As is often the case in hip-hop discourse, the true fun arises in the journey, not the results. The debates, the ensuing justifications. The hot takes given further life by incredulous disbelief. The attempt to find objective truth in something so delightfully subjective. Not to mention that deciding a clear criteria is often as slippery as assembling the songs themselves.
But this is tradition, and with every passing year comes a comprehensive ranking of the songs that came to define it. For 2020, a year damned by so many circumstances, the music was among the high points. Artists rallied to keep momentum with so many facets of their livelihood - namely live performance -- derailed by the ongoing pandemic. Thriving platforms like TikTok proved a valuable asset for musicians, with a viral track often going hand-in-hand with a lofty chart placement. Many of the game’s elite lyricists seemed to collectively agree upon bringing their A-Game, a fact reflected by the rap album nominations by The Grammy Awards of all places.
When it came time to collectively arrange the forty best songs of 2020, a shadow loomed overhead. The consumption of music is never stationary. What resonates today may not resonate in one year’s time; on the other end, a song that initially flew under the radar now may find new life in the same timeframe. For now, rest assured that each song included held merit in 2020, whether defining a moment, showcasing dazzling penmanship, or simply going hard. True, that certain selections may come at the expense of others will doubtless ruffle a few feathers, but rest assured that no list is definitive. With that being said, have a thorough look at our own, taking the time to read each breakdown, as we know you will.
40. 6lack - "Know My Rights" feat. Lil Baby
“Know My Rights”, a single off of 6lack’s latest project, 6pc Hot, which came out in summer 2020, was just what fans needed. It was — in typical 6lack fashion — poetic, melodic, and even haunting at times. This particular track hit noticeably harder than the gentler, more emotional tracks off of the EP, offering contrast and variety, and veering us directly into "hip-hop" territory.
If there’s one thing we know about 6lack, it’s that he can be paired with virtually any artist and make something magical — he’s been a go-to feature artist for the last couple of years. This time, however, he invited someone to be featured on his song, Lil Baby, and it was a match made in rap heaven.
The entire project that birthed this single is a transcendent, perfectly produced collection of songs, worthy of being listened to on loop, and “Know My Rights” is the ultimate response to all the criticism the genre faced this year.
39. Lil Keed - "Fox 5"
If there was a trap banger in 2020, there's a good chance Gunna was involved. His feature run has been on point this year, and further proof can be seen here. "Fox 5," is a hood anthem performed by Lil Keed featuring Gunna, and produced by Supah Mario. Although Fox doesn't get much love in hip-hop culture (and vice versa), Lil Keed and Gunna give them a spotlight, and not in a way they would enjoy. The premise is destroying an enemy so publicly and abrasively that it makes it to Fox News.
Even though the lyrics and basis seem dark, a playful instrumental highlighted by a fun xylophone brings a fun side to "Fox 5." Rampant threats and slick one-liners pepper this track, giving the listener enough courage to get ignorant to this banger.
38. Lil Durk - "3 Headed Goat" feat. Polo G & Lil Baby
Lil Durk, Polo G and Lil Baby gave us a three-peat of sorts with this lineup of current rap kings featured on “3 Headed Goat,” hence the song title. All three have different flows and rap cadences, therefore making the collaboration sound even more fruitful. Even though the track clocks in at just under three minutes long, what it lacks in length it sure makes up for in fire production-- sinister keys kick off an altogether ominous feeling that persists throughout the record, with Baby's identifiable pitched-up cadence stealing the hook from the jump. Once the verses start, the production gets muddled into the background, and braggadocio lyrics become the theme, which is perhaps unsurprising considering they're referring to themselves as GOATs with that song title.
As Polo G put it in his verse: these rappers really nice as hell, indeed.
37. Saweetie - "Tap In"
Saweetie is no stranger to going viral, and she refused to slow down in 2020. Following up on the success from her “My Type” and “ICY GRL” singles, the new queen of samples came through with yet another classic callback in “Tap In,” which has become her latest hit.
It’s impossible to ignore the sample of Too $hort’s “Blow The Whistle” in “Tap In.” It provides the basic groundwork for Saweetie to absolutely go off. Much like $hort did in 2006, Saweetie delivers energy over the track, coming through with major quotables that women have been using as captions all year long. “Now what’s my favorite word? Icy,” raps the Icy Queen, stunting her Bay Area inspirations in a clear-as-day fashion.
The gold-certified single, which is expected to appear on Saweetie’s highly-anticipated debut studio album Pretty Bitch Music, is her highest-charting record to date, peaking at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100. The budding superstar did it again with this one, and she’s bound to have plenty more moments like this one in her career.
- Alex Zidel
36. Dreamville - "Up Up And Away"
As we were just breathing new life into 2020, Dreamville decided it was a good time to share the deluxe version of Revenge of the Dreamers III. At the time— way back in January prior to the COVID-19 lockdown— Dreamville was celebrating the successes of the collaborative effort as the record was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. The track’s singles “Middle Child” and “Down Bad” were also tapped by the Recording Academy for Best Rap Performance.
An addition to the upgraded deluxe was the track “Up Up Away,” a formidable force by J.I.D and EarthGang’s Doctur Dot with a feature by Vince Staples, who holds down the chorus. The trio of esteemed emcees trades witticisms over a haunting, piano-heavy production lead by Westen Weiss and Christo.
