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We List Our 25 Favorite Albums of 2020, So Far

No rankings, all love.

Thank goodness for music. In these uncertain and troubling times, every conversation we’ve collectively had in the industry has turned back to, “Luckily, there is music to keep us sane.” With that in mind, we’ve decided to forego rankings and simply list out our favorite albums released through the first four months of 2020, so far. 

A few editor’s notes before we get started:

  1. The albums below are listed in alpha order by title.
  2. If a project was marketed by the artist and/or their record label as a “mixtape” or “EP,” it was not considered by our editorial team for the purposes of this list.
  3. Selections are based on the personal tastes of seven members of our core editorial team. This is music, not baseball.
  4. This is our list, not yours. If you have a favorite album that didn't make our list, that is lovely. Instead of telling us that you don’t like our list, share your favorites with us!

Listen to our favorite selections from all 25 albums in a playlist here.

Knxwledge — 1988

Knxwledge has created enough music to last several lifetimes. The California-via-New Jersey producer has over 50 different projects worth of expertly chopped loops on his Bandcamp page. Only two of them have been dubbed proper albums: 2015’s Hud Dreems and this year’s 1988, both released via Stones Throw. On the surface, 1988 scans as standard Knx fare replete with the gorgeous lo-fi loops and remixes we’ve come to expect. But if the album’s tracklist didn’t make it obvious, he’s imposed experimental stakes of his own. Many of these beats, particularly opener “dont be afraid” and “do you,” are lush and full-bodied. Vocalists Durand Bernarr and Rose Gold (“minding_mybusiness”) and NxWorries partner Anderson .Paak (“itkanbe[sonice]”) are invited to color in between the lines. If anything, 1988 showcases Knxwledge at his most ambitious, using every tool in his arsenal to rework rap and R&B in his own image. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

The Weeknd — After Hours

The Weeknd’s latest album, aptly titled After Hours, moves at a steady pace. The songs are unhurried in a sequence sense, with each of the 14 tracks longer than three minutes. With such exquisite production, there’s no reason to rush. Narrative-wise, The Weeknd is still the same lovelorn vampire who has spent the last nine years alluding to suspicious lifestyle choices over a palette of sonically pleasing pop beats. But there’s a maturity to After Hours—a sense of pride in making an unrelatable, multi-Platinum pop star appear as a famous mortal man who struggles with intimate relationships and seemingly can’t give up the nightlife. —Yoh

Kenny Mason — Angelic Hoodrat

Kenny Mason is a boundless creative. The Atlanta rapper and angelic hoodrat draws influence for his coming of age in ATL, The Smashing Pumpkins, and the core of hip-hop’s past and future, to produce an album so expansive and affecting, we have to bypass conversations of potential and start asking ourselves if Kenny Mason nailed it right out the gate. Angelic Hoodrat is not a promise of better days or better music to come—it is a mission statement of the highest order. Kenny is a rare breed of artist, one who cares not for the vanity of rocker life but embodies it with his tunes. Angelic Hoodrat pulses and bursts with horror. Just as well, it shines a bright light on how creation has saved Kenny Mason, and how Kenny Mason can do some saving of his own. —Donna-Claire Chesman

Young Nudy — Anyways

Fighting through legacy and notoriety can be daunting. On Young Nudy’s debut solo album, Anyways, the narrative is one of persistence and a particular type of tunnel vision. Meaning Anyways is the album you want to serve as your debut. Nudy stands on his own two feet while showing his ability to be and sound like none of his counterparts. His standout records, “Blue Cheese Salad” and “No Go,” showcase what the Atlanta rapper does best: shift the classic trap sound to a jumpier sonic one that makes you want to see the varying sides of his world. It doesn’t feel preemptive or presumptuous to say Nudy is going to be around for a long time. —Clarissa Brooks

Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony

A Written Testimony, the long-awaited debut album by Jay Electronica, is filled with Black, Muslim pride. With JAY-Z appearing on seven of the 10 songs, A Written Testimony isn’t exactly the album fans expected after waiting 10 years, but with each revisit, the music sounds more powerful and poetic—like a hip-hop war cry and a mystic disclaimer that could only come from the one and only Jay Electronica. —Yoh

Theophilus London — Bebey

Theophilus London’s Achilles heel has always been that his ability to brand himself has outpaced the actual quality of his music. Time and time again, he’d successfully position himself as an artist’s artist, brimming with untapped potential. But then listeners would hit play on his music and the picture just wouldn’t add up. On Bebey, Theophilus finally figured out how to put all the pieces together. Across a breezy 13 tracks, Theophilus proves he deserves to breathe rarified air by making music that doesn’t sound like anything else in the contemporary landscape. The best songs are those, like the delightfully playful title track, where he embraces his Trinidadian heritage, but he’s in complete control of his unique brand of dance music throughout. Best of all, when he collaborates with the likes of Raekwon and Tame Impala now—artists that exist effortlessly in the high-art space he seemed so desperate to occupy previously—he no longer feels like he’s punching above his weight class. —Hershal Pandya

