11 Best Rap Albums of October 2020
So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the 11 rap albums from October 2020 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great October rap albums that aren't on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order)...
Benny the Butcher - Burden of Proof
We're used to hearing Benny over grimy, gritty production -- usually crafted by Daringer or Alchemist or Beat Butcha or the late DJ Shay -- but Burden of Proof is a conscious departure from that sound. Hit-Boy had his breakthrough producing Kanye & Jay-Z's "N****s In Paris" and "Clique," and he quickly went on to helm such early/mid 2010s classics as Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," Drake's "Trophies," A$AP Rocky's "1 Train," and Nicki Minaj & Beyonce's "Feeling Myself," and on Burden of Proof, he's provided Benny with warm, rich production that any of those artists would be grateful for. He favors the kind of pitched-up soul samples that Kanye gave Jay-Z on The Blueprint, and he does it in a way that would've sounded at home on the early '10s Kendrick and Drake albums as well. It might be the slickest backdrop that Benny's ever had, but he knows exactly what to do with it without sacrificing any of his usual attack. The man who once said he feels like '97 Hov now sounds like 2001 Hov, or 2002 Cam'ron, or 2004 Jadakiss. Like all of those rappers did in those respective years, Benny has written an album where he brings the grit of street rap to shiny, hummable production that you don't need to be a hip hop head to get behind. He's figured out how to make his music a little more accessible while keeping it as honest, hard-hitting, and technical as it ever was. And while Burden of Proof may bring back memories of the CD era, Benny has learned from that era's mistakes too. Too many turn-of-the-millennium rap albums were overstuffed and tried to have something for everybody: the street songs, the love songs, the pop songs, the club songs, etc. Some people pulled it off, but often even the best albums of that time felt bloated. Benny embraces the sound of that era but brings it back to the Illmatic approach of having a lean tracklist with no filler. (And he does so more effectively than Nas' Hit-Boy-produced album from earlier this year.) And just like Griselda have done on their rawer projects that recall '90s LOX and Mobb Deep records, Burden of Proof recalls the Blueprint era without feeling retro or derivative. As ever, Benny knows how to make an album sound familiar and fresh at the same time.
Read more here.
Black Thought - Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Able
The Roots are so constantly active that it's almost hard to believe they haven't released a new album in over six years, which is the longest they've gone without an album and there's no word on when they'll finally close that gap. However, lead MC Black Thought has used the time since that last Roots LP to launch his solo career, and he's proven himself time and time again to be the rare veteran MC who's still sharpening his skills, still moving in exciting new directions, and releasing some of his best music three decades into his career. His first solo projects were 2018's Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 (produced by 9th Wonder) and Streams of Thought, Vol. 2: Traxploitation (produced by Salaam Remi), both of which were among the best rap albums of that year, and he's also recently stolen the show on projects by Benny the Butcher, The Alchemist, Rapsody, PRhyme, Roc Marciano, Che Noir, and Freddie Gibbs. "I damn near don't like doing songs with Black Thought," Freddie said when recently naming the best rappers in the game right now. The implication, if it wasn't clear, was that Black Thought is just too good.
Two years after the first two Streams of Thought records, Black Thought now finally returns with volume 3, featuring 10 more songs (plus an intro, outro, and interlude) that only further solidify him as one of the best currently doing it. Like the first two volumes, this one was made entirely with one producer. This time Thought went with Sean C, who you know from Jay-Z's "Can't Knock the Hustle," Big Pun's "100%," and various songs by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Ghostface Killah, Dead Prez, Jadakiss, and more. Sean C brings a diverse palette of beats to the table, from classic glass-shattering hip hop beats to syrupy funk to airy psychedelia, and Black Thought handles it all like the pro he is. He remains both a razor-sharp performer and a powerful lyricist who always has a story to tell and always leaves you hanging on every word. It's the most accessible of his three solo records, thanks in part to indie lifers Portugal. The Man adding anthemic hooks to three of its songs, but accessible doesn't mean watered-down. It's hard-hitting, incisive art, and it takes a good look at the dark underside of the world we live in, which continues to get a long-overdue examination in the mainstream consciousness this year.
Read more here.
Westside Gunn - Who Made The Sunshine
It's been a really weird, bad year for a lot of reasons, but there have been upsides and one of those upsides is the unstoppable machine that the Griselda crew have turned into. When you get a creative spark, you've gotta just run with it, and this team (Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, and new recruits Boldy James and Armani Caesar) have been running with it all year, churning out over a dozen total projects thus far between the five of them. Gunn has especially had a spark -- his April album Pray For Paris is one of the year's best albums and his July mixtape Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 ain't half bad either -- and now he releases his third full-length of the year and Shady Records debut, Who Made The Sunshine. Of all the Griselda members, Gunn is the real visionary. Some of the other members are technically better rappers, but Gunn sees the bigger picture -- the artwork, the sequencing, the segues, the overall experience of an album from start to finish. Sometimes that means turning the spotlight over to guest rappers, as he did on Pray For Paris and does even more so on Who Made The Sunshine, but that's not meant to take away from his talent or anything. Right now, Gunn reminds me a little of Kanye West circa College Dropout; he knows how to craft a classic album, whatever it takes, and WMTS is yet another contender.
Gunn has his moments where he leaves you hanging on his every word, like on "Goodnight," but even when someone else is rapping, the album never strays from the unmistakable Westside Gunn sound. All throughout, the album sticks to the crackling, hazy backdrop that Griselda fans have come to know and love -- crafted largely by producers Daringer and Beat Butcha, with contributions from Alchemist, Conductor Williams, and Just Blaze --and Gunn made sure all of his guests were in top form on this. Conway and Benny both deliver top-tier verses on "The Butcher and The Blade." Boldy James does the same on "All Praises," which also features a better Jadakiss verse than almost anything on this year's Jadakiss album. The eight-minute "Frank Murphy" cypher (with Stove God Cooks, Flee Lord, Estee Nack, ElCamino and Smoke DZA) has one of the strongest DZA verses in a while, and reminds you that he's way too underrated. (DZA also has his own new album out today, which also includes a Jadakiss verse, and that's worth checking out too.) Black Thought, Armani Caesar, Busta Rhymes, and singer Keisha Plum are great as always too. The most surprising guest, though, is Slick Rick, who's on not one but two songs, and whose cool, relaxed storytelling sounds as good over Daringer & Beat Butcha beats in 2020 as it did over Bomb Squad beats three decades ago. Slick Rick started having a bit of a resurgence in recent years, with verses on Mariah Carey and Snoop Dogg songs, but leave it to Westside Gunn to bring out the very best of him on a gritty, street-friendly album.
Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Open Mike Eagle has been so busy with one-off singles and his Comedy Central show, that it's almost hard to believe he hasn't actually released a proper record since his 2018 EP What Happens When I Try To Relax. That finally changes with Anime, Trauma and Divorce, which picks up where his 2018 EP left off and continues to take Mike down new and unexpected paths. "Before the world went to shit I was already in the middle of a few personal crises," Mike said. "Shit had gone haywire personally and professionally and my therapist had to remind me that I have an outlet to process some of my shit in rap music. So I made a bunch of painful rap songs and Jacknife Lee was kind enough to help me make good music out of them. Maybe it can help other people too. It probably won't but maybe."
You can very much sense the pain in these songs, but as you may expect from Open Mike Eagle, he does it in a way that feels witty and clever and funny even when he's driven by sadness ("What the fuck is self care? Trying to find that shit like a tourist / See if they take my insurance," goes one punchline). His delivery is all over the place -- sometimes in your face and aggressive, other times abstract and eccentric -- and the production is just as varied, moving between traditional hip hop, thumping dance beats, ethereal psychedelia, and more. The songs on this album are full of clashes and contradictions, but it all makes sense coming from Open Mike Eagle. He ties it all together in a way that would be hard to imagine almost anyone else doing.
Junglepussy - Jp4
NYC rapper Junglepussy has spent the past half-decade or so establishing herself as a staple of NYC's underground music scene, regularly appearing at small, independent venues like Trans-Pecos and Acheron and eventually working her way up to some of the city's most beloved festivals like Fool's Gold Day Off and Afropunk. Her 2018 album Jp3 proved to be both a breakthrough in popularity and a creative triumph, and that led to her inking a deal with the influential indie label Jagjaguwar, who co-releases her anticipated album Jp4 today. Produced by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and Fool's Gold Records' Nick Hook, Jp4 is as much a melting pot of sounds as the NYC music scene that birthed Junglepussy is. Across its 10 filler-less tracks, the production and hooks touch on everything from Shabazz Palaces-style experimentalism to Tame Impala's modern-day flower power psychedelia to Tinashe's airy R&B to Santigold's art pop to lo-fi jazz to beats that close the gap between trip-hop, UK garage, and Atlanta trap, and Junglepussy ties it all together with her loud, booming, classically New York raps. It's the most musically diverse and the most experimental album she's ever made, but just as tight and accessible as her earlier works. Junglepussy may already feel like a veteran to some, but Jp4 is a new beginning.
Headie One - Edna
UK rapper Headie One's Fred Again-produced mixtape GANG (ft. FKA twigs, Sampha, and Jamie xx) from April is one of our favorite rap albums released this year so far, and we're not the only ones who like it. Brian Eno remixed a song off GANG shortly after its release, and Drake released a song with Headie, saying at the time: "I had to go hard, especially on a track with one of the best drill artists in the world. Scratch that—the best drill artist in the world." Headie also went on to ink a major label deal (with Epic Records), and now he releases his major label debut, Edna, featuring that Drake collab and 19 other songs. Drake's not the only big-name guest on this -- Future, Stormzy, Skepta, AJ Tracey, and others show up as well -- but despite the major label and the major guests, Headie One doesn't abandon his roots on Edna. If anything, he just continues to live up to the superlative bestowed upon him by Drake. At 20 songs, it's more than twice as long as GANG and longer than anything he's released yet, but Headie holds your attention the whole time and there's no obvious filler. He continues to hone both a dark, hard-hitting side and a more somber, introspective side, and he continues to make music that's accessible without being "pop." When Headie released GANG, he still felt like this well-kept secret, this guy whose music could attract FKA twigs and Sampha and Jamie xx and Brian fucking Eno yet who still somehow felt under the radar (at least in the US). With Edna, the cat's out of the bag.
WizKid - Made In Lagos
Nigerian Afrobeats star WizKid has followed 2017's great Sounds from the Other Side with his anticipated new album Made In Lagos, which is dedicated to the citizens of Nigeria in the midst of the #EndSARS movement in protest of the country's police brutality (which WizKid has been very vocally involved in). "It has been beautiful to see Nigerians around the world coming together to protest against police brutality," he said, along with this album's release. "Unity is key. The youth of Nigeria need our collective voices to continue to shine a spotlight to what is happening inside the country. I want to play my part in this and in the movement for a better Nigeria, a better place to live for ourselves, our families - our communities. We will get through this together. Together we move. #endSARS."
Made In Lagos has a stacked selection of guests including Burna Boy, Skepta, Damian Marley, H.E.R., Ella Mai, and recent Starboy signee Terri, and as you may expect from a cast like that, the album is fueled by a fusion of sounds that find the common ground between UK hip hop, Jamaican reggae, American R&B, and the music of WizKid's home country. It's an overall mellower album than Sounds from the Other Side and it finds WizKid continuing to explore new musical territory. Having already appeared on a No. 1 Drake hit ("One Dance") and a Beyonce album (The Lion King: The Gift), WizKid could easily settle into his role as an international superstar and coast on past successes, but judging by Made In Lagos, he's still growing creatively and not watering anything down for mainstream acceptance.
DeJ Loaf - Sell Sole II
Yellow World/BMG Rights
Half a decade ago, DeJ Loaf was on track to be one of rap and R&B's biggest new stars. She had just released her Columbia debut -- 2015's #AndSeeThatsTheThing EP (which we named the 43rd best rap or R&B album of the 2010s -- and the anticipation for her debut album Liberated was high. Liberated was delayed and delayed (and presumably eventually aborted), and what followed instead was label troubles and a few independently released EPs and mixtapes as she tried to overcome the way Columbia handled her career. Fortunately, it didn't matter that the music biz didn't know what to do with her, because the people did. DeJ's music went viral on TikTok, keeping her fanbase strong as she continued to steadily release music. Now, years after she first made her mark, DeJ has finally released her first proper full-length album. It's called Sell Sole II, named after her breakthrough 2014 mixtape Sell Sole. "I felt the need to do a Sell Sole II because that’s how I was feeling recording these records," she said. "Back to the root."
Columbia might've given up on her, but the rappers she's connected with over the years haven't, and this album is loaded with impressive guest appearances. The Detroit rapper tapped two of her city's biggest recent breakouts (42 Dugg and Sada Baby) on "Tap In," she reunites with her "Back Up" partner Big Sean on "IDK," she ropes in stars like Gunna, Lil Uzi Vert, 6LACK, and Rick Ross, and she re-connects with the Griselda crew on "Get Money," which features Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Boldy James. (DeJ and fellow Detroit rapper Boldy James go way back -- she recorded guest vocals for his long-in-the-works 2020 album Manger On McNichols about a decade ago -- and DeJ just graced Conway's new album with a standout verse too.) That's a lot of very exciting artists, but no one overstays their welcome and DeJ does the majority of the heavy lifting. As ever, she moves seamlessly between rapping and singing, she remains a pro at both, and she has a distinct sound that you'd never mistake for any other artist. As soon as you hear any song on this album, it scratches that unique itch that only Dej's music can scratch. We may never hear Liberated (which in 2016 was reportedly "90 percent complete") and we may never know how different Sell Sole II is than that album would've been, but at this point it doesn't really matter. DeJ Loaf's career has been to hell and back, and it's no small feat that she made it out with a rock-solid debut album like this one.
Small Bills - Don't Play It Straight
Mello Music Group
Elucid is already one half of one of the year's best rap records (Shrines by Armand Hammer, his duo with billy woods), and now he's releasing the debut album by another duo he's part of, Small Bills with Detroit multi-instrumentalist/producer The Lasso. billy woods appears on this too, as do Shrines contributors Moor Mother, Fielded, and Nosaj, as well as .k and Koncept Jackson. Like Armand Hammer, Small Bills often recalls the classic early 2000s Def Jux era, but they bring new perspective to the table and make it their own. And though Small Bills may have some sonic similarities to Armand Hammer and a handful of the same cast members, this album is also a beast of its own. It's overall more psychedelic and more chaotic. It has less warm, soulful production than Shrines and more sputtering electronics. The two albums go well together, and if you're one of the many people that've been hooked on Shrines this year, you need to make sure you add Don't Play It Straight to your rotation.
Chucky73 - De Chiquito Siempre Cabezu
If you live in New York, you're bound to hear cars driving by blasting the sounds of Latin trap and others blasting Brooklyn drill, so it was only a matter of time before a group would come along who would blend those sounds seamlessly. That group is Sie7etre3, a label/collective of rappers led by the Dominican-born, Bronx-based Chucky73, who follows his collaborative EP with Fetti031 with his debut full-length today. Fetti031's featured on this album too, as are Latin trap stars Myke Towers and Nio Garcia, and these 12 songs make good on the promise of that EP from earlier this year. Like on the EP, the Latin trap influence is undeniable but the sounds of Chucky's home city make this darker, harder-hitting music than, say, Bad Bunny or Ozuna. Chucky makes the fusion of sounds feel so natural that it feels less like two subgenres coming together and more like the creation of one new subgenre. If De Chiquito Siempre Cabezu has a shortcoming, it's that the songs can start to all kind of sound the same, but that sound is so appealing and original, that it's hard to feel anything other than excitement.
Lyric Jones - Closer Than They Appear
Los Angles via New England rapper Lyric Jones' new album was executive produced by Phonte of Little Brother, and it features Little Brother on a song, as well as Vic Mensa and others. Like Little Brother's own music, Lyric Jones' new album combines soulful production and bulletproof bars in a throwback-yet-timeless way, and if you're usually into that kinda thing, definitely check this album out. You can read more about it here.
For more, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 36 rap songs we like from October 2020: