2020-12-22T10:30:44-05:00 2020-12-23T21:34:00-05:00

EARMILK's Best Albums of 2020 [Hip-Hop + R&B]

The voice for the socially and politically oppressed was ignited this year through the difficult hardships and the ongoing atrocities that had far too long plagued our ignorant societies. 2020 saw some of the hip-hop world take a pause from the pop-leaning trap sounds that rose to popularity in the previous year and instead stirred the conversation to cry out for change. Iconic heavyweights and OG's of the past dusted off their mics and collaborated alongside a new generation of poetic songwriters to produce some of the most prolific, introspective, empowering, and socially provocative music we've seen in years. Loud and unapologetic, this year's artists truly stepped up to the mic. With the help of over 75+ contributing writers from seven different countries around the world, check out EARMILK's picks for the Best Hip-Hop and R&B songs of 2020.  - David Sikorski, Senior Editor

Airplane James - On Everything I Love

Highlighted by records like, "Impress Me," "Opp" and others, Airplane James takes toxicity and gives it a refreshing spin over his engaging debut album. - Ashton Howard

Aminé - Limbo

Limbo is a multi-dimensional journey of hip-hop and R&B. Aminé displays his wide-ranging styles, from your traditional, conscious raps, to your collaborative R&B singing effort with Summer Walker. If you're looking for an all-around good hip-hop record, Limbo is a chef's kiss. - Gregory Castel

Armand Hammer - Shrines

Billy Woods and Elucid of hip-hop duo Armand Hammer delivered one of the most ambitious rap albums of the year. With appearances from rising underground artists (KeiyaA, Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris) and established acts (Earl Sweatshirt, Moor Mother, Nosaj) alike, Shrines evokes an appreciation for Woods' and Elucid's storytelling abilities, especially on songs like "King Tubby" and "Bitter Cassava." - Madeline Quach

Benny the Butcher - Burden of Proof

Staying consistent as ever, Buffalo artist Benny the Butcher, an insanely talented member of Griselda, leaves us in awe with his wordplay in this powerful release. - Magi Camaj

Big Homie Stone & Impact RH - 81 Nights

Coming out of Las Vegas, Big Homie Stone & Impact RH both dropped solid solo projects this year, but it was their collaborative effort that really sent them off. Highlighted by the slow-burning hit single, "Brand New," the duo showcases their genius knack for melodic direction on this festive EP. - Ashton Howard

Black Noi$e - Oblivion

Kind of a sampler of not just the production talent of Black Noi$e but also for the universe Earl Sweatshirt has been building. So much talent on every track and really only the beginning for them. - Nathan Whittle-Olivieri

Black Thought - Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane & Abel

Black Thought, iconic rapper and the lead emcee of The Roots, returned to feed us knowledge once again with this new solo album. - Magi Camaj

BLXST - No Love Lost

After setting the table in 2019, Los Angeles vocalist, Blxst ate all of 2020 off the back of his brilliant EP, No Love Lost. Meshing his festival West Coast production style along with his relatable lyrics, Blxst provided one of the more replayable projects of the year. - Ashton Howard

Brent Faiyaz - Fuck the World

Fuck the World was easily one of the most impressive releases. The only flaw found in this project is that Brent didn't choose to make it longer. - Kalen Murphy

Casey Veggies/Rockie Fresh - Fresh Veggies 2

Fresh Veggies 2 is a solid listen from start to finish. It was great to see the two artists make a comeback in such a classic way. - Hayley Tharp

Deca - Snakes and Birds

Deca's pretty, psychedelic production mixes with his poetic, spiritual lyricism to create one of 2020's most overlooked albums. His sound is immaculately curated and focused, borrowing from old school sounds without sounding dated. - Jacob Saltzberg

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED

A match made in heaven. I've returned to this project consistently throughout the year and it never fails to get my head bobbing at any moment. - Robin Fulton 

