2020 has been very polarizing in terms of critical and fan reception for mainstream albums that have released. Many think the releases this year have been very underwhelming while others think it was another great year for hip-hop. As the mainstream continues to go back and forth, the underground has provided more than enough amazing content this year and continues to flood the streets with multiple projects releasing each week.
The constant output is both a blessing and a curse as we receive more content to keep us occupied but with more albums set to drop each week, it is hard to focus on a group of releases.
Amongst the camaraderie, here are fifteen hip-hop releases of 2020 that may have flown past your radar.
Flee Lord & Eto, Rocamerikkka 2
Released: October 30
After releasing their first joint project last year, rappers Flee Lord & Eto reunite to build off of the success from their first collaboration. The result was an amazing tape with animated rhymes & violent one-liners over rowdy & grimy beats. The chemistry displayed between the two emcees on this project proves that their relationship goes deeper than rap.
Best tracks: “Triangle Offense”, “Brigante & Delgado”, “Hoodie Season”
RJ Payne, IF Cocaine Could Talk 4
Released: September 30
This year has been a phenomenal resurgence for RJ Payne. Receiving co-signs from certified legends over the past few years via his series “Murder In Less Than 60 Seconds,” the seasoned vet took this second chance to flood the market with many projects. This project in particular perfectly meshes the coke rap form with the battle rap style that Payne is known for, creating an amazing 20-30 minutes of the grimiest beats paired with witty drug punchlines and features from legends eLZhi & O.C. to compliment the project. While it is a short effort, the content that the album delivers is more than enough, yet leaves you wanting more from the vicious emcee.
Best tracks: “Frankie Needles”, “G Money on the Court”, “Don Armeteo”
Styles P, Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm
Released: May 22
Styles P has been on an amazing run over the past few years, managing to maintain a perfect balance of quantity & quality. What makes this project stand out from the others is how his personality stands out in the music. We are always going to get rough and rugged Styles rapping his ass off, but through the mini skits and one-liners is where Styles shows a different part of himself. The main undertone throughout the project is balance, whether it’s balancing the different styles of rhyming or his different personalities. This is one of Styles most personal efforts yet.
Best tracks: “Time”, “Noah and David”, “Animals”
Flee Lord, Alter Ego Fleeigo Delgado
Released: June 30
Flee Lord is one of the most exciting emcees to emerge from the last couple of years and has managed to release TWELVE albums this year with a majority of these projects sounding completely different from one another. What makes this project standout from his six to seven solo projects he released was how complete and polished it sounded. Flee comes from the grimy underground scene where the dusty beats give the music a whole new, life but on this album, the beats contain that same essence but with a more lustrous sound. The energy he radiates on this album with his excessively flamboyant delivery meshes perfectly with the production, and while the project feels more polished sonically, Flee is still coming through with the same hardcore style of rhyming he’s carried all throughout his career.
Best tracks: “IDGAF Who Ya Fav Rapper”, “Livin’ Lavish”, “Funeral Home”
Elcamino & 38 Spesh, Martyr’s Prayer
Released: February 21
Two of the most notorious figures in the upstate New York movement connect to give a short but satisfying project. At the top of the year, 38 Spesh planned a Trust Takeover in which he would produce for multiple emcees associated with his Trust Comes First (T.C.F.) label and one of those emcees was Elcamino. The two create an amazing dynamic throughout the project with 38 Spesh providing a soulful sound to Elcamino’s melodic yet grimy rhymes. While the project was fairly short, it still contained a satisfying amount of content that would make you want to tap in to what else the Trust movement had to offer throughout the year.
Best tracks: “Legal Money”, “2K20”, “Flowers”
Big Ghost Ltd & Conway the Machine, No One Mourns the Wicked
Released: May 15
No matter how you feel about the Griselda movement, you’ve got to admit that Conway has been on a roll this year, finally gaining the recognition he deserved in the public. While we’ve all been infatuated with the menacing collaboration with The Alchemist, LULU, or his stunning and exquisite debut solo album, From King to a God, this collaboration tape with Big Ghost Ltd was the most overlooked contribution released this year. We always see the Griselda formula in effect with beats laced by in-house producer, Daringer, but Big Ghost Ltd yields an even grimier feel in the production which provides the “back to the basement” feel to the project. Even keeping the features short to only Grisleda-associated family, Conway and Big Ghost created an amazing effort that shows no matter how huge the movement becomes, the Griselda boys will always supply that raw and unfiltered sounds that the day 1 fans know and love.
Best tracks: “Sicarios”, “Dead Flowers”, “Bricks to Murals”
Larry June & Harry Fraud, Keep Going
Released: October 2
Harry Fraud is another producer whose been having an amazing 2020. On this project, he links with the fresh Bay Area emcee, Larry June, to deliver 26 minutes of luscious beats and wavy rhymes, perfect for cruising. The two mesh together greatly with an advanced chemistry to create a mellow & laidback project that is enjoyable at all times, no matter the circumstances. This project is another amazing addition to Harry Fraud’s contributions this year and serves as a great entry point for delving into Larry June as an artist.
Best tracks: “Sunday Morning Drive”, “Lets Go to New Orleans”, “Expensive Couches”
Tha God Fahim, After Every Dark Day Comes Sunshine
Released: May 1
Fahim has managed to become one of the best emcees that has balanced good quality with constantly dropping multiple projects, however this project heavily differed from anything else in his catalog. On this project, Fahim takes a more emotional approach, from the gracious hooks to the mellow lo-fi production. Lyrically, Fahim takes his time on the album to cover all problems, internal or external. Whether it’s the mental struggle or the police brutality epidemic in the United States, Fahim covers it all. It’s hard to top the classics, but theres no doubt that this project is in the upper echelon of Tha God Fahim’s catalog.
Best tracks: “In tha Morning”, “After Every Dark Day Comes Sunshine”, “Don’t Count tha Days Make tha Days Count”
Skyzoo & Dumbo Station, The Bluest Note
Released: April 24
This short EP by Brooklyn emcee, Skyzoo & jazz group Dumbo Station displays a perfect fusion of jazz & hip-hop, creating a very mellow & lyrical project that bridges the gap between the two genres. While jazz-influenced beats is not entirely new to Skyzoo, this type of production fully embodies the record and makes it seem as if Skyzoo is rapping over the raw song compared to chopped sounds and loops. This adds a whole different essence to the way jazz and hip-hop collide in song form and combined with the creative song concepts executed by Skyzoo, this short EP project provides more than enough satisfying content and manages to hold it own compared to the various full length albums released this year.
Best tracks: “Good Enough Reasons”, “We (Used to) Live in Brooklyn, Baby”, “The Caveat”
Estee Nack & Superior, BALADAS
Released: March 20
Estee Nack has become a prominent figure in the underground over the last few years, helping give Latinos a voice in the underground hip-hop scene. This project embodies the reoccurring drug dealer theme in a more luxurious lyrical style over a variety of obscure samples on boom bap beats. With the type of emcee that Nack is, you can feel every bar, punchline, and word that he delivers as his raw yet slick rapping style floats over the exquisite production, even taking time to rap a majority of his verses in Spanish. With this album, what you see is what you get and that is luxurious cocaine raps in the form of street ballads. After seeing how this album has aged throughout the year, it is clear that Nack is one of the most intriguing and deadly emcees in the underground today.
Best tracks: “MANGOMARMALADE”, “POPROCKCLASSICS”, “WISDOM”
Eto, The Beauty of It
Released: May 15
Eto is one of the many emcees that has constantly stayed busy with project releases throughout the year. What separates this project from the various others he’s released is how much sharper he is lyrically, going toe to toe with a lot of underground heavyweights. Eto has always been a phenomenal lyricist and constantly displays his abilities in his music, but The Beauty of It takes more time to fill in the lines, giving no space to find a wack bar or line as he competes with the best of the best. With that precision with the lyrics and profound subject matter across the album, Eto constructs a well-developed project that exhibits how well he’s progressed as a rapper and as an overall artist.
Best tracks: “Growing Pains”, “No”, “Metal Lords”
38 Spesh, 1995
Released: December 10
While 38 Spesh has taken over 2020 as a producer and executive, he will always remind you how nice he is with the bars. 1995 adds to 38 Spesh’s 2020 Trust reign and proves that no matter how much time passes, the classics of the past will never fade away. This project takes classic beats from hip-hop projects released in the year 1995 and inserts them into mixtape format with the legendary DJ Green Lantern hosting the tape. 38 Spesh rhymes over instrumentals such “Ice Cream” by Raekwon and “Eye for a Eye” by Mobb Deep to pay homage to the projects that helped him develop as a rapper. 1995 is the short thrill of nostalgia with a fresh emcee to give these classics a new sense of life.
Best tracks: “Chalk Board”, “Lifetime”, “Past Tense”
Joell Ortiz & KXNG Crooked, H.A.R.D.
Released: May 29
Two hip-hop veterans from opposite, yet similar worlds come together to craft an amazing project showing how they both have yet to lose a step as emcees. Brooklyn veteran, Joell Ortiz & Long Beach legend, KXNG Crooked rekindle their work relationship to bring hip-hop an amazing exhibition of beats and rhymes with significant subject matter that still resonates today. The two go from lyrically sparring with each other to delivering heart-felt odes to their loved ones and their feelings. Crook & Joell have managed to stay on top of the food chain in the rap game, but deadly force combined with a great selection of producers from Heatmakerz to J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League to assist the project. H.A.R.D. is the epitome of the term “real hip-hop” and is, lyrically, one of the best albums to drop last year.
Best tracks: “Memorial Day”, “Catchin’ Bodies”, “Lose My Mind”
Meyhem Lauren & Harry Fraud, Glass 2.0
Released: June 19
After creating the first collaboration album titled Glass, the fans wanted more music from the Queens & Brooklyn duo. This year was the perfect time for the two to take it back to the lab and knock out the follow up project, Glass 2.0. Meyhem’s dense but hard-hitting style meshes perfectly with Harry Fraud’s wavy production and flawless sample selection. Harry Fraud has been having quite the 2020 producing multiple project, but the chemistry between him and Meyhem is what builds the essence of this project and makes it completely stand out from any other project Harry Fraud has done his year.
Best tracks: “Root of Evil”, “Bail Money”, “Ducati Dreams”
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh, Trust the Chain
Released: February 28
The West Coast legend finds a new rapper/producer relation with the Rochester native to bridge the everlasting gap between the West Coast and the East Coast. While the coastal war has been over for decades, the two regions still differ heavily in production and rhyming ability. Trust The Chain eliminates the mind state that the project has to sound in accord to a specific region and instead delivers raw hip-hop meant to educate and entertain the people. Planet Asia being the very gifted emcee he is, adopts elements from the Trust Takeover and builds on to the underground reign, using the 29 minute run time to deliver the most well thought bars and punchlines with 38 Spesh laying down the soundtrack to the streets. The two create a well needed project to show the culture that a veteran could still hold his own in this young man’s game.
Best tracks: “Tec and a Mink”, “Learned from Og’s”, “Mystery School”