Best Album: After Hours by The Weeknd
After Hours is a brilliantly crafted album that succeeds on several levels, including the resurrection of 1980s groovy electro-pop, the return of peak box music, and a fresh perspective into the King of Pop Music’s most personal thoughts, issues, and struggles.
The Weeknd blends the best eras of himself on After Hours by borrowing from his own musical history. From the darkened diary writing persona enlisted on My Dear Melancholy, with the cold-hearted cynicism spread across House of Balloons and the infusion of both those depressive symptoms with the area where he’s most popular, Radio Abel, which vaulted Beauty Behind the Madness to the all-time charts. - Ralph James
Best R&B/Pop Albums: 3.15.20 by Childish Gambino
During the early midst of COVID-19, while trapped in the confinements of my basement, an album that is a polar opposite of the bareness of the title blew me away. On the day of the name of the album, the multidimensional Donald Glover, or better known as Childish Gambino, dropped his long-awaited fourth album. The four-year wait was grueling, but unlike most critics, I think that the album exceeded expectations.
Glover delivers some of his best vocal performances, some of the most stellar and expansive production, and dives into the most intriguing themes of his career. This psychedelic timeless journey surrounds you with a variety of unique instrument combinations that fuse into each other seamlessly, making the album a long and colorful stream of consciousness.
This stream of consciousness contorts your musical experience in new ways. Whether you talk about the plethora of amazing features or the vivid and precise vocal manipulation, this album is one of the best projects of the year and should be admired as one of Gambino’s best projects. - Marty Gross
Best R&B/Pop Albums: Fuck the World
Over the last three years, Brent Faiyaz has cemented himself as one of the brightest and flyest voices in modern R&B. Fuck The World gives us a more ominous look into his sound and further blurs the line between his singing and rapping. Over time, we've realized that Brent wasn't the typical R&B crooner; and with Fuck The World, it's more evident than ever. Instead of lyrics that are imploring previous partners to rekindle with him or forgive him for past actions, his newest cut does almost exactly the opposite. Tracks like "Clouded" and "Let Me Know" have Brent questioning how people will view him if he stays true to himself and his unbothered and insouciant attitude. Brent shows us he's doing life the best on his own, and some may say that this project puts him in a class of his own, as well. - Howie Butler
Best Hip-Hop Album: Pray for Paris by Westside Gunn
Griselda Records put the rap game on notice in 2019, ushering in a new wave of gritty street rap. Each member brings their own unique strengths to the table that round out one of the hardest squads in the underground. The group's self-proclaimed tastemaker, Westside Gunn, has been the visionary from the start; and if there’s one thing he values more than hip-hop in its purest form, it's fine art.
From the instant you lay eyes on its cover art, portraying the "David with head of Goliath" painting by Caravaggio, or tune in to the introductory skit where they play the audio from the auction for Caravaggio's painting, the listener is put in a trance where they can tell this is project going to be exactly that: fine art.
Gunn comes through to give us, in my opinion, Griselda's most artistically driven and polished project with a god-squad of contributors. Tyler the Creator, Joey Bada$$, Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, and Wale all provide stellar verses in addition to the usual features of Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Boldy James. Production is top-tier, receiving sonic guidance from The Alchemist, Jay Versace, DJ Premier, Daringer, Conductor Williams and more. 2020's instant rap classic came to us from the head of street rap's most lethal crew, and Gunn even put the finishing touches on it while battling COVID-19. Pray for Paris is a testament to the drive and artistic vision of Westside Gunn and the entire Griselda roster. - Howie Butler
Best Alternative Album: The Slow Rush by Tame Impala
Nearly five years removed from his classic album Currents, the expectations were sky-high for Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker. After all, he had to follow up one of the best alternative albums of the century after taking the longest hiatus of his career. He did not crumble under the pressure; instead, he delivered another collection of deeply personal pieces from his life in the form of a beautiful album.
At the moment, The Slow Rush is something of an anomaly in the Tame Impala discography. Innerspeaker and Lonerism—Tame’s first two albums—epitomize psychedelic prog rock. Currents—Tame’s magnum opus—followed suit while beginning to embrace pop, electronic, and R&B. The Slow Rush built off Currents’ genre-fluidity, becoming more tropical and jazzy than ever before (see “Borderline,” “Is It True,” “Breathe Deeper,” and “Lost In Yesterday”). The themes, symbols, and storytelling throughout The Slow Rush are also far more salient than any of Tame’s previous projects. Simply put, The Slow Rush sees Kevin Parker at his most mature and refined—both as an artist and as a human. - Evan Linden
Best Artists: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop and Alternative