Best R&B/Pop song(s): "Clouded" by Brent Faiyaz
The standout track from Brent Faiyaz's incredible Fuck The World is a masterclass in showing listeners where Brent is in his life and career. Over the opaque and somber instrumental, the Sonder frontman gives us some of his finest rapping where he ponders the question of how he'll be remembered and how his decisions will influence the way people see him through his fame. "Clouded" is an engaging listen where the toxicity of Brent's lyrics are hard to notice when the flow of the words is so effortless. If you haven't listened yet and this excerpt hasn't convinced you, just let Lil Baby serenade you into listening to Fuck The World front-to-back. - Howie Butler
Best R&B/Pop Song(s): "In Your Eyes" by The Weeknd
Who cares about the Grammys? It appears evident that Abel Tesfaye dropped one of, if not, the best projects of 2020 with After Hours. Tesfaye breaks the mold of his hard-partying, enigmatic persona to tell the tale of a man attempting to free himself from the hardships of fame and the heartache of a failed relationship.
“In Your Eyes,” like a majority of the songs on After Hours, feels nearly impossible to place on another Weeknd project. The track marks one of the first times Tesfaye opens up without directly associating the pain with booze, drugs, or fame; it’s Tesfaye becoming aware of the hurt he’s caused as he peers into his lost lover’s eyes. The song lends impeccably to the vulnerability displayed by Tesfaye throughout the album.
Put simply, “In Your Eyes” makes you want to dance. The introduction, reminiscent of the Uncut Gems soundtrack, leads into a synth-heavy instrumental that sits precisely between “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears.” While it’s one of the more pop-heavy tracks on the album, it quickly transitions to smooth jazz on the outro as Wojtek Goral plays the listener out on the alto sax (Kenny G on the remix). After Hours showcased a musical side of The Weeknd that we didn’t know we wanted, but required. If there were one track to symbolize Tesfaye’s transition, “In Your Eyes” is the top suitor.
It truly feels as if After Hours was released years ago. Considering how disastrous of a shitstorm 2020 has been, Tesfaye’s latest outing proved to be one of the few memorable moments of a year we’d all like to forget. - Jack Martin
Best Hip-Hop Song: "Ghost of Soulja Slim" by Jay Electronica and Jay-Z
One may reasonably assume that these two identically-named wordsmiths are among the greatest to grace their craft. HOV and Electronica’s relationship has lasted the duration of the latter's absence from music. A Written Testimony is a euphoric return to form — “Ghost of Soulja Slim” sees both at their best on the album. On a suited-for-a-Western-film title sequence, Jay #1 and Jay #2 erupt into a head-to-head battle — the album’s memorable introduction. HOV's first proclamation goes as follows — “Next time they bring up the gods, you gon' respect us” — in this chapter of the all-time great's career, he’s an immortal being in rap’s realm. Truthfully, Jay Electronica may have achieved such status, too, and has done so with a mere couple hours of officially released music. - Carter Ferryman
2. "Sergio" by Action Bronson
Whether he’s rapping about the fine intricacies of life or traveling the world for the finest cuisine, Action Bronson epitomizes bravado. Bronson is an everyman in the sense that he does everything. Music, television, literature, food, film; there are few areas in the modern media landscape that Bronson hasn’t touched.
On September 25, 2020, Bronson released Only For Dolphins, an album that sees the Queens rapper stick to his lyrics of luxury while experimenting with genres from across the globe. The album features “Sergio,” produced by The Alchemist. Following their collaboration on 2019’s Lamb Over Rice, Bronson and Alc are the Steve Nash-Amar’e Stoudemire pick-and-roll of hip-hop. Alchemist produces beautifully engineered instrumentals that he lobs to Bam Bam for a thunderous finish. They fuse their roots from opposite coasts to produce eloquent gifts for the soul.
Bronson glides over the instrumental, sampled from Jackie Wilson’s “Go Away.” The soulful piano chords and gentle bassline compliment Bronson’s poetry beautifully. Bronson has always brought bars and as his sound has evolved, his delivery has become more poised. On “Sergio,” Bronson remains braggadocious as ever. He paints a picture of his sumptuous lifestyle and ability to kick your ass (“My torso covered in suede / Six back-to-back Cadillacs lookin’ like astronauts / Don’t wind me up, I’ll have Shaq pop out the jack-in-the-box”) while affirming his status as a visionary (“The slightest thought of me inspires vision”).
Bronson ignites bursts of creativity and creates the urge to smack a glob of primo wax and hop in the kitchen. “Sergio” makes me crave a heavy clam linguine in the backroom of a dimly-lit Italian restaurant. The track, and Only For Dolphins as a whole, provides listeners with not only some of the best hip-hop of 2020, but some of the best music in general. -Jack Martin
3. "327" by Westside Gunn featuring Joey Badass, Tyler the Creator and Billie Essco
I remember being stunned when I saw this one on the Pray for Paris tracklist. Tyler, the Creator and Joey Badass on a track with Westside Gunn? My immediate thought was, "Sign me the fuck up." I'll admit that once Pray for Paris dropped, I put this track on first and looped it about five times before checking out the rest of the album. From day one, I proclaimed it to be a song of the year contender. Eight months later, my proclamation still holds. "327" is truly the epitome of fine art in hip-hop, much like the rest of Pray for Paris. - Evan Linden
Best Alternative Song: "Posthumous Forgiveness" by Tame Impala
The ever-effortless Kevin Parker shared his fourth studio album, The Slow Rush, at the top of this unexpectedly agonizing year. Unbeknownst to what 2020 would offer, the record is now consumed satirically; an ode to the “Lonerism'' guru himself who works best in solitude. Sitting four rows down the duly-awaited album is a psychedelic adventure track titled “Posthumous Forgiveness.”
Dedicated to his late and estranged father, Kevin Parker travels back in time to unpack their rocky relationship. Parker’s infinite struggles with the truth as a child blossoms into clemency toward his father's actions as an adult. This hyper-emotional symphony feels like free-falling inter-dimensionally—Matthew McConaughey style.
Battling between heartwarming and heartbreaking, the transition Parker surrenders comfortably sits with the greats; “Pyramids'' and “Nights'' by Frank Ocean, “Cameras / Good One's Go Interlude” by Drake, and “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” by The Weeknd. - Deja Williams
Best Artists: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop and Alternative