Here’s What Hip-Hop Looked Like in 2020

We made it y’all. 2020 is finally coming to a close. Though we were forced to enjoy most things hip-hop had to offer from the crib via our cellphones and computers this year due to the quarantine, this was yet another intriguing year of music. Most of the months were haunted by the shadow of the coronavirus, but there were still a significant amount of rap themes, moments and trends that put this quarantine-based time period into perspective.

To kick things off, everyone and their mother seemed to drop a deluxe album this year. Some artists like Lil Baby played it safe and added six songs to his sophomore, double platinum-selling album, My Turn. Whereas other rappers like Lil Uzi Vert raised the stakes a little higher and supplemented his long awaited Eternal Atake album with 14 new songs housed under the name Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2. Either way it went, most project announcements became two-part offerings more so this year than in any other.

Drill music was huge in 2020 too, ushered in by the fallen Brooklyn rhymer Pop Smoke, 2020 XXL Freshman Fivio Foreign and U.K. producers like AXL Beats and 808 Melo among many others. The sub-genre became so massive that it began to flood the mainstream circuit, with everyone from Drake to Travis Scott to Quavo trying their hand at the style.

One of the biggest wins is perhaps the fact that rap was more mainstream than ever. With artists like J. Cole (Puma), La Flame (McDonald’s) and Cardi B (Reebok) inking huge endorsement deals, the popularity of their names and music surged when it came to visibility. Kids all over the world were not only bumping these musicians in their headphones but rocking their products and watching them on TV as well.

Hip-hop ran the charts, too, with songs like Bardi and Meg’s “WAP” and albums like Roddy Ricch’s Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial being so successful, gaining the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, that pop stars had to go back to the drawing board to find out how to compete. (Remember when Justin Bieber was begging people to stream “Yummy?” JB took his L gracefully though.)

Things weren’t all sweet though. This was also an unfortunate deadly and violent year for rap. Many artists, including Pop Smoke and King Von lost their lives due to gun violence. And others like Megan Thee Stallion and Boosie were shot and treated for gunshot wounds. The hip-hop police were alive and active as well, with rappers like G Herbo and Casanova getting roped by the FBI for fraud and racketeering, respectively.

One thing’s for certain: rap wore many different faces this year, some good and some bad. So today, XXL highlights the main motifs of hip-hop in 2020. Check them out below.

  • Deluxe Albums Dropped in Abundance

    At least half of the rap projects that dropped this year came with an extended edition marked as a deluxe, whether it was released the week of initial projects like Future and Uzi’s Pluto x Baby Pluto addition or months later like Gunna’s Wunna deluxe. Some of the deluxe albums kept the typical formula and offered up six or seven new songs, but some housed so many new tracks that the deluxe versions were essentially an entirely new effort instead of a bonus one.

    Lil Uzi Vert’s Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2 had 14 additional songs while Pop Smoke‘s Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon deluxe had 15 new songs. Though the pool became quickly oversaturated with non-stop deluxes, it certainly paid off in certain instances and helped artists stay on or climb the charts or get a No. 1. Take for example The Kid Laroi’s F*ck Love project, which initially debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 but with the deluxe version, F*ck Love (Savage), cracked the top three on the chart.

    Atlantic Records / YSL / 300 Entertainment / Epic / Republic Records / Quality Control / South Coast Music Group
  • All Tours, Festivals and Live Shows Were Put on Pause

    The coronavirus pandemic cut touring and festival season off right at the neck. Major springtime looks like Coachella, Pharrell’s Something In The Water and Rolling Loud Miami were cancelled, leaving millions of fans with nothing but the thoughts of what could’ve been. Lollapalooza turned their annual Chi-town experience into a virtual one, but we all know that seeing artists on the phone or computer doesn’t compare to a live experiece. One-off shows and countrywide tours, like The Weeknd’s After Hours gig, were blocked as well because of the virus’ spiking numbers. It’s safe to say at this point that concerts were non-existent for majority of the year and the withdrawal from not attending them is really, really real.

  • Rappers Seemingly Got More Endorsement Deals Than Ever Before

    Rappers collected big bags like luggage handlers at the airport in 2020, with the major endorsement deals they got. J. Cole and Cardi B launched their own signature shoes with Puma and Reebok, respectively. Snoop Dogg and Big Sean became beer-backers of Corona and Budweiser, respectively, with Uncle Snoop doing commercials and Sean Don’s face being plastered on 25-ounce cans. Megan Thee Stallion became a global makeup ambassador for Revlon. Her fellow 2019 XXL Freshman Rico Nasty launched her own cosmetic line with Il Makiage too. And Travis Scott scored the biggest by collaborating with brands like PlayStation, Fortnite and McDonald’s, all in one year.

  • Violence in Hip-Hop Escalated

    Unfortunately, this was a very deadly, violent year for hip-hop. We lost more than 10 rappers in 2020, and out of those, several deaths were caused by gunfire. In February, the devastation began when Pop Smoke was shot and killed in Los Angeles. In the ensuing months, Shoreline Mafia associate Mac P Dawg, “Pop, Lock & Drop It” rapper Huey, Atlanta rhymer Marlo and Chicago’s FBG Duck were gunned down. And towards the end of the year, Lil Durk’s right-hand man King Von and Dallas-bred spitter Mo3 were murdered. Death aside, Megan Thee Stallion, Benny The Butcher and Boosie BadAzz were among the rappers who were also shot and treated for gunshot wounds throughout the course of this elongated year.

  • A Lot of Rappers Created OnlyFans Accounts

    With the pandemic fully in place, rappers found another way to collect those coins by creating OnlyFans accounts for their fans to subscribe to. For artists like Cardi B and Rubi Rose, they used their OnlyFans profiles to connect with fans on a personal level. Artists like Rico Nasty and Swae Lee used the platform to promote and preview new music and other rappers like Casanova and Tyga went straight for the X-rated content. Latching onto the trend, to this day, more rappers are still using Instagram and Twitter to announce their OnlyFans arrival. That hasn’t halted yet and probably won’t stop anytime soon.

  • Women in Rap Took Over

    The women in rap put in work this year. In May, Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj scored a No. 1 song with the “Say So (Remix).” Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage (Remix)” eventually climbed into the top spot as well that month, it was slotted at No. 2 during the time that Doja and Nicki’s remix acquired the first spot. Both feats marked a momentous occasion as the first time in Billboard chart history where all women held the top two spots. That’s major.

    The pool of talent was wildly lucrative as well. The City Girls finally evolved back into full form and dropped their sophomore album, City On Lock. Rico Nasty freed her debut album, Nightmare Vacation. Kamaiyah applied pressure and dropped three times (Got It MadeOakland Nights with Capolow and No Explanations.) And on-the-come-up artists like Mulatto, Flo Milli and Chika made their roaring arrivals known every time they hopped on a mic or released a song. Not to mention, Cardi B and Meg, who controversially both brought home a handful of virtual awards, had the most talked about song of the entire year in any genre with “WAP,” which of course went No. 1, too.

  • Livestreams and Drive-Ins Became the Way to See Artists Perform

    As mentioned earlier, tours and festivals were blocked from happening, but that doesn’t mean that concerts in their entirety were prevented from commencing. When it came to livestream performances, Rolling Loud grabbed over 4 million viewers for its virtual festival and also had comedian Druski host interviews with the rappers. Artists like Chance The Rapper and 6ix9ine secured solo deals with brands like Ralph Lauren and GlobalStreamNow, respectively, seeking new ways to connect with their audiences online. As far as drive-in shows went, 2 Chainz and his artist Skooly were two of the first to be seen giving these drive-in performances at the top of quarantine in Atlanta. Lil Yachty performed at a drive-in in Chicago, too. Fans paid hundreds of dollars, depending on the occasion, to pull up and watch their favorite rappers perform, all without leaving their vehicle.

  • Drill Music Was Massive and Mainstream

    Drill music, stylized by staticky drum patterns and lyrics that tend to detail murder, was put in the mainstream spotlight at the top of the year with songs like Pop Smoke’s “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior” as well as Fivio Foreign’s “Big Drip.” Though a strong class of these New York-bred artists are simply carrying the torch formerly lit by Chicago and U.K. rappers, they 100 percent took the sound to another level. Of course, this is made possible by standout producers like 808 Melo and AXL Beats, among many others.

    Rappers all over the world tried their hand at the wave in 2020, including big-time names like Drake (“Demons”), Nicki Minaj (“Welcome to the Party [Remix])”, Travis Scott (“Gatti”), Quavo (“Shake The Room”) and Lil Baby (“Big Drip (Remix)).” For any rapper you can think of, there’s a song somewhere on Apple Music and Spotify where they’re finding their flow on a drill beat.

  • Rappers Put the Fight for Social Injustices to the Forefront

    Despite being in a global pandemic, everyone was outside this summer for a cause. The unjust killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police were two of the main reasons that made people break government regulations and hit the streets to protest. Rappers like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, YG, Lil Baby and more went out and marched in their respective cities in the fight for racial freedom.

    Even when they weren’t outside leading masked-up crowds, major figures like Cardi B and Meek Mill used their platforms and put up daily posts on social media that brought more attention to the unfortunate injustices of this country’s police system. That’s how you use your voice.

  • More Rappers Got Roped by the Feds

    Some people worked hard in 2020, but the hip-hop police worked harder. It seemed as if every week there was a new rapper getting arrested for any and everything. In January, YG was arrested for felony robbery after his L.A. home was raided days before the Grammy Awards. Playboi Carti was pulled over and detained on gun and drug charges back in April. Lil Yachty was cuffed back in September for putting over 150 miles per hour on the dash. Rising rapper Lil Loaded was jailed in November for accidentally murdering his friend at a video shoot, though he’s out now. G Herbo and Casanova were recently wanted by the police and forced to turn themselves in for fraud and racketeering. And A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie was just arrested this month for gun and drug charges. There seems to be truth in Casanova’s thoughts that rappers are major targets for police.

  • More Artists Repackaged Old Material Into New Projects

    When using streaming services, hip-hop fans are often forced to pick through album material only, excluding mixtapes and classic loosies that rappers may have dropped years before. With more people migrating to one of the above, artists took a page out of The Weeknd (Trilogy) and Drake’s (Care Package) book and repackaged their old material to be housed in one place. Upon visiting their pages on DSPs, you may have recognized a new project title that you’ve never seen before. But rest assured, it’s just a bunch of old music that’s grouped by time period, emotion or aux cord purpose.

    Rappers like Big Sean (Sean Don) Lil Wayne (What’s a Goon to a Goblin?) and YG (4 The Ladies) have “new” compilations on Apple Music now. And even trap&B singers like PARTYNEXTDOOR and Bryson Tiller followed suit by taking their mid-2010s SoundCloud gems and flipped them into new releases with PARTYPACK and the TRAPSOUL “deluxe,” respectively.

  • Hip-Hop and Politics Merged Together Many Times

    This election year was interesting, to say the least. The presidential race between current Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump and newly elected President Joe Biden was surreal at points with the way both candidates embraced hip-hop. On the republican side, Lil Wayne, Ice Cube and Lil Pump (or “Lil Pimp”, according to Trump) were among the artists who publicly endorsed or met with Trump prior to the voting deadline.

    Alternatively, Joe Biden launched the first-ever battle rap voting ad video exclusively with XXL before using Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to soundtrack another campaign ad. (The streets say that Em is the reason Joe won Michigan.)

    And at the Biden-Harris rally in Georgia, viral clips surfaced of Offset and 2 Chainz taking the stage and cosigning the democratic nominees. On top of all that, news channels like CNN broadcasted YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT” on the air during prime hours. Rap was never used in an election like this before, and it was genuinely crazy to see how things played out.

  • Auto-Tune Was Used on Nearly Every Song

    Back in the mid-2000s, Auto-Tune was only used by a select few artists like Lil Wayne and T-Pain. Nearly 15 years later, it can be heard on a majority of the rap songs that are downloaded on your phone right now. When you look back at the biggest records of the past 365 days, like DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s No. 1 hit “Rockstar,” Internet Money’s “Lemonade” featuring Don Toliver, Gunna and Nav or even Drake and Lil Durk’s “Laugh Now Cry Later,” (see Durko’s “mmmmnnnnngggaaaaahhhhhh”) the vocal technology was coated all over those tracks.

    In a rap game that leans more toward melodically-stretched vocals, Auto-Tune was the way to go this year. And even when you didn’t pick it up, best believe artists like Cardi B and Pop Smoke lightly used the robotic effect on songs like “WAP” and “The Woo” with 50 Cent and Roddy Ricch, respectively.

  • Songs Continued to Be Powered Up on TikTok

    TikTok is easily the most lucrative social media outlet right now when it comes to rappers and their music. The video-sharing app has the simultaneous ability to extend the life of old songs and make new ones the talk of the country. This year, Megan Thee Stallions “Savage” eventually became a powerhouse of a record on the platform, allowing it to climb into the No. 1 song in the country when the remix with Beyoncé dropped. Drake’s “Toosie Slide” was an automatic TikTok gem, garnering over 6 million video creations on the app. And Curtis Roach’s Tyga-assisted “Bored in the House” had everyone recording fun videos in light of this monotonous quarantine. Even new artists like Orlando rapper LPB Poody benefited from having a song (“Address It”) go viral on the app. It surely does pay to have a song go off on TikTok.

  • Hip-Hop Was More Mainstream Than Ever Before

    Hip-hop got cozy at the top of the charts in 2020, proving how mainstream the genre has become. Eighteen albums from some of our favorite artists earned the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, including Eminem’s Music to be Murdered By, Lil Baby’s double-platinum album, My Turn, Roddy Ricch’s Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake and DaBaby’s Blame It On Baby. Full projects excluded, singles brought big wins, too. Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” topped the charts for most of the first half of the year. Drake earned yet another No. 1 with “Laugh Now Cry Later” featuring Lil Durk.

    Rising stars 24kGoldn and Iann Dior got their primary first place trophy with “Mood.” Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj all earned bragging rights for having the biggest song in the country with “Savage (Remix),” “WAP” and “Say So (Remix),” respectively, and Travis got two chart-topping nods with “The Scotts” with Kid Cudi and “Franchise” with Young Thug and M.I.A. Pop stars should be rightfully shook right now because in 2020, rap has had the game and the charts in a stronghold more than any other genre.

    Shady / Aftermath / Interscope Records / Quality Control Music / Motown Records / Atlantic Records / South Coast Music Group / Interscope Records
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