9 Best Rap Albums of July 2020
So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the ten rap albums from July 2020 that stood out to us most. Some of these have been reviewed in Notable Releases, and some of these are getting reviewed on BV for the first time right here. I also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great July rap albums that aren't on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order)...
Flo Milli - Ho, why is you here?
It's hard to remember the last time a debut landed with as much a bang as Ho, why is you here?, the first full-length project by 20-year-old Mobile, Alabama rapper Flo Milli. She had two songs go viral on TikTok ("Beef FloMix" and "In The Party") and she quickly gained co-signs from Cardi B, SZA, City Girls, Doja Cat, and Rico Nasty, all of whom sound like influences on Flo Milli's own sound. The album has production on multiple songs by J White Did It, who also helmed Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage," and like Cardi and Megan, Flo Milli is an extremely charismatic rapper who can really make J's (or anyone else's) production pop. There are no guests on Ho, why is you here?, but Flo Milli doesn't need them. Her personality is already big enough to hold your attention for the length of an entire album, and Ho, why is you here? proves she's got more in her than two viral TikTok songs. Just about every song on this is as fun as the ones that led to her breakthrough. Ho, why is you here? isn't a perfect, instant-classic debut album, but it marks the arrival of a thrilling new artist and we assume it won't be long before she tops it.
Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger on McNichols
Sector 7-G Recordings
Boldy James is already on a roll this year with his excellent Alchemist-produced album The Price of Tea In China and standout verses on both Westside Gunn albums, and he recently revealed that he signed to Griselda Records and will have Westside Gunn executive producing his next project. But before that, Boldy and producer/composer Sterling Toles finally released their long-in-the-works collaborative album Manger on McNichols. Boldy recorded the bulk of his vocals between 2007 and 2010, and at the time Sterling Toles' production was "pretty much chopped samples and drums." Over the years, Sterling fleshed the recordings out with a live jazz band, and he added guest vocals to the song "Welcome to 76" by a then-little-known artist named Deja, who you now know as DeJ Loaf.
In 2018, Boldy helped Sterling finish the album, and now it's finally here. It's jazz-rap that's one part real-deal jazz and one part real-deal rap, not just beats sourced from jazz records. The music is alive and improvisational, and Boldy's raps fall right into the pocket. It's a whole different beast than The Price of Tea In China, and great in its own way.
Black Soprano Family - Benny the Butcher & DJ Drama Present Black Soprano Family
The Griselda Records label/crew has been one of the most dominant forces in rap this year, thanks in no small part the many verses that not-so-secret weapon Benny the Butcher has dropped on tracks by his groupmates Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, likeminded peers like Boldy James, and stars like Lil Wayne. And while Gunn and Conway have been churning out projects at an extremely prolific rate this year, Benny hasn't released his own project since his excellent June 2019 EP The Plugs I Met, which still might be the best project to come from the Griselda crew yet. We're still waiting on a proper new Benny the Butcher release, but meanwhile, he did just release this new project by his group Black Soprano Family. Benny's in the driver's seat on this one; he raps on four of the eight songs, but his fingerprints are felt on all of them. He's not surprisingly the star of the show, but his BSF groupmates Heem and Rick Hyde are nothing to scoff at either, and they load these song with verses that cut just about sharply as Benny's. As you'd expect from Benny, this is cold, hard, no-bullshit, '90s-style rap, but even when Benny is doing exactly what you expect him to be doing, he still manages to keep you at the edge of your seat.
Flee Lord & Pete Rock - The People's Champ
Loyalty Or Death
If you want more gritty, '90s-style rap that pairs nicely with Black Soprano Family, here's the latest from Flee Lord, a Far Rockaway protégé of the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep who frequently appears on Griselda projects, and who's been dropping a new project every month this year. This one was produced by the legendary Pete Rock, one of the original architects of the '90s rap sound that Flee Lord's music is indebted to. Pete Rock does what he does best, and Flee is well-equipped with rhymes that fit the production perfectly.
Westside Gunn - Flygod Is An Awesome God 2
Westside Gunn already released one of the year's best albums (rap or otherwise) with April's Pray For Paris, and now he's back just two and a half months later with another new album, Flygod Is An Awesome God 2. WSG's group/label Griselda has been on a roll this year and this album is no exception. It's got plenty more of the hazy production and gritty raps that you want from this crew, and WSG continues to find ways to make these '90s-style sounds feel fresh. It's got plenty of great guest verses (Benny the Butcher and Boldy James on "Buffs vs Wires" and Armani Caesar on "Lil Cease" being two major standouts), and a timely skit addressing the recent news of an SUV driving into a line of police officers in Buffalo, Griselda's hometown.
