2020 has been one of the oddest and most trying years in recent memory for a number of reasons. Like most areas, the music world has been profoundly affected: A lot of artists have (understandably) held back on plans for new material out of respect for the many things that have happened and remain ongoing. Despite that, the first half of 2020 was still led by a bountiful crop of all-timer albums. The Weeknd and Dua Lipa topped the charts with appealingly modernized versions of vintage styles. Charli XCX’s latest was a stunning document of life in quarantine. Run The Jewels made the perfect hard-hitting hip-hop album for the times in which we live. Fiona Apple topped an already stellar career. Even dating back to December, which is eligible for this list, Harry Styles and Roddy Ricch set the bar high.
2020 has been a hard year to love, but thankfully, the music has still been a highlight. Check out our ranking of the 50 best albums of 2020 so far below.
50. Partynextdoor — Partymobile
For about three years, the whereabouts of PartyNextDoor were unknown to his general fanbase. After dropping his 2017 EP, Seven Days, PND faded into the background only to return with a pair of singles in late 2017. From that pair grew his third album PartyMobile, a 15-track body of work that features highlights “Believe” and “Savage Anthem,” proving that PND was not off his mark despite the time off.–Wongo Okon
49. Don Toliver — Heaven Or Hell
It was on Travis Scott’s 2018 Astroworld cut “Can’t Say” when the entire world was introduced to Houston’s own Don Toliver, though he had just released his debut mixtape Donny Womack a day before. Fast forward two years later and the Cactus Jack artist is continuing to make a name for himself with his debut album Heaven Or Hell. “After Party,” “Cardigan,” “No Idea” are all TikTok favorites (naturally), ultimately cementing Toliver into a generation outside of Scott’s. Toliver’s rich, low-toned style of vocalization make him a unique charm in hip-hop as he offers an exclusive kind of energy over futuristic trap production.–Cherise Johnson
48. Giveon — Take Time
Giveon really impressed with his vibrant baritone vocals on Drake’s best song, “Chicago Freestyle,” off Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Hearing “2:30 baby, won’t you meet me by The Bean?” for the first time was such a special moment that it sparked an accelerated interest into Epic Records’ latest signee. A month later, the rising R&B singer released his debut EP, drawing in listeners with his muscular baritone and empathetic storytelling on a jazzy easel. Tracks like “Favorite Mistake” and “This Ain’t Love” drown with toxicity but sound like true-to-life love songs are what make this project everything that it is.–C.J.
47. Lauv — How I’m Feeling
With his debut studio album How I’m Feeling, Lauv identifies the existential dread collectively felt by his peers and translates it into digestible yet pragmatic pop. Throughout the record, Lauv expertly critiques the dejection and anxieties of a generation that grew up online and reminds listeners that they aren’t alone. The record is also a showcase of up-and-coming singers that Lauv hand-picked to feature on a cluster of songs.–Carolyn Droke
46. Deante’ Hitchcock — Better
Somewhere between the Southern-fried soul-hop of Goodie Mob and the tumultuous trap of Atlanta contemporaries like Lil Baby and Gunna, Deante Hitchcock’s debut album doesn’t just balance these seemingly opposing forces, it synthesizes and meshes them into a captivating gumbo over which he ladles a healthy dose of thoughtful introspection and witty wordplay. As autobiographical as it is philosophical, Better pushes Hitchcock as one of the most genuinely interesting artists from his hometown today.–Aaron Williams
45. Mozzy — Beyond Bulletproof
Mozzy realized his power and gave the people a place to feel at home with Beyond Bulletproof. “If the life of Blacks matter then why we ain’t treated equal,” is a line on the project’s opening track “Unethical & Deceitful” that illustrates today’s current racial injustice climate with nuance. Further, deep inside Beyond Bulletproof lies a leader who has chosen to use his platform to push his people in the right direction with tracks such as “Boyz To Men” and “Overcame.” “I’ve been on a more progressive hype,” the Grammy Award-nominated rapper told Uproxx. “I’m on a more productive hype and more uplifting. I think it just got a lot more substance.” Mozzy’s magnetism shines on Beyond Bulletproof with a dynamic message that resonates with those it’s meant for.–C.J.
