2020 has been a year of tests and tribulations. I think we can speak on everyone's behalf and say this year needs to promptly end, and it is time to shift our focus on the future. However, amidst all the bullshit 2020 has brought into our lives, music has remained constant, but more importantly great music from talents across all genres. This year was seen as a breakout year for many, interesting for household names, and important for major artists on the rise to solidify their spot in the music hierarchy. After countless AFTR PRTY Radio playlists highlighting music over the last 12 months, our staff got together to compile a list of 25 songs that stood out from a plethora of good music. Like with any year-end list, this is not an objective list by any means. Instead, this is a list to celebrate music from our favorite artists of the year and many that may have slipped past your radar. Without further ado, we present you AFTR PRTY's Top 25 Songs of 2020 (also follow the playlist below):
Brent Faiyaz - “Been Away”
Brent Faiyaz has been releasing high-quality music since 2015, but it seems like 2020 was his real break-out year. Many listeners know Brent from the hook of Goldlink’s Grammy-nominated anthem “Crew”. Real fans know him as being part of the R&B trio Sonder, which includes Brent and two producers, Dpat and Atu. The word Sonder stands for “the realization that every passerby is living a life as vivid and as complex as our own – causing each of our experiences to flow into each other”, and Brent paid homage to the concept on his debut solo album Sonder Son.
“Been Away” was first heard in October of 2019 during New York’s Fashion Week during his Pyer Moss performance, but was officially released on his second album Fuck The World. This song finds Brent grappling with his personal life and love life. He needs to focus on himself before he can truly love his muse and begs her to be patient until he’s stable. Brent’s not only one of the most popular artists from the DMV but is also an independent and makes most of his money through tours, this also surfaces in the song’s lyrics as well.
Shordie Shordie, “FDP”
Baltimore’s Shordie Shordie spent 2020 quietly torching every instrumental he touched. The 24-year-old released a pair of stellar singles with Toronto’s Murda Beatz, turned in show-stealing features on albums by West Coast ambassadors Mozzy and Rucci, and carried an album of his own with April’s >Music.
“FDP”, from his solo LP, is a propulsive piece of rapping that denounces the racist police state in one breath and dwells on lovesick memories in the next. Rendered in swirling double time, Shordie’s invocation of “fuck the police” comes as naturally as his pleas to “bend that thing over, like no bones in the back.” As in life, romance bleeds into politics, and vice versa.
Tame Impala, "Borderline (Blood Orange Remix)"
Be it the original track or the remix, this is one of my favorite tracks of 2020 (I know this is technically cheating but we are going to make it work.) Blood Orange took the upbeat, bass-driven track and slowed it down to this version that makes you feel like the track is coursing through your body. The remix still carries the excitement of the original "Borderline," but the additional guitar, synth, and some bongos make you want to just blast the track while driving with the windows down. I honestly cannot say whether the original or remix is better but take a listen to both and feel free to let us know!
Serena Isioma, "Sensitive"
Serena Isioma is an example of how new artists in 2020 have claimed the year as their own. The 20-year old from Chicago first started releasing music through Soundcloud in 2019, but would release her debut EP, Sensitive, which included the breakout track of the same name. “Sensitive” is the result of the new generation of artists: music without borders. Isioma blends hip-hop based lyrics with an indie pop instrumental that combine to form something great and genre-less. She then transitions to a R&B interlude by the second half of the song and after my first listen I was blown away. With two EP length projects this year alone (she dropped The Leo Sun Sets earlier this month) Serena Isioma is set to have an incredible 2021 and I expect her to collaborate with some other major indie genrebenders sooner than later.
Khraungbin, “Time (You and I)”
The Houston based instrumental trio released their 10-track album Mordechai back in June, and it hasn’t stopped playing since. The group’s devotion to being music fans of all walks of life and various genres is clearly seen in this project as they combine a funk-groove-soul-pop-rock-disco-indie sound (no I swear) that is meant to make their fans feel good. The band explores vocal melodies matched with their amazing instrumental talents on their third album that gives fans a glimpse into the music they’re set to release in the future. The group specializes in creating curated vibes that are sure to keep your spirits high no matter what circumstance.
“Time (You and I)” does just that as each instrument layers over each other to create this new wave of sound that really is not comparable. This song serves as the funk version of Lil Wayne’s “Let The Beat Build.” 2020 has made the world think about time like no other year, and Khraungbin attempts to evaluate this phenomenon on this track. The guitar riffs that melt your ears like butter, the simple bass-snare drumline accompanied by patterned hi-hats, and groovy bassline that drives the whole track come together and make you feel like you are surfing through time in a chrome Delorean.
2g Kaash, “Dior”
Listening to 2g Kaash, it’s hard to imagine that he’s barely old enough to get a driver’s license. The Irving, Texas rapper writes loaded explorations of the inner turmoil that emerges from socioeconomic hardship, and he serves them up with poise and melodic intuition.
“Dior” is the first track on 2g Kaash’s latest mixtape Mixed Emotions. Against a tense backdrop of spaghetti western-style guitars, he sets the scene with arresting clarity. “I remember it was us, and we ain’t have nothing / A jammed up tool and a couple of nuggets / N***as start jugging, got tired of struggling / Get fast money, you spend it like nothing.” What were you doing when you were 17?
Unotheactivist has gained a cult-like following since he came on to the scene ok the viral track “What” back in 2016 with longtime collaborator Playboi Carti. The 24 year-old from Atlanta has grown immensely since then in his image and especially his music. His highly anticipated debut album, 8, features 18 tracks that flex the range of his talents to his listeners. The sea of vocal alterations and emotions that Uno shows on this album makes it his best and most genuine project to date. The album initially got some backlash from fans that felt Uno was going nore towards the commercial/ pop route, but I think this is an extension of how much he has grown as an artist and his expansion of his own sound over the years. Calling on features (Ty Dolla $ign, Calboy, 2gramcam) on only three tracks, Uno takes his audience on a journey through glory, struggle, hardwork, relationships, and everything in between.
On “Inches” Uno croons over the bass-knocking track with catchy punchlines as he lists his favorite features in a woman. The track has only one verse, but Uno’s flow and calculated wordplay almost puts you in a trance as you are bound to bob your head during the entire 2 minute track. Uno boasts his credentials with an unmatched slickness while reassuring the ladies “if he said love you than (he) meant it.” This was one of my favorite tracks on a great project of 2020, a very active year for UnoTheActivist (6 singles, 5 projects released)
JGreen, “Teach Em Something”
JGreen’s “Teach Em Something” is a master class in building to a crescendo. The Florida native and 510 Music Group co-founder opens the song with a soft murmur - “told my momma I’m thuggin’, I’d rather be dead than rather be broke” - that grows more intricate and impassioned with each couplet.
By the three minute mark, Green is wailing like a man possessed, pushing his voice to its upper registers until he’s forced to slip into a falsetto, which he nails with perfect pitch for the grand finale.
Lianne La Havas, "Green Papaya"
Ever since her album Is Your Love Big Enough released in 2012, I have been an absolute Lianne stan. She never delivers short of beauty and grace, especially on her most recent self-titled album Lianne La Havas. "Green Papaya" stands out to me due to its musical simplicity- the track consists of nothing but her vocals and a guitar. The steady sense of movement created by the pairing highlights her seductive yet vulnerable sound, which ties hand in hand with the title of the track, "Green Papaya," referencing the underripe fruit which is said to carry aphrodisiac properties. All in all, this track really hones in on Lianne's sound and overall chill yet lively vibe.
Giveon, "WORLD WE CREATED"
It would be a disservice to not include Giveon within my top 5 tracks of 2020. With such a unique sound, Giveon has entered the ears and hearts of many r&b lovers like myself and has defined his voice as one of the most distinct sounds of 2020. His range on "WORLD WE CREATED" is one of the reasons it's my favorite track off TAKE TIME. He sits higher in his baritone register, which really shows off the depth of his vocal range. Not to mention, it's a boppy track that you can't help but move and sing along to. From the combination of horns, guitar, and drums to his melodic writing, every piece fits so nicely with one another to capture his story of new love and the excitement that comes with it.
Young Thug & Chris Brown - “Go Crazy”
First off, who anticipated these two creating an album together. Second, why is it so fucking good? Like honestly, Chris Brown and Young Thug flexed on Slime & B, and even during a quarantined summer, you could hear “Go Crazy” playing every time you stepped out of your house. Plus, no Chris Brown record is certified without a classic music video where he can spazz on the dance floor and the video for “Go Crazy” is outta here!