Apollo Brown & Che Noir - As God Intended
Mello Music Group
There must be something in the water in Buffalo right now. Not only is it home to the unstoppable Griselda, it's also home to Che Noir, a rapper who's been on the rise since fellow Upstate NY rapper 38 Spesh (of Rochester) helped put her on the map with a handful of collaborations in 2018 and 2019. Now she linked with the great Detroit producer Apollo Brown -- whose psychedelic, jazz-inflected style has made him one of the most consistently great underground rap producers of the past decade -- for her second project of 2020 (following February's 38 Spesh-produced Juno), and armed with Apollo Brown's beats, her raps sound tighter than ever. The album boasts guest verses from Skyzoo, Planet Asia, Ty Farris, and the legendary Black Thought, and still, Che -- who was born the same year Black Thought was recording The Roots' breakthrough album Do You Want More?!!!??! -- is never overshadowed. Her rhymes fall perfectly in the pockets of Apollo Brown's production, and her lyricism is compelling song after song after song. She'd been a promising artist for a while, but with As God Intended, she makes that leap from "promising" to one of the most commanding new voices in modern '90s-style rap.
Pop Smoke - Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
Pop Smoke was one of the most promising new voices in rap when his life was tragically cut short. He was shot and killed at age 20 this past February, less than two weeks after he released his excellent mixtape Meet the Woo 2. Now, Pop's family have released a posthumous album of music he had been working on before his passing, with help from 50 Cent (who also executive produced), Future, Quavo, DaBaby, Lil Baby, Lil Tjay, Roddy Ricch, Swae Lee, Karol G, Tyga, DJ Mustard, and more. It speaks to how huge Pop's potential was that a star-studded cast like that would come together to help finish what would have been his proper debut album, and these songs only further prove that Pop was just getting started. Sometimes guest-filled posthumous albums can sound overcrowded, and it's too soon to make that call on this one, but the best moments are when Pop himself is in the spotlight. He has songs where he sounds as menacing as ever ("44 Bulldog," "Got It On Me," the latter of which features Pop interpolating a hook by his hero who helped bring this album together, 50 Cent's "Many Men"), but Shoot for the Stars also proves that Pop had been honing his singing voice before he passed. He has a handful of R&B-friendly songs on here -- alongside his usual Brooklyn drill, some Atlanta trap, some west coast shit, and some Karol G-aided urbano -- and he really proves that he was about to emerge as a highly versatile artist, and not just be pigeonholed into the Brooklyn drill scene that he helped define.
City Girls - City On Lock
City Girls are finally back with their first album since JT was released from prison (and first since their two 2018 albums), and it's obvious from these songs that JT and Yung Miami are just as intent on dominating the rap landscape as they were before JT's sentencing. The album is loaded with bangers that are effectively built to command attention and move dancefloors as much as "Act Up" and "Twerk," but it's also full of more reflective moments where JT and Miami look back on the hardships they had to face and roadblocks they had to overcome to get to where they are today. City On Lock reveals a depth to the duo's songwriting that goes beyond the club songs, and it only strengthens the chemistry between them in the process.
Blu & Exile - Miles
Dirty Science Records
Below the Heavens, the 2007 debut collaboration from West Coast rapper Blu and producer Exile, remains one of the most beloved underground rap albums of the past 15 years, and while Blu and Exile have separately remained prolific over the years, it's always even more of a treat when they come together. They've done just that on their new 20-song double album Miles, their third album together and first in eight years, following Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them. The album features some of the same guests as Below the Heavens (Miguel, who's a lot more famous now, and Aloe Blacc), some of the same as Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (Fashawn, Jimetta Rose, Johaz of Dag Savage, ADAD), and some new ones (The Last Artful Dodgr, Cashus King, Iman Omari, West Coast legend and Freestyle Fellowship member Aceyalone, and more), and it (obviously) gets its title from Miles Davis, who's a clear influence on here. Exile provided jazzy beats on his last two albums with Blu too, but the production here has an especially live-band jazz feel, and the album is full of long songs that stretch out more like jazz songs than like traditional rap songs. Contrasting the more freeform music is Blu's extremely focused rapping, which -- as usual -- pays homage to '90s rap greats without sounding like blatant revivalism. There's a lot packed into this album, but it doesn't drag or feel overstuffed. It requires some patience, but it's worth it.
And here's a playlist of 45 rap songs we like from July. Subscribe or listen below: