REKS – “T.H.I.N.G.S.” (GetOnDown.Com) – Massachusetts-based microphone fiend REKS has been one of the game’s most consistent emcees for the past twenty years. This impressive release contained more powerful poetry from the skilled lyricist, delving deep into both personal experience and commentary on the world around us, with production from the likes of Nottz, Statik Selektah and Apollo Brown adding further weight to the thought-provoking bars.
Him Lo – “SLAPYAGODDAMNFACEOFF” (GrilchyParty.BandCamp.Com) – One-half of Philadelphia’s mighty Buze Bruvaz, lyrical brawler Him Lo dropped yet another fine selection of rugged, politically-incorrect Hip-Hop, packed with rambunctious, head-cracking rhymes and tough beats. A blend of fresh material and older cuts, this project proved that Lo’s style is timeless like a new pair of wheat-coloured Timberlands.
Verb T & Illinformed – “The Land Of The Foggy Skies” (High-Focus.Com) – A worthy follow-up to their 2015 collaboration “The Man With The Foggy Eyes”, UK duo Verb T and Illinformed delivered the goods once again, pairing creative, contemplative rhymes with mesmerizingly melancholy, jazz-influenced beats. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Verb’s multi-layered verses deserve to be studied in schools as they’re pure poetry.
Boom Bap Babies – “We’ll Fly” (BoomBapBabies.BandCamp.Com) – Birmingham, Alabama-based producer / emcee duo RyNea Soul and Shaun Judah mixed uplifting beats with life-affirming rhymes to clear your third-eye vision and vibrate your soul. This was feel-good Hip-Hop with a mission and a message.
Tracey Lee – “Glory” (TraceyLeeMusic.Com) – Veteran Philly emcee Tracey Lee proved that he hadn’t missed a beat since the release of his excellent 1997 debut album, sounding motivated and full of vitality on this Ojizz-produced project, drawing lyrical inspiration from both past experiences and present-day situations. Reflecting on lockdown life during the pandemic, social divisions and daily struggles, Lee injected his rhymes with an energy and spirituality which ultimately gave this album a real sense of hope and optimism.
Roc Marciano – “Mt. Marci” (Fat Beats) – A decade after the release of his game-changing solo album “Marcberg”, Strong Island’s Roc Marciano demonstrated that this underground king’s crown was showing no signs of slipping, with this latest collection of cool-but-deadly cuts boasting plenty of the influential artist’s vivid, larger-than-life wordplay and unique production.
DRS x Redeyes – “Coloured” (MCDRS.BandCamp.Com) – Inspired by the senseless murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, Manchester’s DRS joined forces with French producer Redeyes to record seven tracks over seven days, dropping this powerful EP in July. Poignant and moving, this release was a world-weary work of art that questioned how racism and prejudice can still exist in a so-called ‘civilised’ society. Truly memorable music.
Rasheed Chappell & Buckwild – “Sinners and Saints” (GetOnDown.Com) – A brilliantly-matched partnership, this collabo album from New Jersey’s Rasheed Chappell and Diggin’ In The Crates legend Buckwild sounded like the work of an established duo. Observational, street-savvy rhymes met well-crafted, sample-based beats here, with the pair complimenting each other’s strengths and making some great music in the process.
Neak – “INNENSTADT” (Neak.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Neak offered an engaging, emotionally-charged look at the realities of inner-city living on this largely self-produced release. With assistance from the likes of Philmore Greene, Rashid Hadee and Slot-A, the talented artist painted poignant portraits of the Windy City with a lyrical style that was both subtle and striking.
Arrested Development – “Don’t Fight Your Demons” (OfficialArrestedDevelopment.BandCamp.Com) – Atlanta’s Grammy award-winning collective returned with a timely dose of edutainment, featuring Speech offering soul-stirring opinions on a number of topics, including racism, mental health and mainstream Hip-Hop. With input from UK producer Configa, this album was rooted in the original essence of the Arrested Development sound but with some well-placed contemporary twists.
UFO Fev & Big Ghost Ltd – “The Ghost Of Albizu” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – For his third release of the year, NY’s UFO Fev called on the formidable production skills of the mighty Big Ghost Ltd, with the pair crafting a vibrant example of underground brilliance. 2020 should definitely go down as the year Fev truly stamped his mark on the game, with the previous years of hard-work paying off and translating into a trio of projects that really hit the target.
Ka – “Descendants Of Cain” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – Brooklyn’s Ka is like a Hip-Hop monk who every now and then comes down from his mountaintop monastery to bestow wisdom and greatness upon his followers, before once again retreating to an existence of meditation and solitude. This latest effort was a haunting collection of intricately-crafted verses packed with streetwise rhymes laced with tragedy, struggle and triumph. The time and hardwork Ka puts into his music is obvious, yet the end results appear effortless.
Benny The Butcher – “Burden Of Proof” (BennyTheButcherStore.Com) – When Griselda’s Butcher said on this album that 2019 was about branding but 2020 was about expanding, he wasn’t joking. The Buffalo trio of Westside Gunn, Conway and Benny had an incredible year, with the Hit Boy-produced “Burden Of Proof” arguably standing as the crew’s strongest release during that period. Benny’s swaggering, voice-of-experience rhymes highlighted both sides of the street game with sincerity, whilst Hit Boy’s production exceeded all expectations. The Butcher coming!
Breis – “Arise & Shine” (MrBreis.Com) – This EP from veteran London-based lyricist Breis was all about positive, uplifting vibes whilst still acknowledging real-life issues and personal struggles. Utilising a diverse selection of production styles from the likes of Keith Lawrence and Artcha, the lively emcee delivered the messages in his music with flair and originality.
Bub Styles x Ace Fayce – “Very Sucio, Muy Picante” (BubStylesBK.BandCamp.Com) – This album from NYC’s Bub Styles sounded like a late-night walk through the streets of Brooklyn to buy blunts from that store that’s always open and always has a crew of Polo-wearing hard-rocks posted up outside. Rough, rugged and raw, the gravel-voiced Styles pummelled Fayce’s moody production here, with the likes of Estee Nack, UFO Fev and Rome Streetz offering lyrical assistance.
Supreme Cerebral x D.Mar – “Soul Trained” (BugzyNino17.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast wordsmith Supreme Cerebral took aim at fellow Cali representative D.Mar’s vintage soul loops and unleashed a barrage of lyrical darts on this well-crafted album. Lush strings, emotionally-charged vocal samples and mellow vibes provided the perfect accompaniment to Cerebral’s razor-sharp delivery.
Untouchable$ – “Untouchable$” (NowaahTheFlood7.BandCamp.Com) – A potent collaboration between underground heavyweights Nowaah The Flood, Ca$ablanca, Kincee and Jay Holly, this Untouchable$ project was the sound of four skilled emcees building off the energy of one another and elevating their skills to even greater heights in the process. Featuring production from the likes of B-Sun, Kurse and Karnate, this project was a sonic monument to the art of lyricism.
LEX & Buck – “Let Go!” (LEXNYRE.BandCamp.Com) – A true student of the game, Queens, NY’s LEX returned with yet another quality project, this time produced by Cali-raised, New York-based music man Buck. LEX’s combination of relatable rhymes and streetwise bravado always makes you feel like you’re listening to one of your boys who’s passed through to kick it for a few, and the tone of this release was no different.
Revenge Of The Truence & Jack Diggs – “Midnight Run” (JackDiggs.BandCamp.Com) – Known for his crate-digging expertise, the UK’s Jack Diggs blessed NYC’s Revenge Of The Truence with an impeccable selection of atmospheric, late-night loops and head-nodding drums on this brilliant release. 2020 was a busy year for MuGGz and Tay Dayne, with the Harlem duo dropping a number of projects. But this gem definitely stood-out as one of their best.
eMCee Killa & Think – “Foreign Ties” (eMCeeKillaHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – No stranger to topical, hard-hitting lyricism, both in his work as a member of UK crew Caxton Press and his solo material, this album from London’s eMCee Killa provided more of the same, with Canadian producer Think supplying some uncompromisingly hardcore beats to bolster the fiery rhymes found here.