As 2020 hits its halfway mark, Western civilization as we know it looks to be imploding and Covid-19 has made of all us paranoid husks that have probably picked up on a bit too many overly-indulgent habits. Which is why I’m here to self-indulge and write about the albums I’ve loved from 2020 so far.
Streaming links to each album are linked in the titles.
15. 070 Shake – Modus Vivendi
Genre: Rap, R&B
070 Shake was BY FAR my favorite part of Kanye‘s 2018 “Ghost Town” as her passionate belting nearly forced a tear out of me. Her melodic rap style reminded me heavily Kid Cudi’s, and on Modus Vivendi the similarities are much more apparent. The raw emotiveness in her performances, fondness for repetition and preference for spacey beats paints the album as a great, unofficial spiritual successor to Cudi’s Man On The Moon series.
14. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music
Genre: Indie, Jazz
I was never a huge fan of Tom Misch’s prior work, often finding his slower material too low key for my liking. Fortunately on his collaborative effort with UK drummer extraordinaire Yussef Dayes, none of my prior reservations with Misch’s music are present. Instead, What Kinda Music blew me away with its thumping grooves and “hip jazz club” energy, largely in part due to Dayes’ deliciously irresistible drumming. Still, summing up how I feel about the whole record in three words: “It’s a vibe”.
13. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Genre: Pop, Electronic
The most high profile quarantine-made album to come out of the pandemic, Charli XCX’s followup to 2019’s brilliant Charli is light on lyrical depth but more than makes up for it with abrasively accessible production, with help from A.G. Cook and BJ Burton. Recorded over 6 weeks, how i’m feeling now feels intimate and at times claustrophobic due to its stripped back production and performances. Perfectly contrasting the isolation of quarantine, the album has the cathartic release of a great night out that’s designed to be enjoyed from the comfort of our rooms.
12. Knxwledge – 1988
Genre: Instrumental Hip-Hop
In certain circles, Knxwledge is considered to be one of the best underground hip-hop producers of all time. With an expansive and every-growing discography, the sheer amount of projects he’s dropped over the past decade has always intimidated me. So enter his 2nd studio album 1988, which serves as a perfect entry point to his career. Beautifully chopping up soul samples, Knxwledge brushes away any doubts of me hopping for a rapper to hop on these songs. Each track standing strong as its own body of work, 1988 is proof that a producer’s voice can be just as powerful as any rapper’s.
11. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
I remember first hearing about Freddie Gibbs during his beef with Jeezy in 2014. Being the ignorant 17 year old that I was, I thought Freddie was just trying to ride Jeezy’s coattails to mainstream rap stardom. Little did I know that 6 years later, he’d drop an immaculate record with legendary producer Alchemist and wind up as a legitimate contender as one of the greatest rappers of all time. As Alchemist lays down production that would make the hardest of mob bosses swoon, Freddie Gibbs takes a victory lap with consecutive rap performances that each sound more effortless than the last. A true masterclass of a rapper.
10. Bruno Major – To Let A Good Thing Die
Bruno Major’s 2017 debut was a sleepy affair that had a couple highlights but failed to really hold my attention. To Let A Good Thing Die, on the other hand, catches me off-guard from its opening track and never lets up over the course of its 10 songs. The album still sounds stripped back but not skeletal like A Song For Every Moon was. With R&B and jazz influences sprinkled here and there, Bruno shines alongside the expressive production which gives the album a personality that supplements his subdued singing performances.
9. Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris
Westside Gunn (and Griselda as a collective) has seen an astronomical rise in hip-hop largely thanks to the group’s tirelessly consistent work ethic. Pray for Paris is Gunn’s first project of 2020 coming off his 5 album run last year, which makes Paris that much more impressive given how all that work hasn’t seemed to slow Gunn down one bit as its arguably the best album of his career so far. Touching on his usual topics of excess and luxury brands, the album’s luxurious production sets itself apart from the rest of Gunn’s discography, as the record feels like a culmination of every strength that he’s shown throughout his career.
8. iri – Sparkle
Genre: Pop, Dance
I haven’t been listening to as much Japanese music as I’d hoped to this year, but I’m glad I was able at least experience iri’s Sparkle. Her 2019 album Shade was a unique blend of hip-hop, electronic and pop that showcased the variety in her sound. Sparkle then forsakes diversity in favor of a singular sound that’s heavily inspired by 80s and 90s dance pop. There’s dashes of city pop influence as well, but the album is a largely carefree affair that sees iri crafting a joyous soundtrack for a bright, cool summer day.
7. Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Genre: R&B, Jazz
Thundercat’s eccentric personality is only matched by his balls-to-the-wall bass playing that saw him gaining due credit after his showstopping turns on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead and his last LP Drunk. Given that Flying Lotus serves as the executive producer of this record, it’s no surprise that It Is What It Is features some of the most densely layered solo material in Thundercat’s discography. Each element comes together to create an album that is bursting with ecstasy and life (despite its lyrical content suggesting otherwise).
6. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Killer Mike’s verse on “Walking in the Snow” is so on-the-nose that you could have mistaken him for writing it hours after George Floyd’s murder. Learning that it was actually written a year ago based on Eric Garner instead makes it all the more harrowing. RTJ4 finds Killer Mike and El-P doing what they do best, rapping their asses over thumping rock-rap beats while aiming their sights at a system that has failed its people time and time again. If any album can be representative of the collective anger and frustration in America (and much of Western civilization) right now, it’s RTJ4.
5. R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages
Genre: Jazz Rap
R.A.P Ferreira has gone by many stage names, with my first introduction to him being 2017’s Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! under his Milo moniker. There was a gentle charm in Ferreira’s rapping that hooked me, and on Purple Moonlight Pages that gentleness is ever-present in every facet of the record. From the obscure references that go over my head, to the awkward yet endearing singing on multiple tracks, to the luscious production backed by The Jefferson Park Boys; the album has seeped its way into my life and transformed itself into a place of comfort.
4. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
80s nostalgia is a prevalent trend in 2020 pop music, with recent releases from Carly Rae Jepsen and Lady Gaga ensuring the trend will likely continue into the near future. However, Future Nostalgia doesn’t solely bank on…well, nostalgia. Mixed in with the familiar dance tune sounds of that decade, Dua Lipa weaves in contemporary pop trends create an album that accurately reflects the title that its named after. I’ve never been to a disco club (I don’t even know if they still exist), but if I were to end up in one in the any time soon, I’d imagine it’d sound like Future Nostalgia.
3. The Weeknd – After Hours
With every album since 2011’s House of Balloons, the moody R&B that used to define The Weeknd’s work slowly transformed into glitzy pop tunes that served as the perfect platform for his once-in-a-generation voice. On After Hours, he comes full circle and fuses these seemingly unrelated genres into a record that couldn’t have been pulled off by anyone else but The Weeknd. Watching “Blinding Lights” and “After Hours” duke it out as the best song on a tracklist more stacked than most artists’ career highlights, only further proves how intricately crafted After Hours is as a culmination of Weeknd’s entire discography thus far.
2. Mac Miller – Circles
Genre: Rap, R&B
Would I have loved Circles as much as I do if Mac hadn’t passed away? Probably not, but adding context to each of our listening experiences is what breathes life into the music we listen to. I have my grievances with the album: Mac’s singing isn’t the best, songs like “I Can See” and “Woods” sound too barebones to leave a lasting impression, and a couple more if I had to nitpick; but these issues mean little when faced with the gravity of Circles‘ lyrical themes and content. This album breaks my heart and no matter what faults I may have with it, Mac Miller’s final statement on his mortality and life is a powerful message that transcends tangible criticism.
1. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
In my review of SAWAYAMA, I called the album “ambitious and manages to nearly perfectly nail its tightrope balancing act” as Rina juggles between her pop, nu-metal and pop punk influences, which does leave it feeling slightly all over the place. However, what keeps the album cohesive (and also what keeps me coming back to the album, time and time again) is Rina’s excellent songwriting.
Exploring moments in her life that brought her to where she is today, from her family to racial discrimination to rekindled friendships, I’ve identified with this album more than any other of the past 5 years. SAWAYAMA feels like an album that’s representative of the Asian culture in the West; weaving in-and-out of more popular cultures and embracing elements that we gravitate to, all while trying to figure out an identity of our own.