It’s the end of the year, and as always, I return to my role as an extremely amateur music critic to attempt to rank my favorite projects and songs this year. We could describe 2020 as so many different adjectives, but during everything horrible, music was at least for me the one way I got the chance to escape into my mind. I dreamed of these songs, walked outside with a mask jamming to these albums, and got to learn more about some inspiring musicians and artists. This year, I just decided to lump EPs/Mixtapes into my “Projects of the Year” and add a list of “Artists I enjoyed the most this year” even for those who may not have released new music or as much new music this year. I got to explore more underground artists this year, and although some of them haven’t made my lists just from the number of replays I didn’t get to, I’ll add some in the honorable mentions.
Songs of the Year:
I chose to only select one song from an artist for this list, filled with a range of genres, styles, and moods.
15: “Ridin Strikers” — Future
My favorite song that I replay on Future’s best project since DS2
14: “Fkn Around” — Phony Ppl feat. Megan Thee Stallion
A smooth groove that gets you to just want to stand and dance during any hour of the day or night; Meg’s feature gets me excited to hear her more on these types of tracks
13: “Too Late” — The Weeknd
A synth-y ballad that I felt like still is one of the most underrated songs on the album
12: “Walk Em Down” — NLE Choppa feat. Roddy Ricch
A completely unexpected stunner of a single by NLE, and for 25 seconds, Roddy still pulls off a fantastic feature
11: “Green Juice in Dallas (Intro)” — Larry June, Cardo
The Bay’s sound continues to shape music, and Larry on this intro to the Cruise Usa tape is the perfect song to drive with
10: “High School Me” — Sasha Sloan
This song’s sentimental and personal connection to my own story helped me embrace how much I’ve grown since HS
9: “Ignorantes” — Bad Bunny, Sech
YHLQMDLG is one of my favorite listens this year, and it was this single before its release that helped usher me into Bad Bunny’s world
8: “END OF DISCUSSION” — IDK feat. PnB Rock
This infectious and catchy PnB hook, along with punchy claps and 808s makes this an easy fit on my list of favorite songs this year
7: “Desires” — Drake feat. Future
Arguably my favorite Drake leak of all time, to see this song completely mixed and released was a pleasant surprise early in the pandemic
6: “Woodlawn” — Aminé
The song I’d play whenever I’d walk through Woodlawn, or on Woodlawn Ave; Aminé reminded us all he’s here to stay on this album cut turned single
5: “SONGS ABOUT YOU” — CHIKA
My first introduction to CHIKA was this song, and instantly when the organ kicks in, I knew she was special; the bars, the vocals, CHIKA has it all
4: “Cloak” — Blvck Svm
The summer of 2020 was one of the most memorable moments in history, and no one wrote a better song that best captured that time than Ben
3: “Emotionally Scarred” — Lil Baby
“I’m tired of being tired of being tired” — Lil Baby; the line of the year, by the artist who broke into superstardom, all with the heartfelt bars to match
2: “Cheesin’” — Cautious Clay feat. Remi Wolf, Still Woozy, Sophie Meiers, Claud, Melanie Faye, & HXNS
This song is pretty well advertised: it continues to bring a smile to my face time and time again; this song kept bringing me joy all year long
1: “Invincible” / “Got It On Me” — Pop Smoke
I’m breaking my rules on this list (it’s my list after all). In many ways, these are the two songs that show the triumph and the best of my favorite artist this year. Pop Smoke breaks away from more traditional drill beats on these two songs and absolutely shines. I think of these two songs together because it’s the ying-yang between both felt like he’s unstoppable while he’s also conscious about his mortality. I never feel like I could separate these two, so they’re both tied here as my favorite song/songs of 2020.
