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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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