44. Jessie Reyez — Before Love Came To Kill Us
Treading in the murky waters between chilly, Northern R&B and sultry nighttime pop, Before Love is highlighted by Reyez’ wicked sense of humor and lyrical sleight-of-hand. She casually references Casino, holds her own alongside seniors such as 6lack and Eminem, and shows both her vulnerability and strength through the back-half ballads that give her distinctive voice free reign to cut loose and prove that she’s got a different kind of range.–A.W.
43. Halsey — Manic
A longtime advocate for mental health awareness, Halsey channels her experiences with toxic behavior in relationships on Manic. The record chronicles a wide range of emotions through lyrics, with Halsey at times revengeful while simultaneously finding empowerment through honesty. The record also sees a number of unexpected collaborators, with Halsey leaving space for musicians like BTS’ Suga and Alanis Morissette to work through their own rage.–C.D.
42. Young Nudy — Anyways
Young Nudy is steadily vaulting himself to the top of the “New Atlanta” discussion. His latest step-up was Anyways, his debut studio album that’s ambiguously-titled but laser-focused on its intent: delivering Atlanta hot boy talk over bangin’ beats. Nudy’s southern twang makes him a charismatic vocal presence over hypnotic 808-based production, shining brightest on “Blue Cheese Salad,” “Understanding” and “No Go.”–Andre Gee
41. Jeff Rosenstock — No Dream
When it comes to life-changing disasters, Jeff Rosenstock is like a musical first responder, always ready with inspirational jams whenever the world faces adversity. This year, the rousing punk rocker dropped a surprise album, No Dream, that supplies all of that “whoa-oh-oh!”-style live show energy that we’ve been craving lately, staring down these darkest times with appropriate fury and surprising, inspiring hope.–Steven Hyden
40. Kehlani — It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Plagued by a few album delays, Kehlani returned with her latest set of love stories on her sophomore album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. Across the record’s 15 songs, she showcased her maturity and self-awareness, while defending the heart she wore so boldly on her sleeve. With help from Masego, Lucky Daye, Jhene Aiko, and more, her sophomore effort stands as her strongest release to date.–W.O.
39. Drake — Dark Lane Demo Tapes
It’s become something of a running gag in hip-hop that “Mixtape Drake” is often more focused and efficient than his album-minded counterpart, but the tenet holds true on Dark Lane Demo Tapes, a collection of throwaways that offers samples of everything Drake does best. By turns moody and reflective (“Chicago Freestyle“), aggressive and omnivorous (the UK drill-leaning “War“), and lighthearted (“Toosie Slide“), Dark Lane watches Drake touch all his familiar bases on an easy, in-field home run.–A.W.
38. Empress Of — I’m Your Empress Of
Lorely Rodriguez told Uproxx the title of her latest is “an arrival point where I have this confidence on this record.” Indeed, I’m Your Empress Of is an undeniably self-assured effort, as Rodriguez expresses herself through varying means on songs as different as “Love Is A Drug” and “Give Me Another Chance.”–Derrick Rossignol
37. Stormzy — Heavy Is The Head
Already it feels like a lifetime since Stormzy laid claim to grime’s heavyweight title, but in the months since, no one’s come close to snatching it away. Stormzy projects both bravado and grace on his sophomore release, sounding weathered without coming across jaded, paying homage to his forebears while maintaining his futuristic outlook, and looking quite comfortable on the throne that he built for himself.–A.W.
36. Grimes — Miss Anthropocene
Not everyone can successfully cultivate hype around an album while simultaneously working through their first and highly-publicized pregnancy. But then again, not everyone is Grimes. Her first record since 2015, Miss Anthropocene boasts the brooding synths that fans know and love. But Grimes also gets personal, grappling with real issues like losing a number of friends to addiction and detailing her grief through lyrics. This masterful combination ties together for a mature effort from the boundary-pushing artist.–C.D.
