After presenting our 20 favorite electronic and dance albums of 2020, we’re now moving onto our favorite hip-hop and R&B albums, and there was no shortage of fire this year. In fact, it was extremely difficult to narrow this list down to just 20 albums, which is why we also included several honorable mentions.
Some of the highlights of within the hip-hop and R&B realms this past year included Kid Cudi’s triumphant return, Jay Electronica’s long-awaited album, Rico Nasty’s debut, and Logic’s final project ever. Regardless of the many hardships that we endured in 2020, it was a great year to be a music fan.
Check out our favorite hip-hop / R&B albums below, starting with our top album of the year. Enjoy!
1. Mac Miller – Circles
When it comes to posthumously released projects, you never know what you’re going to get. How much of the late artist’s vision was completed as they saw it? In the case of Mac Miller’s Circles, the project was left in the very capable hands of producer Jon Brion, who was working very closely with Mac on the album. The ultimate, highly-anticipated release ended up being one of the best posthumous projects we’ve ever heard.
As many of us Mac fans know by now, Swimming and Circles were meant to be companion albums. With the release of this intensely emotional album, Mac’s Swimming In Circles vision was finally completed, and we couldn’t have been happier with the result. Although we still consider Circles to be a hip-hop album, it showed that Mac Miller’s music was beginning to transcend the genre. We hear the most singing and instrumentation here than we have for any previous project. We just wish we could have seen where this sound was taking him.
Standout tracks: “Blue World,” “Good News,” & “Hand Me Downs”
2. Moses Sumney – græ
With his stunning sophomore album grae, Moses Sumney created something completely unique and groundbreaking that defied the labels of genre. The 20 track album was truly special in its intimate vocals and heavenly production that broached the territory of sonic greatness. Fueled by Moses’s soulful voice and incredible falsetto, the album put forth a delicate ambience and combined elements of R&B, jazz, rock, and more.
This was a two-part album. He rocked the world with the first half and then sealed the deal with the second. græ isn’t the type of album you can put on in the background, it requires your full attention. Ranging from deeply human and intimate to meditative and transcendental, the mercurial album took listeners on a journey through sound and emotion. With this project, Moses Sumney has proved himself to be one of the most exciting upcoming talents in R&B.
Standout tracks: “Myself In Twenty Years,” “Cut Me,” & “Polly”
3. Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon III: The Chosen
With Man On The Moon III: The Chosen, Kid Cudi, perhaps one of the most beloved artists in hip-hop right now, executed one of the most epic career comebacks the genre has ever seen. Kid Cudi has always been upfront about his mental health, a sentiment that many of his fans connect with. It was no secret that after (and during) the first highly successful Man On The Moon albums, Kid Cudi was severely depressed. While he was still releasing an album every year up to 2016, some of the content was purely a distress call.
In 2020, still glowing off of his KIDS SEE GHOSTS release from two years prior, and with inspiration from artists like Travis Scott, Kid Cudi was finally in place where he could complete the Man On The Moon trilogy. Cudi not only adapted to the current hip-hop world with some mighty trap-infused bangers, but also brought his fans back ten years to his original sound. If you’re a Kid Cudi fan, you couldn’t have wished for much more than this for the final chapter of the story.
Standout tracks: “Dive,” “Sad People,” & “The Void”
4. Logic – No Pressure
The music world held its breath when Logic announced that his sixth studio album, No Pressure, would be his final one, as he transitioned his focus to fatherhood. No Pressure is the sequel to Logic’s debut Under Pressure. Logic emphatically capped off this chapter of his life, reflecting on his storied career. Without a doubt, Logic has left his imprint on the hip hop world with his dynamic flows and refreshingly honest and positive take on rap. The 15-track album was produced by iconic producer NO-ID, who delivered an incredible backing to perfectly complement Logic’s style, and also drew on samples and influences spanning the entirety of rap. As always, Logic makes the rapping sound second nature with his flawless flows and seamless delivery.
From soulful and nostalgic to fast and furious, Logic delivers a dynamic range of raps and proves why he’s one of the best lyricists of his generation. The album is a testament to Logic’s stature in the rap game as he announces his departure from it. With this reflective look back, he leaves his listeners with something that much rap fails to deliver – something meaningful to ponder.
Standout tracks: “Man I Is,” “DadBod,” & “Perfect”
5. Kota The Friend – Everything
Kota The Friend might be one of the most underrated independent rappers in the game right now. His fourth studio album, Everything, not only put him in our radar, but we couldn’t stop listening to this project. It’s an immaculate, low-key album that has endless replay-ability. Each song is a buttery smooth, candid snapshot of what is important to Kota. His relaxed flow sits perfectly on top of guitar-noodling beats. This is the definition of not doing too much. Kota lets his vibe breathe freely on Everything.
Kota was previously on our radar thanks to his track “Colorado,” but this was the album that cemented us as fans.
Standout tracks: “Mi Casa,” “BQE,” & “Volvo”
6. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
This combo was any hip-hop head’s match made in heaven. The Alchemist, who has already made a name for himself as one of the most sinister samplers of all time in hip-hop, teamed up with Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs, who has been slowly but surely rising to the top of many people’s lists over the past decade. The cleverly titled collab project, Alfredo, shows that Freddie was born to rap on top of these dark, minimal beats, and Alchemist delivered him some of his best. This project achieved the most commercial success for either artist in quite some time, and even earned them a GRAMMY nomination for best rap album.
Standout tracks: “Frank Lucas,” “Something To Rap About,” & “Baby Shit”
7. Spillage Village – Spilligion
What do you get when you combine EARTHGANG, JID, 6lack, Mereba, Hollywood JB, JurdanBryant, and Benji? One of the most infectiously spirited supergroups in all of hip-hop. Their home base is Atlanta, and you can instantly tell based off their energy on Spilligion, their first release together since 2016. This album’s cohesiveness gives us early Odd Future vibes, with EARTHGANG and JID at the helm.
Standout tracks: “Baptize,” “Mecca,” & “End Of Daze”
8. Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Released in April, this latest masterpiece from Thundercat puts his fast fingers and famously goofy banter on full display. The bassist and singer, who dedicated the emotional, Grammy-nominated album to close pal Mac Miller, has created the perfect vibe to kick back and chill to. It Is What It Is has overtones of both jazz and disco, and a very cohesive, funky sound, with features from Childish Gambino, Ty Dolla $ign, and soulful saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
This was Thundercat’s long-awaited project on longtime friend and collaborator Flying Lotus’s record label, Brainfeeder.
Standout tracks: “Dragonball Durag,” “Black Qualls,” & “Funny Thing”
9. Victoria Monet – JAGUAR
Victoria Monet has written songs for some the biggest names in music including Ariana Grande and Fifth Harmony. This year however, Monet decided to take her own steps into the spotlight with her debut album, Jaguar. The smoky, gold tinted project oozes sensuality and confidence. This a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. All this and more is made abundantly clear with tracks like the disco laden title track and the cheeky funk R&B track “Dive.” The lustfully hypnotic vibe of Jaguar is simply irresistible and continues to reel us back in for listen after listen.
Standout tracks: “Ass Like That,” “Dive,” & “Moment”
10. Duckwrth – SuperGood
We’ve been Duckwrth fans for a minute here at TSIS. The silver tongued lyricist has made a habit of weaving silky smooth lines over all sorts of back beats, and his major label debut album on Republic Records, SuperGood, was an all out clinic in production diversity. Genre lines were shattered as velvety R&B commingled with grungy indie themes, while subtle hints of electro funk danced beside seductively lush chill wave backings. Duckwrth’s highly adaptable vocal prowess effortlessly skated over each new back drop, painting pictures of love and escapist day dreams.
Standout tracks: “Super Bounce,” “Kiss U Right Now,” & “World On Wheels”
11. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Killer Mike and El-P’s Run The Jewels project has been so successful, that they’ve essentially put their solo careers on hold for the past decade. RTJ4, the fourth album from the power-duo, is another W in the undefeated streak that is Run The Jewels. The bars thrown down from Killer Mike and El-P are as relentless as they’ve ever been, and the production has reached new heights of experimental weirdness. RTJ4, front to back, is just banger, after banger, after banger.
Standout tracks: “ooh la la,” “holy calamafuck,” & “ju$t”
12. Bryson Tiller – A N N I V E R S A R Y
One of the most impressive R&B albums of the year, Bryson Tiller’s third studio album A N N I V E R S A R Y celebrated the anniversary of his 2015 debut album, TRAPSOUL. Tiller continues to perfect his craft, combining rap and R&B to progress his inimitable style. The album is undeniably fresh, and with its beautiful vocal delivery complemented nicely by polished production work behind each track, the project flows like no other. 808s and hi hats underscore a diverse slate of tracks, each developing a unique vibe, often utilizing spacey synths and emotive piano melodies. We were so impressed by the personal touch behind the lyrics and intimacy that Tiller infused into this album. Tiller’s beautifully smooth album ANNIVERSARY was a refreshing change of pace for listeners of R&B and hip hop.
Standout tracks: “Things Change,” “Timeless Interlude,” & “Outta Time”
13. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
Megan Thee Stallion has been steadily climbing to the top of rap royalty – and with the release of her highly anticipated debut album Good News, she officially solidified her spot. The certified chief of “hot girl shit” held nothing back on these songs, with some seriously savage bars and an impressive array of features (SZA, Da Baby, Beyoncé). Backed by fire beats courtesy of producer Juicy J, the record has quickly dominated charts and turn up playlists.
Megan had been putting out music for several years, but this was the project that began her rapid ascent to the top of the hip-hop world.
Standout tracks: “Body,” “Cry Baby,” & “Girls In The Hood”
14. Brent Faiyaz – Fuck The World
The talented Brent Faiyaz has been on our radar for a while now. Since his 2017 project with Atu and Dpat, Sonder, we could tell he was going to become a coveted gem in the R&B sphere. He has followed up with Fuck The World, which features silky and suave vocals and dreamy instrumentals that melt listeners. His delicate and soft croon even makes his lamenting over lust and commentary about the plague of being a player sound sweet.
