2020 was the most bizarre year of our lifetime. A global pandemic affected every aspect of our lives, whether through enforcement of loose social distancing or the products we consume. The music industry in particular was massively hit. Live shows were cancelled, festivals were postponed, and artists were left at a standstill. Many musicians could have delayed their work till further notice, but the majority chose to pivot and work around their boundaries. It is for this reason we have seen the most populated music market in years.
Before we knew it, music became the soundtrack for our quarantine rituals. Locked indoors, TikToks rose out of boredom and artists communicated with us through a purely digital medium. It may not be a year to remember, but the music certainly was.
Here are the seventy-five best songs of 2020.
(Note: Songs released from Nov–Dec 2019 that are part of a 2020 album are included.)
75. Snoh Aalegra, “Dying for Your Love”
74. Ab-Soul, “Dangerookipawaa Freestyle”
73. Juice Wrld, “Righteous”
72. K-Trap, “Whip That Work”
71. Yung Bleu, “You’re Mines Still” (feat. Drake)
70. Che Noir & 38 Spesh, “Concrete Jungle” (feat. Eto & Jai Blakk)
69. Boldy James & The Alchemist, “Phone Bill”
68. 070 Shake, “Guilty Conscience”
67. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “Runnin”
66. Miraa May, “Say Yeah” (feat. Haile)
65. Pa Salieu, “My Family” (feat. BackRoad Gee)
64. Unknown T, “AVEN9ERS” (feat. KO & V9)
63. Travis Scott, “Franchise” (feat. Young Thug & M.I.A.)
62. Potter Payper, “Trapstar Memoirs”
61. Future, “Too Comfortable”
60. Headie One, “Only You Freestyle” (with Drake)
59. Future & Lil Uzi Vert, “Drankin N Smokin”
58. Dua Lipa, “Fever” (feat. Angèle)
57. Lil Uzi Vert, “Venetia”
56. Blu & Exile, “Miles Away” (feat. C.S. Armstrong)
55. Abra Cadabra, “On & On” (feat. Odeal)
54. Nafe Smallz, “Fine China”
53. Nas, “Ultra Black” (feat. Hit-Boy)
52. Lowkey, “Baby Steps”
51. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, “1985”
50. Logic, “Soul Food II”
Album: No Pressure
Logic’s retirement was ironically a superb comeback. The standout song was “Soul Food II”, a two-part track backed by heavenly production and some of Logic’s best rapping in years.
49. Kanye West, “Wash Us in the Blood” (feat. Travis Scott)
This swiftly forgotten single brought back the industrial hip hop sound of Yeezus for an absolute thumper of a track.
48. Pak-Man, “Smoke”
The UK’s most overlooked rapper released an arsenal of bangers this year. He saved the best for last with “Smoke”.
47. Terrace Martin & Denzel Curry, “Pig Feet” (feat. Kamasi Washington, G Perico & Daylyt)
The best protest track of the year, featuring superb production, faultless rapping and a powerful surge of justified anger against the inhumane police brutality that continues to plague America.
46. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “Glock In My Lap”
Album: Savage Mode II
A horror-show of a song by trap’s most celebrated producer-rapper duo.
45. Smoove’L, “Apollo”
Album: Ice Cups and Shootouts
Smoove’L’s hit “Apollo” shows off the Brooklyn native’s suave voice, bubbling under a minimal drill beat.
44. M Huncho, “Wait Til’ I Finish”
Album: Huncholini the 1st
The masked Brit crooner ended his sophomore project sweetly with “Wait Til’ I Finish”, soaring through a slick flow and the melodic vocals we all know Huncho for.
43. Kid Cudi, “Sept. 16”
The beloved Cleveland rapper soars through a superb track that feels eerily reminiscent of the first Man on the Moon, but carries the tenderness of the Satellite Flight track “Balmain Jeans”.