35. Key Glock — Son Of A Gun
Young Dolph’s prolific protege kept it simple and straightforward on both of his releases of the first half of the year(!), but Son Of A Gun gets the edge over Yellow Tape. Maybe he hit a groove and stayed in it throughout the recording of the second project, or maybe he simply saved the best for last, but either way, Son Of A Gun found its way into listeners’ rotations and stuck there with banging beats and boastful rhymes.–A.W.
34. Chika — Industry Games
Montgomery, Alabama-born rapper Chika approaches the rap game with wisdom far beyond her 23 years on her debut EP. On Industry Games, she addresses the pitfalls of the entertainment business and boldly proclaiming her mission statement to enlighten and encourage the masses. Her whirlwind lyrical skills are on full display, but so too is her whole musical heritage, incorporating gospel vocals, soulful keys, acoustic guitars, and her own warm whiskey singing voice. The industry is officially on notice.–A.W.
33. Tame Impala — The Slow Rush
Five years after the last Tame Impala record, The Slow Rush was worth the wait. Sonically, the album isn’t a far cry from 2015’s Currents, but has a more expansive feel, reveling in soundscapes and dissonant guitars. What makes The Slow Rush so engaging, though, is Kevin Parker’s knack for undeniable hooks that anchor the soundscapes and generate a unique flow that keeps you coming back for more.–Zac Gelfand
32. Thundercat — It Is What It Is
Thundercat has meowed in songs before, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of making a serious (and seriously great) work. That’s what he’s done on It Is What It Is, which is perhaps the most mature outing of his career. He keeps great company here, too: Executive produced by Flying Lotus, the album features Childish Gambino, Ty Dolla Sign, Badbadnotgood, and many more.–D.R.
31. The Strokes — The New Abnormal
On their first album since 2013’s Comeback Machine, The Strokes narrow in on what made those first two albums so special, while also swinging for the fences with more experimental synth-pop flourishes that veer closer to new-wave than garage rock. The New Abnormal also follows the sequencing formula of the band’s previous two albums, which Steven Hyden describes as, “four undeniable bangers, and five weird and bombastic sorta ballads in which Casablancas addresses his own profound Strokes disappointment in bizarre, fascinating ways.”–Z.G.
30. Conan Gray — Kid Krow
After a tumultuous childhood, Conan Gray learned at an early age to channel his thoughts and feelings into art. His self-expression quickly led Gray to amass a devoted YouTube following, and when he eventually transitioned to songwriting and music videos, the writing was already on the wall — this kid is a star. Officially releasing his full-length debut, Kid Krow this spring, Gray has already had massive streaming hits many times over singing about the perils and pleasures of young love, the strength of friendship, and how the internet has forever changed the lives of Generation Z.–Caitlin White
29. Westside Gunn — Pray For Paris
Inspired by his first trip abroad for Fashion Week, Griselda Records rapper Westside Gunn came home loaded with thoughts of the world beyond his native Buffalo, New York. Gunn sets out to “paint pictures” with a refreshing take on his usually gritty, grimy subject matter. Rhyming with his distinctive, punchline-heavy flow over lusher instrumentation than we’ve heard from him, he expands his palette, delivering some of his most polished music yet.–A.W.
28. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit — Reunions
Listening to Reunions, you can hear Jason Isbell write with as much elegance as he ever has. Two of the most affecting tracks, “Dreamsicle” and “Letting You Go,” are parental narratives in which the troubled boy in the first song becomes the anxious parent in the second. Other songs explore sobriety and wounded masculinity, pet topics that Isbell continues to explore with great insight and sensitivity.–S.H.
27. Kota The Friend — Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1
For the past several years, 27-year-old Brooklyn native Kota The Friend has been a champion of independent record-making, grinding out his intensely personal music and refusing to compromise on quality for the sake of quantity. That approach permeates the trim tracklist of Everything, on which Kota delivers his warm brand of soulful comfort music alongside surprising collaborators like Bas, Joey Badass, Kyle, and Tobi Lou, who all come through on the strength of the respect they have for his hustle.–A.W.
26. Kamaiyah — Got It Made
After hustling her way out of a stalled label deal and securing her independence, Bay Area MC Kamaiyah picked up where she left off when she was billed as one of XXL‘s Freshmen in 2017. While the post-hyphy party anthems remain intact, Yaya also incorporates a new, defiant attitude, espousing messages of ferocious self-reliance and updating classic sounds to fit her forward-facing outlook.–A.W.
25. Rina Sawayama — Sawayama
Another pop newcomer who is staking her claim in a big way, Rina Sawayama released her de facto self-titled debut, Sawayama in April, and if you’re a pop fan that hasn’t heard it yet, add it to your must-hear list immediately. Fearlessly combining elements of punk and glam rock with dance-floor beats and ‘90s pop, there’s something for everyone in the Japanese-British pop star’s eclectic sound. The cherry on top is her unstoppable smash, “Commes Des Garcon (Like The Boys),” which remains an early contender for my personal song of the year.–C.W.
24. Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony
2020 gives us a shocking headline almost every day. The actual release of Jay Electronica’s long-awaited debut album was high on the list, music-wise. The 11-track project demonstrates why so many fans thought Jay Electronica would be a 2010s GOAT, with his existential musing and spiritually-tinged lyrics looming over warm, meditative beats — with the help of Jay-Z, who got as vulnerable as he ever has on songs like “Universal Soldier” and “A.P.I.D.T.A.”–A.G.
23. Dogleg — Melee
Dogleg’s Chase Macinski recently told Uproxx that the success and warm reception their debut album has received is “kind of unbelievable.” It makes sense, though: Punk is accessible to perform, but Dogleg do it particularly well, conveying personal themes on raucous and catchy songs like “Wartortle.”–D.R.
22. Chloe X Halle — Ungodly Hour
The Bailey sisters have resided in the spotlight for the better part of the last couple years. Chloe x Halle played adolescent sisters on the hit TV show, Grown-ish, while blossoming as a promising R&B act. Two years removed from their Grammy-nominated debut album The Kids Are Alright, Chloe and Halle returned with the sophomore effort Ungodly Hour. The album’s thirteen songs not only showed the Baileys improved musically but it also proved that they were growing up, losing a bit of innocence and embracing their imperfections in the process.–W.O.
21. Gunna — Wunna
Gunna dropped the drip or drown conceit for his latest project, embracing astrology for WUNNA‘s branding. He made a smart move to pique people’s interest in his project — as if they needed much provocation — and he kept their attention with an 18-track offering of high-quality melodic raps over smooth, dreamy Wheezy production. When it comes to hip-hop vibe masters, Gunna is as good as it gets right now.–A.G.
20. Selena Gomez — Rare
After finally getting free from the on-again/off-again relationship status with Justin Bieber that never ends, Selena Gomez made the kind of breakup album that is, well, rare. On her third solo album as an adult pop star, Gomez urges her exes (and her past self) to “Look At Her Now,” finds a way to “Dance Again,” and most of all, celebrates her newfound sense of self on her first No.1 hit, “Lose You To Love Me.” Bieber is married to someone else, and settled down, but Selena is just figuring out how to make the dance floor her own.–C.W.
19. Polo G — The Goat
Polo G’s latest work is titled The GOAT. With more development of the formula he showed on his sophomore project, that just may be an accurate take in hindsight. Polo is adept at top-tier street rap like “Go Stupid.” But where he sets himself apart from his class is with his ability to delve into the traumatic effects that his environment has incurred on him and his fellow Chicagoans. The conditions he spoke on here shouldn’t exist, but his artistry can be part of the solution by making people feel his depth.–A.G.
18. Bad Bunny — YHLQMDLG
International pop stars dominated the musical landscape at the start of the year, and Bad Bunny was a huge part of that. Pop gets more and more universal each day because the internet has given Bad Bunny and undeniable songs like “Yo Perreo Sola” the global success they deserve: YHLQMDLG is the highest-charting Spanish-language album ever.–D.R.
17. Perfume Genius — Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
It’s been a decade since Perfume Genius emerged with the striking homespun piano ballads of Learning, and each successive album has felt less like a reinvention and more like natural growth. So, of course Set Yourself On Fire Immediately feels like the roots are deeper and the flowers more vibrant than ever before. Mike Hadreas still knows his way around a fragile melody, but he’s always best when at his most ambitious, be it the growling march of “Describe” or the expansive anthem “Nothing At All.”–Philip Cosores
16. Lil Baby — My Turn
While his true breakout moment arrived in 2018 with his Drake collaboration “Yes Indeed,” Lil Baby announced that 2020 would be his time in the spotlight with his sophomore album, My Turn. The 20-track album saw him elevate his artistry thanks to the well-rounded body of work. His versatility and chemistry with other artists are also highlights as he effortlessly works with old and new collaborators alike, all without veering out of his lane.–W.O.
15. Soccer Mommy — Color Theory
After the massive critical acclaim of her debut Clean, many in Sophie Allison’s position might have faltered in the face of an invisible mass of anticipation. Allison does the exact opposite on Color Theory, which showcases a more confident and polished version of Soccer Mommy with an emphasis on the songwriting. The result is ten tracks that cement Allison as a star with a firm grasp on emotional and resonant lyricism.–Z.G.
14. Charli XCX — How I’m Feeling Now
Charli XCX broke the mold with How I’m Feeling Now. Written and recorded from quarantine using social media as her crowdsourcing tool for collaboration, the record boasts playful hooks, futuristic distortion, and all the emotions that arrive with experiencing a global pandemic alongside a longtime partner. Charli expertly melts together industrial grime, fluttering tones, and lively production that further cements her niche corner of pop with boundary-pushing music lovers.–C.D.
13. Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers has been in the collective conversation so consistently, it’s surprising to hear that Stranger In The Alps, our favorite indie album of the 2010s, already came out more than three years ago. Punisher is Bridgers’ sophomore offering, a record full of devastating imagery and candid songwriting that is supplemented by orchestral arrangements and experimental soundscapes. It is a document of a songwriter at the top of her game, living up to — and at times surpassing — the highs of her soaring debut.–Z.G.
12. D Smoke — Black Habits
After walking away from Netflix’s inaugural season of Rhythm + Flow with both the win and Snoop Dogg’s respect, Inglewood’s D Smoke set out to earn the distinction with the introspective spiritualism of Black Habits, which examined his familial legacy and the climate of his tight-knit community. Rhyming in Spanish and inviting his brother SiR along for the ride, D Smoke paints an autobiographical portrait that has plenty to say about the world at large.–A.W.
11. Harry Styles — Fine Line
Harry Styles is redefining what it means to be a rockstar with his sophomore album Fine Line. Styles previously admitted the album’s theme is “all about having sex and feeling sad.” But rather than being explicit, those themes are artfully woven throughout the record. Styles sheds the apathetic attitude so often attributed to rock stars and ushers in an era of emotional masculine maturity through soul-searching tracks like “Falling,” while still managing to hit cinematic high notes with “Adore You.”–C.D.
10. Yves Tumor — Heaven To A Tortured Mind
On Yves Tumor’s most accessible album yet, the provocative artist doesn’t shy away from challenging listeners. Still, Tumor finds a sweet spot that pushes boundaries as much as their music explores new ways to package the familiar. In a time when heaven feels like a particularly foreign concept, beauty and ugliness find harmony on this incredible record, blurring lines until everything devolves into murky satisfaction.–P.C.
9. Yaeji — What We Drew
Although she already broke out in a big way with a pair of 2017 EPs, on her first formal full-length release, What We Drew, Korean-American producer Yaeji planted a flag for her glimmering, bilingual take on pop and hip-hop. Released right as the bulk of America began to bunker down inside, this moody 12-song set draws on predecessors like Grimes and Janet Jackson while remaining firmly original.–C.W.
8. Run The Jewels — RTJ4
El-P and Killer Mike’s latest is a sledgehammer to the frontal lobe, smashing home their sociopolitical messaging with a much more polished approach. The ease with which the duo slips into their comforting chemistry belies the dynamism and urgency that propels RTJ4 as they blast the ills of capitalism and the police state with their usual, unflinchingly brutalist style of straightforward rap.–A.W.
7. Roddy Ricch — Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial
The Compton crooner’s No. 1-selling debut album finds him struggling with survivor’s guilt even as he celebrates his newfound success. It’s also home to his breakout single, “The Box,” which sat at No. 1 for 11 weeks to start the year, cementing Roddy as the standout artist his mentors Nipsey Hussle and DJ Mustard knew he could be when they co-signed him on “Racks In The Middle” and “Ballin’.”–A.W.
6. The Weeknd — After Hours
The Weeknd took pop in a bold new direction on his latest album… or rather, a bold, vintage direction. After Hours owes a lot to the synthwave music that came before it, but The Weeknd is too big a talent to simply turn in a genre-driven tribute: The style is a vessel for the superb songwriting and performance chops that have made him one of the biggest stars of recent years.–D.R.
5. Waxahatchee — Saint Cloud
Saint Cloud isn’t Katie Crutchfield’s first great album as Waxahatchee — her first couple, American Weekend and especially Cerulean Salt, are both essential listens — but it is without a doubt her best. Created after getting sober, the record expounds on dependence while also embracing her Southern roots like never before. From her stunning vocal performances to reflective, resonating lyrics, Saint Cloud feels like a second life for the Waxahatchee project, where possibilities seem endless thanks to newfound clarity.–P.C.
4. Mac Miller — Circles
The death of Mac Miller in 2018 doesn’t sting any less nearly two years later, but on the posthumous release Circles, he feels as vital as ever. Featuring songs he was working on at the time of his death, the collection is equal parts life-affirming and haunting, with Jon Brion’s production laying a canvas for Miller to demonstrate himself as an artist with so much left to offer. There might not be a more difficult listen in 2020, but Miller’s genius is underscored throughout, leaving the listener lamenting a life gone too soon.–P.C.
3. Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
Future Nostalgia came out in March, which was really only a few short months ago, but given everything that’s happened since, it feels like this album came out years ago. The record’s earliest single, “Don’t Start Now,” did come out in 2019, so it’s not just quarantine that makes it seem like Dua’s next phase has been in the works for a while. But even if there’s a sense that Lipa’s pop sensibilities precluded our current darkest timeline, her timeless disco flair just keeps getting better with time.–C.W.
2. Lil Uzi Vert — Eternal Atake
After more false starts than a preseason NFL game, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake finally dropped in March — followed by a brand new deluxe album a week later. With just one feature (Syd from The Internet on “Urgency”), the 18-track album was a master class in meshing sharp technical lyricism with earworm melodies over syrupy 808-based bangers. Tracks like “Baby Pluto,” “POP,” and “P2,” show why the fans were so patient with Uzi — he’s at the top of his game, and the top of his class.–A.G.
1. Fiona Apple — Fetch The Bolt Cutters
After an eight-year hiatus, Fiona Apple is back with a vengeance, once again wielding her lyrics like a sharpened pair of shears that spare no man — or woman, for that matter. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is brilliant for a lot of reasons: the easy, tangled piano melodies that sometimes feel downright messy but never stray off topic, the peckish analysis of past relationships, and most of all, the strong, overwhelming sense that sometimes that the only way to get free from a prison of your own making is to blow everything up and start again. This new beginning couldn’t be more bold, and her self-assurance is like a jolt of unrelenting light in an otherwise gloomy year.–C.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.