The parallels between basketball and hip-hop have grown to an incalculable number in recent memory. Whether it's Drake referencing LeBron on "Nonstop," LeBron James posting Instagram stories of him rapping along to Kendrick Lamar, Kevin Durant utilizing Drake's "Furthest Thing" instrumental for the theme music his own podcast, or even Damian Lillard exemplifying convergence culture by being one of the best point guards in the league and a quality rapper in his own right; the two sports that are predominantly dominated by young Black men are more entwined now than ever.
We’ve put together three All Hip-Hop Teams as an homage to the end-of-season All-NBA Team awards that are handed out to the world’s best hoopers. Instead, we’re celebrating a different type of baller with these awards by congratulating the nine most valuable rappers of 2020. We also crowned the Most Improved Player and the Rookie of the Year.
First Team: Freddie Gibbs, Lil Baby, Megan thee Stallion
The three most valuable rappers of 2020 each took their own routes towards legendary status at the inception of the new decade. Gibbs took the route of critical acclaim and elegant lyrical warfare with Alfredo; a Grammy-nominated album that tucked every other bar-for-bar lyricist to sleep this season. Baby topped every comprehensible chart with a boastful and contagious charm providing the year’s most memorable moments. And lastly, Megan thee Stallion elevated herself to the upper echelon of female artists through TikTok phenomenons and lyrical skill that leaves even the most stingy oldhead rap fans shaking. When we look back on 2020, there will be few artists—regardless of genre—if any, that we think of before Freddie, Baby and Meg.
Second Team: Lil Uzi Vert, Jay Electronica, Westside Gunn
The second tier of hip-hop is hardly composed of artists that are accustomed to silver medals. Lil Uzi Vert released one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the last decade with Eternal Atake, and he dropped twice. Jay Electronica also released his own infamous project, A Written Testimony, and stood side-by-side with Jay-Z at the album’s podium— demonstrating with each visceral rhyme after another why his legend was worth the wait. Westside Gunn has never been shy when it comes to dropping music, but he created a masterpiece that will be praised for ages with Pray for Paris; a celebration of Black excellence and fine art, which is complemented by vendetta wordplay and orchestral instrumentals on behalf of The Alchemist.
Third Team: 21 Savage, Future, Conway the Machine
While the last half-decade was gripped by the sheer force of will that was Future’s release schedule, 2020 saw a more tame version of the dreadlocked superstar who only released two full-length projects. 21 Savage linked up with Metro Boomin and delivered the sequel to their street classic Savage Mode, while also pushing every other artist behind the curtain on his selective feature appearances. Conway the Machine was second to none as far as keeping gangster rap alive was concerned; he was responsible for elevating the three-headed snake that is Griselda into a territory of their own.