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The Plug Lists our 25 Best Projects of 2020

This year has been characterized by chaos, destruction and regretfully, insurmountable loss. It was, however, a period where music carried us and kept us afloat, offering much-needed solace and escapism. Despite the lack of live shows, concerts and all-round interactive music events, most of us still managed to get lost in the magic of music by plugging in our headsets and pressing play. South African artists did their part and released a plethora of great music, despite the circumstances. What follows is a roundup of our favourite music projects that were released in this Godforsaken year.

Stogie T – The Empire of Sheep

Stogie T’s third project since the new moniker is possibly his very best yet. The veteran emcee won lyricist of the year at this year’s SA Hip Hop Awards, owing largely to this body of work – of course, we can’t discount his Freestyle Friday series during the first few weeks of lockdown. His versatility is in full display as he trades verses with an eclectic group of features, from Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai to Hardy Racks and Ason. The Empire of Sheep is another addition to an already undeniable discography.

Manana – In the beginning was the end

Manana is a once in a generation talent. A superb vocalist and an even greater songwriter, he offers a neo-soul inspired project that in its brevity, does just enough to showcase his brilliance. His silky voice lies perfectly on the mostly sparse fluttering piano melodies that populate the project, with a few up-tempo cuts. Singing mostly in low register, there are instances that provide evidence of his vast vocal range, giving the project a balanced feel.

Sun El Musician – To The World & Beyond

In a short period of time, Sun El Musician has carved a path for himself that sees him as one of the most celebrated and highly anticipated artists in the industry. A Sun El Musician project is an event, and To The World & Beyond is nothing short of that. Boasting a plethora of incredibly talented vocalists as features – from Msaki to Simmy to Ami Faku – one can only conclude that working with Sun El Musician is a sought after opportunity by many industry artists. Although quite lengthy, the album impresses.

Seba Kaapstad – Konke

Seba Kaapstad, the neo-soul quartet consisting of a South African, a Swazi, and two Germans that found its genesis in Cape Town is a breath of fresh air. Their sound is rooted in soulful melodies that broach boom bap and jazz. On Konke, the two lead vocalists Zoe Modiga and Manana sing predominantly about love, freedom to be oneself and belonging, amongst other subjects.

Cassper Nyovest – Any Minute Now

Any Minute Now finds Cassper at his most introspective and vulnerable. And to be honest, he seems to be at his best when he introspects, dealing with his insecurities, his imperfections and his flaws. When it comes to his rapping form and technique, it is quite evident that he has gotten better, which makes AMN his most lyrical offering after Thuto. Though it might be bloated, with 21 tracks, this is a solid album from one of the most decorated hip hop stars in the country.

Yanga Chief – Pop Star

Fresh off his triumph at the South African Music Awards for Best Hip Hop album (Becoming A Pop Star), Yanga Chief may feel there’s still a lot he has to prove, in order to remove any doubts that he got the award out of sheer luck. If that is the case, then it’s fitting that after his win, his next album is Pop Star because it’s an exceptional album. Amidst the braggadocio, we find a deeply reflective and self-aware artist at work.

Nasty C – Zulu Man With Some Power

Zulu Man With Some Power was arguably the most anticipated hip hop album this year, seeing as it served as Nasty C’s major international debut after inking a deal with Island Def Jam. Anticipation was also heightened by the release of his mammoth single “Eazy” which thus far has amassed over two million streams on YouTube. While the album’s arrival was met with mixed reviews by his most ardent fans and critics alike, it still holds up as a solid offering, from an exceptional artist who is surprisingly still finding his voice,

Flvme & Die Mondez – RedLight District

The Wrecking Crew may be over but it proved to be a fertile training ground for its original members. Outside of Baby Boy, Flvme is the one who has accrued the most as far as influence and approach to music is concerned. As a result, RedLight District’s entire mood and sound is reminiscent of the former crew but there’s a distinct growth that Flvme and Die Mondez offer in their depth and width when it comes to subject matter. Soulful and trappy, RedLight District is a potent joint project from two artists coming into their own.

Rowlene – 11:11

Rowlene’s official debut album lives up to expectations. Having steadily built anticipation following all her features, as well as other projects she released before 11:11, it was only a matter of time before her own body of work would be released. A sonically diverse offering, which finds its roots in soulful, trap-soul infused and traditional R&B ballad-esque sounds, it cements Rowlene’s place as an integral part of the current R&B renaissance in the SA music industry.

MI Casa – We Made It

Amapiano has taken over as the staple genre in the SA music scene, dominating not only airwaves but dance floors as well. MI Casa has however remained resolute in their tried and tested sound. This resolve sees them releasing some of their most compelling work in their ten-year career. We Made It is a return to form as the talented trio of J’Something, Dr.Duda & Mo-T stick to their roots of soulful deep house, dance and Jazz, with a tinge of R&B and hip hop, particularly with the features (Rouge and AKA feature, respectively) on the album.

Zain SA – PE Yano

To say Amapiano has taken the country by storm would be a gross understatement. Contributing to an already teeming genre, Zain SA released one of the best Amapiano projects this year, PE Yano. What elevates the project is it’s cohesiveness, as it is replete with soulful grooves that embody the Amapiano sound with soothing synth lines. The brilliant vocalists featured on the project blend in perfectly with the subdued melodies, ensuring that PE Yano will be a soundtrack for most this festive season.

DJ Maphorisa & Kabza Da Small – Once Upon A Time In Lockdown

Amapiano may have taken the country by storm but no other single artist or duo has taken the country by storm like DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small have. These two have become an institution in the music industry, and there’s no other artist that has been as prolific as them since Amapaiano took centre stage. Just this year alone they put out no less than three premium projects. With Maphorisa’s reach also extending outside of the genre, they are also able to work with a wide variety of high calibre artists, along with lesser-known artists – the outcome remains the same regardless though, dope music.

Captain – The Ape Tape

Hailing from the Free State, Captain is one of the lyrical giants still active in the game today. Having been signed to the late great PRO’s label, Money First Entertainment, well over ten years ago, his official debut took quite some time to arrive but it was well worth the wait. Deep, meaningful and complete with sharp lyricism and vivid imagery, Captain’s debut – The Ape Tape, solidifies him as one of this generation’s most compelling emcees.

Mr JazzyQ & Busta 929 – Maba Jabul’Abantu

In the same vein of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small, Mr JazzyQ and Busta 929 deliver a stellar Amapiano opus in the form of Maba Jabul’Abantu. Distinct in its own sound, while still retaining the known and loved Amapiano tenets, this is a solid project that presents a well-received diversity to what’s already on offer, in a genre that can often be too static and lacking in being dynamic.

Da L.E.S. – Caution To The Wind

Da L.E.S. has come along from being one of the members of Jozi to being a fully fleshed legend in the SA hip hop scene. In true veteran style, he has released another well-timed project whose content is mined from his vast experience of life in the opulent side. Caution To The Wind adds to an already illustrious career and is a formidable effort that follows the tried and tested collaborative knack of the ever so visionary Leslie.

AKA – Bhovamania

The multi-talented Supamega released what could possibly be his most polarizing project to date. While there’s no denying his attention to detail and nerdlike obsession in crafting an entire project that is inspired by his reverence for wrestling – a sport incidentally built on ego – and thematically sticking to it, there’s also an air of complacency that hovers over AKA’S latest offering. One gets the feeling that this is a master at work who no longer wants to push the envelope. Nonetheless, Bhovamania only pales in comparison to the rest of AKA’s discography – otherwise, it holds up as one of this year’s best releases.

Black Motion – The Healers: The Last Chapter

Another commendable project from a highly reputable outfit in the dance music realm, The Healers: The Last Chapter carries on the tradition of what Black Motion is known and loved for – soulful, hard-hitting, African instrumentation-centric dance music. Sometimes reliant on mesmerizing vocalists and sometimes reliant on just pure instrumentation, the drum beating duo has managed to create yet another solid project to add to their discography.

MFR Souls – Musical Kings

Part of Amapiano’s dominance is aided by the high supply the genre seems to command. MFR Souls are a duo which is one of the driving forces in the Amapiano takeover. Providing spellbinding soulful melodies accompanied by an eclectic assortment of vocalists, ranging from Kamo Mphela, Natalia Mabaso, J’ Something, Bassie and Tshego, to mention just a few, Musical Kings is one of the most well-put-together releases of this year.

Ginger Trill – From Potch With Love

Trill is the Cinderella of SA hip hop – often underrated and unsung but incredibly talented and proficient. From Potch With Love is a spectacle of a supremely skilled emcee at his most comfortable, experimenting with flows and concepts, overtly paying homage (peep the WESTSIDE GUNN inspired flow and approach in “Hoop Dream$”) and just having fun.  He does all these and still finds time to big up and represent not only his home city, Potchefstroom, but his fellow North West native as well – who’s an icon in her own right – Bonang Matheba on “House of BNG”.

Focalistic – Sghubu  Ses Excellent

Off the back of tremendous success owed to his “Ke Star” single, Focalistic has enjoyed a great year. He released Quarantined Tarantino, capitalising on the craze people were in during the initial months of lockdown and that raised his stock. Sghubu Ses Excellent continues on his ingenuity of blending and bending genres, as his music is primarily amapiano, yet employs a distinct rap flow. Amalgamating Sepiitori slang and popular songs phrases, as well as other popular entities in his lyrics, Focalistic has created a lane for himself that sees him comfortably on cruise control.

Boity – 4436

After she delivered a handful of scene-stealing guest verses in the previous year as well as this year, one of the most anticipated projects of the year was Boity’s debut project. This came in the form of an EP aptly titled 4436 – named after Boity’s house number in Potchefstroom. The project is proof that too many cooks don’t always spoil the broth, as the close involvement of rapper Reason & producer pH elevated it to great heights. It is, however, the impressive performance of Boity as a more than capable rapper, that accentuates the project to one of this year’s best.

Hunter Rose – Love & Trust

Love & Trust abounds with neo-soul sensibilities that are underscored by thumping bass lines, amid rich, soulful vocals by the vocally astute Hunter Rose. Thematically, she tackles self-love, romantic love and love for her environment – predominantly. It is her gentle yet firm voice that is engrossing and allows her to sing with the panache of a blues singer while maintaining the mystique and sensuality her music so effortlessly embodies.

Langa Mavuso – LANGA

Langa is a vocal powerhouse who is blessed with singing exceptionally in both his vernacular as well as in the English language. This allows for his debut album LANGA to house a spectrum of inspiration that ranges from traditional R&B, neo-soul, afro-soul and even some semblance of gospel. A truly gifted songwriter, his prowess shines throughout the album, particularly in the manner in which he handles themes of lost love, pain, heartache, distraction and acceptance.

Major League Djz & Abidoza – Pianochella

There are only a few dance and house music outfits who have managed to assimilate the amapiano sound while still maintaining the specific sounds they’re known and loved for. Major League Djz are one such outfit. With Pianochella they champion the amapiano sound while still delivering their drums and percussion-centric tunes that rely heavily on an array of vocalists from different musical backgrounds – reminiscent of yesteryears. Teaming up with Abidoza proved to be a masterstroke as they were able to deliver a 31-track strong project with hardly any misses.

J Molley – All Is Fair In Love & War

Described as a mixtape, All Is Fair In Love & War serves well as an exploration into J Molley’s well-equipped arsenal. This is an artist with such a vast set of artillery when it comes to his artistic ability. With an impeccable pen, a distinct voice and a masterful vision – he is certainly one of the most exciting, young artists making a name for himself in the game today. Rapping and singing with equal brilliance, the project plays well enough to be an album but also doesn’t take itself too seriously enough to be a mixtape.

Kabza De Small – I Am The King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust

One half of the duo that is arguably the holy mecca of amapiano, Kabza De Small stakes out on his own. Boldly claiming that he is the King of amapiano, the project does nothing but validate his claim. At 27 songs long, it is replete with all kinds of amapiano cuts, from soulful to deep all the way to up-tempo and downright street. Kabza De Small held his end of the bargain and illustrated exactly why he sees himself as royalty in this genre.

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