I’m going to start this off with a full *disclaimer: I went back and forth with this a lot but sadly, no female emcees made my list this year. *
Honestly, this should be on my list but I wasn’t about to remove the other albums. It deserves to be there though. I actually wasn’t much of a Lil Baby fan till this album, but I think it’s understandably made him a household name. The rapper of the year didn’t make my list and for some of you, my list is no longer valid. I respect that, but I’m not sorry.
10. Royce Da 5’9 – The Allegory
Royce is one of those lyricists that doesn’t get all the credit he deserves, but I’ve found that’s changed a bit with time. Royce produced everything on this album and he sounds noticeably more comfortable rhyming here than he has on some of his previous projects. I actually think this is probably my favourite Royce album. He had an entire concept that took us into his mind and let us see how he looks at a lot of the things that have happened in society. There’s a powerful pro-black message asking us to answer the call and take charge. He touches on race, ownership and several other topics that really make you lock in on what he’s saying. It warrants all the accolades it’s getting.
When I went to listen to this album, the first thing that came to mind was that back in 2018, we didn’t get the Kanye-produced Nas album we hoped for. The minute the first beat played on King’s Disease, I went: “this is exactly what I wanted in 2018”. Didn’t get what wanted back then, but I want to personally thank Hit-Boy, cause we now have that Nas album we were hoping for back then. I honestly think this is the best Nas has sounded since Life is Good came out. It’s nice to see the legend close out the year with such a strong album. If you’re a fan of hip-hop you’ll be into this one.
8. Pop Smoke – Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon
First off, R.I.P. Pop Smoke man. From an outside perspective, this guy brought a buzz back to New York hip-hop that we haven’t seen since 50. This guy brought energy to every track that would literally shake a room any time you’d play his music. Sad to see him go so young, especially after dropping what I thought was his best body of work. Even amongst all the big features, Pop Smoke still shined. From the way this album sounded, Pop Smoke was taking the New York drill sound to a place it hadn’t been before. If there’s any album I can say exceeded my expectations on this list, it was this album.
7. Conway The Machine – From A King To A God
If you asked me who the best rapper in Griselda is, I’d tell you it’s Conway. However, if you asked me who I think had the best Griselda album this year, I’d have to tell you that I personally enjoyed Westside and Benny projects just a bit more than this.
Let me say this though, if you’re looking for bars that make you do a double take, this was the album to listen to this year. In typical Conway fashion, this guy spazzed on every track. “Anza” might actually be one of my favourite tracks from 2020 period. That and the Dej Loaf feature he had was something I didn’t even know I wanted, but I’m glad it exists.
6. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
I’m a relatively honest person and truth is, I didn’t even want to put this on my list. Not because Jay Elec isn’t talented as hell, but because I feel like this man violated the very unofficial debut hip-hop album code of ethics that probably only exists to me. After waiting what feels like my whole life for this album, this man goes and let’s someone else rap first on his debut. Who has someone else rap first on their own album? The reason this album is here though, is because the person that rapped first on this project, was Jay-Z. How am I going to hate a Jay-Z verse on a Jay Elect album? You just don’t, and Hov is everywhere on this thing. They might as well be a rap group. The bars are crazy, the content went over my head sometimes and I had Google stuff to understand it, and Jay-Z is still in top form…Jay Elec too. I can’t deny this album is solid, even if I want to.
5. Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris
This man has someone tap dancing on the work at the end of his album. That’s art man. I don’t know which engineer he worked with for this project, but salute. This is what a Westside Gunn album should sound like. This man gave us Allah Sent Me man. He’s out here doing some sort of relay rap with Benny and Conway. I wasn’t ready for that. It was a special moment.
Nothing was wasted on this album. Whether it be the features, samples or bars, everything had its place. Westside might not be my favourite lyricist in Griselda but he is the creative brain behind the machine and creativity is exactly what he displayed on this album. From the way the songs were structured, to the artwork, Westside Gunn made sure to stand out amongst his peers this year.
4. Stove God Cooks – Reasonable Drought
I’m going to get this out the way now, originally I was so turned off by the album artwork that I almost didn’t listen to this project. I gotta give a shoutout to brudda Nobes for this one. I was sleeping on it till he brought it up to me again. This some hip-hop head stuff right here. This reminded me of the reason why I have a soft spot for New York hip-hop. Just street bars on gritty samples. He’s got such a commanding voice on every song and it stands out in comparison to some of the other rappers that have released music this year. This has that “gloomy weather, it’s cold outside but you have to be out there on road” kinda rap. It was refreshing to hear honestly. Some people will overlook this project, but I think you should reconsider that. It’s an album you really have to sit and take in but it’s not going to disappoint you.
This is probably where most North American people will start discrediting my list. J Hus is nicer than you think he is. If you give the UK a chance, you’ll find out they make great music and this was a statement album to me. A statement album from overseas letting us know they’re coming. The whole album is sequenced in a way that it keeps you guessing on where Hus will take things next. It’s a solid balance of commercial records and hood chunes but he never sacrifices what you enjoy most about his music to do it. It also really feels like a black album. Like only a black person could put this kind of music together and I’ll always support that kind of energy.
He’s unique with his flow, delivery and diction. The album is very well produced and mixed. The use of horns throughout the album really does make it something I found myself coming back to time and time again. You might not agree but I’m not moving this on my list. This was top 3 to me.
2. Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist – Alfredo
Freddie man…we need to start having a conversation as to where we’re ranking this guy because I don’t think I can say there’s too many rappers that deliver quality albums as consistently as him. This is the same guy that dropped Bandana last year. Most people take a break but not this guy. He goes from having the album of the year with Madlib to arguably having the album of the year again with Alchemist. The combination of Freddie Gibbs and string samples was such a great idea. Alchemist makes beats that make everything Freddie raps about sound that much more cinematic. These two bring some of the best out of each other on every song. If this isn’t in your top 10, you just weren’t using your ears to listen to music this year.
1. Benny The Butcher – Burden of Proof
I actually spent a lot of time contemplating where I was going to rank this one. I kept thinking about basing this list on the rappers ability, presence on each song…but bun all that. This album was fire, I enjoyed it the most and that’s why it’s no.1 for me. Benny is nice man. The whole album has this energy that makes you wanna run up on a Circle K but then you don’t because you remember you’re a civilian…yeah this album is serious. The man said “walk around with this froze watch cause no opps wanna do it”…on the intro. As in the first song. That is energy you can’t match this year folks. This is what I thought was hip-hop’s album of the year.