2020 Vision: Notable Albums of the New Year

Max Domel and Hanif Amanullah

J Hus, “Big Conspiracy” (Jan. 24):
Following up on his 2017 debut titled “Common Sense”, British rapper and singer J Hus started the new decade with the release of his sophomore album “Big Conspiracy” featuring Burna Boy, Koffee, Ella Mai and his sister known as iceé tgm. Although he has yet to break into the mainstream of the American music scene, he has been a big name in England since the early 2010s. His versatility regarding style is one of his standout qualities, with his music ranging from genres like afrobeat and R&B to trap and grime rap. Despite his variety of sounds, though, Hus is able to make a wholesome body of work that expresses his recent personal growth and opinions on the culture of the society he lives in. There are also plenty of tracks boasting his talented lyricism that prove why he’s at the top of his game and will continue to rise. In addition to the satisfying hype of songs like “Helicopter” and “No Denying”, the cultivation of his conclusions made from analyzing his life and those around him make “Deeper Than Rap”, the introspective outro to the album, a standout track as well.

Kota the Friend, “Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1” (Jan. 20):
Even if you listen to hip-hop, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard about Kota the Friend. As a proudly independent artist, he has turned down three major label deals, according to Billboard. In a year predicted to be dominated by releases from bigger artists, the Brooklyn rapper is staking his claim that the underdogs deserve some shine in 2020, too. Although all 10 songs on “Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1” are shorter than two minutes, Kota maximizes every second, every bar, with his smooth vocal inflections and wordplay skills over more chill production. Especially on songs like “She” and “Berlin”, he even delves into small stories about the lives of his friends and their relationships. Kota finishes the album with a lyrical message to his three-year-old son about taking over for him in the future, which will hopefully include further quality volumes of “Lyrics to Go”.

Eminem, “Music to Be Murdered By” (Jan. 17):
After his 2017 album “Revival” received mixed reviews, Slim Shady responded the following year by dropping a surprise album “Kamikaze” full of disses aimed at critics. In late January, he continued this trend with “Music to Be Murdered By”, featuring frequent collaborator Royce Da 5’9”, Ed Sheeran, the late Juice WRLD and others. Both the album’s title and cover take inspiration from British Director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 album of the same name, and even includes two 30-second interludes titled with untouched Hitchcock audio. Similar to “Kamikaze”, Em raps over more new-age trap production, though a few tracks are produced by his close longtime associate Dr. Dre. While Em still fully exposes his infamous immaturity in some of his verses, the overall quality of his music has definitely increased since “Revival”, and many listeners online seem to agree with this. “You Gon’ Learn” and “Darkness” are two of the best tracks on the album.

Mac Miller, “Circles” (Jan. 17):
When Mac Miller tragically passed away in 2018, his sixth studio album, “Circles” had already been in the works. Since his death, the album has been completed and released by Miller’s producer, Jon Brion. The 12-track record is an emotionally-charged collection of songs, each produced and written by Miller at a more vulnerable state than any other album of his. The songs range from expansive tracks full of complex musicality (“Hands”) to the minimalist intimacy of others (“Good News”). But the songs that stand out more are the ones that break through Miller’s previous lyrical and instrumental barriers, crossing the bridge between humorously removed and painfully aware–songs like “I Can See” and “Once a Day.”

Tame Impala, “The Slow Rush” (Feb. 14):
Tame Impala’s “The Slow Rush”, which is the brain-child of Kevin Parker, is putting 70s prog synths, Supertramp-esque melodies, and “bombastic” drums at the center. The album, released on February 14th, is emotional and questioning, the culmination of several successful albums’ worth of experience. The lyrical content of songs like “It Might Be Time” and “Lost in Yesterday” takes the reader back to easier times while commenting on what might be the current state of world affair (or maybe just Parker’s love interests). Melodious tracks like “Borderline” and “Posthumous Forgiveness” also have Parker handing out the lessons he’s learned throughout the years via thought-provoking rhetorical questioning. Overall, the album is a step forward in Tame Impala’s impressive catalog–merging the old with the new, the reminiscent with the forward-thinking.