The Album That Your Hip-Hop Purist Friends Will Love:
Kirk arrives at a crucial moment in DaBaby’s career, and the rapper knows it — if the project takes off in the way that breakout single “Suge” and his recent collaborations have done, the MC could quickly make his way to the A-list. Naturally, Kirk features a handful of household-name guest stars, including Nicki Minaj on the animated “iPhone” and the compelling combination of Chance The Rapper, Gucci Mane and YK Osiris on “Gospel.” Yet Kirk works most clearly when DaBaby’s outsized personality, tumbling-words delivery and penchant for no-frills beats are given room to breathe. The opening run of solo tracks on the album, especially the tremendous “Bop,” are DaBaby’s true star turn; later on “There He Go,” he asserts, “I’m a buy a Lambo ‘fore this album hit the fans.”
The Song That Will Have You Dancing With The Campbell’s:
J-Hope feat. Becky G, “Chicken Noodle Soup”
Pop music can be inspiring, energetic, dramatic; it can be goofy, too, and lovably so. “Chicken Noodle Soup,” the new collaboration between BTS member J-Hope and Becky G that re-imagines the 2006 Webstar/Young B dance classic, acts as a combustible meeting point between K-pop and rhythmic Latin, but also makes the absolute most of a chorus constructed around the sentiment, “Chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle soup, with a soda on the side.” J-Hope grins through his rapped verse, while Becky G breaks it down with some earnest belting before hunkering down on some rhymes of her own. At once musically ambitious and proudly zany, “Chicken Noodle Soup” wants to shake up your playlist with a concept that commits to never taking itself too seriously.
The Song That Just Got Added To Every Major Rap Playlist:
French Montana & Rvssian feat. Post Malone & Cardi B, “Writing on the Wall”
Never underestimate French Montana’s ability to conjure star power on a track. The MC has spent his career synthesizing disparate voices into killer singles, and “Writing on the Wall” with Jamaican producer Rvssian has the good fortune of bringing Post Malone and Cardi B into Montana’s universe. It should sound like a smash, and it does: over three minutes and change, Montana kicks off the festivities, then gets a rapturous Post chorus and full verses from his A-list guests as the production remains minimal. Come for the all-star lineup, stay for Post Malone rapping about doing cardio and Cardi spitting the words “Booty like a Jell-O Cup.”
The Album That Will Make You Think, Hey, Maybe Some of My High-School Poetry Wasn’t THAT Bad:
Tegan and Sara, Hey, I’m Just Like You
Tegan and Sara have spent this decade transmogrifying their alt-rock jangle into more brightly colored pop — partly because, well, they’re excellent pop songwriters. Hey, I’m Just Like You, their new album in which they revisit and re-record demos that were written as teenagers, demonstrates that this has always been the case. Songs like “Please Help Me” and “Hello, I’m Right Here” could have fit comfortably on the Canadian sister duo’s early work, but “I’ll Be Back Someday” and “I Know I’m Not the Only One,” among others, benefit from their recent acceptance of shimmering pop production and radio-friendly arrangements. The tracks that make up Hey, I’m Just Like You exist as unique combinations of Tegan and Sara’s inherent songwriting talent and recently evolving sound.
The Song That Will Make You Feel a Sense of Empowerment:
Zedd & Kehlani, “Good Thing”
Serving as a vocalist on a Zedd track has unlocked some of the biggest commercial hits in an artist’s respective career, including Maren Morris, Alessia Cara and Foxes. That’s what makes “Good Thing” so intriguing, especially from a sonic standpoint: Kehlani is a fiercely beloved R&B talent without a true crossover hit, but her team-up with Zedd is slower and slightly more contemplative than expected. “The best things in life, are already mine,” the singer declares on the track, which underlines Kehlani’s independence while Zedd’s production evokes a sort of mechanical symphony being led by a snappy percussionist. What “Good Thing” actually sounds like is Kehlani pulling Zedd into her world, not the other way around, resulting in a cleanly produced highlight in her growing discography.
The Album That Wants To Heal That Broken Heart Of Yours:
Jon Pardi, Heartache Medication
“They’re all these fun songs that make you feel better,” Jon Pardi recently told Billboard about the 14 tracks that compose his third album. “If they’re a little slower, they still make you feel really good.” Indeed, the rising country star has posed his latest full-length as an extended cure for emotional ailment, and while Heartache Medication hums along as Pardi’s latest modern take on traditional country, the album benefits by focusing primarily on a single concept. Of the album’s previously released tracks, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” best demonstrates Pardi’s ability to lead a major-key chorus; of the fresh songs, don’t miss the title track, where the singer-songwriter’s extended syllables showcase his effectively rendered woe.
The Song That Continues Latiin Music’s Collaborative Dominance:
Maluma & J Balvin, “Que Pena
In recent months, popular Latin music’s biggest names have joined forces for a series of fascinating team-up tracks that have allowed distinct personas to playfully bounce off each other. J Balvin and Maluma have been at the center of this collaborative movement, and new track “Que Pena” amplifies their respective sensual strengths. Maluma gets to show off his croon while Balvin careens forward with his swagger on full display; meanwhile, the details of the production — xylophone flourishes, a hook constructed around an electric riff — buoy the duo’s vocal deliveries. In a monumental year for Latin urban music’s impact on the U.S. mainstream, Balvin and Maluma have been among the steadiest and sharpest contributors, and notch another victory together.
The EP That’s Perfect To Play For Your Disco-Loving Parents:
Adam Lambert, Velvet: Side A
Adam Lambert’s most immediate connection to the 1970s remains his stint as Queen’s long-running touring vocalist, yet his solo career has historically been informed from the danceable sounds of yesteryear, from the glammed-up aesthetic of 2009 debut For Your Entertainment to the glittery moments on his excellent 2012 sophomore album Trespassing. New project Velvet: Side A is even more upfront in its throwback vibes: “Superpower” is a slick homage to Prince’s falsetto-driven classics, while “Loverboy” lets its bass line wander into a gigantic hook that showcases Lambert’s full, funky approach. Even if none of these six songs finds top 40 radio play in this day and age, Lambert is still mining the past to stay an essential voice in the modern pop community.
The Album That Upends Every Expectation of What Country Music Can Do:
Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury
If you think Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury is a straightforward country album — or even a straightforward follow-up to his Grammy-winning 2016 opus A Sailor’s Guide To Earth — then you need to take a closer listen. Sound & Fury, Simpson’s fourth full-length (which also happens to be accompanied by an original Netflix anime film of the same name), zags in every place that one would expect the singer-songwriter to zig: there’s burnt-at-both-ends psychedelica, electronic blues, jazz and even scummy dance-rock on display here, and Simpson sounds more than happy to play host to the music excursion. Sound & Fury is another change-up in a career full of them, and even if some of the chances don’t pay off, Simpson is such a beguiling musical presence that it’s hard to knock him for trying.