2020 has been a bona fide dumpster fire — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain and resulting civil unrest, this year has truly put everyone’s sanity to the test. But in the middle of the destruction, the best Hip Hop songs of the year have been the proverbial phoenix to rise from the ashes, giving us a momentary respite from the madness.
Every year, HipHopDX staff joins in discussions, debates and sometimes heated arguments to come up with a list for our Year End Awards. You can review all of HipHopDX’s 2020 award categories and nominations. Winners will be announced beginning December 28, 2020.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the best Hip Hop songs of 2020 have managed to do rocket science numbers on the Billboard Charts, YouTube and even TikTok, proving rap beats, culture and ethos are dictating the musical arena.
Roddy Ricch, who had an incredibly fruitful year, emerged with the accidental hit “The Box,” Lil Baby dove deep and pulled out “The Bigger Picture” while Pop Smoke’s “The Woo” featuring Roddy Ricch and 50 Cent became a posthumous smash. Check out DX’s Top 5 Best Hip Hop Songs below.
Check out HipHopDX’s best Hip Hop songs of 2020, give a listen to our best in Hip Hop playlist and chime in the discussion below!
The Hip Hop song of the year award 2020 goes to…
“The Bigger Picture” – Lil Baby
The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police have inspired music from plenty of rappers. But none have quite captured the collective feeling of the moment as well as Lil Baby on the anthemic “The Bigger Picture.” Rapping with a beleaguered delivery about the systematic oppression caused by our broken institutions, Baby’s call to action strikes the right balance of being fed up with the police’s abuse of power, and cautiously optimistic that people uniting together can usher in the change this country so desperately needs.
“The Box” – Roddy Ricch
What started off as a light-hearted campaign to block Justin Bieber’s song “Yummy” from reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts became a full-fledged movement to uplift Roddy Ricch to the top spot. The Compton rapper’s song took on a life of its own and had everyone ready to dance the moment they heard his windshield wiper-inspired vocals start off the track.
“Life Is Good” – Future & Drake
Future and Drake teamed up once again, this time to remind everyone they’re doing well in life. This song brought the best out of the duo and left fans anticipating a potential full-length follow up to their 2015 effort What A Time To Be Alive.
“ROCKSTAR (BLM Remix)” – DaBaby f. Roddy Ricch
Like Lil Baby with “The Bigger Picture,” fellow baby DaBaby decided to put some more substance behind “Rockstar” and put out the Black Lives Matter remix featuring Roddy Ricch. With lyrics such as, “Cops wanna pull me over, embarrass me/Abusin’ power, you never knew me, thought I was arrogant/As a juvenile, police pulled their guns like they scared of me,” DaBaby opens up about his own experiences with the law as protests were erupting across the country.
“The Woo” – Pop Smoke f. Roddy Ricch & 50 Cent
Pop Smoke was doing something special. We saw snippets of his true artistry on Meet the Woo 2, but on the commanding Shoot For The Stars, Aim For the Moon he ascends to new dimensions with full dexterity. Multi-generational track “The Woo” connects Pop with one of his idols and shines a spotlight on another artist primed to take over the next decade.
“Savage (Remix)” – Megan Thee Stallion f. Beyoncé
Megan Thee Stallion has been building her Hot Girl brand over the past couple of years and continues to grow into one of the most prominent new artists in the game. If her status wasn’t already cemented before, a fellow Houston native sealed the deal for Meg. Beyoncé not only hopped on the remix, she also provided multiple rap verses, ad-libs over the hook and new melodies to take the song to the next level. “Savage (Remix)” reached No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100, giving Megan her first-ever chart-topper.
“Deep Reverence” – Big Sean f. Nipsey Hussle
After three years off, Big Sean uses his new single “Deep Reverence” to reflect on squashing beef with Kendrick Lamar, his struggles with mental health and Nipsey Hussle’s death. Accompanied by an excellent opening verse from the late L.A. legend, Sean pays respects to the West Coast icon, while also catching fans up on where he is mentally and emotionally before he drops the highly anticipated Detroit 2.
“Laugh Now Cry Later” – Drake f. Lil Durk
It sounds like a parade is coming down the street as soon as “Laugh Now, Cry Later” comes on, and Drake and Lil Durk are well suited for the role of grand marshals. Toronto’s very own talks up his own name with well-earned bravado. while Durk warns everyone not to test his gangsta under syrupy-sweet melodies.
