Music has maintained itself as one of the most reliable sources of comfort, escape and expression within life, and what a time to need it. 2020 has been a tumultuous year at best and downright depressing at worst, from global pandemics and financial depression to pervading instability and just trying to adult under the circumstances. 2020 has been a lot and we’ve only passed the halfway point. Within all the drama 2020 has also brought some really enjoyable and fascinating music and I’d like to explore 10 of my personal favourites within this article. For the purposes of this article, I’ve kept my choices to one selection per artist in a leading role. I stress that these are my personal favourites and not what I think are the best songs or most representative songs of the year thus far, in some cases even for the featured artists.
[Disclaimer: I have included songs that were released within the December holiday period of 2019, with which I was exposed to in 2020.]
Kenny’s Interlude – ThandoNje
We’re opening this list with one of my favorite project-starters of 2020. From ThandoNje’s Frequency, it’s Kenny’s Interlude. Kenny’s Interlude is a transcendental piece of music that finds ThandoNje providing some of her brightest vocal work. Posed as a loving tribute to a passed on loved one Kenny’s Interlude taps into a healthy mix of jazz and gospel. The song’s central affirmation “Love, come down and save me”, it’s allusions and style of speech mixed with ThandoNje’s airy vocal approach to the song’s sole verse lay the space for spirituality. Her soothing background vocal harmonies to the instrumentation that includes breezy guitar strumming and jazzy organ-like solo, maintains that energy and practically wraps into what feels like a warm hug. Listening to it really taps into that mix of melancholy and joy one can feel in remembering a loved one. ThandoNje’s is incredibly agile as a performer having made a name for herself in multiple sonic spaces, and Kenny’s Interlude is a pleasantly rich listen that I keep coming back to in my quieter moments.
rock with me – Moonga K. featuring Giuliette Price
Staying within the realms of soulful music is my favourite duet of the year thus far. From Moonga K.’s an ode to growth pt. 1, it’s rock with me (stylized in lower caps). The song plays out like a conversation between Moonga K. and Giuliette Price who are on opposite ends of a situationship that’s getting more emotionally intimate. K. opens the track acknowledging the shift in tone by asserting that he wants to keep his affairs with Price as platonic and painting himself as a depressed partner currently incapable of giving her more. All he claims to want from her is her company and for her to rock with him. Price plays on an adversarial role, unsure of his claims. She spends her time poking holes in his argument of not wanting intimacy when he keeps teasing her with it. rock with me is a messy affair backed by an incredibly lush soul production filled with funk elements. The production gives the track an up-beat and somewhat cordial feel whilst Price and K. vocally push each other to dizzying heights in their back and forth. It’s indulgent and splashy. It’s a classic duet that bares a similar approach to Gotye and Kimbra’s Somebody That I Used To Know and like most situationships I know, it doesn’t resolve itself clearly.
Jaji Juice – Huey featuring Farx
Huey’s Chasing Magic is arguably in my top 3 favorite projects of the year, and my personal favorite within hip-hop. At its heart, Chasing Magic is a feel-good and aspirational record that shows Huey as a frank and versatile storyteller coming into his own on multiple fronts and Jaji Juice represents him doing so within a relationship. The song finds Huey acknowledging and even relishing how giddy he is about his current relationship. Huey takes turns between throwing affirmations at his lover about her appearance and personal growth, whilst exploring just how fun and fulfilling it is to be in this specific relationship. Farx pretty much maintains the same energy with his verse. The song is simple and effective. It finds Huey providing some of his catchiest melodies whilst backed by a bouncy, trap-infused production. It’s a bubbly song filled with crossover potential that has become one of my go-to feel good jams.
Nonchalant – Elizee featuring Nalu
From one romantic ditty to another, my next pick is the predominantly French tri-lingual cut from BlkShp, it’s Nonchalant. Elizee’s sound has had a growing latin and islandic influence that teased itself in Lavish Mentality and became more pronounced in BlkShp, with Nonchalant being one of its boldest proclamations. This song feels like summer and presents a very rare moment in the sun within Elizee’s moody discography. Nonchalant begins covering well-worn biographical ground as Elizee details his journey in making it in music in-spite of haters wanting him to fail. The chorus finds him confident declaring his belief that he and his partner can overcome any problem life throws at them. Nalu breaks through in Spanish providing a light and flirtatious energy that contrasts Elizee’s nonchalant approach as the song’s salsa elements become more pronounced. From the moment she enters, Nalu’s presence steals the show before handing the reigns back to Elizee in this us-against-the-world type of love song, in a similar vein to the likes of ’03 Bonnie and Clyde. Like the referenced Sangria in the song, this is a light and refreshing cut that sleekly reveals another layer to one of the most promising acts currently pushing for mainstream relevance.
Amnesia – The Big Hash
In the pantheon of contemporary crossover artists currently rising, The Big Hash remains one of the most compelling. He provided one of my favourite cuts of pop glory last year with Circles and seems to have followed that up this year with an even bolder play at pop R&B with Amnesia. Tonally, Amnesia finds Hash covering similar petty ground as a wronged lover but this time with more venom, melancholy and is defeated; he’s a heartbroken mess searching for clarity within his flailing relationship. What makes this song compelling to me is just how carefully constructed of an earworm it is. This song is relentlessly catchy and begins with a repitched Hash vocal that plays on a loop and then moves to the background as the song’s chorus begins. By the time the song’s initial chorus is done, that hook is firmly implanted in your brain. Amnesia finds Hash giving his most confidently impassioned vocal performance over a sleekly produced piece of contemporary R&B. The track continuously remains progressive by balancing its multiple hooks seamlessly in the background, from Hash’s repitched vocal and glossy harmonies to the pensive trap instrumentation. A staple within my shower concerts, Amnesia is another marker showing The Big Hash’s play at becoming considerable pop figure and a deft one at that.
