#5EUK Top 15 EPs of 2020
LADIES & GENTLEMEN! It's time for our second End of Year list and it's all about the forever underrated EP.
I always appreciate a solid EP. It's an art in itself. There are album artists, there are single artists, there are even feature artists! But nobody talks about the artists that put the effort into EPs.
And that's why I like to do EP lists! Because it's a great space to see especially up & coming artists, cut their teeth on wax. Speaking of which, shall we get into my favourite EPs? As always, this is not ranked. I'm going chronologically because that just makes my life easier.
We begin with an underrated lyricist with one of the best vibes, especially in a year such as this.
KOTA The Friend - Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1
We begin with an EP that hit me in a very surprising way. I knew that KOTA had bars, if you listened to "FOTO" or "EVERYTHING" that dropped after this EP then you know he has really good flows and never forces it.
But this EP hit different! The beats are chilled as you'd expect from him but he comes through with some real work in such a small amount of time. In less than 15 minutes he drops some great stories, goals he's setting for himself and so much more. Just by a few of the titles like "Can't Please Everybody" & "Retirement Plan", you really get an EP that's all a stream of thought from him.
But even with all that content stuffed into 10 tracks, some not even having the 2nd verse, you still get those chilled vibes you'd expect. A very replayable listen.
Favourite Track: Forks
TrueMendous - Huh?
Birmingham's acrobatic lyricist is back with another EP, this time under the modern legends at High Focus Records. And considering she made the list with her independent work last year, it was a given that she'd make this year's list.
Credit to HFR, because they really gave TrueMendous the freedom to continue her always energetic, sometimes comical, sometimes wacky lyrics and incorporated that energy into the production.
Just like her flows, the beats themselves never take a break. They're always dynamic, moving as much as she does. When she raps, it's with so much vigour, I wouldn't be surprised if she was constantly moving as she records. You can't stand still with that kind of electricity!
And for someone that still busks, it makes me appreciate her work even more. Her work so far has gotten me so excited about the future of Hip-Hop in the UK, and zooming in a little more, the Midlands as a whole. (Spoiler Alert: This isn't the only Midlands based EP on this list...)
And a minor tangent here, big ups to her consistent use of a Kangol hat.
Favourite Track: O.T.Y.L - Pt. 2
Nappyhigh - Orange
West Coast producer and #FriendOf5E Nappyhigh makes his inaugural entry into the 5E lists with "Orange", an EP that perfectly showcases his tasty sound.
With the old school vibes of early West Coast Hip-Hop, mixed even older school funk/soul samples and beats that just BEGS to be spun whilst you're doing something. Except this will make you want to do that something very slowly because it's what Nappyhigh's vibe demands.
With a feature from Devin Morrison setting the tone, Nappyhigh basically teleports you to Southern California. All of a sudden, everything seems warmer, calmer. No worries in the world. Add on the occasional sample such as Mr "Soul Train" Don Cornelius and you know exactly what Nappyhigh is about.
For a producer that hasn't been going for long, purposefully creating with no BPM/metronome, just by feel, it's a little silly how fast he's created this chilled, throwback sound for himself. And it's only the beginning.
Favourite Track: Guccifly / Fm
Yazmin Lacey - Morning Matters
I cannot stress how much I am not a morning person. I hate mornings. You can blame my school education making me wake up at 6/7 am when this can all be started at, 11?
But with all my distaste for mornings. Yazmin Lacey's "Morning Matters" is perfect music for waking up. Nice & slow, doesn't force you to get up immediately. In fact, I could make a case this is great to go back to bed to. Go ahead and try! Kill that alarm and pop this on. It becomes a really dreamy project.
The jazzy horns on the title track are simply wonderful, the echoey nature of "Not Today Mate" on a low-key Hip-Hop beat just gets your head nodding at that perfect pace. And I haven't mentioned Lacey's delivery and lyrical ability! The whole project comes off as very conceptual. Five vignettes that each showcases a different performance each time. But as a whole, cohesive & consistent.
More Jazzy vibes as I fall back to sleep, thank you!
Favourite Track: Morning Matters
Junii - Don't Stand Too Close, Vol. 1
Ah, Junii. One of my favourite discoveries in 2020. And it was a very unlikely one. I discovered her not first hand, not even second hand. I got her name and this project from a friend who was DM'd the project!
Sometimes you just get lucky and boy was this project a pot of gold. Michigan based Junii has not just the lyrics & the rapping/singing range, but she also has the know-how of a producer & engineer. And you get ALL of that with this project.
Her inspirations from Kendrick Lamar (The EP contains a literal homage to him on "Kendrick's Theory") to Kehlani really come through here. You get such a blend of styles in such a short amount of time. There's something for everyone but for me, all of it hits so damn nice.
It should be criminal to have someone this talented in all the aforementioned facets.