42. Dua Lipa, “Love Again”
Album: Future Nostalgia
British singer Dua Lipa beared the torch for mainstream pop this year. “Love Again” is one of the many catchy hits she delivered.
41. Nines, “NIC” (feat. Tiggs Da Author)
Album: Crabs in a Bucket
Storytelling Nines is in full effect on this highlight from his number 1 album. The strings soar as Nines details his introduction to the trap game, and Tiggs Da Author tops it off with a solid hook as he always does when working with the Church Road rapper.
40. Olivia Dean, “What Am I Gonna Do on Sundays?”
Album: What Am I Gonna Do on Sundays?
The soulful Olivia Dean bubbled quietly in the British R&B scene this year. The title track off her 2020 EP is the ballads of all ballads, a simply beautiful and vulnerable song.
39. Pop Smoke, “Make It Rain” (feat. Rowdy Rebel)
Album: Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
Hip hop lost the most promising rapper of 2020 as quickly as it got him. He left behind an engraved legacy and “Make It Rain”, a song that epitomises his effortless style of Brooklyn drill.
38. Chris Brown & Young Thug, “Go Crazy”
Album: Slime & B
The song of the summer, if there was a summer to enjoy.
37. Fivio Foreign, “Wetty”
Album: 800 BC
“I met lil mama in a deli, she was a wetty.” Whatever Fivio Foreign means by that, it is fire and makes for a drill highlight of the year.
36. Unknown T, “Deh Deh”
Album: Rise Above Hate
“Deh Deh” capitalises, underlines and boldens the B’s of Unknown T for a nocturnal drill tune charged by the Homerton rapper’s skippy flow and cadence.
35. Lil Baby, “Emotionally Scarred”
Album: My Turn
Every trap fan’s favourite song of the year. “Emotionally Scarred” showcases the best aspects of Lil Baby, proving he can deliver a great hook, rap assuredly and convey some compelling emotion.
34. The Weeknd, “Faith”
Album: After Hours
A song that hasn’t received the single treatment yet but is fully deserving of it. “Faith” charges through the downfall of Abel’s After Hours character at hyper-speed.
33. Abra Cadabra, “Spin This Coupe”
Album: Product of My Environment
One of Abra Cadabra’s many drill assaults to the senses, blaring through car speakers for the better half of the year.
32. Taylor Swift, “Exile” (feat. Bon Iver)
Taylor Swift totally transformed her sound out the blue. At the crux of her Folklore album is the Bon Iver collaboration, “Exile”, a tender duet carried by the harmonious performances of Swift and Iver.
31. Benny the Butcher, “Famous”
Album: Burden of Proof
Griselda’s finest broke through on his Burden of Proof album. “Famous” is the highlight of it, captivating you with Benny’s wise bars (“I’m just a dealer to the judge, and a sinner to the pope / At least could take 200 grams out depending on the dope.”)
30. 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.
29. Christine and the Queens, “People, I’ve been sad”
Album: La vita nuova
The simple delicacy of “People, I’ve Been Sad” epitomises the feeling of loneliness, especially within the context of a pandemic. The track weaves through English and French vocals for what is easily the dreamiest pop song of the year.
28. Rina Sawayama, “STFU!”
The lead single from the British-Japanese singer’s debut album was a daring choice. But it achieves everything necessary to make one interested in the album. Nu-metal segments exchange places with pretty-please pop to convey a simple yet layered message: shut the fuck up.
27. Headie One, “Hear No Evil” (feat. Future)
Headie One and Future prove the transatlantic collabs are getting better and better. Headie One glides across the twanging beat and Future does not phone in his contribution at all.
26. Gunna, “Met Gala”
The listener can do nothing but float to Gunna’s wavy “Met Gala”, a 2-and-a-half minute journey on cloud nine.
25. Rina Sawayama, “Tokyo Love Hotel”
Tokyo is glamourised by its many tourists. But for Rina Sawayama it is home. “Tokyo Love Hotel” details a powerful sense of homesickness by an artist who is proud of her heritage. It is a concept told in the most catchiest way possible.
24. The Weeknd, “Nothing Compares”
Album: After Hours (Deluxe)
Horns have never sounded so good. “Nothing Compares” is a sweet serenade, epic in its production but in a lowkey fashion. The Weeknd’s doubles down on his emotional vocals, making for a song to be played at weddings for years to come.
23. 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.
22. The Weeknd, “In Your Eyes (Remix)” (with Doja Cat)
Album: After Hours
If the original was not good enough, the remix with Doja Cat ensured it took the song to another level. Her contribution adds another dimension, specifically by the introduction of a new melodic verse.
21. Dutchavelli, “Only If You Knew”
Album: Dutch from the 5th
A song tainted by the despicable accusations on the head of Dutchavelli, “Only If You Knew” was the rapper’s breakout single full of energy and decibles to burst your speakers.
20. 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.
19. Headie One & Fred Again…, “Charades”
Among all of Headie One’s highlights this year, nothing quite touched the spirit like his lead single with Fred Again. “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.
18. Lil Uzi Vert, “Celebration Station”
Album: Eternal Atake
Tropical trap was invented on Eternal Atake. “Celebration Station” led that charge on the album, delivering a refrain that is one of the catchiest of the year (“Too much guap, bands bands / Bad lil foreign, ten ten”).
17. Ariana Grande, “Positions”
Pop is a guilty pleasure to many die-hard music fans. But there is nothing to be ashamed about listening to “Positions”, an irresistibly catchy song that even the toughest of men could not add to their playlists.
16. Future, “Accepting My Flaws”
Album: High Off Life
When Future enters his introspective lane, he is an unstoppable force. “Accepting My Flaws” officially closes out his 2020 album, High Off Life, and it is one of the most riveting songs of his catalogue. He does nothing but straight rap over the ghoulish production, wearing his demons on his sleeve like his numerous bust-down APs.
15. 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. There is nothing short of impressive when La Havas hits astronomical notes. The soul is definitely in this record.
14. CJ, “Whoopty”
Yes, TikTok may have blew this song up. But the 100+ million streams are justified. “Whoopty” is a legitimate drill banger by an emerging artist that is simply having fun. The lines are simple but the syncopated rhymes mesh effortlessly with CJ’s rapid flows. And above all, the beat that samples Mithoon & Arjit Singh’s “Sanam Re” is undeniably infectious.
13. 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.
12. 070 Shake, “Divorce”
Album: Modus Vivendi
Shake’s lines straddle the lines of poetry on her Modus Vivendi standout, “Divorce”, where she states lines like: “Trade this ring for peace inside / In plain sight, wavin’ my arms, Heaven’s alright / Bones and soil, fertilize.” Such poetry holds hands with the blissful production and Shake’s ethereal vocals. The second half minimises the vocals to flex the pure quality in production, featuring everything from electric guitar to soaring synths and tribal drums. It is a 4-minute journey through utopia.
11. Jay Electronica, “Ghost of Soulja Slim” (feat. Jay-Z)
Album: A Written Testimony
The rapper who never raps teamed up with Jay-Z for his debut album. “Ghost of Soulja Slim” is a magical standout. Buried drums and the French accordion sample are the template for the Jays to rap their riddles.
10. Pop Smoke, “Mannequin” (feat. Lil Tjay)
Album: Meet the Woo 2
Ariana Grande samples in drill beats are the special ingredient for a ten out of ten drill song. “Mannequin” sees the late Pop Smoke go back to back with fellow New Yorker, Lil Tjay. The formula is already laid out by drill wizard 808Melo, the rest is up to the rappers to only enhance this colossal collaboration.
9. Abra Cadabra, “On Deck”
Album: Product of My Environment
Abra Cadabra took over 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.
8. Mac Miller, “Good News”
The tear-jerking lead single from Mac Miller’s posthumous album is profoundly resonant on a human level. Written from the perspective of Mac’s personal struggles, it is a haunting song of a man that patched his depression from the world. It is relatable to anyone and everyone: good news really is all they wanna hear. But what this song shows us is it is okay to not be okay, long as you find an outlet for the pain. Rest in Peace, Mac Miller.
7. 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.
6. Rina Sawayama, “Dynasty”
The most audacious pop album of 2020 opens up in epic fashion. “Dynasty” is the music that plays when you face the final boss, fitting for a Legend of Zelda soundtrack. Through its live drums, powerful guitar and soaring vocals, a feeling of triumph is transmitted to the listener. “I’m gonna take the throne this time,” Rina sings at the start of the first verse, kicking off the narratives of family trauma and racial heritage of the album. “Dynasty” makes you feel like a winner, and Rina’s intent is heard loud and clear.
5. The Weeknd, “After Hours”
Album: After Hours
The biggest pop star of 2020 had several hits from an album that took over the charts. However, nothing is quite like the album’s title track, a six-minute masterpiece heralded for The Weeknd’s history book. Structurally the song is a progressive ballad that begins in the form of quiet storm and gradually grows into an electro-warping cry. It is Abel at his most intimate, gentle and defeated.
4. 070 Shake, “Terminal B”
Album: Modus Vivendi
Utopia exists for 6 minutes thanks to “Terminal B”. 070 Shake conveys a slipping soul-tie where there is a reluctance on Shake’s part to let go. Its lyrics scream desperation, grieving in a way where the love interest is practically dead and gone (“And then I start to wonder / Why can’t I feel it with another?”). The production begins minimal but continues to escalate at each refrain, heightening the emotion minute by minute. Shake’s haunting background vocals lock jaws with the airy production, creating the ethereal sound that remains consistent throughout the whole record.
3. Jay Electronica, “A.P.I.D.T.A.” (feat. Jay-Z)
Album: A Written Testimony
Few songs this year pulled at heartstrings quite like “A.P.I.D.T.A”. An acronym for ‘All Praise is Due to Allah’, the sombre song reflects on missing loved ones who have passed away, leaving nothing behind but digital memories. Specifically inspired by the death of Electronica’s mother who passed away in 2019, he makes every line resonate. Not renown for his hook game, Jay Z handles the chorus beautifully through his gentle delivery and trust in God (“I got numbers in my phone that’ll never ring again / ‘Cause Allah done called ’em home”). Electronica’s verse is one of the best verses of the year, which is more like poetry than rap. The song is painfully stunning, peeling back the veil for the most elusive rapper of our lifetime.
2. 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, with every line uttered with a purpose (“If he’s a real n***a then we make an alliance / I didn’t say a word, I talk with silence / You can’t govern me, I show my defiance / Look deep in your soul if you’re lookin’ for guidance.”) A honey-glazed guitar strum is the backbone to the production, topped off with a saxophone solo in the closing stages. The brightest jewel is the performance by Iceè TGM, whose lustrous vocals upgrade the spirit of the song. “Big Conspiracy” is a statement of intent by a man on a mission.
1. Future, Young Thug & Drake, “D4L”
Album: Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Modern hip hop is at its best when supplying a contagious energy. “D4L” packs every punch to make it one of the best hip hop songs of 2020. The Southside beat is used to explosive effect, setting the stage for Future, Young Thug and Drake to deliver dexterous flows, memorable one-liners and an infectious hook. Future and Young Thug conduct some of their best chemistry ever on a track, bringing maximum charisma through their back-to-backs and adlibs (“FBG, YSL, what’s hatteninn?” / “Brrrr”). Drake is sandwiched between the trap icons but shows out with spotless cadence on his verse. “D4L” champions rappers with personality, specifically the three most celebrated rappers of the decade.
Listen to the Best Songs of 2020 playlist on Spotify: