(Reminder: this is based on what I like to call the “body of work,” meaning I take everything from quality of the music as a whole, storytelling, message, cohesion, production, rap skills, lyricism, streaming performance, chart performance, etc. into account.)
10. Man On the Moon III: The Chosen - Kid Cudi
The hums are melodic, the beats are booming and the messages embedded in most of the songs are deep. As a whole, the album doesn’t really follow the 4-act structure like its tracklist suggests, but the journey is a fun ride with important themes regarding mental health. My favorites on this album include “Tequila Shots,” “Damaged,” “Sad People” and “The Void.” Now I’ve got to go back and listen to Man On the Moon: The End of Day and Man On the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager.
9. Alfredo - Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
8. Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God - Busta Rhymes
My only beefs include the lack of cohesive story and the length. The album was set up to follow this dark apocalyptic story on the intro, and while it had those kinds of vibes throughout, it didn’t fully capitalize on the story in the end. I know not every album is meant to be a full story, but this one felt like it should’ve landed the plane—maybe provided some hope for the future. The final track had a hint of that but didn’t fully make the arc from the dark intro. It’s also a really long album: an hour and 18 minutes in total, and with 2020 being the year of the deluxe version, Busta put out a reloaded version of ELE 2 with a 2014 track featuring Eminem and another deluxe version with a “Czar” remix and a posse cut with Flipmode Squad, Rampage, Rah Digga and Spliff Star. He had a lot of content building up since 2009, but with a grand total of one hour and 52 minutes, that’s a large pill to swallow in one sitting. But I can deal. ELE 2 was a dope comeback for the OG Busta Rhymes. Respect!
7. A Written Testimony - Jay Electronica
Short and sweet in 39 minutes over 10 tracks, A Written Testimony does a little bit of everything. “The Blinding” with Travis Scott ad-libs makes you bob your head for the entire duration, “Shiny Suit Theory” featuring The-Dream, which is the most digestible track in my opinion, proves Jay Elect’s lyricism, “Flux Capacitor” gives off a fun, TikTok-feel to appeal to the younger generation and “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and “A.P.I.D.T.A” both put you right in your feelings. The whole album has a simplistic feel to it. The beats aren’t overbearing. The sound almost feels unmastered, but I also think that’s what makes this album so unique. Jay Z truly gets better with every verse he puts out and is quickly climbing up the ranks in the greatest-of-all-time conversation. My only beef is that Hov maybe overshined Jay Electronica on this album, but nonetheless, A Written Testimony was a beautiful album that grows on you.
6. Detroit 2 - Big Sean
With that being said, the highs on Detroit 2 are very high and meaningful, but the lows are average and forgettable. I really enjoyed this album, but I do think it was a little bloated. Songs like “ZTFO,” “Respect It,” “Lithuania” and “The Baddest” probably could’ve been left off and it wouldn’t have hurt my feelings. Overall, the production on this album is fantastic, the lyricism is top-notch, the features are dope and the stories give the project its flavor and serve as a continuation from the original mixtape.
5. Angelic Hoodrat - Kenny Mason
There always seems to be an up-and-coming hip-hop artist who manages to put out a solid album that holds my attention for the whole year. Angelic Hoodrat by Kenny Mason certainly does just that. This project does a beautiful job of painting a picture of Kenny Mason’s life, showcasing his rapping and singing abilities, incorporating elements of rock and maintaining a consistent theme. The production is an insanely unique mixture of fierce, smooth and simplistic too. My favorites include “Chevron,” “30,” “Metal Wings” and “Anti-Gravity.” Kenny Mason proved with this project that he’s a talent that will soon become a staple in hip-hop if he continues on this trajectory, so don’t sleep!
4. The Allegory - Royce Da 5'9"
One of my complaints about Royce’s last album Book Of Ryan was the open-endedness of it. With The Allegory, Royce lands the plane. He lays out all these very deep, tough topics, almost as if he’s speaking to the next generation like a father to his child. Royce has been vocal about his father and his flaws on previous songs but also calls him his hero. I think Royce’s message on this album is him speaking to the next generation about America and how to survive the way Royce’s dad taught him. It’s a glorious full circle of an album.
3. Run the Jewels 4 - Run the Jewels
Killer Mike is one of the greatest rappers of all-time—definitely on my top-50 list—and El-P’s production and underrated rap abilities mesh together perfectly with his partner. Their chemistry always comes through on these albums and RTJ4 is no different. This is my favorite album in the Run the Jewels series. I just hope they keep banging these awesome albums out.
2. No Pressure - Logic
But I’m so happy he got back to his roots with No Pressure—the sequel to his debut Under Pressure. I could feel Logic’s happiness on this album. Maybe because he announced his retirement from hip-hop with this album and he truly doesn’t feel any pressure. This felt like Logic’s victory lap because we got a little bit of everything on No Pressure: the storytelling and Thalia from Under Pressure, the finale of Thomas and Kai’s adventure laid out on The Incredible True Story and the trap vibes from the Bobby Tarantino tapes on “Perfect.” But if we’re being honest, this album really felt like Logic’s apex mountain Under Pressure because of the return of No I.D. as executive producer, the insane samples like “Elevators (Me & You)” by Outkast on “GP4” and “SpottieOttieDopalisicous” by Outkast on “man i is” and the fact Logic was actually rapping his ass off again. This album just felt like the worthy predecessor to Under Pressure, which, in my opinion, is Logic at his best.
1. Circles - Mac Miller
This really isn’t a hip-hop album. It’s just a beautiful body of work by an artist who was taken far too soon. The songs “Circles” and “Good News” got me through a lot this year, “Complicated” and “Blue World” are fun, “I Can See,” “Hand Me Downs,” “That’s On Me,” “Hands” and “Once a Day” are other personal favorites and “Surf” capped off the cohesive message I believe Mac was trying to get across: you may feel like you’re drowning or treading water, but everything is going to be alright. (I realize I listed almost every song, but I sincerely love this whole album.) With “Surf” being the final track on Swimming in Circles as a whole, I think Mac was saying his head was finally above water, and he was truly happy—a truly sad and amazing paradox. I miss Mac like I knew him personally. His music will transcend time and live forever. I’m happy Circles found its light.