It feels like summer 2020 has been going on forever, especially when you look at how many great albums have been released in the last three months so far. One genre that has been especially fruitful is hip-hop, where we’ve received extraordinary releases from veterans like Run The Jewels and Freddie Gibbs as well as promising projects from new faces like Flo Milli. There are so many dozens of other rap albums that have been released since springtime, but we gathered a few of our personal favorites for you here. We’re considering the month of May as part of summer, even though it’s technically not, so please don’t come after us if you’re the season police. Scroll down for all seven picks, listed in alphabetical order.
Flo Milli: Ho, why is you here?
Flo Milli sings or says the words “That bitch” countless times on her debut album Ho, why is you here? (which, by the way, is just an absolutely incredible name for a debut album). But nowhere does the Mobile, Ala. rapper sound more certain of that status than on the actual song “Like That Bitch.” In what has to be one of the best lyrics of the year, Milli raps, “All they do is talk shit like a toilet with some lips / Bitches hatin’ ‘cause I’m rich, ho you broke, you need a fix.” Flo Milli has graduated from viral hits to pure hip-hop finesse on Ho, why is you here?, and in the process she has supplied one of the most addicting rap albums of 2020 so far. She exudes confidence and honesty and is unapologetic all the while (see the calypso drums-infused “Not Friendly,” where she raps “Fuck that I don’t wanna choose / Lose one bounce back with two / I can’t love you, baby, you a fool”). Flo Milli has my full attention with Ho, why is you here?, which is extraordinarily tight and precise for a debut (it’s only 30 minutes, too). There’s no telling what she’ll do next. —Ellen Johnson
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: Alfredo
Gibbs’ change in producers is immediately noticeable when a Bernie Mac precedes a sultry guitar riff in the album’s first track, “1985.” That’s not a jab at Madlib—his work on Bandana was spotless—but The Alchemist’s experimentation is especially stark here. Gibbs maintains his usual level-headedness and stoic disposition through his expressions as an analytical gangster. Features from Rick Ross, Benny The Butcher, Tyler, The Creator and Conway the Machine solidify the credibility Gibbs is back to confirm. —Jarrod Johnson II
Clocking in at exactly 50 minutes, WUNNA is arguably Gunna’s most ambitious project yet. Executive produced by Young Thug, Turbo and Wheezy, and featuring some of rap’s biggest names—such as Travis Scott, Roddy Rich and Gunna’s close friend/protégé, Lil Baby—the album flows effortlessly from start to finish. Due in part to its length, in part to the chemistry between Gunna and his collaborators and in part to Gunna’s musical savvy, there’s something for every rap fan on the record. Tracks like “MET GALA” settle into a hypnotic daze through drawn-out beats and melodic rapping, while other tracks such as “SKYBOX” feature a swifter delivery that will undoubtedly will land them on many a post-corona party playlist. “I work so hard on this album Mann I just really want u guys to enjoy it,” Gunna said on Instagram. While we certainly wish we could get to know this album somewhere that isn’t our living rooms, there’s no doubt that we are still enjoying it. —Lia Pikus
MIKE: Weight of the World
Exactly one year after the release of Tears of Joy, 21-year-old rapper MIKE dropped his newest album, Weight of the World, in June. The culmination of a year spent traveling, writing and recording, the album marks MIKE’s eighth full-length release since his self-released 2015 debut, WINTER IN NEW YORK. Released on June 21 via his independent label, 10k, Weight of the World features artists Jadasea and Earl Sweatshirt, and includes production from DJ Blackpower (MIKE’s producer alias), Rob Chambers, Darryl Johnson, Red-Lee and KeiyaA. The album debuted on Bandcamp and Soundcloud and was released on mainstream platforms later that week. —Lia Pikus
Pop Smoke: Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon
The morning after news of Pop Smoke’s death broke was a loud one in New York. Teenagers walking home from school with speakers clipped to their bags and cars with the windows rolled down played the now-iconic gruff whisper-rapping of New York’s treasure. At only 20-years-old, Pop Smoke, born Bashar Jackson, became a viral sensation following the release of his hit single “Welcome To The Party.” Following the release of his mixtapes Meet the Woo 1 and 2, the latter of which was released mere days before the tragic home invasion that led to his death, Pop’s electric posthumous debut Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon seeks to provide closure for his city while also showing the heartbreaking reality of what could’ve been. —Jade Gomez
Run the Jewels: RTJ4
At this time, political rap heroes Run the Jewels and Rage Against the Machine were supposed to be on taking a break in the middle of their co-headlining international tour, but it was postponed due to COVID-19. Now, in the midst of economic turmoil, a pandemic and altogether uncertainty, the tragic death of Minneapolis’ George Floyd has sparked nationwide protests against police violence. “Fuck it, why wait.” was the cathartic boom written in neon pink letters that signaled RTJ4’s arrival two days early, for free, in standard Run the Jewels fashion. Both the album’s accessibility and message are intended to highlight the ongoing revolution, which is clearly a cause the duo readily supports. RTJ4 serves as a loving ode to the old school more so than on any of their other albums, with a Greg Nice and DJ Premier feature, Killer Mike’s references to 2 Live Crew on “never look back” (“Uncle Luke don’t stop, get it get it Magic City”), and a brilliantly manipulated Gang of Four sample on “the ground below.” This hodgepodge of styles and references emphasize what their music is all about. El-P’s New York roots meshed with Killer Mike’s Dirty South origins seem strange at first, but it’s their shared love of hip- hop’s history and politics that make the duo unlike anyone else. They treat hip- hop as a universal and political language that transcends identity, relying on the mechanics of the genre as a vehicle to tell meaningful stories, even if it means driving that vehicle directly into the building. RTJ4 is the perfect soundtrack to the revolution, especially the one not televised. —Jade Gomez
Barnacles would be the soundtrack to a reboot of American Pie starring Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin as Jim Levenstein and Amandla Stenberg as Michelle Flaherty. The lucid, steamy and flirtatious recent project from SahBabii is borderline obsessed with doing the do—so much so that its explicitness can, on occasion, become its weakness. But with its clear sense of direction and some of SahBabii’s most adventurous rapping in his career thus far, Barnacles is his strongest work to date. It pushes him away from Atlanta’s rap scene and onto his own island—one clad with babes and contraceptives, evolving away from emulating his influences. Of the many artists that Young Thug’s animated influence can be heard and felt in, SahBabii ranks near the top. The 23-year-old rapper, originally from Chicago but moved to Atlanta at 13, went viral off his 2016 breakout song, “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” that repurposed Thug’s villainistic chanting to create a cartoonish ode to carrying guns. SahBabii would go on to release his first project, S.A.N.D.A.S., in 2017, Squidtastic in 2018 and the three-track EP, 3P, in 2019, with each finding him growing more idiosyncratic, delving more into sexual experiences and anime references then his legendary predecessor. Barnacles’ arrival comes at an interesting time, as it could very well be the last new music we get from SahBabii. Earlier this year, he revealed to Pigeons and Planes that after the release of a new album, then called Wolverine, he was considering retiring to do other things. So, potentially, Barnacles could be the emotional parting message to fans that tearfully thanks them for their support over the last four years. —Trey Alston