Flo Milli's Classic SWV Sample and 13 Other Songs Hotter Than This July

July was a month of problematic music news and posthumous albums from Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke, but music prevailed anyway.
Queens, United States
Leslie Horn
New York, United States
Chicago, United States
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, United States
July 31, 2020, 12:00pm
Best Songs of July 2020
Photos via Instagram

Every time we sit down to bring you the month in music, we are sure that eventually, the dust will settle and the industry will return to normalcy. But as Miguel once wrote on his third studio album Wildheart, “What’s normal anyway?”

For a moment, July felt like 2009 again, with Kanye West and Taylor Swift dominating headlines. West held a presidential rally in Charleston, North Carolina and teased on Twitter that a new album, named after his late mother, would be on the way. Swift, on the other hand, released her eighth studio album, which might as well have been a black metal album. It was a month of problematic music news: The real Lady A called out the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum for claiming to be allies only to steal the name she’s been recording under for over 20 years. Burger Records, a record label that also contemplated a name change due, shut down completely after allegations of sexual misconduct went public. Through it all, music continued to prevail. Posthumous albums like Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die and Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon were bittersweet releases that only extend their legacies.

Flo Milli, “Weak”

Flo Milli's debut mixtape, Ho, why is you here?, has people talking for all the right reasons. The Alabama native's bubbly energy makes the 12-track project an easy listen. She's confident, she's fun, and she's not taking shit from anyone. "Weak" finds the 20-year-old putting a modern twist on a classic SWV sample. She's more interested in asserting her independence and counting cash, than writing about a debilitating love. Besides, your inconsistent "good morning" texts are not impressing Flo Milli—and they shouldn't. —Kristin Corry

Ganser, “Emergency Equipment and Exits”

Chicago's Ganser have released a monster of an LP in Just Look at That Sky, a nine-song collection of nervous energy and pummeling post-punk arrangements. Keyboardist Nadia Garofalo and bassist Alicia Gaines trade lead vocal duties throughout, but Gaines sings on highlight single "Emergency Equipment and Exits." Over screeching guitars and synths that wouldn't feel out of place on The Cure's Disintegration, Gaines intones, "It’s a long way down / I don’t want to be here." While it's beyond a cliche to point out that an album that deals in anxiety and an overwhelming sense of dread feels more relatable in a pandemic, there's no denying that Just Look at That Sky warrants repeat listens right now. —Josh Terry

KenTheMan, “Freaky Freestyle”

KenTheMan has been bubbling up in Houston's rap scene for years, and she's only getting better. It's impossible to listen to "Freaky Freestyle" without walking away feeling untouchable. In three minutes, Ken provides us with doses of sex appeal that is straight raunchy at times (which we love), but also an unshakeable belief in yourself. We are also fond of anyone who can fit a Mean Girls reference in a rap song: "Since bitches can't sit with me, they don't want to see me eating." —Kristin Corry

Eli Winter, “Maroon”

Eli Winter's expansive guitar compositions evoke the pastoral warmth of artists like Daniel Bachmann, William Tyler, and Ryley Walker. "Maroon," the lead single on the 23-year-old Chicago artist's upcoming three-song album Unbecoming, patiently stretches out over a seven-minute runtime. While that's nothing compared to Winter's sprawling unreleased 23-minute album opener "Either I Would Become Ash," his keen ear for earthy textures and evocative phrasing makes the gargantuan track a breezy listen. Backed by a band the includes Mute Duo's Sam Wagster on pedal steel, guitarist Cameron Knowler on nylon strings, and Circuit Des Yeux Tyler Damon on drums, Winter rounds up an extraordinary and meditative single. —Josh Terry

Brandy, “Rather Be”

It feels like a holiday when Brandy releases new music. It's been eight years since her last album, but the multihyphenate has recently teased us with features with Daniel Caesar and Ro James. "Rather Be" has all the elements R&B fans have grown to love from Brandy: slinking production and vocal runs that only bolster the claims that she's "the vocal bible." Co-written by Victoria Monét and DJ Camper, two architects of contemporary R&B, "Rather Be" solidifies Brandy's veteran status while introducing her to a generation of new fans. —Kristin Corry

Bartees Strange, “Mustang”

In March, Washington D.C. artist Bartees Strange released Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, a gorgeous EP that boasted covers of songs by the National. Those reimaginings would be just a glimpse of the heights he reaches on his new original single "Mustang." Named after the small conservative Oklahoma town where Strange grew up, the track exudes the explosive rage of an outsider as he yells, " I'd rather die than not be myself again." With clashing guitars that evokes most driving highlights of mid-aughts indie rock, Strange's songs are cathartic as they are intense. —Josh Terry

Snoh Aalegra, “DYING 4 YOUR LOVE”

Snoh Aalegra's music can feel like a beautiful ambush. Her voice is serene and smooth, with raw and honest songwriting to match. Aalegra's "DYING 4 YOUR LOVE" picks up where ugh, those feels again left off. Singing over bluesy guitar strings, Aalegra realizes she was blindsided in her relationship. The song's second verse sounds like the response to a man trapped in Drake's "Marvin's Room," who uses liquid courage as an excuse to say things that would otherwise go unsaid with no follow-through. Drake's music often misses who gets hurt, but Aalegra's provides perspective. "So how can I believe or trust in anything you say / When you so easily regret it next day?" —Kristin Corry

Half Gringa featuring Gia Margaret, “Afraid of Horses”

Isabel Olive makes rustic and resonant rock songs as Half Gringa. Her 2017 single "Pennsylvania Dutch" is probably the best primer on her emotive voice and ear for a goosebump-inducing chorus, but her upcoming sophomore LP Force to Reckon is a breathtaking leap forward. The latest preview of the album comes in the brooding "Afraid of Horses," which features fellow Chicagoan Gia Margaret. Here, Olive constructs a plaintive and gorgeous melody as she sings, "I just wanted to ride with you / And advance to the next realm in pursuit of my own truth." Throughout, the twang in her voice makes for a perfect foil for Margaret's softer-hued harmonies. There are few artists who can make introspection so vividly-rendered as Olive. —Josh Terry

Summer Walker, “Let It Go”

There are few new R&B singers who sound at home over an acoustic guitar, but Summer Walker is one of those exceptions. "Let It Go," the opener on her recent EP Life on Earth, feels the closest to her guitar-led YouTube covers and last year's CLEAR. The song stings a little, mainly because no one wants to admit that they've overstayed their welcome in a dysfunctional relationship. Walker doesn't sit in her pain though. She's made it to the other side of a broken heart and let a new, healthy love in. By the time she reaches the song's end, she's achieved a different level of unbothered: "'Cause you're doing too much, and you're trying too hard / Tryna get a reaction / I am a child of God / So I cannot be touched." Hold on, we're adding that to our email signatures right now. —Kristin Corry

Lomelda, “Wonder” 

Lomelda's Hannah Read has made a career out of finding big, emotional moments in simplicity and subtlety. The Texas songwriter's latest single "Wonder" only has three or so lines of lyrics throughout, but it's Read's expressive delivery that gives the track its power. She repeats every stanza like a mantra ("You got a lot/Give it your all") over a cacophony of guitars and ambling drums. It makes for a mesmerizing, unsettling, and oddly hopeful single, and there's something special about the expert way she sets a mood in just two minutes. —Josh Terry

Pop Smoke featuring Roddy Ricch and 50 Cent, “The Woo”

Fans of Pop Smoke have fantasized of a collaboration between him and 50 Cent since we fell in love with the Brooklyn rapper last year. But no one could have predicted it would have manifested on Pop Smoke's posthumous debut album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon. The star-studded collaboration, which also features Roddy Ricch, is an example of how far Pop could push Brooklyn drill's sound. The Spanish guitar pairs well with his signature bass-driven production creating a style that extends beyond New York City. 50 Cent keeps up well with his successors, and when Pop interpolates the Queens rapper's "Candyshop" it feels like a passing of the baton. "The Woo," and Shoot for the Stars, are a painful reminder that Pop Smoke should be here for this moment. —Kristin Corry

Bill Callahan, “The Mackenzies”

Since June, Bill Callahan has been releasing one song from his upcoming album Gold Record each Monday until it's released on September 4. He's put out five singles so far, including the dirge-like "Protest Song" and the pastoral "35," but the favorite of the bunch so far is "The Mackenzies." The friendly charm of Callahan's recent output has been his obvious happiness in settling down and starting a family, which was basically the entire theme of 2019's Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. This single carries similar emotional weight as he tells the story of being welcomed into a neighbor named Jack's home. He paints a simple scene, singing, "inside it seemed the place had already laid [out] for me." But as he settles into the dinner party bliss, he's taken aback by his new friend's kindness. He sings, "and I wished that Jack would call me son again." —Josh Terry

100 Gecs featuring Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, and Nicole Dollanganger, “hand crushed by mallet”

With 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues, the duo enlisted friends and collaborators like Charli XCX, Lil West, Dorian Electra and others that make up the Gecs Expanded Universe to hop on revamped versions of songs off their 2019 album. But make no mistake; this isn't your typical "remix album." The multi-genre romp features songs that are both familiar and wholly new, and it includes a couple of fan faves ("toothless" and "came to my show") that have only existed in YouTube rips of Gecs' Minecraft sets. But perhaps the biggest highlight comes in the pop punk-ified version of "hand crushed by mallet," which opens with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump belting out the first line. One YouTube commenter observed that listening to it mimics the experience of walking around Warped Tour in 2010 passing by different stages, and nothing I've read about Gecs funhouse mirror music has ever felt more accurate. —Leslie Horn

Boldy James & The Alchemist, “Bernadines”

On July 10, Boldy James and The Alchemist released the deluxe version of The Price of Tea in China, which dropped in February. Originally a 12 track project, the additional four tracks don't add much fat to the final product. "Bernadines" matches the tenor of the rest of the album: a sparse and menacing Alchemist beat, with the Detroit rapper on top, rapping in slo-mo while simultaneously rapping right on time. The galloping hi-hats make this song a perfect companion for running to, which is how I listened to this song in July, a lot. The cold and airy beat mixed with James's low, never-wavering voice feels like air conditioning on my brain. —Ashwin Rodrigues