Project of the Year Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
SAWAYAMA — Rina Sawayama
As I Am — Brittney Carter
SAVAGE MODE II — 21 Savage and Metro Boomin
Cruise Usa — Larry June and Cardo
Cooks & Orange Juice — Larry June and Berner
Welcome to O’Block — King Von
YHLQMDLG — Bad Bunny
Carpaccio — Blvck Svm
Man on the Moon 3: The Chosen — Kid Cudi
Circles — Mac Miller
Meet the Woo 2 — Pop Smoke
No Love Lost — Blxst
Projects of the Year:
Although I usually do albums, I added a few EPs on this list just because although they may be more collections of songs, they were incredible enough and comparable to some of the albums here.
10: High Off Life — Future
It’s been almost five years since I’ve played through a Future album repeatedly from start to finish, but this is it. It’s Future flowing like 2015, but more mature and more thoughtful (ofc some ignant bars are here too).
9: I’m Allergic to Dogs — Remi Wolf
Remi was one of the best discoveries I made this year, and this short 5-song EP is some of the best pop out today.
8: Only Child — Sasha Sloan
My introduction to Sasha’s music was my friend last-minute giving me a ticket to her show over a year ago. Since then, she’s the artist I can feel comfortable being emo with and sifting through my thoughts. Her debut album is all of Sasha in one place.
7: After Hours — The Weeknd
Had 2020 not been what it turned out to be, perhaps Abel’s most sad album in over five years would have been higher on this list. But my Habesha cousin once again creates an incredible album.
6: My Turn — Lil Baby
This was the first album that I thoroughly appreciated and got into from Lil Baby, and although the singles are some of the better songs here (“Sum 2 Prove” in particular), I still enjoy the album cuts and sequencing here.
5: Industry Games — CHIKA
All of this debut EP is CHIKA’s statement that she is here to take over. I don’t even care for the Grammys, but her nomination was the one positive in a complete mess. Her newest single (“FWB”) was my favorite snippet of the year, and I cannot wait to hear what she creates next.
4: Burden of Proof — Benny The Butcher
Bars on bars on bars. Benny’s newest album is nothing short of a lyricism clinic. Every single song has such incredible replay value as you pick up on a new line through every listen. If I wanna zone in and get motivated, this is the album for that.
3: The Amanda Tape — THEY.
I had casually stumbled upon this album on Twitter the night it was released, and I don’t think I ever had been so surprised and excited on a first listen of a project. From start to finish, the exciting duo of THEY. are creating some of the best modern R&B music today, all with the enthusiasm to meet the times.
2: Limbo — Aminé
My other Habesha cousin continues to take over the rap game, all while remaining as funny and authentic as when he released Caroline. The Ethiopian and Eritrean references, along with the all-too-relatable track “Mama” that reminds me of my relationship to my mom, Aminé is making music that I just love to share with those I care about.
1: Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon — Pop Smoke
Pop Smoke defined my year. This album, while not being song for song as strong as the others on the list, remains the one that gives me the hope and inspiration to just make the most of whatever time I have left. Drill sound or not, Pop Smoke was going to change music for the better. Even though he is no longer with us, Bashar left us with an album that was the sound of the year.
Artists I enjoyed the most this year
5: Larry June
Somehow Larry flew under my radar until this fall, but Spotify Discover Weekly shared with me “Smoothies in 1991.” Since then, he’s remained continuously in my rotation and is the complex character and artist who embodies the Bay so well.
There is nothing I don’t love about CHIKA. I couldn’t be more excited to see where she goes next. Her dog is also an absolute stunner and is very cute.
2: Lil Baby
There isn’t much else I could say that you don’t know. The singles, the music videos, the My Turn deluxe that added better songs than on the original, Lil Baby is the best Baby out.
1: Pop Smoke
Don’t say pop and forget the smoke. I miss his presence, his confidence, and his hunger to take over the music world. Rest in peace Bashar Barakah Jackson.
That’s it! Feel free to follow me on Spotify @ noah_tesfaye if you want to hear and listen to some of my playlists. I always love doing these recaps and reflecting on the music that made my year more exciting. I don’t know how I could have made it through these tumultuous twelve months without music. I had fun being an amateur music critic, and maybe I’ll do more music writing in the future.
Being Noah Tesfaye #162: My Favorite Music From 2020
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