Published February 23, 2022
HAVE THE 2020’S DELIVERED IN MUSIC?
A NEW ERA
Looking back, the 2010’s may have been one of the most diverse eras for music of all-time. The presence of the internet allowed people worldwide to identify with their niche interests, bringing life to once-dead genres (i.e. rock, which has never quite hit the peak in popularity it had several decades ago).
Hip-hop became the most recognizable genre in the world, birthing several stars and becoming the face of music. It wasn’t quite the conscious style of the 90’s or like the backpack 00’s wave, but instead a surge of trap and melodic music with the characteristics to become mainstream.
Due to the colorful nature of this era, it remained strong in our minds as we moved onto the 2020s. It was expected that we would continue to see growth from younger talents, and perhaps get some veteran gems from our established favorites; but the real question is, has it matched up to those standards?
MAINSTREAM: NEEDS CHANGE?
One of the most interesting qualities of the past couple years is the lack of large-scale, acclaimed albums that changed the world of music. The early 2010s found the likes of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Gorillaz releasing projects that shook audiences, instantly being labeled as all-time great records that still stand strong to this day.
However, 2020 and 2021 can’t exactly say they boast the same instant spark. There are some demographic-catered artists that have received heavy praise (i.e. Fiona Apple, Little Simz, Tyler, the Creator), but we have yet to see something that emanates the energy of an instant classic.
Personally, I feel as if the mainstream has in fact been very weak so far this decade. The staleness in that realm dates back to 2019, but 2020 and 2021 saw the absolute worst of it. Some genres with otherwise great potential are becoming increasingly one-dimensional (i.e. trap or mainstream pop), and they generally fall short to the hits we got around this time ten years ago.
On top of this, many artists expected to come out of hiding have still not said a word, and we have continuously seen the underground slowly rise to stardom as a result; the quality there stays consistent, and people are beginning to notice.
THE UNDERGROUND IS THRIVING
As a primarily underground hip-hop fan above anything, you could absolutely call this bias. But it’s hard to deny that the most low-key artists are releasing the most high-quality projects right now.
Think of Griselda Records. Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine are changing hip-hop culture before our very eyes, going from less-known boom bap revivalists a few years ago to an expanding label appearing at major events and collaborating with big names.
Run the Jewels also have the most acclaimed hip-hop record of 2020 to their name in the form of RTJ4, with veteran rappers Jadakiss (Ignatius) and Freddie Gibbs (Alfredo), not far behind. Even in other genres, you see the likes of old-school talents such as Pharoah Sanders behind all the praise, despite not being remotely close to a household name.
It’s not always easy to take time to follow the process discovering low-key artists take, but it’s more than worth it. Social media and streaming platform algorithms have made finding new music easier than ever, and those opportunities can’t be taken for granted.
THE BEST OF 2020-2021
Some UNDERRATED and overlooked artists I believe have been (oR HAVE CONTINUED TO BE) great in the past couple years, in no order:
- Skyzoo – conscious hip-hop, jazz rap
- Hiatus Kaiyote – neo-soul
- Raz Fresco – boom bap
- Jon Batiste – soul, jazz
- Blu – conscious hip-hop, jazz rap
- Apollo Brown – boom bap, r&b
- Alfa Mist – jazz
- Your Old Droog – boom bap
FIFTEEN OF MY FAVORITE ALBUMS SO FAR THIS DECADE (ONE PER SOLO ARTIST):
- Circles – Mac Miller
- RTJ4 – Run the Jewels
- Mach’s Hard Lemonade – Mach-Hommy
- Only for Dolphins – Action Bronson
- Nothing Less – Awon & Phoniks
- T.H.I.N.G.S. – Reks
- A Magnificent Day For an Exorcism – Th1rt3en (incl. Pharoahe Monch)
- Planetory Destruction – Doc D (a.k.a. Logic)
- Lovesick – Apollo Brown & Raheem DeVaughn
- The House Is Burning – Isaiah Rashad
- Hitler Wears Hermes 8 – Westside Gunn
- Blacklight – Apollo Brown & Stalley
- TIME – Your Old Droog
- Miles – Blu & Exile
- All the Brilliant Things – Skyzoo
WILL THE DYNAMIC SHIFT?
As you can see, my plate in the past few years has mostly been comprised of low-key releases, with not many big names leaking in. I’m eagerly waiting for large-scale modern artists like Kendrick Lamar and SZA to release (actually, I’ll take drops from any of TDE…please), as well as older legends with hinted albums (think Q-Tip’s multiple teased albums or Ghostface Killah’s hinted “Supreme Clientele 2“).
Will we get to see them embrace the music world again with another drop? Who knows. But what I do know is we can only wait and see, and it’s up to us to dig for some more 20’s jewelry in the meantime.