The Best Artists of 2020

 Evan Dale // Mitch Dumler // Dec 31, 2020 

2020. What else is there to say? From an artistic standpoint, creatives had to find new ways – new ways to make their craft, new ways to reach their audience, new ways to make their points, new ways to reach one another, and new ways to make a difference. And they did. When all else seemed to fail, the artists that we look to for music, for emotional release, for love ballads, for hype anthems, and ultimately for escape, prevailed in the face of adversity. And more than ever before, the best artists of 2020 used their platforms not only to evoke emotion and provoke thought, but to reinvent their creative spaces and see to it that music, and what music is ultimately able to convey, were forever changed for the better.

When it comes to being everywhere, Brian Brown was, even without venturing much outside of his home state of Tennessee. But when it comes to influence, Tennessee – and Nashville in particular – saw more of it than anywhere else not only as an emerging hip-hop hub, but as a creative capital at large. The city – the ville – ran 2020’s underground cultural cloth. And Brian Brown seemed to find himself included as a part of everything that happened there. A debut album, a slew of hometown music videos, innumerable features, and an ever presence key to the explosion that hip-hop and soul saw rooted in Nashville, made Brian Brown more than influential, more than great, but ultimately, the best artist of 2020.

 Why Brian Brown is the Best Artist of 2020: 

2020 Artist of the Year | Brian Brown-01

 Brian Brown's 2020 Through Our Eyes: 

Few veterans feel newer to music than Aaron Taylor. His reach in the London centric Neo-Soul scene has become central as EP after EP, single after single, have inundated the UK, and subsequently the world, with instrumentally founded, timeless Soul music through the past half-decade. And as a penultimate moment to his ever-present feeling of newness, his debut album, ICARUS hit the airwaves earlier in 2020. With it, not only did Aaron Taylor finally reach the pivotal milestone that a debut represents, but he did so with fervor and genius. ICARUS is one of the best albums of the year and will only age like a fine wine with the time that his timelessness allows his aesthetic. So will whatever is to come from Aaron Taylor.

 Aaron Taylor's 2020 Through Our Eyes: 

No one had a bigger year than Megan Thee Stallion. And though we weren’t there to cover her work as is usually the case with the world’s most prominent hip-hop royalty, leaving the queen off this list would be too obvious a snub. Megan represents women, music, and women in music as she represents herself: with unending authenticity, courage, braggadocio, and genius. Her hits were the hits of a year that desperately needed them. Megan is the rapper the hip-hop desperately needs. And her influence on hip-hop, on the mainstream, and on the future as both lanes pertain to women in the limelight rings anthemic and necessary without question. Many outlets may crown Mega this year, and we support that to no end.

As music relates to growth and prolificity, St. Louis’s Bari grew taller, stronger, and faster than anyone else. Two albums paved the way not only for Bari, but for rappers throughout the scene to experiment more wildly towards a futuristic aesthetic than ever before. Layer Cake set the precedent for what can only be described as Cyber Trap to legitimately emerge, and F*@k It, Burn It All Down breathed precisely of its title, blowing hip-hop over with ferocity and offbeat experimentalism. Bari has been about breaking down barriers since his debut project, MSTRGLSS just last year. And with his two releases in 2020, he’s been one of the most unique and influential sounds of the year.

 Bari's 2020 Through Our Eyes

It’s been Freddie Gibbs’s year for years now. 2019’s Bandana was one of the most dominant exhibitions of rap in memory, and this year – Alfredo. It seemed as if there was no way that he could replicate what he and Madlib accomplished last year, and yet, he did the impossible with famed producer, The Alchemist. The result? A two-year run proving that Freddie Gibbs is the best lyricist in hip-hop today – the hardest rapper in the game. A tour before the coronavirus stopped such things was one for the books for any fan of real rap, and with only more work to come, Freddie Gibbs is sure to be a staple of lists like this for the foreseeable future.

 Listen to Alfredo Here: 

Behind the curtain; Under the radar; J.Robb – a producer – is both of those things by design. But his work, delineated by jazzy instrumentals, playful keystrokes, and deep bass, played at the foreground for a number of 2020 projects. Included in his credits: a mosaic of production for digital creative collective, Play Nice, who – through the obstacles of quarantine and the power of the digital age – crafted a stylistically broad, experimental, and ultimately blueprinting project: Home Buddies. His production also stretched to a Soulection sponsored collaborative project, Gems In The Cornerstore, with mellow Neo-Soul vocalist, Elujay. Together, the two projects proved just how applicable and foundational J.Robb’s sound is to Neo-Soul and R&B, while also proving just how broad his texture is. As we enter an even stronger age of soul and hip-hop coalescence, J.Robb will only continue to add his signature to it all.

 J.Robb's 2020 Through Our Eyes: 

ALICIA: the album the world didn’t know it needed in 2020. When it comes to the queens of R&B and Neo-Soul, there’s a lot of talk about Beyoncé and Rihanna. But, Alicia Keys? Alicia Keys has always been the truth. Her keyboard-ridden ballads have been evoking emotion and inspiring hope for more than a decade. And with her 2020 album, more than just a revitalization of her one-of-a-kind pop and soul spanning sound, but ultimately, an album proving her sound can span the epochs and the eras, ALICIA is influencing the breadth of modern R&B with the strength it used to in 2010. More than a comeback artist, but a proper pillar of Neo-Soul, R&B, and Pop music, Alicia Keys is undoubtedly one of the defining artists of 2020.

 Listen to ALICIA here: 

Omar Apollo has been emerging for a couple of years, but in 2020, he broke through. Generation Z’s Prince, he’s the guitar-ripping, soul-striven style god that the indefinable world of Post-Genre needs. At his young age, his future is undendingly bright, but with the release of pre-debut album project, Apolonio, he proved that his prowess for crafting a full-length project speaks to the rest of his artistry: bold, inventive, raw, and irreplicable. The same adjectives also apply to his live performances, his fashion sense, and his music videos, where the spectacularly down to Earth, yet rhinestone riddled world of Omar Apollo bleeds of relatable emotion and timeless tunes.

 Omar Apollo's 2020 Through Our Eyes: 

For three straight years, SAINt JHN has pieced together one of the most important, influential, and genre-defying albums. In 2018: Collection One; in 2019: Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs; in 2020, While The World Was Burning. In the midst of chaos, SAINt JHN utilized the strength of his Roses Remix wave and built a surprise album out of immaculate features and a middle ground between his melodic and lyrical lanes. Few if any artists have seen more deserved growth over the last 365 days. Fewer still continue to evolve and tow in the process all of hip-hop, R&B, and their pop-fueled middle ground. But SAINt JHN is one his way to the top of the mainstream hip-hop circuit and 2020 was only further proof of that.

 SAINt JHN's 2020 Through Our Eyes: 

Out of the woodwork, Trinidad James is back and better than ever before. It’s not something expected, but it is something welcome. With his 2020 album, Black Filter, the Atlanta rapper built a case study – a thesis – on black music through the ages, merging his well-established knack for hyphy hip-hop with an emerging fluidity for the vocal and lyrical pillars that his signature sound is built on. In accompaniment of a slew of music videos around its release, Black Filter caught hip-hop’s attention and celebrated the expanse of black music more than any other work. For that, it’s our album of the year, and for that, Trinidad James is undoubtedly one of 2020’s best artists.

 Listen to Black Filter Here: