From multiple lockdowns to baffling tiers, Britain has been through it all this year. But while the world may have slowed down, the music certainly didn’t. The homegrown talent was on show in abundance, from the artists and producers down to the engineers and writers. Established artists released their best bodies of work to date, and a bank of newcomers emerged to take over the airwaves. The drill scene continued to thrive, dominating the charts alongside the UK rap regulars. UK pop and R&B also had a standout year, diversifying the options at listeners’ disposal. The world was listening, and the UK hitmakers stamped their authority.
From Headie One to Lianne La Havas, these are the best songs of 2020 by British artists:
- Abra Cadabra, On & On (feat. Odeal)
- AJ Tracey & Mabel, West Ten
- Ambush Buzzworl, Tommy Shelby (OutDRILL)
- BackRoad Gee, Come Again (feat. Jay Silva)
- Frosty, Super Trapper
- Headie One, Parlez-Vouz Anglais (feat. Aitch)
- Lord Apex, Supply & Demand
- Loski, Anglo-Saxon (feat. Blanco)
- Meekz, Year of the Real (feat. M1llionz, Teeway & Pa Salieu)
- Miraa May, Say Yeah (feat. Haile)
- MizOrMac, Return of the Mac
- Pak-Man, Smoke
- Preditah, Distant Memory (feat. WSTRN)
- Rimzee, Xabsi (feat. M24)
- RV, Back to Back (feat. Headie One)
- Shocktown, Cedar
- Sneakbo, Love is a Gamble (feat. Kida Kudz)
- Slauts, Italian Man
- V9, Hello Hi (feat. Jimmy)
- Young T & Bugsey, New Shape
50. Rimzee, “Jada & Styles” (feat. Snap Capone)
Album: Upper Clapton Dream 2
A successful year for the Clapton rapper bought a fire collaboration with Snap Capone on his long-awaited mixtape.
49. Morrisson, “Bad Guy” (feat. Loski)
Another rapper who had a breakout year, Morrisson’s transition to drill bought one of the drill bangers of the year, partnered up with drill prince Loski.
48. Kojey Radical, “Good”
Kojey Radical’s time will come. But in the meantime, his single “Good” is a much-needed boost of positivity and anthem for self-belief.
47. Knucks, “Thames”
Album: London Class
Newcomer Knucks is a breath of fresh air in the UK scene. One of the highlights off his London Class mixtape is “Thames”. Never fold, never bend. Nah mean?
46. D-Block Europe, “We Won”
Album: The Blue Print: Us vs. Them
The ever-present trap duo are at the apex of the commercial rap game. Amongst the sea of diluted trap music, “We Won” stood out with its abstract choice of beat and a killer chorus.
45. Scribz Riley, “On My Sleeve” (feat. Kaash Paige)
Album: Wish Me Luck
UK R&B is finally on the rise, and Scribz Riley is one of the artists leading the charge. A smooth collaboration with Kaash Paige is one of several highlights off his Wish Me Luck project.
44. Odeal, “24/28”
Album: OVMBR: Roses EP
Backed by a gentle guitar strum and afrobeat knock, Odeal’s “24/28” is all about the vocals for another UK R&B artist swiftly on the rise.
43. K-Trap, “Probably” (feat. Blade Brown)
Album: Street Side Effects
One of the finest rap collaborations of the year comes courtesy of K-Trap and Blade Brown. As always, the chemistry is at an all-time high.
42. NSG, “Ourself”
Summer was non-existent this year. But NSG’s “Ourself” is cooly waiting in line to take over speakers as soon as we’re free from the shackles of the pandemic.
41. Giggs, “Straight Murder (Giggs & David)” (feat. Dave)
Album: Now or Never
An unexpected linkup of the year, Giggs and Dave follow up their 2017 track “Peligro” with “Straight Murder”, which focuses on nothing but the bars.
40. Frisco, “Red Card” (with Boy Better Know)
Album: The Familiar Stranger
Grime’s most hailed collective surf verse to verse for a certified banger.
39. Digga D, “Chingy (It’s Whatever)”
The man with the drill hits, Digga D’s “Chingy” is full of personality and energy.
38. Loyle Carner, “Yesterday”
Produced by none other than the legend Madlib, “Yesterday” is a refreshing breath of pure hip hop that is considerably absent in the mainstream UK scene.
37. Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Album: Future Nostalgia
UK pop had an outstanding year. Plenty of tracks could have been chosen from Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, but “Levitating” is the one that deserves the spotlights for its infectious refrain and production.
36. Olivia Dean, “The Hardest Part”
Album: What Am I Gonna Do on Sundays? EP
Olivia Dean is here to bring substance back to R&B. “The Hardest Part” brings mature vocals, substance and a sea of raw emotion that is bound to kickstart her career.
35. Central Cee, “Loading”
After years of releasing music of various styles, Central Cee finally broke through the ceiling in 2020. “Loading” tops off his fine streak of singles this year.
34. M24, “London” (feat. Tion Wayne)
The world may have done so, but M24 refused to slow down in 2020. Teaming up with Tion Wayne, “London” dominated the first half of the year with its absurd adlibs and drill energy.
33. Nafe Smallz, “Part of the Plan” (feat. M Huncho)
Album: Goat World
Before releasing their collaborative mixtape, Nafe Smallz and M Huncho impressed listeners with the cinematic “Part of the Plan”, one of the strongest UK trap songs of the year.
32. Unknown T, “AVEN9ERS” (feat. KO & V9)
Album: Rise Above Hate
Fresh home out the slammer, Unknown T linked up with his fellow 9ers on “AVEN9ERS”. Backed by an infectious flute and diligent verses, it is undoubtedly one of the drill standouts of 2020.
31. Kwengface, “Auntie”
One of the finest drill beats of the year belongs to Kwengface’s “Auntie”. The minacious violin goes hand in hand with the Zone 2 rapper’s grizzly bars.
30. Ghetts, “Mozambique” (feat. Jaykae & Moonchild Sanelly)
The most imaginative collaboration of the year comes from grime veteran Ghetts, assisted by Birmingham’s finest Jaykae and South African musician Moonchild Sannelly. The result is a nocturnal hit to keep us at bay as we wait for Ghetts’ album.
29. Potter Payper, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Album: Training Day 3
Fresh from a prison stint, Potter Payper wasted no time in heading to the studio. Many tracks off Training Day 3 could have occupied this spot, but “Slumdog Millionaire” is the most compelling track of the mixtape.
28. Nines, “Airplane Mode” (feat. NSG)
Album: Crabs in a Bucket
When Nines takes rap seriously, “Airplane Mode” is what the product can be. Backed by the catchy energy of NSG, the track rightfully boasts one of the best hooks of the year.
27. Greentea Peng, “Revolution”
The South London songstress delivers a reggae-inspired social anthem that foreshadows the true power of the current crop of youth.
26. James Blake, “Are You Even Real?”
The songwriting wizard never fails to deliver tender odes to love. “Are You Even Real?” swims in minimalism through its shimmering intro, compelling lines (“There’s no knife cause there’s no tension”), and sweet violin.
25. Lianne La Havas, “Bittersweet”
Album: Lianne La Havas
The English singer-songwriter puts the sweet in “Bittersweet”, flexing her powerful vocals for a track that feels warm and habitual.
24. Unknown T, “Deh Deh”
Album: Rise Above Hate
No one floats over warping drill beats better than Unknown T. More importantly, no one pronounces the letter ‘B’ better than the Homerton rapper. The lead single from his debut project creeps through your senses, weaving through spectacular flows and heavy vocals.
23. Enny, “Peng Black Girls” (feat. Amia Brave)
Paired up with a powerful music video, “Peng Black Girls” champions diversity within the female black community, perfectly channelling the message through captivating bars and a soothing chorus.
22. Pa Salieu, “My Family” (feat. BackRoad Gee)
Album: Send Them to Coventry
“My Family” is an intimidating track in both its production and the vocals laid by Pa Salieu and BackRoad Gee; a harmonious match for two upcoming artists set to have exciting 2021s.
21. Youngs Teflon, “Rule of Two (Original Version)” (feat. Dave)
Album: Call of Duty 3
Upon release, a potent Braveheart sample was the crux of this 7-minute masterpiece by two of the nation’s finest lyricists. Due to clearance issues, the song was reworked for the version currently available on streaming services. Regardless, “Rule of Two” had the ears of the nation.
20. Slowthai, “Feel Away” (feat. James Blake & Mount Kimbie)
Inspired by the death of his baby brother, Slowthai’s heartfelt “Feel Away” carries pure emotion in the vocals, production and lyrics.
19. Nines, “NIC” (feat. Tiggs Da Author)
Album: Crabs in a Bucket
Nines enters his storytelling bag for yet another smash hit with Tigga Da Author. “NIC” soars through lavish strings and a breakdown of Nines’ introduction to the trap life.
18. Headie One, “Princess Cuts” (feat. Young T & Bugsey)
No one was able to shake a leg to this one. “Princess Cuts” is another track reserved for the 2021 holidays, powered by a fantastic hook by Young T and personality by Headie One and Bugsey.
17. Meekz, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”
Album: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop EP
The breakout single by Meekz was one to remember, provided flavour by its distinctive Manchester accent and driven by the thumping beat.
16. Bugzy Malone, “M.E.N. III”
“The nurses told me I’m lucky to be alive”, Bugzy Malone says at the start of “M.E.N III”, a song released after recovering from a fatal motor accident. After meeting the Grim Reaper and coming back, the hunger and desire has never been clearer than ever.
15. J Hus, “Big Conspiracy” (feat. Iceè TGM)
Album: Big Conspiracy
The title track off J Hus’ sophomore album couldn’t be more perfect of an opener. The lines are poetically beautiful, as are the production and the performance by Iceè TGM.
14. Headie One, “Only You Freestyle” (with Drake)
2020’s surprises outdone itself with Drake jumping on drill. Though he may not receive the credit, his performance is impressive, incredible even. The torch is then passed to Headie One, who possesses the key to the door of the ghostly beat and makes himself comfortable.
