1. My Turn-Lil Baby
It’s a low bar to clear, but nobody had a better 2020 than QC kingpin Lil Baby. In his aptly named second record, My Turn is a capital-a Album with startlingly few skips and a bevy of bangers that cement Baby’s status as one of the best rappers on the planet. An incisive writer, the Atlanta native experiments more with flow and song structure than he ever has before, keeping his sharp tongue and outstanding ear for beats while doing as good a job as anyone at getting the most out of his feature artists. Even with A+ appearances from 42 Dugg, Lil Uzi Vert, Moneybagg Yo, and Lil Wayne, Lil Baby remains the star of the show; a man on a mission with a killer combination of drive and focus paired with an underrated ability to put a song together, and it all culminates in the 25-year-old giving us the album of the year.
Best Song: We Paid
Worst Song: Same Thing
2. Alfredo-Freddie Gibbs & Alchemist
Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist have been on a crash course since 2013, when Gibbs began working in earnest with legendary producer Madlib, releasing their masterpiece “Pinata” a year later. Since then, Gibbs has picked his producers carefully, leaning into more creative, less boom-bap beats that work in perfect contrast to his cigarette delivery. Alchemist, an icon in his own right, is having a self-professed pantheon year where he’s done collab albums with Freddie, Boldy James, Conway The Machine, and others. After linking up with Alchemist and Curren$y for the outstanding collab album “Fetti”, Gibbs was determined to work solo with the master himself. The result was a compact, near flawless surprise LP dropped in the middle of quarantine. Alfredo takes and executes on enough risks to push it over the quality of a milquetoast rap album, with two underground kings at the top of their game complementing each other wonderfully. Gibbs doesn’t have the same chemistry here as he does with Madlib, but the product is still excellent.
Best Song: Something To Rap About
Worst Song: Babies And Fools
3. evermore-Taylor Swift
Admittedly this may be a severe case of recency bias, but I can’t get over how much I love this album. Consensus opinion seems to land on evermore as a set of B-sides from her preceding record, folklore. I couldn’t disagree more, evermore is more focused, better written, subtler without being pretentious, and more powerful than it’s predecessor. Swift has a real claim to being the best songwriter alive, blessed with an uncanny ability to write with depth and relatability. As she comes into her own as a woman who’s seen immense success and now contemplates everything with a more seasoned soul, her music has taken a giant leap. The album lacks a song-of-the-year candidate, and it can drag at times, but it’s still the best work of her storied career.
Best Song: Willow
Worst Song: Dorothea
4. Price of Tea in China-Boldy James
After a rocky relationship with the Nas-run Mass Appeal label, Boldy was back with an independent album produced, again, by Alchemist. This record came out of nowhere, flying under the radar promoted only by a couple features with Griselda(the label with whom he has since signed). Boldy’s raps are cold, resigned to their own darkness and numb to the pain he raps about, but instead of invoking sadness, the emotional palette is really more raw than that. There’s a GKMC quality here where you’re taken to a world you know nothing about and feel like you’re in those frigid Detroit streets trying to survive alongside Boldy. Buoyed by strong features, this was a pleasant return from the 38-year-old.
Best Song: Surf and Turf
Worst Song: Mustard
5. St. Cloud-Waxahatchee
On Katie Crutchfield’s newest album, she nails the country/folk croon music she’s been trying to perfect for years. The group is really on cruise control here, making beautiful songs with a homey feel and cutting lyrics sung with the joy of a woman who is at the height of her powers. I can’t recommend St. Cloud enough for anyone looking to dip their toe into the pop/folk scene.
Best Song: Lilacs
Worst Song: Witches
6. Spilligion-Spillage Village
One those records where you understand every gripe but still love the hell out of it, Spilligion is a spiritual-rap group album with high ambition that more often than not rewards the listener. It’s incredibly rare to find a project with this many cooks in the kitchen succeed the way Spilligion does; even with JID as the main attraction, the talent is dispersed extremely well. It’s definitely inconsistent, a better editor probably vaults this into near-classic territory, but the peaks are well worth it.
Best Song: Hapi
Worst Song: Jupiter
7. Burden Of Proof-Benny The Butcher
Much like Drake did with Views, Benny made sure to let everyone know that Burden of Proof was aiming to be his magnum opus. While Views fell short due to inconsistency and laziness, Burden Of Proof sees Benny almost pressing at times. Yet even when he’s not at his sharpest Benny still manages to put out a stellar record with some solid features and A+ production from Hit-Boy. Benny’s been as prolific as any rapper alive in recent years, aside from maybe his cousin Westside Gunn, yet he’s been able to keep a startling high standard for himself and deliver consistently.
Best Song: One Way Flight
Worst Song: Thank God I Made It
Easily the funniest project of the year, SahBabii is in complete control of his absurd innuendos, weirdo sex fantasies, and hilarious metaphors while the cloudy production suits him perfectly. The jocularity doesn’t impede the music quality either, as these songs are extremely fun to listen to whether you’re paying attention to the lyrics or not. He’s not a great singer, but Sah does a really good job at playing to his strengths and keeping shit weird in a way only he can do confidently. An elite record to get high to as well if you’re ok with a severe case of the giggles.
Best Song: Racist
Worst Song: House Party
9. Savage Mode II-21 Savage & Metro Boomin
Sometimes it’s just awesome listening to a rapper/producer collab where both artists are just having a blast. You can call the Morgan Freeman stuff cheesy, you can say 21’s raps are too redundant, it’s all valid. But the chemistry these two have, the growth they’ve both experienced as both people and artists since their first project, and the overall joy of the partnership is completely undeniable. Metro reaches a new level here, his beats laced with killer samples, terrifying drums, and a cinematic quality that leaves you convinced he could score films in the future. The album is probably too long, but there are still few skips, and 21 is as comfortable as he’s ever been over stellar production.
Best Song: Runnin’
Worst Song: RIP Luv
A beat tape with a couple traditional soul songs, any Knxwledge fan will fall in love with what the sample god has put together. He’s incapable of making boring music, lyrics or not, and NxWorries fans drool over Itkanbe, his song with Anderson .Paak. If you’re a fan of good production or even someone looking for some unique beats to try on yourself, this is a fantastic record to check out.
Best Song: Itkanbe
Worst Song: Solivelife
BEST OF THE REST
11. Reasonable Drought-Stove God Cooks
Killer debut for Stove God Cooks, with his unique delivery and drug innuendos carrying a record that would’ve dragged in less talented hands.
Best Song: Money Puddles
Worst Song: Gloria Blemente
12. After Hours-The Weeknd
The biggest album of the year sees The Weeknd deliver, and then some. There’s the usual overcooked melancholy and unnecessary shit-talk, but overall it’s very solid record.
Best Song: Blinding Lights
Worst Song: Alone Again
13. Jaguar-Victoria Monet
After writing multiple number ones for Ariana Grande, Monet decided to try her hand at a solo career. Jaguar is sexual without feeling forced, and the songwriting is on par with her work writing for others.
Best Song: Moment
Worst Song: Ass Like That
14. Streams Of Thought-Black Thought
Black Thought is arguably the best rapper to ever do it, and his Streams Of Thought series has been a treat for Roots fans yearning for more solo work from the prototype himself.
Best Song: Steak-Um
Worst Song: Experience
15. While The World Was Burning-SAINt JHN
SAINt JHN has always had talent, and here he put together a more cohesive project than ever before.
Best Song: Switching Sides
Worst Song: Monica Lewinsky
16. Eternal Atake(Deluxe)-Lil Uzi Vert
EA didn’t age as well as I’d hoped, but when it dropped it was a much needed distraction from the awful new reality we were all facing. Long Live Uzi
Best Song: Lo Mein
Worst Song: Celebration Station
17. So Help Me God-2 Chainz
Consistently good and uniquely him. That’s been the 2 Chainz formula for awhile now, and it works time and again.
Best Song: Ziploc
Worst Song: Free Lighter
18. folklore-Taylor Swift
Two top-twenty albums in a year marks an outstanding 2020 for the country/pop/folk icon. More ambitious but less consistent than evermore.
Best Song: mirrorball
Worst Song: invisible string
19. Imploding The Mirage-The Killers
The Killers making great music again is a win for everyone, they sound like a motivated group here and deliver some of their best writing in years.
Best Song: Dying Breed
Worst Song: Blowback
20. Heaven or Hell-Don Toliver
Quite the star turn for the Travis Scott signee, crashing the party as an original talent with a promise for even better music in the future.
Best Song: After Party
Worst Song: No Photos
21. A Written Testimony-Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica finally delivers a studio album along with Jay-Z, showing flashes of his once-immense potential while falling flat at other points.
Best Song: Ghost of Soulja Slim
Worst Song: Flux Capacitor
22. Forever, Ya Girl-KeiyaA
As unique a record as you’ll hear all year, there’s a tiredness to KeiyaA that at times is resigned and at other moments ignites a spark in her. One of the more beautiful records of 2020.
Best Song: Way Eye
Worst Song: Do Yourself a Favor
23. Kiss 5-K Camp
K Camp is terrible at making bad songs, just refuses to do it. Not sure what this guy’s deal is, but he only makes solid songs.
Best Song: What’s On Your Mind
Worst Song: What’s Your Name
24. The Slow Rush-Tame Impala
Only so many artists can disappoint and still make a top twenty-five record of the year.
Best Song: Borderline
Worst Song: One More Year
25. Memphis Massacre 2-Duke Deuce
Just press play on this album at a (post-Covid) party, trust me.
Best Song: Crunk Ain’t Dead
Worst Song: Trap Blues
26. Man Alive-King Krule
King Krule continues to be weird as hell and also fantastic, this record has a bit more focus than his previous work.
Best Song: Stoned Again
Worst Song: Underclass
Jada has never missed and is unlikely to ever miss, he’s been in a nice pocket since he started putting out solo records.
Best Song: Huntin Season
Worst Song: Anna May
28. Dark Lane Demo Tapes-Drake
Went through the typical Drake cycle of hate, to comfortability, to legitimate guilty enjoyment.
Best Song: Chicago Freestyle
Worst Song: D4L
29. No Love Lost-Blxst
Blxst is next, I assume he’ll put out a record that lands much higher next year.
Best Song: Overrated
Worst Song: Searching
30. My Life 4Hunnid-YG
Has had an up-and-down career since Still Brazy, but this one was a winner.
Best Song: FTP
Worst Song: SWAG
Punisher*, Fetch The Bolt Cutters*, Haters Forget They Were Fans*, Untitled(Rise), Untitled(Black Is), Mt. Marci, Pluto vs. Baby Pluto, Demons R Us, Extinction Level Event 2.0, songs, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, Song Machine, Cuttin’ Grass, The Longest Year Pt.1, I’m Gone, WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE, The Saga of Wiz Khalifa, Good News, Life Works Out… Usually, Black Soprano Family, King’s Disease, Liephas Evil, Teenage Fever, Rich Slave, Twice as Tall, The Versace Tapes, Women in Music Pt III*, As God Intended, Inlet*, Flygod is an Awesome God 2, Moredechai, Everything, Spring Clean, I Love You Say it Back, DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART, RTJ4, Cold Water, BLAME IT ON BABY, Chromatica, THE GOAT, Reunions, High Off Life, Eat When You’re Hungry, The Streets Blame Me, Beyond Bulletproof, A Muse In Her Feelings, The Green Tape, Skuba Sada 2, Dream Awake, It Is What It Is, LULU, 3.15.20, The Ghost Of Pecan Acres, Suga, Adjust To The Game, YHLQMDLG, PTSD, Anyways, Changes, Artist 2.0, You Can Never Have A Long Enough Head Start, Brave Faces Everyone, Fuck The World, Meet the Woo, Vol. 2, Funeral, Modus Vivendi, Circles, Time Served, The Chauncey Hollis Project
*these are albums I haven’t listened to enough to give a judgement on; i’ll likely edit this after I do, because they’ve all gotten high praise