Favourite Track: All Real
Terrace Martin - Conscious Conversations
Terrace Martin's 2020 was one of the most active out of any artist I follow regularly. One EP after another and then, just for the hell of it, drop a project with 9th Wonder, Rober Glasper & Kamasi Washington. Terrace was on my neck all year.
And out of all the EPs he dropped, "Conscious Conversations" was the one that hit the nicest. Great features throughout including Malaya going off on "Oblivion", Rapsody & Lalah Hathaway on one track, Robert Glasper & Alex Isley on one track?!
GET OFF MY NECK, TERRACE.
Five tracks, just over 16 minutes of textbook Terrace Martin. Sometimes jazzy, sometimes Hip-Hop, always soulful production, with some of the best voices, musicians & lyricists at his disposal.
If you for some reason haven't listened to Terrace Martin, start here. You get everything in an airtight package.
Favourite Track: Dead Man Walking (Feat. Rose Gold & Nick Grant)
Lila Iké - The ExPerience
I had three shows cut off due to Corona. GZA, Talib Kweli (before his perpetual Twitter harassment) and the trio of Protoje, Sevana & Lila Iké. Now I copped before the EP in question dropped. Last year I spun "Rock & Groove" and that was more than enough for me to want to see Lila live.
But alas, it didn't happen. But then came "The ExPerience"... And my irritation of missing out grew ten-fold.
This is such an agile project. You get a different sound every time and every time, Lila Iké freaking knocks the track out for six.
You got a slow, trappy beat for "Where I'm Coming From", a more acoustic vibe for "Solitude" where she delivers wonderful vocals & lyrics. "I Spy" is a more poppy/dancehall number. "Stars Align" & "Forget Me" give me old school & new school R&B respectively. "Second Chance" is a wavy DUB heater and lastly "Thy Will" is the most traditional Reggae track, with militant lyrics to match.
This really shows Lila's elasticity, she can literally do anything that you could imagine her doing.
Favourite Track: Thy Will
Skyzoo - Milestones
It's a funny thing. For years I have been listening to Brooklyn born & raised Skyzoo and for whatever reason, I've never been able to truly get into a project and be attentive to it from start to finish.
It's most likely a 'me' problem, but with all that said. THIS here? Outstanding project. The jazzy Hip-Hop production throughout is sublime. But I feel like I should really highlight how great Skyzoo has done here lyrically.
This concept EP goes deep with the theme of fatherhood. From being a dad himself, growing up with his dad in his life (& how rare that was in his eyes) and life lessons from everything father & son. It's a really honest project that says a lot in seven tracks but with the tight lyrical subject matter, Jazzy/Boom Bap production and enlightening skits, Skyzoo really got me with this one.
Favourite Track: Memory Serves Me
Spittzwell & Boog Brown - Summer Daze, Vol. 1
There is nothing better than a great "1 Producer, 1 Rapper" project and this little care package from Spittzwell & Boog Brown. "Summer Daze, Vol. 1" is part of a set of EPs that Spittzwell did throughout 2020 but the reason I even came across this was because I LOVE Boog Brown.
I love her tone, delivery, uplifting lyrical content and credit to Spittzwell, he came through on this one with some c r i s p y beats.
Barring the intro & outro for the moment, the four-pack in the middle are all great in their own way. "The Lesson" is super jazzy, "The Seed" made my Top 15 Songs list so go spin that. "The Unknown" has a nice classic feel to it and "The Fresh" is just an excellent fatal four-way between Boog, Ekundayo, Backwud Marc & Stanza.
"Summer Daze" is a great name for this because of above all of what I've already said, this begs to be spun with at night with the top down.
Favourite Track: The Seed
Rachel Huggins - Keep Dreaming
This EP was such a light in my life during this year. There hasn't been a project this year that has succeeded in delivering a wonderful package of great vocals, sitting on some clean, soulful beats.
The title track comes in first, a smooth bouncy number with a sprinkle of synths and as you can imagine by the title, is all about not giving up on your dreams. "Opportunity Knocks", with some great Hip-Hop vibes from LyricL, is a fusion of 80s/90s wavy dance music that my pops used to spin in the car.
"Do Better" is a nice homage to 90s R&B, "TAKE CONTROL" is a crazy synth/dance bop that will immediately get you moving.
But a real highlight is Huggins' vocals throughout. Real classic range, you get them elongated high notes, you get superb vocal stacking, her flows switch up more than some rappers. This whole project personally fills me with nostalgia and all the lyrical messaging is timely and just what the doctor ordered.
Favourite Track: TAKE CONTROL
Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2
This is probably the most well-known EP on the list and it's obvious as to why. Tkay Maidza has all the sauce in this one. And while it's one of the most popular EP releases of this year, it's also one of the most diverse projects.
Rapping, singing, rapping & singing in the space of two bars. Expect anything and everything on this one. The three-track stretch from "24k", to "Shook", to "Awake" is one of the best stretches this year. But around all that, you get some really high-quality stuff. "Grasshopper" is a bassy banger that bleeds right off the insomnia-crazed "Awake". (with JPEGMAFIA) It actually gives me slowthai vibes, there's a chaotic nature to it.
