The Best Songs of 2020

This year’s most memorable music came from artists like Pop Smoke, Lil Uzi Vert, and Cardi B. These are Complex’s picks for the 50 best songs of 2020.

Complex's Best Songs of 2020
Complex Original

Complex Original

Complex's Best Songs of 2020

What song defined your year? This is always a difficult question to answer, but in 2020, it’s even more challenging. Some years, you can take the easy way out and just pick the song that you heard at every club and party you went to. Not in 2020. Some years, there’s an obvious trend that dominates music, crystallizing itself in a hit song that ends up at the top of everyone’s lists. Not in 2020.

In a year dominated by isolation, cultural moments were splintered. At home, different songs resonated with each of us, and we gravitated to music that hit the hardest within our respective bubbles. So this year, more than ever, the value of a list like this comes from its totality more than any single song. Together, these 50 songs represent the various ways that music guided us through a historically challenging year. Whether these tracks helped us face our own respective obstacles or enabled us to escape from reality altogether, they all soundtracked the past 12 months in their own ways. For the purposes of this list, we only selected songs that were actually released in 2020. These are Complex’s picks for the 50 best songs of 2020.

50. YoungBoy Never Broke Again, “Kacey Talk”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Top

Producers: Julia Lewis and 1Mind

YoungBoy Never Broke Again released a staggering amount of music in 2020. Over the past 12 months, he dropped four solo projects, one collaborative tape, and one compilation album. But there’s one song that rises to the surface as his very best of the year: “Kacey Talk.” Over a throbbing, string-laden beat from 1Mind and Julia Lewis, YoungBoy raps about leveling up (“new suit, big boss”) and handling relationships in the midst of a career explosion. As the story goes, he recorded the song while holding his son Kacey in his arms, giving the creative moment a little extra weight. Like many of his releases this year, the song is endlessly catchy, but there’s an added sense of purpose and motivation behind his raps that makes it a highlight of his wildly prolific year. —Eric Skelton

49. Apollo Brown & Che Noir f/ Black Thought, “Hustle Don’t Give”

View this video on YouTube

Album: As God Intended

Producers: Apollo Brown

Buffalo rap is becoming synonymous with Griselda, but someone needs to tell Shannon Sharpe and everyone else that there’s even more fire upstate. 26-year-old Che Noir is just starting to make a name for herself, and she took a giant step toward fulfilling that mission by holding her own with rap monument MC Black Thought on “Hustle Don’t Give,” a standout from her impressive As God Intended album. Her reflective opening verse is technically impressive, insightful, and imagery-filled, setting a strong tone for Black Thought to begin his verse with the poetic observation that, “a grain of sand of the king's hand/could grow into a castle if it spread like a wingspan” and kill it from there. —Andre Gee

48. Roc Marciano f/ Schoolboy Q, “Covid Cough”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Mt. Marci

Producer: Roc Marciano

I know we all have pandemic fatigue, but “Covid Cough” is good enough to look past the title and dig into Roc’s psychedelic production and Schoolboy’s electric bars. The track is taken from Roc’s Mt. Marci, and while the entire album is great, “Covid Cough” is a standout. Schoolboy’s whole verse is top-notch, but a standout four line run has to be, “Just the must in my pits, tryna swing from my dick/Just the butt when I flick, Wagyu when I pick/Just a burp when I’m drunk, you the ash from the blunt/It don't matter, the Klumps, all you n****s is lunch.” This duo combines for brilliant results. —Will Schube

47. Doja Cat f/ Nicki Minaj, “Say So (Remix)”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producers: Tyson Trax

The original version of Doja Cat’s single was already a hit on TikTok by the time the remix came out, but Nicki Minaj’s guest verse catapulted the remix to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The new version keeps much of the fun, ’80s spirit of the original, but Nicki adds more of a contemporary feel with a few bars about the COVID-19 pandemic and cheeky lines about ass-shots. “Say So (Remix)” is the kind of danceable hit we’d expect to hear playing at skating rinks and summer events, but it’s also special because it successfully disrupted a male-dominated industry, as two women sat together at the top of the charts. —Jessica McKinney

46. Mozzy f/ King Von & G Herbo, "Body Count"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Beyond Bulletproof

Producer: Manu

The world is mourning King Von, not just because he’s another life lost too soon, but because of his fiery mic presence. He showed out on “Body Count,” a single from Mozzy’s Beyond Bulletproof album which also featured G-Herbo. The three cult favorites traded filthy verses, with Von rhyming, “When I’m on your car, ain’t no stoppin’ at stop signs,” Herbo reflecting, “Used to be opps on a nigga top every day/now it’s just demons hauntin’ me,” and Mozzy balancing out the horror by hilariously noting, “The homie talkin’ ’bout his war stories, I was half-sleep on that nigga.” “Body Count” is unadulterated gangsta rap, and there’s no sleepin’ on it in any context. —Andre Gee

45. CJ, “Whoopty”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Pxcoyo

Brooklyn drill is mainstream now. It’s been heading this way for years, but the viral, organic movement has now infiltrated every aspect of the rap game, especially as more artists emerged tethered to the sound. CJ’s “Whoopty” hits all the notes of a drill track, and that’s what we love about it. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to drive a car. Here, CJ builds his world: He’s addicted to bleu cheese, there are racks stuffed in the trap house, and there’s even a Ruth’s Chris reference, giving more free advertisement to the steakhouse all rappers seem to be obsessed with. Turn the bass up and have some fun with this one. —Will Schube

44. Juice WRLD, “Blood On My Jeans”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Legends Never Die

Producer: Gezin, Max Lord, and Strapazoot

If you speak with any of Juice WRLD’s collaborators, you’ll hear stories about legendary in-studio freestyle sessions where he came up with massive hits on the spot. And it’s because of this off-the-cuff, instinctual creative style that he was able to make songs that sounded as effortless and natural as something like “Blood On My Jeans,” a standout from his posthumous album, Legends Never Die. Floating over a guitar-driven beat, Juice is able to weave together a strikingly honest track that immediately connects with anyone on first listen. These are the kinds of songs that take some people years to write, so the fact that Juice was able to create them so fluidly is incredible. He was a truly special artist. —Eric Skelton

43. Internet Money f/ Gunna, Don Toliver & Nav, “Lemonade”

View this video on YouTube

Album: B4 the Storm

Producers: Nick Mira, Taz Taylor, Alec Wigdahl, pharaohvice, and E Trou

Internet Money, a production collective founded by Taz Taylor, created a banger so addictive that it rose to the No. 1 spot on Spotify’s domestic chart in October. The track’s success could be credited to a few things. For one, the slick and upbeat production sets the perfect tone for a vacation getaway, which most of us are undoubtedly craving at the moment. But Internet Money also recruited an all-star team of artists who are all great at coming up with melodies: Gunna, Don Toliver, and Nav. Great artists, production, and timing is the recipe for this hit record. —Jessica McKinney

42. Ariana Grande, “34+35”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Positions

Producers: Tommy Brown, Peter Lee Johnson, Xavi, and Mr. Franks

“34 + 35” is sexually explicit, seductive, luxurious, and elegant, guided by Ariana Grande’s sultry vocals. The single is stacked with innuendos (“Got the neighbors yellin’ ‘Earthquake!’/4.5 when I make the bed shake”) and catchy NSFW one-liners as she floats over immaculate production from Tommy Brown, Peter Lee Johnson, Xavi, and Mr. Franks. Kudos to Ariana Grande for creating a track that serves as a math lesson and sex education. —Jessica McKinney

41. SZA f/ Ty Dolla Sign, “Hit Different”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producers: The Neptunes

After overcoming a brief disagreement with her label, SZA returned more confident and liberated on “Hit Different.” The Ty Dolla Sign-assisted record is a soothing R&B song that finds an introspective SZA examining the highs and lows of a relationship. She has an unusual craving for pain, admitting, “I get more in love with you each argument,” but her affinity for conflict only gives more strength to her vocals as she floats over Neptunes production. “Hit Different” successfully ushered in a new era of SZA. —Jessica McKinney

40. Conway the Machine f/ Method Man, “Lemon”

View this video on YouTube

Album: From King to a GOD

Producers: Daringer and Beat Butcha

On “Lemon,” Conway takes a Daringer and Beat Butcha beat that pulls you into the bowels of a netherworld and laces it with one of his most impressive verses of the year. He laments the misfortunes of some of his people, then declares that he “came a long way from sellin’ white and runnin’ from the polices.” With skills like he showed on “Lemon,” his industry success is no surprise. Method Man follows up with a similarly impressive verse that shows off his timeless lyrical ability. To think his skills were questioned in 2009. 11 years later, he’s still tearing through verses with one of the best MCs out. —Andre Gee

39. Drake & Future, “Life Is Good”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Dark Lane Demo Tapes 

Producers: Ambezza, OZ, and D. Hill

Since “Life Is Good” dropped in January, the whole world turned upside down, but the song managed to make an impact throughout the year anyway. Splitting the record in half, Drake leads the way with a melodic, R&B-leaning verse that subtly tackles his past squabbles with peers (“Niggas caught me slippin’ once okay, so what?”). After a quick shift in gears, Future chimes in for the trap side of the record with bars that fuel discussion about why he is the “toxic king.” And although everything in the world went downhill following its release, “Life Is Good” reminds us why Drake and Future make such an iconic duo. —Jessica McKinney

38. G Herbo f/ Juice WRLD, Chance the Rapper & Lil Uzi Vert, “PTSD”

View this video on YouTube

Album: PTSD

Producer: D.A Got That Dope

G Herbo, Juice WRLD, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert are four artists who approach rap from entirely different angles. But somehow, they figured out how to pull their sounds and perspectives together for a remarkably cohesive collaboration on “PTSD.” Complementing a stunning posthumous hook from Juice WRLD, each artist takes turns reflecting on the deaths of fallen friends—a concept that hits home even deeper in the wake of Juice’s tragic death in December 2019. If you’re not paying close attention, you could be excused for just humming along to the song’s sweet melodies and not catching all the deeper messages here, but you’d be missing out on some truly incredible songwriting that sits at the core of this “PTSD.” Run this back a few times. —Eric Skelton

37. Lil Mosey, “Blueberry Faygo”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Callan

At its core, “Blueberry Faygo” is a danceable, feel-good record with syrupy production from Callan. Mosey is just here to have a good time, and he’s inviting others along for the ride, thanks to a bouncy flow and intoxicating chorus. Although we weren’t able to enjoy much of a summer this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Blueberry Faygo” captures the essence of summertime that has been missing. Not overly complicated, this is just colorful and fun. —Jessica McKinney

36. J. Cole, “The Climb Back”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: J. Cole

“The Climb Back” was dropped with little warning, as J. Cole mentioned two new songs on July 21 and dropped them at 10:00 p.m. the following evening. “The Climb Back,” and the other track in the pack, “Lion King On Ice,” offered a look at Cole’s creative space while working on the forthcoming The Fall Off, which has still yet to be released. After “Snow on Da Bluff” caused chaos in the rap scene, Cole returned to hard-hitting bars and a head-nodding beat on “The Climb Back,” nothing too different from his past work. But even when J. Cole is nothing more than consistent, he’s still one of the most talented bar-for-bar MCs in the game. —Will Schube

35. Sleepy Hallow f/ Fousheé, “Deep End Freestyle”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Sleepy Hallow Presents: Sleepy For President

Producer: Great John

Sleepy Hallow emerged as Sheff G’s right-hand man, but the Flatbush rapper has now broken through as his own entity in Brooklyn’s drill scene. Together, they’re still one of New York’s best duos, but with a steady flow of solo work, Sleepy Hallow is now a star in his own right. On “Deep End Freestyle,” the MC takes Fousheé’s hypnotic “Deep End” and turns it into a depraved, dark party anthem. Sleepy seems to be responding to the sample when he raps, “They told me to chill, I'm itchin’ to clap/If I pull up, somebody get whacked.” His booming New York accent comes with a menacing growl, and on “Deep End Freestyle,” he flips his life story into an enthralling tale. —Will Schube

34. RMR, “Rascal”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art

Producers: The Do Betters

When “Rascal” first blew up in early 2020, most people didn’t know what to make of it. Without any context or backstory, a music video for the song popped up on social media timelines and immediately went viral. It opens with a shot of four men, each aiming guns at the camera. RMR is in the middle, wearing a bulletproof vest, a ski mask, and a large gun slung over his shoulder. It looks like a scene out of a Chief Keef video, until RMR opens his mouth and belts out an a cappella version of Rascal Flatts’ “These Days.” Then he transitions into a stirring take on “Bless the Broken Road,” updated to include lines like, “Fuck 12, fuck 12/Fuck 12, fuck 12.” At first, it seemed like a gimmick or a joke. But as the year went on, the melody stuck in our heads and we kept coming back to it. Meanwhile, RMR put his head down and kept releasing great music like “Dealer” and “Welfare,” proving to be a thoroughly talented artist who could outlast a viral moment. No one saw “Rascal” coming, and it ended up being one of 2020’s best surprises. —Eric Skelton

33. Noname, “Song 33”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Madlib

Noname may not be a fan of “Song 33,” but it wouldn’t feel right to leave it off of this list. While some might call it a J. Cole diss record, “Song 33” is really more of an informative track that finds Noname drawing attention to real issues that are impacting Black communities across the country. For a little over a minute, she discusses violence against Black men and women, shows support for the Black Lives Matter Movement, and fires shots at the patriarchy. Taking a few jabs at J. Cole’s “Snow on the Bluff” was just the cherry on top. —Jessica McKinney

32. Benny the Butcher, “Famous”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Burden of Proof

Producer: Hit-Boy

“Famous” showcases why Benny is a cut above most MCs. Hit-Boys’ soaring sample flip of The Dramatics, and the song’s placement on Benny’s long-awaited debut album, sets the table for Benny to have made the quintessential “I made It” song, but he flipped the idea on its head. The average MC feels fulfilled with “three rollies, two cribs” and “six figures,” but Benny isn’t reveling in fame, he’s still trying to figure out how he feels about it. Through two impressive verses, he reminds us that coming from “the cocaine era” makes him a relic of a world where nothing holds weight more than holding weight. “Famous” is a refreshing, subversive glimpse of how artists’ pre-fame experiences color how they view their newfound notoriety. —Andre Gee

31. Kehlani, “Toxic”

View this video on YouTube

Album: It Was Good Until It Wasn’t 

Producers: G.ry and K.Beazy

Kehlani has a knack of singing about things we don’t want to say outright. Who wants to confront the harsh realities of a failing love until you’re alone and it’s done? If there’s a bar emblematic of her sophomore album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, it’s the second line on the project’s intro, “Toxic”: “I get real accountable when I’m alone.” The song is an honest reflection, manifested into silky vocals from one of R&B's brightest stars. It’s not a shock to learn she freestyle most of her lyrics. Something this honest, this reflective, and this self-aware doesn’t involve outside noise. Oh, and yes, that’s friend and collaborator Ty Dolla Sign doing some smooth background work on the song. If y’all ever read this, we really need a joint EP, guys. —Waiss Aramesh

30. Lil Uzi Vert, “Celebration Station”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Eternal Atake 

Producers: Brandon Finessin and Outtatown

It’s unbelievably frustrating that we still haven’t been able to enjoy this song outside. “Celebration Station” is one of the most infectious listens on one of the year’s best projects, highlighted by moments like Lil Uzi Vert lamenting his inability to dance in his Balmain jeans. The song features the braggadocious lyrics from Uzi that we’re used to hearing, over a terrific beat produced by frequent collaborators Outtatown and Brandon Finessin, as well as the strongest hook on Eternal Atake. This is mosh-pit material for whenever the next Rolling Loud goes down. Oh, and a fun bit of a trivia about this song: it samples the intro track to Ariana Grande’s Sweetener. Baby Pluto closes out his first verse by promising a steady stream of music for the foreseeable future: “Not takin’ a break, I’m not stoppin’ again.” Fingers crossed. —Waiss Aramesh

29. Baby Keem, “Hooligan”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producers: Oogie Mane, Jahaan Sweet, Pilgrim, and FaxOnly

During his first in-depth interview with Complex in 2019, Baby Keem noted, “I didn’t want to be like the best lyricist. I wanted to be the best: the king of flows. I wanted to have crazy flows. That was my whole thing from when I was 12 years old.” Well, he accomplished that on “Hooligan.” Baby Keem’s mastery of flows has reached the point where sometimes he doesn’t even need any words at all. On “Hooligan,” he’s able to center a whole hook around a simple repeated syllable like, “Fah-fah-fah, fah-fah-fah,” and it still sounds hard as hell. Don’t sleep on his ability to hit you with subtly clever (and obscene) bars, too, though. Baby Keem is the total package, and in case for some reason you still thought he was a one-hit wonder with “Orange Soda,” his performance on “Hooligan” should put those doubts to bed. He’s the real deal. —Eric Skelton

28. City Girls f/ Doja Cat, “Pussy Talk”

View this video on YouTube

Album: City On Lock

Producer: Southside

It’s safe to say, the City Girls have made an art form out of describing the magical powers of their sexuality. On “Pussy Talk,” the rap duo run through a CVS receipt-type list of things their “cats” will respond to, from talking French to flying private jets to getting Birkin bags. There’s a whole gang of listeners (mostly men) who won’t get the track’s message, but “Pussy Talk” is less about its sexually explicit lyrics. It’s a call to women to recognize their worth and not settle for anything less. That message in itself deserves much praise and respect. —Jessica McKinney

27. Sada Baby, “Whole Lotta Choppas”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: CoalCash Blac

I don’t know about your Bingo card, but mine sure as hell didn’t have Sada Baby becoming a household name thanks to teenage TikTok stars. Alas, here we are. Charli D’Amelio murmurs bars from the Detroit rapper and in turn, Sada’s music gets swallowed by TikTok, and we’re left with snippets accompanied by kids in Connecticut mansions pointing finger guns at the camera. Before that apocalyptic timeline comes to fruition, though, we have a few minutes to enjoy the sheer pleasure of “Choppas,” one of many excellent songs he released this year. The beat takes cues from Detroit techno, and Sada’s flow sounds like he’s been listening to his Motor City peers. It’s a flawless song, and while the TikTok phenomenon is just a little bit horrifying, it’s hard to blame ‘em: This shit makes me wanna dance. —Will Schube

26. Pop Smoke f/ 50 Cent & Roddy Ricch, “The Woo”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon

Producer: 808 Melo, Rxcksta, and Jess Jackson 

Pop Smoke recorded the hook for “The Woo” during the final month of his life. Working through writer’s block, he set the hook aside and said he would come back to it at a later date. Tragically, he was never able to finish it, but one of his biggest mentors and sources of inspiration made sure to complete the song after Pop was murdered. Listening through recordings left behind by the late rapper, 50 Cent gravitated to the 808 Melo-produced track and laid down his own verse, before recruiting Roddy Ricch to fill out the rest of the track. What they ended up with was perhaps the catchiest song on Pop’s posthumous album Shoot For the Stars Aim For the Moon, a bittersweet moment that hinted at the fact he was about to catapult to global superstardom. Pop broke through as a leader of the Brooklyn drill sound, but it’s now clear he had the ability to make all kinds of records. “The Woo” is an undeniable hit, and a lasting reminder of Pop’s limitless abilities. —Eric Skelton

25. Drake f/ Lil Durk, “Laugh Now Cry Later”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producers: Cardo, GRy, Yung Exclusive, and Rogét Chahayed

Some will say “Laugh Now Cry Later” is a safe first single from Drake. And it may not have had the impact or acclaim as some of his previous singles, but what you can’t deny is the catchiness of the song. It’s simple, yet effective, with an ending that fades out instead of abruptly cutting off. And it’s highlighted by Lil Durk, who seems to address Tekashi 6ix9ine, rapping, “Can you not play that lil boy in the club? Cause we do not listen to rats.” “Laugh Now Cry Later” is certainly enough to hold over the diehard Drake fans as they await his highly anticipated studio album, Certified Lover Boy, in 2021. —Jessica McKinney

24. Young Thug & Chris Brown, “Go Crazy”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Slime & B 

Producers: Said Aznou, Dounia Aznou, Johnny Kelvin, Kaniel Castaneda, and Cameron Devaun Murphy

“Go Crazy” is an underrated banger from Young Thug and Chris Brown’s first joint album, Slime & B. Thug and CB created a dance record that samples a 1986 track from Queens duo the Showboys. With a great deal of freaky one-liners from both artists throughout the track , “Go Crazy” is a late-night record. It’s an uptempo, trap-infused song that will likely make it to summer playlists in the years to come. —Jessica McKinney

23. Run the Jewels f/ Greg Nice & DJ Premier, “Ooh La La”

View this video on YouTube

Album: RTJ4 

Producers: El-P, Torbitt Schwartz, and Wilder Schwartz

“Ooh La La” has an old school vibe with an age-old message, and the energy Run The Jewels bring to the record is refreshing. Rapping over a sample of Greg Nice’s verse on “DWYCK,” RTJ fantasize about a utopia where corrupt systems and social constructs no longer exist. “First of all, fuck the fuckin’ law, we is fuckin’ raw/Steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, sushi bar,” Killer Mike spits. El-P adds more chaos to the track, envisioning cannibalism and other disruptive behavior. Sure, Run The Jewels’ fantasy is a little far-fetched for the casual dreamer, but the duo make even the wildest ideas sound fun. —Jessica McKinney

22. Tame Impala, “Breathe Deeper”

View this video on YouTube

Album: The Slow Rush

Producer: Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker goes hip-hop (sort of). This track starts with a groove that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-career LL Cool J single (think “Phenomenon” with a little Irv Gotti-style piano sheen). The lyrics, apparently about how it’s cool to get high in public, follow. But all of that is really secondary. Everything really takes off at about the 4:30 mark, when things fade out. A short interlude follows, which is the most interesting part of the song. It’s a lo-fi recording with guitar tones that wouldn’t be out of place on a Guided by Voices record, and its demo feel is a perfect contrast to the everything-in-its-proper-place aesthetic of the previous section. Quickly, though, that indie rock section fades, and we’re placed in the middle of a glorious instrumental coda that’s funky and contains some of the most mesmerizing guitar tones heard anywhere this year. If everyone who made six-minute songs were as dedicated as Tame Impala to making the last two minutes even better than the first four, the world would be a better place. —Shawn Setaro

21. Taylor Swift, “Cardigan”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Folklore

Producer: Aaron Dessner

“Cardigan” is a departure from Taylor Swift’s radio-ready hits of the past. Part of a trilogy of songs about a high school love triangle wrought with infidelity, the song is the result of Taylor’s greater emphasis on crafting narratives for purely fictional characters, rather than ripping them from the headlines about her life. “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about and from the perspective of people I’ve never met,” she writes in a note released with the project. The songstress pens a story with some euphoric highs (“I knew you, your heartbeat on the High Line, once in twenty lifetimes”) and devastating lows (“I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss, I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs”). With “Cardigan,” Taylor proves that she can depart strictly diaristic storytelling, and instead create stories out of thin air that still feel as authentic and raw as those written about herself. Of course, the departure isn’t absolute. It’s difficult to imagine that some lines don’t harbor in Taylor's own truth. “When you are young, they assume you know nothing” hits too close to home for the polarizing star who spent a better part of her twenties facing scrutiny. Still, this stark detachment between writer and characters is a newly mastered skill in Taylor’s tool belt and perhaps a sign of chapters to come. —Waiss Aramesh

20. DaBaby f/ Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Blame It On Baby

Producers: SethInTheKitchen

On 2019’s KIRK, DaBaby and Kevin Gates were pop stars. In 2020, with Roddy Rich, DaBaby is a rockstar. The term fits. “Rockstar” hit the top of the charts and DaBaby remains one of rap’s biggest draws. The Roddy feature is a good look here, infusing the song with some energy from one of hip-hop’s most reliable hit-makers. Roddy’s streak this year has been unparalleled, turning any track he touches into gold. DaBaby does some more traditional singing on the track, delivering memorable one-liners like, “Brand new Lamborghini, fuck a cop car.” Whether or not you’ve fallen for Blame It On Baby the way you did Baby on Baby or KIRK doesn’t matter when you’re blasting “Rockstar.” DaBaby has taken over the rap landscape and “Rockstar” feels like less of a plateau than a new beginning. —Will Schube

19. Jack Harlow, “Whats Poppin”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Sweet Action

Producer: Jetsonmade, Pooh Beatz, and Los the Producer

There might not be a more addictive beat in all of 2020 than the bouncy, piano-driven masterpiece that JetsonMade, Pooh Beatz, and LosTheProducer cooked up for Jack Harlow. The 22-year-old Louisville rapper didn’t put it to waste. Playfully rapping about hitting the club with a whole basketball team and eating fettuccine at Vincenzo's, Harlow sandwiches an extra long verse inside two ridiculously catchy hooks and pulls off one of the biggest hits of the year. Full of clever one-liners, held together by a sticky flow, “What’s Poppin” demands repeat listens, propelling it to four platinum certifications and a No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. By the end of the year, it even earned Harlow a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance. In 2020, “Whats Poppin” was everywhere. It certainly lived up to its name. —Eric Skelton

18. Lil Baby, “Emotionally Scarred”

View this video on YouTube

Album: My Turn 

Producer: Twysted Genius

Lil Baby has been pouring his heart into his raps since the beginning, but he had perhaps never done so as effectively as he did on “Emotionally Scarred,” the centerpiece of his coronation album My Turn. “I never call myself a G.O.A.T., I leave that up to the people/Everybody can’t go to the top, I had to leave some people,” he reflects. Baby’s flow never stays in one place for long. The verses are nimble without sacrificing his signature warbling melody, and the hook makes excellent use of space and staccato rhythms. Baby’s rise has been meteoric, but he has the poise and old soul of a veteran. On the song, he calls himself “Baby Harden,” and just like the high-scoring Houston Rocket knows how to get a bucket in a billion different ways, Baby’s skill set is rapidly expanding in real time. He’s improved as a lyricist and technical MC with every release, and soon, it’s likely that songs this good will feel as ho-hum as Harden dropping 50. —Grant Rindner

17. Polo G, “21”

View this video on YouTube

Album: The GOAT

Producers: Khaled Rohaim and Keanu Beats

“21” is a reflective record that finds Polo G rapping over melodic piano keys about his celebrity lifestyle. It serves as both a timestamp on his 21st birthday and an assessment of his life before and after the fame. On the track, Polo references his struggle with sobriety, an arsenal of weaponry, and material possessions. There’s a certain level of pain that comes through as the Chicago native sings the chorus, previewing some of the anguish you’ll hear on his sophomore album, The GOAT. On “21,” Polo G continues to prove why he is a new artist to watch. —Jessica McKinney

16. Gunna f/ Young Thug, "Dollaz On My Head"

View this video on YouTube

Album: WUNNA 

Producers: Mike Will Made-It and Myles Harris

Gunna and Young Thug don’t miss. “Dollaz on My Head” is a clear standout from Gunna’s WUNNA album, and testimony to the dynamic chemistry these two have whenever they join forces. Inspired by a late-night studio conversation in L.A., Gunna kicks things off with hazy vocals over an even-tempered beat, courtesy of Mike Will Made-It and Myles Harris. “I’ve been gettin’ it since a toddler, I keep dollars on my head/Bein’ a real one is my motto, handle my problems, I ain’t scared,” he raps on the chorus. Thug also glides over the beat with ease, laying down a warped and jittery verse only Slime could pull off. On “Dollaz on My Head,” Gunna and Thug continue to build on their dynamic chemistry and forge a path for more successful collaborations in the future. We wouldn’t mind a full collab project next. —Jessica McKinney

15. Chloe x Halle, “Do It”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Ungodly Hour

Producer: Scott Storch

Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour is one of the best stories of 2020, an album of the year contender, and the project that vaulted them to the radars of many new listeners. Ungodly Hour’s standout, “Do It,” is one of the best tracks of the year, showcasing the sisters’ supernatural ability to craft hooks and create a unique and self-built world. While the original is a hit in its own right, the song took on a new life when they released a remix with Doja Cat, Mulatto, and City Girls. It’s a free-wheeling, unbelievably fun song, and the shifting perspectives showcase why fans are obsessed with the women leading the future of the genre. —Will Schube

14. Lil Uzi Vert, “Silly Watch”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Eternal Atake 

Producers: Supah Mario

Lil Uzi Vert made up for lost time in 2020, unleashing a flood of new music after staying quiet for the past few years. The totality of his 2020 releases (Eternal Atake, LUV Vs. the World 2, and Pluto x Baby Pluto) arguably made a bigger impact than any singular song, but if we’re going to pick one, it’s got to be “Silly Watch.” Over a bludgeoning Supah Mario beat, Uzi puts his melodic abilities aside for a moment and raps as hard as he can for three minutes. By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Uzi can rap this well when he wants to, but whenever he decides to really hit us with bars, we’re still left in awe. When Uzi gets in his bag, he comes up with shit that no other rapper would ever think of. Where else are you going to find extravagant Richard Mille and Raf Simmons references in the same verse as an out-of-control one-liner like, “I'm a hare all on my bike, bitch, I bunny hop/Hugh Hefner died, so I can't get bunny top”? Nowhere. Lil Uzi Vert is one-of-a-kind. —Eric Skelton

13. Jay Electronica & Jay-Z, “Ghost of Soulja Slim”

View this video on YouTube

Album: A Written Testimony

Producer: Jay Electronica

Taken from Jay Electronica’s long-awaited A Written Testimony, this cut in particular pays tribute to Soulja Slim, who grew up in the same Magnolia Projects that Jay Elec represents. A tale of two verses, the song kicks off with Hov, who gives Slim some love before constructing a verse that not only calls out the numerous Black bodies taken before their time (including Slim’s), but lays out how the roots of Black folks’ struggle and history in this nation is a complex game of stolen arts stolen back and turned into soul food. Jay Electricity steps up next with a verse drenched in Muslim teachings, Black Panther references, and low-key, a quick history on how he went from “a hard place and a rock” to being powered by two Nations: Roc Nation and the Nation of Islam. It’s damn near his origin story from when he first got discovered to, well, right before the album dropped. It outlines the whole history of Jay Elec, from projects to his latest project, in under four minutes. —khal

12. Kid Cudi, “Tequila Shots”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Man on the Moon III: The Chosen

Producers: Dot Da Genius and Take a Daytrip

“Tequila Shots” was born out of a moment of celebration. After Kid Cudi’s collaboration with Travis Scott, “The Scotts,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song’s producers reunited and toasted to their accomplishment. Dot Da Genius and Take a Daytrip told Complex they drank celebratory tequila shots with Cudi, then got to work cooking up a beat they named (you guessed it) “Tequila Shots.” From there, Cudi takes us on a late-night trip through his inner turmoil, revealing he’s got “a lotta demons creepin' up, they're livin' underneath.” But he’s hopeful, adding, “I’m not just some sad dude/You can see my life, how I grew, I want serenity.” Over lush production created in a moment of euphoria, this push-and-pull between conflicting emotions highlights the very best that Man on the Moon III has to offer. Fittingly, asked to name a favorite song on the day of the album’s release, Dot and both members of Take a Daytrip answered, “Tequila Shots.” MOTMIII has only been out for a few days at the time we’re publishing this list, but it’s already clear just how special this song is. —Eric Skelton

11. Mac Miller, “Good News”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Circles 

Producers: Jon Brion and Mac Miller

Mac Miller’s posthumous album, Circles, which featured production from music legend Jon Brion, is a continuation of Mac’s foray into rap-adjacent territories, and “Good News” finds the late artist singing with a raspy, warm voice. He sounds like Tom Waits minus the pack-a-day growl, raised on rap instead of rock. Brion’s signature arrangements―plucky strings and ear-worm melodies―help bring Miller’s music to an exciting new place. Even though the track boasts a beautiful, smiling delivery from Miller, it’s difficult to hear the words without thinking of his death. He sings, “Can I get a break?/I wish that I could just get out my goddamn way/What is there to say?/There ain’t a better time than today.” It’s tragic, but Circles is a reminder that Mac Miller’s gift will always live on. —Will Schube

10. Lil Baby f/ 42 Dugg, “We Paid”

View this video on YouTube

Album: My Turn

Producers: Section 8

Lil Baby has been winning all year. My Turn dropped on Feb. 28, debuting at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200. Then, on May 1, Lil Baby dropped the deluxe version, which featured six new tracks, including the 42 Dugg-assisted “We Paid.” As Tyler, the Creator put it, “‘We Paid’ is like, the core of rap music.” If we were all allowed outside, this song would be getting played everywhere. But even during a pandemic, you’ll still hear it rattling through car stereo systems in the streets of most American cities. This one is guaranteed to get anyone hype. It’s the type of song that makes me miss having a car, just so I could ride around blasting it through the speakers. Moral of the story: We need a Lil Baby and 42 Dugg collaborative project. —Deborah Cardoso

9. Westside Gunn f/ Tyler, the Creator, Joey Badass & Billie Essco, “327”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Pray for Paris

Producer: Camoflauge Monk

Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris felt like a preordained hit. Sure, it helps that Gunn brings his best rhymes and chooses impeccable beats throughout the album, but it just felt like the right time for the Griselda boss to become an absolute star. He’s ascended to a new level in the rap hierarchy, and the diverse crew of voices he gathers on “327” speaks to his ability to unite disparate parts for a greater cause, similar to the way his group with Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine works. Camoflauge Monk’s beat is all bass and drums, with occasional meandering keyboard flourishes that give ample space for Gunn and his collaborators to go bar for bar. Westside Gunn is known for his ad-libs, and on “327,” the Buffalo legend dutifully fills in the cracks. Tyler’s verse is a return to his roots, serving as a reminder of just how strong a lyricist he can be when his interest is in rapping. He name-drops Josh Safdie, Kenan and Kel, and GQ, clearly re-energized after a period away from the notebook. Westside Gunn is a world-class rapper, but he also boasts a keen eye for aesthetics and details. Here, his grand vision comes into precise focus as he leads his band of mismatched toys to the promised land. —Will Schube

8. Freddie Gibbs & the Alchemist f/ Rick Ross, “Scottie Beam”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Alfredo

Producer: The Alchemist

Freddie Gibbs is unstoppable. Shortly before the Gary, Indiana-born rapper signed to Warner Records, he linked up with the Alchemist to release Alfredo. The album is a stunning collection of dusty, soul-infused grooves and sharp bars from Gibbs, who has always been a master at placing pop culture within the context of his own worldview. After a decade of stop-and-start deals to begin his career, Gibbs is now taking over a subsection of the genre. “Scottie Beam” pays homage to the media personality, and Gibbs goes after cops and haters with equal vigor. He raps, “He pulled me over, I asked him, ‘Yo, what's the problem, sir?/I swerved to duck the potholes, man, I had no option, sir/Just let me go ’cause my license, insurance proper, sir/I’d hate to be on the run for smokin’ an officer.’” Throughout “Scottie Beam,” Gibbs doubles down on everything he does so well. —Will Schube

7. Bad Bunny, “Yo Perreo Sola”

View this video on YouTube


Producers: Bad Bunny, Tainy, and Subelo NEO

This song was a reintroduction—an homage, if you will—to reggaeton’s 2004 perreo climax. “El Perreo” is a dance between two partners, and Bunny’s performance is meant to empower women to “perriar” by themselves, with no need for a partner. The Bad Bunny single was well on its way to being a summer anthem before being interrupted by a worldwide pandemic. Now, instead of filling up dancefloors, it blares through neighborhood windows as we dance by ourselves. But regardless of the context around it, “Yo Perreo Sola” remains one of 2020’s defining musical moments. —Alejandro De Jesus

6. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “Runnin”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Savage Mode II

Producer: Metro Boomin

“Ha-ha-ha, pussies.” You don’t open a song like that unless you’re about to go in, and it’s clear 21 Savage knew he had something with “Runnin.” Over a menacing beat from his favorite collaborator, Metro Boomin, Savage confidently drops flexes like, “I’m so rich, get bored, might wake up, buy me a car just ’cause.” And by the time he makes his way to the hook, he has the audacity to say the word “runnin'” 24 times. That’s the kind of shit you only try when you’ve already proven yourself as one of the best in the game. Savage and Metro understand the power of simplicity, and they both know that taking a gamble like repeating one well-chosen word over the right drums can make a bigger impact than overcomplicating things. In this instance, it worked flawlessly. From there, Savage goes off, matching Metro’s haunting production with one-liners like, “All that pillow talk, I’ma have to send the Boogeyman to come get you.” Fired up, he ends the song by talking all kinds of shit, shouting “fuck your crew,” and taunting, “pussy, pussy, pussy!” For good measure, Metro fires off one of his iconic tags, “If Young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot you,” and the song screeches to a halt. What a duo. —Eric Skelton

5. Cardi B f/ Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Ayo & Keyz

When it comes to songs that had the most pure impact, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” takes the cake in 2020. “WAP” was one of the most-searched phrases on Google this year, it had GOP politicians on Fox News complaining about its lyrics, and it spurred countless other debates on social media timelines and in households across the country. The impact alone warrants a high placement on this list, but beyond the storylines, “WAP” is a genuinely fun track that is irresistibly catchy (and twerkable). Even your grandmother can’t help but dance along to it. Cardi continues to demonstrate her knack for creating dynamic and viral records, while Megan Thee Stallion proves she is a new force in the industry with the skill and discipline to back it up. They’ll try to tell you “WAP” isn’t an empowering anthem, but what’s not uplifting about a record-breaking song performed by two Black women? —Jessica McKinney

4. The Weeknd, “Escape From LA”

View this video on YouTube

Album: After Hours

Producers: Metro Boomin, Illangelo, and the Weeknd

The Weeknd’s “Escape From LA” is a cautionary tale that serves as the thesis to Abel’s fourth studio album, After Hours. Telling the story of hollow riches and a need to get the hell out of Dodge, the Weeknd laments the vices that he’s fallen victim to while out West. Nine years after declaring “Cali is the mission” on “The Morning,” Abel sings: “Well, this place is never what it seems/Take me out, LA/Take me out of LA/This place will be the end of me.” Produced by collaborators of old (Illangelo, who has worked with Abel since House of Balloons) and new (Metro Boomin, who has credits on three other After Hours tracks), “Escape From LA” is the smooth and pained Weeknd of the early days, without sounding dated. Nearly six minutes long, the track centers around a contradiction the Weeknd has masterfully revisited time and time again: a contempt for the lifestyle he lives with a confession that it’s a drug he may never quit. With Abel delivering the album of the year, it’s easy to root for the Chrome Hearts-clad woman he sings about who locks him in a studio. How gracious of her to allow him to cut a verse before moving on to other things. —Waiss Aramesh

3. Pop Smoke, “Christopher Walking”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Meet the Woo 2

Producers: CashMoney AP and Wondagurl

We first put this song near the top of our midyear list before Pop Smoke’s team released his posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. And while that project offers a wide-ranging glimpse of who the Brooklyn rapper was poised to become, “Christopher Walking” is still 2020’s strongest example of Pop Smoke, and drill rap, at its best. Jay-Z called the Brooklyn streets a “lightbulb with eleventy-million volts” on “Allure,” and Pop modernized that same energy here. Whenever “Christopher Walking” plays, we’re all moths drawn to the brilliance of Pop’s unmistakable baritone, churning through CashMoney AP’s bass-heavy production. “Christopher Walking” gives us everything we want from drill: It’s urgent, it’s cocky, and it’s so charismatic that certain lines stayed in our head all year. But it also gives us too much; it’s difficult to ignore that the chorus hits tragically close to home. The sheer force of Pop’s vocal presence is impossible to deny, though. He made this for us to dance, and that’s what we’ll do. —Andre Gee

2. Megan Thee Stallion f/ Beyoncé, “Savage (Remix)”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producers: J. White Did It

This is a real remix in every sense of the word, from Megan Thee Stallion’s new verses down to Beyoncé’s saucy raps and echoing ad libs. It’s not every day that Beyoncé switches it up, offering rap verses in lieu of her famously powerful vocals, but when she does decide to step in that lane, the queen never disappoints. In a low, raspy tone, Bey drops memorable one-liners that reveal her knowledge of OnlyFans and Demon Time, which were each revelations that stopped Twitter in its tracks. There weren’t many moments in music this year that demanded the collective attention of popular culture quite like “Savage (Remix)” did on the day it dropped. Megan also delivers, serving up bars that embody her many sides. Classy. Bougie. Ratchet. For a little over four minutes, we get a slice of Houston from the mouths of the city’s reigning queen and its brightest new star. And the fact that they made history with this record makes it all the more clear why “Savage (Remix)” is one of the very best songs of the year. —Jessica McKinney

1. Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”

View this video on YouTube

Album: My Turn (Deluxe)

Producers: Section 8 and Noah

Lil Baby was at an Atlanta protest when he told Councilman Antonio Brown, “This is what matters,” as they marched down the street with their fists in the air. Soon after, he went to the studio and encapsulated the anger, fear, and praxis of a fight that defined the cultural zeitgeist of 2020 on “The Bigger Picture.” His decree that “We ain’t takin’ no more, let us go from them chains” was one of the most resonant sentiments of the year, paralleling the demands of millions of protesters who stormed the streets while rallying against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many more Black people. 

Near the beginning of the song, Lil Baby rhymes that police brutality has “been going on for too long to get even.” His stream-of-consciousness appraisal of America vocalizes the despair of dealing with the age-old problem of white supremacy, which still doesn’t have a practical, concrete solution. He captures the confoundedness of the Black experience: navigating life the best way we know how, hoping we don’t inspire the next song about murder at the hands of the state. Section 8 and Noah’s stirring production captures the tension of the moment, and Lil Baby darts through with a flurry of thoughts, seemingly trying to outpace the cascading hi-hats. After pointing out that “they killin’ us for no reason,” he asks, “We just some products of our environment, how the fuck they gon’ blame us?” Lil Baby has always explored his hardships through song, but this is his most forthright moment of putting the real enemy in the crosshairs.

Later in the year, Lil Baby said he was going to “back up off politics” in his music, and on “The Bigger Picture,” he qualified, “I can’t lie like I don’t rap about killing and dope.” But contrary to the misconception of “conscious rap,” songs that touch on killing and dope are political, too. They embody Nina Simone’s famous pronouncement that “artists should reflect the times” in their work. It’s America’s purposeful failure of Black people that manifests not just police brutality, but the cycle of generational poverty that Lil Baby laments on “The Bigger Picture” when he raps, “The way that we livin’ is not getting better, you gotta know how to survive.” For Lil Baby, and so many of his rap peers, all roads lead back to “The Bigger Picture.” It’s a quintessential track of the movement, and it deserves to be recognized as the best song of 2020. —Andre Gee

Latest in Music