2020 has been an interesting year for the rap world. The impact of COVID-19 is being felt significantly as new music has been sporadic to come by, and while a number of icons in the industry have put out some hits there has been a bit of slowdown for the world of music in general. With that in mind, there have been multiple songs that have kept the genre alive and fighting for a powerful voice as social justice movements across the entire world are coming to light. Remaining as a beacon of creative freedom, these are some of the best tracks of the year so far.
10. “WHATS POPPIN” – Jack Harlow
Do not let this young 22-year-old fool you with his boyish looks, the Louisville rapper is actually close to being a 10 year veteran and is finally seeing major mainstream success with this song. Released early in the year, the song has already been used in NBA games, commercials, and even had a remix featuring DaBaby, Lil Wayne, and Tory Lanez come out in July. Short and sweet, the catchy tune is produced partly by JetsonMade and is an example of Harlow’s up-beat brag-rap and how witty he can be.
9. “Chicago Freestyle” – Drake
Drizzy has been no-doubt cozy in his newly established “Embassy” but he was one of the first major artists to release a project early on in the year. Dark Lane Demo Tapes was a neat treat for hip-hop fans While “Toosie Slide” might have been a bigger commercial hit, “Chicago Freestyle” is a much more vintage rendition for a Drake track because it brings in that lovey-dovey imagery mixed with sharp bars (including an Eminem interpolation) and the accompanying R&B intro/outro by Griveon is the cherry on this OVO-themed sundae.
8. “Oprah’s Bank Account” – Lil Yachty ft. Drake and DaBaby
Released at the beginning of the year, this single was accompanied by a surreal music video and contains two of the hottest acts as features. This is a big W for Lil Yachty and it is a smooth song that is catchy and melodically pleasant. The gentle tone of his vocals are totally in-line with the bass heavy instrumental by Earl On The Beat. Lil Boat III is set to release this year and having this track along with “Split/Whole Time” carry the hypetrain onwards it seems like we are in for another great outing for the multi-talented rapper.
7. “Godzilla” – Godzilla ft. Juice WRLD
Eminem came out (no, not like he did in The Interview) with a fantastic surprise album in Music Made To Be Murdered By earlier on in the year and this hectic single is one of its many highlights. The song features a posthumous Juice WRLD, who offers a smooth and catchy chorus to bridge together some of the quickest and intricate bars that Em has spat since “Rap God.” Scathing in the references and boasting an amazing video that features Mike Tyson and Dr. Dre cameos, this is a loud ear worm of a smashing song that is hard to be ignored. Rest in Peace, Juice.
6. “WUNNA” – Gunna
Serving as one of the most freely-rhyming new rappers of the era, Gunna is making waves as a truly unique rapper. The song contains a relaxed flow that seems so simple yet genius, while the effortless cascade of self-sufficient luxury-based narrative is just an example of how the College Park artist’s exemplary grasp on the genre. The song is the titular song to the album of the same name, and it is one of many songs that fits the similar description as Gunna proves he is looking out to be the ladies man of the rap world. It might not be a massive hit like the others on this list, but this is a track that is definitely worth giving an add to your streaming service playlists.
5. “Good News” – Mac Miller
In January, the album Circles was released as the first album of Mac Miller’s since his tragic passing in late 2018. The album is packed with a much more relaxed and mellow tone as Miller stuck to singing and calmly performed vocal rap to compliment a deeper indie-pop aesthetics to his instrumentals. This is was a good direction for Mac as he was able to reinvent himself yet again, and while we will not be able to see what he could have done further down his career, we can all have solace that he graced us with one more chill track to vibe to. Rest in Peace, Mac.
4. “OUT WEST” – JACKBOYS & Travis Scott ft. Young Thug
JACKBOYS are the newly formed collective of Travis Scott’s design and have immediately started off their run with a bang in this scorcher. Everything in this song’s production wraps together nicely from its bombastic bassline to the flute that plays along in the background. Everyone in the song shines, but it truly seems to raise to the next level when Travis himself performs his verse but the entire theme and construction of the track gives off a Three-Six Mafia/Memphis 90s rap vibe. Technically the album released on December 27th, 2019 but seeing as the single and video were not officially released until this year it seems fair to give it the nod.
3. “JU$T” – Run The Jewels ft. Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha
Run The Jewels came out with one of the most anticipated sequels in a line of their self-titled series this year with RTJ 4. It could not have come at a better time as Killer Mike and El-P are known as some of the most intellectual lyricists in the entire history of the genre and gave a truly harrowing message in this track. The features from Pharrell and Zack De La Rocha put a spin on the sound of RTJ with a pop-sounding chorus and rock-inspired rap, respectively. Most of the subjects that are spoken about in this song rarely come up in the music industry at all, let alone in rap and to this degree. It is definitely an unexpected collaboration, but not an unwanted one.
2. “Life is Good” – Drake & Future
Back in 2015, Drake and Future released What A Time To Be Alive to the world after a visit to Future during a six-day trip in Atlanta for the Canadian rapper turned into a surprise project. Half a decade later and we would finally get another whiff of what could be a signal towards another album, which would would signify the return of one of the most hyped super-duos in rap history. The song itself feels like a two-part affair as Drake’s segment relays melodic bouts with work-related issues before Future goes completely trap mode on the OZ co-produced beat with his classic style. This one is probably the biggest success on the list and has completely eclipsed most of the other songs during mainstream play.
1. “Something To Rap About” – Freddie Gibbs ft. Tyler, The Creator
Probably the most underrated and underappreciated track of the year, this Freddie Gibbs joint is everything perfect about his ongoing collaboration with producer Madlib. The soft snares and old-fashioned sound of the surf-music guitar sample could very well make the best instrumental of the year. It serves as the backdrop for the tales of Gibbs, who continues to be in his stride as a consistently impressive lyricist with vivid imagery behind every bar. Tyler’s contribution to this song make for one of the most random but oddly well pairing in recent hip-hop history. It is a bit rarer to get Tyler to rap in a more traditional fashion but it was nice to hear him return to the style that made him such a star. Even hearing him mention being a “Goblin” is enough to make it satisfying for any OFWGKTA fan that is appreciative for the driving force of change in the hip-hop industry. This is truly the ultimate summer jam.