#5EUK Top 20 Albums of 2020 (10-1)
LADIES & GENTLEMEN! It's time for the final End of Year list. This is the first time I have decided to split my Album list into two and honestly, I like it! I initially did it so I could confidently tackle the list with the time I've given myself but I think it's a good way of doing things.
It goes without saying but if you haven't seen the first 10 albums on the list, GO READ IT! Also if you haven't peeped my Songs & EP lists, go give them a read, especially the Songs list if you like a playlist to go with it.
But if you've been the biggest of homies and read all three, then we can move right onto the Top 10 of the 20! This 10 was probably easier than doing the previous 10. But even with that said, I can honestly say that I did not see this particular ranking coming. As you may know, every list I do is 100% subjective. But when I was listening back to these albums, really giving them the deep listens they deserve, I surprised myself by how much I like some albums over another.
But that's all part of the fun. And I can say this every year but I have never been prouder of a list as I am with this particular Top 10, even though I have personally had years where I enjoyed music more pound for pound. And lastly, before we begin, I will say. Whilst this is my personal Top 10 if you read this and the way I'm describing one of these albums is up your alley, go listen! And come back to me because some of these albums need amplification.
So, without further ado... My Top 10 Albums of 2020.
10. Kota The Friend - EVERYTHING
If you peeped my EP list, you know that Kota began that list as well. But whilst that one was listed chronologically, this one is No.10! Got to love a coincidence.
Kota The Friend, put simply, is one of the most replayable artists out there right now. I know we can say that for any artist we rate but this is one of my rare objective opinions.
This guy has some of the most positive music in a world that screams negativity at you every minute of every day. Just look at those numbers above! (Shouts to the homie Hip-Hop Numbers) This album is factually feel-good. The summery 'Chill-Trap' beats, the lyrics that fit the beat always.
I don't know how anyone can listen to this album and not come out of it feeling better than they were before pressing play. And I have to shout Kota's underrated lyrical ability. His fluid flows and laid back delivery are just so nice. Throw in some great features and you have yourself nearly 38 minutes of summer vibes. Which low-key annoys me as I type this with three layers of clothing on in my bedroom.
Please come back, Summer...
Favourite Tracks: Summerhouse, Long Beach, Everything
9. Nappyhigh - WeekDaze
I don't think you guys understand how long I have waited for this moment. Ever since I spun this when it dropped mid-February, I knew it would be in my Album list, it was just a matter of what number it would take.
Producer & #FriendOf5E Nappyhigh came on my radar from seemingly nowhere. I forgot how this album got to me but that makes it so much sweeter because I'm all the happier knowing that somebody is taking throwback West Coast music whilst also putting their own distinct flavour on it.
This album, and all of Nappyhigh's work, is the definition of imperfectly perfect. By that I mean the way he produces is purposefully imperfect. Not using BPM or any timing, he does it all by feel. You can clock this most clearly on "Walking", but whilst all that should sound jarring, it really isn't.
There's a free essence to this album I just can't get over. The beats hit nice, the samples are beautifully chosen and the feature list on this is DUMB. Curren$y & MED on one track. Iman Omari & Devin Morrison on one track. Blu & Mick Jenkins on one track. Elzhi, Sy Ari Da Kid, LeoLegendary & Memnoc (who makes up BlueNotes along with Nappyhigh) on the remainder. There's just so much to digest in this just over 30-minute album.
And I haven't even touched on the non-feature songs that bleed from one beat to another. It's just silly honestly. If I had a whip, this would be a lock on the road trip rotation.
Favourite Tracks: Nonchalant, Blessings, Right Now
8. Vic Spencer & SonnyJim - Spencer for Higher 3
A common theme you'll clock through this list is that the production on these albums are God-Tier. Another more covered trend is 1 producer, 1 MC albums. Vic Spencer & SonnyJim's third instalment of "Spencer for Higher" fits both bills.
Starting with one of Chicago's best, Vic Spencer. This is actually the first project of his I have heard and the way he raps is so casual. He always sounds like he's sitting in one of those chairs that engulf your midriff because it's so soft. But while the delivery sounds absurdly calm, it makes the bars hit that much harder. The voice disarms you, then the bars come in to scorch your throat with that "Weed Heat".
And then we get to SonnyJim's beats which are so pristine. The old school soul samples are clean, the beats themselves are clean and gives Spencer a ton of room to move. Honestly, I like spinning this album twice in one sitting just so I can appreciate the samples on this.
It just goes to show what projects like these can do. Even more so when its the third time around. These two just have absurdly good chemistry and creates a project that is perfect to light a 'ting' to.
Favourite Tracks: Eloquent Listening, Globework, Van Dammit
7. Apollo Brown & Che Noir - As God Intended
Apollo Brown makes my Album list for the 2nd straight year and it's just icing on the cake knowing that for this one he decided to put on for not just one of my favourite discoveries this year, but one of the fastest-growing rappers right now.
Of course, I'm talking about Che Noir.
Whilst it may seem I'm neglecting Apollo Brown, trust me I'm not. The beats on here are quintessential Apollo. Chunky drums, soulful samples and emotive tone setting. Apollo is just a sure thing, to be honest.
But Che... Che Noir is the definition of hungry. Every bar on here has so much passion and heart behind them. And she not only proves her pen, she even goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Black Thought, Ty Farris, Planet Asia & Skyzoo.
You can't possibly be a Hip-Hop fan and not respect someone like Che Noir. Take the track "12 Hours" where she drops this Big L-esque story of going out with a friend and suspecting that she's with her man. The storytelling is just too clean here.
But honestly, I could pick a lot of songs on here where Che talks about the people, the music and moments that has got her to the position she is at right now. You really learn a lot about Che Noir and it all points to one of the best rising stars in Hip-Hop.
Favourite Tracks: Anti-Social, Freedom, '94
6. Moses Boyd - Dark Matter
Ladies & Gentlemen. After a few years of getting into Jazz, more specifically, Contemporary Jazz, with literally no knowledge of where to begin, I can finally say I have found a Jazz album I am proud to say is a Top 10 album for me.
Alfa Mist's "Structuralism" was very close last year and if it dropped this year it would probably make my Top 10, but Moses Boyd got the rub of the green.
Not only was this album Mercury Prize-nominated, not only is it his first solo album, (who has credits on many modern Jazz classics including fellow list-maker Zara McFarlane's "Arise") but he dropped this album independently. This drum-led record is bouncy, flavourful and somehow, managed to take classic Grime & Garage elements and incorporate them into a fully-fleshed out Jazz album...
Let me repeat...
Grime. And Garage. On a Jazz album.
I wish this came out when I began to get into Jazz because the way he's taken music elements I and many kids born in the 90s grew up on and put it into a genre of music that is so daunting and ever-expanding, is nothing short of a triumph.
Favourite Tracks: Stranger Than Fiction, Shades of You, 2 Far Gone
5. Khruangbin - Mordechai
What a melting pot of an album this is. The band with a name that takes at least three looks to type correctly and more attempts to say it properly out loud makes some of the most varied music with just a bass, guitar, drums and some vocals to boot.
"Mordechai" is such a trip the first time you listen to it. It starts off with a smooth "First Class" which I can only describe as "flying through clouds with a mango & pineapple mojito that refills every time you go through a cloud." And then you get "Time (You and I" which is just a straight-up Funk track as if it was pulled from a 70s Disco dancefloor.
Then down the line, we get "Pelota" which is inspired by Spanish Rumba & Flamenco music.
AND THEN, RIGHT AFTER THAT, we get "One To Remember" which is basically DUB with some sort of South Asian flavour to it.
And somehow, with all those flavours, the album comes & goes like an acid dream. I don't think I can do better expressing how fascinating this album is to listen to. All of that with only three instruments. (Four if you count the voice.)
Favourite Tracks: First Class, Time (You And I), So We Won't Forget
4. Protoje - In Search Of Lost Time
Another major moment for me. This is the first Reggae album that has cracked my Top 5. Reggae has been a genre that has always been on the outer edges of my music diet. They have been that ever-present but distant entity in my life. Sure, give me some Marley but who doesn't say that?
So around two years ago, I started to delve into Reggae more purposefully. A little less intently than Jazz, but with purpose nevertheless.
Which brings me to Protoje. Protoje is, in my mind, one of the best all-rounders in music right now. His music is a blend of Reggae with more modern elements, great lyrical ability and top-tier production craft. He's probably one of my favourite producers right now if I'm being real.
I loved his previous album "A Matter Of Time" but I probably didn't fully appreciate it that year. (Although "Mind Of A King" is still in my "Regular Rotation") But when I knew that this was coming, I knew I was going to give it the attention it deserves. And, as you gathered by its placement on this list, mi like.
His production, while modern, gives love to traditional Reggae so it's great for everyone, whether you're a purist & or new listener. But I knew the production would hit. The reason why this is No.4 on my list, is because of the subject matter and the features.
Starting with the features, whilst there are four, they are perfectly placed. Wiz Khalifa on a track named "Weed & Ting"? Yea, it's good. Popcaan on "Like Royalty" is boss. But the MVPs are Lila Iké on one of my Songs of 2020 "In Bloom" and rising start Koffee, who delivers her best performance to date on "Switch It Up". They absolutely shatter their individual tracks.
But whilst the features are amazing, the subject matter here is so rich. Wonderful lyrics dedicated to his parents on several tracks, the super-refreshing protectiveness & support of women on "Self Defense" and the romantic way he talks about weed.
This album has so many perfect balances. Energetic but calm. Collaborative but still uniquely his. It's an effortless listen.
Favourite Tracks: Switch It Up, In Bloom, Self Defense
3. Aaron Taylor - ICARUS
There are always those albums that just instantly hit for you. But then there are albums that get better after every listen.
Aaron Taylor (no relation) is one of my hidden gems of recent years. I completely forgot how I found him initially but one thing I remember about him is seeing him live in Brixton. It was a narrow room above a bar with bright red lights in the background. An intimate affair.
After meeting him and buying a 7 inch of his previous work that I enjoyed, it was all a precursor to this album.
And man is this the R&B I like! I have such a hard time finding good R&B these days. Even more so from a male artist. But Taylor has done it with this one.
You can go ahead and look up the story of Icarus for yourself. I want to talk about how f'ing smooth this album is. It has that bleed from one track to the next that I wish was utilised more often by artists. It's sexy, it makes you move in one way or another and his musicianship is on 10.
The first track "I Want That Fire" is short & sweet. A great little intro to the first major highlight, "Don't Leave Me Alone" where Taylor & Lalah Hathaway just send me into the stratosphere with their performances & chemistry. It's slow, airy & really sets the tone.
"Be My Muse" & "Flowers" are wonderful electro ballads with sprinkles of Funk. "The Ritual" & "Hey Baby" are slow & sexy. "Wann Be Close" is epic and gives off an essence of classic R&B in its lyrics.
But the highlight of this album is Aaron Taylor himself. The vocal stacking on every track is perfect, his lyrics & performance of said lyrics do exactly what a great R&B album should do. Get you in your feelings.
I dare you to spin this and tell me this didn't make you feel all types throughout. Hands down my favourite R&B album of 2020.
Favourite Tracks: Don't Leave Me Alone, Wanna Be Close, Icarus
2. Jah9 - Note To Self
That's right. We got TWO Reggae albums in the Top 5! Unless you've seen all of my album lists from years past, you know how rare this is. And for me personally, this is a true representation of what I am loving recently.
We have two high ranking Reggae albums, more than one Jazz album on the overall Top 20 and a wide range of Hip-Hop projects pertaining to sound & locale.
But getting to this album, I have to begin with Jah9 as an artist. I have listened to her for a few years now but this is the first album of hers that I had some personal anticipation to. I have always found her style to be so confident and authentic. That rare artist who knows fully the job of an artist. So I knew by the rollout of this album, with it's music videos, short films & just great visuals in general, this was going to be something great.
And boy, was I underestimating.
This album just has so much soul in it, and why shouldn't it be with a name such as "Note To Self"?
The introspective nature of this work is so enticing as it's wrapped around this traditional Roots Reggae sound with hints of Dub & even Jazz. As a noted Yogi, a track like "I'm Going To Be Okay" (with another one of my Reggae favourites Chronixx) just floats you over them dub-laced beats. If you allow her, she can put you exactly in her shoes. That's when you really gain why this is my No.2 album.
The amount of themes covered in this album is extensive. Intimacy, our fellow man, love whether it be romantic or platonic. But the main theme throughout is the care of self. The biggest moment of which, comes in "Could It Be" which is sandwiched between to spoken word pieces. Speaking of which. This woman can do poetry, sing with ferocity and damn she got som BARS! She can rap heavy!
I've always believed that the best albums are the ones where only that person could have possibly made it. Nobody could have made this album in the way Jah9 did. A spiritually powerful woman with a body of work that is as complex as the woman creating it. And to me, that is what makes this album so enticing to listen to.
Favourite Tracks: Ma'at (Each Man), You And I, Could It be
1. Logic - No Pressure
Can I be honest with you? Even as I write this, I'm still so surprised that this is my No.1. But whenever I listen to this, I can't lie! It's just great to listen to!
Every single second of this album is enjoyable to me. The beats, the bars, all of it.
I've always had a subjectively soft spot for Logic. I'm not sure how you can be a fan of Hip-Hop and not spin Logic. Maybe not consistently, maybe never have him on your regular rotation, but the skill is undoubted and whilst the two projects before this one were fat misses, I always knew that Logic could pull out at least one more classic out of the bag. I knew he could do something on the level of "Under Pressure" & "The Incredible True Story".
I will be honest when I say, with no context, this might not have been No.1, but I always account for context if I have any and I have five years of personal context to Logic.
As "retirement" albums go, (I don't believe when artists of any kind say they're 'retiring') "No Pressure" is certainly up there with one of the best. From the OutKast homage of "GP4", (Southern Rap influences are abundant throughout.) to "Open Mic\\ Aquarius III" that begins with an open mic skit, giving you that imagery that he's performing in a room of 50 people. To "A2Z" which is literally Logic doing an A to Z challenge. To the Orson Welles commentaries bookending the album.
This album is low-key a movie.
And it's also a referendum on a lot of things. Like "Dadbod" which, when I first saw the title, thought "Oh there it is. That's going to be the cringe track". But when it came through, it ended up being a great self-commentary on when fans go "I want the old [Insert artist here]". Whilst Logic makes a concerted effort to bring elements of the basement vibes we got in his early work into this album, the reality is that he's now in his 30s with a child. It's kinda impossible to talk about drugs & living in the slums without seeing it through either a revisionist or reminiscent lens.
The thing that I've always loved about Logic, (and it's the same with someone like XV) is the way he takes the stuff he loves and lays it nicely into his music & subject matter. Whether it's music, films, or even freaking Metal Gear Solid! (Shouts to the don David Hayter) I know that's not unique to him but there's loving care to it whenever he does it. I mean, who else ends their album with a riveting Orson Welles commentary at six minutes long that unfortunately hits so close to home nearly eighty years after it originally aired?!
His cocky bars make me laugh, his "real shit" is authentic as can be and his bar exams just go freaking hard. No I.D and the crew absolutely body the production from start to finish, there's no beat on here that I don't like.
There's a lot of things to not like/find irritating about Logic as a persona but damn it I'd be lying if this album didn't have nearly everything of what I love about Hip-Hop music.
Favourite Tracks: No Pressure Intro, Soul Food II, man i is
And with that, I'm done for the year. Once again, if you read any of this and an album you haven't spun caught your eye, do not hesitate to spin & then agree with me at how great it is.
I hope you all have a fruitful 2021, I will try to do the same. Stay safe, thank you so much for reading and I'll see you on the other side.
Charlie Smarts - We Had a Good Thing Going
J Hus - Big Conspiracy
D Smoke - Black Habits
Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Devante Hunter - February (His Regrets)
Phoniks - Time Goes By
R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages
Jordan Mackampa - Foreigner
Riz Ahmed - The Long Goodbye
Jeff Parker - Suite For Max Brown
Knxwledge - 1988
Headie One - GANG
Duke Dumont - Duality
Alfa Mist & Emmavie - Epoch
Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes - What Kinda Music
Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History
Jamo Gang (Ras Kass, J57 & El Gant) - Walking With Lions
Moses Sumney - Grae
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
JME - Grime MC
Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour
Denai Moore - Modern Dread
The Streets - None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Alive
Blu & Exile - Miles
E. Jones - Deadstock, Vol. 4
Coldcut/Keleketla! - Keleketla!
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids - The Shaman!
Arrested Development - Don't Fight Your Demons
Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder & Kamasi Washington - Dinner Party: Dessert
Ntjam Rosie - Family & Friends
Che Lingo - The Worst Generation
Dizzee Rascal - E3 AF
Busta Rhymes - Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God
Ego Ella May - Honey For Wounds
Salaam Remi - Black On Purpose
Ambar Lucid - Garden of Lucid
Goodie Mob - Survival Kit