Hip-hop, you really outdid yourself this year. Rappers used the time spent in isolation to write and record such a wide variety of work that the debates over what to include in this year’s Best Of list turned downright contentious. In the end, though, the 30 albums here are the ones we feel best represented that variety. While the genre has pushed its boundaries outward each year, within those boundaries, the rules have changed. Once disparate subgenres now intermingle and coincide, feeding off one another and inspiring entirely new interpretations of each.
Sure, more rappers than ever are using that slurry, melodic trap delivery, but have you ever noticed how astute their observations are or how clever their wordplay is? Traditionalist rappers have — and they’ve upped the ante by borrowing the sticky 808s from their Southern peers, proving that even the most staccato, sharp-edged flows have a place alongside the more fluid cadences that dominate playlists. The samples in the beats got weirder, the drums sometimes disappeared altogether, and one guy even brought his disco ball and roller skates to the party.
Hip-hop is more diverse, strange, poignant, and self-aware than ever. This year taught us a lot about ourselves, not just who we are but who want to and could be. That applies to the music that was made as well; here are the best examples of that principle as exercised through the most powerful genre in the world.
30. Young Dolph – Rich Slave
Young Dolph has mastered his brand of trap music like few others. That skill permeates Rich Slave, his first album in three years. He’s the boss of his domain on “To Be Honest,” and “RNB” with Megan Thee Stallion. But as the title suggests, he knows that racists view him as anything but, as he reflects on “The Land.” The Rich Slave dichotomy could have been deeper explored, but he’s so good at braggadocio we understand why he didn’t.–Andre Gee
29. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II
21 Savage was missed from the hip-hop game for nearly two years, dating back to the rapper’s 2018 album I Am > I Was. The Atlanta native made his return in 2020 with the same man that helped introduce him to the world: Metro Boomin. The two reunited for Savage Mode II in what was a cinematic affair that showed 21’s raw and unfiltered world in such a thrilling manner thanks to the booming narration from none other than Morgan Freeman.–Wongo Okon
28. Duckwrth – SuperGood
In the late stages of the blog era, LA rapper Duckwrth emerged as an exciting and promising genre bender, dropping the acclaimed Nowhere mixtape with The KickDrums. Unfortunately, the energy from that early wave had already begun to dissipate, leaving him stuck in a limbo between engaging and overlooked. Then, however, the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack came along, reinvigorating interest in his unique take on hip-hop mixed with punk and other subcultures’ aesthetics. For his deferred grand arrival, he settles into a disco-themed, dancefloor friendly blend of rap, R&B, and EDM. You can practically see the mirrorball glittering as bops like “”Quick“” and “”Coming Closer“” transport you to a euphoric dance fantasyland with Duckwrth as the ever-affable host.–Aaron Williams
27. Benny The Butcher — Burden Of Proof
Benny The Butcher paid homage to a classic era of East Coast rap on Burden Of Proof. Griselda is known for loops that are alternately warm, sinister, and warped — but Benny tasked Hit-Boy to get to choppin’ on tracks like “Where Would I Go” and “Trade It All.” For his part, Benny isn’t lost in the nostalgia. He tells his story and holds his own with Freddie Gibbs on “One Way Flight” and Lil Wayne and Big Sean on “Timeless.”–A.G.
26. G Herbo — PTSD
G-Herbo’s PTSD album art is one of the most jarring things many of us will ever see. He’s holding a flag containing over 50 deceased friends, including Juice WRLD, who appeared on the eponymous track with Chance The Rapper and Lil Uzi Vert. All four are distinct artists but are bonded by proximity to a traumatic environment that Herbo deftly delves into on “Feelings,” “Death Row,” and “Gangsta’s Cry” with BJ The Chicago Kid.–A.G.
25. Boldy James & The Alchemist — The Price Of Tea In China
Despite originally breaking out in the early blog era and seemingly fading away since, Detroit rapper Boldy James found a second life in 2020 as an affiliate of Griselda Records. In fact, Griselda’s onslaught revitalized and brought new fans to the audience of one of James’ oldest and most prolific collaborators, The Alchemist, with whom he’d crafted his 2013 Mass Appeal debut My 1st Chemistry Set. Reuniting under the banner of Alan’s new label, James and Alchemist get right back to business, cutting together druggy gems like nary a day had passed. With the inclusion of bubbling collaborators like Benny The Butcher, Freddie Gibbs, and Vince Staples, Boldy is finally getting the recognition he’s long deserved.–A.W.
24. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — Alfredo
More than most artists, Freddie Gibbs is a testament to doing you and winning. There’s no confusion about what you’re gonna get from a Gibbs record or project, and his purist fanbase loves him for it. Enter Alfredo, another Alchemist collaboration where Gangsta Gibbs tears through a 10-pack of warm, minimalist tracks geared to let his melodic flow shine on tracks like “God Is Perfect,” and “Scottie Beam” with Rick Ross.–A.G.
23. Rod Wave — Pray 4 Love
It would have been easy for St. Petersburg, Florida sing-rapper Rod Wave to coast on the success of his 2019 debut Ghetto Gospel. After all, that album was stellar; it earned him a spot in the 2020 XXL Freshman Class and generated a massive groundswell of goodwill for his traumatized street anthems. Instead, he doubled down and proved he could maintain his consistency with Pray 4 Love. Songs like “F*ck The World” and “Rags2Riches” detail his brokenhearted world view, tugging on heartstrings and pulling back the curtain on the emotional interior life of a trap veteran.–A.W.
22. Big Sean — Detroit 2
It was only right for Big Sean to return to one of his fan favorite mixtapes for inspiration for his long-awaited comeback album. He’d only been gone for two years since I Decided but it felt like longer; between the pandemic and watching so many of Sean’s peers turn in the polished, mature works we’d sought from them since the blog era, fans couldn’t help feeling like there was 5’8″ hole in the rap game. Fortunately, he returned in prime form on Detroit 2, bearing a fresh vulnerability on “Harder Than My Demons” and “Body Language” and rhyming like a man possessed on “Friday Night Cypher” and “Deep Reverence.” He’s also gotten even more proficient at crafting pop radio-ready anthems like “Wolves” and “Lithuania.” Detroit 2 is the complete package, the album we’ve always known Sean had in him.–A.W.
21. Blu & Exile — Miles
Following up on the chemistry of their seminal 2007 debut, Below The Heavens, and its sumptuous 2012 follow-up Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, Miles: From An Interlude Called Life finds Blu in a contemplative, nostalgic mood. He graciously looks back at all he’s accomplished — and the places where he’s come up short — over suitably jazzy sample work from his best production partner. They told Uproxx their back-to-basics approach brought them closer as brothers, but it also reminded us all why we loved them best as a duo in the first place.–A.W.
20. Don Toliver — Heaven Or Hell
From top to bottom, Don Toliver’s debut album Heaven Or Hell is an entire draped-up and dripped-out vibe. The chop not slop version helmed by DJ Candlestick and the legendary OG Ron C offers another level of audio experience supercharged-up with Houston culture, where the phenomenal melodic rapper is from. All 2020, H-Town folklore invaded TikTok with his Sonny Digital-produced track “After Party” in both versions of the song — regular and slowed up, thanks to Donny. Tracks such as “Cardigan” and “No Idea” also found a loving home on the TikTok platform as well. The way Toliver inflects his voice, giving a variety of emotions and sounds to immerse in, it’s hard not to fall deep into his world and want to stay there for the album’s entirety.–Cherise Johnson
19. Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony
In 2020, the sheer abundance of surprising news desensitized us to surprising news. Still, the release of A Written Testimony is a shocker. Jay promised it several times over the 2010s and finally delivered — with Jay-Z. Fans could anticipate moments like “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and “The Neverending Story,” but the invigorating “Flux Capacitor” and “The Blinding” indicated that he had the versatility to be a one of a kind presence all along — if he wanted to be.–A.G.
18. Burna Boy – Twice As Tall
The biggest moment of Burna Boy’s career came with his 2019 album, African Giant. The project launched the afro-fusion singer into a higher level of mainstream acclaim. However, this success failed to bring in the accolade Burna truly desired: a Grammy. He lost in the World Music category and a year removed from that career-boosting album, he shared his fifth album Twice As Tall to emphatically prove that his defeat simply made him stronger than ever.–W.O.
17. Mulatto – Queen Of Da Souf
This year, Mulatto came through with much assertion and confidence on her debut project Queen Of Da Souf. It’s expected, though. Big Latto has been rapping since she was Little Latto and it’s evident in her Southern-charged delivery on tracks such as “Youngest N Richest” and “Muwop” with Gucci Mane. On “Pull Up,” Latto shows how she can switch up her flow, keeping her debut fresh, while songs like “In-N-Out” featuring City Girls and “On God” offer something for all the strip club trappers of the world. There are a lot of women in rap on the come up, Latto however, has been doing this for a long time and it’s clear as day this young lady is here to stay. “From the jump, I was like, ‘I know I’m here to say,’” she told Uproxx in an exclusive interview. “‘Nobody can convince me otherwise.”–C.J.
16. Deante’ Hitchcock – Better
Atlanta’s Deante Hitchcock gained some acclaim with his invitation to the 2019 Dreamville recording sessions in his hometown and paid off that promise in full on Better — with interest. He smoothly runs the gamut of rap mainstays — the club banger (“Gimmie Yo Money” with Yung Baby Tate), the relationship drama song (“How TF” with 6lack), the triumphant celebration of his move from ashy to classy (“I Got Money Now“) — but he does so with a poise and panache few rappers can carry off for a full project.–A.W.
15. Westside Gunn – Pray For Paris
When Jay-Z “said goodbye” to rap in 2005, he made a farewell album. Westside Gunn has made three and counting. Pray For Paris made our list because it’s his best reflection of Westside at his best: danger and designer over stick-to-your-ribs soul samples. From top-to-bottom, Pray For Paris’ soundscape makes his buoyant boasts all the more captivating, showing that he’ll still be an impactful presence in rap as an A&R.–A.G.
14. Gunna – Wunna
The marketing rollout for Wunna reflected Gunna’s newfound appreciation for astrology. But he didn’t pivot into experimental, soul-searching Neo Soul or anything, he stuck to his script of slinky harmonies over murky, 808-based production. Astrology, more than anything, is all about knowing who you are. And Gunna was firmly in tune with his greatness on tracks like “Nasty Girl / On Camera,” “Skybox,” and “Dollaz On My Head” with Young Thug.–A.G.
13. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
Nothing can stop Megan Thee Stallion’s reign. Not a pandemic, not a bullet. Her debut album Good News is proof of her triumph, which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Hot Girl Meg offered her fans an assortment of sounds to dig into on this project including TikTok’s favorite “Body” and the pop-leaning track “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep.” Megan is showing everyone that she can make more than music to make that ass shake. She can make feel-good songs made for sunny trips to the beach, too. “Freaky Girls” featuring SZA, which samples Adina Howard’s ’90s hit “Freak Like Me,” is one of the Good News standouts produced by Juicy J and is one of many tracks on the album that samples music from the nostalgic ’90s and ’00s eras. Good News is Megan Thee Stallion’s victorious collection of songs that offer a variety of positive vibes, despite the tragedy she went through this year.–C.J.
12. Kota The Friend – Everything
After making a splash with 2019’s Foto and proving his lyrical skills with his Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1 EP, Brooklyn rapper Kota The Friend wanted to make a, well, friendlier album. He accomplishes that goal deftly on Everything, which sees him contemplating the question, “What means everything to you?” Family, friends, financial freedom, and legacy are Kota’s answers, on feel-good songs like “BQE,” “Morocco,” and the title track.–A.W.
11. Blimes And Gab – Talk About It
The next time someone says women in hip-hop “don’t rap about anything” or “can’t rap,” pull this album up on the streaming service of your choice and immediately smack them across the head with the screen (I’ll cover the damages). Blimes Brixton and Gifted Gab dispel all that crap from the first song with a devastating lyrical “Baptism” that gives way to show that even this backpacking-ass rap duo can tackle a variety of sounds and moods. From the dance-pop, ’80-inspired “Shellys (It’s Chill)” and the house party vibes of “Feelin It” to the smoothly sensual “Hungover With You,” these two are more than capable of setting a mood, but when it’s time to drop fire and flames on a misogynist rap hater, B&G can fricassee any doubter with blazing bars on “Hot Damn” or countdown doubters’ demises with “Un Deux Trois.” Do. Not. Sleep.–A.W.
10. Polo G – The Goat
Polo G is the leading figure in the new generation of Chicago drill. He’s showed off why throughout The Goat, his thrilling, affirmative sophomore album. He’s right in line with his predecessors throughout the gritty, melodic project. But he’s transcendent through his avid curiosity for the “why” on songs like, “Trials And Tribulations” and “Wishing For A Hero.” Again, the environment Polo explores here shouldn’t exist — but he’s damn good at reflecting it.–A.G.
9. Aminé – Limbo
From the opening strains of “Woodlawn Park” to the semi-social-consciousness of “Becky,” Adam Aminé Daniel offers up one of the genre’s most fully-imagined and emotionally-resonant works. He’s a bar-smith of the highest order on songs like “Shimmy Ya,” where he channels the spirit of the dearly departed ODB with a wicked, Biggie-Esque lyrical bent. Then he bares his heart on “Compensating” and “Riri,” fully embracing hip-hop’s turn toward romanticism and the heartbreak endemic to it. It’s on songs like “Becky,” “Mama,” and “Fetus” that Aminé offers the most trenchant reveals, as he wrassles with the anxieties inherent to being a minority in America, leaving a legacy through offspring and paying homage to the ancestors before they’re gone. Limbo sets the bar as high as it’s ever been.–A.W.
8. D Smoke – Black Habits
One of my early personal picks for top albums of the year, this one remained a favorite throughout a year packed with stellar releases mainly because of its dedication to an institution that doesn’t get nearly enough love in hip-hop: The Black family unit. That’s what Black Habits primarily deals with: D Smoke’s upbringing and how his family has helped shape him into the man and artist he is today. As a highly biographical work, it’s still expansive and inclusive enough to encompass a broad array of experiences, while from a technical standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find better lyrical displays than “Bullies” or “Like My Daddy” or “Lights On.” With this album, D Smoke proved that he’s got the scope for a career far beyond Netflix.–A.W.
