Trey Alessio and Brandon Ogden are back for the annual OG R | U | NTRTND year-end podcast. They boys rank their top-10 songs, albums, TV shows, movies, sports moments and everything in between from 2020. Check out the lists, and debate us!
By Trey Alessio
Like many others, 2020 has been a terrible year for me. It's been a year of social unrest and political divisiveness mixed in with a global pandemic and the everyday stress that comes with life. But even on the darkest of days, I had hip-hop to cope with these crazy times we're all living through, and for that, I'm thankful. Here’s this year’s top-10 list for hip-hop albums.
(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
Kid Cudi made fans wait 10 years for the third installment of the Man On the Moon series, and it lived up to the hype. But I must admit: I’m not the biggest Kid Cudi fan in the world. I know he has a cult-following, and unfortunately, I’m just not a part of it. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I pressed play on Man On the Moon III.
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
Freddie Gibbs teamed up with producer The Alchemist for another album full of coke raps and bars. While I don’t think Alfredo is as good as his previous effort Bandana, Freddie Gibbs still does his thing over The Alchemist’s fierce production. Freddie has proven time and time-again that his lyricism and flow is up there with the best of them in today’s lineup of rappers. In my opinion, the highlight of this album is “Something to Rap About” with the help of Tyler, The Creator where they both skate over the smooth instrumental. Alfredo was also nominated at the upcoming GRAMMYs for Rap Album of the Year, so we’ll see if Freddie Gibbs takes home the award and finally gets the credit he deserves.
8. Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God - Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes came back with a vengeance. ELE 2 is Busta’s first album since 2009 and follows the first ELE, which released in 1998. This is a big deal—an event, really. I assume Busta thought the world might come to an end around 1998 with the whole, weird Y2K thing, and now in 2020, it actually feels like the apocalypse. So, Busta Rhymes provided us with a collection of songs that can best be described as a mixture of nostalgic samples, meaningful lyrics, crisp production, epic features and fun bars. This man Busta got Rakim, Pete Rock, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), Q-Tip, Rick Ross, Anderson .Paak, Rapsody, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and more on this album. Oh, and I couldn’t forget one of the best verses I’ve heard this year. Kendrick Lamar absolutely stopped the entire show on “Look Over Your Shoulder.” I hope that’s a preview of what we might get on an upcoming Kendrick Lamar album because it was beautiful. Busta also got Chris Rock to narrate the entire album, which was super fun. Like I said, ELE 2 feels like an event, something that only comes out on rare occasions.
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
Jay Electronica emerged from the cave he’s been hiding in and finally put out his debut album, but he used a cheat-code. A Written Testimony is essentially a joint album with Jay Z, but I can’t fault Jay Elect because who wouldn’t want to team up with Hov for their first real project. This album gives us a peek into black, Muslim culture, which is super cool because it’s not something I know a lot about.
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
My favorite thing about Big Sean is how he sprinkles in moments of inspiration on every album, and Detroit 2 is no different. This follow-up to the original mixtape marks Big Sean’s first album since 2017’s disappointing joint project with Metro Boomin Double Or Nothing. If you’re a fan of Sean Don, you know he puts on for his city. The original mixtape showed that, and Detroit 2 definitely follows suit with the different stories, this time told by Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder, as well as the different sounds throughout the album. There’s definitely an element of Motown soul on this project. In my opinion, the soul of this album comes on the songs “Everything That’s Missing” and “Guard Your Heart.” I can’t remember a song that spoke to me as much as “Everything That’s Missing” has this year. It’s definitely something I needed to hear. When Sean has something to say, he does it almost flawlessly. As his dad said in the middle of “FEED,” “people are hungry for something that really means something,” and I sincerely think that’s true, especially in hip-hop. The most popular songs that top the charts mostly flaunt about designer clothes, fancy cars, icy chains, money, girls, etc., but the songs and albums that stand out and move the dial are the ones with a message, in my opinion.
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
I remember getting a text from my cousin about a song called “Hit” by Kenny Mason. I listened and thought it was a fun jam but didn’t think much more of it at the time. Then, I saw multiple hip-hop publications talking about a new album called Angelic Hoodrat earlier this year. I decided to press play and absolutely loved what I heard. It wasn’t until later I put two-and-two together that this was the same artist my cousin put me on to earlier.
