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 our 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 find some new gems to get lost into as the holiday season sets in. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end with all these songs and more of our favorites from 2020.
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…
Songs are 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.
Amnesia – The Big Hash [produced by Elizee]
This is a staple within my shower concerts; a messy slice of contemporary Pop-R&B primed to sing-along to and/or vent on a rainy night, The Big Hash’s Amnesia. 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. This song is toxic R&B escapism, and all I ask for is a karaoke version to emphatically sing off-key to.
Read our previous article on The Big Hash here.
Be Right Back – Marcus Harvey
I Am Marcus Harvey is one of the most sonically cohesive projects I’ve heard this year; seamlessly infusing neo-soul, hip-hop and R&B into a singular listening experience. My choice for this list is one of the steamier efforts on the projects that finds Harvey cooing a series of sweet nothings at his current partner; Be Right Back. Be Right Back is a sensual experience in which Harvey declares his affections and intentions with his current romantic partner as he asks her “Can we be lovers?/Can we make this last forever?” The song’s premise is simple and really shines in its execution. The composition is slinky as it it maintains a mid-tempo groove. The lyrics are poetic, forward and direct. Harvey’s vocal performance is measured in it’s conversational tone. The vocal production does wonders in intensifying the song’s carnal urges from the stacked cooing to the various vocal effects that pepper the song; like the lowered “can we make it last forever” or the more spectral layer that creeps in as he delivers the “That my passion is driven by my obsession…” Be Right Back is an infatuated affair that asserts Marcus Harvey’s position as a premier new-age crooner.
Blah Blah – Tyson S.T featuring Miles [produced by DoouShii]
Next on this list is a frenetic rap banger from the artist I probably listened to the most this year, Tyson S.T. Tyson S.T has had a dynamite year releasing tongue-twisting raps, heartrending bars and aggressive bangers, establishing himself as a consistent source of entertaining hip-hop. Blah Blah is a track that finds him playing on his cockier edges and man what a joyride it is. Backed by an insidious production with relentless bounce, Teli and Miles muster all the disrespect they have for their adversaries in this braggadoccious take down and take it to thrilling heights. Miles sets the tone with a blistering verse where he compares himself to a gorilla in the jungle; ready for attack and swiftly dodging the venom that snakes try throw at him. Teli confidently takes over and packs his verses with more punchlines than a local sitcom episode; floating between disses, aspirational gassing and personal storytelling. Holding it together is a stadium-ready, audience interactive chorus that begs you to not be disrespectful as you sing-along to it; really… how do you say “no… no, you don’t listen – fah fah” with a shred of decency. Blah-Blah is that injection of brash, reckless energy I go to to get riled up.
Listen to Tyson S.T Next Gen Greats Podcast here and his artist breakdown here.
Call Me – Manana [produced by Noble]
Call Me is the lead/opening track off of Manana’s concept EP, In The Beginning was The End, which tracks a relationship cycle in reverse; starting with it’s tumultuous end as it peels back to it’s fluttery beginning. Call Me is the heartbreaking end that is seething with pain, paranoia, questions and bargaining. Backed by a progressively moody production, Manana launches into the song irritated by the consistent cycle of drama that surrounds his relationship, detailing how some of the issues have been pervasive for years. Call Me paints a picture of a relationship on its teetering hinges and lacking effective communication as expressed in the chorus’ central phrase “Call me. Why don’t you call me instead of calling me out?” Manana provides a captivating performance that intensifies from irritated to accusatory before climaxing into pure heartache as he reminisces on happier times and trying to figure out how things got so astray. Call Me really delivers on the heartbreak. The song is an emotional train-wreck and a sure-fire to get you stewing in your feels.
Listen to Noble’s Next Gen Greats podcast on the process behind In The Beginning was The End here.
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.
Duffle Bag – Poptain featuring Anita Jaxson, Kanter Di Janter, McKampton and Prosper Fi Ril [produced by Leekay and Bleqboi]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Duffle Bag is a relentless slice of dancehall that finds Poptain and the crew on the prowl for enough money to get them out of their current poverty.
eMcibini – Kabza De Small & DJ Maphorisa featuring Aymos, Myztro, Mas Musiq and Samthing Soweto [produced by Myztro, Mas Musiq, Kabza De Small & DJ Police]
Amapiano was the dominant genre of 2020 in South Africa. For a dance genre to maintain the level of unwavering dominance that the yanos did through a pandemic speaks to it being more than just a ubiquitous trend. There’s a magic in the sound and in the feeling it induces. The Scorpion Kings’ various collaborations with Samthing Soweto continue to tap into that magic and they did multiple times in 2019 (see Amantombazane, Akulaleki). eMcibini continues that streak of pure amapiano addiction by enlisting the help of Aymos and Mas Musiq. Conceptually, e-Mcibini is a track that explores the effects the yanos has when it’s playing at an event/party. It’s production is mesmerizing and tribal as it patiently and progressively builds throughout the track. The opening vocal lines build on the progression with hypnotic arabic-esque phrasing that serve to lead in Aymos’ contribution. Aymos leads the song by contextualizing us into the world of an unruly party, how he finds it hard to leave and how no rest will be had as long as Amapiano continues to play. Samthing Soweto brings in the rhythmic flair with a verse corroborating Aymos’ claim, noting the complaints their late-night partying will garner from their neighbours. It was a completely different reality than one the massive Lockdown presented. Part of that charm, for me, was in that escapism. E-Mcibini‘s groove, once it settles in, is infectious and almost impossible to ignore; with the rich yet propulsive instrumentation being the secret sauce for me. In a world where events were barred for more than a quarter during lockdown and where I hadn’t seen past my local grocery store for half the year, E-Mcibini was feel-good escapism and a kind of fantasy rebellion of a groove pre-Co-Vid. Even without the context of our lockdown, eMcibini is a fantastic dance song but within it the song represented a euphoric escape to livelier days.
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.
I Just Might – Hunter Rose featuring ECHLN [produced by ECHLN]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. I Just Might is a song that pushes Hunter Rose’s mellow sound into more uptempo spaces, bringing forth a more playful energy to this chanteuse. Conceptually, the song is a flirtatious jazz-soul romp that finds Hunter Rose at a party with her girls waiting for a guy she’s feeling to make his move on her.
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.
KARMAKOLLEKT – popsnotthefather [produced by 808x]
popsnotthefather [sic] is aching for a fight in our next pick, the club-ready slice of R&B that is KARMAKOLLEKT [sic]. Centered around a hook that reads “I know the truth, your friends been talking and you been lying. What you been hiding? You think I don’t know what you’re doing tonight?”, the track finds popsnotthefather telling off his current romantic interest. Coming in at a brisk 01:43, KARMAKOLLEKT gets right to the point and wastes no line of its delivery. 808x provides a moody yet groovy soundscape and pops really floats right on it, infusing his lyrics with rapid-fire delivery and a taunting demeanor that really sells his disposition. It’s a toxic, messy, salacious affair that finds popsnotthefather determined to leave with the upperhand; a fun kiss-off anthem meant to bring out your inner-petty.
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.
Konke – Seba Kaapstad [produced by Sebastian Schuster]
This is another one of my contenders for songs to lead in 2021 and one of the most infectious songs I’ve heard this year. Konke is a refreshing blend of jazz, soul and hip-hop that finds Zoe Modiga and Manana riffing on all the things they want with carefree abandon. If I’m being honest, I’m co-opting at least half of them for my 2021 affirmations; I’m talking sitting on the Great Wall of China, chilling in Peru, house parties with my friends (read: post-Corona) and all that money. Seba Kaapstad want it all and convincingly sell it with increasingly winning charisma. The back and forth between Manana and Modiga in Konke‘s bridge/pre-chorus is shamelessly irresistible as Modiga playfully affirms how much money loves her whilst Manana demands his money, meat and dumplings. Backed by a lush, soulful production Konke is a feel-good laid back experience that warrants multiple replays to relish in its giddiness.
Letsibolo Latsatsating – Espacio Dios
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Lestibolo Latsatsing is an open act of rebellion that finds Espacio Dios expressing his individuality and claiming a space for himself as an outcast, outside the realms of cool kid culture. The song is a dynamic banger that feels like a hard-earned yet carefree moment in the sun.
Levitate – Roho featuring Huey [produced by DoouShii]
Whilst Amapiano was the most dominant genre, the space I personally escaped to the most was R&B, as shown by its prominence on this list. Our next pick is a contribution from one of the coolest personas growing in that space, Roho, who has this uncanny ability of making music that is intoxicating. Levitate finds him delivering that in spades as this song feels like a daydream. Conceptually, the song finds Roho looking for solace after continuous bouts of fighting personal demons when a friend comes to visit him by the river. They meditate as Roho reveals his demons and the intimacy of the interaction becomes transcendental as the chorus jovially rides that wave. Huey floats onto the track with nonchalance, providing a slick verse that finds him high and exploring how he maintains an aura that allows him to persevere over his own struggles. Levitate‘s production is an intoxicating affair that is built off of a hypnotic percussive section, a menacing bass and the keys which pepper it with a pensive energy that can get quite dreamy. Roho’s vocal production shines with background vocals and adlibs that intensify the track’s intoxicating appeal whilst enhancing his emotional state; see the first verse’s “what you gon’ do when you come for you?” breakdown, the back-up vocals are mesmerizing whilst the low “yah” adlibs present a more carnal menace. This is a song that allows me to get high on its supply. It’s an entrancing, soothing and addictive slice of alternative R&B that can subdue me in its world through continuous repeat. Actually, let me get back to it right now. Be right back.
Listen to Roho’s Next Gen Greats Podcast here and his artist breakdown here.
Longtime – Wizkid featuring Skepta [produced P2J]
It seems like we’re on a roll with feel-good music here, so let’s keep it going with this sensual pick from Wizkid’s incredible Made In Lagos. Longtime finds Wizkid and Skepta rekindling with a former love-interest after not seeing them for a long time; and it is soooo smooth. From the shimmering key-chords to the light percussion, the song’s production is a lush, laid-back vibe that begs you not to sway to it. Skepta kicks things off with a cool swagger before Wizkid’s charm sets in. This song is just a good time, I don’t know what to tell you.
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.
Makhoza – Muzi [produced by Muzi]
Muzi has been one of the most reliable exports of increasingly feel-good dance music in South Africa. His latest offering, Mama, is an act of mourning that finds him navigating his grief following his mother’s passing. While some songs do maintain elements with a comforting and/or soothing dance appeal, Makhoza drops the pretense completely, and it is heartrending. The song begins with its hook that reads like a reminder Muzi has to give himself to let some life and energy in as he mourns: “Roll-up in the morning, windows open. Make sure you see the sunlight.” Muzi orients us with his world and how it changed in the first verse, from the incredible high he had following Zeno‘s release and being a new father to where he is now. The second verse explores how his grief relented as time continued to pass and it really shows us how betraying death can feel. Muzi is incredibly frank about struggling to keep it together in Makhoza, how that affects his music and being a father. The production is orchestral; melancholic keys and a swelling string section form the core of the song as Muzi is backed up by a chorus of voices. The instrumentation brings the drama, starting off rather stripped but steadily builds from the second verse with a wider string section that tugs at the heartstrings. This gradual crescendo is met with this climactic breakdown that bring the drums and bass out to play. It’s a satisfying moment of reckless abandon that takes over the song until it ends, allowing you space to lose yourself. Makhoza is an emotional undertaking. The end to a fitting tribute that is unabashedly mournful and cathartic.
Mali Eningi – Big Zulu featuring Riky Rick and Intaba Yase Dubai
At point of publication, this ode to money is the biggest song on South African airwaves; and is threatening to be the song of the summer; it’s inescapable. Big Zulu enlists the help of Riky Rick and Intaba Yase Dubai to deliver this aspirational piece of hip-hop that finds them wanting a lot of money and the various joys it could give them. Mali Eningi is centred around a catchy sing-along chorus as Zulu and Rick trade verses; both having fun with it. Big Zulu brings us into the world with a leading verse that finds him flexing the inkabi lifestyle; with a smug flair whilst Riky Rick expands it to include his lavish desires. It’s escapism and fun aspirational content solidly held together by Dubai’s spirited chorus delivery.
Masupa – Kabza De Small featuring Focalistic, Bongza and Madumane
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Kabza 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. If you want a lession in how to feel invincible, Focalistic offers up multiple courses in this monster jam.
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.
Needy – Naye Ayla featuring Foreighn [produced by YoursTruly]
Did anyone order a heap of soulful yearning because that’s exactly what Naye Ayla and Foreighn are serving up on our next pick. Needy finds Ayla in an emotionally raw and vulnerable state as she looks for comforting affirmation with a romantic interest. Built on a chorus-line that reads: “I’m not needy, I’m just honest. I get weak and I need a little comfort”, the song finds Ayla digging into a myriad of insecurities by asking him questions she has about herself and their relationship’s standing, from not feeling like she’s interesting enough to them not being on the same page. Foreighn’s verse acts as a response that’s filled with affirmative statements that express his investment in the relationship and his affection for her before also revealing that he too gets needy. This is all backed by some incredibly rich production that maintains a torchy energy throughout with a full band of instruments to pull from. The drums have this Marvin Gaye-esque quality that form the core of the song whilst the initial guitar work peppers it with this haunting feel that continues to intensify with more instrumentation as the verse develops before erupting into chorus. The guitar-work from the arpeggios to the strumming is subtle but incredibly effective as a secret sauce. The additional vocal production is entrancing and does wonders in amplifying the increasing tension between Ayla and Foreighn before lead-guitar leads us out with a smoky solo. Needy is a love song which takes its time in being torchy, isn’t scared to be messy, and is all the more satisfying for it.
OK Cool! – DJ So Nice (both versions) [produced by Wichi 1080]
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.
Peace – Thato Saul & Tyson S.T [produced by DoouShii]
Thato Saul and Tyson S.T were already having a solid year of solo work before deciding to join forces on the collaborative At Your Service, which found the duo going bar-for-bar in pure hip-hop storytelling. They struck gold and the evidence shows in the project’s opening track, Peace. 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 is 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 messy and uncomfortably raw. Their opposing takes on their 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. When it comes to engaging storytelling there are few songs that have had me as gripped as Peace, or as emotionally wrought as I feel after listening to it.
Read Thato Saul’s artist breakdown here and Tyson S.T’s breakdown here.
Promising – Thato Saul [produced by Zarro]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Thato Saul is one of the most engrossing and singular rappers currently out there, for me right now. Backed by a soulful production, Saul launches into a song that finds him contrasting all the things he’s promised himself and consolidating that against the reality he lives in; a reality he describes as soul-crushing.
rock with me – Moonga K. featuring Giuiliette Price [produced by Aqeel Williams]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. 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. 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.
SBWL – Busiswa featuring Kamo Mphela [produced by DJ Clap]
Our next slice of yanos 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.
Scared – Mass The Difference featuring PDOT O
Returning to the train of more pensive hip-hop selections, our next pick is an existential trip from one of the smoothest tones in the game, Mass The Difference. Scared find Mass The Difference teaming up with PDOT O in a song that explores some of their fears; which for both are intrinsically linked to their relationship with music. Mass recounts the tale of his come-up as he grapples with the space his success has brought him to whilst P-DOT O questions the effect his ego and music could be having on his listeners; after taking aim at his adversaries. Held together by an existential yet catchy chorus, Scared is classic-sounding hip-hop in which both acts deliver solid and engaging storytelling to get lost in.
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.
Stay Up – Huey featuring Tyson S.T & ThandoNje [produced by Luni and DoouShii]
Huey’s Chasing Magic is one of the most satisfying projects to come out this year and a personal favorite within hip-hop. At its heart, Chasing Magic is a feel-good and aspirational record that shows Huey as a frank, laid-back and versatile storyteller coming into his own on multiple fronts. Stay Up is one of the darker more soul-ful cuts and acts as an ode to resilience, with a chorus that reads: “I’ve been through it all, I’ve seen it all. I’ve got to stay up and got to strong. Been through hell and back and I can’t let that hold me back. I’ve got to get up and keep on moving on.” Huey and Tyson S.T are steely, swinging for the fences with menacing flair as they approach from two different states. Huey swaggers in with his signature laid-back demeanor explaining how he’s introverted nature rubs some egos off the wrong way. His verse then goes to call-out the deceitful and performative ways in which he sees people carry themselves in the industry. Huey maintains an almost nonchalant energy throughout, resulting in him praying that his enemies get a front-row seat to watch his success story. The gears switch with Tyson S.T as he brings a venomous aggression to the track. If you want to see violence personified or a lyrical depiction of ‘come get this smoke’, I present Teli’s verse as an exhibit: his opening line reads “The girl you love ain’t never coming back, might as well text her friend that you’re outside the place she at.” Teli approaches his verse with a seething coldness as he calls out someone he knows to constantly lie to himself on Twitter, whilst detailing the steps Teli’s taking to preserve his own peace. His scathing takedown is a harrowing account of someone who’s caught up in a life of crime and still has a sense of denial about where his cycle is headed without taking active course-correction. ThandoNje soulfully ties the song together by delivering the chorus with a fiery resolve that feels triumphant and assured. Her winning delivery makes it feel like she, Huey and Teli are seasoned warriors who know they’re going to make it out of their next fight. When you couple Stay Up with our giddy mid-year pick Jaji Juice, it paints Huey as an assured rapper; he knows what he’s doing and is just here to have fun with it. When you listen to him Chasing Magic, you realize that he’s one of the coolest rappers around.
Talk About It – Filah Lah Lah [produced by Mike Kalombo]
Filahsofy is one of my favourite contemporary R&B records to have come out this year. A love record that takes us through Filah Lah Lah’s different states within romance, from infatuation to uncertainty and arguments. Talk About It finds a smitten Filah on a quest to solidify the state of her relationship with her romantic interest as she asks ‘what are we?’ Filah starts off infatuated and really sells how taken she is by this guy but is quickly sent reeling as she finds out that he may not be at this same stage that she’s feeling. The song is littered with these spoken-word sections that highlight her inner-thoughts as she’s faced with the reality that this relationship may not be that serious for him, despite having introduced him to her mother. Backed by shimmering and soulful production that often remains pensive, Filah Lah Lah is falling and the journey is relatably chaotic as she tries to gather herself within the uncertainty of the situation.
Read another Filah Lah Lah breakdown here.
Tarzan – Lesedi, Silas Africa and Lindzo HBK [produced by Orlando The Great]
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.
Tata – Zoe Modiga [produced by Banda Banda]
Zoe Modiga is a world-class, diva-level vocalist and vocal storyteller. If anyone ever tries to dispute that fact, simply play INGANEKWANE and Seba Kaapstad’s Konke and look at the range, the skill and versatility on display. The material speaks for itself. 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 provides a vocal masterclass in powerful storytelling, without the use of lyrics. Found mid-way through Inganekwane, Tata is a 5-minute showcase in the form of a meditation and praise. Backed by an orchestra, Modiga’s instrument takes center stage in a piece that is spiritual, pensive and incredible evocative; her vocals range from nondescript and lullaby-like to pained and mournful. Modiga’s vocals ebb and flow masterfully against the arranging accompaniment, which in and of itself is stunning. The production is an acoustic jazzy affair filled with guitars, keys and a string section. The instrumentation is often low-key and pensive. The keys provide consistent and lite jazz flourishes. The string section really flourishes in Tata providing some of the most sweeping and climactic moments of the piece and in the album as a whole. Tata is a breathtaking piece of music. It’s a score to a scene in your mind, a piece I hope to see score emotional moments in films and TV.
The Misery of Your Need to Be – Sergiodeartist [produced by Sergio Modise]
“…You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve, smirking at everything that people feel or want or struggle for… I pity you.”
“You pity me?”
“Isn’t there anything? What touches you? What warms you? Every man has a dream , what do you dream about? You don’t need anything do you? People? Love? An idea just to cling to? You poor slob, you’re all alone… When you go to your grave there won’t be anybody to pull a grass up over your head…”
This is an excerpt from the Oscar-nominated film, Inherit The Wind (1960). The excerpt is taken from the the film’s climactic scene between Spencer Tracy (bold) and Gene Kelly (italics) as they come to a head on a conversation that questions sentimentality in the wake of a known death. It also serves as the launching pad to one of the most ambitious feats of existentialism I’ve heard recently in Sergiodeartist’s The Misery of Your Need to Be. Split into four distinct sections; following the repitched excerpt Sergio launches into two verses that find him flexing his poetic pen. Backed by an organ, Sergio contemplates his existence as he searches for meaning. He finds himself in this endless cycle that breathes no new information, one which finds him reliving old horrors despite his best efforts to avoid them. Sergio revels in this state as he paints vivid and scenic pictures that are disrupted by terror in this breakdown. The search leaves him bruised, battered and more empty than whence he started but his search for meaning and belonging still continues. The song takes a turn when he realizes that he may not have a place of belonging which brings about a despondency, expressed in the lines: “Who the fuck cares anymore?”. The next section wallows in the despondency as the line is continuously repeated over a spirited piano solo that turns into an acapella chorus of industrialized voices. I have had a several bouts of existentialism during the whirlwind that has been 2020 and fewer things have felt as comforting and cathartic as this wallowing breakdown that gradually builds in its intensity. A searing industrial bass creeps in around the end to amplify the rage as it climaxes and it’s a dizzying experience. The final section strips things back to an intimate acapella lead by Sergio’s stirring falsetto, as he asks a final set of questions that find him yearning for this place of belonging. The Misery of Your Need to Be is found midway through his entrancing album, Sorcery, and truly is its piece-de-resistance. It shows SergiodeArtist’s ability to tap into increasingly repressed sectors of the human psyche, take his audience there and still offer them some relief. The Misery of Your Need to Be is an incredibly acquired taste and a compelling showcase of Sergiodeartis’s artistic ambition; it’s progressive, it’s industrial, it’s poetic, it’s messy but it is a singular experience. A welcomed one at that in a world that grows more unpredictable.
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.
This Feeling – Benny Afroe & Ami Faku [produced by Lastee]
Benny Afroe and Ami Faku keep us within the feels with the steamy slice of afro-soul that is This Feeling. This Feeling is a duet that finds Afroe and Faku as romantic interests who have decided to spend the night together. Faku leads the interaction as she pulls Afroe aside for a chat, where they tell each how they feel. The production is understated, a warm and cozy backdrop that gives the couple enough room to shine and sparks fly. Ami Faku’s vocal performance is a sensual croon whilst Afroe plays a coy persona. This Feeling is a song that was made to be slow-danced to. Its chorus is irresistible as Faku gives a simple directive that Afroe obliges: “come closer, listen, come closer. Come here”.
Read our review of previous Benny Afroe work here.
Thunda Thighs – Moonchild Sannelly
Moonchild Sannelly is the epitome of exasperation in the relentless banger that is Thunda Thighs. Sannelly is tired of broke Johannesburg men and is fleeing on the search for something else. Packed with her suitcase and on the road, she stops a man for a lift as she tells him her tales of woe. Backed by a propulsive amapiano production, Sannelly unleashes an infectious tirade that grows increasingly catchy the more the song develops. The chorus is a repetitive description of the current state of her body that feels like a call-to-arms for the dancefloor. Thunda Thighs is an entertaining rallying cry that is signature Sannelly fun.
Trustworthy – Miles featuring Tyson S.T & Roho [produced by DoouShii]
Miles and Tyson S.T seem to be a winning combination for me, as this is their second appearance on this list but this time with Miles taking the reigns as lead in Trustworthy. The husky-toned rapper enlists the help of Teli and Roho in this song that finds him reeling from a fractured relationship that he’s still yearning for whilst stewing on the motivations that keep him moving. Miles is in a considered state of anxiety, intensified by the statement that opens and runs throughout the track that reads: “I can feel your energy and don’t know who to trust”. His vocal performance is emotional and engaging but still manages to pack in some entertaining take downs of his foes. The chorus is truly one of my favourites of the year. It finds Tyson S.T cooing sweet nothings that he’ll do to make amends whilst Roho adlibs. Trustworthy is an enjoyable slice of emotional hip-hop filled with captivating storytelling, inventive take-downs and a solid showcase from one of the game’s newer voices.
Truth Is – Joda Kgosi [produced by Elizee]
We’ve previously done a review of this song which you can read in full here. Truth Is is as a pop-R&B hybrid that finds Joda Kgosi finally letting go of a chaotic relationship by unloading her feelings about the boy she once loved, and it is gloriously scathing. Backed by a light summery production, Kgosi doesn’t hold back on the venom as she calls out her grievances from inconsistent messaging to being ghosted and gaslit.
Vhuludu – Muneyi featuring Taxda [produced by Taxda]
Delivered in his mother-tongue, Vhuludu is a song that explores themes of solitude and isolation, and the moments missed when one is in such a state. From the initial guitar-strumming, the track lays as an incredibly introspective space for Muneyi to build his thoughts on, and what a simmering experience it is. Muneyi provides an incredibly dynamic vocal performance that shows how skillful he is as a vocal storyteller. His vocals start off quite reserved and delicate before launching into spaces that stretch him to powerful and wilting ends. Despite not knowing a word of TshiVenda, Vhuludu‘s able to pull you into this incredibly emotional experience that climaxes with this bridge packed with sweeping vocal runs that see Muneyi reach for the heavens whilst being backed by some of the most soothing harmonies and instrumentation. Vhuludu is a breathtaking piece of storytelling that represents a growing reality exacerbated by this ongoing pandemic. I kept getting lost in it as it soundtracked some of my breakdowns through repeat listenings. This is a ballad for 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.
You’re With Me (Intro) – Elizee [produced by Elizee]
Elizee is one of the primary architects behind the growing new wave of local contemporary R&B. Our final pick finds him taking centre stage, as an artist, with the trapsoul scorcher that is You’re With Me. Backed by an intimate production of keys, trap-drums and a chorus of back-up harmonies that consistently repeat the phrase “I know you’re with me”, Elizee lets his guard down by exploring his insecurities with a growing love interest. Often a cool and detached persona, Elizee unleashes one of his most expressive vocal performances that finds him truly reeling; revealing how he doesn’t feel good enough for her but is still incredibly grateful for her presence in his life. All in under 3 minutes, You’re With Me is concise as a vulnerable and quaking display of affection that feels honest and raw. It sonically continues to assert why Elizee is a threatening force within new-age R&B, he knows exactly what he’s doing and this is a confident display of that fact. Rich in sound and intimate in feel, You’re With Me is delectable trapsoul that will have you yearning for that special someone.
Read our producer’s article on Elizee here.
Before we sign off, I wanted to acknowledge 2 songs which were an indelible part of our 2020 experience but weren’t considered on this list due to parameters; one was released deep into 2019 whilst the other is an unofficial remix/flip.
Jerusalema – Master KG featuring Nomcebo
Jerusalema became a global sensation this year and it was hard to not get caught up in its whirlwind. This uplifting dance anthem already feels like it’s already become a standard. It brings about this giddy-feeling that you can’t deny and offered a welcomed time of relief in the time the dance craze took flight. It’s hard to recount 2020 without the pure ubiquity of Jerusalema.
Love Back – Eote (Yolophonik Edit)
This was honestly one of my favourite viral music moments of 2020. It started off as a clip of Eote’s Love Back music video went viral on Twitter by a user who used it to mock local artists asking for support. A tired thread within specific pockets of SA Twitter and if I’m being honest, the original Love Back had a silly charm to it that was endearing to listen to. Yolophonik decided to turn that tweet on its head by releasing a remixed version using the exact same caption, and it banged. It banged hard. Yolophonik’s production enhanced Eote’s giddy delivery into a feel-good club thumper that went more viral than its mocking predecessor. It was a rewarding and endearing clapback that is still a vibe months later.
And with that thank you for joining us this year as we continued our exploration of African art and entertainment. It’s been a trying year and it still is, we hope you’ve managed to find some joy and enjoyment within it. Please stay safe, it’s impossible to know what the future will look like but we hope you’re still apart of it. Happy Holidays, here’s our playlist to keep you company.
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