The Year in Music 2020: Underdogs came out on top and hip-hop’s fallen heroes

In 2020, the music industry lost several music icons, as well as chart-topping artists who had only just begun to peak in their respective R&B/hip-hop music careers.

One of those lives was Bronx rapper Fred The Godson. Many were also concerned about the future of music artists this year after months of shootings and deaths that claimed the lives of promising artists such as late Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke and other legendary artists. 

On a brighter note, 2020 also saw a mixture of misunderstood artists in the music industry and formerly underrated artists get recognition, including Lil Baby and Lil Durk, who came out on top with Grammy nominations.

Meanwhile, musicians such as Teyana Taylor and Kehlani pivoted their careers by experimenting with their creativity, prompted by COVID-19 lockdowns, while still releasing a worthy collection of music to help fans cope with the pandemic.

Here’s a look back.

Underrated artists and Grammy snubs
Atlanta rapper Lil Baby dominated 2020, embarking on various efforts to speak on social justice as this generation’s G.O.A.T.  The 26-year-old rapper came out on top after becoming the first artist to go double-platinum this year after releasing the deluxe version of his sophomore effort, My Turn. Baby’s powerful protest anthem “The Bigger Picture” received two Grammy nominations for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.  

“The Voice” of Chicago rapper Lil Durk also had an exceptional year and landed the #24 song on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2020 for his assistance on Drake‘s “Laugh Now Cry Later.” The song received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song and was featured on Drake’s 2021 album, Certified Lover Boy. 

Sister singing duo Chloe x Halle were also given their flowers in the form of two Grammy nominations for their sophomore effort, Ungodly Hour, including one for Best Progressive R&B Album. During the pandemic, the girls commanded virtual stages worldwide, as well as fashion campaigns for Fendi. 

However, a group of young R&B female acts leading the R&B pack were snubbed by the Grammys, including The ALBUM singer Teyana TaylorSummer Walker, and Kehlani for the album that has created hundreds of captions and tweets on social media: It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. 

After each songstress peaked in the top six on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart, all three shared the cover of Billboard’s annual R&B/Hip Hop Power Players Issue, with Chilombo singer Jhené Aiko.

For her 2019 debut, Over It, Walker won Album of the Year at the 2020 Soul Train Awards.

In the midst of the pandemic, Kehlani and Aiko released a series of animated and quarantine-style music videos. At the same time, Teyana Taylor locked in two awards for Director of the Year after directing videos for Lil Durk, Monica, and Queen Naija, among others, as well as for herself.

The misunderstood artists
Queen Naija is another platinum recording artist who had a breakout year in 2020. The R&B singer went from writing about heartbreak to having a #1 album for her full-length debut, Missunderstood. After its release in November, the album skyrocketed to the top of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart — marking Queen’s second project to top the chart after her self-titled EP in 2018. 

The “Medicine” singer and mother of two young boys went from making viral YouTube videos to having the #6 album on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart, the #9 spot on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart, and her third #1 on the Adult R&B Songs chart, for “Butterflies Pt. 2.”

Meanwhile, Kanye West was probably the most misunderstood artist this year, after using Twitter to share his inner-most personal thoughts about the music industry and politics, among other topics. West — who previously supported President Donald Trump — launched a half-hearted failed president bid, after which he announced his bid for the presidency in 2024. 

But musically, West won, claiming four awards at the Billboard Music Awards, including Top Gospel Artist and Top Gospel Album for 2019’s Jesus Is King.

All year, West teased forthcoming projects titled Donda, after his late mother, and God’s Country. Instead, the 43-year-old rapper released collaborations with 2 Chainz, DaBaby and Travis Scott for “Wash Us in the Blood.”

Artists we’ve lost this year
On February 19th, Pop Smoke was fatally shot and killed during a home invasion. The 20-year-old Brooklyn Drill rapper had collaborated with heavyweights such as Nicki Minaj, Quavo, Roddy Ricch and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, the latter of whom executive-produced Pop’s debut album.  Five months after his tragic death, “The Woo” rapper’s team released his posthumous debut album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. The album made Pop Soundcloud’s most streamed artist of 2020 and landed himf a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance, for the track “Dior.” 

On April 3rd, legendary singer Bill Withers, whose hits include classics like “Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day,” passed away due to heart disease complications at age 81.

On April 24th, hip-hop fixture Fred The Godson passed away of COVID-19. The South Bronx rapper become a well-known rapper in radio known for his viral freestyles and collaborations with Meek Mill, JadakissDiddy, and Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah.

On April 8th, model turned actress Chynna Rogers — who performed with A$AP Rocky‘s ASAP Mob — died at age 25 of an accidental drug overdose after being found unresponsive at her Philadelphia home.

The month of May brought the loss of two music pioneers to cancer: rock and roll pioneer Little Richard on May 9th and legendary soul singer Betty Wright on May 10th.

On June 26, St. Louis rapper Huey — who was widely known for his 2006 single “Pop, Lock and Drop It” — was fatally shot at age 32 in his hometown.

On July 12,  Atlanta’s Lil Marlo was killed in a shooting in his hometown as well. As a signee of Quality Control Music, the rapper was last featured on the label’s compilation album with label mates the City Girls, Migos, and Lil Yachty

On Nov. 11, Dallas rapper Mo3 was shot and killed during a daytime attack on a highway in his hometown. Before his death, Mo3 released his collaboration album, Badazz Mo3, with Boosie Badazz.

On Nov. 16, rising Chicago rapper King Von died after a shooting incident in Atlanta — a week after releasing his debut album, Welcome to O’Block. 

Other fallen artists in November include founding Roots member Malik B and Grammy-winning Gospel vocalist Rance Allen.

By Rachel George
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