Normally at the end of the month, we do a roundup of the month's best rap albums, including some that were reviewed for Notable Releases and some that get reviewed for the first time on BV right here. (And we probably still miss stuff that we either haven't heard yet or haven't spent enough time with.) With the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality that have been happening since late May, June 2020 was not like any other month, and it inspired tons of rappers to quickly release protest songs that were inspired by current events and that resonate very strongly in this moment. Because of all those standalone songs that deserve as much or more attention than this past month's albums, here are lists of our picks for the best rap albums and best rap songs of June 2020. There are 11 of each.
Read on for our lists (in no particular order) and check out our monthly playlist at the bottom of this post with even more of the great rap music that came out in the past month. What did we miss?
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
Jewel Runners LLC
Amidst all the protesting, Run The Jewels gave their album an early release, and though it was recorded last year, it's full of exactly the kind of energy the world needs right now and it's truly the soundtrack of the revolution. You can read my full review here.
Flatbush Zombies - now, more than ever
Glorious Dead Recordings
Going by the EP title, Flatbush Zombies are presumably in the "we need music now more than ever" camp, and like Run The Jewels, they wrote this EP before they could've realized just how much it would resonate this week. All three members of the group rap about the deaths of parental figures on this EP, including Meechy Darko, whose father was killed by police earlier this year. Musically, the EP is as loud and psychedelic as Flatbush Zombies' music ever is, but lyrically, it's some of their most somber and devastating work yet.
Armand Hammer - Shrines
Shrines immediately resonates as top-tier work from Billy Woods and Elucid, and from the album's many impressive guests: Earl Sweatshirt, R.A.P. Ferreira, Moor Mother, Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris, Akai Solo, Fielded, and others. With psychedelic, experimental production coming from Earl, Navy Blue, Kenny Segal, and others, Shrines partially falls under "abstract rap," and sometimes Billy and Elucid's metaphors and tongue-twisters contribute to that too, but usually they contrast the trippiness with a loud, clear delivery and lyrics that are full of venom. Even with the avant-rap niche that Billy, Elucid, and their usual collaborators have carved out for themselves, Armand Hammer remain in a lane of their own. Read more here.
MIKE - Weight of the World
MIKE continues to be one of the leading voices in the current New York rap underground, and he also remains highly prolific. He doesn't change his sound up much -- Weight of the World still finds him delivering plainspoken raps over what sounds like old jazz and soul samples played on warped, melting wax -- but he remains consistently good at it and every project he's put out over the last few years has been worth hearing. This one is no exception. Read more here.
Tee Grizzley - The Smartest
"The last shit I dropped was some industry songs I thought was gon' be lit/Now I know if I keep doin' that, I ain't gon' be shit," Tee Grizzley raps on "I Apologize" off his new album The Smartest, and he walks the walk on this project too. Grizzley had a moment where -- while on the verge of a breakthrough -- he went in a more radio-friendly direction, but as he admits, it didn't suit him. The Smartest finds him returning to the tougher, more honest music of his 2017 breakthrough My Moment, and it just might be his best project since then too. He holds his own next to well-executed guest verses by Meek Mill, Big Sean, and Lil Baby, and he's in fine form on all the songs without guests too. The album starts strong, almost never loses steam, and saves its two most powerful songs for the end. Penultimate track "Satish" is a pensive ballad about the murder of his aunt and manager Jobina Brown, and closing track "Mr. Officer" (ft. Queen Naija and the Detroit Youth Choir) is a gospel-rap triumph and one of the most powerful post-George Floyd protest songs.
Sleepy Hallow - Sleepy Hallow Presents: Sleepy For President
Sheff G already released one of the year's best rap albums with One and Only (which includes two songs with his frequent collaborator Sleepy Hallow), and now Sleepy Hallow has put out his own great new offering (which includes three songs with Sheff G, plus one with Fivio Foreign and one with Jay Critch). Sleepy's one of the promising stars in the burgeoning Brooklyn drill movement, and he stands out from the pack with a half-sung, half-rapped style that makes Sleepy For President an accessible, addictive album. It's short but sweet, and already leaves us wanting more.
Drakeo The Ruler - Thank You For Using GTL
In the midst of nationwide protests against the systemic racism that has led to widespread police brutality and an unjust prison system came this genuinely groundbreaking album, which was recorded entirely over the phone from L.A. County's Men's Central Jail -- where Drakeo The Ruler is currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life -- using prison phone provider GTL (hence the album name). Drakeo's producer JoogSZN then put it all together, and it ends up sounding almost surprisingly seamless. The graininess of the phone audio remains on Drakeo's voice, but it only adds to the devastation that informs this entire project.
Flee Lord - Alter Ego Fleeigo Delgado (and Hand Me My Flowers)
Loyalty or Death
Far Rockaway rapper Flee Lord was a protégé of the late Prodigy and he's now a frequent Griselda collaborator, and if you like the gritty rap of classic Mobb Deep and current Griselda, Flee is someone you need on your radar too. He's been putting out an album a month this year, and for this list I'm including the excellent Hand Me My Flowers (entirely produced by Buckwild) which came out in late May (and didn't land on my radar until the next week) as well as the just-released Alter Ego Fleeigo Delgado. These projects have all been relatively short (these two are both just over 20 minutes), which suits his cold, hard, to-the-point style well.
Listen to May's Hand Me My Flowers here and June's Alter Ego Fleeigo Delgado below.
Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled
Mello Music Group
Iron Wigs is a new rap group made up of three familiar faces: Vic Spencer of Chicago's SaveMoney collective, veteran Chicago rapper Verbal Kent, and UK rapper/producer SonnyJim. Vic Spencer and SonnyJim already have two collaborative albums together, the first of which has a song featuring Verbal Kent, and Iron Wigs use those albums as a launching point but this project covers ground that the Spencer For Higher albums only hinted at. Those albums both flirted with jazz-rap, but the production on Your Birthday's Cancelled makes you feel like you're dropped right into a smoky jazz club; there's as much an emphasis on mesmerizing horn solos as there is on rapping. And as hazy as the production often is, it's contrasted by the bold, forceful aggression of the rhymes. Read more here.
Kemba - The World Is Watching EP
Bronx rapper Kemba has been putting out a string of great singles this year, and this week he followed them with the new EP The World Is Watching. It's exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds long in honor of George Floyd, and all four songs directly take on police brutality and killings, the systemic racism that enables them, the nationwide protests, the news' portrayal of these incidents, and more, and Kemba does this in a way that's genuinely powerful. Read more here.
Wiley - The Godfather 3
The godfather of grime is back with the final part of his Godfather trilogy and also with what he tells The Guardian is his final album. "I made it my goal to make sure the grime scene wheels are spinning before I leave," he says. Wiley was one of the artists who helped define the sound of grime in the early/mid 2000s, and when the genre began making a comeback in the 2010s, he was right there all over again, so there's really no arguing that he kept the genre's wheels spinning for a very long time. And if this album really is his last, he'll be going out on yet another high note. Read more here.
11 BEST RAP SONGS OF JUNE 2020
(in no particular order):
Terrace Martin - "Pig Feet" (feat. Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico & Daylyt)
"Someone asked, how do I feel? I told them hurt, fearless, angry, aware and fully ready to protect me, my family & my people at all cost. I got together with Black men that felt the same way and created a work of truth," said jazz/hip hop musician (and frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator) Terrace Martin of this vital new collaboration with Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico and Daylyt. "Helicopters over my balcony / If the police can't harass, they wanna smoke every ounce of me," begins Denzel's opening verse, and it's the first of many impactful lines delivered in this song. And it may be wordless, but Kamasi's sax solo sounds just as pained as the lyrics.
Run The Jewels - "Walking In The Snow"
"And everyday on evening news they feed you fear for free / And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me," Killer Mike raps. "And 'til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, 'I can't breathe' / And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV / The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy."
Spillage Village - "End of Daze"
Spillage Village -- the Atlanta rap/R&B supergroup featuring EarthGang, JID, Mereba, 6LACK, Jurdan Bryant, and Hollywood JB -- take on all the awful news in the world with this song and its equally impactful video. Even without knowing the lyrics, the melancholy in that stunning hook says it all.
Beyonce - "Black Parade"
Beyonce dropping a militant protest song on Juneteenth was bound to shake the world even if it wasn't some of her most incisive, confrontational music in recent memory. And this is.
Flatbush Zombies - "When I'm Gone"
As good as Flatbush Zombies' whole new EP is, this powerful closing track hits extra hard right now. "I just want some justice, I just want some peace/Every day, n****s dyin' in the streets."
Meek Mill - "Otherside of America"
Meek Mill has become a major spokesperson for injustice since his unjust prison sentence, and he used his platform to release this gripping post-George Floyd song.
Buddy - "Black 2"
In 2018, Compton rapper Buddy released the song "Black," in which Buddy celebrated his blackness and referenced Trayvon Martin, Huey P. Newton, "Strange Fruit," and more, and in the wake of George Floyd's murder, he released a sequel. "Feel like Malcolm X, peekin' outside my window / Everybody wanna be black, but don't nobody wanna be a n****."
Armand Hammer - "Ramses II" (ft. Moor Mother, Earl Sweatshirt & Fielded)
Armand Hammer invest in a soaring, wordless hook from Fielded, a hazy, imagery-inducing Earl Sweatshirt verse, and Moor Mother rapping "I'm a Black Panther knife to the neck of King Leopold" for the standout track on their all-around excellent new LP.
Noname - "Song 33"
Noname responded to J Cole on this fantastic, minute-long, Madlib-produced song, and she captured so much of the pain and anxiety that's informing this current era in the process.
Megan Thee Stallion - "Girls in the Hood"
Megan Thee Stallion just gets better and better, and on "Girls in the Hood," she turns an Eazy E classic into her own for her latest in a string of unstoppable songs.
Public Enemy - "Fight The Power" (2020 Version ft. Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody, YG, Jahi, Questlove)
Public Enemy debuted a new version of their classic protest anthem "Fight the Power" at the very political BET Awards, and this one features entirely new verses by Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody, YG, and Jahi that speak directly to both current events and the history that got us here.
And here's a playlist of 37 rap songs we like from June. Subscribe or listen below: