It’s been a crazy year for all of us. But in the midst of the madness, some incredible rap music was released. I admittedly haven’t been listening to as much music as I normally would (due to working from home with four kids and having no commute time), but I’d say for the most part I’m still on top of my game. I’m 42 years old, I know how to stay plugged in with new releases, and I know what I like. And these are the 20 rap songs that got the most burn from me in 2020.
1. Jay Electronica ft. Jay-Z “Ghost of Soulja Slim” – Jay and Jay’s collabo album dropping on the first night of lockdown in New York felt like the opening ceremonies of the pandemic. Except this shit was no games. The album’s first song, “Ghost of Soulja Slim,” captured the mood of it all perfectly. The urgency, the intensity, the vigor. It’s like they knew this was coming. And just like when he brought Jay-Z out at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival to spit an S. Carter mixtape freestyle, Jay Electronica, in that moment, gave us the Hov we all wanted—and needed—to hear.
2. Conway “Front Lines” – It’s kind of sad that being “outside” became a flex this year, but shit, that’s what happened. And amidst all the racial injustice and protests, Conway cemented his stance at the front lines of the movement over arguably the hardest beat of the year. Between From a King To a God and his projects with Alchemist and Big Ghost, Conway shook rap fans who had overlooked him in the past out of their sleep this year. Not sure why it took everyone so long, but I’m glad people finally figured out that Conway’s G.O.A.T. moniker is well-deserved.
3. Roc Marciano “Downtown ’81” – I’m admittedly still scaling Mt. Marci. That shit is colassal. But from the beginning, “Downtown ’81” stood out as my favorite song on the album. I probably ran this back like ten times before I even listened to the rest of the project. Props to Jake One on the production, I’m absolutely in love with this beat. I could listen to it all day and never get sick of it. And lyrically, the pimp-hand Roc writes his rhymes with is as strong as ever.
4. Mister Muthafuckin’ eXquire “Black Mirror” – This is some heartfelt, family storytelling shit by a rapper I honestly had never really listened to that much before this song came out. But I knew this was gonna be one of my top-played tracks of the year the moment I heard it. The Madlib production is gorgeous, and eXquire pours his heart out all over it. Consider this the “T.R.O.Y.” of 2020.
5. Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin “Dollar Dr. Dream” – If you put a gun to my head, I’d tell you this was my favorite beat of the year. And I loved it even before I knew who was responsible for it. So it made total sense when I discovered it was crafted by Animoss, the Cali-based producer who’s behind some of Roc Marciano’s most classic tracks. But it’s the odd couple of Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin that brings the beat to life, as they take turns waxing their unorthodox poetics. There’s plenty more heat on their Fly Siifu collabo project, too.
6. Jay Electronica “Fruits Of The Spirit” – Jay Electronica snapped on this No I.D. track, proving he didn’t need a Hov feature on every album cut to display his Godliness. This gets my vote for verse of the year, as Jay addresses the current social and political climate with street wisdom and spiritual reverence.
7. Westside Gunn ft. Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano “$500 Ounces” – Westside Gunn often says he’s not a rapper, he’s a curator. Well, this track is an example of how masterful his curation is. Gunn, Gibbs, Marci and Alchemist? Wow. This was an early favorite for me this year, and three seasons later I’m still playing it in heavy rotation like it’s brand new. And of all the concoctions Alchemist cooked up in 2020, this may be his best.
8. Westside Gunn ft. Stove God Cooks “Jose Canseco” – Stove God Cooks, who had a breakthrough performance on Marcielago late last year, was an easy pick for 2020’s Rookie Of The Year. Not only did he drop his instant classic debut, the Roc Marciano fully-produced LP Reasonable Drought, but he killed album-stealing features like this too. For fans of drumless soul-sample rap, “Jose Canseco” was as good as it got in 2020.
9. V Don ft. Willie The Kid “Baked Alaska” – Capital Gains may in fact be Willie The Kid’s finest solo project he’s ever released, but this sleeper off frequent collaborator V Don’s producer compilation Black Mass was the WTK joint that got the most spins from me this year. Feel the ambiance, and also check out Duetsche Marks 2 for more fire.
10. Smoke DZA “143” – Titled after the “I love you” beeper code, DZA floated on this beauty of a beat, which in a Tidal interview he admitted to riding around with for two weeks before he put any ink on the page. It’s that type of slow-burning love affair with a track that produces nostalgic gems like this.
11. Blu & Exile “Miles Davis” – I’ve always considered Blu of the nicest and most purely talented MCs out here, but he hasn’t always gotten the props he deserves. However, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who discounts his skill and illness after listening to this piano-laced single named after the late, great Miles Davis. It’s a fitting title for a song that displays lyrical attributes comparable to the dexterous style of the jazz legend himself.
12. Freddie Gibbs ft. Rick Ross “Scottie Beam” – The Grammys got it right giving Alfredo a Rap Album of the Year nomination. For me, “Scottie Beam” (named after the former Hot 97 media personality/producer) was its standout track, as Gibbs declared, “The revolution is the genocide/My execution might be televised.” And let’s not discredit the biggest boss Rick Ross and Alchemist’s contributions, too. Now give these gents a Grammy.
13. Willie The Kid ft. Roc Marciano “Durban Poison” – Both Willie and Roc had MVP years, so it’s only right I include their Capital Gains collaboration on this short list. Funny story, I randomly played this for my 10-year-old son a few weeks ago in the car, and he just looked at me puzzled as he tried to figure out what was going on and quoted, “Fancy like a French horn?!?” It was the perfect response from a kid who’s at least a few years shy of being able to comprehend an upper echelon collaboration like this.
14. Roc Marciano ft. Action Bronson “Spirit Cookin” – Every time Roc and Bam Bam get together it’s crazy, and this Mt. Marci cut is no different. Only For Dolphins was awesome and “I Hate Everything” was hilarious, but this drumless duet with his old pal Roc Marciano was my favorite Bronson moment of the year. Action raps, “Any man who wanna test me, they’ll lose a teste/And I’ll wear it as an earring while I jet ski.” Absolute insanity. I’m ready for an official full-length from these two, anyone else?
15. Black Thought “Thought Vs Everybody” – Damn, Black Thought blacked out on this. It’s just what he needed to take everybody out on, too—some dark, minimalist Sean C shit. Many of the other MCs I grew up admiring in the ‘90s are no longer making music at the level they used to. If I was them, I’d just give up for good after hearing this. Damn.
16. Curren$y “Cutlass Cathedrals” – Needed an album in 2020 to drive around to while looking fly with nowhere to go? Spitta and Harry Fraud gave you that. And “Cutlass Cathedrals” was its defining moment. I had another Curren$y song that got a ton of burn this year, “Gimme Some Mo” produced by DJ Fresh, but this joint was just too soulful not to take the slot on this short list. These two simply don’t miss.
17. Sure Shot and byJ. “Fo Fo Fo” – I live for laidback head-nodders like this. Sure Shot, one half of Long Island duo Dunbar, has become one of my favorite MCs over the last few years. He has such a distinct style, voice and streetwise perspective, and considering most of the producers Dunbar works with aren’t big names, he picks great beats too. This collaboration with producer byJ. was my go-to for quick pandemic store runs. If you like what you hear, I suggest you check for more Sure Shot and Dunbar releases as there are a handful of dope ones from this year and earlier.
18. Lou From Paradise “Dr. Evil” – “This the shit that white kids play to piss their parents off.” I’m actually flabbergasted that Lou From Paradise, fka Lou The Human, isn’t bigger than he is. And for those of us who have been paying attention to the Staten Island phenom, who draws influences from the best characteristics of Eminem and his fellow Shaoliners Wu-Tang Clan, him hopping on a RZA track for the Cut Throat City soundtrack was monumental.
19. Tree Mason and Spanish Ran “Manna From Heaven” – Spanish Ran, who originally made a name for himself as a Roc Nation A&R, emerged in 2020 as one of the most prolific new producers on New York’s underground scene, releasing an abundance of projects with his stable of Bronx-based MCs. Tree Mason is one of them, and this track exhibits the duo’s chemistry in a breezier manner than they’re accustomed to, as Ran’s dreamy, stripped-down production gives his partner-in-crime a chance to really shine. “Get money the gospel/Don’t ever judge a book by the author of the novel/I’ll probably hit a ni**a for the sport with a barstool/I’m not trying to argue”—this shit is fresh.
20. Eto “The Last Call” – Rochester MC Eto has been gaining notoriety these past couple years, thanks to a critically-acclaimed project with DJ Muggs and frequent collaborations with Willie The Kid and V Don. Eto finds the pocket perfectly on “The Last Call”—the only V Don-produced song on his Carlito’s Way-inspired project Eto Brigante—and spits cinematic bars over one of 2020’s hardest tracks. It’s a closing scene that would make Pacino himself proud.
*Bonus* Tha God Fahim and Your Old Droog “Tha Wolf On Wall St” – This is only a bonus because sometimes the most fire songs never make their way to DSPs, which was the case with this Fahim and Droog loosie. This is one of those loops I wish I discovered myself, and both MCs do it justice with their witty and wealthy bars. Rappers don’t want no smoke, no marijuana.
Spotify Link: Westcheddar’s 20 Most-Played Rap Songs of 2020
For those in search of more fire, check out Westcheddar’s Heavy Rotation 2020 (A-Z) playlist, featuring an expansive collection of rap and non-rap favorites from this year…
Spotify Link: Westcheddar’s Heavy Rotation 2020 (A-Z)
Have a Happy and Healthy New Year everyone! Peace!