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When the world stopped, rap kept going. Nothing—not the pandemic, not state-imposed curfews, not widespread malaise or massive social upheavals— could slow down its lightspeed evolution, from Flint to Oakland to Buffalo to Bradford, England.
The most resonant rap songs this year, as in any year, are about perseverance, survival, being seen and heard. Lost albums came to the surface, long-running crews finally got their due, big names got bigger, and “WAP” took over everyone’s lives. Even though the year felt endless, the best rap still kept up the stakes, knowing the time we have might always be too short. So let’s go.
(The following list, sorted alphabetically, includes albums and tracks found on Pitchfork’s main year-end tallies, as well as additional entries that did not make those lists but are just as worthy of your time.)
Baby 9eno: “UUV”
From the very first Earth-shaking piano note, Baby 9eno summons an atmosphere of menace and retribution. Powered by a flawless piano production that sounds like it was ripped directly from the background of an episode of “Inspector Gadget,” the Maryland native rips through punchlines, methodically lays out threats, and bluntly promises to carry each one out. “The opps keep dying, they tryna call a truce/Whip a nigga ass like we on Roots,” mutters 9eno in a laidback, almost lackadaisical tone. If he was standing over you after he took you for your Foamposites and delivered any of the bars from this track, you really couldn’t help but let out a light chuckle. That’s the mark of talent. –Matthew Ritchie
Listen: Baby 9eno, “UUV”
Bad Boy Chiller Crew: “450 (2020 Remix)” [ft. S Dog]
It’s difficult to discern the seriousness of the Bad Boy Chiller Crew; between the mullet, the babyfaces and the West Yorkshire lad swag, their aesthetic teeters on parody, evoking more Kurupt FM than Kurupt. But despite their start doing Jackass-style pranks for laughs, the Bradford, UK, bassline rap crew are shepherds of the 2-step and speed garage riddims that took hold in North England’s clubs at the turn of the century, building frenetic car and crime raps from their parents’ party tunes. “450” is their official debut single, a romp that’s both tongue-in-cheek and dead-serious, driven by a relentless four-on-the-floor house beat wormholed from 1999. By the end of the track’s blistering three-minute runtime, the question of their seriousness seems moot—a banger is a banger. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Bbymutha: “Roaches Don’t Die”
Brittnee Moore has started an online apothecary, raised two sets of twins on her own, and delivered a dozen EPs, all as the Chattanooga rapper bbymutha. For years, she’s brought her whole self to her music, and on “Roaches Don’t Die,” the first song on her sprawling debut Muthaland, she nimbly weaves in and out of her professional and personal lives. Only after boasting and bucking like the best MCs does she delve into a harrowing and heartwarming account of motherhood. Her kids’ father is a pedophile. Yikes. She wants to teach her porn-watching son about consent. Yes. She goes on like this, streaming her consciousness, for nearly four breathless, hookless minutes of pure skill, nerve, and honesty. –Mankaprr Conteh
Listen: Bbymutha, “Roaches Don’t Die”
Bfb Da Packman: “Free Joe Exotic” [ft. Sada Baby]
There are few acceptable places to play “Free Joe Exotic” outside of your own headphones. On the jaw-dropping track, Flint, Michigan-raised Bfb Da Packman raps about how he would rather hurl himself from a bridge than wear a condom, twists the Sour Patch Kids slogan into a pun about oral sex, and accuses a girl of telling a tall tale about the size of his junk: “She said she can feel it in her stomach, stop capping/Ol’ lyin’ ass bitch, my dick ain’t that big.” And all that’s in just the first verse. Not even in Michigan, the current rap capital of darkly funny shit talking, will you find anyone thinking more unholy thoughts than Packman. –Alphonse Pierre
Bizzy Banks: “Top 5”
In New York, personal top-five rapper rankings have led to countless lunchroom and barbershop fights. On this highlight from his debut mixtape GMTO, Vol. 1 (Get Money Take Over), Bizzy Banks keeps that spirit alive. The only thing not customarily New York about the Brooklyn rapper’s single is the drill production. Otherwise, his balance of storytelling and flash—combined with his obsession of an arbitrary list (“You mention Brooklyn, you know that I’m top 5”)—will remind you of the city’s most complete lyricists. Fashion brands are more than just clothing to him; they’re symbols of access to spaces he never thought he would reach. You could probably describe an old Jadakiss or Juelz or Memphis Bleek record in a similar way. New York tradition is inescapable. –Alphonse Pierre