In spite of everything that has plagued 2020, Hip-Hop and R&B have become an essential delight for lovers of contemporary music.
While the usual spectacle of concerts and in-person performances have been curtailed due to the downtrodden impact of COVID-19, 2020 has ushered in a new era for music. For the first time ever, artists have had to place complete faith in the power of virtual engagement. Although this may have felt underwhelming at first, it has satiated our appetite for music while bending expectations of what we consider to be “normal” until the world returns to equilibrium. Some unexpected perks to spurt out of this year include Versuz battles, NPR’s tiny desk (home) concerts, most frequent rates of streaming, and of course, scorching high-quality content from many of your favorite artists. Instead of dwelling on the evident setbacks, many artists have seen this time as an opportune moment to produce top-tier content. Here are the top Hip-Hop and R&B records to come out of 2020.
Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God – Busta Rhymes
After being on an 8-year hiatus from releasing any new music, Busta Rhymes hops back on the scene to reaffirm with relentless authority his status as a cultural icon not only within the sphere of Hip-Hop but among the annals of American music, period. For a year filled with extreme political turmoil, Hip-Hop’s eccentric statesman sprinkles gems of wisdom across this record. As “one of the kings of Black history,” Rhymes underscores his impact on the culture. In fact, there is zero shortage of self-righteousness as Rhymes praises his legacy for those who may have never known about his contributions to the game and for those who may have forgotten. For the average rapper, this level of braggadocio would be absurd and totally unjustified. However, for someone as prolific and integral to the fabric of Hip-Hop culture as we know it today, Rhymes’s boastfulness on this record isn’t unfounded. As much as you may want to dispute him or find a flaw in his logic, it’s not really possible. History supports most of his claims. After all this time, Rhymes maintains his signature bombastic flare that has made him such a distinct figure within the culture. From a sonic POV, the instrumentals on this record span the gamut. He pays tribute to some of his favorite old-school tunes with classic samples like Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison on “Outta My Mind” (ft. Bell Biv Devoe) and I’ll Be There by The Jackson 5 on “Look Over Your Shoulder” (ft. Kendrick Lamar). On other tracks, Rhymes’ steps into more of a contemporary bag of sound with tracks like YUUUU (ft. Anderson . Paak) and Czar (ft. M.O.P.). Despite his status as an O.G., Busta Rhymes reminds us of why he is a certified legend on this record. His flow, wordplay, and delivery on this record are more masterful than ever before, proving that he hasn’t lost a step in the eight years that he’s been away. His bars are tactful and poignant. As far as features go, this record harbors an eclectic roster and is full of what seems like some of Busta’s favs: Rapsody, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Q-Tip, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Rick Ross, Mariah Carey, and more. Plus, Chris Rock shows up on this record myriad times, providing comedic commentary throughout the project. Overall, if Rhymes were to end his 31-year career today, this would be a grand finale.
Highlight: Look Over Your Shoulder (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Featuring Ty Dolla $ign – Ty Dolla $ign
On his third studio album and what feels like his most commercial record to date, Ty Dolla $ign demonstrates his versatility, showcasing all the components that make him one of the most in-demand in mainstream R&B today. Across 25 tracks, Ty Dolla $ign delivers an exceptionally smooth listening experience with a bevy of catchy, well-crafted hits. L.A.’s top crooner examines a vast array of ideas on this record: love, the universe, the sexual temptations and exploits that accompany fame, his obsession with achieving status, and more. Throughout the record, the majority of these tracks are catchy, bass-heavy, hi-tempo, and melodic af, proving that his ability to create radio-friendly hits is just a part of his DNA. Albeit this trend is a motif throughout the project, he also shows that he is not a monolith but that his talent and influences are multidimensional. Some of the moments on here that pave the way to this notion include Your Turn (ft. Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman, and 6lack), Dr. Sebi, Slow It Down, Nothing Like Your Exes, and Ego Death (Kanye West, FKA twigs, Skrillex). As far as song structure goes, his hooks and melodies are infectious and compel you to sing along. For an hour-long record, there aren’t any dull moments. All and all, “Featuring Ty Dolla $ign” is a feel-good listening experience designated for the turn-up. With the release of this record, Ty Dolla $ign does a solid job at reinforcing why he is the “proverbial king” of features.
Highlight: Your Turn (ft. Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman & 6lack)
Good News – Megan Thee Stallion
For a year as tumultuous as Megan’s, she reigns triumphant with the release of her debut studio album: Good News. In spite of the fact that she was shot by Tory Lanez, this album strikes as the ultimate “bounce back” record, perhaps, from any rapper ever. Since the beginning of superstardom in 2019, Meg has grown into an emblem of sex positivity and sexual appeal while upholding stellar lyricism. For most female rappers in recent years, it’s either one or the other. Rarely do they exhibit both qualities with general ease as Meg does. On this record, Meg establishes herself as the lead heroine in Hip-Hop as she uses her platform to champion Black womanhood and body positivity on a massive scale. On this record, she displays her at-will mastery of spittin’ about the perks that come with being a sexually liberated woman and how exactly she indulges. This theme is prevalent throughout most of the album. Some highlights that veer into other dimensions include the opening track Shots Fired, where she provides deeper insight into the controversy between herself and Tory Lanez, Outside, Don’t Rock Me To Sleep, and What’s New. In terms of the listening experience, this record is coherent and full throttle from start to finish. Also, there are a plethora of club bangers on here. At only 25 years old, Megan is on fire as one of Hip-Hop’s premier rappers today. Seemingly, everything that she touches is destined to turn gold. The fact that she’s a woman only adds fuel to her flame. It will be exciting to see how she blossoms after having such a phenomenal start.
Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle
Despite only being the tender ages of 22 (Chloe) and 20 (Halle) and this record being their second full-length project to date, Chloe x Halle has already captured the gaze of mainstream superstardom with the release of this record. For now, Ungodly Hour is the duo’s magnum opus and it’s scary to think that this is merely the start of the race for them. Through their first record and subsequent offer to join Beyonce’s entertainment company Parkwood Entertainment, their initial buzz was promising. With the release of Ungodly Hour, the ATL natives solidify their place within the modern landscape of R&B, affirming that they’re here to stay and not going anywhere anytime soon. As innocent as their image may have seemed when they first hit the scene, Ungodly Hour declares their “coming-of-age” with excitement and refined style. If “popping your cherry” was an album, it would look a lot like Ungodly Hour. Instead of tweeting about it, they signify their maturation and artistic growth on record. The content on these tracks is way more mature and suggestive than beforehand. Sonically, the sounds on here are eclectic, yet cohesive. Overall, the mood of this record is luxuriant, immersed in first-rate instrumentation from an all-star lineup of some of today’s most dynamic producers: Disclosure, Sounwave, Mike Will Made-It, and Boi-1da among others. Also, the sisters contributed to both the writing and beat-making process for this record, illustrating their ability to be multidimensional. Ultimately, it will be a difficult feat for them to top this record but based on their current trajectory, they’re destined for sheer greatness.
Highlight: Baby Girl
Painted (Deluxe) – Lucky Daye
After getting eliminated from American Idol back in 2005 and spending most of his career as an esoteric ghostwriter, NOLA native Lucky Daye has finally reached his own taste of mainstream success with the creation of Painted. Some would say this record doesn’t count because it technically came out in 2019 but the addition of six new tracks makes for a fresh rendition worthy of revisiting. Undergirded by a bracing mixture of jazz, soul, R&B, and electro-funk, Daye sets his blueprint for progression while still capturing the nuances of traditional R&B. For every type of enthusiast of the genre, there is something special on this record. If you’re into fun, hi-tempo cuts, there’s Little More Time (ft. Victoria Monet), Paint It, and Late Night. If you’re into low-fi, passion-infused love ballads, there’s Roll Some Mo, Floods, and Love You Too Much. On what feels like his official introduction to the world, Daye optimizes his debut with a broad range of hits, back to back. He employs his entire arsenal with this record, leaving little to no room for mediocrity. With the release of this record, Daye sets a precedent for his quality of music that’ll be difficult to surpass. At the age of 35 years old, his career is a testament to the fact that it is never too late to establish a solo career.
Highlight: Shoulda (ft. Babyface)
Although this doesn’t account for all the super-notch quality music that has been released this year, it does showcase some of its most significant projects. Perhaps more than ever before, music has been the much-needed vessel to alleviate at least, some of the pain and hardships that have spiraled out of 2020. Amid such a dismal and unpredictable year, shoutout to all the artists who have dedicated their blood, sweat, and tears towards cultivating exceptional music through the storm. We applaud you all!
Other Exceptional R&B and Hip-Hop Albums To Come Out This Year:
Limbo – Amine
King’s Disease – Nas
Detroit 2 – Big Sean
Shake The Snow Globe – Russ
Burden Of Proof – Benny The Butcher
After The Rain – Yung Baby Tate
My Turn – Lil Baby
Music to Be Murdered By – Eminem
The L.I.B.R.A – T.I.
It Was Good Until It Wasn’t – Kehlani
A Muse In Her Feelings – DVSN
JAGUAR – Victoria Monet
C3 – Jacob Lattimore
Anniversary – Bryson Tiller
Happy 2 Be Here – Ant Clemons
To Feel Love/d – Luke James
Missunderstood – Queen Naija
HIGHTIDE – Leven Kali
Pray for Paris – Westside Gunn
Spilligion – Spillage Village
Changes – Justin Bieber
‘Thats What They All Say’ – Jack Harlow