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"
Royce Da 5’9” always puts out really good music, but The Allegory is special. It starts out with a deep intro of a father bluntly talking to his son about America and how to survive as a black male in this flawed country. The track seamlessly transitions into Royce bluntly rapping about a lot of the same topics. The definition of allegory is “a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.” I believe there’s a hidden message or theme on this album. It begins with the father talking to his son about things you probably wouldn’t normally hear a dad tell a kid. Royce then dives into a lot of deep racial, political, social topics. Some of them are about America, others are about the hip-hop industry. In the middle of the album, we hear the father come back to test his daughter about different types of guns and ammo in a very survivalist type of way. We also hear them talking about very similar political topics to the opening track. The album then ends with Royce rapping about his father on the song “Hero.”
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 and El-P (Run the Jewels) always do their thing. These albums are always fun—usually laced with banging beats, witty but meaningful lyrics and dope features. But Run The Jewels 4 hits different. Maybe it’s because America was on the verge of a meltdown this summer, and we were all hurting and yearning for the soundtrack to help us cope. RTJ4 was the closest hip-hop album we got to a response to the chaos that was 2020. Songs like “Yankee and the Brave (ep. 4),” “Walking In the Snow” and “JU$T” became anthems for me this year and really showcased Run The Jewels’ voice and overall message. The replay value of this album is another reason it ranks so high on my list.
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
As you all know, I’m a huge Logic fan—a stout member of the Ratt Pack. But I wasn’t impressed with Confessions Of a Dangerous Mind. If I’m being completely honest, I think Logic was becoming something he made fun of in previous songs. On the track “I Am the Greatest” from The Incredible True Story, Logic raps “You fuck bitches and get money, that’s what’s up. It’s all good, but these people do not give a fuck.” To me, that line translated similarly to what I talked about on Big Sean’s song “FEED” when his dad spoke about the people starving after getting “so much bullshit.” Again, we (well, maybe it’s only me) don’t care about rappers flaunting about designer clothes, fancy cars, icy chains, money, girls, etc. There’s a time and place for everything, but content that moves the dial has meaning. Logic got away from that for a little bit.
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
The best album of 2020 (and really one of very few highlights from this year) came as an amazing surprise in January. Mac Miller released his posthumous album Circles, which was intended to be a complimentary album to his previous effort Swimming—combined to be Swimming in Circles. Circles follows the same cohesive sound as Swimming, which includes soulful singing, breathtaking instrumentation, gorgeous production, thought-provoking lyrics and sprinkled-in raps.
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.
King's Disease - Nas
King's Disease by Nas felt like a breath of fresh air for the all-time lyricist. His storytelling and bars have always been great, which is no different on this album, but it feels like a weight of some sort was lifted off Nas' shoulders with this project. King's Disease maintains those classic Nas tropes of lyricism and wordplay but also adds an element of fun with tracks like "Spicy" and "Car #85." As always, Nas reps New York heavily on this album and puts on for the black community. It's incredible to see Nas' longevity in the rap game, and it's apparent he's one of the greats on King's Disease.
Limbo - Aminé
Aminé wanted to prove to the world that he could rap with the best of them with Limbo, and he definitely made his point. This album is fun, easy to listen to and stacked with amazing features from JID, Young Thug, Vince Staples, Summer Walker and more. My favorites include "Burden," "Roots," "Shimmy," "Riri" and "Fetus." Aminé is absolutely more than just the "Caroline" guy and should be treated in the rap game as such.
Everything - Kota the Friend
Everything by Kota the Friend is just a solid, feel-good album. It gives you a little bit of everything: the summer vibes, the smooth instrumentals, the highlight-reel features from Joey Bada$$ and Bas and the fun interludes from Lupita Nyong'o and Lakeith Stanfield. The reason this album didn't make the cut for me was how the theme didn't quite come together in the end. The thesis question for this album seemed to ask the question, "What is your 'everything?'" or "What means everything to you?" We get little pieces of that on the album, but Kota never fulls drives the nail in the coffin. Everything is still a fun, solid album though.
Only For Dolphins - Action Bronson
Only For Dolphins by Action Bronson might be the most fun I had listening to an album all year. I can't tell if Bronson is satirical, lyrical or just does whatever his heart desires, but either way, this album is dope. The instrumentation on each song is nearly flawless, the bars are on-point and the length is short and sweet. The overall product is a mix-bag of pop culture references, food bars and mafioso lyrics (basically Bronson is my spirit animal). Don't sleep on Action Bronson because he's an author, singer, dancer, exotic olive oil taster and actor as he mentions on "C12H16N2." My favorite cuts include "Capoeira," "Latin Grammys," "Vega" and "Marcus Aurelius." Also, am I a dolphin because I love this album?
Survival Kit - Goodie Mob
I'll be honest, I had never listened to a full Goodie Mob album before Survival Kit, but I was sincerely glad I decided to press play. CeeLo Green, Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo showed out and gave us late 90s/early 2000s vibes with this project. Survival Kit consists of a perfect balance of fun tracks and deeper songs with substance. When I also saw the tracklist for this album and saw André 3000 and Big Boi as features (albeit on different songs), it gave me a glimmer of hope for a new Outkast album. My favorites include "No Cigar," "Prey 4 Da Sheep," 4 My Ppl" and "Amazing Grays." CeeLo shined on this project, in my opinion. This album is definitely worth adding to your playlist.
Burden Of Proof - Benny the Butcher
Griselda dominated 2020 in terms of volume. Benny the Butcher's Burden Of Proof was the best out the group's albums that dropped this year, in my opinion. Benny brings that grit we know and love from Griselda but also brings the potent lyricism as well as a smoother side on songs like "Thank God I Made It." Coke raps, trappin' and Benny's come-up is the full embodiment of Burden Of Proof. Benny also dubbed an all-star cast of features for this album. Rick Ross, Freddie Gibbs, Lil Wayne, Big Sean and more all make appearances. If you haven't heard of Griselda or Benny the Butcher, I suggest you hop on Google and do some research because this group is here to stay.
Spilligion - Spillage Village
If you're new to the program, Spillage Village consists of Earthgang, JID, Jurdan Bryant, 6lack, Mereba, Hollywood JB and Benji—a supergroup from Atlanta. They teamed up to provide us with some beautiful music to make our souls smile. Spilligion is gorgeous all-around from the raps to the vocals to the production to the message throughout. The biggest takeaway from this album was how much JID has gotten better with every verse he spits. The dude is going to be an absolute super-star in the rap game—mark my word. I hope this ATL powerhouse sticks together because they make amazing music together.
BETTER - Deanté Hitchcock
Deanté Hitchcock is an artist I discovered from the Dreamville album Revenge Of the Dreamers III from 2019. His verse on "PTSD" was a standout, in my opinion, so I started following Deanté a little closer. When he dropped BETTER, I was excited to press play. This album sets up a solid foundation for Deanté's bright future as a rapper. It doesn't really have a cohesive theme, but it does provide a dope collection of jams. "Flashbacks" is by far my favorite song on the album. My one beef with BETTER would be how it kind of gets lost in wanting to do too much of everything. It has the storytelling track, the trap banger, the intended radio hit, etc. I think a debut album like this could've benefited from telling a cohesive story. But Deanté Hitchcock is definitely a name to remember, and BETTER is solid.
Pray For Paris - Westside Gunn
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!! Another Griselda project, but this time from Westside Gunn. This album is full of coke raps and trapanomics. My clear-cut favorite song off Pray For Paris is "327" with Tyler, The Creator, Joey Bada$$ and Billie Essco. This is just a fun album that simply goes hard. Westside Gunn stays in his lane, goes hard—as does Griselda, in general—and displays his easily digestible bars mixed in with his awesome ad-libs.
The GOAT - Polo G
If you know me, you know I'm not a huge fan of trap rap, which a lot of the new-wave rappers fall into the category of these days. My cousin hounded me to listen to Polo G's album The GOAT, and I was impressed. It still has that trap flavor, but also shows glimpses of lyricism and substance, so I wanted to give this album its recognition. My favorite parts of The GOAT include the song "Martin & Gina" and how Polo G flipped 2Pac's "Changes" on the song "Wishing For A Hero." This album was fun and showed signs of promise. I'll keep my eye on Polo G.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know!
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