Okayplayer’s Best Songs of 2020

Artists have gotten us through so much this year. It’s only right we return the favor in any little way we can. Here are Okayplayer’s 20 best songs of 2020.

It has not been an easy year for artists — in any medium. But 2020 has been particularly brutal for recording artists. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely crippled the music business. Artists have not been able to tour — the largest source of income for almost any working musician — and streaming payouts have long been proven unlivable for anyone not named Drake or NBA Youngboy. 

Despite the pain and lack of support from the government, artists have powered through. They’ve gotten creative, hosting lives; participating in competitions; experimenting with various social media platforms; and finding new, innovative ways to interact with fans. Add that to the fact that most artists just kept on releasing new music at what felt like a record pace, even as there are long term consequences to this strategy. (Catalogs will only become more devalued.)

Artists have killed shit this year. And looking at our list of the best songs of 2020, it’s striking how many of the songs were joyous, despite the heaviness of the year. (Now is the time to warn you that there are two songs with “pussy” in the title on our list.) And while it’s important that the art of our time cover contemporary themes — whether it’s racial inequality, police brutality, or depression — it’s vital to remember that music functions as a form of escapism, especially when shit is hard. 

This year it feels particularly good celebrating the best songs of 2020. Musicians and the art they have created have gotten us through so much this year. It’s only right we return the favor in any little way we can. Here are Okayplayer’s 20 best songs of 2020.

20. Sada Baby — “Whole Lotta Choppas”

Over the years, many “song of the summer” candidates have siphoned juice from subgenres like Memphis’ buck music, Florida jook music, and New Orleans bounce. None of them have recaptured the energy of a subgenre like “Whole Lotta Choppas” has for Miami bass music. It wasn’t the first time someone tried and it won’t be the last, but this song was an inevitable hit. Splicing Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is” with 2 Live Crew’s “2 Much Booty,” the track was originally previewed over two years before its release. The fact it still became a hit — especially on TikTok — despite the delay is a testament to its staying power. — Torry Threadcraft

19. City Girls & Doja Cat — “Pussy Talk”

“Pussy Talk” is an explicit, arrogant song that is only possible because of the lineage created by hip-hop titans Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina. Over the past few years, City Girls, consisting of JT and Yung Miami, have been carving out their own lane, leaning heavily into serving up aggressive, sex-positive bars. The standout single glistens with mainstream appeal that is evident in Yung Miami’s catchy hook. The energy heard throughout the track made it a hit when paired with Doja Cat’s eccentric, playful bars. — Robyn Mowatt

18. Ka — “I Love (Mimi, Moms, Kev)”

Known as one of hip-hop’s most distinguished everyman rappers, Ka is something of an anomaly in his generation. Splitting time between serving bars and public service, the even-toned Brownsville MC specializes in blue-collar banter with an almost regal afterglow. On the heart-rending closer to his psyche-leaning 2020 project, Descendants of Cain, Ka’s pen shifts from gristly to grateful, mirroring the framework of Nas’ “One Love,” with tender and touching dedications to the anchoring influences of his singular status. — Zo

17. Maségo & Don Oliver — “Mystery Lady”

With an assist from rapper Don Toliver, Maségo, the multi-talented Virginia native, masterfully blends trap stylings with jazz flair on “Mystery Lady.” Throughout the track, found on his EP Studying Abroad, Masego croons to a dream woman, chronicling his ideal relationship in one magnificent musical reverie. — J’na Jefferson

16. Lianne La Havas — “Seven Times”

Reflecting on a past love is a little bit easier when you can dance to it. “Seven Times” is brilliant; it has such a powerful groove that grounds Lianne La Havas’ lyrics. The bass is a driving force throughout as Lianne comes to the realization that this love has come to an end. Of course, there will be tears with heartbreak. But there’s also the hope and faith that you’ll come back better and stronger than you were before. — Elijah Watson

15. Flo Milli — “Weak”

Riding the revived wave of women in rap dominating hip-hop this year, 20-year-old newcomer Flo Milli released her highly-anticipated debut mixtape, Ho, why is you here? with a boldness only she could display. With the help of producer,  J White Did It, the Mobile, Alabama breakout star unearths a blast from the past with her updated rendition of SWV’s ’90s classic “Weak” — flipping the doting love song into a female player anthem dismissing the mediocre men in her life. Flo Milli delivers the self-focused, upbeat track in her signature schoolgirl-esque voice, accessing her roster of dudes similar to that of DMX in “What These Bitches Want.” — Njera Perkins

14. Westside Gunn, Roc Marciano & Freddie Gibbs — “$500 Ounces”

There’s nothing short of opulence on Westside Gunn’s star-studded and run-sparking album Pray for Paris. Nowhere is that clearer than this blistering back-half bruiser from the project, where an unholy trinity converge for a masterclass in vice raps over a symphonic and supremely spun soul suite from Alchemist, who is arguably the principal architect of a marquee chapter in the respective careers of Gunn, Freddie Gibbs, and Roc Marciano. — Zo

13. Childish Gambino, 21 Savage, Ink & Kadhja Bonet — “12.38”

Tripping through an Alice in Wonderland-esque misadventure, Childish Gambino’s apocalyptic fourth studio album 3.15.20 lands into psychedelic, Prince-dedicated territory on standout cut “12.38.” Using double entendres, Gambino settles into a nighttime escapade when time abruptly comes to a standstill. Coaxed into eating “dark chocolate sea salt,” Gambino is restless during a psilocybin mushroom fix, taking a casual stroll with a fleeting love interest until his surroundings transform. Referencing Black women authors bell hooks and N.K. Jemisin, the song rightfully melts into a concise bridge sung by Childqueen singer Kadhja Bonet. With a show-stealing appearance by 21 Savage, the London-born rapper claims the Dirty South without hesitation. Savage’s spotlight is as braggadocious as it is conscious, accentuating his unease with law enforcement as a Black artist.  — Jaelani Turner-Williams

12. Boldy James & Evidence — “Grey October “

Commencing the third and final act of Boldy James and Alchemist’s deeply cinematic joint album, “Grey October” catches the cut-throat Bodega Western reel just as it begins to come undone. Wracking a multitude of moods and mountains of melancholy, Boldy is in peak form, threading plumes of blurred and obscure French prog psychedelia with coldly confessional bars. In a year that felt like a decade, a song that feels like a full-length unto itself is an unintentional yet fitting anthem. — Zo

11. Sleepy Hollow & Fousheé — “Deep End Freestyle”

The last two years have been huge for Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow. They’re formidable MCs in their own right, but going back-and-forth in the booth they comprise an undeniable force. While “Deep End” doesn’t feature Sheff, Sleepy is right at home over Great John production. Tracks like “Deep End”— sparse with minimal drums — highlight both how deftly Sleepy dances between the bass and how hard his punchlines land.  — TT

10. Roddy Ricch — “The Box”

We should’ve known we were in for a weird 2020 when pop royalty like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez began the year campaigning to dethrone a newcomer in his first-time appearance on the Billboard charts. In a cruel twist of fate, Roddy prevailed, only to earn the uncomfortable honor of having the last number-one rap record before the live music industry was decimated by COVID-19.

“The Box” sounds like a Michael Bay scene, a slight departure from the tracks that contributed to his momentum in 2019. While his run before this track was largely dependent on his melodic hooks, producer 30 Roc pushed him to step outside of his range this time around, dancing between harmonies for the verses and opting for a hard-hitting chorus.  — TT

9. Jhené Aiko — “PU$$Y Fairy (OTW)”

Jhené Aiko has this sweet, seductive voice and wildly sensual lyrics that surprise you. On “PU$$Y Fairy (OTW)” she doesn’t hold back. Her confidence shines while she embraces her sexuality. The single has a beautiful start, musically speaking, including the way Aiko sings intimately recalling past experiences. She also brings back memories of drunken nights with your significant other and the fun possibilities you can have. — Sri Rain Stewart

8. Noname — “song33”

Noname has no qualms about speaking up for what’s right. As a result of the headline-making death of Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salau in June, the Chicago musician — who helped spread the word of Salau’s disappearance on social media — raps about the importance of protecting the oft-ignored members of the Black community: Black cis and trans women. But this track mostly functions as a diss song. Noname concisely takes J.Cole and other popular rappers to task about their failure to appear on the frontlines of the fight for protecting Black lives. —  JJ

7. Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé — “Savage” Remix

The OG version of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” spawned a TikTok dance craze in early 2020. However, the addition of fellow Houston hottie Beyoncé on the surprise remix of the track catapults the track to epic musical proportions. Over a J. White Did It beat, the Lone Star stunners trade “classy, bougie, ratchet” bars about their bodies, talent, and riches, resulting in a star-making turn for Meg, and another “world stop” moment from “Big B.” — JJ

6. Lil Baby — “The Bigger Picture”

The best thing about “The Bigger Picture” is there wasn’t necessarily a demand for it from Lil Baby. He’d already secured a number-one album and endless radio play. With Kendrick Lamar in the lab somewhere, and J. Cole on his heels from dissing Noname, Lil Baby stepped out of his lane to claim another victory on the year. “The Bigger Picture” manages to avoid being corny or hamfisted by way of sheer earnesty. While more highly-revered rappers have used their firsthand experiences with crime to dismiss protests, on “The Bigger Picture” Lil Baby throws his cards on the table in a sincere effort to get involved. Proceeds from the trackhis highest-charting of his career — went to the National Association of Black Journalists, Breonna Taylor’s attorney, The Bail Project, and Black Lives Matter. — TT

5. Bad Bunny — “Si Veo A Tu Mama”

There’s a playfulness to “Si Veo A Tu Mama” that feels so good despite the actual song being about getting over a breakup. Centered around a melody inspired by “The Girl From Impanema,” the track showcases Bad Bunny’s ability to come up with melodies that stick with you, his sung vocals a notable standout in the track. Just think about the first time you heard him hit that, “estoy arrebata’o.” So beautiful, so pure. — EW

4. SZA & Ty Dolla $ign — “Hit Different”

SZA returns to the scene after her hiatus with “Hit Different,” a nostalgic, yet fresh vibe with production from The Neptunes. While Ty Dolla $ign provides his signature, energetic cadence on the song’s catchy chorus, SZA’s calm, cool and collected demeanor steals the show. The intoxicating, dance-heavy music video accompanying “Hit Different” also proves SZA is not only back — she’s bolder than ever. — JJ

3. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion — “WAP”

WAP” is a culmination of the momentum that women in hip-hop have built up in 2020. It’s nasty, aggressive, and catchy. The way Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion attack the Ayo n Keyz-produced beat was one of the moments of the year. There’s nothing tasteful about this cut which is arguably Megan’s most popular song of 2020 — instead there’s only brashness and sexiness. “WAP” stands firmly as a single that was created to shock-and-awe, but it also is unwavering and fierce thanks to Cardi B and Megan’s heavy-hitting contributions to the rap industry at large. — RM

2. Thundercat — “Dragonball Durag”

Since “Walkin‘,” Thundercat has shown his ability to create off-kilter pop songs in only a way he can, and “Dragonball Durag” is yet another example of this. We all know that Thundercat is a bass wunderkind; a man who can contort his fingers in such a way that to look at it close up in a picture is pretty fucking terrifying. But Thundercat has really grown into a vocalist and lyricist, leaning into humorous and playful lines. On “Dragonball Durag,” those lines stick with you not only because of what’s said but how it’s sung.  — EW

1. KeiyaA — “Negus Poem 1 & 2”

Like few songs released in 2020, keiyaA’s “Negus Poem 1 & 2” has only swelled with resonance in the months since our mid-year check-in. As the perpetual loop of pandemic era living settled into an extended experiment in collective isolation, the central premise of “Negus” morphs, like the song itself, from howling hymn to a barrel-chested call for self-actualization and transcendence in the face of an unthinkable and unrelenting reality. Staring down another round of prospective lockdowns and, somehow, even more time in solitude, there might not be a more vital sentiment to absorb this year. — JJ

Honorable mention: BFB Da Packman & Sada Baby — “Free Joe Exotic;” Soul Glo — “(Quietly) Do the Right Thing;” Pop Smoke — Yea Yea;” Chris Brown & Young Thug — “Go Crazy;” Benny the Butcher & Hit-Boy — “Legend;” Quelle Chris & Chris keys — “Sudden Death;” Lil Baby & 42 Dugg — “We Paid;” Snoh Aalegra — “DYING 4 YOUR LOVE;” Liv.e — “LazyEaterBetsOnHerLikeness;” Earl Sweatshirt & Maxo — “WHOLE WORLD.”

 

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