“Up Up Away” isn’t a charting single with viral craze; there is no TikTok dance or gimmick to catch. Instead, this track warrants accolades because it exemplifies what Dreamville does best: plays to the heart of Hip Hop. J. Cole and Co. have a knack for enchanting rap fans with the art of storytelling and J.I.D, Dot, and Staples hone that in as they comfortably complement one another. ROTDIII deserved its praise as does this standout.
- Erika M
35. Mulatto - "On God"
Mulatto had more than a few viral moments this year. She’s seemingly always wrapped up in some sort of controversy, which makes sense considering her problematic stage name, but it’s undeniable that Big Latto has broken out in a major way in 2020, striking with a number of hit records, including “On God”.
Off of the 21-year-old’s star-studded Queen Of Da Souf debut album, “On God” features Mulatto displaying all kinds of confidence, boastfully getting through her verses with Instagram caption-worthy punchlines that would make anybody and their grandmother do a double-take.
Latto gets raunchy in this single, which was accompanied by an even-dirtier video. The Cole Bennett-directed flick shows Latto in a highly-stylized setting, being that bitch and walking into the men’s room -- a clever metaphor to show how she’s infiltrated the male-dominated rap sphere -- walking right up to a man and pissing in his face. Graphic? Definitely. But it sure did mark Mulatto’s arrival, boosting her to become one of the top voices among women in rap.
- Alex Zidel
34. Internet Money - "Lemonade" Remix
Internet Money’s “Lemonade” featuring the likes of Don Toliver, NAV, and Gunna was an undeniable hit during our somewhat muted summer. While many are primarily aware of the OG version, sometimes you gotta give the remix its props. Not to mention, whenever you put Roddy Ricch on your song, you are immediately opting to use a cheat code.
This particular version leaves Nav and Gunna on the sidelines, all while Don Toliver receives some more air time in the form of a verse outside of the hook. Of course, Roddy is the main attraction here as he delivers some of the auto-tuned crooning that has made him such a phenom over the past 12 months. Toliver’s melodies work harmoniously with Roddy’s, and with the guitar loops hanging around in the background, you can’t help but lose yourself within the vibes.
- Alex Cole
33. Jack Harlow - "What's Poppin"
Just weeks after we rang in the new year, Jack Harlow launched his 2020 with a bang. At the top of the year, the Kentucky native dropped his single “What’s Poppin” and once TikTok got ahold of the single, it was quickly etched in viral history. Eleven months later, “What’s Poppin” is one of the biggest hits of the year, amassing accolades that include an MTV Video Music Award nomination for Song of the Summer and a RIAA certification after going 3x Platinum.
Six months after its initial release, the “What’s Poppin (Remix)” touched down. It was apparent that the song’s momentum wasn’t slowing down anytime soon, but after Harlow added features from Lil Wayne, DaBaby, and Tory Lanez, it was undeniable that its reign would continue. The remix reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts— only second to DaBaby’s monstrous Roddy Ricch collaboration, “Rockstar.”
Harlow isn’t quite finished with his biggest single to date. “What’s Poppin” was initially included on the rapper’s March 2020 release, Sweet Action EP, and it’s also highlighted on Harlow debut studio album, That’s What They All Say. We can only imagine what Harlow has in store next.
- Erika M
32. NBA Youngboy - "Kacey Talk"
Youngboy Never Broke Again loves to overwhelm his audience with content, releasing video after video, song after song, and even album after album. This year alone, the 21-year-old superstar rapper dropped a total of five projects, giving us more than enough material to consider for our year-end lists. Each project was solid, but Youngboy has admitted that he’s lost some of his passion for music-making, which was unfortunately apparent in some of his drops, recycling flows and melodies from older records.
NBA Youngboy may have been on auto-pilot mode for part of this year, but he most certainly was not for his standout single “Kacey Talk.” Perhaps that’s because the song also combines another one of the rapper’s passions: his children.
Released as the second single from Top, YB’s focus album of the year, “Kacey Talk” sees the rapper exploring new territory, which is always exciting to hear from an artist who can sometimes fall into old habits. His flows are catchy, recalling some of Lil Wayne’s earlier work. His delivery is unique, tapping into his higher range and playing around with sound effects. We’ve also got a quick feature from Kacey, Youngboy’s one-year-old baby, who provides ad-libs.
The JULiA LEWiS and 1Mind-produced banger was also accompanied by one of the more creative music videos that Youngboy Never Broke Again dropped all year. Generally, the rapper doesn’t mind filming casual visuals around the house, or around the block, but this time, YB actually put in some effort sketching out an entire plan, painting up some walls with his kids and getting inventive with the release. When Youngboy tries, he’s a real threat.
- Alex Zidel
31. Rod Wave - "Rags2Riches" feat. Lil Baby
The name really says it all with this one. Rod Wave grabs Lil Baby for "Rags2Riches 2." The original version features the same instrumental, but has ATR Son Son on the track instead of Lil Baby. Although both versions ride, Lil Baby undeniably steals the show on the second iteration, and amps up the power, as well as replay value, of the record.
