Simba Choto: The best albums of 2020

Updated: Jan 3

The music industry suffered in 2020 and meant that musicians were not able to tour as they normally would, but it also allowed many of them to finish off or produce some of the best music they ever have.

On a number of occasions last year, it was music that got many of us through a chaotic and often uncertain year - allowing us to escape for an hour, or two at a time and get completely immersed in musical gold, (depending on your taste).

In our annual roundup, Simba Choto shares his favourite albums from 2020 and why you need to add them to your playlists if you haven't already.

1.Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon III

This was the perfect album to wrap up 2020 and a worthy conclusion to the ‘Man on the Moon’ series. However, despite Cudi stating that his seventh studio album would mark the end of the beloved MOTM series, there are a number of fans who are probably hoping that they'll be a Man on the Moon IV at some point. Fingers crossed.

2. Rina Siwayama - Sawayama

Rina Sawayama's self-entitled album took me way back in time. A rather apt album considering 2020's woes.

The Japanese-British pop singer’s debut is a Y2K flashback and perhaps might remind one of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera - depending on your point of view.

This is what happens when you allow musicians to experiment with different sounds in the Pop genre. This was a fun listen.

3. Burna Boy - Twice as Tall

An Afro pop album entirely produced by P Diddy and he did not disappoint. Burna Boy continues to be authentic and he sounds hungrier on this album.

After his fourth studio album in 2019, the African Giant infiltrated the music scene that year. He also sold out London’s Wembley Arena. Burna continues to prove why he is here to stay and Twice as Tall is a more resonant origin story—one that explains his ascent and how he is not afraid to 'Level Up'.

4. Mac Miller - Circles

Mac Miller left us with a beautiful goodbye note. A relaxed and delicate funky rap record, it combined rich, sophisticated neo-soul-influenced instrumentals with lyrics more aligned with the growing emo-rap scene. Crafted and handled with care, ‘Circles’ gave me a glimpse of where Mac was going. R.I.P.

5. Black Eyed Peas - Translation

My guilty pleasure of 2020. It’s quite hard to believe that it has been a decade since Fergie recorded with the Black Eyed Peas. Nonetheless, in this album, B.E.P explored Latina music in its melodies, rhythms and overall production.

Featuring an exciting list of well-known names including J Balvin, Ozuna, Shakira, Maluma, El Alfa and Becky G, it was certainly a fun party album that allowed one to let loose in 2020.

6.Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and 9th Wonder - Dinner Party

I would never have imagined Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder and Robert Glasper collaborating on a project together.

Nearly two years in the making, Martin, who is best known for working with Kendrick Lamar, handled sax duties, with Glasper on keys, and 9th Wonder giving the production that final 'vava voom'. Dinner Party is like a jazzy version of the Avengers.

7.Seba Kaapstad - Konke

A South African melting pot of sounds rooted in neo-soul. This was a smooth vibey listen.

8. Bongesizwe Mabandla - iimini

Talk about an intimate body of work. Bongesizwe Mabandla's album iimini, which loosely translates to ‘the days’, is a heartfelt album on love and the cost of it.

9. Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas

As a day one fan of Lianne La Havas, this third release really displays her growth. In this self-titled album, the London-born singer-songwriter explored her Jamaican and Greek heritage alongside meditations on love and heartbreak, coupled with impeccable writing and artistry.

10. Cleo Sole - Rose in the Dark

This album is comfort to one's soul. Cleo Sol made an album that can calm a storm and ease anxiety. Absolutely brilliant.

11. Don Toliver - Heaven or Hell

The most unique thing this album has going for it, is Don Toliver's unique voice. The sound is fresh and it slaps in the trunk.

12. Jessy Lanza - All the Time

This album caught me by surprise! Jessy made such a groovy alternative indie record - effortless and sensual. With a vocal pop style that Janet Jackson would approve of, her airy, 'technoseque' sound is mild, frisky and stylish.This was made for good moods and vibes.

13. Made in Lagos - Wizkid

Wizkid’s authenticity whilst being mainstream drew me to this album. Featuring international heavyweights such as Damian Marley, Skepta, H.E.R, Ella Mai and Burna Boy, this 14-track album has its beats, hooks and features beautifully placed.

14.PVRIS - Use Me

Alternative rock at its best and it gets a tick from me.

Use Me, is PVRIS' third project but the first release in their catalogue where the onus is solely on leading woman, Lynn Gunn. There’s no hiding - good or bad, it has her talent, story, and the truth of who she is at the moment wrapped up in one. It’s massive and a huge leap for someone who is not a fan of the spotlight. Great venting music too.

15.Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes - What Kinda Music

Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes crafted a vibey album. As a duo, they bring out the best in each other. The compilation is catchy without being insincere.

The album also has familiar elements of the South London jazz scene, as does the presence of saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi and Dayes’ previous collaborator, bassist Rocco Palladino, as features on “Storm Before the Calm” and “Lift Off.”

This is definitely an album I enjoy listening to after a long day at work.

16. RTJ 4 - Run the Jewels

This is the soundtrack to 2020. The anger and frustration makes this a therapeutic listen.

17. Freddie Gibbs, The Alchemist - Alfredo

Easily the best rap album of the year. Freddie Gibbs has put his stamp on some of the greatest hip-hop albums of the early millennium and he is the gift that keeps on giving.

Alfredo is a combination of hip-hop’s past with innovative sounds that leave you speechless, and is more evidence that Gibbs is a multi-talented genius who can turn his hand to just about any musical partnership.

The album also captures the darker elements of the African American experience. A masterpiece

with outstanding performances, production and a powerful narrative throughout.

Gibbs has definitely stayed consistent over. Amazing work.

18. Royce DA 5'9 - The Allegory

In this impressive self-produced album, Eminem’s partner in crime released the Grammy nominated rap album that should be taught in schools. I learnt a lot of black history on this channel.

19. Costa Titch - Made in Africa

A wholly African project, Made in Africa features an outstanding guest list including Sjava, who co-wrote the track Holy Rain. Other artists include big names like Riky Rick, Maphorisa, AKA and Phantom Steeze. Tshego and Loki also play a relatively balanced role on this rather adventurous production.

This multilingual album which fuses English, Zulu, Afrikaans and Sesotho is, without a shadow of a doubt, a nice collection of club bangers.

Hands down the South African rap album I never thought I’d enjoy.