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. Within all the drama music has been a saving grace. Month after month artists were dropping amazing bodies of work to cry, dance, escape or just vibe to and we’re here to explore just over 50 of favorite picks from the last year. For the purposes of this article we’ve kept the choices to one selection per artist in a leading role. I stress that these are personal favorites and not necessarily what we think are the most representative songs of the year, we hope that you uncover some gems to get lost into as the holiday season sets in.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article we’ve kept the choices to one selection per artist in a leading role with the exception of work in a group or collaborative effort. If an artist dropped both solo work and group/collaborative work in the same time span, we’ve counted those efforts as separate, ie Seba Kaapstad, The Scorpion Kings etc…
No. 51 – 30 [Listed alphabetically, not in ranking]
Adje – Ciza [produced by David Hampton]
Ciza kicks off our list with a scintillating slice of afrobeats that finds him turning up the romance in Adje. This track, in which the title works as an exclamation whilst slyly referencing himself within it, is described by the artist to mean “Praise to God/Praise to Caesar [hear as Ciza]”. The premise is simple and fun, Adje is a whine-waisting romp that finds an infatuated Ciza wooing his current romantic partner whilst explaining the way he enjoys her company. Backed by a sensual David Hampton production, this is an incredibly catchy track that finds Ciza’s performance going from cocky to giddy as he just has fun with it. Packed with multiple hooks, including the insistent central “Adje” refrain, this song is an earworm that grows more addictive on repeat listens. Ciza really delivers a fun summer-ready dance that shows the promise this rising star has to become a steady radio staple.
All of Me – Thando
Delicate, intimate and concise; Thando is a tidal wave of emotion in this pick that comes in at a swift 01:49. Backed only by sparse piano chords and with no chorus, All of Me reads like a letter that Thando has written to express how she feels ready to give herself to a particular someone. Thando’s vocals really take center stage as she delivers one of her best vocal performances; ranging from light and fluttery to engaged and quaking. The emotive and concise writing mixed with Thando’s performance really makes this a moment in which she shows why she is A Force To Be Reckoned. This is one of those songs you send when you want to risk-it-all for the next step with a talking stage.
Choko Part 2 – Manu Worldstar featuring Anatii [produced by Sonyezo Kandoje]
Manu Worldstar provided us with another afro-pop banger this year with Choko; the lead single of his debut album, Molimo. The track is an aspirational trip in which Worldstar brings us into his space as a hitmaker, the journey he took and what this current moment means to him. Worldstar provides a charismatic performance that matches Sonyezo’s alluring and rich production. Part 2 brings in additional vocal production that add great colour and dimension to the already catchy chorus. Anatii floats on his verse as he also speaks about the things that he’s grateful for whilst doling out his own words of wisdom. Choko Part 2 provides a listening experience that is aspirational and pensive yet still fun.
Energy – Feziekk featuring Sandrahhh [produced by Feziekk]
Feziekk and Sandrahhh bring us into the world of giddy pop love songs with the cautious Energy. Energy is a duet that finds both partners individually acknowledging the increasing chemistry that’s growing between them and what it means for their dynamics. The hesitation of not being sure if your feelings are being reciprocated permeates from both Feziekk and Sandrahhh as they make their intentions known that they want more. The tempered production progressively builds throughout the track and works well in highlighting the tension that lies within the song. This tension is well highlighted within the song’s mission statement: ‘Don’t treat me like a throwaway, don’t treat me like a stow-away. If you really want to go away, baby girl we can runaway.’ Feziekk and Sandrahhh deliver a slice of young love with this tune.
Good Riddance – Melania Amoy [produced by Ro$eGOLD]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Melania Amoy’s Good Riddance remains a solid contender for songs to lead in 2021. The chorus simply reads: ‘Cause I’m glad that it’s done, yeah I’m glad that it’s over. No longer bound to you, I thank the heavens we’re not meant to be, a resounding sentiment to round-off what has been the most trying year I’ve experienced.
Insomnia – burningforestboy
Jumping into the world of genre-bending trap, burningforestboy released one of the most hypnotic songs I’ve heard this year. Built off of a refrain that reads: “All I wanna do is get wasted with you”, an intoxicated burningforestboy sends us through a truly intoxicating trip. Backed by an eerily moody trap production with elements that feel grungy, Insomnia finds Forest asking a girl for some NSA-company to get him through the night and away from his Insomnia. Lyrically, it’s clear that all he wants are distractions to void his current pain, and his current partner is just an added vice to aid his distraction. Filled with piercing falsetto notes, propulsive melodies and Forest’s detached persona, it is a great addition to the contemporary soundscapes that exist in a post PBRNB & Trap world; Insomnia is a scorcher. burningforestboy provides a killer performance that sets a great tone for his elusive persona and his sonically-progressive project CICADA.
Kenny’s Interlude – ThandoNje
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. 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 that feeds the soul and injects hope.
Kissing My Shoe – Dibi [produced by Orlando Brossie]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Backed by a menacing minimalist hip-hop production, Kissing My Shoe is an attitude-laden track that animates Dibi to boisterous and braggadocios edges as he reasserts himself as one of Eastern Cape’s finest. The song finds Dibi lamenting on how hard he’s been working on his music as well as the rising impact his presence is starting to bring.
Love Lost – Langa Mavuso [produced by Linden Jay]
If you’re looking for mellow, soulful yearning by a superb vocalist, then look no further than this smoldering single from Langa Mavuso. Backed by a groovy soulful production, Mavuso laments on a short-lived romance that he misses; one that his mind continues to return to. He paints a poetic picture of an infatuating Spring romance, still reeling from the fact that it was cut-short. Love Lost is comforting, lush and heartbreaking. Mavuso’s performance smolders and gradually intensifies its aching with each section. It’s classic-sounding and has an enduring nature that grows on you within each listen as you too can find yourself reminiscing on the sweetest kiss from a lost love.
Luv U – DoouShii featuring Thato Saul and Francis Jay [produced by DoouShii]
What happens when one of Pretoria’s most promising producers is matched with one of the most inventive rappers rising and a vocalist like Francis Jay? A sublime slice of hip-hop soul. That’s really what this is, truthfully. The closing track of DoouShii’s tape DO U finds all of its players firing on all cylinders in this song of appreciation in the face of hardship. DoouShii doles out a production that is packed with his signature bounce and drenched in soulful influences. Thato Saul provides a captivating and hard-hitting freestyle length verse that explores his mindset and approach to surviving life, backed by continuous and often repitched vocal flourishes. Francis Jay’s chorus adds a layer of hope to complement Saul’s disposition before DoouShii’s production takes over the reigns to finish us off. Luv U is an incredibly satisfying listen when you’re in a pensive space or just want to experience some quality hip-hop soul.
Money – Angie Santana featuring Indigo Stella
Angie Santana only had one thing on her mind with her comeback banger; getting a stack of randelas. Santana teamed up with Indigo Stella for this anthem that infuses trap, R&B and hip-hop into an infectious club-ready experience. The mission statement is clear and both performers have great fun exploring its theme, their conquests in gaining it and its central value to them. Money is fun, it’s infectious and is steeped within enough braggadoccious attitude to get you hyped.
Moving Day – Bauer Larson featuring Yellow Bud [produced by UTLRV]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Moving Day is one of the more optimistic records on Bauer Larson’s Behind Closed Doors project. It finds the rapper teaming up with Yellow Bud for an aspirational record that finds the underdogs leaving their comfort zone in hopes of success.
OK Cool! – DJ So Nice (both versions) [produced by Wichi 1080]
Keeping in-line with our current stream of hip-hop bangers, DJ So Nice provides one of the most care-free experiences I’ve heard this year with OK Cool! Whether you’re listening to the original with Priddy Ugly and Wichi 1080 or the remix featuring Rouge, Gigi Lamayne and Zingah, there’s this silly energy that just permeates throughout the track and most of its featured artists. Wichi 1080 provides a bouncy yet incredibly sparse playground for those rappers to play, and not take themselves to seriously, and man do they run with it. OK Cool! is a posse-cut that’s filled with comedic punch-lines, outright silliness, braggadoccious take-downs, a simple yet effective hook and a menacing and relentless beat that keeps you hype. In a year as emotionally draining as this year has been, songs as actively carefree as OK Cool! were few and far between. I really enjoyed the relief.
SBWL – Busiswa featuring Kamo Mphela [produced by DJ Clap]
The first of our amapiano picks is the monster collaboration between dominating dance queen Busiswa and the rising force that is Kamo Mphela. The two come to a head in this song love song to the genre, and the result is a relentless club banger begging you to not dance to it. Both entertainers pack their performances with charisma over DJ Clap’s high-octane production. The track is a call-to-arms for all dancers and lovers of the yanos with Busiswa and Mphela leading the charge and those with shy feet are asked to step aside.
Shy – Una Rams [produced by C-Tea]
Getting back to being giddy, our next pick is a flirtatious sizzler from Venda’s pop star. Una Rams made a confident return to music in this funky slice of afrobeat that finds him trying to charm a girl he just met. Rams is really at home when he’s crafting romantic affairs and this track is no different; however the backdrop of afrobeats really allows the cockier shades of his persona to take centre stage as he goes on the prowl. Shy finds Una Rams teasing his conquest to take a chance on him, and he’s salacious about it. Outside of the lyrical content the song’s production is just as engaging. C-Tea’s composition provides Rams a hypnotic base to wax lyrical before taking centre stage in the chorus with its horn-filled breakdown, and what a breakdown it is. Smooth, jazzy and warm, Shy is one of the songs that’s meant to soundtrack a fleeting summer love.
Sisindisiwe – ASAP Shembe [produced by xSipping]
‘Don’t you worry about nothing, take your time…’ is what ASAP Shembe requests his listener to do in a song that makes you want to do just that. Sisindisiwe is a mellow song with a positive vibe that finds Shembe relishing how saved and secure he currently feels even whilst fighting the various battles that life throws at him. xSipping’s production is centred around a lush mid-tempo groove that is both danceable yet relaxing and ASAP Shembe peppers the song with adlibs and harmonies that continue to layer this comforting vibe. Sisindisiwe is a track that is filled with positive affirmations in-spite of trials. Listening to it feels like taking in a deep breath of fresh air after surviving a hard-won battle. ASAP Shembe truly shines in this number that continues to stretch the depths of his versatility as an artist.
Somewhere Nice – M’ax
Dreamy… This song is really dreamy. Placed as the closing number to her debut tape ‘Based on a True Story‘, Somewhere Nice is the type of song winter romantic movies play when the lead finds out where love was all along and sets out to make their grand-gesture. It’s a piece of acoustic-pop that is both wistful and hopeful. Lyrically, it finds M’ax holding out hope that there’s a still a chance at love with a previous love interest and that time will find a way to bring them back together. This is best encapsulated in a lyric in the bridge that reads: ‘time means nothing to soulmates who have faith’. The purity in her vocal delivery really sells the sentiment and shows the great promise she has in ingenue spaces. This feels like a song for hopeless romantics who want to believe that somehow, someway, some day things will be okay.
Stanley Ipkiss – Ngwato [produced by Mykal Riley]
“What if I stretch you out and never stress you out” is the opening line to one of my favourite genuine love songs of the past year. One of my favourite things about Ngwato as an artist is his often candid delivery, which is on full-display in Stanley Ipkiss. Stanley Ipkiss is a song that finds Ngwato seriously contemplating taking his relationship to the next level by meeting and engaging with his partner’s family. Referencing popular comic-book character The Mask, the song finds Ngwato feeling so secure in his relationship that he doesn’t feel the need to mask himself around her, he can just be his not-put-on self, ie Stanley Ipkiss (The Mask’s alter ego). Backed by a smooth and soulful beat, it really finds him exploring the opportunities this new development brings. It’s earnest, at times comical and a new shade of vulnerability within this explosive rapper’s repertoire.
Tarzan – Lesedi, Silas Africa and Lindzo HBK [produced by Orlando The Great]
From one love song that references a fictional character to another, this pick is a genre-bending effort from the collaborative project Once Upon A Time. Something special happens when collaborative projects have the right players in them, and Once Upon A Time is an effort that feels like that. Listening to it, one feels elements of hip-hop, house, kwaito and other local dance influence blending through from both the artists and production; Tarzan is a gooey melting pot that encapsulates that. Lesedi launches the track with a flirtatious verse that finds him trying to woo a girl with references that range from Cassper Nyovest to the Bold and Beautiful before Silas takes the reign and provides one of his most satisfying choruses on the project. The track is a mid-tempo thumper that maintains a mesmerizing appeal to it whether in the verses or within the post-chorus breakdown as Silas unleashes a myriad of vocal melodies and affectation. The groove is hard and at it’s best the song feels euphoric. There’s something classic about it and something new but it’s definitely something you can can get lost into.
Thirty K’s – Ricky Tyler [produced by Glody Nfuamba Kasongo & Kyle Gavin Brown]
Whilst some of our picks are looking for love or at the very least wooing their conquests under the guise of it, Ricky Tyler is very clear about wanting to maintain a no-strings engagement in Thirty K’s. Backed by an 80’s reminiscent soulful pop-production, Ricky Tyler sings about a partner who regularly drives out to spend time with him. They enjoy their time together but throughout the song he keeps leaving hints about the boundaries he wants to maintain. Sonically, it’s one of my favourite pop-esque productions to come out this year, with the low-key guitar solo at the end being one of my favorite enduring elements about the song. Backed with multiple hook-points and a catchy chorus, Thirty K‘s is a savvy productions from one of the breaking stars of 2020.
Water-Based – Nalu [produced by Theodor Moolman & Nalu]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. When a song starts with light jazzy acoustics and is then launched with the lyric: “I know you ain’t just any brother, cause when you hit it sh*t just opens up my pussy chakra…”, you know exactly what type experience you’re strapping in for and man does Nalu deliver on it.
We Don’t Die – Nu Edison featuring Rhea Blek [produced by Tsukudu]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Backed by a soulful Tsukudu production, the track is centred around a reworked version of the popular maxim “we don’t die, we multiply” that finds Edison affirming himself in-spite of his tribulations.