In a summer when a vicious pandemic has swept through much of the world and issues of racial and socioeconomic struggles have taken hold of America’s collective consciousness, music hasn’t been the primary focus. The immensely fun escapism that great music provides was harder to access in 2020, but many artists still managed to put out essential material amid the chaos. Sure, lots of media hype was lobbed at the posthumous releases of Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke, and rightfully so. Future and Drake both dropped projects, but there’s never a circumstance where their work goes unnoticed. These are the albums worth your ear time that may have flown under your radar this summer:
Apollo Brown & Che Noir - As God Intended
Kicking this list off is an amazing collaboration between producer Apollo Brown and underground femcee Che Noir. A strong variety of socio-political messages, enveloped by classy, jazzy production and appended by a quality set of features makes this an album of the year contender.
Blu & Exile - Miles
Underground heavyweights ruled the roost this summer. Blu is one of the most acclaimed artists in rap music and still commands little attention from popular outlets. His placement here is the well-overdue attention he deserves. After 2019’s masterful west coast inspired collaboration with Oh No, he teamed up with Exile in 2020 to create a sensational experimental jazz rap project.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo
What can be said about Freddie Gibbs at this moment? He’s steadily built one of the most consistent discographies in rap music over the past decade, and this release is no exception. The Alchemist provides the backdrop for Alfredo, and his delicate piano loops and string-backed beats match perfectly with Gibbs’ wide array of flows and emotions.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
Add Quelle Chris to the exclusive group of artists that you can expect quality hip hop music from time after time. He’s creative, unique, observant and cerebral, which are characteristics that don’t make up mainstream commodities. However, they make up interesting artists who make interesting music, and this project is another hit in that category. Chris Keys’ atmospheric, vintage production style that gleans a strong Madlib influence is a nice touch as well.
Rapsody - Too Lyrical - EP
Black female rappers have starred in the shadows of their male counterparts for years, and no one has embodied this injustice more clearly than Rapsody. One of the most talented rappers, regardless of gender, in the underground comes back with a short and sweet taster EP after last year’s conceptual giant Eve.
Run the Jewels - RTJ4
The fourth installment of Run the Jewels extends far beyond the political toe-dipping the duo indulged in on RTJ3. Tracks like “Walking in the Snow” with Gangsta Boo showcase Killer Mike’s penchant for lyrical brilliance and in-the-moment storytelling. It’s another great album with infectious production and rapturous chemistry between partners in crime El-P and Killer Mike.
Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2
This list saves the most exciting and kinetic project of the bunch for last. Tkay Maidza is a rising star within the music world and another black female artist making considerable noise in the underground. The songs on this project range from explosive rap bangers to futuristic R&B, while sometimes combining the two, like on “Awake” with JPEGMAFIA. It’s a painfully succinct 7-track tape that leaves the listener starving for more, and the potential stored within it is undeniable.