Despite a global pandemic, worldwide shutdown, and a month of civil unrest, the old adage, “hip-hop don’t stop,” remained true in 2020. In fact, it even picked up momentum, thanks in part to the cancelations and postponements of the tours and festivals that have been its lifeblood in recent years. Quarantined artists took the newfound free time to churn out more new music than ever, or fine-tune long-awaited projects from the comfort and safety — and occasionally, boredom — of their own homes.
Through it all, the world’s biggest genre remained as relevant as ever, as rappers delivered cutting commentary on current events with pinpoint precision and provided welcome escapes from the torrent of terrible news. From R.A.P Ferreira to Lil Uzi Vert, here’s where the best hip-hop albums of 2020 ranked.
30. R.A.P. Ferreira — Purple Moonlight Pages
R.A.P. Ferreira, fka Milo, has been a beloved rapper-producer for years. For his Purple Moonlight Pages album, he decided to cede some of the production duties to The Jefferson Park Boys, leaving the inquisitive lyricist to invest more energy into his already incredible bars and float fully into space like he referenced doing on album standout “Leaving Hell.” The album is a lyrical masterpiece, where Ferreira weaves philosophy, observation, and a compelling narrative into thrilling poetics.–Andre Gee
29. Ka — Descendants Of Cain
Brownsville Ka got spiritual on Descendants Of Cain, his seventh studio album. He used biblical references as the thematic impetus for the thought-provoking 11-track album, expressing that times may change, but human nature doesn’t. “Solitude Of Enoch” compares Cain’s infamous betrayal to pervasive gun violence, while “Unto The Dust” uses Genesis 3:19 to explore life and death in the Brooklyn streets. Ka uses variant aspects of the good book as his contextual foil, showing off his lyrical and contextual genius throughout.–A.G.
28. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys — Innocent Country 2
Underground stalwarts Quelle Chris and Chris Keys offered up the long-awaited sequel to their 2015 Innocent Country album right in the middle of a pandemic. People are at home, anxiety is rife, and the two Chris’ offered the world an antidote in the form of sharp, plaintive lyrics over Keys’ warm production. The feature-heavy, of-the-times project offers moments of reflection, encouragement, and biting commentary like “Bottle Black Power BUY THE BUSINESS’” “You don’t get no likes, you might decide to switch yo’ image.”–A.G.
27. Jadakiss — Ignatius
Some say hip-hop doesn’t respect its elders, while others believe that hip-hop’s elders have a hard time aging gracefully. Jadakiss‘ latest album is a powerful counterargument against both positions. It is, somewhat ironically, Jada’s first album to wholly embrace a cohesive concept rather than compiling a dozen would-be hits, it’s his most trenchant and emotional outing, and it came along 26 years into his career — five full years after his last, full-length solo release. Named for Ruff Ryders Entertainment A&R Ignatius “Icepick Jay” Jackson, who died in 2017, the album is a salute to Jada’s dear friend and a massive evolution for a rapper who had little left to prove.–Aaron Williams
26. Rod Wave — Pray 4 Love
After delivering a towering debut with 2019’s Ghetto Gospel, Rod Wave returned less than six months later with an absolutely stellar follow-up. The St. Petersburg, Florida native leans even further into his Sunday Service-esque vocalizing, delivering a pungent sermon about surviving through desperate circumstances. Recorded in only one month, Pray 4 Love offers hypnotically unforgettable melodies, but the lyrics on songs like “I Remember,” “Thug Motivation,” and the title track are what really stick to your ribs. —A.W.
25. Boldy James & The Alchemist — The Price Of Tea In China
Boldy James has long been a respected pen, but he caught lightning in a bottle on The Price Of Tea In China, a 12-track collaboration with Alchemist which may be the best top-to-bottom lyrical exhibition of the year so far. James weaved together graphic, assonant bars about survival in the treacherous Detroit streets over brooding Alchemist production. Along with James’ top-shelf bars are features with Freddie Gibbs (‘S.N.O.R.T.”), Benny The Butcher, (“Scrape The Bowl”), and Vince Staples (“Surf & Turf”).–A.G.
24. Conway & The Alchemist — Lulu
In the midst of recording gravel-backed, chrome-plated, gutter rap hymnals for Boldy James and Freddie Gibbs, West Coast producer The Alchemist still found time to spare seven illustrious, nouveau-riche drug rap tracks for the most prolific member of Buffalo, New York’s Griselda Records posse — including “They Got Sonny,” the surefire theme song to the next Scarface-ish, genre-defining gangster film. —A.W.
23. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist — Alfredo
Alfredo follows the tried and true gameplan of Gibbs’ previous collaboration projects with The Alchemist and Madlib: give him a soulful and/or sinister beat and get the hell out of the way. Highlights from the 10-tracker include “1985,” “Frank Lucas” with Benny The Butcher, and “Scottie Beam” with Rick Ross. Gibbs doesn’t have commercial clout, but after another top hip-hop album, it’s time to talk about where he ranks among his generation.–A.G.
22. G Herbo — PTSD
G Herbo got the world’s attention with the PTSD album cover, which replaced the American flag’s 50 stars with the faces of a whopping 50 people he knew who had died. It was a brilliant commentary on how the ol’ stars and bars is complicit in traumatic violence internationally and domestically. He told that story throughout the 14-track album, with songs like the star-studded title track, “Intuition,” and “Feelings” shedding light on the lasting effects trauma inflict on underserved communities.–A.G.
21. Don Tolliver — Heaven Or Hell
It was on Travis Scott’s 2018 Astroworld cut “Can’t Say” when the entire world was introduced to Houston’s own Don Toliver, though he had just released his debut mixtape Donny Womack a day before. Fast forward two years later and the Cactus Jack artist is continuing to make a name for himself with his debut album Heaven Or Hell. “After Party,” “Cardigan,” “No Idea” are all TikTok favorites (naturally), ultimately cementing Toliver into a generation outside of Scott’s. Toliver’s rich, low-toned style of vocalization make him a unique charm in hip-hop as he offers an exclusive kind of energy over futuristic trap production.–Cherise Johnson
20. Deante’ Hitchcock — Better
Somewhere between the Southern-fried soul-hop of Goodie Mob and the tumultuous trap of Atlanta contemporaries like Lil Baby and Gunna, Deante’ Hitchcock’s debut album doesn’t just balance these seemingly opposing forces, it synthesizes and meshes them into a captivating gumbo over which he ladles a healthy dose of thoughtful introspection and witty wordplay. As autobiographical as it is philosophical, Better pushes Hitchcock as one of the most genuinely interesting artists from his hometown today.–A.W.
19. Mozzy — Beyond Bulletproof
Mozzy realized his power and gave the people a place to feel at home with Beyond Bulletproof. “If the life of Blacks matter then why we ain’t treated equal,” is a line on the project’s opening track “Unethical & Deceitful” that illustrates today’s current racial injustice climate with nuance. Further, deep inside Beyond Bulletproof lies a leader who has chosen to use his platform to push his people in the right direction with tracks such as “Boyz To Men” and “Overcame.” “I’ve been on a more progressive hype,” the Grammy Award-nominated rapper told Uproxx. “I’m on a more productive hype and more uplifting. I think it just got a lot more substance.” Mozzy’s magnetism shines on Beyond Bulletproof with a dynamic message that resonates with those it’s meant for.–C.J.
18. Young Nudy — Anyways
Young Nudy is steadily vaulting himself to the top of the “New Atlanta” discussion. His latest step-up was Anyways, his debut studio album that’s ambiguously-titled but laser-focused on its intent: delivering Atlanta hot boy talk over bangin’ beats. Nudy’s southern twang makes him a charismatic vocal presence over hypnotic 808-based production, shining brightest on “Blue Cheese Salad,” “Understanding” and “No Go.”–A.G.
17. Drake — Dark Lane Demo Tapes
It’s become something of a running gag in hip-hop that “Mixtape Drake” is often more focused and efficient than his album-minded counterpart, but the tenet holds true on Dark Lane Demo Tapes, a collection of throwaways that offers samples of everything Drake does best. By turns moody and reflective (“Chicago Freestyle“), aggressive and omnivorous (the UK drill-leaning “War“), and lighthearted (“Toosie Slide“), Dark Lane watches Drake touch all his familiar bases on an easy, in-field home run.–A.W.
16. Stormzy — Heavy Is The Head
Already it feels like a lifetime since Stormzy laid claim to grime’s heavyweight title, but in the months since, no one’s come close to snatching it away. Stormzy projects both bravado and grace on his sophomore release, sounding weathered without coming across jaded, paying homage to his forebears while maintaining his futuristic outlook, and looking quite comfortable on the throne that he built for himself.–A.W.
15. Key Glock — Son Of A Gun
Young Dolph’s prolific protege kept it simple and straightforward on both of his releases of the first half of the year(!), but Son Of A Gun gets the edge over Yellow Tape. Maybe he hit a groove and stayed in it throughout the recording of the second project, or maybe he simply saved the best for last, but either way, Son Of A Gun found its way into listeners’ rotations and stuck there with banging beats and boastful rhymes.–A.W.
14. Chika — Industry Games
Montgomery, Alabama-born rapper Chika approaches the rap game with wisdom far beyond her 23 years on her debut EP. On Industry Games, she addresses the pitfalls of the entertainment business and boldly proclaiming her mission statement to enlighten and encourage the masses. Her whirlwind lyrical skills are on full display, but so too is her whole musical heritage, incorporating gospel vocals, soulful keys, acoustic guitars, and her own warm whiskey singing voice. The industry is officially on notice.–A.W.
13. Westside Gunn — Pray For Paris
Inspired by his first trip abroad for Fashion Week, Griselda Records rapper Westside Gunn came home loaded with thoughts of the world beyond his native Buffalo, New York. Gunn sets out to “paint pictures” with a refreshing take on his usually gritty, grimy subject matter. Rhyming with his distinctive, punchline-heavy flow over lusher instrumentation than we’ve heard from him, he expands his palette, delivering some of his most polished music yet.–A.W.
