Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.
Today I take a look at the top hip hop albums of 2020. Hip hop didn’t get off to the best of starts in 2020. It’s not entirely surprising, as I feel the quality has dropped off a bit in the genre the last couple of years due to it’s rise as the most popular genre. When a genre becomes the “it” sound, it invites in trend chasing, many artists conforming around one sound and a general lack of innovation. Hip hop is also the most singles driven genre and albums don’t have as much emphasis placed on them. Thankfully though there’s still plenty of fantastic artists in this genre who place focus on making albums and aren’t driven by what’s popular. From the midpoint of the year on the quality steadily rose in hip hop and really peaked at year’s end. I hope this momentum can carry into 2021 and see hip hop get back to it’s best modern form like it was in the mid-2010s (each year from 2016-’18 a hip hop album was my top album of the year). So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Five Hip Hop Albums of 2020:
WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE is a really fun album that’s enjoyable from front to back. Westside Gunn really steps up his game in his major label debut and shows why Griselda is the fastest rising group in hip hop. This album won’t compete for my top hip hop album of the year, but it’s definitely a record that is worthy of being in rotation for a long time and there are two songs on this album that absolutely belong on the best songs of the year list (“The Butcher and The Blade” and “98 Sabers”).
While it feels like most of hip hop is going pop, the Griselda group is perfectly content doing what they do best and that’s delivering some of the grimiest beats and hardest hitting bars in the game. While all three of Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine all bring something great to the table, it feels like Conway in particular has had a rapidly rising 2020. From King to a GOD is a fantastic proper debut album from Conway The Machine, as he brings his signature sound and high quality lyricism that longtime fans have come to appreciate him for while also bringing a level of accessibility in the music that will surely attract new fans too.
The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).
Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist both solidify themselves as two of the most consistent artists in hip hop with Alfredo. Gibbs’ rapping and flow are flawless while The Alchemist’s beats are smooth and his sampling is completely on point throughout. The lyricism is what you come to expect from Gibbs, which is not a knock at all, as he raps about cocaine, the dark sides of the street and mixes in his trademark dark humor. He also has more social commentary, as on “Scottie Beam” he ominously raps his execution may be televised, highlighting the systemic racism in the country. All the features on this album fit well, especially Rick Ross and Benny The Butcher. This is a pretty great project and for many artists this would be amongst their best, but Gibbs sets the bar pretty damn high with previous projects like Piñata and Bandana. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020.
Benny The Butcher gives you everything you want out of an excellent album and then some with Burden of Proof. The lyricism, production, the features and the themes are all flawless. He delivered so many great albums before this, but with this record he reaches a whole new level of greatness in my mind. It’s the realism and genuineness that shines through in Benny The Butcher’s work that’s quickly making him one of the best in the game, especially when so many in hip hop chase and promote the fake image he speaks out against throughout this album. Of course this isn’t an issue just in hip hop, as every genre struggles with the balance of reality and fantasy, as well as roots and tradition versus new school thoughts and ideas. If one becomes more lopsided, things go haywire. And Benny does such a good job of keeping this in mind with his music. As he says in the final track on the album, he’s ready to be a legend now. This album more than proves this high claim.