Gorillaz — Sound Machine, Season One: Strange Times
If this is only season one, I can’t wait to hear the next several seasons. The album contains elite features across genres that spur the project, including Elton John (on the same song as 6LACK!!), ScHoolboy Q, Beck, slowthai, EARTHGANG, GoldLink, JPEGMAFIA, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Skepta. With such memorable features, one would expect them to be the shining stars of the album, but Gorillaz elevate their game to match the energy and skill of each accompanying artist, making for an entertaining album with an eclectic mix of emotions and instrumental combinations. It’s a bit intimidating from a length perspective, sitting at 17 tracks and 65 minutes, but fresh ideas and scintillating lyrics make this album far from a snooze.
Nathy Peluso — CALAMBRE
An eclectic mix of latin pop, rap, soul, and salsa, CALAMBRE is one of the most exciting releases in 2020. Raised in Argentina and based in Spain, Peluso puts on an absolute show on this album, proving her dynamic talent by dipping her toes in completely different genres from song to song. While the dramatic vibe shifts all over this album might throw off the momentum a little bit, it does nothing to downplay her talent. The bombastic “SANA SANA” which gained steam with an electric COLORS SHOW, pulls from rap and hip-hop, but she quickly transitions to a more soulful delivery on “BUENOS AIRES,” her lonely homage to her country’s capital city. This album is more than the sum of its parts, and its parts show a talented artist willing to do whatever it takes to catch a listener’s ear.
Xavier Ömar — If You Feel
If You Feel further cements Omär as one of the best in contemporary R&B. With a smooth blend of slow jamz and higher-tempo love tracks, Xavier Omär puts on a drama throughout this project, making it one to remember. Altogether, Omär displays the range of his talents, as well as his inspirations, with this project, with ironclad production, timeless samples, elite features, and powerful display of career progression. Highlights include “All Our Time” and “SURF,” but If You Feel is exemplary all the way through.
Omar Apollo — Apolonio
Apolonio is Apollo’s most cohesive album to date, with romantic and vulnerable tracks throughout the project. “Hey Boy,” which features an alluring performance from Kali Uchis, is a desirable track, and shows Apollo’s conducting ability; he only provides the short but sweet chorus. “Useless” is another strong track, telling the tale of a boy that’s young and hurting. Realizing he got played by a potential lover, Apollo sings about his feelings of worthlessness over a catchy guitar-bass coalition. No song on Apolonio is wasted, making for an effortless, enjoyable listen.
Benny the Butcher — Burden of Proof
Benny lives up to the hype in his second solo studio album, Burden of Proof, with head-banging, lip-snarling coke-anthems throughout the project. “Burden of Proof,” “Sly Green,” “One Way Flight (ft. Freddie Gibbs),” and “Timeless (ft. Lil Wayne and Big Sean)” are standout tracks. Also, in my favorite bar of the whole project and maybe the year, Benny raps, “The promotin’ I did, Pyrex should be givin’ me pots, yeah.” Benny is looking for a brand deal for his cocaine-whipping expertise, and I respect the hustle. And with Hit-Boy on the beats, this album contains absolutely no skips.
Dinner Party — Dinner Party: Dessert
Back with a redux of their album of the year contender, Dinner Party, the foursome of Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder added a flurry of new verses from talented rappers and singers such as Snoop Dogg, Cordae, Rapsody, and Buddy. Remixes are seldom better than their original, and in this case, many of these new verses get in the way of the smooth flow of the first release. Still, all of the talented folks the squad brought on put on such a strong performance that it’s hard not to respect. Toss it on during your dessert and everything will come together.
Lou Phelps — Extra Extra!
Releasing a project nearly exclusively produced by KAYTRANADA, the literal embodiment of all things perfect, is no joke. Granted, Kaytra and Lou share a mother and father, but their bond is pushed so much further than brotherly when this duo shares the studio. The Celestin genes are flying all across this featureless, 7-song, 19-minute breakout project, but it’s not just Kaytra that turned Lou’s bars to gold here, as Lakim and Tek.lun each clocked in to work with the 26-year old. To put it very simply, Lou really pulled through on this album with seven tracks of sealed verses, confident flow, attractive choruses, and the flair of a poised elite. To put it more dynamically, think of Lou as the Sophomore who showed up after summer four inches taller and thirty pounds thicker with an updated skillbase and absolutely no intention of fucking around with junior varsity ever again.