13. Mnelia, “Say Yeah”
Mnelia led the charge of UK R&B in 2020 with her single “Say Yeah”. Glimmers of Ashanti and other 2000s contemporaries channel through the sweet melodies, and may just be the best R&B song the country has seen in years.
12. Rina Sawayama, “XS”
Rina Sawayama released the best pop album of 2020. The single “XS” is a stellar example of why. “XS” cleverly mixes 2000s pop (à la Britney Spears) with metal breakdowns, which serves as the backdrop for tongue-in-cheek lyrics about hyper-consumerism and capitalism. It may not have hit the charts, but “XS” is the best pop song of the year.
11. Digga D, “Woi”
When drill brings personality, it is a genre to be reckoned with. Digga D does exactly that with “Woi”, a song that was perhaps the face of drill this year.
10. M1llionz, “B1llionz”
Birmingham rapper M1llionz was the most admired artist to break out this year. With multiple choices available to take this spot, “B1llionz” stands out the most. Sampling Mahalia’s “Do Not Disturb”, the track combines drill with garage to truly test the endurance of M1llionz’s unusual flow.
9. C. Biz, “Obsession”
Slipping under everyone’s radar this year was C. Biz’s “Obsession”. It is straightforward but gripping, and the most transparent we have ever heard the South Kilburn rapper.
8. Abra Cadabra, “Spin This Coupe”
Album: Product of My Environment
We arrive at the MVP of the year: OFB’s Abra Cadabra. One of his many 2020 standouts, “Spin This Coupe” is relentlessly animated and one of the best drill songs of the year.
7. Wewantwraiths, “Chanaynay”
UK trap was honoured by another newcomer, Wewantwraiths. “Chanaynay” is the perfect take on a trap song with its pitched sample, meditative lyrics and the rapper’s synergy with the autotune. The hook is irresistible when paired with the cinematic production. Even with the comparisons to Lil Baby, “Chanaynay” possesses exactly the right flair to stand out in the trap scene.
6. J Hus, “Fight for Your Right”
Album: Big Conspiracy
Representing the darker sound to the album, “Fight for Your Right” sees J Hus in fine form to make one of the best songs of his career. Hus captivates the listener with the ominous production, slick bars and killer chorus. Lines like “You can avoid the feds but not the karma” are food for thought, one of many points of the song that serve a convincing purpose.
5. Cashh, “Trench Baby”
If anyone is deserving of a top 5 song of the year, it is Cashh (formerly Cashtastic). An underrated veteran in the game, deportation to Jamaica abruptly stunted his career. Returning to the country in 2019, this story makes “Trench Baby” even more powerful.
4. J Hus, “Deeper Than Rap”
Album: Big Conspiracy
The closer to Hus’ Big Conspiracy is an end credits you must stay for. “Deeper Than Rap” is nothing but lyrical scriptures, a captivating stream of consciousness that bounces from topic to topic, but in the end is all branches from the same tree. There was no need for a hook on this one. The verses done all the talking.
3. Headie One, “Charades” (with Fred again…)
Among all of Headie One’s highlights this year, nothing quite touched the spirit like his lead single with Fred Again. Off a greatly misunderstood project, “Charades” may just be the first sad drill song ever. Fred Again provides the experimental backdrop for Headie One to simply be Headie One, but at the same time present an emotional side we have never quite heard from him. This song is Headie One at his most artistic.
2. Potter Payper, “Filthy Free”
Album: 2020 Vision EP
Before Training Day 3 came an EP that may have been swiftly forgotten. But that EP proved to be more than pre-prison throwaways. “Filthy Free” is Potter Payper’s victory lap. You can practically hear him take his first breath of fresh air once exiting the pen, never to look back as he hops into his whip and drives off into the mist. It is also technically brilliant, weaving through spectacular rhyme schemes that prove his status as one of the finest lyricists of the country. When it comes to that real rap, nothing else in 2020 compares quite like “Filthy Free”. To quote the bar of the year, “I ain’t filthy rich, but I’m filthy free.” Welcome home, Potter Payper.
1. Abra Cadabra, “On Deck”
Album: Product of My Environment
Consistency was always a hinderance for Abra Cadabra. It is all YouTube commenters would write under his videos. The OFB rapper responded accordingly, starting 2020 with the release of his Love or Lust EP. It was followed up by the appetiser “Cadabra Freestyle”. But it wasn’t until the summer where Abra Cadabra showed his true intentions; to take over your speakers with “On Deck”. The song is unapologetically drill, roaring in its explosive production to lever the rapper’s gruff voice. Threats to his opps are coupled with comical threats to slide on girls that are wasting his time. The rhythm of the hook is simply addictive, structured in a way where you must recite every single line word for word and still find a way to keep up the pace. There is no stop the track doesn’t take.
And that is why “On Deck” is the best UK song of 2020.
🇬🇧 Listen to our top 50 UK songs of 2020 playlist on Spotify: