There were a few years on this blog (and its earlier incarnations) when practically the only post/posts I’d write in a given year were my year-end music lists. I really liked writing those, thinking about all the music I’d listened to, ranking albums in my head and then on paper and then in my drafts folder. A couple of times, my lists got a little bit of online notoriety to them, like one year when I ranked my favorite albums like they were players on the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls and a popular music blog shared it.
I still listen to a fair amount of new music, but nowhere near as much as I used to. I used to really seek out new albums on a weekly basis to listen to. Now, despite the pandemic essentially locking me indoors for the last several months, I just don’t do that as much. I don’t make time for it like I used to.
But I’m still interested in finding new stuff, if only so I don’t get really bored with the music I already have and love. I just find that new stuff in a different way than I used to. To wit, nowadays, I listen to a lot of my music on YouTube.
That generally means I listen to more singles and fewer albums. I still will check out an album if a single really moves me to, but I’m also content to just add whatever single I’ve found to the appropriate playlist on my Spotify account and move on. This year, I finally woke up to the reality that I’m no longer an album guy. I’m more of a singles guy.
So allow me to share 10 songs I enjoyed this year, as presented on YouTube. Some have killer videos, and some are just songs with static images, but killer videos help the song’s ranking, where applicable. Also, although I listened to a lot of tracks on YouTube from the past couple of years during 2020, I’ve only featured songs that were released/had a video made for them this year.
Honorable mention/music YouTuber of the year: Cookin’ Soul
A couple of dudes from Spain are making some of my favorite hip hop beats right now, and to showcase those beats, they’re making fun animated/spliced-up videos on YouTube and lacing their tracks under some classic hip hop verses. They make “mixtapes” that last 20 to 50 minutes, but they also do individual songs in this fashion. My favorites are their “WHATEVA” tapes, Vol. 3 of which came out in July.
They make such laid-back, jazzy, funky beats, like guys who grew up listening to J Dilla, Pete Rock, Premier, and RZA beats, among others (kinda like I did). I told my friend Kelvin recently they make beats like I would if I was that talented.
10. Sylvan Esso “Ferris Wheel”
I love Sylvan Esso’s music, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this upbeat, dancy track wasn’t helped greatly by its awesome video, recorded entirely in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in my consideration of it for this list. It’s a great song and a fun video. What more could I ask for?
9. Lil Baby “The Bigger Picture”
Right at the peak of civil unrest stemming from the extrajudicial killings of several people of color including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor here in the United States, which coincided with nationwide efforts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Atlanta rising star Lil Baby released this breathless, personal, political, powerful track accompanied by an even more powerful and arresting set of visuals. “Might as well start right here, we done had a hell of a year” indeed.
8. Anderson .Paak “JEWELZ”
Anderson .Paak’s “Malibu” was my album of the year when it came out: an irresistible collection of funk, hip hop, R&B, storytelling, pathos, clever wordplay, and irrepressible personality. I didn’t resonate as closely with his next few releases, and I wondered if maybe it was just a special instance of one collection of an artist’s work hitting my musical sweet spot as he passed through to a more clear version of his own vision.
But in 2020, a bunch of his new work, including excellent features on other people’s songs, really hit that sweet spot again. “JEWELZ” is a fine example of what drew me to Andy in the first place: bravado, funk, and just plain fun. I’d also recommend his collaboration with Busta Rhymes, “YUUUU,” for something else that’s fun, but very different from this.
7. Hot Chip ft. Jarvis Cocker “Straight To The Morning”
I’m a longtime Hot Chip fan, so I automatically go check out any new releases from the band or its constituent members. In the last few years, I’ll admit, I haven’t always liked what I’ve heard. It’s not a big deal, just artists evolving and my tastes perhaps evolving in a different direction. I still love these dudes. And this track is a great example of Hot Chip at its best, with a sly feature from Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, a nouveau-disco rhythm, and a celebratory video featuring a girls’ sleepover gone wild (though not TOO wild, as you’d probably guess based on the piles of Magic: The Gathering cards being tossed around at the start).
6. Your Old Droog ft. Tha God Fahim and Mach-Hommy “New Religion”
Hearing this track, with its simplistic loop sample and absolute fire rapping, made me run over to YOD’s Bandcamp and pay to download his new album, “Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition” immediately. Droog’s always had a classic hip hop feel to his work, and his latest work just keeps that going.
5. Black Thought ft. Swizz Beatz, Pusha T, and Killa Mike “Good Morning”
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Swizz Beatz, but I admit that sometimes he brings the heat. I didn’t figure he’d be bringing the heat in 2020, but here we are. It helps that there are three block-demolishing verses from three hip hop legends in three minutes. Black Thought is peaking again as a rapper, and it’s just plain good for hip hop.
4. Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist ft. Tyler, the Creator “Something to Rap About”
If there was a contest for which rapper “won” 2020, I’d put Freddie Gibbs on the shortlist. Between his plush, luxurious album “Alfredo” with legendary producer The Alchemist (from which this laid back track comes), and numerous amazing features, including a contender for most balls-out verse of the year on Problem’s “Don’t Be Mad At Me” remix, he was ubiquitous on the rap scene this year. He deserves all the love he gets and more.
3. IDLES “Kill Them With Kindness”
I can’t say I was in on the ground floor with Bristol-based punk band IDLES, but I can say that the more I’ve heard of their music over the last year or so, the more I’ve liked their whole deal.
Very recently, they dropped a video for “Kill Them With Kindness,” a killer (pun intended) track off their most recent album, “Ultra Mono.” The old-timey animated video is amazing, and the song is somehow even better.
2. Run The Jewels ft. Greg Nice and DJ Premier “Ooh LA LA”
I remember the DJ Premier/GangStarr/Nice & Smooth track this vocal sample (Greg Nice saying “ooh la la/ah oui oui”) comes from, and it’s the genius of Premier that he can take tiny little snatches of gold from 25-year-old tracks and spin them out into full hits. This song is great all on its own, but is heightened by a cathartic, anarchic, celebratory video full of happy mayhem in the ruins of a destroyed Wall Street.
1. Disclosure ft. Fatoumata Diawara “Douha (Mali Mali)”
If there was a song that was the soundtrack to this year for me, this peppy dance track by ATR favorites Disclosure was it. I’ve listened to it dozens of times and it never fails to get my mood up. I’d never heard of Fatoumata Diawara before hearing this song, but I’m glad the boys of Disclosure decided to feature her here.