But past the energy of the first half, the last three tracks show a more Pop/R&B side to Tkay and that's just as good. A floaty "PB Jam", kitted with this light & echoey vocal hook. Finished off with "Don't Call Again" with Kari Faux that really makes more of a statement. It's punchy but still keeps that floaty essence the two tracks before have.
I believe there's something for everyone here, no matter where you are, Tkay Maidza really has most of the modern sounds on lock with a great awareness of past sounds.
Favourite Track: 24k
Kay Young - Middle Matters
Whilst I've given EPs so far that have moments of calm. This EP is one of the calmest projects you'll hear.
South London's own Kay Young comes through with "Middle Matters", a really open-book kind of EP where she takes a reflective look at her life so far as a Millenial beat maker that is *this close* to blowing up. You can feel it and hear it in her lyrics that she's put in the work and has gone through trials that a lot of creatives, not just musically, have had many a time.
Pair that with a highly traditional beat making style, you can definitely tell she's a child of the Nujabes & J Dilla's of the world. It's like Hip-Hop acoustic where instead of a guitar, its a thick beat. But you do get some variety such as the Drum & Bass rooted "Ego" and the Gospel/Jazz elements of "Giving Thanks".
At just under 20 minutes, a 'talky' delivery a majority of the time. I personally feel a deep connection to a project such as this. There's a gratitude to all experiences, good and bad, that have gotten her to the point where she's at right now and I feel that's how everything in life should be approached.
Favourite Track: Giving Thanks
Lady Sanity - Lying In Truth
Remember when I said that we had another Birmingham artist on the list? Well here you go! But unlike TrueMendous, I discovered Lady Sanity this year, with this project and oh boy have we got a hidden gem over here!
Lady Sanity has been going for a few years now and you can tell through this project alone that she's not an amateur by any stretch. Rapping over modern Rap, Trap, Drill and even Drum & Bass beats, she just goes in with every track.
The hunger in her delivery is so refreshing, her lyrics are bragadocious, aware, smart and the flows over the variety of beats is something to behold.
This woman has to be next, as well as the city of Birmingham.
Favourite track: Trappin
GQ - A Midsummer's Nightmare
What an embarrassment of riches GQ & the people over at Jamla Records have man. Imagine having your whole EP produced by 9th Wonder. That must be so nice to know that all of the beats will guaranteed slap.
But jealousy aside, that must come with some sort of pressure, because you can't drop mid on these pristine beats! Lucky for GQ, he's a certified spitter and since it's on my list, you know where I stand.
This is just a sublime listen from back to front. GQ really gets in his bag on this one. He has this stream of thought style that always stays on point. His bars are nicely layered & somehow, he makes it all sound like light work.
A real highlight of this EP for me is the transition from "Ms. Out" to "Might As Well". Both tracks about women but tackled in different ways. The latter track being very fun with a feature from Reuben Vincent, namedropping a littany of notable females.
Beats are clean, lyrics are tight. Love this project.
Favourite Track: Might As Well (Feat. Reuben Vincent)
Lyric Jones - Closer Than They Appear
Boston native Lyric Jones has really gone all out for this one. I came into this project thinking that it would just be a simple projects full of bars over thick boom bap beats.
And while I'm not wrong in saying that, I wasn't expecting the variety this EP would eventually have. Nobody had Jones doing a funky House track with Vic Mensa, nobody had Jones flowing over a smooth beat with Latin flavoured guitar. Those two tracks especially surprised me in the best way.
Past that, you get some great rapping, smooth vocals, a Little Brother feature which never misses. This project is a great blend of boom bap, soulful Hip-Hop samples and aforementioned stylistic switch ups in between that makes this EP super fresh and clean.
And there you have it! Those are the EPs. If you haven't spun them, please do they're really amazing works. Support the artists as always.
Top 20 Albums, coming next...
(I wanted to stay at 15 but I'm weak.)
Ric Flo - Rise Of The Phoenix
Megan Thee Stallion - Suga
CHIKA - INDUSTRY GAMES
Skyzoo & Dumbo Station - The Bluest Note
Little Simz - Drop 6
Reuben Vincent - Boy Meets World
Anteloper - Tour Beats Vol. 1
Liz Lubega - The Woman
Che Noir & 38 Spesh - Juno
Bumi Thomas - Broken Silence
Eckoes - Ep1
Sevana - Be Something
NAYANA IZ - SMOKE & FLY
Tiana Major9 - At Sixes and Sevens
Junii & Dango Forlaine - SOAP TAPES
Shay Lia - Solaris
Katori Walker - Idols
Junii & Dango Forlaine - SOAP TAPES VOL. 2
Brittney Carter - As I Am
Cormega - Mega