A somber instrumental utilizes poignant pianos to really stir the feelings of rags, while Rod Wave and Lil Baby's bars highlight the riches. Both artists vent about their journeys, and the pitfalls that led them to become the men they are today. While there isn't anything new about this concept, "Rags2Riches 2" finds an efficient way to capitalize on the emotion of triumph, in a year filled with uncertainty.
30. A Boogie wit Da Hoodie - "7 Mac 11s"
The most appealing thing about A Boogie's rap steez is his signature melodic flow. That's not to say he can't get gritty with it either; "7 Mac 11's" for the most part showcases his ready-for-war stance when it comes to those who once hated on him and his crew by calling them "dirty Bronx guys" -- and now his foes have to deal with their respective girls sending heart emojis his way. Again, the melodic nature as he's saying these things makes it sound sweeter than what's actually being described, which ultimately shows the cleverness in his artistry. Basically, he's clowning his haters but making it catchy enough that they'll still want to knock to it.
29. Conway - "Calvin"
The Alchemist never fails to construct instrumentals that stir the soul in some way. If you could capture the tensest emotions of 2020 and put it into a beat, this would be it. The eerie and haunting vibes of "Calvin" give Conway the perfect backdrop to lay down bars dripping with street knowledge. A feeling of pure anxiety and tension builds in the beat during the chorus when an alien-sounding synth vibrates between Conway's bars. He uses a flow that pushes his breath control to the limits, packing each line with as many words as he can before taking a pause. "Calvin" will be on many playlists long after 2020 wraps.
28. Rick Ross - "Pinned to the Cross"
It seems as if 2020 came in waves. The Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe, causing the entire world to pause and pay attention to the political and social climates of not only the United States but various communities across the globe. From that, artists began to find creative ways to express themselves as they shared how they had been moved by the protests, and Rick Ross used “Pinned to the Cross” with the help of Finn Matthews to give his take.
Rozay took listeners on a lyrical history lesson of the Black American experience while noting the rage, not hatred, he felt seeing injustices unfold. Of course, we can’t receive a Rick Ross track without a bit of boasting from the rapper, but unlike his other hits, he kept the bravado to a minimum. Ross also released a powerful visual for “Pinned to the Cross” that told a story of a revolution— not televised, but taken by force, leaving many to interpret what the Florida lyricist was attempting to communicate.
As there was an immense amount of backlash regarding riots that in city streets, Ross gave them a soundtrack.
- Erika M
27. Lil Wayne - "Mahogany"
I look at Funeral as Lil Wayne’s proper comeback album. Tha Carter V was cool but it was a compilation of songs recorded throughout the early decade leading up to its release. Some of it sounded dated while the majority of it was mostly enticing out of curiosity rather than merit. Plus, the controversy surrounding Birdman and Martin Shkreli’s involvement in its rollout only add to its storied history.
Weezy’s Funeral was a formal update on the legendary NOLA rapper's creativity. He surprisingly eased up on the half-assed sex bars and showcased his effortless ability to concoct a flurry bars with the utmost precision. Mind you, it was a bloated 20+ song tracklist, but there were a few incredible moments on the project that offered Lil Wayne fans something that they’ve been longing for since his release from Rikers.
“Mahogany,” specifically, was a reminder of the brilliance Wayne and Mannie Fresh captured at the height of the Cash Money days. Mannie transforms Eryn Allen Kane’s “Bass Song” into a shiny, candy-painted low-rider. Lil Wayne, as he mentions in the song, uses it as a vehicle to “do the dash, boy.” Wayne weaves through the production with run-on sentences and stream-of-conscious flows that intertwine punchlines, similes, and metaphors into each other.
Truthfully, Wayne’s always found a strength within a solid vocal chop. Mannie Fresh’s abilities to dissect “Bass Song” into a smooth Southern production for Weezy truly showcases both of their innate abilities to create brilliance, even if it's outside their wheelhouse. In fact, if this song is an indication of anything, it’s that Wayne might end up releasing one of his best projects of the past decade-plus whenever he and Mannie do decide to drop that collab tape.
26. Big Sean ft Tee Grizzley, Kash Doll, 42 Dugg, Payroll, Boldy James, Drego, Cash Kidd, Royce Da 5'9", & Eminem - "Friday Night Cypher"
Should a song’s value be discerned from the strength of its lineup alone, it’s hard to topple Big Sean’s ambitious meeting of the Detroit bosses that is the “Friday Night Cypher.” An instant interest-piquer for anybody who appreciates hip-hop regionalism, Sean’s ambitious homage to Detroit’s versatile and creatively-thriving rap scene deserves merit for merely existing. For those who don’t know, the entire song actually derived from a single studio session, during which only Bad Meets Evil were absent. As such, there’s an unspoken camaraderie permeating the free-flowing anthem, one that overpowers any lingering tension that might have risked derailing such a delicate balance of spinning plates.
As it’s likely that landing on a standout is a matter of stylistic preference, it feels futile to single out verses, especially when the statement of unity remains one of the song’s most powerful takeaways. What matters most is that in a year rattled by division, Big Sean managed to unify his city and the many voices that make it such a vibrant rap mecca. Not only that, but he did so while paying homage to one of the foundational pillars of hip-hop culture: the cypher.
