15 Albums From the 2020s You Must Hear
Updated: Sep 21
In only two years, the 2020s have proven to be full of exciting and creative albums, and are shaping up to be another fantastic decade for music. Whether it be the increasingly diverse world of hip hop or the plethora of artists fusing sounds from all over the musical spectrum, music has never been more colourful and exciting. In this short list, I'll name fifteen albums I've been loving, in no order - and if you haven't heard some of them, it's time to change that.
Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee
Japanese Breakfast are an amazing indie-pop band I've only discovered due to their 2021 album, Jubilee. It's such a summery and warm album, full of bright and uplifting songs of love and happiness. Michelle has such a soft and elegant voice which fits perfectly over the lush, serene instrumentation from the rest of the band.
Nas - King's Disease II
Twenty-seven years since his debut, Nas is still releasing incredible albums. King's Disease II strikes the perfect balance between old and new, with producer Hit-Boy offering Nas such crisp and modern production that he flows over effortlessly. It's an essential for an hip hop fan, and a fun listen for anyone interested.
Against All Logic - 2017-2019
This is a phenomenal album for anyone interested in industrial or house music. The house production is so layered and colourful, with each song creating such a powerful and vivid wall of sound. There isn't much to say other than it makes for an engaging listen where I could never tell where the album's sound would go next. Even for those not well versed in house music, I recommend this.
Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
If you're looking for some gorgeous soul music from this decade, this is the album for you. Lianne has such a strong presence, with an articulate voice where each word holds so much power and emotion. The production can be so lavish and serene, but also so cinematic and impactful, depending on the track. It's a flawless record for me, and is quickly climbing up my list of all-time favourites.
The Koreatown Oddity - Little Dominiques Nosebleed
This has to be one of the most underrated albums I've heard this decade. It's a modern take on jazz rap and abstract hip hop, with so many sudden changes and samples introduced in the production that you could mistake it for a Madlib project. The album focuses around two car crashes the rapper was involved in, and how they impacted his life.
Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World
One of the most exciting and creative pop albums I've heard in quite some time. Each song transitions into the next so naturally, making for such a satisfying album experience which is rarely seen in pop albums today. The production is full of glitchy effects, hard bass, lush synths, and everything you could want in a synthpop album. Mica's soft vocals contrast so well against Matthew's chaotic production.
black midi - Cavalcade
If you're a rock fan, or curious about the new generation of rock bands, you need to hear Cavalcade. The production is so chaotic and messy, but yet feels so precise and controlled. It's this interesting dichotomy that makes Cavalcade such a wonderful record. The post-prog instrumentation - full of roaring guitars, screeching piano and brass - may be overwhelming to some, but the beautiful moments of calm between the chaotic points makes it come together perfectly.
Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger on McNichols
Innovative, forward-thinking hip hop has never been more prominent than in the 2020s. Manger on McNichols is a prime example of this. The production from Sterling Toles sounds so grand and compelling. The production almost seems too cinematic to be rapped over, but somehow Boldy is able to perform on them, delivering some of his most impassioned and personal verses of his career.
Spellling - The Turning Wheel
This art-pop album captures such a unique, ethereal sound. The production holds the same magical and strange character as a Cocteau Twins track, while the vocals are akin to Kate Bush. However, Spellling puts her own creative spin on it, forging such a strange and interesting album where the influences are clear, but the final product is like no other record.
Genesis Owusu - Smiling with No Teeth
This is one of the most exciting albums of the decade, and I cannot stress enough how much I adore it. Its primarily a neo-soul album with some hip hop tracks here and there. Owusu is both an excellent singer and rapper, so these two sounds weave together perfectly. Using sounds of soul, rap, punk, and electronic, he has managed to create such an eclectic and diverse album, yet with its themes of depression and racism, it ties together into such a cohesive project.
Kendrick Lamar - Mr Morale & the Big Steppers
It would be careless of me not to mention the incredible return of Kendrick Lamar in this list. While it isn't my favourite record of his, it proves he is still so driven and creative, with Mr Morale striking a balance between the poppier sound of DAMN. and the conceptual artistry of To Pimp a Butterfly. There are so many hard-hitting and emotional tracks here covering a range of topics, where Kendrick's lyricism and delivery never falter.
Charli XCX - how i'm feeling now
This album is not only excellent due to its daring and glitchy hyperpop production, but also because it was made over the course of only a few weeks as Charli isolated at home during the pandemic. For this reason, one would expect this to be a rushed and messy record, but in fact this is one of her most creative and concise albums to date, containing so many incredible, glitchy pop songs.
Ka - Descendants of Cain
This is an amazing hip hop album from the underground scene. What Ka lacks in a versatile and animated delivery, he makes up for in his vivid lyricism, full of insightful metaphors and personal details. The production is so dark and sinister, unlike anything I have heard in the genre. It may not be for everyone, but with repeated listens I've warmed up to Descendants of Cain and would go so far as to call it a modern masterpiece.
Jessie Ware - What's Your Pleasure?
For those who know me well, they would have seen this album coming. This is a fantastic pop album incorporating elements of disco and funk to forge one of the grooviest and catchiest albums of the decade. Jessie is such a great songwriter and her elegant voice makes each track off this album so addictive and perfect. There are few albums I'm drawn back to as much as this, because it is just that catchy.
billy woods - Aethiopes
With stellar lyricism, Billy paints such vivid pictures with his words across this album. The masterful production was handled by Preservation, who creates such a sinister and cold atmosphere which compliments Billy's delivery perfectly. Joined by legends in the underground hip hop scene such as El-P and Quelle Chris among others, there is not a dull track to be found, as the performances, lyrics, and production are consistently perfect.
There are countless albums I haven't mentioned; these fifteen are only a fraction of the wonderful releases this decade. From pop, to hip hop, to soul, music today is as great as it ever was, with so much personality and creativity to be found.