Based on cultural impact, lyricism, staying power, and aux-chord viability, these are our 10 picks for the best rap songs of 2020.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown, the Black Lives Matter movement, and stirring political tensions, the world of rap music didn’t sleep. We saw superstars drop their best songs to date, as well as rap newcomers firmly cementing their names into the world of entertainment.
We heard crushing posthumous albums and thoughtful social commentary; perspectives that are invaluable to future generations. We also danced to straight-up bangers and tasty-ear-worms, beats that kept us grooving in our bedrooms through the tumultuous year.
In celebration of these transcending hip-hop feats, we’re counting down our 10 best rap songs from 2020. Remember, this is just our opinion, so don’t sweat if that killer underground shit doesn’t make the list. Let’s go.
#10. Run The Jewels – walking in the snow
It’s always a drop-everything-and-listen moment when hip-hop duo Run The Jewels release a record. Their fourth studio album was announced in solidarity with the BLM movement and its signature truth bombs are fittingly ice-cold on the single walking in the snow.
But, the truth gets even colder, listen to this… Killer Mike’s line, “you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to a whisper, I can’t breathe,” wasn’t even referring the tragic death of George Floyd. It referred to Eric Garner, who was brutally murdered just a week before. Truly haunting and powerful.
#9. Tkay Maidza – 24k
23-year-old Aussie Tkay Maidza has travelled through many genres and moods for the last few years; RnB, electronic dance, and hip-hop included. Without fail, her versatility as a singer, writer, and rapper has impressed, catapulting her fanbase to new heights. The distinctive pulse and flow of 24k, however, might be her finest offering yet.
The fast-tempo, sparkling hook, and assured flow all culminate into a fever dream that drips more honey with every listen.
#8. Earl Sweatshirt – WHOLE WORLD (feat. Maxo)
You can always count on insular rapper Earl Sweatshirt for some woozy production and introspective penmanship. Sporting a languid flow, so well-worn that rhyme becomes redundant, Sweatshirt quips cold water as a metaphor for his depression and admits to using women to deal with it: “Icicles hangin’ in my heart, cagey as strays.”
Backed by a lull of psychedelic keys, its some bleak material for a bleak year, but that doesn’t make it any less relatable or creative. As for L.A. feature Maxo? Well, his imagery slots right in with Earl’s: “Eyes to my feet, can’t stand what I see.”
#7. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Something to rap about (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
There’s plenty to praise here. Hip-hop veteran and producer The Alchemist samples some buttery jazz guitar from David T. Walker’s On Love and mixes it to a smooth, sonic stratosphere. Over the beat, hugely-underrated talent and street-slinger Freddie Gibbs spits bars of genius on cruise-control: “Crime fucking pays, but once you paid, you gotta pay the man.”
Enter recent Grammy winner Tyler, The Creator, with bars of equal calibre. On his latest album, Igor, Tyler doesn’t rap much, but his feature is just proof that his gut-punching perspective is far from retirement. “This sound like the boat I haven’t bought yet. This sound like the moment I jump off it,” he unravels.
#6. Megan Thee Stallion – Savage (feat. Beyoncé)
TikTok hit Savage was critically-acclaimed and universally-heard from the second it dropped in March. But, when Beyoncé hopped on the remix to dish out some extra bravado, the song became inescapable. Thankfully, Savage’s stardom was well-deserved. Megan’s expressive chorus taps into the idea of being “the hood Mona Lisa” and remaining “savage, classy, bougie, ratchet” all at the same time.
Her staccato delivery of this badass-sentiment over a nostalgic hip-hop beat managed to resonate with millions. If you don’t believe me, try to count all the TikTok dances.
#5. DaBaby – ROCKSTAR (feat. Roddy Ricch)
North Carolina native DaBaby rode his way to rap notoriety with a liquid track – soaked in cultural relevance and spending seven non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. This cinematic slice of guitar and trap received many variations, however, the BLM Remix marked its moment of zeitgeist status.
On the remix, DaBaby and Roddy Ricch both shared their personal experiences with racism and police brutality. DaBaby’s recollection of police attempting to “embarrass me, abusing power” rings especially true in this year. It’s well worth taking a look at their performance of Rockstar at the BET awards.
#4. DJ Khaled – POPSTAR (feat. Drake)
Oozing with clout, charm, and wit, it’s tough to deny the slapping power of this moody pop/trap. Complete with a shout of “It’s DJ Khaled!”, some bumptious calls from Drizzy Drake, and plenty of Justin Bieber eye-candy, this is a certified banger.
Slick beat aside, this song earns its spot through the swaggering lyrical excess. There’s no subtlety to be seen, but that also means just about every line in this sleazy charter is quotable: “Cops pullin’ up like I’m giving drugs out, nah nah, I’m a pop star, not a doctor.” Besides, only the best rap songs have the audaciousness to rhyme “Selena” with “my Visa.”
#3. Cardi B – WAP (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
Comedian George Carlin once said, “I like to find out where the line might be and then cross it deliberately, and then make the audience happy about crossing that line with me.” I can’t help but feel that’s exactly what Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion did on this rightfully shameless track.
WAP tore down double standards with a pair of rap powerhouses at their musical peak, confidently proclaiming that women can embrace their sexuality as much as men do. Of course, some prudes couldn’t help voicing their opinions on the subject.
Society if Ben Shapiro was capable of giving his wife a WAP. pic.twitter.com/IeFdgU9Um9
— 🦡 Lia 🦡 | Hunting Homophobes Era | Cheek pinned (@HpDiggory1) December 15, 2020
#2. Roddy Ricch – The Box
What makes The Box one of the best rap songs of the year? Well, it’s the most profitable song of 2020 for starters, raking in over $6 million in profits. Also, it was only recorded in about 15 minutes. From the iconic, Michael Jackson-inspired “eee eer” ad-lib, to the backwards 808s, and Ricch’s masterclass of a hook: “I won’t ever sell my soul, and I can back that”, everything just snaps into place – the strangeness and all.
Armed to the teeth, The Box is testament to Ricch’s writing ability and his vocal elasticity. Sometimes, it pays to be strange.
#1. Mac Miller – Good News
At the very start of the year, we heard from Pittsburgh-born superstar Mac Miller, but the circumstances were very different. The multi-talented rapper, singer, writer, and producer had tragically died from an overdose in late 2018, leaving plenty of musical projects in the back burner. Most notably, his album Circles: a companion album to Swimming.
Producer and friend of Miller’s, Jon Brion, finished up the tracks written for Circles, with Good News becoming the lead single for the posthumous release. And what a moment it was. A dark and poetic monologue from Miller spools out over a complex pizzicato string passage, drilling right into your conscious. “Why can’t it just be easy? Why does everybody need me to stay?” hits like a truck and the beautifully honest lyricism in Good News will only hit harder, as the year’s circle by.