12. Kota The Friend — Everything
For the past several years, 27-year-old Brooklyn native Kota The Friend has been a champion of independent record-making, grinding out his intensely personal music and refusing to compromise on quality for the sake of quantity. That approach permeates the trim tracklist of Everything, on which Kota delivers his warm brand of soulful comfort music alongside surprising collaborators like Bas, Joey Badass, Kyle, and Tobi Lou, who all come through on the strength of the respect they have for his hustle.–A.W.
11. Kamaiyah — Got It Made
After hustling her way out of a stalled label deal and securing her independence, Bay Area MC Kamaiyah picked up where she left off when she was billed as one of XXL‘s Freshmen in 2017. While the post-hyphy party anthems remain intact, Yaya also incorporates a new, defiant attitude, espousing messages of ferocious self-reliance and updating classic sounds to fit her forward-facing outlook.–A.W.
10. Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony
2020 gives us a shocking headline almost every day. The actual release of Jay Electronica’s long-awaited debut album was high on the list, music-wise. The 11-track project demonstrates why so many fans thought Jay Electronica would be a 2010s GOAT, with his existential musing and spiritually-tinged lyrics looming over warm, meditative beats — with the help of Jay-Z, who got as vulnerable as he ever has on songs like “Universal Soldier” and “A.P.I.D.T.A.”–A.G.
9. Gunna — Wunna
Gunna dropped the drip or drown conceit for his latest project, embracing astrology for WUNNA‘s branding. He made a smart move to pique people’s interest in his project — as if they needed much provocation — and he kept their attention with an 18-track offering of high-quality melodic raps over smooth, dreamy Wheezy production. When it comes to hip-hop vibe masters, Gunna is as good as it gets right now.–A.G.
8. Polo G — The GOAT
Polo G’s latest work is titled The GOAT. With more development of the formula he showed on his sophomore project, that just may be an accurate take in hindsight. Polo is adept at top-tier street rap like “Go Stupid.” But where he sets himself apart from his class is with his ability to delve into the traumatic effects that his environment has incurred on him and his fellow Chicagoans. The conditions he spoke on here shouldn’t exist, but his artistry can be part of the solution by making people feel his depth.–A.G.
7. Bad Bunny — YHLQMDLG
International stars dominated the musical landscape at the start of the year, and Bad Bunny was a huge part of that. The music world gets more and more universal each day because the internet has given Bad Bunny and undeniable songs like “Yo Perreo Sola” the global success they deserve: YHLQMDLG is the highest-charting Spanish-language album ever.–Derrick Rossignol
6. Lil Baby — My Turn
While his true breakout moment arrived in 2018 with his Drake collaboration “Yes Indeed,” Lil Baby announced that 2020 would be his time in the spotlight with his sophomore album, My Turn. The 20-track album saw him elevate his artistry thanks to the well-rounded body of work. His versatility and chemistry with other artists are also highlights as he effortlessly works with old and new collaborators alike, all without veering out of his lane.–Wongo Okon
5. D Smoke — Black Habits
After walking away from Netflix’s inaugural season of Rhythm + Flow with both the win and Snoop Dogg’s respect, Inglewood’s D Smoke set out to earn the distinction with the introspective spiritualism of Black Habits, which examined his familial legacy and the climate of his tight-knit community. Rhyming in Spanish and inviting his brother SiR along for the ride, D Smoke paints an autobiographical portrait that has plenty to say about the world at large.–A.W.
4. Run The Jewels — RTJ4
El-P and Killer Mike’s latest is a sledgehammer to the frontal lobe, smashing home their sociopolitical messaging with a much more polished approach. The ease with which the duo slips into their comforting chemistry belies the dynamism and urgency that propels RTJ4 as they blast the ills of capitalism and the police state with their usual, unflinchingly brutalist style of straightforward rap.–A.W.
3. Roddy Ricch — Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
The Compton crooner’s No. 1-selling debut album finds him struggling with survivor’s guilt even as he celebrates his newfound success. It’s also home to his breakout single, “The Box,” which sat at No. 1 for 11 weeks to start the year, cementing Roddy as the standout artist his mentors Nipsey Hussle and DJ Mustard knew he could be when they co-signed him on “Racks In The Middle” and “Ballin’.”–A.W.
2. Mac Miller — Circles
The death of Mac Miller in 2018 doesn’t sting any less nearly two years later, but on the posthumous release Circles, he feels as vital as ever. Featuring songs he was working on at the time of his death, the collection is equal parts life-affirming and haunting, with Jon Brion’s production laying a canvas for Miller to demonstrate himself as an artist with so much left to offer. There might not be a more difficult listen in 2020, but Miller’s genius is underscored throughout, leaving the listener lamenting a life gone too soon.–Philip Cosores
1. Lil Uzi Vert — Eternal Atake
After more false starts than a preseason NFL game, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake finally dropped in March — followed by a brand new deluxe album a week later. With just one feature (Syd from The Internet on “Urgency”), the 18-track album was a master class in meshing sharp technical lyricism with earworm melodies over syrupy 808-based bangers. Tracks like “Baby Pluto,” “POP,” and “P2,” show why the fans were so patient with Uzi — he’s at the top of his game, and the top of his class.–A.G.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group