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Top Hip Hop Releases During The Pandemic

Providing the hip-hop soundtrack to one of the most defining and tumultuous years in a while… here are the top 10 music releases over 2020’s lockdowns.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Although this year ended up feeling a lot longer than expected, many loved musicians came back onto the scene to provide a particularly engaging and refreshing soundtrack to the whole year. 

With nostalgic hits, to social justice emphases, check out my top ten hip-hop singles of this year below: 

10. Kanye West – Wash Us In The Blood feat. Travis Scott

Released as a surprise video on Youtube on June 30, Kanye’s sudden musical appearance was urged by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement stirring America. Wash Us In The Blood immediately evokes the industrial hip hop soundscape of Yeezusthat fans have missed in his recent gospel-projects. The song, to appear on his upcoming album ‘God’s Country’, intertwines American black culture with his vision of Christian faith, and the pressures and expectations that black artists must adhere to in the public eye.

However, Travis Scott on ad-lib duty has a very short presence in the song, which was disappointing. Unfortunately, not much else to say except that he brings the young hype-factor to the song’s promotions and helps support the tones of the industrial rap genre.

9. Mac Miller – Circles

Released just at the start of the year, on January 17th, this posthumous release was orchestrated by Miller’s dearest family members and musical friends. What makes it most touching, is the gentle goodbye Miller’s words offered the world before his death, which seemed to foreshadow the subsequent pandemic crisis the world itself would face. 

His gentle production lulls one to sleep, with electronic guitar plucks softly playing alongside high-toned synth-organs. His voice is tired, but at peace, and slowly reads out lyrics more like a poem, than a rap song. Miller provides a gentle safety net for his listeners to hold onto throughout the year. 

8. Anderson .Paak – Lockdown

Another prime example of musicians making the most of the tumultuous year to find inspiration, and provide relevant releases for everyone to engage with. 

This single, released on June 19, 2020, celebrates an unofficial, but important, national holiday: the day the slaves in America were finally freed. Amidst the protests of the BLM movement, .Paak’s  single commemorates the quiet spaces during these tense moments. The easy drum groove, performed by him, evoke his classic relaxed summer jams but his voice plays over somber and low, pulling the listener in to his words. 

The intimacy of the music video was a warm reminder to find strength among dear ones, and a gentle push to keep pushing on. 

7. Pa Salieu – My Family feat. BackRoad Gee

Produced by Backroad Gee, Salieu takes on his debut amidst the storm of the pandemic. Just trying to make his big breakout, this British rapper releases his debut album ‘Send Them To Coventry’ seemingly with no other stresses. Very clearly enjoying one of the greatest benefits of online music-sharing platforms this year: making releasing music so much easier for creators and so much more accessible for listeners, as well. 

Released in September, his album introduces Grime to the rest of the world with a new introspective and dramatic flair that removes the nihilistic stigmas previously associated to the scene. His youth brings freshness, and a certain type of positivity – his love for his block and his roots set a tone of familiarity throughout the entire project and urge a personal relationship between him and his fans. Upbeat and forcefully present, Salieu helped me escape the dreariness of this year’s locked-in day to day.

6. Freddie Gibbs x The Alchemist – Babies and Fools feat. Conway the Machine

Arguably ruling comfortably near the top of the rap scene at the moment are these two musicians: Gibbs and Alchemist. Collaborating was just a natural next step, and no one – no one – was worried the outcome would be any less than absolutely fantastic. 

 After his previous rounds with Madlib, the Alchemist brought a fresh take on Gibbs’ flow and inspired new intimate themes for him to reach out on. With reflections of fatherhood, amidst a brutal sound landscape, the listener is reminded of the juxtaposing forces that shaped this year. Extreme violence and death on one hand, inspired closeness to family and intimate vulnerability amongst loved ones on the other. Conway the Machine’s verses perfectly match this overriding introspective tone on the project in this song, proving further that it isn’t just important what you do as a musician, but also who you bring on your team. 

Sampling Andrus, Blackwood and Co.’s  All of Me, this tune is gentle, caring, and provides the rounds of affection needed to accommodate the intense messages running throughout the rest of the album, and year. 

5. Headie One – Princess Cuts feat. Young T and Bugsy

Again in the British sphere, Headie One’s album Edna, slowly teased out by single releases, has been the great fireworks necessary to encourage positivity at the end of the year. 

Collaborating with both British top dogs, and American, Headie One’s reign as one of the best stays obvious. This tune, produced by IO & TSB, would’ve been the club-hit that would’ve turned the roof inside out. However, still good enough to groove to indoors. 

The tropical beat on a bouncy guitar-base alongside the cocky-sureness of the MC’s sets a warm and flirtatious tone throughout. The hook is simple yet luscious, and sheds light on the importance of playfulness and lightheartedness to sometimes forget all ails in the world. This notorious trio that had already provided the previous hit Don’t Rush are now celebrating love, diamonds, money, women, dance, and music… what else? 

4. Jay Electronica – Flux Capacitor

Finally, after almost 13 years, he’s come back. And with the most banging loyal team of them all. 

Jay Electronica’s album ‘A Written Testimony’ has producers The Alchemist, The-Dream, Hit-Boy, No ID as hip hop backbones, but also James Blake and Khruangbin as the experimental elements nearing the delicate relationship of rap with alternative music one step closer. He is supported by Jay Z throughout most of the tracks, but humbly rendered uncredited, leaving the emphasis on Electronica. 

Flux Capacitator is arguably the climax of the project, utilizing Rihanna’s unique vocals to full capacity and exploding on an introspective comprehension of Electronica’s evolution throughout the years in the music industry. 

A timely return back onto the music scene, and much appreciated, too. 

3. J Hus – Repeat feat. Koffee

Oh boy, a long-time fan favorite. 

J Hus switches hats in this projects from his usual warm and rambunctious rebel to a more introspective and matured voice. Worry not, his roots most definitely remain present – he audibly laughs and grins throughout his more flirtatious lines, and is still extremely buoyant and bouncy on many uplifting hits. However,  underneath the flamboyance of the sax, guitar, and strings used in production, we find a self-reflective Hustla. He reminisces on self-doubt, and the troubles of being a Black British man in the music industry throughout the years. 

These common themes in the albums released so far can so clearly be linked to the moments of introspection such a chaotic year has forced on many individuals. 

2. Thundercat – Dragonball Durag

From his album ‘It is What It Is’, Thundercat finally appeases his needy fans since 2017’s ‘Drunk’ album with another bubbling jazzy explosion. Supported by Flying Lotus as lead executive producer, and with collaborations by Louis Cole, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, Childish Gambino, BadBadNotGood, Zack Fox, and Ty Dolla Sign, Thundercat was able to put together a beautiful mosaic of his life’s cherished memories. 

Dedicated to the late Mac Miller, the album’s major critical success was an inspiring beacon this year. 

This single, especially, was a groovy, light-hearted and flirtatious tune that took the world by storm. Thundercat’s playful and youthful character teases out through his characteristic vocals, but the intricacy of the instrumentality beneath is what proves the complexity of his music. This double-façade that he evokes, as both a humorous relief and as a musical icon of our days, is the epitome of what music can provide in dark times: relief and inspiration for listeners.

1.Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin – PIG FEET

Quickly born as a response to the harrowing events that vortexed the BLM movement, jazz greats Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington collaborated with Denzel Curry, an esteemed rapper, to bring to light a formal critique of the systemic racism and police brutality suffered by African Americans. 

This was one of the most poignant moments of this year. At the peak of the pandemic, the threatening man-on-man brutality being televised and shared on social media outlets was one of the lowest examples of the loss of humanity we can suffer. At a moment where we should all be providing comfort and support, instead, one had to use their little energies left to fight and voice out their presence in the world. 

A most moving collaboration. No words can do to do it justice. Only granting a moment of silence can suffice to commemorate all victims of police brutality we have recognized this year, alongside all that have been affected by the pandemic. 

However, if films are more your mode of assessing the year in review, check out the Top 10 Most Popular Netflix hits of 2020 here

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