Dom Kennedy - Rap N Roll

Rap N Roll is the perfect balance of lyricism and trap. The album showcases Dom's impressive range and stamina that sets his artistry above all the rest right now. - Hayley Tharp

Don Toliver - Heaven or Hell

Don Toliver had an MVP-caliber year and it all starts with the release of Heaven or Hell. While the project is only 36 minutes in runtime, it's chock full of an array of hits that showcase Don's potential to become a leader of his class - Kalen Murphy 

DUCKWRTH - Super Good

Duckwrth drops his debut project with much glee as he serves up a wide range of sounds that is as diverse as ever. - Tayo Odutola

Durand Bernarr - Dur&

After his show-stopping feature on Kaytranada's latest album, Durand Bernarr released one of the more enjoyable R&B albums of the year in, Dur&. - Ashton Howard

Elzhi - Seven Times Down Eight Times Up

A big focus of this year for me has been introspection, and this album has a level of self-awareness and transparency that relies heavily on looking inward. Elzhi offers an efficient balance between technical skill and subject matter that only gets more impressive with each release. - Keona Frasier

Eyeda Sophia & Emperor Bohe - The Esplanade

Canadian rapper Eyeda Sophia & producer Emperor Bohe blend jazz, soul, boom-bap sounds and edgy poetic lyrics - Tayo Odutola

Freddie Gibbs & Alchemist - Alfredo

Fresh off two hit albums with beat wizard Madlib, Freddie Gibbs came back with a bang yet again. This time teaming up with New York beatsmith Alchemist, the pair delivered Alfredo. Backed with expertly flipped samples, chopped up by Alchemist, Freddie Gibbs tone and flow cut through like a knife through butter. His usual gangster musings are here in abundance, with an all-star supporting cast including Rick Ross, Tyler The Creator, and Benny The Butcher. - Mike Wood

Gil Scott Heron & Makaya McCraven - We're New Again

I'm a sucker for the constant iterations of Gil Scott Heron, but this edition is genuinely innovative. Makaya McCraven has a brilliant musical mind, and her instrumental efforts compliment the radicalism of Heron's words well. - Alex Weissman

Giveon - TAKE TIME

Giveon's first-ever project consists of three or four of the best songs in R&B for the year. He's made too big of a splash this year to ignore with his baritone presence.- Gregory Castel 

Gunna - WUNNA (DELUXE)

This year was filled with a lot of deluxe albums but none of them revamped the project like Gunna's re-release for WUNNA. Tracks like "200 FOR LUNCH" and "WUNNA FLO" made the deluxe edition one of the year's most enjoyable projects. - Kalen Murphy

J Hus - Big Conspiracy

Before coronavirus ravaged any chance of a normal 21st birthday, I was hoping to hear some J Hus in a club while enjoying my first legal drink. Alas. - Alex Weissman

Joya Mooi - Blossom Carefully

Singer Joya Mooi brings forth a nice mix of future soul, R&B with a swagged out hip-hop demeanor on her new project - Tayo Odutola

Kemba - The World is Watching

Kemba proudly represents The Bronx throughout this 4-track EP, which highlights the fight for Black lives and leaves a lasting impression with impactful words, messages, and powerful delivery. - Magi Camaj

Killah Priest - Rocket to Nebula

Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Killah Priest comes through in 2020 with an album that is actually very innovative and fresh. The eloquent spoken word and rap pieces over top of ambient production make an interesting and unique combination worthy of much dissection. - Jacob Saltzberg

Lex Lavo - Bodega Dreams 3

Lex Lavo is a New York hip-hop artist who beautifully represents East Harlem in his latest release. - Magi Camaj

Lil' Baby - My Turn

Although it feels like a formality, I just personally didn't want to be remembered for omitting the best album of the year, regardless of genre. Look to, "Catch the Sun" if one needs further convincing. - Ashton Howard

