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Okayplayer’s Best Songs of 2020 (So Far…)

Okayplayer’s Best Songs of 2020 (So Far…)

Okayplayer's Best Songs of 2020 (So Far...)

As we hit the midway mark of the year, take a look back at Okayplayer’s best songs of 2020 so far.

A large part of deciding what the best songs of the years so far are is listening to what’s getting played in clubs or outside. This is complicated right now — no one is in clubs. No one is outside. COVID-19 has put a chokehold on all forms of entertainment, from live music to movies. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like there’s consensus — folks are in their house, playing the music that is helping them cope with quarantine.

We have been fortunate enough to have a lot of really good songs drop from a range of artists, from grizzled rap vets to new school R&B wonders. A truly tragic element is that some of the best music of the year came from people who are no longer with us. Pop Smoke, who was killed in February, has a number of songs that are destined to be radio classics. While artists like Mac Miller and Juice Wrld were still able to give their fans powerful goodbye albums.

As we hit the midway mark of the year, take a look back at Okayplayer’s best songs of 2020 so far.

Roddy Ricch — “The Box”

The defining musical sound of 2020 was an adlib. “Beep boop.” That sound, a last-minute addition from Roddy Ricch, turned a pretty good anthem into a great one. It also made “The Box” the biggest hit of 2020. It’s a song that quickly went from dominated Tiktok challenges to dominating the Billboard charts, turning Roddy Ricch to a bonafide star.— Dimas Sanfiorenzo

Mac Miller — “Good News”

Mac Miller was still expanding, And near the end of his life, it was evident he hit a sweet spot where he was experimental but confident. “Good News,” the lead single from his posthumous album, Circles, is a song about living with depression. But Mac doesn’t want you to be sad. The production is more smoothing than sullen, as he sings “I spent the whole day in my head/ Do a little spring cleaning, I’m always too busy dreaming/ Well, maybe I should wake up instead.” — DS

Pop Smoke — “Christopher Walking”

The charisma, vigor, and tenacity that Pop Smoke brought to the Brooklyn Drill scene was undeniable. On Meet the Woo 2, Pop Smoke’s last release before he was killed, the rapper was on top of the world, capitalizing on his distinct, hoarse vocals, he carried a style that resembled 50 Cent’s cool, yet collected flow that was menacing at the same time. On “Christopher Walking,” he crescendos through the streets of Brooklyn, flexing the “Diors Diors” on his feet and sliding on his enemies at the same time: “Just ’cause I dance, don’t think I’m pussy/Don’t make me pull up with the stick.” Like a surgeon at work, he dissects CashMoneyAP & Wondagurl’s production with his jagged flow that cuts through the thumping bass like a scalpel. — Anthony Malone

Jhené Aiko — “Pussy Fairy”

Jhené Aiko never shies away when it comes to welcoming her sensual side. Her sultry bop “Pu$$Y Fairy (OTW)” is more intentional than a playful and not-so-subtle boast about her sexual prowess. Pillow-soft piano keys, syncopated drum patterns, and Aiko’s milky-smooth vocals harmonize in the key of D on an alchemy crystal sound bowl. This key is known to be associated with the Sacral or sexual chakra, which is believed to house the essence of relationships, sex, and self-awareness. When opened up and functioning properly, it is said to fuel emotions, creativity, and sexuality. — Sierra Brown

Liv.e —  “SirLadyMakeEmFall”

Short and sweet, the candied campaign starter for Liv.e’s upcoming debut album is a whirled and winding wonder of modern soul. In just two minutes and change, the LA transplant builds her own mythos and tips a hat to hometown with spacious harmonies and full-melt melodics. Pouring out over hazy keys and a shuffle with the slightest swing, the Dallas artist glimpses a blunted, jazz-minded future for the new guard of R&B misfits. — Zo

Boldy James — “Grey October”

