Country Perspective’s Top Five Hip Hop Albums of 2020

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:

5. Westside Gunn — WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE

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”).

4. Conway the Machine — From King to a GOD

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.

3. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

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).

2. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — Alfredo

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.

1. Benny The Butcher — Burden of Proof

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.

Album Review — Benny The Butcher’s ‘Burden of Proof’

The quality of albums released in 2020 have been amazing. Across the board in every genre, there’s been a remarkable album to represent every genre. Except for hip hop, which saw a slow start to 2020 and raised concerns for me after a disappointing 2019. But hip hop has come on real strong in the second half of this year. All it’s been missing is a crown jewel release. Until now. Unsurprisingly it comes from one of the best up and comers in hip hop today in Griselda’s Benny The Butcher. After he delivered a top ten album in Country Perspective’s Top Albums of 2019 list, he’s delivering even more with his new record Burden of Proof.

The bouncing title track opens the album and right from the beginning Benny comes out firing with the bars. In this song goes into how him and Griselda did things differently and how now that they’re becoming more famous, more people are trying to copy their style. It also comes with more enemies. The line that best expresses this: “I know how it feels when they don’t like that you did it different/’Cause they dickridin’ trends just like them n***** you mimic.” It’s a great opener that tells you right away what you can expect from this project: hard-hitting bars with a message. The song ends with an entertaining skit too with Pain in Da Ass quoting The Sopranos and another quote from Carlito’s Way.

The spacey and smooth “Where Would I Go” has more fantastic bars from Benny as he reveals in this song his battle with asthma his entire life. Considering the circumstances of COVID-19 in the world right now and how especially important lung strength is in hip hop, this other side of Benny adds another compelling layer to his story and music. This song also has a really nice feature from Rick Ross and it’s a funny thing with Ross for me: I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an album all the way through from him, yet it feels like I enjoy every one of his features. It’s also a pretty big deal to hear the iconic Maybach Music tag next to the Griselda tag at the end, showing how far this scrappy group from Buffalo, New York has come and how they continue to rise.

“Sly Green” is fantastic, as the beat is classic east coast hip hop delivered from producer Hit-Boy. Benny tells stories of what he does best with his storytelling and that’s tales of the street. Like Pusha T and Freddie Gibbs, Benny does an excellent job of showing both sides of street life. While it’s easy from the outside to see the bad side with the obvious violence and dangers that come with it, there’s also the other side where this drug dealing and hustling feeds families. It’s a fascinating dichotomy. Speaking of Gibbs, he joins Benny on “One Way Flight.” These two were great together before on Gibbs’ “Frank Lucas” and they once again they deliver big together (when can we get an entire project with them together?). Butcher’s flow is flawless and at first you think Gibbs is only doing the hook, which sounds great from him, but you gotta have a Gibbs verse if you feature him. Thankfully he comes in at the end and it’s both equally great and hilarious, as he destroys the Los Angeles Clippers with this line: “Get fucked and sent home early just like the Clippers.”

“Famous” is another glimpse into the psyche of Benny The Butcher, as he goes into how he feels to be famous after spending years of hustling on the streets. His overall feeling seems to be a fish out of water and not really comfortable where he’s at now, as he feels caught between two different lives. Two brilliant lines that show this: “I chose money over fame, how I end up with ’em both?/I’m just a dealer to the judgе, and a sinner to the Pope” and “And I never thought I’d make it out the hood/And it don’t feel how I thought it should.” He then concludes the song proclaiming he’s made it, but also not forgetting his roots, as he shouts out the people who have stuck with him and those he’s lost.

“Timeless” is undoubtedly a play for mainstream appeal, as Benny is joined by big names in Lil Wayne and Big Sean. Despite the slicker production and features, it still feels like a Butcher song and something that fits on one of his albums. The production in particular manages to keep that grimy feel you’re used to hearing with Griselda while also having that mainstream polish. Both Wayne and Sean deliver solid features too. “New Streets” sees Benny breaking down how there’s two sides to the street life commonly rapped about in hip hop. As he explains in the song, there’s a lot more than the glamour and happy endings that many in hip hop only rap about and how at the end of the day there’s a lot more bad endings that go even beyond jail time. He also gets into how his mistakes and losses are what ultimately made him into who he is rather than the flashy wins.

It’s this 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.

“Over The Limit” is about Benny getting out of the street game and how his past still haunts him, as federal authorities try to use the stories he raps about in songs against him to incriminate. While his past undoubtedly fuels his music and made him who he is with no regrets, he also doesn’t boast about this past, as he calls himself a survivor and he admits he got out as soon as he knew the consequences were too much as he was building his music career. Again the storytelling from him is excellent, Dom Kennedy is solid on the hook and the dramatic production really adds to the tension of the story being told.

Benny gets sentimental on “Trade It All,” as he gets into his relationships with his family. He raps about how important it is to him be a father to his daughter: “For the n***** in my position, take care of your daughters/No matter what they choose to do, they aware what you taught ’em/My kids took my advice ’cause I’m fair as a father.” This importance carries even more significance, as in the next song he reveals he was raised by a single mother, showing how he wants to be there for his kids like he didn’t have with his dad. Benny also goes into how the loss of his brother MachineGun Black shaped him and the cost he paid with this and how at the end of the day he would trade all of his fortune if he could get him back. It’s quite a deep moment from Benny, as it undoubtedly pulls at the heartstrings to hear such stirring reflection and sobering lessons learned from a hard life.

“Thank God I Made It” is more reflection and gratefulness from Benny, as he thanks his mother for all she did for him and making him the man he is today. He also goes into how the systemic racism in America combined with the broken households of many African American families across the country force so many into the dangers of street hustle, as it’s often the only option to provide for themselves and their families. Benny shouts out his brother again, as he says he feels his spirit as he writes this song. Every part of the lyricism throughout this song is just dripping with passion and impactful messages. Not to mention Queen Naija sounds fantastic on the hook and the soulful production is quite catchy.

“War Paint” is the traditional Griselda track with Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine. The production on this track feels like a final boss level, as it has a cinematic gravitas about it. And as usual this trio sounds fantastic together. Conway steals the song though with these lines, as he delivers with such confidence: “HOV said, “You that boy”, I get acknowledged by the GOAT (What up, HOV?)/Woo, even shook the hand of Beyoncé/That story brought tears to the eye of my fiancée/But I don’t know if it’s because my shorty such a fan/Or did she realize in that moment, I’m the motherfuckin’ man.”

The album closes out with “Legend” and Benny essentially wraps up everything he covers throughout the album: the fame, his friends, family and announcing his arrival to the rest of the world unaware of him before now. Once again so many bars you could choose from throughout this song, as Benny is absolutely relentless. But the following are some of the best on the album: “My team got a will strong enough to beat cancer/Master’s in dope, before that, I had a Bachelor’s in coke/I’m like Ali, I fight better with my back on the ropes/Labels, I passed ’em up, it’s like they after the flow/And my legacy, it’s like they want a fraction of both/Nah, I was good by myself, this how I’m bettin’ now.” I mean you don’t get wordplay better than this, as it not only flows so well, but says so many things in such a short span.

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. 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.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review — Conway the Machine’s ‘From King To A GOD’

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. All of his features have been standouts and he delivered a really solid project in LULU with The Alchemist (I haven’t even got a chance to listen to No One Mourns the Wicked yet). So now he’s released what he’s dubbing his debut album in From King to a GOD and it’s without a doubt a fantastic debut from an artist who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best lyricists in hip hop.

The voice of zen writer and speaker Alan Watts greets you on opener “From King,” which is definitely a nice surprise. Conway then does his thing and that’s drop hard hitting bars that set the tone for the album well. And the song ends with a sample of a Kevin Nash promo/Tony Schiavone commentary in WCW because it’s a Griselda album of course. It’s a great opener because I’ll remember it and it makes me want to hear more. Next is “Fear of God,” where Conway has a great, smooth flow and the DeJ Loaf feature fits the song’s attitude, capping off the song with a nice touch.

I really enjoy the griminess of “Lemon,” although the hook is a bit weak. But the bars hit hard, Conway’s delivery is emphatically great and Method Man absolutely kills his verse. His weathered, deep voice matches perfectly with the dark beats. Any other album and this should be easily the best feature, but this album is loaded with amazing guest features. “Dough & Damani” is produced by The Alchemist and of course it’s smooth as hell. Conway and The Alchemist have such great chemistry. Conway also features his more humorous side on this song, which is enjoyable. I particularly enjoy the short kit around two guys arguing over who gets to hold the gun.

“Juvenile Hell” is not only my favorite song on the album, but maybe my favorite song I’ve ever heard from Conway. First the beat on this is absolutely filthy and does 90s boom bap absolutely proud. Then you have the features from Flee Lord, Havoc and Lloyd Banks. Each one of them bring absolute fire, but Banks steals the show with his appearance. His flow over the beat is absolutely flawless and the wordplay is brilliant. The line I really enjoy is “I’m on my rivals, embarrass ‘em with my calm bravado/My alma mater of smackin’ a n**** horizontal.”

Next is the first “Words of Shay” interlude and it’s cool to hear these words from Conway’s close friend DJ Shay, who is unfortunately revealed to be dead later in the album on Conway’s tribute to him on “Forever Droppin Tears.” And I should point out that the title is not just an expression of Conway’s sadness over the passing of his friend, but also a reference to Shay talking about in the interludes how Conway cries when recording songs. So it doubles as Conway’s showing of passion. The song itself is an absolutely beautiful tribute with lots of heartfelt lyrics and great storytelling of the relationship between Shay and Conway. It’s all set over a bouncy and classy beat from Hit-Boy and El Camino adds a lot with his feature. But I will say I don’t think the third interlude was really necessary, as I think the tribute was good as is with just two interludes. Still it doesn’t take away much from one of the highlights of this album.

“Front Lines” is Conway’s take on the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter movement that took place this past summer and the systemic racism that has been taking place for years. Conway does a fantastic job laying out all the issues and once again his storytelling lyricism really shines, particularly when he’s describing how routine police stops quickly turn to violence for many black Americans. The song ends with a clip of a news report of when protesters broke into the Minnesota police precinct this past summer and this definitely fits the song, but I feel it goes a bit too long and smaller clip would have been more effective.

“Anza” is the weakest song of the album, as it’s pop-ish flavor is such a stark contrast to the rest of the record’s sound and sticks out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t fit and while Armani Caesar is a great MC, her feature is a bit boring. All around this song just doesn’t work within this album. “Seen Everything But Jesus” gets back on the right track though and grows on me more and more with each listen. Conway is joined by Freddie Gibbs and as always Gibbs delivers. A nice surprise we get from Gibbs though is some singing in addition to his always hard-hitting bars. While he seemed to always be joking when doing this earlier in his career, his singing is actually pretty good and I wouldn’t mind hearing him take on some R&B songs. Even his more humorous singing moments are fun (see “FLFM” off Freddie).

“Spurs 3” is the traditional Griselda joint on all Griselda albums and like a Gibbs feature, you can always count on this to be great. The dark and eccentric beat is lively and engaging, with each of Conway, Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher flowing well over it. Although I am a bit surprised that Benny is weakest sounding on this track, as usually he’s the best technical rapper of the trio (Gunn is more about flash and Conway is the sharp lyricist). Nonetheless it’s a solid track.

“Jesus Khrysis” has a spacey, throwback beat that draws on boom bap again, something this album really does a great job with and it’s one of my favorite beats of the album. What makes it even better is the lyricism is top notch, with Conway delivering excellent verses like “N***** try blockin’ my goals, I’ma make it Messi” and “That’s the zone I’m in, I write with a golden pen/But lately, I ain’t even been writin’, I just been goin’ in.” Not only is the later a great bar, but also a possible glimpse into Conway’s approach to writing because apparently him and Benny both go into the studio and record without any lyrics written down. They do it all from the top of their head, which if true, makes the songwriting even more impressive.

“Nothin’ Less” is another banger that closes the album out strong. It has a surprise feature from DJ Premier, who fits yet another amazing boom bap inspired song. And some people may find the reliance on boom bap influences on this album to be lazy, but I completely disagree when so much of hip hop nowadays is filled with generic, pop radio chasing beats and trying so hard to sound like a Drake song. So I find throwback beats like this be quite refreshing because it pays homage to the roots of the genre and the producers on this album also bring a modern flavor to it, avoiding sounding dated too. And of course it helps to have a great lyricist like Conway to rap over it, as a lot of rappers would get eaten up by the sound.

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.

Grade: 9/10

Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

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).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 3 — Freddie Gibbs, Eric Church, Khruangbin & More!

Hey y’all! There are several albums I’ve been wanting to talk about since taking my break, so no fancy introduction is needed. Let’s talk about some albums….

Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

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. Opener “1985” may be the best opening song to an album I’ve heard in 2020, as the blaring guitar and Gibbs’ relentless attack approach to the lyrics makes me want to hit play over and over again. 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 (I definitely want to hear Gibbs and Butcher together again). 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. So I guess you could call this 9/10 album slightly down for Gibbs as hilarious as this is to type. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020. Light 9/10

Run The JewelsRTJ4

Unfortunately this album just flat out bored me and I just lose more interest in it as I delve deeper into it. It certainly has nothing to do with the messages, as they’re timely, important and should be heard. But every other aspect of this project feels like I’ve heard it before from the duo and it was better. While I rated Run the Jewels 3 quite highly, admittedly it didn’t hold up as well as time has passed. I thought it was due to the runtime. But now after listening to RTJ4, the issue is clearer. The delivery, approach and style of the lyrics have simply waned for Killer Mike and El-P. On Run the Jewels 3 they covered over a lot of this because it wasn’t as prevalent like it is on this album and quite frankly the beats were much more interesting and varied on Run the Jewels 3 (there’s not a single beat on this album that comes as close to being as interesting or cool as “Panther Like a Panther”). 

Not to mention the idea well feels empty on this album. Nothing feels new, it all feels the same and maybe that’s the point on how injustice in this country never changes, which is the reoccurring message of this album. But I feel like this album is all about great messages and the songs themselves are an afterthought. As I’ve continually said, great messages won’t be heard if the songs themselves aren’t interesting or good. Run the Jewels 3 managed to deliver timely messages behind great music. And this album seems to forget the latter. That’s largely the conclusion I come away from with this album: the music just isn’t as interesting like the previous three records. Light 5/10

Diplo/Thomas WesleyChapter 1: Snake Oil

I’ve talked about before how electronic and country will eventually be fused together more and how it will become a more prevalent sub genre (for better or worse). So I was actually quite excited to hear that famous electronic producer Diplo would be trying his hand at a country album. The ultimate result? Very hit and miss for me. What works: “Heartless” with Morgan Wallen is surprisingly something I’ve come to enjoy. The delivery of Wallen gives the song an infectious urgency and the drum machines are actually utilized in a way that makes the song enjoyably catchy (so many from the pop genre completely bastardize drum machines and make them a torturous ear worm). The unlikely team up of Thomas Rhett and Young Thug on “Dance with Me” is fun, although I would have liked to have heard more from Young Thug. “On Me” may be my favorite though, as Noah Cyrus delivers a memorable vocal performance. “So Long” and “Heartbreak” are solid tracks too.

What doesn’t work: The Jonas Brothers are good pop artists but don’t belong anywhere near a country record and “Lonely” doesn’t feel country in the slightest. “Do Si Do” has a good idea on paper but it’s bone dry and boring. Julia Michaels continues to prove she’s one of the most boring artists in music today with her appearances (her voice is the music equivalent of paint drying). “Hometown” is your standard generic, mediocre pop country that I’m not shocked Zac Brown signed on to take part in (it would fit nicely on his garbage solo album). And the inclusion of Diplo’s remix of “Old Town Road” is well…Diplo says it best in his interview with Apple Music: “We just added this on because it was on Columbia.” Hey, at least he’s honest! And I appreciate that he admits this album is a bit incoherent (because it definitely is). So while this is by no means a great album, it shows flashes of potential and makes me want to hear what he has in store for the next album. Light 5/10

Gone WestCanyons

You know I had some hope for this group to be a fresh sound in the mainstream realm. Instead I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t Gloriana but they somehow added former pop star Colbie Cailat as the new front-woman. This is just dull, generic pop country album in a sea full of so many albums that already sound like this. Don’t bother with this/10

Jimmy BuffettLife On The Flip Side

Well I’m not sure what I expected listening to this. It’s a Jimmy Buffett album. If you want light beach music this is it. I imagine this is best enjoyed while drinking a few on the beach. It’s five o’clock somewhere/10

Gabby BarrettGoldmine

While lead single “I Hope” is an enjoyable revenge ballad in the same vein as Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the rest of this album is unfortunately your average pop country mediocrity. Barrett really doesn’t establish a unique sound or identity with this album and instead teeters between bad Underwood impersonation and radio bait. Solid 3/10

Blackberry SmokeLive From Capricorn Sound Studios EP

As always an enjoyable listen from one of the best rock bands in music today. Although I will admit I hoped to enjoy this more. While I enjoy the guest vocals of Jimmy Hall, I would have liked to have heard more from Charlie Starr on lead vocals. But it’s a minor nitpick on an otherwise pretty good EP. Light 8/10

Hill CountrySelf-titled

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this album and Luke Combs even gave this group a shoutout. So I had to check this out even though I found Zane Williams’ solo output to be hit and miss in the past. Ultimately this is a country album that does nothing spectacularly but it does nothing wrong either. It’s an enjoyable mixture of country, roots rock and bluegrass that has something for all types of country listeners. It’s breezy and accessible music that represents a solid start for this new group. 7/10

Khruangbin Mordechai

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020. Solid 9/10

Eric Church — “Stick That in Your Country Song”

Finally I have to of course comment on the lead single for Eric Church’s upcoming new album, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” Without a doubt Church has been one of the best artists in country music for the last several years, as both Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man were fantastic albums. So he easily has the clout and respect to drop a song that’s basically calling out lazy songwriting and pandering bullshit being released by all kinds of artists in the industry. Church has been a bit more understated and introspective on his last two albums, so he was due to bring back the fiery, passionate side. 

The results are pretty good, as Church brings an infectious energy in all aspects. The lyrics are as subtle as a hammer to the head and get the point across pretty well, while also bringing attention to what needs to be heard more in country songs. It’s interesting how Church did not have a hand in writing this song, as this is not only a rarity for him, but this song also fits him perfectly. While I’m not fond of country songs that focus on if something is country or not these days, this song is not really about being country, but rather demanding more from his fellow artists. And he’s absolutely right to call them out for this. Once again I’m excited for another Church album!