Peace – Thato Saul & Tyson S.T
Thato Saul and Tyson Syba Teli are compelling rappers on the rise. The last year has seen both releasing promising solo bodies of work before putting out the collaborative At Your Service and Peace serves as its opening track. Structurally the track is formless. It functions as an open platform where each rapper serves up a 90-second verse over one of Doou$hii’s most menacingly pensive productions. The song’s chorus only appears at the end as sort of a climax, with each rapper taking a contrasting approach to peace. With an opening line that reads “Under-pressure is an overstatement to me”, Saul sets the stage effortlessly with a verse that has him in full rap-battle mode. His effort is jam-packed with one-liners, clever word-play and inventive insults that position him as a venerable force not to be messed with. He’s not stressed and effectively at peace with his standing as a rapper. Teli switches gears by providing a verse that pulls us into his world of inner-turmoil as he effectively has an existential crisis. The leading line is “Every move demands justice” and what ensues is an unraveling performance of him trying to figure out what that is for him. Teli exposes his traumas in vivid detail from continuously grieving death and fighting depression whilst being financially insecure. The financial insecurity straining his balance of trying to make an honest living and making his mother proud whilst not giving up on his dream that’s effectively giving him hope. Teli’s search for what can bring him peace is a messy and emotive performance that serves as one of my favorite pieces of storytelling this year and currently my favorite verse of the year. Their opposing takes on the concept of peace is a compelling piece of rap music that acts as a solid showcase for how both Teli and Saul are tremendous forces in the space.
Tata – Zoe Modiga
Music is a universal language that is able to transcend language with its storytelling, whether it be through instrumentation, composition or even vocal performances. Whilst modern and contemporary vocal music has predominantly veered towards lyricism as its main tool of expression, it’s not the only one. Zoe Modiga’s Tata is an example of this and a breathtaking one at that. Found mid-way through her Inganekwane album, Tata is a 5-minute showcase as to why Modiga is one of the most skilled vocalists amongst her contemporaries. Backed by an intimate orchestra, Modiga’s instrument takes center stage in a piece that is spiritual, pensive and incredible evocative; her vocals range from non-descript and lullaby-like to pained and mournful. Modiga’s vocals ebb and flow masterfully against the arranging accompaniment with the string section provides some of the most sweeping and climactic moments of the piece and her whole album. It’s a score to a scene in your mind, and a piece I hope to see score some emotional moments within our films and dramas.
Letsibolo Latsatsing – Espacio Dios
My next pick finds us moving from the most traditional piece of music on this list to arguably the most progressive with Letsibolo Latsatsing, a cut from Espacio Dios’ Son of Uri. Lestibolo Latsatsing is a dynamic banger that plays within the realms of dance music, and man does this feel primed for music festivals. The song is an open act of rebellion that finds Dios expressing his individuality and claiming a space for himself as an outcast, outside the realms of cool kid culture. Laced with xylophone samples, this song invokes a youthful sense of freedom that’s emboldened by the tribal-like drums before ultimately turning into a full on EDM-rave by the end of the song. This song feels like a hard-earned yet carefree moment in the sun with how anthemic it feels. Its pure escapism for me right now as it provides the type of abandon I’ve been yearning for with how claustrophobic these last few months have been under the circumstances.
Masupa – Kabza De Small featuring Focalistic, Madumane & Bongza
Focalistic has been on a vendetta in 2020 and he has made this an era for him. Since quarantine started, he’s dropped two separate bodies in Quarantined Tarantino and the sampler set in Blecke, releasing banger after banger. His cocky and attitude-laden tracks have found him being one of the prevailing vocal entities of the Lockdown era, so when his path crossed with The King of Amapiano on multiple tracks of Kabza De Small’s 27-track set, groove madness was bound to occur. That’s just what Masupa is. It’s a whole mood. De Small provides a relentless and propulsive yanos production that sets the stage for Focalistic to express how untouchable he feels, and Focalistic delivers in spades. Leading the track, Focalistic is casual about his braggadoccio dropping various hooks and one-liners from the now viral “can’t get, can’t tholakala” to the song’s main hook. Madumane’s verse maintains the energy and escalates it to raunchier heights. This is a song that just makes you feel cocky when it plays. It’s a whole mood.
Dojo – 808x featuring Southside Mohamed, popsnotthefather, Solve The Problem and The Big Hash
In keeping with songs that drive on pure energy, the closing number on this list is also the final song on 808x’s Station 2097, Dojo. There’s something incredibly potent that happens within a hip-hop posse cut when it’s backed by a monstrous beat. Dojo for me is such a monster. 808x brings out the big guns for his Station 2097‘s finale and it is incredibly climactic. The Eastern-influenced bell samples and industrial synths lay a battleground that beckon the innanetwav stable to come for blood, and they come guns-blazing. Southside Mohammed delivers the song’s central hook, “Say I do too much!”, with such rebellious cheek it’s infectious. Backed by 808x’s blaring production, the combination makes for one of my favourite choruses in recent memory because it dares you not to get hype. The verses don’t disappoint in maintaining the energy as they cover expected braggadoccious ground. It’s hype, it’s rebellion and injects an energy that makes you feel like you can take on the world.
What have been some of your favorites and who are you looking forward to most in the second half of the year?