25. Lil Uzi Vert - "Silly Watch"
Three stops into Lil Uzi Vert’s long-awaited celestial odyssey, Eternal Atake, comes one of 2020’s best tracks, “Silly Watch.” Uzi cannonades the listener with quickfire bar after bar, outpacing an ominous synth line that oscillates throughout the short runtime. “Drive-by on a rat, you a walkin' cop/Double-park, new Lambo' with no parkin' spot/Comme des Garçons, use my heart a lot,” he concludes the chorus. Money, cars and clothes rarely sound so out of this world.
It’s a pity the song dropped prior to one of the last weekends of 2020 that we’d spend outdoors-- but it was one hell of a song for our last hurrah.
- Cole Blake
24. Spillage Village - "Baptized"
Those familiar with the Spillage Village movement, more specifically the trajectories of J.I.D, Johnny Venus, and Wowgr8 (Formerly known as Doctur Dot), are well familiar with the trifecta’s elite rhyming ability. A simple revisitation of EarthGang’s Shallow Graves For Toys reveals a pair of young emcees rhyming with an underground spitter’s fervor. In J.I.D’s case, many have come to identify him as one of the best “new” lyricists, all the more so given how comfortable he’s become over a widespread variety of beats. On Spillage Village’s Spilligion, itself a bold foray into gospel-inspired spirituality, the bars are primarily delegated to the back of the chapel -- that is, except for the smoldering “Baptize.”
Fueled by a bass-heavy instrumental, Venus sets things off with a staccato verse, his cadence blending magnificently with Johnny Venus, Hollywood JB & Christo’s lush production. J.I.D holds down the second verse, his charisma and penchant for mischief a welcome contrast to the religious undertones; as such, there’s an air of defiance throughout “Baptize,” the lingering feeling that the preacher is about to unleash a flask mid-sermon. Closing things out is an incendiary Wowgr8, who unleashes a salvo of thematic bars. “I've been over my lyrical phase, I rather be potent,” he spits, showcasing his cleverness with a slick serpentine segue. “Burnin' that bush like Moses, hood on my back like Cobras / Eat the forbidden fruit, girl, it's a lot more I can show ya.”
23. Eminem - "Godzilla" feat Juice WRLD
It’s a simple fact that people have gotten a little too comfy taking shots at the hip-hop greats. For Eminem, it feels like such scrutiny has become par for the course, to the point where frequent provocation drove him to deliver the simmering Kamikaze -- and in doing so, ultimately righting a ship that many had accused him of steering awry. When he doubled down with Music To Be Murdered By, reuniting with Dr. Dre and expanding his roster of collaborators with some unexpected names, it felt like a victory lap of sorts. Nowhere was that more evident than on “Godzilla,” a playful rap clinic featuring a posthumous appearance from noted Slim Shady fan Juice WRLD.
What makes “Godzilla” so refreshing is the fact that Eminem is clearly having fun, unfettered by the looming pressure that has long plagued his recent output. As such, his rhymes are delivered with effortless nature, his rapid-fire schemes woven with typically outlandish and imaginative imagery. Fueled by D.A. Doman’s simple but absolutely-murderable banger, Eminem showcases adaptability that even some of the game’s most accomplished emcees could only dream of achieving. And of course, much has already been made about his hypersonic climactic verse, to the point where it went on to spark his first viral challenge -- a milestone befitting of a noted curmudgeon when it comes to technology. Whether “Godzilla” truly is the best song on Em’s lone 2020 project is certainly debatable -- but damned if it didn’t leave a lasting impression all the same.
22. King Von - "Took Her to the O"
Chicago's infamous O Block receives even more love. King Von came through heavy at the beginning of the year with this absolute banger, helping to launch a successful year for the young artist, who was taken too soon. "Took Her To The O" is the type of track that forces the listener to break their neck nodding to the aggressive percussions. A somewhat overused, yet mysteriously potent, dark piano riff builds the skeleton of the beat. However, it's the base that really drives home the energy that King Von embodies in his lyrics. Von embarks on a story that takes listeners through his hood, painting a picture of the O that feels consistent with everything that the community has brought to the culture in recent years.
21. Future - "Ridin Strikers"
Even though it can sometimes feel like if you heard one Future song then you've heard them all, "Ridin Strikers" proved to be the summer 2020 banger that many didn't know they even needed. Of course, the highlight of this track is the beat switch-up that arrives right as you hit the 2:30 mark, but even before the beat changes, the listener is slowly drawn in by the unidentified metallic clanging. The sound later goes in a completely different direction than what you'd expect from Future, and it definitely ends up working in his favor, making the song an immediate stand-out from High Off Life. While we're almost certain that Future is not actually "ridin' strikers through your hood," as he's admitted time and time again, it's his cool-as-a-cucumber approach to the song overall that always makes him feel believable.
20. Pop Smoke - "Christopher Walkin"
As one of the standouts off Pop Smoke’s mixtape Meet The Woo 2, the final one released before his senseless murder on February 19 of this year, “Christopher Walking” really did help the Brooklyn native become a pioneer for the drill music wave that’s since taken over New York’s legendary rap scene. Lyrically, he even helped influence one the most popular phrases of this year with the chorus — “N****s sayin’ they outside!” — and even was able to throw in a few clever bars — “You pumpin’ shit up like you Budden” — that prove he was definitely a student of the game even at the young age of 20 years old. It’s just a shame he never got to live on the see just how much we, in fact, definitely wanted the smoke.
19. Lil Baby - "We Paid" feat. 42 Dugg
Lil Baby and 42 Dugg likely didn’t know that their second collaborative single, titled “We Paid,” would end up becoming one of this year’s quintessential rap songs.
Tyler, The Creator has called it “the core of rap music”. Even Yung Joc, who gets dissed in the first line of the song, can’t deny that it’s a banger, admitting that he likes it on multiple occasions.
Following “Grace”, “We Paid” marks the second collaboration between Lil Baby and 42 Dugg, and it has us all hoping that the Atlanta and Detroit forces team up more in the future. The mentor-mentee duo bounces wonderfully off of each other, truly embodying the meaning of collaboration for the 3-minute record. 4PF signee 42 Dugg starts off with his trademark whistle before leading off with a few bars that had too much potential to not go viral.
“We Paid” hit #1 on US Apple Music across all genres, going 2x platinum and providing 42 Dugg with his first few plaques. Dugg’s delivery, as well as Baby’s own care-free energy, make this one of the best rap songs of the year, easily.
- Alex Zidel
18. Benny the Butcher - "Deal or No Deal"
The opening line on “Deal Or No Deal” starts with Benny boisterously proclaiming “This shit sound perfect right here,” and honestly he’s not too far off. Paired with a boom-bap-inspired instrumental by Griselda in-house producer Daringer and lyrics that fire off as hard as what you’d expect from any member on the Griselda squad, this track overall proves what “The Butcher” in his name stands for — an emcee with the skills for complete lyrical annihilation. His pace is clear and concise throughout as well, making it even more enjoyable to hear him spit bars like “I made ‘coke rap’ sound like a new invention” and “I’m too bougie for broke bitches and too gangsta for TV.” In short, when it comes to this rap shit, best believe in Benny.
17. Mac Miller - Everybody
Mac Miller’s family and friends came together to continue the rapper’s Swimming chronicles with the release of Circles, a sister album of sorts to Swimming, as indicated by the merging of both titles-- the idea of Swimming in Circles. Alone, the album titles may not resonate on any particular level, but when combined, it becomes a powerful image, and one that likely hits home for a lot of people-- especially during this, the year of our Pandemic. This idea ties perfectly into Circles’ stand-out, “Everybody.” Mac’s personal take on Arthur Lee’s “Everybody Gotta’s Live,” finds the artist infusing it with even more melody, and even more music, as he layers his piano keys with drums and complimentary vocals. The vocals effuse a sadness, perhaps made even more disheartening given the fact that the artist himself is no longer with us. Nonetheless, there’s a certain sorrow that pervades the song, and not in a detached sort of way, but in a way that makes you grieve alongside Mac-- it’s a song that revels in its sorrow, and allows you to do the same.
16. Gunna - "Dollaz on my Head" feat. Young Thug
Gunna has been an interesting character over the last few years. While receiving his fair share of co-signs from the likes of Young Thug, he's also gone ahead and essentially forged a dynamic duo with Lil Baby. Lyrically, the Atlanta rapper is all about his drip and with each new project, he has been able to cement himself as one of hip-hop’s most trusted hit makers. On his latest album Wunna, Gunna was able to put forth his most consistent effort to date, with one of the standouts being “Dollaz On My Head” which just so happens to feature the likes of Thugger.
If you were to sit down and try to create the quintessential Gunna song, “Dollaz On My Head” would certainly be the result. From the hypnotizing trap beats to the hedonistic lyrical content, Gunna provides fans with a steady yet catchy flow that you can’t help but nod your head to. Young Thug acts as the perfect companion piece to the song as he matches Gunna’s youthful energy all while offering some of that classic Thugger vocal inflection. While Wunna tracklist as a whole is an easy listen, there is no denying that “Dollaz On My Head” is truly special.
- Alex Cole
15. Cardi B - "WAP" feat. Megan Thee Stallion
We’re hard-pressed to find another song in 2020 that created as much of a controversy as “WAP.” Cardi B’s Megan Thee Stallion-assisted single was a head-turner before it was even released as the two thunderous figures in rap posed near-naked for the promo photos. Individually, both Cardi and Megan are known for their explicit nature as they deliver jarring bars about sexually-related topics— only shocking to those who have ignored the equally as graphic lyrics from the ladies’ male counterparts.
“WAP” caused division as “wet ass p*ssy” was repeated throughout the chorus, and as Cardi became increasingly vocal about America’s 2020 election, the rapper’s dripping single was targeted by Republicans. Not everyone was comfortable with “WAP” and soon, modesty was was a focal point of global discussions, but the chatter, along with a viral dance, helped the collaborative single climb the charts to No. 1.
Cardi later shared that she had many releases lined up this year but, like many others, she was curbed by the pandemic. If the Grammy Award-winning rapper was able to make “WAP” happen despite quarantine, fans cannot wait to see what she has lined up for 2021.
- Erika M
14. Drake - "Laugh Now Cry Later" feat. Lil Durk
2020 was a good year for Drizzy. Toronto’s finest did not drop his highly anticipated new album, but we did get a mixtape and a slew of singles, including the Durk-assisted “Laugh Now Cry Later.” The scorching single features production from Cardo, Rogét Chahayed, Yung Exclusive, and G. Ry while Lil Durk loans some auto-tune laced bars to the second verse. Triumphant horns highlight the instrumental, which also contains a roof-rumbling percussion medley. "Laugh Now Cry Later" includes a few bars that fans believe to be shots taken at two of Drake and Lil Durk's most bitter rivals: Kanye West and Tekashi 6ix9ine, respectively. Drizzy raps, "Please don't play that nigga songs in this party, I can't even listen to that," which is a nod to the Canadian rapper's entourage having Pusha T's music shut off during a celebration. Regardless, "Laugh Now Cry Later" is more than just a shot at the haters, it's an ode to success and the struggles needed to reach that next pinnacle, and with Durk as the featured artist, it truly embodies this idea. Fans may have been just as excited to see Durk get a moment in the sun as they were to hear a new Drizzy record, and we're among that camp.
13. DaBaby - "Rockstar" feat. Roddy Ricch
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch are two of this year’s most important artists. The former continued his strong run through the pandemic, releasing his Blame It On Baby album and his My Brother’s Keeper (Long Live G) EP. Roddy Ricch didn’t release much new music in 2020 aside from his features, but his debut album Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial continued performing tremendously well on the charts, allowing the Compton rapper to soak up his success for the twelve months following its release.
One of the rare times that Roddy popped up on a new record this year came via DaBaby’s “ROCKSTAR”, which incidentally, was also one of 2020’s definitive songs of the year.
Nominated for three prizes at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards, the song’s performance should give you an idea of how impactful the record was, peaking at #1 in most countries. The multiple-time platinum track features a hypnotic guitar loop, carefully crafted by breakout producer SethInTheKitchen. DaBaby reflects on his recent success in his lyrics, proudly stating that he’s earned every penny and looking back on the pain he endured to reach the top of the rap pinnacle. Roddy Ricch spits a standout verse of the year, flexing his status as a melody magician and delivering some emotional and introspective -- yet still flex-worthy -- bars.
“ROCKSTAR” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, and it’s also one of the best.
- Alex Zidel
12. Megan Thee Stallion - "Savage"
She had two of the hottest songs of the year before she even released her debut album. Megan Thee Stallion has quickly become an artist to watch, and just when people count her out, she returns to the charts with another hit. Megan was responsible for several viral moments in 2020, as her feature on Cardi B’s “WAP” and Thee Stallion’s TikTok favorite “Savage” created a global wave.
Of the latter, a dance craze would help aid Megan Thee Stallion in attracting a remix by the rapper’s fellow Houston native Beyoncé. The Hot Girls and the BeyHive assisted in launching the single into the No. 1 position on the charts, narrowly edging out Doja Cat’s “Say So” remix with Nicki Minaj.
“Savage” may have not been the first time Megan demanded attention, but its popularity was the set up for the impending success of “WAP.” The Houston Hottie gave us Good News this year— in more ways than one— and she plans on keeping that energy in the new year.
11. Migos - "Need It" Feat. NBA Youngboy
Migos and NBA Youngboy decided to reach back to 2005 for this 50 Cent-sampled single. "Need It" borrows the addicting guitar of "Bitch Get In My Car" and lays it down over a trap beat that revives the sound for a new generation. Although separate members of Migos and NBA Youngboy have collaborated before, this was the first official song with everyone together. As expected, the personalities and vibes of both entities mesh well on this party track. Big booties, big money, and big trouble are the concepts thrown around on this jumpy single, with every rapper feeding off each other's energy. While Migos have not been releasing a ton of music this year, "Need It" was enough of a reminder that we do still need a new album, and that the trio still have that undeniable energy and chemistry.
10. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin - Glock in my Lap
On albums like Savage Mode and Without Warning, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin were able to emerge as one of hip-hop’s most formidable duos. When Savage Mode 2 was announced, fans were anticipating more of that dark murderous energy exuded by their previous output. For the most part, Savage Mode 2 delivered, and “Glock In My Lap” served as the album's mission statement.
Immediately upon listening to this track, we are hit with some brooding and haunting piano keys all while hi-hats and 808s slowly roll in. Before 21 spits a single bar he repeatedly says “pussy” as he takes a shot at all of his opps who have been questioning his stature-- it sets the scene for a menacing record, and that's the type of record we all love to hear from 21. 21 is at his most sociopathic as he delivers violent lyrics in his trademark sturdy, monotone flow. Metro adds some stunning elements to the beat that help to illustrate what 21 is saying. The glitched-out violin appears for a few brief seconds, like a lightning bolt efficiently striking the earth. “Glock In My Lap” is one of 21 and Metro’s strongest tracks to date and it’s earned its place amongst the best of the year.
- Alex Cole
9. Nas - "Blue Benz"
Anytime a legend of the game gives us a song that chronicles their rise in rap, it’s usually met with fanfare. For a certified hip-hop icon like Nas, that sentiment is pretty much doubled. “Blue Benz” isn’t the best Nas track of his career, but there’s something extremely special about hearing Esco reminisce about the good ol’ days, all the while giving us a pure NYC throwback vibe. We get to hear Nas rap about nights at legendary NYC nightclub The Tunnel, pay homage to late Violator co-founder Chris Lightly, and use a sample of Louie Rankin as “Ox” from the 1998 Hype Williams film Belly that Nas starred in. And of course, the record itself is basically a masterclass in story-telling. It’s these things and more that give "Blue Benz'' its mass appeal.
8. Busta Rhymes - "Look Over Your Shoulder" feat. Kendrick Lamar
There’s something inherently pure about a simple hip-hop song structure consisting of two legendary emcees trading extensive verses. And while the likes of Funkmaster Flex has made crying “BARS” feel like somewhat of a parody, there’s truth to be found. Lyricism will always have a place in hip-hop, as one of the key foundational elements. It’s the reason that Busta Rhymes’ epic collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, the Michael Jackson-sampling “Look Over Your Shoulder,” feels so special. Not only does it herald the arrival of K. Dot’s first and only verse this year, but it serves as a bridging point between two hip-hop generations where common ground is quickly discovered.
Kendrick Lamar is no stranger to Top 10 lists, and the Compton emcee’s verse here serves as a welcome reminder of his pedigree. The way he manipulates his verbiage and fires off machine-gun syllabic schemes is Busta-esque in nature, leaving listeners scrambling to unpack his lines before the next one lands. It’s no easy feat to follow Kendrick Lamar, but Busta Rhymes has been doing this shit for decades. The Dungeon Dragon is in fine form as he brings controlled chaos to the soulful instrumental, establishing the scope of his wingspan within the opening lines. “Look over your shoulder, get me?” he spits. “Cause I done bodied the game to the point ni*gas scared to rap with me / Kept burnin' 'til they anointed me one of the kings of Black history.” Following the release of this, and ELE2 as a whole, believe that the coronation plans have already begun.
7. Drake & Future - "Life is Good"
Though stylistically different in myriad ways, there’s one piece of connective tissue that gives Future and Drake such incredible chemistry: their shared joie de vivre. Having triumphantly declared What A Time To Be Alive in 2015, the pair reunited in January of 2020 to provide an update, checking in to confirm that “Life Is Good” -- blissfully unaware of the following months to come. This time around, the pair made an adaptive adjustment. While sometimes they’d struggle to find common ground on a given instrumental, with many of WATTBA’s beats seeming to favor Future’s wheelhouse, their latest collab makes a point of providing two musically disparate experiences without deviating from the plot.
For Drizzy, his lust for life is best enjoyed slowly, like a fine whiskey or wine. Conversely, Future finds his simple pleasures in the relentless pursuit of nocturnal enjoyment, as fast as it is morally loose. Together they make “Life Is Good” a spectrum of sorts, one that feels like a cycle of day and night, of the calm and the storm. And at the center stand two rich-ass men who have somehow redefined what it means to be an optimist. True, their titular assessment may not hold much water at the tail end of a truly damnable year, but “Life Is Good” remains a noble effort all the same.
6. Eminem & Kid Cudi - "The Adventures of Moon Man & Shady"
It’s evident within the title: “The Adventures Of Moon Man & Slim Shady” is a crossover event. One arranged between two emcees who, on paper, possess little to no similarities on a sonic level. Perhaps that’s what made Kid Cudi and Eminem’s first collaboration so unique, with the production team of J Gramm, Dot Da Genius, and Em himself somehow managing to create a level playing field. Though the instrumental’s skeletal foundation remains consistent throughout, the subtle differences in arrangement highlight the distinctive characteristics of each emcee’s personality. For Cudi, spacey and atmospheric; for Slim, mischievous and carnival-esque.
Eminem’s reputation as a formidable bar-spitter is well documented, and many were intrigued to hear how he and Cudi would mesh on wax. For the occasion, Moon Man opted to operate in Shady’s wheelhouse, setting things off a lengthy stream-of-consciousness verse lined with abstract imagery and leaving Slim to finish things off. Employing a relaxed flow and soft-spoken cadence, Eminem’s practiced poise imbues his punchlines with quiet menace. And in spite of the song’s comic-book motif, Slim still manages to imbue his verse with a potent dose of activism, shouting out the unjust deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. In essence, “Moon Man & Slim Shady” has everything a longtime rap fan could ask for. And to think, manifested after the digital-age equivalent of lighting the bat-signal: a Tweet from Cudi reading “Rap God, help!”
5. Money Man - "24" Remix feat. Lil Baby
Money Man finally broke through the public consciousness this year, thanks to a remix of “24” with Lil Baby ensuring his visibility across platforms. The rapper, who was briefly signed to Cash Money, has been the industry’s best-kept-secret in a way-- adopting a sound that is incessantly catchy, a bit trendy, and still all his own, while steadily releasing project after project -- yet, his name does not ring bells in the same way that someone like the aforementioned Lil Baby does. And that’s not to put either rapper to shame, it’s a simple fact. However, the remix of “24,” allowed Money Man to expand his cult-like audience, a strategic move for Money Man assuredly, as the rapper previously told us he would give a fellow artist a bag if it meant taking a bit of their fanbase.
The remix of “24” is also one of those increasingly rare instances where the follow-up is actually better, and even more worthy, than the OG. Baby’s cadence perfectly mirrors that of Money Man’s, proving their chemistry over Nflated’s downtrodden, earworm of a beat. “24” itself is not only an ode to the late Kobe Bryant, who wore the number on his jersey, but it also reflects both artists hustler mentality, the idea of 24/7 work, with Money Man alleging, “I can make a cool 50K in less than twenty-four hours.” And we believe it.
4. Freddie Gibbs & Alchemist - "Scottie Beam"
Freddie Gibbs is basking in the glory of his hard work. The talented rapper received a Grammy nomination, Best Rap Album, for Alfredo, yet another masterful piece of art on our album's list that was constructed by The Alchemist. "Scottie Beam" featuring Rick Ross provided Alfredo with one of the most cinematic moments. Sticking to what works, Gibbs lays down grimy bars over a sample that sounds like it belongs in a documentary for a pimp in the 70s. The instrumental is mesmerizing in its old-school glory. The vintage vibe suits Ross well, as the self-proclaimed biggest boss lays down braggadocious bars that highlight lavish living and debauchery.
3. Jay Electronica - "A.P.I.D.T.A."
Hip-hop can convey many emotions, but few songs have managed to capture such a heartbreaking tone as Jay Electronica’s “A.P.I.D.T.A.” The closing message of his A Written Testimony album, Electronica opts to employ the music of Khruangbin’s “A Hymn,” a beautiful and melancholic composition in its own right. From there, he proceeds to reflect on the devastating absence that the death of a loved one can bring, an existential crisis rendered through Jay-Z’s simple but painfully effective chorus. “I got texts on my phone that'll never ping again,” raps Hov, his voice weary. “I screenshot 'em so I got 'em, I don't want this thing to end.”
“The day my mama died, I scrolled her texts all day long,” raps Jay Electronica, having given the song’s weight ample time to settle in. “The physical returns but the connection still stay strong / Now I understand why you used to cry sometimes we ride down Claybourne /You just missed your mama, now I just miss my mama.” Unpretentious in his delivery, Jay Electronica’s reflections on the cycle of death resonate through their relatability. All the while, his words are emphasized by the bittersweet guitars of Khruannbin’s “Hymn.” It’s easily one of the most powerful tracks of the year, and could likely hold that title if the scope was widened further. Brilliant penmanship from a starkly vulnerable Jay Electronica, and a likely catalyst for his first official Grammy nomination.
2. Roddy Ricch - "The Box"
If “Old Town Road” was the biggest pop culture hit of 2019, then Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” was certainly the largest such song for 2020. This track spent 11 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts and it helped Roddy’s Please Excuse Me For Being Anitsocial album go two times platinum. It’s a track that was impossible to avoid and Roddy’s songwriting prowess was on full display from start to finish.
The artist immediately grabs attention as the track begins with a cinematic string section, all while Roddy repeats his screeching, windshield-wiper-esque sound, “eee euu,” which eventually became a meme in its own right and took on a life of its own. From there, Roddy delivers what was easily one of the catchiest hooks of the year, where he delivers plenty of braggadocios and hedonistic lyrics. His verses are even more captivating as he paints a vivid picture of the fantasy he’s trying to live. The track also laid the foundation for a future Roddy Ricch Presidential candidacy, which we can’t help but look forward to.
- Alex Cole
1. Lil Baby - "The Bigger Picture"
Lil Baby had already proven himself in past years but, in 2020, he leveled up to superstar status. He started the year by asserting himself, telling the world it was “his turn” and, man oh man, was he ever right. Lil Baby has established himself as arguably the most in-demand rapper of the year, with songs like “The Bigger Picture” making a huge impact on the charts, the streets, and on the frontline.
The 26-year-old claimed in his interview with GQ that he likely won’t be making another song like this for a while, despite it peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming one his biggest tracks ever. “The Bigger Picture” was not included on his chart-topping album My Turn. “Emotionally Scarred” is very-much deserving of a spot on this list as well, showing the rapper at his most introspective to date, but “The Bigger Picture” saw Baby going a different route.
Like he says in the hook, it has absolutely been one hell of a year. The song was released at the height of the social and political unrest issues in the U.S. Protests were happening every single day and night, with police officers shooting rubber bullets and spraying massive amounts of tear-gas into crowds following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black Americans. The lyrics were poignant, yet Baby was still telling a story from beginning-to-end. The song was powerful, but it didn’t necessarily point fingers at any one person, or group of people. “Every colored person ain't dumb and all whites not racist/I be judging by the mind and heart, I ain't really into faces,” raps the Atlanta native, urging us all to consider the bigger picture and not be so closed-minded.
“The Bigger Picture” arrived just days after Lil Baby was spotted at a protest in Atlanta, leading the charges and handing out supplies, money, and more, speaking to the crowd as they reached the State Capitol Building. This is one of the biggest songs of the year, and it’s quite possibly the most important song of the year.
- Alex Zidel