After his previous projects (both solo and as Sonder), this was the one where he really broke out. We’re officially Brent Faiyaz fans after Fuck The World and can’t wait to see what comes next.
Standout tracks: “Fuck The World,” “Been Away,” & “Rehab (Winter In Paris)”
15. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
It had been very quiet from Jay Electronica over the last decade. Fans have been waiting for an album and hype had been mounting, and in March, the MC finally delivered. A Written Testimony is a poignant collaboration with Jay Z with immaculate production and thought provoking-lyrics that saw some significant commercial success. The hip-hop heavyweights trade off with intricate flows and controversial bars over soulful beats with Arabic elements. For the many hip-hop heads that were waiting on this project for years, A Written Testimony made it all worth it.
16. Aminé – Limbo
We love to see that Aminé has kept up the consistently fire releases ever since his debut hit album, Good For You back in 2017. The follow up, ONEPOINTFIVE, was one of our favorites in 2018, and now, the Portland based rapper returns as one of our favorites for 2020 with his third studio album, Limbo. Not only are his bars and songwriting more refined, but Aminé has found a comfort zone with his own voice, letting himself croon on songs like “Can’t Decide.”
Standout tracks: “Riri,” “Shimmy,” & “Can’t Decide”
17. Keiynan Lonsdale – Rainbow Boy
The debut album of actor, dancer, model, singer-songwriter, Keiynan Lonsdale, left our jaws on the floor. His vivacious song writing takes shape in a myriad of forms, from the raucous lines and rich orchestration of “Gay Street Fighter” and the raw yet conversely catchy, “White Noise,” to the R&B anthem “Chocolate” and the African kissed “On My Way.” The themes of power, independence, and love that permeate the project were nothing short of infectious and left us feeling every shade of uplifted and empowered. What a debut—and all produced by longtime TSIS favorite Louis Futon.
Standout tracks: “Rhythm & Music,” “White Noise,” & “Magic Mickey”
18. Rico Nasty – Nightmare Vacation
Rico Nasty is easily one of the most dimensional hip-hop artists that we’ve heard in recent years. We see several different sides to her on Nightmare Vacation, her debut studio album. After a handful of mixtapes that put her on the map, Nightmare Vacation is the result of a more finely honed sound that doesn’t solely rely on aggression and super high-energy (although we do still love those parts on the album). This project shows us there’s much more to Rico Nasty than we thought. We’re stoked on seeing her evolve in front of our eyes, and this has us itching for what’s next.
Standout tracks: “STFU,” “OHFR?,” & “Own It”
19. Benny The Butcher – Burden Of Proof
The Buffalo rap trio Griselda went haywire this year with solo releases after their highly successful 2019 collective release, WWCD. Out of all the album drops from Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher, Benny’s took the cake for us. Burden Of Proof saw a bit of a vibe-switch with prolific producer Hit-Boy taking the reins instead of in-house Griselda producer, Daringer (or frequent collaborator The Alchemist). Benny has been dropping projects since 2008, but this is easily his most polished, and a statement that shows ambition from the New York rapper.
Standout tracks: “One Way Flight,” “Timeless,” & “Burden Of Proof”
20. Joji – Nectar
Few projects threw us as deep into our own emotions and psyche like Japanese artist, Joji’s, sophomore album, Nectar. The project was 18 tracks of sedated genre-blending mood music. Through shades of downtempo R&B, shadows of indie pop, and a dash the electronic Joji examined the inherent draws of humans with the help of an all star cast that includes the likes of Lil Yachty, Diplo, and BENEE. With this album, Joji solidified himself as a serious contender in the music world, fully embracing the soul and range of his vocal and songwriting talent.
Standout tracks: “Gimme Love,” “Daylight,” & “Your Man”
The Weeknd – After Hours
On his fourth studio album After Hours, The Weeknd took a step forward as an artist, reaching deep for an introspective look into the mind of one of the most prolific hip hop artists of his generation. While singles “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” topped the charts, the 14 track album truly shined as a whole. Diving deeper than he ever has into the themes of sex, drugs, love, and beyond, The Weeknd left listeners with a deeply personal look into the life of the young superstar. Along with the impassioned lyrics that we have come to love, sonically, this album is beautiful. The production of this album offered a diverse and fresh sound for the Weeknd, ranging from poppy, 80’s sounding synths, to more stripped down, sprawling soundscapes where Abel’s falsetto shined. On After Hours, The Weeknd took a step forward behind a more measured approach; smoothly developed tracks and cohesively telling a story with his unmatched vocal ability.
Don Toliver – Heaven Or Hell
Don Toliver’s debut studio album Heaven Or Hell arrived on Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack imprint, and cemented the rapper as one of the most promising young talents in his field. Incorporating futuristic synthesizers with minimal trap beats, the album creates a beautiful cosmic ambience. Combining this engrossing production with Toliver’s unique vocal delivery make for an album full of catchy hooks and nuanced, vocal-driven melodies. Heaven or Hell represents a progressive new sound for the future of rap.