In the midst of constructing the second part of our Top Hip-Hop Projects of 2020 post, we were all stunned by the news that Daniel “MF DOOM” Dumile passed away this past Halloween. With the heaviness weighing deep in our hearts, we powered through this list knowing that we as an outlet need to celebrate our favorite artists while they’re still here with us.
Peppered across Pt. 2, mainstream figures like Lil Baby and Polo G are listed alongside underground legends like Roc Marciano and Ka. Young masters in the making such as MIKE and Navy Blue are also present, sharing space with solidified and active OGs such as Nas and Curren$y among others.
As we said in our previous post, the pressure of getting this list right was higher than usual in a year that saw the pandemic rob us of normalcy but music has always been the great escape. These artists listed on the following pages have their own respective lanes and if we’re lucky, they’ll continue to command those pathways while inspiring not only the listener but the budding artists who are inspired to create in a time of chaos.
In a perfect world, we would have listened to every album that dropped this year, given it a fair shake, and tried our best to capture the culture as it unfolded before us. That is an impossibly tall task with even the most ardent of efforts.
For any artist that feels like their project should hold space here, we hear you and understand you. We can only promise to do the knowledge in the years to come. Keep making that great art. Happy New Year.
FYI: Due to technical difficulties, we can’t list out the projects in our usual scrolling playlist fashion so view the following pages. Do your Googles to find the product and support with your dollars if you can. It’s a scroll monster but this is the best we can do. Enjoy.
THIS LIST IS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER!
LIST BEGINS HERE
Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide
Getting a worldwide shoutout from one of Hip-Hop’s living legends isn’t something that happens for artists every day, but Aesop Rock can comfortably say so. LL Cool J named the Oregon-based artist as one of his favorite lyricists, which turned the heads of many. With his latest studio album Spirit World Field Guide, Aesop Rock plays the guide to this fictional land using flows, concepts and schemes that definitely cements him as a writer’s writer. And it’s not just all nosebleed nerd bars; Aesop Rock sounds like he’s having a crap load of fun and if you give the album rapt attention, you will too.
Big Sean – Detroit 2
Big Sean is a polarizing artist in some circles. Some feel that the Detroit native is a gifted rapper with a flair for potential mainstream appeal, while others feel like he’s benefited more from his connection than his apparent talent. If doubts still exist that Sean Don isn’t serious about his craft, Detroit 2 silences that noise – for some. Panned unfairly by some critics, Detroit 2 finds Sean trying to be vulnerable and open in a genre that seemingly mocks it. With Hit-Boy’s guiding hand, not every song hits it out of the park but it’s consistently good enough to stand out among the flood of releases of the year.
Black Thought – Streams Of Thought 3
If Black Thought is in your top five list of the best rappers walking the planet today, you won’t face much in the way of resistance. Despite staring at the age of 50, the Philadelphia MC still raps with the hunger he did as a young member of The Roots. With the third installment of his Streams of Thought series, the man born Tariq Trotter links primarily with producer Sean C and proves that if he isn’t the best rapper alive, he’s damn near close to it.
CJ Fly – Rudebwoy
The Pro Era collective somewhat ditched their throwback boom-bap approach and propelled themselves into embracing the age of Hip-Hop we’re in right now. CJ Fly has always been talented but with Statik Selektah manning the boards, the Brooklyn rapper’s semi-autobiographical Rudebwoy delivers with repeated listens. Based on the journeys of his Jamaican father and his own upbringing in the BK borough, Fly masterfully glides on everything Statik gives him, and features from The Pros are welcome additions, not distractions.
Curren$y & Harry Fraud – The Outrunners
Curren$y has one of the deepest discographies among modern era rappers and 2020 was no less active for the prolific New Orleans rapper. Joining forces with Harry Fraud, with whom he has expert chemistry, The Outrunners is pure ear candy. It’s arguable that Spitta’s latest project Welcome To Jet Life Recordings is a stronger effort but something about Fraud’s production brought out the best in him on this outing.