This song was the “sneaky link” anthem of 2020. The lyrics find Chris Brown seducing a girl who’s known to be innocent and shy, but he knows that deep down she has a freaky side and he’s going to expose it. Thugger blesses the song with a clean concise verse, reminiscent of those classic 2000s R&B Hip-Hop collabs that always topped the charts. The record was a staple of the summer and peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 in August.
Giveon, "WORLD WE CREATED"
It would be a disservice to not include Giveon within my top 5 tracks of 2020. With such a unique sound, Giveon has entered the ears and hearts of many r&b lovers like myself and has defined his voice as one of the most distinct sounds of 2020. His range on "WORLD WE CREATED" is one of the reasons it's my favorite track off TAKE TIME. He sits higher in his baritone register, which really shows off the depth of his vocal range. Not to mention, it's a boppy track that you can't help but move and sing along to. From the combination of horns, guitar, and drums to his melodic writing, every piece fits so nicely with one another to capture his story of new love and the excitement that comes with it. *insert cute eyes emoji here*
Drake - “From Florida With Love”
This couldn’t be a list without one Drake record, so here it is. “From Florida With Love”, originally leaked as “The Plug” back in 2019 and since then fans were anticipating the official release of this solidified heater. In my personal opinion, the song was an underdog on Dark Lane Demo Tapes and possibly too rappy for Drake to release as a single, but damn I wish he did.
Throughout the song, Drake announces his return to music after his 2019 hiatus. The lyrics tell fans that he’s in Miami catching a vibe with plans on returning to Toronto to work on his 2021 album Certified Lover Boy. He even hints at the concept of the album saying “I’m back baby, where the love?”. The song has one hidden gem in it that fans went crazy for, especially with the tumultuous year that 2020 has been: “Weezy played that shit for me and Kobe on the bus”. With the passing of Kobe earlier this year, the line caught a lot of attention off rip. In a Rap Radar interview, Drake explains that in Houston back in 2008 on the same day he signed to Lil Wayne, Kobe Bryant came on Wayne’s tour bus to pick up an iPod with the Carter 3 on it. Wayne also played a couple of tracks off the critically acclaimed album before Kobe went to play the Rockets that night. Ironically, Wayne and Drake were seen courtside at that same game. Historic!
Asian Doll, “Nunnadat Shit”
On November 6th, Asian Doll’s longtime boyfriend King Von was shot and killed in Atlanta. As she processed her grief on social media, inflammatory blogs pounced on her unfiltered remarks to gin up controversy, and toxic spectators accused her of “clout chasing.”
This heartless reaction - enabled by a media environment where clickbait is king and nuance barely registers - didn’t merit a response. But Asian summoned an empathic one: “I don’t give a fuck ‘bout nunnadat shit.”
Over bass hits that land like body blows, she honors Von’s memory and spits in the face of anyone who would deny her feelings. It’s a defiant performance that no young woman in mourning should ever have to deliver.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, "Baby $hit"
Gangsta Gibbs has been one of my favorite and most consistent rappers of the 2010s. A critic darling and at the forefront of modern day gangster rap, Freddie Gibbs has been dropping consistent projects and features on a yearly basis, and this year is no different. One of Freddie Gibbs’ greatest talents besides his grizzly deep voice and out-of-this-world flow (seriously feel like he needs to take a deep breath sometimes) is his ear for beats and collab projects he does with some of the industry’s best producers. On Alfredo, Alchemist and Freddie join forces to make a superhero rap duo that I never knew I needed. Creating that old school, mafioso, italian mob movie vibe through sample heavy beats, Alchemist lays the foundation for Freddie to freely talk his shit. The album really plays like an audio book version of the Sopranos.
On “Baby $hit” Freddie flexes how he really got it out the mud, and had to work for all the riches he very well deserves whether that be “Versace robe drapin’ like a n*gga got a cape” or “sloppy toppy on massage seats.” One thing that Freddie Gibbs has never changed in his music is his ego that overpowers any beat he hops on; his confidence in his craft is palpable in every track he’s on. Finally getting Grammy recognition for best rap album of the year, Freddie Gibbs is going to keep proving he’s miles ahead of his peers. All haters can go “suck a baby d*ck”
Sheff G, "No Suburban, Pt. 2"
Back in May, Sheff G released his long-awaited follow up to his 2017 breakout track, “No Suburban,” which was intended as a direct response to 22Gz’s “Suburban.” Ultimately, these two tracks—both produced by AXL beats—cemented the two young rappers as indisputable pioneers of the Brooklyn drill movement. Sure enough, “No Suburban, Pt. 2” marks a response to Blixky rapper 22Gz’s “Suburban Pt. 2”: Sheff G makes his intentions clear within the very first verse: “This a diss track, this is not a song.”
Yet “No Suburban, Pt. 2,” once again, is more than just a response; the single set the tone for Sheff G’s sophomore album, which followed a week later, all the while highlighting Sheff G’s trajectory as an artist. Over time, the Brooklyn drill trailblazer has taken the sound that started it all in his own direction, trading the controlled chaos and church bells for a more melodic intensity and that famous Sheff G kick drum bass. Indeed, a lot has changed since 2017; and in the face of the drastic commercialization of the Brooklyn drill movement, the now 22-year-old rapper is sure to make one thing clear: “This for the streets, so fuck your say / Don’t care if this get no radio play, huh.”
Pi'erre Bourne, "TBH"
With the release of The Life of Pi’erre 4 in June of 2019, Atlanta, Georgia-based, Columbia, South Carolina raised producer/rapper Pi’erre Bourne made his major-label debut as a solo act. Though the response from critics was largely underwhelming, TLOP 4 is coveted by hip-hop lovers everywhere for its seamless transitions, autotune-drenched vocals, and hypnotic, ethereal beats. It is clear that everything on the project both starts and ends with him—a level of total ownership that seems increasingly rare in the industry these days. To listen to Pi’erre is to live, for a moment, in a universe he built himself.
This past June, just shy of a year since the project’s original release, Pi’erre added 15 new tracks with the album’s deluxe. Though faced with the impossible task of choosing a single song for the playlist, I found that I couldn’t help but come back to “TBH” time and time again. It represents everything I love so much about Pi’erre, everything that leads me to declare, “no one is doing what Pi’erre is doing” way too often for my friend’s liking: announced by pitched vocals and the usual producer tags, bouncing 808s cloaked in just enough distortion keep time as sparkling synths flutter. This song is nothing short of perfect—every shift in pitch, every adlib, every audible breath is right where it should be; words don’t even matter, all that matters is a melody saturated in autotune. To put it simply, this is music that you feel.
Released back on May 8th, "Distance" consistently remains one of my top listened to tracks of 2020. Yebba delivers this ethereal yet soulful ballad that explores the end of a distanced relationship. The pairing of her background vocals against the instrumentation creates a sense of daydreaming and reflection that gives the bittersweet song a very light and almost playful flair. It'd be amiss of me not to mention her perfect riffs which embody a calm intensity that allow them to sit so tastefully within the track. Overall, Yebba gets a 10/10 from me, always has, and always will.
Don Tolliver, “Cardigan”
Don Tolliver was arguably one of the most dynamic artists of 2020, releasing his first label album, featuring on everything, and gaining recognition from all types of legends including Pharrell and Nas. Many fans noticed Don Tolliver on Astroworld, as a feature on “Can’t Say”, a song that stood out on such an iconic album. As the first signee to Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack record label, many doubted Don’s ability to sonically separate himself from the guy who signed him. However, once he released his hit single “No Idea” and debut album Heaven & Hell, any doubt on the longevity of his career in the music industry was killed.
“Cardigan” has this undeniably toxic bounce and Draya Michele starring in the music video is the icing on the cake. Throughout the song, Don describes an entanglement he’s having with a girl who should probably leave him but is always on his back like a cardigan: “Don’t stick around you should save yourself/ But you can hit my phone if you need some help”. He’s telling her to leave but is still leaving the door open for the relationship to extend, if this isn’t toxic then let's revisit Future's bible of toxic masculinity.
Pop Smoke, "Mannequin (feat. Lil TJay)"
No yearly summary would be complete (or respectable) without a spot for Pop Smoke, the Canarsie native who ultimately came to be synonymous with an entire subgenre. He immediately stood out for the depth of his voice—one so low that only that Brooklyn drill bass could keep it afloat. It’s an indescribably special thing when a single artist becomes the soundtrack of an entire city. While there is no way to attenuate the tragedy of his murder, many have found some solace in celebrating his legacy. In a musical career that spanned just a year and a half, Pop Smoke undeniably made history.
In February of this year, the 20-year-old rapper released Meet the Woo 2, the eagerly anticipated followup to his breakout mixtape, just 12 days before his death. Standing firmly at the helm of the Brooklyn drill subgenre, he arguably single-handedly reinvigorated New York’s hip-hop scene, reasserting the city’s place at the center of the national stage. On Meet the Woo 2, Pop Smoke picked up right where he left off. With production by 808MeloBeats, on “Mannequin,” he elaborates on the sound that made him famous—a sound that lives in the body, as gliding bass reverberates your core. This time, the artist was joined by a friend, collaborator, and fellow New Yorker, Lil Tjay. This seemingly unlikely musical pairing somehow always works so well: Lil Tjay’s nasal, high-pitched melodies provide the perfect contrast to Pop’s bottomless baritone.
Pop Smoke’s entrancing sound clearly has widespread appeal, as evidenced by the quite literally billions of streams accumulated across his discography; but it’s all too easy to lose sight of the original context of a movement as it sweeps the nation. He was more than just a star. He was a person—a person from a community, who made music for and about that community. As he was consistently harassed by a factually racist NYPD for the entirety of his career, many young Black people saw their own struggles mirrored in his. No matter how great my appreciation for drill, a non-Black person like myself cannot truly put words to what Pop Smoke represented in life, and continues to represent in death. Thus, I turn to the words of one of the greatest music journalists of our time, Alphonse Pierre, as he speaks on the addition of Dior to the BLM protest canon: “It feels fitting that Pop Smoke is even now acting as the voice of New York’s often unheard Black kids. The kids who wish that they, too, could just buy luxury things and make sure their Amiri jeans don’t slip off while Woo Walking at the function, all without a lingering fear in the back of their minds.”
Hook, “Yes Man”
You can hear Hook’s ideas coalescing in real-time. Over the past few years, the Riverside, California rapper has mastered the freewheeling, free-associative style pioneered by artists like Chief Keef and Lil B and turned it into a conduit for her vibrant personality.
On “Yes Man”, Hook raps in a rollicking chant over a beat that sounds like an ice cream truck spinning out of control. Every time she seems at risk of losing her train of thought, she reels it in with another cheeky one-liner. “Greater than your bitch, she’s a less than / And I treat your dude like a yes man.”
After accruing major recognition for several SoundCloud singles, Atlanta rapper Bktherula kicked off 2020 with her debut mixtape, Love Santana, which dropped in early January. The 11 song project swiftly won the hearts of listeners for its imaginative production and Bktherula’s effortless shift from dissonant instrumentals and unyielding intensity (see “REVOLVER”) to lush, cloudy melodies (see “C4”).
Come October, the 18-year-old artist dropped her second project, Nirvana. Another incredible 11 song effort, the project highlights Bktherula’s artistic growth while continuing to boast her artistic versatility with standout tracks ranging in sound from “Summer” (released initially as a single in July of 2020) to “MORE,” even leaning more into the realm of punk (i.e., on “GANGO”). But it’s her weightless melodies that seem to stick with me—“Summer” stole my heart in July, and I haven’t looked back since. Bursting with hi-hats, the track does not shy away from its Atlanta influence; but Bktherula’s echoing refrains are perfectly paired with swirling synths to create a dreamy, nebulous sound that is completely her own.
Moses Sumney, "Cut Me"
I first heard "Cut Me" when the album dropped in February, but Moses Sumney performance in a COLORS SHOW from May is really what blew me away. In my opinion, this live rendition is way better than the studio version- there is more of an emphasis on his vocals, the band incorporates beautiful dynamics that create an ebb and flow of sound and there's a perfect balance of each element that really highlights the pain embedded in the track. The animation in the performances takes the track to an entirely new level, ranking it as not only one of my favorite tracks of 2020, but also performances (be sure to check it out). Hats off to Moses Sumney.
21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “Runnin”
Savage Mode 2 was one of the best Hip-Hop albums to release in 2020, and after a historic Morgan Freeman introduction, “Runnin” was the first song on the album. Coming off of his critically acclaimed project, i am > i was, expectations were high for the sequel to 21 Savage’s Savage Mode, and he overachieved with this one. With Freeman narrating along with the dynamic duo that is 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, it’s only right to give this album its flowers before the end of the year. The project shook the world, and the memes were flowing as usual. “Issa Knife”!
The song starts with a Diana Ross sample and finds an introspective Savage reminiscing on when he first entered the rap game in 2016. He also describes the menacing aura his enemies feel when they’re in his presence, which leaves them “Runnin”. Savage utilizes different angles to talk about what’s running from his car, to cops, to noses, to opps, to his everyday enemies, 21 Savage makes it clear that he’s that guy in the streets of Atlanta and you don’t want that smoke. The song debuted at #9 on the Billboards and was by far the most popular track on the album.
Lil Baby, "Forget That"
Though Lil Baby emerged as a seemingly reluctant star, dismissing encouragement from hometown friends Pee and Coach K of Quality Control until a 2-year stint for a parole violation pushed him to try his hand at something new. His ascent was immediate. After releasing four full-length projects in 2017 and 3 in 2018, the first two years of the Atlanta rapper’s career were the equivalent of a blazing trail. He eventually brought this momentum to a halt, taking a step back in 2019—time to breathe (well, at least between guest verses).
He returned with an unparalleled purpose. Though still uninterested in celebrity, Lil Baby is no longer trying this rap thing on for size—that initial youthful reluctance has grown into unquestionable confidence. Lil Baby makes his intentions in his albums very title: My Turn is meant to secure his well-deserved position at the top. Sure enough, the effort landed Lil Baby his first US #1 album. “Forget That” marks a shining moment for the project: booming 808s call on the Atlanta trap sound that Lil Baby has now come to represent. His ability to build momentum is still unparalleled, and 4PF signee Rylo Rodriguez carries it all the way through, turning in a perfect verse. On the song’s chorus, Lil Baby echoes the thesis of his project once again, claiming his moment with conviction: “My diamonds hit harder, I ain’t in no competition / Not to mention, just a lil’ bit richer, can’t forget that (Nah).”
Lil Uzi Vert, “Bigger Than Life”
Even though he dropped at the beginning of the year I think its safe to say that Lil Uzi won 2020. His last major release, Luv is Rage 2, came out in 2017 and after label disputes Uzi delivered the long awaited Eternal Atake. The buzz around the album became infectious, and fans were salivating over any thing that included “(ft. Lil Uzi Vert)” to get the slightest glimpse of what the album would sound like. Most importantly however was that during Uzi’s major hiatus, his fame skyrocketed to become a household name. So what was the outcome of an album that took three years to be released? The best album(s) of 2020; Uzi did not disappoint in the slightest.
The album is a journey through space (literally and figuratively) as Uzi paints a backstory of how he got to where he is now. The man who could be as tall as Yao Ming depending on how much money he’s standing on, fashion icon, Bugatti driving Baby Pluto displayed his full range of hip hop talents. Songs like “Lo Mein”and “Silly Watch” showed a trap inspired, bar dependent Lil Uzi that is not always present. The combination of this with the lo-fi croons that Uzi has become synonymous with bred an album that became the gold standard of good music this year. If that wasn’t enough, Uzi started the Deluxe trend (inspired by Future’s FUTURE & HNDRXX) and released 14 additional songs that would be popularly known as Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2.
Of all the songs that were released under the two projects, “Bigger Than Life” is the track that stood out the most to me this year. The midway point of Eternal Atake, this song sees Uzi acknowledging his success that has really become larger than life. His cryptic messages and IG posts left fans nothing to be hopeful for and no guarantee that this album existed, but that didn’t deter fans and instead grew his base tenfold. Uzi “done made so many millions aint nothing to think about,” except basking in the finer things. I hope that we don’t have to wait another few years for his next solo album release, but in the meantime the effect that Uzi left on 2020 with his music is truly bigger than life.
(Writers: Jalen Carr, Tye Townsend, Daryl Polk, Jack Ellis, Nora Lee)