Lucki - Almost There

For the second year in a row, Lucki is responsible for one of my favorite drops of the year, as tracks like, "Tarantino," "Runnin With" and, "Unlimited" are some of the best to be released all year from anybody. Plus, in a time where being QUARANTINED become the new norm, lyrics like, "we get high, we get fat!" sandwiched between bars about anxiety is just what the doctor ordered. - Ashton Howard

Mac Miller - Circles

Pre-pandemic 2020. Mac Miller post-humous release. Lo-fi and indie like vocals giving us the unexpected but gentle closure we all needed after his passing. Need I say more? - Nicole Proctor

MC Bravado - The Living Game

Baltimore emcee drops a 10-track project that dwells on the ups and downs of being an artist in these modern times. Insightful, solemn, fun, and a whole lot of bravado - Tayo Odutola

Medhane - Cold Water

For an alt-hip hop icon, Medhane has an ear for melody and the lyrical chop to sound as interesting as his lyrics are on the page. - Alex Weissman

Megan Thee Stallion - SUGA, Good News

You can't say 2020 without saying Megan. The way she moved not just hip-hop culture, but all culture forward this year is something to be in awe of. Launching the year with SUGA and closing it with the even more well-rounded Good News; it might be obvious to say, but she defined this year. - Steph Evans

MIKE - weight of the world

MIKE has been existing in a space only he can inhabit for years now. Off-kilter, jazz-hop styled projects like this have made him so much more than a star in Earl Sweatshirt's universe. - Nathan Whittle-Olivieri

MODEL 86 - MODELVILLAIN

I can't stop coming back to this. Not only does it remind me of the early days at EARMILK, but it even precedes that. Great mixing, mash-ups, and on a full mixtape, is hard to find these days. - Steph Evans

Mr Lif & Stu Bangas (Vangarde) - Vangarde

Rapper Mr Lif and producer Stu Bangas (Vangarde) team up for a no holds barred, experimental project that dives into real-time issues with their own little twists. - Tayo Odutola

Myles Cameron - Black Sheep

Transcendent and emotional R&B from the head-scratchingly underappreciated Brooklyn-based artist that encapsulates loss and love in ways few artists are capable - John Peterson

Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma, and Divorce

Independent hip-hop is attempting to stir more and more towards bedroom pop melody and instrumentation. I think a lot of these attempts are unsuccessful, but Open Mike Eagle adopts Pollen-esque pop to delightful effect on his 2020 effort. - Alex Weissman

Passport Gift & Parks - No Vaccine

Dropping an EP in the middle of a pandemic and while protests were erupting throughout the country, New York hip-hop artist Gift raps to bring awareness to the injustice and inequality that Black lives face daily. - Magi Camaj

Pete Rock - PeteStrumentals 3

The legendary producer teams up with the Soul Brothers band to craft the long-awaited third entry in this instrumental series - Tayo Odutola

Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin - FlySiifu's

Two of the most compelling rappers active today just clicking from the jump in this jazz-inspired, left of center project. There are simply not many people making music like this at this level. - Nathan Whittle-Olivieri

Pop Smoke - Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon

When Pop Smoke was tragically taken from us at the start of the year, the music world mourned the loss of a fresh, innovative talent. His album Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon was posthumously released six months later, and served as a reminder of just how good Pop Smoke was. His take on drill music breathed fresh life into the rap world, and with joints like "Gangstas" and the 50 Cent sampling "Got It On Me", it was easy to see why many regarded him as the biggest thing to come out of New York in years. Cuts such as "For The Night" and "Mood Swings" went viral on social media, but also showed that Pop could appeal to the softer side of rap, just like a certain 50 Cent did back in the early 2000's. Rest in peace Pop Smoke, thank you for giving us one final incredible album to remember you by.. - Mike Wood

Quelle Chris, Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2

There is not a more revolutionary underground rapper in the game right now than Quelle Chris. Innocent Country 2 showcases unequivocally proves it, and the high-level appearance from Earl Sweatshirt on "Mirage" makes an easy case for best lyrical collaboration of the year. - John Peterson

redveil - Niagara

Redveil created quite the movement with Niagara, catching the hip-hop community by storm. Honing in on the alternative/indie hip-hop sound that is becoming more and more popular, Redveil not only had incredible production to offer but incredibly lyrical verses which made this one of the best albums of the year. - Max Rosenfield

Rod Wave - Pray 4 Love

Floridian rapper Rod Wave made a huge splash in 2020 with his sophomore album Pray 4 Love. The project boasted viral tracks such as "Rags2Riches" and "Thug Motivation" that went crazy on social media, bringing Rod Wave's music to a much wider audience. His style of melodic rapping caught many people's attention and is something that set this album apart from his peers in 2020. - Mike Wood

Run the Jewels - RTJ4

As if it wasn't already abundantly clear, the fourth iteration of the Run the Jewels series confirmed yet again just how incredibly consistent and razor-sharp this hip-hop dream duo really are. Killer Mike and El-P came through full force yet again this year, with a jarring, politically charged effort that also happened to be a blast to listen to as well. - Max Pasion-Gonzales

Russ - CHOMP

Releasing this project towards the end of 2020, multitalented artist and producer Russ flawlessly spits bars with the help of a few OGs. - Magi Camaj

Seinna & Scientific - Axiomatic

UK emcee Seinna and German producer Scientific's collaborative project is moody, reflective, and deeply rooted in visceral thoughts - Tayo Odutola

Shygirl - Alias

Shygirl's genre-blending Alias mixes hip-hop, grime, UK bass, and house into an entertaining, experimental record full of layered sounds. - Jacob Saltzberg

Statik Selektah - The Balancing Act

Statik Selektah has a habit of bringing collaborations that seem too good to be true to fruition. The Balancing Act demonstrates the range Statik has when working with multiple emcees who all take a varying approach to experimental artistry on one cohesive project. - Keona Frasier

Teyana Taylor - The Album

I remember the first time I listened to each of Teyana Taylor's albums. While I was impressed by K.T.S.E., her last album, The Album turned a few things that I thought I knew on their heads. She brought the R&B of my childhood in the 90's into the modern age in a way that I hadn't experienced before. The album's collaborative nature brought artists from then—Erykah Badu, Iman, Missy Elliott—with artists who are at the height of hip-hop culture now. - Steph Evans

Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes - What Kinda Music

Two formidable artists in their own right, Misch and Dayes collaborate for a batch of fascinating brooding moods and heavy grooves. Freddie Gibbs offers characteristically gritty vocals on standout single "Nightrider." - Evan Crandell

Wale - The Imperfect Storm

D.C.'s very own poetic genius Wale artistically discusses the past and current events that have taken and are taking place all across the country in this powerful and poetic new project. - Magi Camaj

Westside Gunn, Pray for Paris

Westside Gunn's Pray for Paris is a template for putting your best lyrical foot forward on all fronts. Every verse including the features on this project brings the competitive spirit over painfully beautiful production from an all-star purist cast. - Gregory Castel

Wizkid - Made in Lagos

One of the most enjoyable albums of the year, front to back. This is the perfect project to let run straight through as you take care of tasks around the house. - Ashton Howard

Xavier Omar - iF You Feel

Keep your eyes peeled for the name Xavier Omar in the coming years. His music has been leading in the new wave of young R&B acts for the last two years, the same way that Bryson Tilller invaded the scene in 2015, and his worldwide popularity continues to gain momentum - Gregory Castel

Your Old Droog - Dump Yod: Krutoy Edition

Abstract-yet-grounded instrumentals and personal narratives of Your Old Droog's immigration to the USA from the Ukraine make for a solid record from a unique perspective. - Jacob Saltzberg

Zayland - From Texas, With Love

An incredible effort from an under-the-radar act, From Texas, With Love seems to offer something for everyone in the world of hip-hop and R&B. Zayland's songwriting is impressive and his melodies catchy which allowed him a chance to produce a record which for me has no skips. Great from start to finish. - Max Rosenfield

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Hip-Hop · Main Stage

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