Juicy J – The Hustle Continues
Juicy J’s fifth studio album, The Hustle Continues, is an apt title for the project and his career. At 45, Juicy J doesn’t need to jump in the bullpen with younger artists but he does so with ease over the course of his album that’s full of thumping production. The album benefits from the consistency of Juicy J’s presence and features from Conway The Machine, Logic, Key Glock, Megan Thee Stallion, and more only solidify the OG’s status in the game. What Juicy Say? SHUT DA F*CK UP!
Ka – Descendants of Cain
Ka may very well be Hip-Hop’s greatest writer in the modern era, promoting the drum-less wave of the genre solely on the confidence of his voice and expert observations of his Brooklyn environs. By now, most are aware that the Brownsville native worked as a leading officer of a fire department by day, reserving his rapping persona to strictly provide the visuals he’s taken in over the past decades. Descendants of Cain is perhaps his best full-length release and Ka’s lyrics are as poetically descriptive as ever.
Lil Baby – My Turn
There might be some who feel that Lil Baby hadn’t come into his own until he dropped the George Floyd-inspired “The Bigger Picture,” which finds placement on the deluxe packaging of My Turn, the Atlanta rapper’s second studio album. Lil Baby has never been considered a lyrical powerhouse but what he does over the course of the OG version of My Turn and its deluxe is channel the energy of the blocks he hustled on while providing hope that surviving the trials of the streets can eventually lead to success.
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Lil Uzi Vert kept his fans on hold between albums, having released his studio debut album Luv Is Rage 2 in 2017. In the three years that’s passed, Uzi’s lane has been occupied by a number of capable young artists but none of them can cover the ground he can. With Eternal Atake, Lil Uzi Vert’s uncanny ability to ride any beat while becoming one with the track sets him apart from all of his peers. Much of the pace of the album remains the same and many of the track’s best songs would absolutely rock large arenas under normal circumstances, but that’s definitely a compliment because it knocks in a small room as well.
Lupe Fiasco & Kaelin Ellis – HOUSE
The Internet has some usage, most notably in connecting individuals whose paths would normally never cross. With the pandemic keeping working artists quarantine, multi-instrumentalist Kaelin Ellis made a longshot bet on himself in sending out beats online and grabbed Lupe Fiasco’s ear. Behind the scenes, the Chicago MC whipped up a short EP titled HOUSE with creative guidance from Virgil Abloh. Fiasco remains a top-tier lyricist but Ellis’ production shares top billing too.
Mach-Hommy – Mach’s Hard Lemonade
Mach-Hommy remains ever mysterious and elusive, never revealing much about the man behind the persona. The Haitian-American New Jersey native was once linked to the early Griselda wave before branching off into stirring opuses with frequent collaborator Tha God Fahim, DJ Muggs, and more. With Mach’s Hard Lemonade, Mach-Hommy lifted the veil of his Haitian flag mask just a bunch but his off-kilter flow, abstract lyrics, and ear-pleasing singing vocals are still front and center.
Marlowe – Marlowe 2
Marlowe, a duo consisting of rapper Solemn Brigham and producer L’Orange, delivered one of 2018’s top releases in their self-titled debut. That severely slept-on project would be hard to top under most circumstances but the North Carolina natives are up to the task. With Marlowe 2, L’Orange takes even stranger audio journeys than the previous effort, and Solemn is still rapping like his very existence depends on it. Don’t miss this one.
Midaz The Beast – Where The Sidewalk Ends
Orlando’s MidaZ The Beast raps with a knowing snarl that few MCs could stand next to him and manage to maintain their status. It is his impressive rapping and straightforward approach to lyrics that make his latest album Where The Sidewalk Ends one of his standouts. Produced entirely by Delle Digga, MidaZ carries the project on his capable shoulders and sh*ts on anything moving. Truthfully, MidaZ is so strong a lyricist that features would only weigh him down. This man needs no assistance.
MIKE – Weight Of The World
MIKE, arguably the heart, and soul of the sprawling sLUms collective, has a knack for delivering projects that capture the mood and moxie of young Black America. Over the past five years, the Brooklyn-based rapper and producer has outdone himself with each release. In 2019’s Tears Of Joy, a cathartic piece in honor of his late mother, MIKE came close to his peak. With Weight Of The World, the claustrophobic and careful revelations of his character come through more and MIKE remains the driving force of the entire affair. By the end of the album, you’ll either feel that weight he’s hoping to shake or, better yet, aim to help him lift it.
Namir Blade – Aphelion’s Traveling Circus
Concept albums in Hip-Hop have been hit or miss over the years as the end product often meanders. Namir Blade doesn’t run into this problem with Aphelion’s Traveling Circus because as the title suggests, it’s meant to be a journey to other worlds. The Nashville rapper and producer had us fooled with the video for “The Holy Mountain,” a hazy banger that has no audio twin on the project. This is an album made for long drives, quiet walks, and an enhancement of choice. We won’t spoil the surprise within.
Nas – King’s Disease
Hip-Hop fans expect a lot out of their favorite artists, and few can handle the weight of that one-sided expectation. Nas, who came into the game three decades ago as a teenage phenom, has other ventures outside of music that keeps him busy. So it stands as a gift to us all that King’s Disease was released at all and enjoyed the positive reception it did. With Hit-Boy guiding the sound, the Queensbridge legend more than proved that legends don’t wilt under pressure.
Navy Blue – Àdá Irin
Navy Blue, who first found fame in the skateboarding world, dabbled in music while still pursuing the sport, which found him crossing paths with wordsmiths Earl Sweatshirt and others. With his debut album Àdá Irin, Navy Blue follows the blueprint of the quick in and out strategy employed by fellow warrior of language and precise observation, MIKE, and the similarities don’t end there as he’s content with letting the dusty loops and woozy drums speak when he decides to silence himself. And like the aforementioned, Navy Blue’s wisdom far exceeds his actual age.
Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – FlySiifu’s
Pink Siifu is one of the most unique artists in Hip-Hop, adept at both rhyming, production, and even creating punk rock-tinged rage from a Black man’s perspective. Fly Anakin, a member of Richmond, Va.’s Mutant Academy, has bodied everything he’s touched since 2015. Together, the pair’s joint project Flysiifu’s is not your typical boom-bap rap fest. Anything with Pink Siifu involved is going to go places outside the norm and Fly Anakin matches the wandering mind of his compatriot with a real-world anchoring presence.
Polo G – The Goat
Polo G’s second album, The Goat, is not for the faint of heart. But while his stirring tales of drug dealing and street vengeance are at times shocking, it’s Polo G’s delivery that makes the violent imagery palatable. What also aids the Chicago rapper’s music aims is that he has learned the fine art of capturing the realities in the trenches of the Windy City in an expert melodic fashion.
Pop Smoke – Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon
Pop Smoke’s tragic passing is frustrating considering that he was the leader of the Brooklyn Drill movement with Fivio Foreign and others. His posthumous project Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon highlights the charisma and talent of Pop Smoke, but it’s bittersweet because he’s not here to soak in the accolades. For now, we can only imagine what his career would have been, sadly.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – Innocent Country 2
Attempting to define what Quelle Chris represents in Hip-Hop is extremely difficult, but the best way we can frame it is that the Brooklyn-based Detroit rapper-producer will do whatever he damn well pleases. Every project he’s done on his own or with others have their own contained space, and that remains with the sequel to his project Innocent Country with producer Chris Keys. With Keys doing the heavy lifting of production, this gives Quelle Chris and his guests space to pull beautiful words from the air that will live beyond their physical frames.
R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages
Formerly known as milo, R.A.P. Ferreira doesn’t concern himself with creating music for the countless end of year lists. It has often appeared that the Maine-based artist has used his lyrical ability as an extension and conduit for his deepest thoughts. If you’re familiar with his work under his former moniker, then you know to expect more heady concepts that won’t unveil themselves in one listen. Rapping with vigor over live instrumentation provided by The Jefferson Park Boys, R.A.P. Ferreira lives up to his name.
Ransom & Nicholas Craven – Directors Cut Scene 3
(we’re well aware the image below isn’t for the album we mentioned above. we just needed an image.)
New Jersey’s Ransom is a veteran MC with a large chip on his shoulder, but he takes that aggression and transforms it into high-level work. Alongside Nicholas Craven, Ransom’s pen is aglow as it always had been but with Directors Cut Scene 3, the dark mood works to its greatest heights yet in their dealings. Craven’s strong production compliments Ransom’s sharp delivery. In fact, the rhymes are so visual that they bear repeat listens to catch where the talented MC is taking us. With appearances from his Trust Army compatriot 38 Spesh and Tha Musalini among other underground notables. However, the meat of the project is Craven’s stellar backing with Ransom directing the movie capably.
Roc Marciano – Mt. Marci
Coke Rap may have has had its zenith but if Pimp Talk was a genre, Roc Marciano would be its newly crowned master. On his latest album, the Long Island rapper and producer once more dug deep into the soul crates and offers more of his lavish tales over some of the best production you’ll hear all year, and possibly into the next. Only but one track was produced by Marci, proving that he can easily dominate in his world-renowned fashion well into the 2020s.
Royce da 5’9 – The Allegory
If Royce da 5’9 stopped his recording career after the epic Book of Ryan album, he would have capped a Hall of Fame career. Thankfully, the Detroit wordsmith made certain to use his voice and platform with a self-produced modern-day classic in The Allegory. The album speaks to the varied plights of Black America, challenging the status quo, and finding some semblance of victory in the din. A well-deserved Grammy Awards nomination should spark curious folks to discover this gem.
Sa-Roc – Sharecropper’s Daughter
Washington, D.C.’s Sa-Roc has been at her craft for the better part of the past decade, all while continuing to deliver impassioned lyrics with themes of upliftment and introspection. The Atlanta-based MC’s first album with Rhymesayers Entertainment is a triumph in an era where most women who rhyme are regulated to deep underground spaces or as mainstream artists slash social media influencers. Sa-Roc’s verses are relentless as they’ve ever been but it’s clear that she put her whole heart into this project.
Smoke DZA – A Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed
Smoke DZA has a catalog stretching back a decade that will get most of your favorites out of here in a hurry, and he never hands in the same project twice. In a career peppered with EPs, collaborative efforts with fellow tree enthusiast Curren$y, and work with legends like Pete Rock, A Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed captures the full scope of George Kush’s varied talents. Flows? He has them. Topics? Light work. It’s a damn shame the pandemic shut down the world because there are several songs here that would rock many a crowd worldwide.
Spillage Village – Spilligion
Spillage Village, the sprawling crew consisting of EarthGang, JID, Hollywood JB, Jurdan Bryant, Mereba, 6lack, and Benji, already have three potent projects prior to their major-label release in Spilligion. If you’re familiar with the otherworldly talents of Atlanta’s JID and EarthGang, this project will assist listeners in realizing that no one member stands apart from the other no matter what role they play. Spilligion is an album you can play front to back with fans of Hip-Hop, Funk, or Soul and they’ll find something that speaks to them.
Stik Figa & Conductor Williams – Tomorrow Is Forgotten
Stik Figa might feel that he’s been slighted over the course of his career, but he should rest comfortably that he’s recorded a body of work that reached far beyond the limits of his Topeka, Kan. upbringings. Connecting with Kansas City, Mo.’s Conductor Williams for their nine-song project Tomorrow Is Forgotten, the pair capture the tension of isolation and despair but battle back with the determined grit that should carry the pair into 2021 knowing that they are more than worthy of accolades and worldwide recognition.
Wale -The Imperfect Storm
Washington, D.C.’s Wale is another artist that, like the aforementioned Big Sean, splits people into different critical camps. The debate is unusually silly considering that he’s one of the best rappers of his generation and can do it all from out-rapping his competitors to getting ladies to pack the party and transform it into an oasis instead of a sweaty sausage fest. With The Imperfect Storm, Wale uses his distinctive DMV drawl to speak on today’s societal ills with the powerful poetics he’s always had in tow.