7. Flo Milli – Ho, Why Is You Here?
The dope thing about Flo Milli is that everything she raps clearly comes from a place of experience. Ho, Why Is You Here? sees the Alabama native spitting hyper bars over bouncy beats aided by catchy hooks. Her breakout single, “In The Party,” was a viral sensation in 2019 and though she didn’t have a project out at the time, the anticipation for a full-length collection of songs was high and Flo did not disappoint. Keeping the same energy that previously caught the attention of millions, Flo Milli spits rhymes that boast of confidence and braggadocio. Out the gate, between “Beef FloMix” setting the tone as the album enters into the essence of the rest of the project, Milli’s storytelling capability jumps out accompanied by affirmations of self-love. Ho, Why Is You Here? is an incredible debut from Flo Milli as a woman in rap who is fresh on the scene.–C.J.
6. Lil Baby – My Turn
After taking the melodic rap formula first popularized by Future and innovated by Young Thug then putting his own, confessional spin on it, Lil Baby straight up entered the flow state on his sophomore project. When he broke out in 2018 with the Harder Than Ever and Drip Harder mixtapes, it’s fair to say that some tweaks were needed. He had a strong sense of his identity and the things he wanted to do with his flow and lyrics, but he was still solidifying all those components, requiring timely assists from the likes of Drake and Gunna to up the “wow” factor while he tinkered. But on My Turn, he’s the star of the show no matter which guest is rhyming alongside him. He spends the entire album in the zone, from vulnerable revelations like “Emotionally Scarred” to boastful declarations like “Sum 2 Prove.” He even improved on the formula with the deluxe edition, adding “The Bigger Picture” and becoming an inadvertent focal point of the summer’s uprisings against police brutality.–A.W.
5. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
There was a point during this summer where everything aligned to make it feel like the latest dystopian (or maybe post-apocalyptic) effort from El-P and Killer Mike wasn’t just paranoid fantasy or pessimistic speculation but instead the soundtrack of a movie we were all trapped in like The Final Girls. The police had killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people took to the streets in droves to protest the injustice amid a deadly global pandemic, and a demagogic wannabe dictator was making nihilistic pronouncements from his golf course in Florida. RTJ4 is damn near a history book in audio form, from the defiant “A Few Words For The Firing Squad” to the capitalism burning video for “Ooh La La.” We aren’t out of the woods yet, but shout-out to the Jewels for keeping our spirits high as we fought against what felt like the end of the world.–A.W.
4. Roddy Ricch – Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
Compton native Roddy has had one hell of a year, riding the success of his single “The Box” (which spent no less than 38 weeks on the Hot 100, 11 of which were at the No. 1 position) and popping up on fan-favorite singles from the likes of DaBaby and Lil Baby (their names get stuck together a lot, don’t they?). All of that, though, was launched from the impressive late 2019 debut album that saw him go from burgeoning hometown hero to a legit superstar as he wrestled with the results of trauma (“War Baby“), bragged on his newfound success (“Boom Boom Room“), and warned haters away from making any moves that might be hazardous to their health (“Start With Me” featuring Gunna).–A.W.
3. Mac Miller – Circles
Circles, which was completed by Jon Brion after Mac’s tragic death, showed the Pittsburgh artist scrutinizing his discontent over a soundscape that fused rap, funk, and emo. The raw despair of thematic predecessor Swimming had lessened with songs like ”Blue World” and “Complicated,” where he eerily vocalizes “Some people say they want to live forever / That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today.” Through Circles, he lives forever.–A.G.
2. Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Lil Uzi Vert had the rap world waiting on Eternal Atake for years. When he finally dropped it at the top of 2020, he delivered. The 18-track project is a quintessential exhibition of why people love Uzi, with earworm melodies over vibrant, often-quaking thumping production. Maybe there’s a universe where the genre-bending stargazer isn’t one of the most fun listens in music — but it ain’t this one.–A.G.
1. Spillage Village – Spilligion
Imagine if Bob Dylan somehow joined the Dungeon Family in their late-90s heyday, but with all of the technical advancements and foreknowledge of the trash fire 2020 would turn out to be. They might make something similar to Spilligion, the first album from Atlanta-based super crew Spillage Village since 2016’s Bears Like This Too Much. Borrowing folk tradition, marrying it to Southern Baptist gospel, and slathering the whole thing in trap rap secret sauce, 6lack, Earthgang, JID, and the gang (Benjj, Jurdan, and Mereba — you thought I wasn’t gonna shout everybody out??) untangle their complicated feelings — and, by and large, ours as well — about the gnarly happenings of the last 12 months on songs like “End Of Daze.” The answers they tease out aren’t for everybody, but the musical process they use to do so sure is.–A.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.