“Grey October” is Boldy James at his best — a dead-eyed yet focused stream-of-consciousness with casual chilling honesty. A fitting example: when discussing a friend’s death, he bleakly remarks that “it brought our pain some closure, so if you shoot me, better kill me, keep that same composure.” — Torry Threadcraft

Lil Baby — “Emotionally Scarred”

This is on the shortlist of go-to songs if you were to introduce someone to Lil Baby’s music. Despite the despondent title and tone, he still carries a triumphant note throughout the song. He shows off his knack for melodies as well as an impressive internal rhyme scheme (“I see it then I don’t — act like I’m blind, I’m confident it won’t be one of mine, I know emotions come with lies) The song shows just how far he’s come skill-wise in just a few short years. That new level of technique would show up again on his protest anthem, “The Bigger Picture.” — TT

Drake & Giveon – “Chicago Freestyle”

On ”Chicago Freestyle” Drake reflects on the women that come and go in a regular daily reoccurrence. Gliding over production from Cadastre, Drake interpolates Eminem’s 2002 hit-single “Superman” for the bridge, tipping his hat to the legendary Detroit wordsmith: “But I do know one thing though/Women they come they go/Saturday, through Sunday, Monday/Monday through Sunday, yo.  The track plays out like a late-night taxi cab confession with Drake wrapped up in the morals of his own spoils. — AM

Lil Uzi Vert — “Chrome Heart Tags”

Lil Uzi’s Eternal Atake is an album full of tracks tailor-made for festivals, and “Chrome Heart Tags” is one of many that would send a crowd into a frenzy. Ever the auteur, Uzi gave Turbo (Chief Keef) a production placement on the year’s most anticipated album. Given that Uzi (and many others) owe a ton to Keef, the decision felt like a special moment. It doesn’t hurt that Keef knocked this beat out of the park. — TT

keiyaA — “Negus Poem 1 and 2”

One of the year’s most entrancing introductions, keiyaA’s debut album, Forever, Ya Girlis a gorgeous portrait of the Brooklyn-based producer and singer. Equal parts mantra and survival suite, the album’s winding, quick-shifting lead single revolves around a central, yet universal, inquiry. “Who’s supposed to ride or die for me if not I?,” keiyaA bravely bellows over buoyant synth lines, notched drum programs, and cascading harmonies, forging an empowering anthem of self-reliance that deftly meets a monstrous moment in the country’s history. — Zo

 Jay Electronica & JAY-Z  — “APIDTA”

Jay Electronica and JAY-Z — two powerhouse lyrical titans who’ve seen decades of loss shape their careers. On Electronica’s long-awaited debut studio album, A Written Testimony, the two reflect on extinguishing lights on the burning tear ducts-inducing “A.P.I.D.T.A.,” which stands for “All Praise Is Due To Allah.” JAY-Z starts the song off with what sounds like a sincere, mumbling realization that numbers in his phone will never ring again, and screenshots that take up space in his cloud memory can’t be deleted. Its purpose isn’t to be scary, but it’s a sobering realization that our phones hold the essences of the deceased closer than we do. Electronica, with tears of flame, reflects on the passing of his mother. Scrolling through their texts and remembering their time together, he makes a simple, heartfelt bar that cuts like ice: “Now, I just miss my mamas.” — Trey Aston

Sada Baby — “Aktivated”

Sada Baby’s become a viral superstar because of his dance moves, but make no mistake: he’s one of the most fearsome and entertaining MCs holding a microphone today. That much is apparent on “Aktivated,” where he pays tribute to a friend’s deceased nephew over a Kool and the Gang  “Get Down on It” sample.

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On his first Skuba Sada tape, he remixed the classic “Return of the Mack.” On his other viral Skuba Sada 2 single “Slide,” he skates all over the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” At this point, we’re just wondering who we have to contact to get a full Sada Baby mixtape over samples from the 1980s? — TT

Nick Hakim — “QADIR”

On an album seeped in cold gospels and soulful, sprawled-out experiments, “QADIR” is a sobering mid-album check-in for Nick Hakim’s deceptively dark sophomore outing, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOODThe first of two mammoth meditations on the deaths of black men and the systems that fail them, the ascendant, almost hymnal, single confronts cultural and personal crisis with a howling, reverb-heavy plea for self-care and kindness despite the perpetual chaos of merely existing in 2020 (or ever.)  — Zo

Sleepy Hallow — “Deep End Freestyle”

If Pop Smoke was known in Brooklyn to shake the room, then Sleepy Hallow is the Block Party starter. After a successful debut tape in 2019’s Don’t Sleep, he came back for another round of melodic Drill anthems with Sleepy Hallow Presents: Sleepy For President earlier this year. Kicking off the tape is the dance-backed TikTok sensation, “Deep End Freestyle” over a ruminating chopped-up sample from The Voice contestant, Fousheé. Carrying the energy of Brooklyn’s Drill scene on his back, Sleepy follows a similar cadence to his partner in crime, Sheff G — but distinguishes himself using melodies that hook into the pockets created by the repeating sample and off-kilter snare patterns. — AM

Kiana Ledé — “Plenty More”

Many relationships did not survive COIVD-19-related quarantine. No album displayed this truth like Kiana Ledé’s debut album Kiki. The centerpiece of that album is “Plenty More,” a tender yet furious song about a woman who knows she should leave but just can’t let it go yet. The song ends with Kiana saying, “There’s plenty more where that came from,” before the drums come and the song rides out. — DS

Westside Gunn —  “Versace”

A standout from Pray for Paris, the Jay Versace-produced “Versace” is familiar territory for Westside Gunn. The sparse and noticeably drumless loop centered around The Clark Sisters’ “They Were Overcome by the Word” contrasts against the scripture of Gunn, where shootouts take place in cherry DeLoreans and drug hustles end in longtime prison sentences.  — Elijah Watson

Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé — “Savage” Remix

In April, H-town Hottie Megan Thee Stallion dropped the remix to her biggest hit of her career, “Savage,” featuring none other than Beyoncé. Bey opens the tracks floating angelically, yet lethal: “Queen Bey, want no smoke with me/Then turn this motherfucker up 800 degrees.” Meg follows up reminding everyone that she’s “that bitch, been that bitch, and still that bitch,” tackling each descriptor of the chorus: “I’m a savage, attitude nasty. Talk big shit but my bank account match it/Hood, but I’m classy, rich, but I’m ratchet.” Throughout the track the duo exchange bars, reminiscent of a true remix with all new lyrics. The remix would hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, solidifying Meg’s first number one. — Mikeisha Vaughn

Freddie Gibbs feat. Tyler, The Creator — “Something to Rap About”

Nestled into the lean and lux tracklist of Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist’s stellar surprise project, Alfredo, “Something To Rap About” is an early victory lap. But not the type that risks a careless fumble. Much like the meteoric five-year stretch that cemented Gibbs’ position in the rap pantheon, “Something to Rap About” is plotted and polished. Sparring with a more-than-worthy Tyler, the Creator over a preciously isolated loop of David T. Walker’s oft-sampled “On Love” guitar riff, each rapper paces comfortably over warm chords with burly deliveries, formulating a lyrical low-end theory that embraces a beautiful struggle and supplements a bass line left entirely off the loop. — Zo

Noname — “Song33”

In response to J. Cole’s unsubtle mansplaining, Noname partnered with deft superproducer Madlib on the counter-protesting “Song33.” Over a poetic drum riff, Noname debunks Cole’s plea of “treating people like children” in light of recent Black Lives Matters protests following the untimely deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Instead, Noname challenges Cole’s rhetoric, insinuating that he should do better as Black women face inadequate mistreatment though we’re expected to protect Black men. Twitter was divided between both rappers: as some commended Noname for her graceful retort, others supported Cole for taking a stance against Noname’s scolding, as Cole has joined BLM protests in North Carolina. Cole tweeted “Song33” upon its release but just days after, Noname denounced the track and even apologized for having an “ego.”  — Jaelani Turner-Williams

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