New Rap, Hip-Hop Albums Prove 2020 Was Not All Bad

Courtesy: Def Jam

Rap and hip-hop fans have had quite a bit to be happy about this year.  That is because over the course of the now fading year, a lot of notable entries have made their way to audiences within the genre.  They have come from independent and well-known acts alike, too.  From the familiar socio-politically charged content featured in Public Enemy’s new album What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down, to the lighter yet still engaging content featured in Aesop Rock’s new album Spirit World Field Guide, to the unique hybrid jazz/hip-hop instrumental offering from Analog Players Society, Soundtrack For A Nonexistent Film, and more, this year’s field of new rap and hip-hop records has proven quite diverse and entertaining.  Even Eminem released his own new album (albeit by surprise) in the form of Music to be Murdered By early this year.  Between that record and so many others, this year’s field of new albums was full of interesting, impressive new albums, both mainstream and independent.  Phil’s Picks has kept track of them once again this year and produced a list of the year’s best new product.

As with past years and each list, this collection features the Top 10 new titles in the category, as well as five honorable mentions, for a total of 15 titles.  Here for your consideration is the Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 new Rap & Hip-Hop Albums.


  1. Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
  2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
  3. RJD2 – The Fun Ones
  4. Common – A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1
  5. Jamo Gang – Walking With Lions
  6. Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide
  7. Eminem – Music to be Murdered By
  8. Analog Players Society – Soundtrack for a Nonexistent Film
  9. Atmosphere – The Day Before Halloween
  10. GNL Zamba – The Spear
  11. Denzel Curry – Unlocked
  12. Prof – Powderhorn Suites
  13. Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2
  14. Aesop Rock – Music From The Game Freedom Finger
  15. Black Eyed Peas – Translation

Next up from Phil’s Picks is a listing of the year’s top new jazz and blues albums.  Stay tuned for that.

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RJD2’s New LP Is One Fun Presentation

Courtesy: RJ’s Electrical Connections

Famed DJ/hip-hop star RJD2 (a.k.a. Ramble John Krohn) returned last month with his latest full-length studio recording.  The Fun Ones, Krohn’s seventh full-length studio recording under the RJD2 moniker, was released independently April 17 through his own label, RJ’s Electrical Connections.  The 16-song record’s release last month came just under four years after the release of his sixth album, Dame Fortune, and is just as engaging and entertaining as that record and its predecessors.  That is due in part to the songs that make up the record’s body.  The songs’ sequencing adds to the engagement and entertainment that the songs offer listeners.  This will be discussed a little later.  The record’s production and mixing rounds out its most important elements and brings everything together.  When it is considered with the songs and their sequencing, all three elements come together to make the album a unique work that is one of this year’s most unique and enjoyable hip-hop records.

RJD2’s latest full-length studio recording The Fun Ones is a fittingly titled record.  That is because it is that fun.  That is proven in part through the record’s featured songs, all of which are instrumental works.  The works featured in this album will appeal to fans of acts, such as DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and Nightmares on Wax.  From beginning to end, audiences get something different in every single song.  The record opens with a nice hip-hop/jazz hybrid composition in ‘No Helmet Up Indianola.’  The use of the guitar, the beats and the sax, coupled with the African percussion elements gives the song such an infectious groove that is also very danceable.  It conjures thoughts of some of Carlos Santana’s best works.  ‘High Street Will Never Die’ meanwhile presents a much more modern hip-hop infused sound with its keyboards, which are used to sound like low brass instruments.  That sound lends itself to comparisons to the sounds created by so many traditionally black college marching bands.  At the same time, the inclusion of the keyboards adds its own noticeable contrast to that arrangement.  What is interesting here is that the sense of mystery established through the use of the keyboards is a good contrast to the “horns.”  It actually compliments that element quite well in a rather unique fashion.  The scratches that are so subtly added to the arrangement adds even more to the work.  Even more interesting is that this song is basically a two-movement work, with the second “movement’ presenting its own identity separate from the first.  ‘Pull Up On Love (ft. STS and Khari Mateen),’ which immediately follows ‘High Street Will Never Die,’ shows even more change, giving listeners a more pure hip-hop/rap sense and sound.  Things continue changing up from there, with some r&b/soul-infused work in ‘Itch Ditch Mission,’ an old school funk arrangement in ‘Flocking to the Nearest Machine’ and  more pure hip-hop in ‘A Salute to Blood Bowl Legends,’ the record’s finale.  What’s interesting in this work is the inclusion of the keyboards.  That actually adds a unique touch to the song that adds even more interest to the work.  Between this song, the others noted here and the rest of the album’s works, the album’s songs overall form a strong foundation for the album.  The sequencing of those songs adds even more enjoyment and engagement to the album.

The sequencing of The Fun Ones is important to address because of the effect that it has on the record’s ability to engage and entertain audiences.  The album opens with a catchy, mid-tempo work in ‘No helmet Up Indianola,’ and its arrangement takes listeners back to the golden age of hip-hop.  That energy remains stable as the album moves into ‘Indoor S’mores’ before pulling back noticeably in the opening bars of ’20 Grand Palace.’  Of course that more reserved feel and sound gives way to something more upbeat as the song progresses within itself.  It provides some nice variety for listeners early on.  What is really important to note from this point on is that as the rest of the album is presented to audiences, the energy doesn’t necessarily change too much, but rather the arrangements give listeners something different.  So the varied styles change the direction of the energies more so than they do actually change the energies themselves.  That is different from energies actually rising and falling.  The changing styles just move the energies in different directions while keeping them relatively stable, in other words.  That maintenance of the energies and the clear thought put into that maintenance paid off quite well.  Together with the songs themselves, the two elements make the record’s presentation even stronger.  They are just two of the record’s key elements.  The record’s production and mixing rounds out its most important elements.

The production and mixing that went into RJD2’s new album is important because in each song there is a lot going on.  Between the electronics, the hip-hop elements, and even the vocal elements infused into some of the songs, a lot of work had to be done in order to balance everything.  That is the case throughout the record, as has largely been pointed out more than once here, just not so directly. ‘Pull Up On Love’ is a prime example of the work that had to be done to balance everything.  The James Brown-esque work makes the drums the focal point, but also makes sure the emcee is heard clearly.  At the same time, there are moments when the vocals are given an echoing effect that has to still be balanced with everything else in order to work.  ‘The Freshman Lettered’ is yet another example of how much time and work had to be put in for the arrangement to be balanced in all of its elements.  The bass guitar, the keyboards and electronics had to be perfectly balanced in order to get the best outcome, and that is exactly what happened.  The result is a subtle, groovy work that puts any listener at ease.  Keeping that in mind along with the production and mixing that went into the rest of the album’s works, the end result is a record that is to be appreciated just as much because of its creative aspect as for its content.  All things considered, The Fun Ones proves itself to be one fun album.

RJD2’s new album The Fun Ones is an impressive new offering from the DJ/hip-hop artist.  That is proven in part through the arrangements, which provide their own reason for audiences to applause.  The sequencing of those arrangements add even more impact to the album’s presentation, as it keeps the record’s energy stable in its direction and its rises and falls.  The production and mixing used for the record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation.  The time and work put into each song paid off, making for even more engagement and entertainment.  All three items noted are important in their own way to the whole of this album.  All things considered, they make The Fun Ones without argument one fun new album from RJD2.  More information on The Fun Ones is available online along with all of RJD2’s latest news at:










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