in alphabetical order
Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG
A party record from a young artist who has skyrocketed to the top of the Latin trap wave, Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG advances the sound of the genre forward, where most of his contemporaries have remained complacent, while also paying homage to the artists of reggaeton’s past.
BTS – Map of the Soul: 7
Tacking on a whopping 10 additional songs to their five-track Persona EP released just ten months prior, the K-pop Beatles celebrate the global success of singles like “Boy with Luv” with a deluxe edition of Map of the Soul.
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Much like the dark art-pop of contemporaries like Grimes, How I’m Feeling Now by Charli XCX blends the melodies of a singer in quarantine with industrial, experimental sounds, pushing the boundaries of pop farther than the radio friendly, highly crafted anthems of today.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED
As Alphonse Pierre of Pitchfork put it: “rappers love Kenny Beats.” Like a millennial Rick Rubin, Kenny Beats picks up on a rappers style, and can whip up a killer beat before the guest MC can even finish rolling their joint. Denzel Curry is a perfect match here, busting out DMX impressions on “DIET_,” and proving over the course of just 18 minutes why he’s one of the best talents in the game.
Destroyer – Have We Met
I wrote about Dan Bejar, a.k.a. Destroyer, earlier this year, and how he sings phrases that just feel good, regardless of if their meaning is clear to him yet. I’ve been a Destroyer fan ever since Kaputt in 2011, and Have We Met, his fourth since (and twelfth over all), follows the Destroyer formula better than it ever has before.
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
The first Pitchfork 10/10 in over a decade, Fetch the Bolt Cutters contains Fiona Apple’s dissatisfaction with both the patriarchy and conventional songwriting, employing found-object sounds and distinctly placed syllables to put together the greatest display of her idiosyncratic artistry yet.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
Ever since the Gary, Indiana rapper exclaimed that he started rapping simply because he knew he could do it better, he has. Freddie Gibbs is top five alive, boasting rhyme schemes like “still pack that bladadah, Subhan’Allah, I pray to Mecca,” this time over grooves from New York’s legendary producer The Alchemist.
Future – High Off Life
A titan of Atlanta and the father of the sound that has permeated rap for the last decade, High Off Life reaffirmed that Future had not gone stale. With dueling lyrics such as “I’ve been tryna fight my demons, I’ve been tryna fight my cup” and “won’t enjoy life if it ain’t toxic,” High Off Life further exemplifies how he’s been able to own that “Grim Reaper ridin’ in the Rolls Royce, yeah” energy for so long.
Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
Back in April, I said that A Written Testimony was the white whale of rap albums, roughly 13 years in the making. Jay Electronica was the emcee that never got to prove he was one of the best, and coupled with Jay-Z on almost every track, they released what fans called the next Watch the Throne.
Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure
Disco is alive in 2020 thanks to Jessie Ware. In quarantine, amidst protests and riots, I never thought a dance record had a place. On What’s Your Pleasure, Ware proves me wrong, with cutesy-perfect and nostalgic lyrics like, “Baby, it’s automatic, we touch and it feels like magic,” and replay value for days.
King Krule – Man Alive!
Man Alive! did something weird to me. It gave my depression a kind of power and drive, possibly igniting my first punk phase in over 25-years of being alive. Man Alive! is an angry record, but it’s also a thoughtful record, pondering catharsis, isolation, and becoming a young father.
Medhane – Cold Water
Cold Water is Brooklyn rapper Medhane’s most critically acclaimed and well-produced project yet. Backed by Chuck Strangers and Navy Blue, who have worked with Joey Bada$$ and Earl Sweatshirt respectively, the record adds to the kind of abstract flows contemporaries like Earl and MIKE have been solidifying, centering them around jazzy, soulful compositions.
Megan Thee Stallion – Suga
Suga exists in an interesting time in rap where it will be most likely remembered for its singles over its strength as a project. “Savage,” it’s largest hit, was remixed to greater fame with Beyonce, and “B.I.T.C.H.” was a promotional single tour-de-force before Suga even dropped. But Suga still has tons to offer, with singles like “Captain Hook” and “Hit My Phone,” as well as production from The Neptunes and Timbaland.
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Bridgers is the queen of sad indie music and Punisher has some of her best work yet. Songs like “I Know the End” and “Punisher” wallow in melancholy, but Phoebe Bridgers is never without charm. Tracks like “Halloween” and “Kyoto Song” are, despite the subject matter, full of life and bask in sound.
Pop Smoke – Meet the Woo 2
The late rapper’s untimely death came right after the release of Meet the Woo 2, arguably the greatest display of the Brooklyn Drill sub-genre in hip-hop. Tracks like “Christopher Walking” and “Invincible” proved that “Welcome to the Party” wasn’t a one-off success, while others such as “Dior” echo and permeate throughout the streets of New York City around every corner, forming booming protest anthems.
RMR – Drug Dealing is a Lost Art
One of the most exciting new figures in music, RMR enters the immediate-post Lil Nas X world, where country meets pop/rap in a wholly inventive new way. With co-signs froms Future, Young Thug, Westside Gunn, and Timbaland, Drug Dealing is a Lost Art features the ski-masked singer’s wide-breadth of talent on tracks like “Dealer,” “Rascal,” and “Nouveau Riche.”
Sleepy Hallow – Sleepy for President
Coming up with Sheff G on The Unluccy Luccy Kid, another pioneer of Brooklyn drill, Sleepy Hallow goes solo on Sleepy for President. Expanding the melodies and flows of the genre, along with a feature from Fivio Foreign on “Baddie Betty Boop,” Sleepy for President has a lot of style and energy to invigorate Brooklyn following the loss of Pop Smoke.
Thundercat – It Is What It Is
As a bassist, Thundercat may be one of the best alive, which makes it even more entertaining that it’s paired with a personality that vibes with getting stoned and watching anime with your cats. He’s truly weird, in the best of ways, and the hazy, playful songs that he crafts are full of self love, existential musings, and crafting the coziest jams. It It What It Is, arriving three years after the impeccable Drunk, provides us with not just. the stellar “Dragonball Durag,” but more of everything that we love about entering Thundercat’s world.
Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris
The Griselda crew of Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine, have been on the up from post-Wu-Tang underground New York rap scene for years now, with recent projects such as Benny’s The Plugs I Met, and now Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris, have picked up co-signs from Tyler, the Creator, Freddie Gibbs, Black Thought, and Joey Bada$$, to name a few, grabbing a piece of the only clique holding onto the sound of classic New York hip-hop.
6LACK – 6pc Hot EP
Announced in conjunction with his own hot sauce brand, 6LACK’s 6pc Hot EP contains some of his best work for a one-off quarantine project, and on “ATL Freestyle” he’s smoother and more aware of how to master his sound than ever before. Vibes. vibes. King of the vibes.
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