Music

The Hip-Hop Moments That Defined The Summer Of 2020

Summer 2020 was one for the books. When covid quarantine started, many of us thought that the biggest story would be how quiet the entertainment world was with the world on lockdown. But, for better or worse, that’s been the furthest thing from the truth. From Megan Thee Stallion’s summer of highs and violent lows to big-budget videos and the genre-wide reaction to police brutality, countless unforgettable moments were etched into the hip-hop timeline.

Here are some of summer 2020’s biggest hip-hop moments, from Memorial Day on:

Hip-Hop’s Response To George Floyd’s Murder

The entire country took to the streets this June to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black people murdered by police. The concerted demonstration demanded the attention of the entire country, with looting and violent uprisings occurring over a particularly contentious week of June.

While just about everyone in rap agrees that police brutality is a scourge, rap figures differed on the best means of resistance. Some, like Atlanta rappers T.I. and Killer Mike, called for a stop to the fiery uprisings. Others, like Cardi B, Noname, and Chance The Rapper, supported the protesters on social media and donated freely to the bail funds that were going around.

A disheartening amount of artists, such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, were largely silent during the period. But there were enough who did speak up, including with bars. Artists like YG, T-Pain, and the musicians on “Pig Feet” offered protest songs for the moment. Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” was a particularly respected song that framed the uprising. It came as a pleasant surprise to many because the QC artist wasn’t previously perceived as a bastion of social commentary. But politics are everywhere, as the impassioned of demonstration recitals of songs like Chief Keef’s “Faneto” and Pop Smoke’s “Dior” were statements on both artists — and their fans’ — relationship with the police system.

Megan Thee Stallion’s Shooting

This is one of the most controversial stories in recent rap memory, and no one knows with certainty how it all happened. What’s known is that in June, Megan Thee Stallion was shot twice in LA, and in August, she said that Tory Lanez did it. Tory’s silence has spoken volumes, as has his alleged text admission that he shot Megan because he “was too drunk.”

Some ongoing stories keep on giving. This one keeps exposing. Whether it’s the Black men who ridiculed and demeaned Megan even after she admitted feeling “unprotected,” the coalescence of hypermasculinity and gun culture, or the legal ramifications, there are so many corrosive social factors ripe to be scrutinized.

“WAP”

Megan Thee Stallion made the bold resolution that what happened between her and Tory wouldn’t define her 2020. In the wake of the shooting, she turned toward her craft with “WAP,” an infectious, deeply polarizing affirmation of sexual agency with Cardi B. Some artists try to simply outbar each other. Meg and Cardi seemingly tried to out nasty each other. The two took turns over a beat centering a NSFW Frank Ski chant, giving out all the particulars of their bedroom desires.

The song’s hysteria was further stirred by a colorful, Willy Wonka-themed video where the two women wandered along a funhouse also occupied by Normani, Rubi Rose, and yes, Kylie Jenner. This summer demanded bold, political music that got people passionate — who knew one of the most prominent examples would be a graphic ode to womanhood?

“Song 33”

J. Cole had been silent about the nationwide fight for racial justice all June. And when he finally stepped to the mic, he somehow had smoke for Noname, a would-be peer who he sought to tone-police on “Snow On Tha Bluff.” The song sparked contentious discussion on social media as another example of men looking to control women.

Noname clapped back on “Song 33,” a sharp, incisive song in which she called out “a demon on my shoulder, it’s lookin’ like patriarchy” and galvanized what she deemed “the new Vanguard.” Noname later expressed that she regretted releasing the song, stating that “I tried to use it as a moment to draw attention back to the issues I care about but I didn’t have to respond.” She didn’t have to, but many people are glad she did.

Pop Smoke And Juice WRLD Albums

Hip-hop had a bittersweet July with the release of two posthumous albums from burgeoning stars who died shockingly. On July 3, Pop Smoke’s team released the long-awaited, 50 Cent-approved Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon. The project, featuring tracks like “Got It On Me” and “The Woo” demonstrated that Pop had the mesh of melody and bravado that was set to make him a star for years to come.

A week later, Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die was released. Buoyed by a whopping five tracks that made the Billboard top 10 in the first week, Juice’s album showed his similar knack for melody, but also displayed a pensiveness and nihilism that hits home in the wake of his December 2019 overdose. Both projects did the artists justice and helped their fans remember them fondly.

Jack Harlow’s Rise And The “What’s Poppin” Remix

2020 has been a tough year for the music industry, but there are still newcomers managing to break through in this ugly time. Count Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow as one of them. The MC has attained a growing fanbase off the strength of his confident, quotable lyrics and songs like “What’s Poppin.” He gave the song a star-studded “What’s Poppin” remix and video featuring Lil Wayne, DaBaby, and Tory Lanez. His ability to pull off a feat like that so early in his career speaks well for his peers’ respect level of his admirable skillset.

Kanye West’s Tumultuous Summer

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July was a tumultuous time for Kanye, as his family believed that he was suffering from a manic episode that manifested in several public spectacles, including a curiously reductive Forbes interview, a controversial South Carolina “Presidential campaign rally” and tweets that had many people worrying for his immediate health.

While some got morbid entertainment in the moment, and a confusing minority sought to advocate for his “Presidential campaign,” others were more focused on his health than any of his inflammatory comments.

Kanye has been open about how his manic episodes elicit the kind of behavior we saw throughout July. For once, the public discourse shifted from simply gawking “the Kanye show” to discussing the most graceful way to respond to his conduct in light of his mental health battle. Hopefully, people had a new understanding to contextualize last night’s tweets.

The BET Chronicles Series

Hip-hop has a rich history, and it’s only right that it gets documented on the most visible stages possible. Cue the BET Chronicles series, which tell the stories of powerful rap movements through the eyes of their respective leaders. This season, the docuseries focused on Master P and No Limit, an iconic New Orleans label that represented an indie work ethic and also set a blueprint for rap moguldom.

The series is also chronicling Ruff Ryders, one of hip-hop’s most commercially successful representations of the grimey East Coast sound off the strength of DMX and The Lox. There are people who were involved in the movements who have gripes with the docuseries’ storytelling (specifically in the case of No Limit), but the shows helped to enlighten so many young millennials and generation Zers about artists they didn’t know about. That’s a positive.

DMX And Snoop Dogg Verzuz

The Verzuz series epitomizes Black people’s proclivity for making lemonade out of lemons. If everything else is going bad, and everyone is stuck in the house, at least there’s usually a Verzuz battle to get temporary respite with.

In the midst of quarantine, an IG live Swizz Beatz – Timbaland beat battle turned into a phenomenon pitting Black music’s most beloved acts against each other in 20-song battles. The series’ biggest hip-hop battle of the summer saw the two dogs face each other. DMX and Snoop Dogg both have impeccable, canonical discographies, and they had fun battling with their most beloved songs. There are many who seek to find a winner of Verzuz battles, but for some rap fans, just seeing DMX healthy and enjoying himself was enough of a victory.

The Death Of FBG Duck

FBG Duck was a major factor in the Chicago drill movement, and he was just starting to get commercial acclaim over the past several years. Unfortunately, his life ended when he was fatally shot in Chicago at 26. He didn’t achieve the commercial numbers of Chicago drill acts like Chief Keef or Lil Durk, but those who follow the scene respect his contributions to the scene with his FBG (Fly Boy Gang) movement, songs like “Slide,” and his This How I’m Coming mixtape series.

People often asked him why he never left Chicago in light of the city’s tumultuous gun violence. But Duck’s tragic death underscores that people shouldn’t have to leave their homes behind, maybe cities should offer more opportunities for people to leave violence behind.

“Laugh Now, Cry Later”

Drake is gearing up to release his Lover Boy album sometime this year, but he and Lil Durk were taking no prisoners on “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” a confident, swaggering track where the two MCs had fun over a resounding Cardo instrumental.

The song was paired with a Dave Meyers-directed video where Drake flexed his Nike connections by shutting down the Nike Company store and having fun with Kevin Durant, Odell Beckham, and Marshawn Lynch. The video, which immediately went viral, was a not-so-subtle flex of Drake’s connections and power.

Arrests In The Murder Of Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay’s murder was unsolved for over 18 years. But on August 10, Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr were arrested and charged with his murder, which is believed to be over a drug deal. People had sought punitive justice for the Legendary Run DMC DJ for years, and rumors swirled about who may have been responsible for the murder and why.

Similar to the manner in which Surviving R. Kelly lit a fire for prosecutors to re-investigate the disgraced singer, Netflix’s Remastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay? documentary was thought to have spurred a renewed NYPD effort to find Jay’s killers.

“Do It” Remix

The door was closing on Summer 2020, but Chloe x Halle slipped their foot in the doorway and gave us one last bop — with the help of City Girls, Doja Cat, and Mulatto. This year has been all about the power of women in hip-hop, and the remix to the breezy “Do It” is another one for the files.

The whopping four guest artists served the track with the braggadocious, empowering energy of the original, serving as a go-to ode for the “the pretty young thing with the big ol’ goals.”

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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