J Hus — Big Conspiracy

On April 5, 2019, British rapper J Hus was released from jail after serving eight months for carrying a knife in public. His sophomore album Big Conspiracy, released nine months later, stews in the conflicting feelings of life spent under the thumb of the government and police. Paranoia (“I seen pigs fly but I never seen a unicorn,” from “Helicopter”) exists next to triumph at having beaten the odds: “Call on all your strikers, me, I don’t even fear death / You don’t know me, I’m fearless; me, I’m out here bare chest,” he shouts on standout song “No Denying.” The album’s production is as diverse as its emotional palette, streamlining the gumbo of grime, afrobeats, and rap responsible for turning Hus’ 2017 debut Common Sense into a global smash hit. Big Conspiracy is both guarded and celebratory, a beautiful reminder that even freedom comes with a price. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Mac Miller — Circles 

What can I say about Mac Miller’s Circles? To me, the album is a masterpiece on healing and finding security. From the candor of “Good News” and the depth of the aching first line of “Woods” (“Things like this ain’t built to last, I might just fade like those before me”), all the way to the soaring “I Can See” and the sweet “Surf” guitar solo, Mac uses Circles to find his footing. This album has given me grace and goodness, has unlocked a side of Malcolm that we all saw coming, but could never fully imagine. There is weight and delight to Circles. Everything about the album’s gentle playing and Mac’s raw songwriting make it a staple in his catalog. It’s singer-songwriter Faces for those of us who grew up with and through Mac Miller. If only we could’ve kept growing together. Thankfully, his legacy is undying. —Donna-Claire Chesman

J Balvin — Colores

J Balvin didn’t know if he would release Colores. Prior to the March 19 release, Balvin went on socials to ask if he should drop Colores in light of COVID-19. The vibrant concept album, Balvin apparently worried, might be insensitive given the circumstances. Thankfully, the artist chose to share Colores with us. Each of the album’s 10 songs adds a necessary color to a fraught world. Be it the sleeper hit “Gris,” which plays with space and flits about with undeniable spirit, or silky single “Rojo,” Balvin bucks the trend of aching pop to make hits engineered to move the body as much as they move the soul for the better. The Colombian star puts his life on wax in the literal sense—Balvin’s effervescence powers Colores. —Donna-Claire Chesman

Hook — Crashed My Car

No rapper embodies the word “propulsive” the way Hook does. The California spitter doesn’t rap so much as she breathlessly recites words from the center of a tornado. Crashed My Car, her first and best project of 2020 so far, focuses the energy of a thousand spring break house parties into 27 minutes worth of serrated barbs and breakneck chants. On “Fall In Luh,” her bars and adlibs bounce off the walls in unison and keep you off your toes. Songs like “Onion” and “Boohoo” rise and fall on skittering hi-hats and chest-bludgeoning bass while Hook’s voice cuts through the madness: “She said she wanna meet around noon / But I don’t fuck with 12 so I told her two,” she says, daring listeners not to laugh. Hook’s Crashed My Car pulls no punches and leaves beautiful bruises. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

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Myke Towers — Easy Money Baby

When Myke Towers raps, heads turn. The Puerto Rico native’s latest, Easy Money Baby is a flex-centric odyssey and expose on Myke Towers’ fearsome flow. Across its 18 tracks, Myke Towers never tires. It’s on early smash “Una Noche Mas” where Myke bounds breathlessly over the snapping production. His flow tears through the beat, his voice commanding our attention as the flourishes of the instrumental fall out and cede the floor to Myke Towers’ powerful delivery. “The rhythm in this song is inspired by Brazilian funk,” he told Billboard. “This type of fusion is a risk but I did it to get out of my comfort zone.” That’s the success of Easy Money Baby: Myke Towers’ ability to take risks and make good on his spanning abilities as a rapper and curator. —Donna-Claire Chesman

KeiyaA — Forever, Ya Girl

KeiyaA wants her things. On her debut album, Forever, Ya Girl, the New York-via-Chicago singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist doesn’t beat around the bush about coming for what she’s owed. As a Black woman, she’s reclaiming her time (“These niggas on my back like white on rice / Claimin they get healing from my energy / But baby, I need you to reciprocate,” from “Rectifiya”); as an independent artist, she’s standing her ground against haters and outside forces (“Long as you respect me, I could care less if you like me,” from “Every Nigga Is A Star”). The music of Forever—made up of samples, live instruments, and vocals bent beyond recognition—creates an intoxicating universe depicted in bold, cold tones. KeiyaA’s debut is both personal and universal, a statement of purpose as inspiring as any you’ll hear this year. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Orion Sun — Hold Space For Me

Orion Sun makes music to trust fall into, music that will immediately act as a life raft. Orion’s debut, Hold Space For Me dashes between glimmering moments of romance and heavier moments of loss. The album breathes and sighs with brilliance. Orion Sun’s love of love powers the record and helps us enter into their colorful, heartfelt galaxy. The universe that is Hold Space For Me is teeming with life and the heart of an artist looking to make their mark on a fickle industry. The music feels powerful, graceful, and triumphant, all without standing on circumstance. Orion Sun’s work exists in a fresh canon of Sun’s own making. “I can create any world I want for myself,” they told me earlier this year. With Hold Space For Me, this could not be closer to true. —Donna-Claire Chesman

Thundercat — It Is What It Is

Thundercat’s bass speaks for itself. Notes from the California musician’s trademark instrument throb and modulate the way a regular vocalist’s might. This isn’t to say Thundercat’s own vocals serve no purpose, especially where his fourth studio album It Is What It Is is concerned. Like most of his previous albums, It Is finds Thundercat sifting through feelings of love, grief, and loss against a zany and colorful backdrop. His light falsetto works in tandem with his fluid bass-playing, dotting the sweet nothings of songs like “Dragonball Durag” and submerging listeners in ruminations on death on the title track. In any other artist’s hands, the tonal whiplash displayed across It Is What It Is would be excruciating. For Thundercat, it’s just another chapter in the engrossing shonen manga of his life. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Brian Brown — Journey

Nashville’s Brian Brown released his debut album, Journey, back in January, which, four months later, feels like forever ago. Yet, Journey is standing the test of time. From the welcoming warmth of “Come On In,” to the comforting confessionals that live within “Peace,” Brown crafted an album that deals in the beauty and the struggle of everyday life. Journey is homestyle, Southern comfort music. If Brown was a cook rather than a rapper, Journey would be the whistle floating from his lips in the kitchen of a Nashville diner. —Kevin Morency

Pop Smoke — Meet the Woo 2

Pop Smoke should still be here. The 20-year-old Brooklyn drill star released his sophomore mixtape Meet the Woo 2, on February 7, just 12 days before he was murdered during a home invasion in the Hollywood Hills. His music is relentless in its swagger and clear-throated aggression; it’s the stuff circle pits at New York concerts are made to honor. Meet the Woo 2 stands as a sampling of Pop Smoke’s undeniable charisma. Close your eyes and you might smell the Hennessy vapors seeping from songs like “Shake the Room” and “Christopher Walking,” as naturally New York as a sparkling pair of Air Force 1s. Pop Smoke was proving to be a dependable artist and it’s a shame Meet the Woo 2 exists merely as a spread of untapped potential instead of a footnote in what should’ve been a long and fruitful career. I’ll “woo” to that. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

070 Shake — Modus Vivendi

It’s not entirely clear how 070 Shake manages to sound so tortured and yet so self-assured simultaneously, but regardless of how she pulls it off, her debut album, Modus Vivendi, is a triumphant testament to this apparent contradiction. On songs like “Guilty Conscience” and “Divorce,” she lays her emotions bare, almost to a fault, demanding the listener’s attention with her confessional style. Meanwhile, her voice is commanding, filtered perfectly by her team of collaborators to extract as much mileage out of it as possible. Of course, while Shake is deserving of a lot of credit, these collaborators—led by Dave Hamelin and Mike Dean—are the unsung heroes. Packing the album with fuzzy textures and cinematic swells that captivate your ear, they make the album feel urgent in a way that few people were expecting when they initially hit play. —Hershal Pandya

Lil Baby — My Turn

Despite pursuing a career in music after spending two years in prison for a probation violation, Lil Baby is a rapper born to tell his truth. The way he performs is conversational, delivering lyrics that feel like a friend bearing what’s on his heart. It’s reality rap from a convincing lyricist. With My Turn, his sophomore album full of rapid-fire confessions and body-bouncing beats, Lil Baby hits the southern rap jackpot. —Yoh

TOKiMONSTA — Oasis Nocturno

TOKiMONSTA has made a career out of manipulating space. In a world where genre-blending is more commonplace than ever, the California producer stands out with grand compositions as fit for the beatheads as they are for the electronic music festival set. On her latest album, Oasis Nocturno, TOKi’s ambitions expand to absorb the steady grooves of house music. Songs like “Get Me Some” and “Renter’s Anthem” provide a steady bop to cleanse the palette of more familiar tastes of songs like “Love That Never” and “Up and Out.” “Fried For The Night,” the heralded EARTHGANG collaboration, overflows with color and energy and stands as a high watermark in her career. Oasis Nocturno is yet another step forward for TOKiMONSTA, a producer whose musical appetite knows no bounds. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Rod Wave — Pray 4 Love

With a voice that could’ve won any season of American Idol, St. Petersburg, Florida rapper Rod Wave sings with all the soul and sadness of a melancholy angel. Pray 4 Love, his latest soul-bearing testimony released by Alamo Records on April 3, 2020, is pleasant and motivational, like hearing an emotion-driven Sunday sermon from a young preacher who speaks a refreshingly candid gospel. Pray 4 Love is a short service, but you feel Rod Wave. That feeling is why his fans are a growing congregation that is bound to become a megachurch. —Yoh

Westside Gunn — Pray for Paris

Westside Gunn just killed it at the rap show. He crushed it at the Paris fashion show. He does it for Buffalo. He is the hometown hero his city deserves. With Pray for Paris, Gunn takes the leap from Griselda-head to national icon. Griselda family talk of brands and cocaine rain down and slither into the grimy gutter (“George Bondo,” “Allah Sent Me”) just as well as opulent aphorisms blossom and elevate Gunn’s laidback sensibilities (“327,” “French Toast”). Influenced by the art culture of Paris, Gunn uses Pray for Paris to extend his artistic expression. This is his most reaching album to date, it might be his best work of all time. At the very least, Pray for Paris charges forward as a staple in the Westside Gunn canon, packed with quotables and memorable moments, we might just make our own album about them. —Donna-Claire Chesman

Stove God Cooks & Roc Marciano — Reasonable Drought

The brilliance of Stove God Cooks’ debut album comes from a combination of patience and timing. Every aspect of Reasonable Drought feels so fully realized and calculated. The album was born from the countless years that Cooks lay dormant in industry limbo, waiting for his right moment. With Roc Marciano helming the album’s entire production, Cooks’ airtight lyrics and unbridled confidence find the home they were always searching for. Marciano finds the perfect blend for Cooks’ menacing, yet redemptive, songwriting. Although Stove God Cooks has clearly just arrived, Reasonable Drought is crafted under the premise that, at the very least, Cooks is going to leave us with his soul. That daring step into the void after all these years, ironically, only ensures that Stove God Cooks is here to stay. —Matt Wilhite

Royce da 5’9” — The Allegory

Royce da 5’9” has spent his entire rapping career boxing with heavyweights and hip-hop titans. Some of the most revered and celebrated emcees of the past 20 years have appeared on tracks alongside him, and not once did he flinch. The competitive, I’m-better-than-you lyricism that made the Bar Exam mixtapes quote-riddled spectacles don’t appear on Royce’s eighth studio album, The Allegory. No, the veteran Detroit rapper’s latest is more lyrically thoughtful and conceptually built, a self-produced rap album dissertation inspired by Plato. Although the feature list is a stellar underground rap lineup of guests, Royce doesn’t rap like he’s boxing any contemporaries, but, lyrically, focused on translating a message. Making The Allegory sound like an album made alone, in a cave, where it’s just you and your thoughts. The world as Royce da 5’9” sees it. —Yoh

Boldy James — The Price of Tea In China

Boldy James knows how to conjure the taste of regret. The Detroit rapper’s stories switch from deadpan drug deals to PTSD and back again fast enough to cause whiplash. Though Boldy has been bringing the corners of Detroit to life on wax for nearly a decade, The Price of Tea In China refines his sound with Gemstar sharpness. His flows are riskier (“Surf & Turf”) and his stories leave more blood and bad memories pooling in the back of the brain (“Speed Demon Freestyle”). His most brutal stories are told in the past tense (“All this murder on my mind, it’s hard to face it sober” from “Grey October”), leaving room to celebrate the gains costing the fewest lives (“Phone Bill”). Produced with cinematic luster by California beatmaker The Alchemist, The Price of Tea In China turns the spoils of street war into kindling for Boldy James’ well-earned bonfire. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Bad Bunny — YHLQMDLG

Bad Bunny does not need to chase hits. Hits flock as naturally to Bad Bunny as do album deep cuts to be replayed during the difficult nights that loom over all of us. On his sophomore effort, YHLQMDLG, Bad Bunny expands the sound he damn near perfected on his 2018 debut, X 100PRE. Part homage to the reggaeton that shaped him, part collection of party anthems for an unsure world, YHLQMDLG redefines our understanding of Latin trap. Whether it’s the sleeper hit of “25/8” or the ferocious posse cut, “Safaera,” Bunny takes the blueprint of popular music, rips it up, and sculpts a new popular sound out of seemingly thin air and swagger. Bad Bunny went into his sophomore album with much to lose, and he came out the other side with another success to carve into his scoreboard. —Donna-Claire Chesman



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