mets.” As an alternative rock album, it kicks ass. As a perfect bottling of 2020’s familiar weirdness, it kicks even more ass. ~ T-Rod
Kali Uchis – Sin Miedo
Kali Uchis – La Reina de Colombia – truly made 2020 bearable. Whether it be her confident spunk on social media or the consistent release of her dreamy and sensual mix of Latin pop and R&B, Kali’s output this past year was marvelous to watch. The culmination of this was her riskiest album to date, the angelic Sin Miedo. While continuing her characteristically psychedelic sound, the album was mostly written and sung in Spanish, making the whole album feel even more human and personal than ever. Kali absolutely kills it with her songwriting and singing, crafting some of the most hypnotic and layered tracks she has recorded to date. “fue mejor” and telepatía” stand as some of her most gorgeous ballads yet, but she manages to balance the dramatic moments with some great fun. “Aquí Yo Mando!” and “te pongo mal” are excellent forays into club music and femme-fatale rap, and bliss envelops the listener on “aguardiente y limón.” It’s perfectly balanced, catchy, emotional, and has depth. Kali managed to not only craft an album that challenged listeners, but still made them happy with its great songwriting, production, and charisma. In short? We’re team Kali. ~ T-Rod
Best Rap Album of the Year:
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
“My name cocaine, they ain’t gon’ put me in the nominees” Freddie Gibbs said on “Frank Lucas,” a highlight off of his 2020, Grammy-nominated album, Alfredo. An album loaded with vulgar drug talk, toxicity, and violent imagery, Alfredo is a complex dish, complemented by beautiful and masterful production from producer The Alchemist. An album full of masterful rap tracks, Alfredo was defined by the finesse of its two creators.
Freddie Gibbs is a master of many things: slick flows, clever and spine-tingling lyrics, Instagram crudeness, personal fitness…and this all culminates on this album. Alfredo is another casual win in the rapper’s lengthy career, giving any hip-hop fan more than plenty to chew on. His flows here are at arguably their most infectious and confident, with lyrical takedowns on “God is Perfect” highlighting his pen game or “Baby $hit” highlighting his swagger. The Alchemist, meanwhile, shows why he is one of hip-hop’a greatest producers: the sampling and atmosphere of a song like “Babies n’ Fools” shows that he is able to turn a simple idea into something incredible and complex. With these two titans joining forces, this album’s mere existence was already a dream come true. Whether it be the socially conscious imagery of “Scottie Beam” or the luxurious nostalgia on “Something to Rap About,” casual perfection oozes throughout the album. This seems to light work for The Alchemist and Gibbs, but it still ended up being one of hip-hop’s greatest moments in some of the world’s worst months… ~ T-Rod
MVP: Bad Bunny
Bad Bunny took 2020 for a joyride this year. With his incredible voice, forward thinking aesthetic and style, and infectious brand of reggaeton and spanish trap, Bad Bonnie was bound to strike the world hard. Y no se perdío.
With albums like YHLQMDLG and EL ULTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO, and even a solid B-Sides collection titled LAS QUE NO IBAN A SALIR, Bad Bunny fed anyone in need of catchy hooks, fun beats, and great personality. Whether he concocted heartbroken ballads, personality driven brag raps, or even pop rock stadium crashers, Bad Bunny found a way to make every track memorable to damn near everyone damn near everywhere. Being named Spotify’s most streamed in 2020, the numbers show that everyone needed a little Bad Bunny to make it through the year. ~ T-Rod
R&B Album of the Year:
Chloe x Halle
If a stamp of approval from Beyonce herself wasn’t enough of an indicator, I’ll lay it out here: Chloe x Halle are the real deal. Following up their 2018 debut The Kids Are Alright, the duo enters with Ungodly Hour, an effort that feels infinitely more refined than its predecessor. In just two years, Chloe x Halle have aged like fine wine, showcasing both thematic and musical maturity that their earlier projects lacked. It’s here now, and in abundance. The shift would be jarring, watching the adorable duo from Disney Channel’s Next Big Thing (2000s kids wya???) morph into grown women in what feels like the blink of an eye, if it weren’t so much fun. Beautiful vocal arrangements sit atop sultry synth basslines and soaring strings, the queens trading and tag-teaming through the tracklist all while remaining absolutely unbothered. They drink. They swear. They fuck, but don’t give any. With a gorgeous balance of grace and gravitas, Ungodly Hour marks what feels like Chloe x Halle’s true arrival into the R&B landscape, spots on dozens of year-end lists and a grammy nom cementing them as real contenders for years to come. Welcome to the big leagues, ladies. ~ Heather
Wait, This Dropped?
Teyana Taylor – The Album
Listen, I love Teyana Taylor. Her voice, her fashion, her musical output, her approach to blends of hip-hop and R&B, these are just a few of her many amazing qualities. But the long awaited album that she released this year, simply titled The Album, came and went with little fanfare.
And disappointingly so, because there was some true gems on this record! “We Got Love,” “Come Back to Me,” “Bare Wit Me,” and many other tracks here were great…but they simply got lost in the shuffle of 2020. Was there too much filler here? Was the year’s release poorly timed? We may never know, but this was an album that had some truly great cuts on it…if you may have forgotten that this came out, you should totally check it out. ~ T-Rod
Keep Your Eyes on Them:
Graceful Anon – Canvas of a Radiant Child
With the conversation of hip-hop being recognized as art becoming more accepted, it’s fitting that one of this year’s best records is exactly about that. Graceful Anon (shortened as GF Anon) paints his identity and the identity of the rap game in the jazz-rap gem titled Canvas of a Radiant Child. Beyond his emotive voice and the passion bleeding through his pen, Anon’s skills are as deft and concise as the best of painters. Throughout, he is questioning the very nature of rap music and his own status as an underground figure, making every second count on an incredibly satisfying and beautiful project. Songs such as “The Remain” and “Soliloquy at the Armory” are some of this year’s best rap tracks period…and he’s still dropping gems left and right. Any fan of jazz rap, abstract hip-hop, or simply great music should keep an eye on him.
We’re Not Mad, Just Dissappointed
Eminem – Music to Be Murdered by
Eminem, regardless of album reception, is easily one of the most talented and successful rappers working today. While he may not make music you would play at the function, he cannot be denied the occasional strokes of brilliance he hits on this record. “Darkness” is easily one of the best-written songs in Em’s career, the flows on “Godzilla” are preposterously fast, and this record is easily the best Em has made in a while…
But the real dissapointment lies in the fact that this album is a game of Russian Roulette: you never know when it’s gonna hit or miss. The highlights of this record rub shoulders with some poorly realized misfires. It’s an improvement to be sure, but we know that Eminem can still do better… ~ T-Rod
Captain Consistency –
Boldy James was a loving grandmother with his fans: just when we thought we were full, here comes another serving.
Only thing is, Boldy is serving some despicable meals. His music this year was consistently sinister, detailing stories that would make any sensible person’s skin crawl. His rhymes were some of the best highlights in music this year, as were the instrumentals he rode throughout the year. Whether it be the high-class soul of The Versace Tape, the cinematic jazz of Manger on McNichols, the depressive samples of The Price of Tea in China, or the stark loops of Real Bad Boldy, every project had beats that matched Boldy’s incredibly moody energy. Every album was a highlight in the underground hip-hop scene of the year, a culmination of Boldy’s prolific output, incredible voice, and masterful storytelling. In short? He didn’t miss. Not once. ~ T-Rod
2020’s Album of the Year –
The Weeknd – After Hours
Few albums were as anticipated, well-received and emblematic of 2020’s music scene quite like The Weeknd’s After Hours. An 80’s-inspired romp through a haze of drugs, heartbreak, and isolation, the album is quite possibly the Canadian superstar’s magnum opus. Whether it be songwriting triumphs on a track like “Blinding Lights,” the career-defining performances of “Scared to Live,” or the stellar production on “In Your Eyes,” After Hours was universally loved by everyone, and for good reasons. With an aesthetic that is as iconic as anything the pop pantheon has to offer, quality songs that never seem to leave your ears, and a character that is brimming with life and darkness, The Weeknd’s 2020 epic was something everyone could latch onto and enjoy.
And that’s why we name it our album of the year. It did more than define 2020’s hits and impress critics. It was a sliver of joy and respite from the world for everyone to enjoy. No matter what was going on, After Hours seemed to just fit…like a perfect puzzle piece.
Thank you to all artists for making 2020 special; even if you impacted one person, you probably made their lives a little better.
Thank you to all the artists and teams we have worked with in 2020: we can’t wait to keep working with you!
Thank you to every writer on SOFLOSOUND, every reader, and for every person who gives us support. Let’s crush 2021! ~ T-Rod