Fresh new MC’s and surprise collaborations, July was an exciting Summer kickoff for what doesn’t really feel like Summer at all. Posthumous releases from Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD had us remembering come-up stars that left us too soon, unannounced projects like Dinner Party and Taylor Swift’s Folklore were much-welcomed surprises, and new voices such as Che Noir, Da Great Ape, and Flo Milli, stoked enough fire to keep the season hot.

Flo Milli – Ho, Why is You Here ?

Barreling through at the end of the month, Flo Milli’s Ho, Why is You Here ? was packed with the powerful energy we needed to feel energized as badass ho’s during this pandemic. I’ve pretty much had it on repeat ever since its release on July 24. With lyrics like “All they do is talk shit like a toilet with some lips,” and “I walk in the room, they get low self esteem,” Flo Milli speaks it like it is, and she’s got the heat to back it up.

Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, and Kamasi Washington – Dinner Party

The link-up announcement of a supergroup composed of Kendrick-producer Terrace Martin, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, pianist Robert Glasper, and legendary beat master 9th Wonder came as a surprise, but they’re collaboration certainty makes complete sense. Especially with most of the jazzy jams featuring Phoelix (singer and producer on Noname’s Telefone), their musical styles blend seamlessly. Standout song “Love You Bad” is a ’70s soul hip-hop beat that would make J Dilla proud.

Taylor Swift – folklore

A true, complete surprise. Taylor Swift’s “indie album,” as the press deems it, was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and pop-everyman Jack Antonoff. Quieter then her previous projects of Reputation and Lover, Dessner’s influence is immediately at the forefront of Folklore, propping up some of Taylor’s most mature work yet. The single “Exile” goes even further into the theme, featuring Justin Vernon singing in his natural baritone. One could only imagine such influence stemming from Dessner’s work with National frontman Matt Berninger, however Swift’s experiment still proves fruitful.

Apollo Brown & Che Noir – As God Intended

Thanks to the Griselda crew, Buffalo has emerged as the last torch holder of old school New York rap. Che Noir, one of Buffalo’s most promising pupils, connected with Apollo Brown, the legendary Detroit producer, spitting alongside Black Thought on “Hustle Don’t Give,” and gliding over beats sampling Nikki D’s lost-in-time hit on Roseandblog’s Verse of the Month: “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

Pop Smoke – “Gangstas”

As I wrote in Pop Smoke Had Made It Before Shooting for the Stars, Pop Smoke’s posthumous record lived in that questionable space between a fitting tribute and picked-up drafts turned into radio forgettables. Pop Smoke didn’t want to stay regional, but he wasn’t a national sensation because he had mainstream range and appeal. His strength lied in tracks here like “Gangstas,” where the Brooklyn Drill magic still vibrates.

The Kid LAROI – “Tell Me Why”

There’s something about emo bands influencing Juice WRLD influencing a kid from Australia that my mind hasn’t grappled with on a genre-trajectory basis, but if Juice WRLD was looking for someone to carry on his sound past his untimely death, he found out in The Kid LAROI.

Pink Sweat$ – “Icy”

Pink Sweat$ is the prime example of how quickly artists can rise to the national level out of nowhere. A studio singer and friend of Tierra Whack, Pink Sweat$’ debut ep Volume 1 was full of songs that he had originally written for other artists, but now that he’s established himself as a solo artist, he can vibe on grooves for himself, such as “Icy,” and figure out what it means to be Pink Sweat$ on The Prelude.

Kevin Gates – “Difficult”

The Baton Rouge “2 Phones” rap superstar, Kevin Gates has only been able to release two official projects since 2016 in and out of prison, but also brings his penchant for melody on the occasional surprise single. The chorus on “Difficult” is no exception.

Da Great Ape – STR8DROP

Atlanta come-up Da Great Ape got the co-sign from T.I. before releasing STR8DROP, his new record on Warner featuring Rick Ross. With militant production and a booming voice like Chuck D, Da Great Ape’s Jeezy-inspired trap rap shows the most promise for a A-list promotion.

Buju Banton – Upside Down 2020

Buju Banton, one of the most cherished Jamaican artists since Bob Marley, returns after a decade with Upside Down 2020, an eclectic record featuring classic reggae sounds on “Yes Mi Friend” with Stephen Marley, hip-hop ventures with Pharrell Williams and Stefflon Don, and global messages on “The World Is Changing.” “I say, the world is changing, not today, nor yesterday,” he sings, “Everyone’s eyes are open, they can see clear.”

What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.