The Best Albums of 2020 (So Far)

It’s been a historically brutal year. Black people are continuing to die at the hands of racists and law enforcement, over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, and tens of millions are unemployed. The world is in a state of unrest, and artists are grappling with appropriate ways to record and share their music. Some have released songs in direct response to the tragedies unfolding across the globe, while others have decided to share music that can comfort listeners looking for a temporary escape from the devastating news cycle. Regardless of the approach, musicians have provided rare bright spots during an otherwise grueling point in history. Over the past six months, we’ve seen artists like the Weeknd, Westside Gunn, and Lil Baby rise to the moment and deliver outstanding projects that we’ve kept in constant rotation since they’ve arrived. We’ve also been lucky enough to witness rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Jay Electronica finally drop albums that we’ve been anticipating for years. At the midway point of 2020, Complex is highlighting the music that has helped us get through the year. These are the 50 best albums of 2020 (so far).

50. Childish Gambino, ‘3.15.20’

Label: RCA Records
Released: March 22

From the way in which it was released, to the tracklist, to its musical footprint, Childish Gambino’s 3.15.20 embraces the experimental. While it may not have the highs of Awaken, My Love! or the flair of Because the Internet, there are still moments that capture Gambino’s impressive creative spark, as he tackles themes of self-love and navigating life in uncertain times with a little help from stars like 21 Savage and Ariana Grande. —Edwin Ortiz

49. 070 Shake, ‘Modus Vivendi’

Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam
Released: January 17

070 Shake’s vision of rap is informed by a myriad of influences. There’s the AutoTune drawl of pop stars like Enya, the robotic machinations of 808s-era Kanye, and the emotional vulnerability of Kid Cudi. She’s a 21st century star, able to synthesize signifiers of these artists into something wholly new and thrilling. Modus Vivendi is highlighted by a relentlessly flexible aesthetic. Shake moves from idea to idea with confidence and an ability to link disparate ideas through her singular vision. Modus Vivendi is a feat, and at only 22 years old, just the beginning for 070 Shake. —Will Schube

48. Stove God Cooks, ‘Reasonable Drought’

Label: The Conglomerate Entertainment
Released: March 27

When Roc Marciano spoke with Complex a few months back, there was one artist he was dying to talk about: Stove God Cooks. Roc Marci met Cooks through Lord Jamar and Busta Rhymes, and decided to produce the entirety of Reasonable Drought. “I knew he was a talented dude. We just had to capture it. I had some production for the brother, and I knew that if he did what he was supposed to do, we would put him right on the fast track,” Roc told Complex. And he did. Reasonable Drought is the work of a rapper who, while inspired by Roc, is far from a clone. Stove God Cooks’ phrasing, his vocabulary, and his whole aesthetic is unique and compelling, even if the subject matter and some of the musical backdrops wouldn’t sound out of place on Marcberg or Reloaded. —Shawn Setaro

47. Lil Durk, ‘Just Cause Y’All Waited 2’

Label: Alamo/Geffen Records
Released: May 8

Lil Durk makes pain music. The Chicago rapper, who is one of the faces of the city’s post-drill movement raps from a traditional blueprint but does it with a specificity that separates him from the pack. On Just Cause Y’all Waited 2, he moves from tragedy to triumph, a phoenix-like rising from street hustles to gold records and an Alamo record deal. His story makes it easy to root for him, and the consistent quality of his music just seals the deal. —Will Schube

46. DaBaby, ‘Blame It on Baby’

Label: Interscope Records
Released: April 17

DaBaby has heard your criticism about all his songs sounding the same. Blame It on Baby is his album-length response to Twitter trolls and, ahem, music critics who want to hear more variation. Don’t worry, though: there’s still plenty of his patented rapid trip-uh-let flows over spare trap beats, especially towards the project’s beginning. But when he really tries for something different, as on the beat-switching title track or the emotional and melodic “Sad Shit,” the results are exceptional. It doesn’t always work—there’s a little too much about how he loves the ladies, without any real introspection or storytelling to hold the listener’s interest—but overall, the project proves that DaBaby is good for far more than just two minutes of straight spitting. And whether he keeps experimenting from here or returns to form, this album has left us all anxious to hear where DaBaby is headed next. —Shawn Setaro

45. Armand Hammer, ‘Shrines’

Label: Backwoodz Studios
Released: June 5

Elucid and billy woods are on a hell of a run. The rappers, who together form the group Armand Hammer, have separately, together, and in tandem with other artists (shout out to Nostrum Grocers) given us some of the best rap music of the past half-decade or so. The group really found its footing with 2017’s superb Rome, and broke out with the instant classic, Parrafin, the following year. Shrines is a more communal effort than the nearly feature-less Paraffin. It features a ton of woods and Elucid’s peers in their arty universe: Quelle Chris, R.A.P. Ferreira, Pink Siifu, Akai Solo, and even Earl Sweatshirt, the last of whom has long proclaimed his admiration for woods. The guests serve to enhance woods and Elucid’s worldview and aesthetic, rather than detract from it. The duo’s layered, abstract approach is intact. In their universe, you’re quoting Howling Wolf one second, Nas the next, and talking about the Nag Hammadi library in between. There’s no place I’d rather be. —Shawn Setaro

44. Kamaiyah, ‘Got It Made’

Label: GRND.WRK/EMPIRE
Released: February 21

There’s a long lineage of rappers who excel on classic Bay Area beats—fitting naturally on their prominent bass, glossy synths, and crisp drums—and Oakland’s Kamaiyah deserves to be mentioned in the top tier. Following her turbulent major label deal with Interscope, Got It Made is something of a back-to-basics mixtape for the now-independent Kamaiyah, but her confidence is far from shaken. Over a crisp 10 songs, she reels off some of her best hooks and verses since her 2016 breakout A Good Night in the Ghetto.  “Didn't come back to kick no shit and be friendly/I came back to kill off all of y'all ingrates,” she raps on “Pressure.” On “1-800-IM-HORNY,” she mixes in a dash of New Orleans bounce, resulting in a high-octane club song that sounds like it could’ve been a local hit in two totally unique rap scenes. Got It Made closes with the emotional “10 Toes High,” a self-affirmation song where Kamaiyah looks back on a career, already filled with triumphs and setbacks. “West Coast culture, I’m embedded in it,” she says, and that status is unlikely to change anytime soon. —Grant Rindner

43. Sada Baby, 'Skuba Sada 2'

Label: Asylum Worldwide LLC
Released: March 19

The best Sada Baby songs should come with bibliographies. The wily, surprisingly versatile Detroit rapper packs his tracks with so many colorful references, from classic cartoons to ’80s wrestlers to NBA players who barely had a cup of coffee in the league, that it’s impossible to catch it all on first listen.The sequel to his breakout mixtape, 2017’s Skuba Sada, Skuba Sada 2 contains several of his idiosyncratic YouTube hits (“Slide,” “2K20,” “Aktivated”), and a handful of new tracks where he continues to hone a singular style. “Off White Whoop” is a winner, as Sada lists all the ways he controls an opp’s neighborhood with such godly authority it sounds like he’s reading off biblical commandments, while “Pressin” with King Von is one of the most menacing midwestern rap songs this side of G Herbo and Lil Bibby’s “Kill Shit.” Sada’s studio debut is on the way, and if this is how strong his loosies sound, that project is sure to be a revelation. —Grant Rindner

42. Headie One & Fred Again, ‘Gang’

Label: Relentless Records/Sony Music UK
Released: April 3

Sonically, GANG is a slick survey of modern U.K. music, featuring pummeling drill (“Charades”), glitchy garage (“Smoke” with Jamie xx), and impressionistic indie R&B (“Judge Me” with FKA Twigs). What unites it are Headie One’s heartfelt vocals, whether he’s rapping about the co-opting of the drill sound, a gut-wrenching breakup, or his own steady rise through the London rap scene. Headie One is an exceptionally nimble rapper, capable of injecting subtle melodies into his flows or spitting with staccato precision. Headie and producer Fred again.. prove to be a potent pairing, touching on a world of sounds in just 22 minutes. Let’s hope their next project is a quadruple album. —Grant Rindner

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