By Nick Sligh
In light of the nation’s reckoning with police brutality and racial injustice, I want to preface this article by recognizing and standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Americans have long had a significant and critical influence on history, culture and art in the United States. Black America has impacted and developed nearly every musical genre in our country, and hip-hop/rap music is one of the greatest examples of this. In order to support a genre like rap, it is important to fully support Black Americans and to actively address and combat the systemic racism that has been present in the United States for far too long. This link can be used to access a list of petitions, foundations to donate to, phone numbers to text and call and other resources to help support the Black Lives Matter movement. Awareness of the underlying issues of racial inequality in modern America, a desire to further educate and actions to combat the structures that disadvantage Black Americans are critical first steps in making progress. Please consider participating and helping these causes in whatever ways you are able.
The second quarter of 2020 has continued to provide quality releases across the rap scene. As the first half of the year comes to a conclusion, a handful of high-profile rappers have already made anticipated releases. Over the second half of the year, even more high-profile releases are expected. As of now, here are some of my favorite hip-hop/rap albums that were released in the second quarter of 2020 (April-June):
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: “Alfredo” (May 29, 2020)
Freddie Gibbs has definitely become one of the most underrated and one of the best current rappers. Less than a year after his fantastic 2019 album “Bandana,” Freddie returned with another release that is one of the best across the entire genre so far this year. With production handled exclusively by The Alchemist, the chemistry on “Alfredo” is in near-perfect sync from front to back. Soulful, jazzy, dark and atmospheric, this album provides a trademark project for the discographies of both Gibbs and The Alchemist. On “Alfredo,” Gibbs continues to showcase an elite flow and technical prowess that very few rappers can compare to.
Favorite Songs: “Frank Lucas,” “God Is Perfect,” “Something to Rap About”
Run the Jewels: “RTJ4” (June 3, 2020)
Run the Jewels — the rap duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P — delivered their fourth continuation of their eponymous series with great timing and success. In the middle of troubled times in America, these two provided an album that is as skilled as it is insightful. An album addressing poignant issues such as racial inequality, police brutality and media bias, “RTJ4” certainly does not shy away from the uncomfortable truths about the social and political order that Americans are facing. The chemistry between the two rappers is fantastic as always, and the production is innovative and refreshing throughout. “RTJ4” is an anthem that will serve as a timestamp for the current state of America.
Favorite Songs: “JU$T,” “yankee and the brave (ep. 4),” “out of sight”
Westside Gunn: “Pray for Paris” (April 17, 2020)
Westside Gunn, the Griselda member and proud Buffalo, New York native, delivered an album that highlights his past strengths while simultaneously expanding into new artistic spaces. Westside Gunn’s voice has certainly become known as one of the easiest to recognize in rap, but he has been very innovative in expanding his overall sound with elaborate production choices for recent projects. Across the album, Westside Gunn’s sound, production selection and feature choices help to establish an atmospheric listen. The phenomenal production across “Pray for Paris” serves a large part of what makes the album such an intriguing listen and robust addition to a strong run of recent projects from the Griselda rapper.
Favorite Songs: “George Bondo,” “$500 Ounces,” “327”
Kota the Friend: “Everything” (May 22, 2020)
In a drastic contrast to the feel and themes of the above projects, Kota the Friend’s “Everything” provides a soothing and easy-listening project that has a very “summertime” feel to it. Relaxing beats, introspective lyrics and a soothing feel have come to be staples of Kota’s music. Although this album might not be the most innovative or technically profound release, it still provides a collection of great music that is widely enjoyable and well-executed. “Everything” simply offers an album with a great vibe that makes it hard to not smile while listening.
Favorite Songs: “B.Q.E,” “Away Park,” “Morocco,” “‘Always”
Click here for a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite hip-hop and r&b tracks of 2020 so far (even outside of these listed albums)!
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.