Some incredible things happened in June 2020. Protests against government-sanctioned hate swelled to unforeseen global heights, raising awareness of insidious systemic racism in the minds of the privileged. City councils voted to defund police departments. Statues honoring racists were torn down.
Also in June, fiery antiracist poetry entered our lives at just the right time. Songwriting legends reflected on love and marriage and divorce. And a resurgent diva reminded us that disco will never die. These songs might not change the world, but they’ll make a pretty good soundtrack for this harrowing, electrifying, emotional summer.
1. Coco – “I Love It (Black)”
This purposeful, pride-drenched blast of UK grime is as exhilarating as seeing Black Lives Matter protests go global.
2. Run the Jewels ft. Gangsta Boo – “Walking in the Snow”
Black people are murdered by police so often, a rapper can write lyrics about a specific atrocity and chances are it’ll apply to others by the time the track drops. Like Killer Mike’s explosive verse on “Walking in the Snow,” written before George Floyd’s death:
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
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”
3. Bully – “Where to Start”
If you’re a fan of cheerful, high-energy grunge hooks, well then Bully for you.
4. Jessie Ware – “Soul Control”
An undeniable “Two of Hearts” synth line brings us behind the velvet rope at an ’80s discotheque, where the chorus froths over like champagne.
5. Bob Dylan – “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”
“Lot of people gone / Lot of people I knew,” admits a 79-year-old legend over the low, reassuring hum of his backup singers, who coax him to admit that he’s in love, even now, at the end of the road.
6. Dua Selah – “Cat Scratch”
“Posture of a pastor with his sheep / Planting hella seeds,” spits this Sudanese-American emcee over a mournful, trance-inducing guitar loop. So grateful to be in the congregation.
7. Spillage Village – “End of Daze”
A scathingly funky rap crew track about our American apocalypse: “God packed her bags and said ‘Bye bye.'”
8. Bill Callahan – “Pigeons”
A year after crafting the best album of 2019, Bill Callahan is unexpectedly back: driving newlyweds around in his limo, reflecting on the universality of marriage, and doing his best Johnny Cash impression. We do not deserve this.
9. Dessiderium – “Cosmic Limbs”
A brain-liquefying display of technical death metal riffage, with rapid-fire note clusters that scamper down your ear canals like gremlins infiltrating a spaceship.
10. Saint Jhn – “Trap (Rompasso Remix)”
Burbling, chart-baiting dance-pop with a chorus that gives a middle finger to the police.
11. Neil Young – “Separate Ways”
Can a break-up song be romantic? The opener of Neil Young’s long-lost, finally released 1974 LP Homegrown certainly comes close. Over a trademark guitar and harmonica arrangement, Young celebrates a love gone by with stark, open-hearted tenderness.
12. Teyana Taylor ft. Lauryn Hill – “We Got Love”
“Love is the new money / I’m mentally wealthy,” posits Teyana Taylor on this buoyant R&B singalong about what really matters. When Lauryn Hill appears to share her own hard-won perspective on the emptiness of financial success, it feels like a torch being passed.