“WHAT’S POPPIN (Remix)” – Jack Harlow f. Tory Lanez, DaBaby & Lil Wayne
“WHAT’S POPPIN” became Jack Harlow’s biggest song on its own, yet the track got a major co-sign when three of Hip Hop’s biggest stars jumped on the remix. DaBaby, Lil Wayne and Tory Lanez brought their respective styles to the cut and only made it better in the process. But most impressive of all is how Harlow still stands tall, proving he’s more than ready to compete alongside the heavyweights in the rap industry.
“Muwop” – Mulatto f. Gucci Mane
“Something To Rap About” – Freddie Gibbs f. Tyler The Creator
Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist’s surprise album Alfredo is filled with excellent music, but the soothing sounds of “Something To Rap About” make for one of the best listening experiences in Hip Hop this year. Gangsta Gibbs floats on ALC’s beat, dropping jaw-dropping lines such as “God made me sell crack, so I had something to rap about. Tyler, The Creator’s guest verse is icing on the cake, adding a little extra flavor to this delicious Alfredo cut.
“Lemon” – Conway The Machine f. Method Man
We’ve known about the Wu-Tang Clan’s admiration for Buffalo up and comers Griselda since Raekwon’s feature on Griselda’s seminal album WWCD. Now, Conway The Machine has tapped Method Man for “Lemon,” one of the best offerings from Conway’s From King To A God. Dark production from Daringer and Beat Butcha underscores Conway and Method Man’s hustle raps and shit talking. The two generations of New York Hip Hop make for a great duo and one of the best songs of the month.
“We Paid” – Lil Baby
“Burden Of Proof” – Benny The Butcher
The title and intro track from Burden of Proof sets the tone for the rest of the joint venture between Buffalo’s own Benny The Butcher and producer Hit-Boy. Benny’s mindset is clear in the opening bars when he raps, “Last year was bout’ branding/This year about expanding.” The Griselda movement was brought to life with WWCD and Benny’s phenomenal The Plugs I Met, but with Burden of Proof, Benny is making a claim for the throne, not just of New York, but of the game.
“Godzilla” – Eminem f. Juice WRLD
“Lockdown” – Anderson .Paak
The acidic mix of coronavirus blues and red-hot racial tensions has left plenty of Americans feeling empty and deflated. On his soothing protest anthem “Lockdown,” Anderson. Paak offers the world mild sedative for their rage while keeping them on course to upset the bigger system.
“Frank Lucas” – Freddie Gibbs & Benny The Butcher
“Pray 4 Da Sheep” – Goodie Mob f. Big Boi
Goodie Mob made their triumphant return with Survival Kit on October 30 and in the process, reunited several members of the revered Southern Hip Hop collective, the Dungeon Family. In addition to André 3000, who appears on “No Cigar,” CeeLo Green, T-Mo, Big Gipp and Khujo also snagged Big Boi for “Pray 4 Da Sheep,” which (as the title suggests) is essentially a eulogy for all those who are inept at thinking for themselves. “Everybody playin’ dumb/The sum of all fears, it appears to have the general public numb,” Daddy Fat Sax spits over the Organized Noize production. The song effortlessly reminds fans how effective straight up, boom bap Hip Hop can be when trying to make a point.
“WAP” – Cardi B f. Megan Thee Stallion
“Peppers & Onions” – Tierra Whack
Tierra Whack put herself on the map in 2018 when she delivered the highly innovative album Whack World, which was comprised of 15 brilliant, one-minute songs custom fit for Instagram. Two years later, her creativity has only continued to soar, something evident on her latest single “Peppers & Onions.” Whimsical and upbeat, Whack uses the song to combat the COVID-19 blues and reminds everyone, including herself, to give themselves a break. As she sings, “I’m only human/I’m not perfect, just a person” (with lots of talent).
“Trust” – Fivio Foreign
When Pop Smoke was murdered, it left the fate of Brooklyn Drill uncertain. Who would take his place after cementing such a trusted flag for the culture? East Flatbush rapper Fivio Foreign is making a case for the throne, propelled by his latest single “Trust.” No Fivio track is complete without adlibs, and “Trust” is filled with enough BOAW!’s and Grrt’s to satisfy even his biggest fans. The soft, melodic keys from AXL Beats contrast nicely with staccato bars. “Trust” is also a lead single from Fivio’s upcoming album, B.I.B.L.E., and the song’s music videos contains one of the last cameos from the late King Von.
“Thousand Pills” – Boldy James f. Stove God Cooks
“Fight The Power 2020 (Remix)” – Public Enemy
“The Parables” – Cordae
Cordae puts his lyrical skills firmly in the spotlight on “The Parables,” telling several tiny tales about some of his worst moments as he was starting to navigate his burgeoning career. From “doing robberies on Niken bikes” to the time he was “goin’ hard up in the paint,” the Atlantic Records artist gets candid about his bumpy road to success and admits he could’ve been just another statistic. “And Lord knows livin’ like this, it leads a short road/A dead end, or prison time, where we was headin’,” he raps with a sense of relief. By the end of the track, it’s clear Cordae has done a lot of living in his 23 short years on the planet, but his story is just beginning to unfold.
“Stay Down” – Lil Durk f. 6LACK & Young Thug
Lil Durk, 6LACK, Young Thug and Metro Boomin make for one hell of an all-star team. In a hectic 2020, it’s easy to overlook the incredible year had by Chicago’s Lil Durk. From his rock-solid Just Cause Y’all Waited 2, to features with Drake to smash hit singles such as “The Voice” and now “Stay Down,” Durk leveled up this year. But it was Atlanta’s 6LACK’s silky hook and verse on the track that stole the show. A closing verse from Thugger is the finishing touch on this truly enjoyable track.
“Mad At You” – King Von f. Dreezy
Along with being one of the game’s most vivid storytellers, King Von had a strong ability to portray his emotions through his music as he paints his experiences. On “Mad At You,” Von reflects on his journey alongside fellow Chicago native Dreezy, whose flow on the final verse takes the song to the next level. King Von was taken far too soon, tragically losing his life to gun violence in Atlanta on November 6.
“Black Renaissance” – Sa-Roc & Black Thought
Sa-Roc and Black Thought’s collaborative relationship began on a whim when The Roots frontman unexpectedly called her onstage for an impromptu freestyle during the A3C conference in 2011. After she wowed Thought and the audience with her acappella verse, the two reconnected on her Rhymesayers debut The Sharecropper’s Daughter. With lines such as, “Dear white people, I am not your negro/Yeah, black people, y’all just got your hero/All these rap demons I’m about to Deebo,” Thought proves once again what makes him a preeminent MC while Sa-Roc firmly establishes her ability to spit alongside the best of ’em.
“Many Men” – 21 Savage
One of the best tracks from Savage Mode II, “Many Men” is captivating from the moment Metro Boomin’s “Metrooooo!” tag rings out in the opening seconds, preceding a dark and lilting beat that drags perfectly, just behind tempo. 21’s verses are delivered in his signature cold tone, all while referencing 50 Cent’s classic “Many Men.” The slowly sang chorus is intoxicating and easily one of the best hooks 21 Savage has ever delivered.
“One Way Flight” – Benny The Butcher f. Freddie Gibbs
The Griselda Records capo and Gangsta Kane reconnect for their second collaborative track of the year “One Way Flight” from his Burden Of Proof album produced by Hit-Boy. Benny and Gibbs bring their cadre of clever one-liners and guns to the table per usual musing about Maybachs, luxury goods and everything that black market cash can buy over New York rap’s oft-used drums from the sampling standard “Impeach The President” and flowery R&B singing loop.
“Bryson” – NLE Choppa
“Look Over Your Shoulder” – Busta Rhymes f. Kendrick Lamar
As Busta Rhymes mentions on the intro to the song, it’s been a minute since fans have heard from him. That statement also applied to Kendrick Lamar, who’s featured on the song. On “Look Over Your Shoulders” K. Dot brings internal rhymes galore and the flow fans fell in love with in the early 2010s. In fact, the song was initially intended to be placed on Kendrick’s 2012 masterpiece good kid M.A.A.D city. Busta comes in over the soulful beat with a the second verse reminding fans why he’s one of the greatest to ever touch a mic. Oh, not to mention the track has an outro from Chris Rock.
“We Did It Big” – T.I. f. John Legend
On this song, T.I. reflects on his journey and pays an emotional tribute to his late friend. Although the song did spark some drama as he confirmed a rumor about his friend and Drake, that shouldn’t overshadow Tip’s storytelling. The veteran rapper sounds legitimately surprised at how far he’s come in his life and career and John Legend’s vocals only add to the power of the song.
“Early Bird Night Owl” – Elzhi
“Early Bird Night Owl” was one of the two songs that initially sparked Elzhi’s opus Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (the other being” Smoke and Mirrors”). They came about several years before the project after El stumbled onto Griselda-affiliated producer JR Swiftz via Instagram. Ultimately, the two ooze chemistry over this head-nodding single — as the Slum Village alumni shows why he remains one of the genre’s most underrated wordsmiths.
“My Window” – YoungBoy Never Broke Again f. Lil Wayne
YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s latest album Top may have been a bit overcrowded, but that shouldn’t diminish the value of “My Window,” his collaborative track with New Orleans legend Lil Wayne. YoungBoy is an expert in crafting a catchy hook and he doesn’t disappoint on “My Window.” When he’s not crooning, he’s sending metaphorical shots at his doubters. Wayne’s tongue-twisting verse adds the finishing touch.
“Baptize” – Spillage Village f. Ant Clemons
The all-star collective of Spillage Village came together for Spilligion, highlighted by “Baptize,” a playful track with accessible commentary on the state of the country. It’s a political track in nature but made more digestible thanks to the clever lyrics of rising lyricists Johnny Venus and J.I.D. The beat, produced by Christo and Spillage Village members Johnny Venus and Hollywood JB, rolls steadily beneath the rappers’ bars.
“Lucky Me” – Big Sean
Sean Don verbally jogs down memory lane to reflect on his life setbacks, including a revelation of overcoming heart condition he was diagnosed with at 19, on the aptly titled “Lucky Me” from his Billboard chart-topping album Detroit 2. His trademark laid back style with plentiful witty punchlines dazzles over the mellow piano-laden cut until he sprints his bars three-quarters through the track to match the intensified beat change.
“hooligan” – Baby Keem
Baby Keem continues to churn out colorful and fun rap music reminiscent of MadeInTYO but much more quotable and intricate. His latest track “hooligan” is another catchy banger that, under normal circumstances, would serve as an anthem for parties across the country. It’s a joyous two minutes and 37 seconds of escapism everyone could use right now.
“Still Alive” – Bobby Sessions f. Royce Da 5’9
Royce Da 5’9 dropping jaw-dropping verses is nothing new, but another rapper hanging with him on a song is increasingly rare. Bobby Sessions does just that on “Still Alive” though, proving his pen game is just as sharp as Nickel Nine’s while both men spit knowledge on the cut.
“Whole Lotta Choppas” – Sada Baby
What if early pop-rap such as Tag Team’s “Whoomp (There It Is)” and Young MC’s “Bust A Move” weren’t so cheesy and instead featured the grime of modern Hip Hop? Here comes Detroit’s Sada Baby to answer that question. “Whole Lotta Choppas” is a beautiful blending of the past and present of rap, with Sada dancing on the vintage beat tailor made for TikTok.
“Time’s Up (Remix)” – Sampa The Great f. Junglepussy
Sampa The Great injected new life into her song “Time’s Up,” which originally appeared on 2019’s excellent album The Return, by recruiting Junglepussy for a remix. Sampa crafted an entirely new verse to go with JP’s appearance on the updated version, which transforms the track into an anthem for Black women.
“The Voice” – Lil Durk
Lil Durk feels like he’s carrying the weight of his city on his shoulders. As one of the rising stars from the streets of Chicago, he bears the responsibility of living up to the hype he’s been building the past few years, while also staying true to his roots. On “The Voice,” Durkio reflects on coming of age alone and confesses to the struggles of dealing with the isolation of quarantine, as he tries to keep things together despite his inner pain.
“12 Problems” – Rapsody
“Own It” – Rico Nasty
Maryland’s Rico Nasty’s charisma and attitude can sell any track. She does it again with “Own It,” a song that blends her sugar trap roots with more traditional trap beats. Rico’s confident bars radiate as she pulls up to the club, rocking her brand-new crocs, knowing that everyone in the room wishes they could be her.
“10 Points” – Nas
Nas is like a village griot whose brief allegories on “10 Points” urges listeners to pursue greatness with humility and patience. It sounds like the adult version of his children-targeted single “I Can” from his sixth album God’s Son. The pulsating bass line, scintillating horns and chimes match the Queensbridge legend’s enlightening manifesto.
“Good Morning” – Black Thought f. Pusha T, Killer Mike is & Swizz Beatz
When it comes to posse cuts featuring the best MCs on the East Coast, Black Thought is the first name that will come up to deliver the hot sauce. “Good Morning” is for dyed-in-the-wool rap traditionalists as The Roots’ frontman takes a trip down Interstate 95 to stop in Virginia for Pusha T and Atlanta for Killer Mike to bless Swizz Beatz’s punchy tripled snare kicks, crunchy horns and towering sirens. It’s as if “Clones” got a 24-year update.
“Roots” – Aminé f. J.I.D & Charlie Wilson
Amine is proud of his flaws and even prouder of his heritage. “Roots” is a self-affirming proclamation in the face of all adversity. Amine’s drawling delivery ensures you won’t miss a single syllable while Charlie Wilson’s distant crooning adds rose-colored textures to this soulful gem.
“My Power” – Chika
Chika’s rise from viral Instagram rapper to Warner Music Group artist has been nothing short of astounding. After releasing the Industry Games EP in March, Chika was tapped to not only craft an original song for the Jamie Foxx-led Netflix film Project Power but also make her acting debut. “My Power” showcases her innate songwriting ability, soulful singing voice and bars on bars on bars.
“How It Go” – King Von
The failures of the prison system aren’t lost on Chicago’s King Von. As a Black man targeted by the law, Von knows the realities of incarceration and its complications, whether you’re convicted or released. On “How It Go,” Von showcases his elite and natural storytelling, hitting every emotional beat while detailing the mounting stressors that come when you have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to recapture the life you once had: or change your fortunes for the better.
“Car #85” – Nas
Whenever Nas puts anything out, it’s going to be heavily examined and scrutinized — after all, he’s one of Hip Hop’s greatest, right? But like Joe Budden, who felt 2018’s NASIR tainted Nas’ legacy, some people weren’t expecting much from King’s Disease but were pleasantly surprised, especially on songs such as “Car #85.” Featuring Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson, the track beckons Illmatic-era Nas and puts the exclamation point on his G.O.A.T. status.
“Honcho” – MC Eiht f. Conway The Machine & DJ Premier
West Coast gangsta rap pioneer MC Eiht was watching Griselda’s moves from afar and decided to reach out to the burgeoning East Coast rapper Conway The Machine to bring a little new school flavor to the DJ Premier joint “Honcho.” Boasting plenty of braggadocious bars, the track unites two different generations and shows what happens when they work together.
“Think of The Lox” – f. Westside Gunn
Despite Griselda not coming up in the city that never sleeps, the Buffalo collective’s sound obviously draws from late ’90s and early ’00s New York rap as a chief influence. So pairing Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher with the iconic New York Hip Hop trio The LOX makes sense. “Think Of The LOX” features the two powers combining to put on for the original golden age sound and do what New York does best — talk their shit.
“Wishing Well” – Juice Wrld
Juice Wrld’s tragic legacy is challenging to grapple with. His posthumous releases have continued to emphasize his troubles with addiction with “Wishing Well” serving as the latest heartbreaking window into his torment, featuring the most gut-wrenching line of 2020: “Let’s be for real/If it wasn’t for the pills, I wouldn’t be here/But if I keep taking these pills, I won’t be here.”
“May I” – Flo Milli
“The Adventures Of Moon Man & Slim Shady” – Kid Cudi f. Eminem
In an unexpected collaboration of Hip Hop greats, Mr. Rager tapped the real Slim Shady for Cudi’s first single since the Travis-assisted hit “The Scotts.” Em pulled inspiration from a variety of pop culture moments, including the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Drew Brees’ controversial comments. Cudi and Eminem are sonically different, but the two blend together exceptionally well for a shit-talking anthem.
“Thought Vs. Everybody” – Black Thought
On the powerful single “Thought vs. Everybody,” Black Thought personifies the rage and fire that burned in several of America’s major cities during the Black Lives Matter protests before and during this Summer of Discontent. In his calm yet incisive demeanor, The Roots co-founder parallels the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements of the 1960s and 70s to the present day plight of racism for his most political solo record to date.
“Bands In Da Basement” – 03 Greedo f. Chief Keef & Ron-RonTheProducer
One of 03 Greedo’s greatest strengths is his superior ability to show not tell, preferring to let audiences interpret the implications of what he’s expressing rather than spelling it out. His collaboration with Chief Keef “Bands In Da Basement” continues to showcase this talent, rapping about his preference for keeping money anywhere but the bank. The chorus and Greedo’s Auto-Tuned harmonies make for an irresistibly catchy track straight from the basement of the trap Greedo used to break down ounces in.
“Only You Freestyle” – Headie f. Drake
Drake released a handful of singles in the past month but none top his collaboration with North London rapper Headie One. Produced by M1OnTheBeat, the Drill-inspired track lays the foundation for four minutes of unbridled bars. Say what you will about the ethics and authenticity of Drake’s continual interest in British slang and cadence, the spitting heard on “Only You Freestyle” is the closest Hip Hop fans have seen of the mixtape-era 6 God in years.
“Lion King On Ice” – J. Cole
Hip Hop fans happily stepped into the Cole World after his single “Lion King On Ice” melted on their ear drums in hot-ass July. The track is co-produced by jetsonmade, T-Minus and J. Cole himself, consisting of subtle trap hi-hats and snares, an ethereal 45 RPM R&B vocal high note sample with Cole’s melodic tenor singing. It counterbalances his initial polarizing song “Snow on tha Bluff” released in June and makes fans get ready for a possible new outing from the rap legend of the fall season.
“Black Sheep” – Sheff G
“Soul Food II” – Logic
“Soul Food” sounded great the first time and its successor is a fitting sign-off to Logic’s career. He touches on the overconsumption of music and his full-circle journey, while using the beat switch to reference the extraterrestrial storyline from The Incredible True Story. The double time flows and frequent call backs are vintage Logic, allowing him to do what he does best one final time for his fiercely loyal fanbase.
“Song 33” – Noname
Although Noname later expressed regret for issuing this response to J. Cole’s perceived “tone deaf” single “Snow On Tha Bluff,” the Chicago rapper seized her moment and murdered the Madlib-produced beat while setting the Dreamville boss firmly in her crosshairs. With lines such as, “But niggas in the back quiet as a church mouse/Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out/I guess the ego hurt now,” she made it abundantly clear she can handle her own.
“City On Lock” – City Girls f. Lil Durk
“Make It Rain” – Pop Smoke f. Rowdy Rebel
Ahead of Pop Smoke’s highly anticipated first posthumous album, the late Brooklyn rapper’s estate released “Make It Rain,” featuring the currently incarcerated Rowdy Rebel. The lead single from the forthcoming album contains everything you’d want from a Pop Smoke track: deep growls, a thick underlying bass and that inimitable Flossy cadence.
“JU$T” – Run The Jewels f. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha
The collaborations between Run The Jewels and Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha have been some of the best parts of RTJ’s albums … and RTJ4 is no different. El-P and Killer Mike switched up the formula a bit for their latest team-up, recruiting Pharrell and de la Rocha for the standout cut “JU$T.” Having Pharrell join in the slamming of capitalism makes for an unexpected but pleasantly surprising wrinkle to the string of collabs from RTJ and RATM”s frontman.
“WELFARE” – RMR f. Westside Gunn
The masked singer proved that he’s worth the hype on his debut album DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART. The genre-bending album has whiffs of Pop and Country, all while remaining undeniably Hip Hop. “WELFARE” puts RMR toe-to-toe with Griselda’s Westside Gunn for a trap ballad. Gunn’s belligerent adlibs paired with RMR’s smooth, soulful vocals make this track one of 2020’s best.
“MOVIN’ DIFFERENT” – Wale f. McClenney
Between nationwide protests and coronavirus quarantines, there is no doubt that 2020 is unlike any other year in history. At such a unique time, there isn’t much music to capture the feeling, but Wale’s new EP The Imperfect Storm portrays the mood of so many living through this year. On “MOVIN’ DIFFERENT” Foloron tackles complex issues like the media’s portrayal of protests, riots, Los Angeles curfews, the militarization of police and not-so-sober quarantining.
“FTP” – YG
Once again, Compton-bred rapper YG has used his power for good. Instead of calling out Donald Trump like he did with 2016’s “FDT,” now he’s taking aim at corrupt police with “FTP (Fuck The Police).” Again, timing played an integral role in the unharnessed power of the track. With protests and riots breaking out across the globe in the name of George Floyd and racial equality, YG’s words resonate louder than ever, especially lines such as, “Murder after murder after all these years/Buy a strap, bust back after all these tears/Mommas cryin’, how they gon’ heal? (How they gon’?)/How you would feel?”
“GTA VI” – Drakeo The Ruler & JoogSzn
The gritty and violent tales from some of the most traumatized street rappers endlessly fascinate those who haven’t experienced that life. To these wannabe hustlers, selling drugs, dodging bullets and shooting Glocks would be “so lit, bro,” leaving them wishing they could live out their gangsta fantasies. What’s forgotten, as incarcerated L.A. rapper Drakeo The Ruler points out on “GTA VI,” is most don’t live that way because it’s fun: they do it to survive. Drakeo’s sobering cautionary tale of what happens when one treats life like it’s Grand Theft Auto haunts the listener long after the cracks of the GTL phone line fade out.
“Black 2“ – Buddy
“Skinny Suge” – Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
Given the way Freddie Gibbs has been Deebo’ing the rap game in 2020, it’s only right the bluesy yet cocky “Skinny Suge” is his new national anthem. Overtop The Alchemist’s stingray guitar loops, Gangsta Gibbs literally raps his way out of a paranoia-driven psychosis to emerge as Hip Hop’s top draw this year.
“Wishing For A Hero” – Polo G f. BJ The Chicago Kid
The climax of Polo G’s sophomore effort feels analogous to a song that precedes it by 22 years. “Wishing For A Hero” takes on the same tenor and piano loop that made Tupac’s “Changes” a resonating reminder of how much truly hasn’t changed even in the face of optimism. “Cops kill us and we protest, what type of shit is that?” Polo asks before settling underneath BJ The Chicago Kid’s own hymnals, “I’m from where we unheard but we can’t speak.” He may be referencing Chicago, but in America, he’s referring to millions of people who want basic decency and respect.
“Blue World” – Mac Miller
With the help of famed producer Jon Brion, Mac Miller’s family recently unlocked the late musician’s first posthumous album Circles, the sister album to 2018’s Swimming. “Blue World” is one of the more uptempo tracks on the 12-song effort and a staunch reminder of what the world lost when he passed away in September 2018 at the ripe age of 26.
“BALD! REMIX” – JPEGMAFIA f. Denzel Curry
JPEGMAFIA bolstered his already impressive cut “BALD!” by enlisting the help of Denzel Curry for the track’s remix. Peggy’s new version maintains the original production but replaces his second verse with an excellent effort from Zeltron. Curry fits seamlessly on the track, particularly while rapping on the sparse section of the beat featuring nothing but hand claps.
“Body Count” f. G Herbo & King Von – Mozzy
Over the past decade, Mozzy has become one of the best rappers at portraying the grim circumstances of street life. “Body Count” off his Beyond Bulletproof album is another example of his proficiency in this area as he displays on the hook and first verse. The West Coast MC gets assists from Chicago’s G Herbo and King Von, the latter of whom delivers one of his finest performances to date, proving he shouldn’t be stuck in the shadow of his OTF boss Lil Durk.
“Will (Remix)” – Joyner Lucas f. Will Smith
After releasing the music video for his single “Will,” which finds Joyner professing his admiration for Hip Hop legend Will Smith and comparing his own journey to Smith’s celebrated career, the man who inspired the song jumped on the remix. The Fresh Prince tells his story over the beat while shouting out all of the people who inspired him along the way, from Muhammad Ali to his wife Jada.
“H.A.R.D.” – Joell Ortiz & KXNG Crooked
The demise of Slaughterhouse was unfortunate for Hip Hop, but Joell Ortiz and KXNG Crooked reminded fans of why the supergroup was special with the release of their “H.A.R.D.” single. The two have always been elite lyricists yet what really makes The Heatmakerz-produced cut shine is Ortiz and Crook’s chemistry. These veteran MCs arguably compliment each other better as a duo than they did within the four-man lineup of Slaughterhouse with the track emphasizing their strengths. Still, both artists have great fondness for their days rapping alongside Royce Da 5’9 and Joe Budden and make sure that’s known on the single.
“Basquiat” – Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas
Mr. Lif and seasoned producer Stu Bangas — collectively known as Vangarde — pay tribute to Gang Starr with “Basquiat,” the duo’s second offering from their upcoming self-titled EP. The track weaves ’90s boom bap with Lif’s signature laid-back flow, a proper follow-up to the inaugural single, “The New Normal.”
“FYTB” – Key Glock
Have you ever spent the night up in the trap house? Key Glock has. He lives that life, no matter how successful he becomes. Glizock’s authenticity is one key to his rise; the other coming from how lively he makes his grim tales of detachment sound. “FYTB” isn’t ominous like many of his other cuts. The flex lines fire off like a Mac-11. He cops a Benz and Rolls truck: paid in cash, of course. And can make your girl faint just by walking into the room. This is Key Glock at his most boisterous without compromising himself. But this was all predestined — He was born to ball.
“And I Still” – Rod Wave
“Dangerookipawaa Freestyle” – Ab-Soul
A comeback in Hip Hop is never promised, even if you are prominent of the greatest group to never officially do it. Such is life for Ab-Soul, who hasn’t released a project since before Kendrick Lamar had everyone saying “damn.” All that changed on 4/20 as smokers baked their brains and Ab dropped “Dangerookipawaa Freestyle” as part of TDE Appreciation Week. The track begins sinister enough as Ab drops thunderous theorems over a wailing Charles Bradley sample but soon melts within its own lava with a beat switch whose barrage of horns can’t contend with Soulo’s lyrical barrage. He’s back.
“Leader Of The Delinquents” – Kid Cudi
Beginning the song off with his now infamous humming adlibs, Kid Cudi made a triumphant return in 2020 with a brand new single. The song sees the Cleveland-bred artist delving deep into his psyche while battling his inner demons. Cudder aptly dubs himself the “leader of the delinquents” on the track as he reminisces over past drug abuse and failed relationships. This was the first new song from Cudi since his Kanye West collab album Kids See Ghosts and as always, “Dat Kid From Cleveland” continued his streak of being vulnerable and honest within his music.
“Yah Yah” – Eminem
Eminem recruited some of the best to ever do it — Black Thought, Royce Da 5’9 and Q-Tip — for an epic posse cut that stands out as one of the shining moments of Slim Shady’s surprise album Music To Be Murdered By.
“George Bondo” – Westside Gunn
Westside Gunn’s “George Bondo” might just be the quintessential Griselda Records song. The Flygod, Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher rapping over a Daringer beat has proven to be a winning formula, and this Pray For Paris is damn near perfect. With no hook in sight, each MCs tries to outdo his predecessor with overpowering rhymes. The trio gets to bar out while referencing everything from pro wrestling and Patrick Kane to moving from drug deals to Roc Nation brunches.
“Pyro (leak 2019)” – Denzel Curry
Like much of Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ album, “Pyro (leak 2019)” leaves listeners wanting more due to its short runtime. Despite clocking in at less than two minutes, the track is filled with potent bars and stylistic flair. From altered vocals on a Mario reference and hitting high notes like ODB to witty wordplay about Goodie Mob and Malcolm X, Curry packs a heavy punch on the lone verse of “Pyro (leak 2019).”
“The Blinding” – Jay Electronica f. JAY-Z, Travis Scott & The-Dream
Jay Electronica and JAY-Z perfectly complement each other on A Written Testimony, particularly on the Travis Scott-assisted “The Blinding.” Both rappers come out swinging, starting the song off with spiritually laced bars over a hard-hitting instrumental. But when the beat switches midway through the track, Jay Elec displays true vulnerability and laments his fear of criticism. It’s a revealing moment that sheds light on why fans waited so long to hear his debut album.
“Carefree” – Mick Jenkins
Mick Jenkins has the ability to sound completely laid back on a beat while still making sure he’s concise with his lyrics. “Carefree” delivers a catchy hook, clever bars and a smooth instrumental.
“They Got Sonny” – Conway & Alchemist f. Cormega
Conway The Machine and Alchemist make for a deadly combination as proven throughout their LULU EP. But their formula was made even more potent with the addition of Cormega, who helped the duo craft a street rap gem in “They Got Sonny.” Conway’s verbal smack to the face and Mega’s equally hard-hitting bars are right at home on ALC’s brooding beat. Hopefully, this is just the first of many more songs from this trio.
Check out HipHopDX’s Best Hip Hop Songs of 2020 playlist.
Contributing writers: Trent Clark, Kyle Eustice, Dana Scott, David Aaron Brake, Devon Jefferson, Jeremy Hecht, Josh Svetz, Justin Ivey, Kenan Draughorne, Michael Saponara and Riley Wallace.