Drake - "God's Plan"
Eight years into his career, Drake is still churning out viral hits like it's nothing. "God's Plan," half of his two-track project Scary Hours, broke single-day streaming records on both Spotify and Apple Music, racking up a staggering 4.3 million and 14 million streams respectively. His keen pop sensibilities are perfectly intact, and have evolved over time to keep him ahead of the curve.
"God's Plan" showcases Drake's ability to deliver both a memorable hook and potent verses, creating a true "Drake featuring Drake" moment. Lyrically, he sticks to familiar terrain, rapping about success, loneliness, relationships, and the paranoia that comes with fame. The production, which is supplied by Cardo, Boi-1da and YeX, sounds reminiscent of his earlier work. The song's sonic architecture is sparse and infectious, led by a looped organ sample, punchy drums, and a snarling bassline. The upward motion of the organ sample gives the song a buoyant, triumphant feel.—Charlotte Freitag
Dabrye ft. DOOM - "Lil Mufukuz"
Every new DOOM verse is an event, and the venomous villain emerged from the shadows to spit two of them on Dabrye's murky, ominous production for "Lil Mufukuz." Dabrye is a Michigan producer called Tadd Mullinix, who, after hip-hop albums One/Three (2001) and Two/Three (2006), put aside the Dabrye moniker to make music under different names.
Dabrye is back in 2018 with a new album and guests like Danny Brown, Roc Marciano, and DOOM, who he had previously collaborated with on 2016's excellent "Air." Now if only we could get that DOOM album, or that DOOMSTARKS album, or that FlyLo DOOM album, or that goddamn Madvillainy 2 maybe we wouldn't have to obsess over every DOOM guest verse so much.—Alex Gardner
James Blake - "If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead"
James Blake stripped his music back with gorgeous results for 2016's The Colour In Anything. It's a bare album that really showcases his songwriting talents as well as his distinct vocal abilities, but it was missing the bizarre production flourishes that made his work stand out before he even dropped his self-titled debut album. With "If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead," he's returning to that glitchy, off-kilter style that he built his name on.
It's a strangely calming track, and yet it's also incredibly anxious, too. The way his chopped-up vocals swirl around the alien, Aphex Twin-inflected beat makes this a sharp turn from his more recent output. Regardless, it's got us on our toes for whatever comes next from Blake, especially if it's as good as this is.—Joe Price
Migos - "Auto Pilot"
Migos dropped Culture II today, and it includes 24 new songs and features from 21 Savage, Drake, Gucci Mane, Travis Scott, Post Malone, 2 Chainz, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Ty Dolla $ign, and Big Sean. "Auto Pilot" is an early standout with booming production from Quavo and DJ Durel, but it will be interesting to see which other songs from the project end up as fan favorites over the next months.—Jacob Moore
Kevin George - "High Like This"
Kevin George is a 20-year-old singer and producer and "High Like This" is his first single. There are dark undertones to the music and video, but the song succeeds on its sharp pop instincts—the hook especially is gold.
"I've failed so many times during the first four years at creating a sound that caters to me and how I move, think, and feel. And I think going into LOVELAND I just wanted to make huge sounding records that caters to just about everyone," Kevin told us. Learn more about this talented young artist here and look out for the rest of his LOVELAND EP, coming soon.—Alex Gardner
Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar & Future - "King's Dead"
I love this song for so many reasons. Here are three. 1: Jay Rock's back! There have been too many excuses as to why we haven't heard more from this insanely talented man, but we'll take what we can get. Jay's especially rabid on this cut, unleashing a barrage of boasts that set the tempo at a blistering pace. "King's Dead" will appear on the Black Panther soundtrack, and Jay made sure to make the most of the extra exposure.
2. Kendrick's hook. You can almost hear him grinning through the infectious "miss me with that bullshit"—this is King Kenny at his most gleeful, casually ripping a track to shreds with a smile on his face. It makes me wonder when "King's Dead" was first devised—it wouldn't sound out of place between "Money Trees" and "Poetic Justice," or as a sequel to Jay's "Vice City."
3. Yes, Future's inexplicable insistence on a scratchy falsetto. It didn't work super well at the end of Ty Dolla's "Don't Judge Me," but it sounds raw as hell on "King's Dead," and shows that one of rap's most successful artists is still looking for ways to take chances. In summation, Kendrick's work in music supervision is presenting some tough questions. Chief among them: can a movie soundtrack appear in our Best Albums of 2018 list?—Graham Corrigan
Okay Kaya - "IUD"
Have you ever heard someone so beautifully articulate the importance of pro-choice in a song? Okay Kaya's "IUD" is a stripped back tune that echoes a legitimate fear on the minds of so many women today who feel empowered by their sexual liberation, but constrained by evil forces outside of their control. As a woman, it's almost scary how relatable the track is because the mindset is all too real. The thudding beat in the background sort of sounds like a clock or metronome ticking which immediately made me think of the female fertility clock.
The lyrics are very straightforward and honest as demonstrated in the chorus when Kaya sings "baby, you're so baby, but I don't want your baby," but the message is about so much more than the need for birth control and practicing safe sex. (Sorry dudes, but you're probably not going to "get" it.) Paired with a minimal visual in which Kaya lives in a house full of her own clones, it's a stunning reflection of modern times and the constant back-and-forth for women's rights and equality at large. This is the lead single off Kaya's forthcoming debut album which the Norwegian artist will be performing live for the first time at The Mission in Brooklyn, NY on February 27.—Sydney Gore
Lil Skies - "Cloudy Skies"
Lil Skies' biggest song so far, "Red Roses," is a lighthearted track that is driven by melody, but Skies can rap too, as he shows on tracks like "Signs of Jealousy." His Life of a Dark Rose project is out now, and gives a good look at the young artist's potential. "Cloudy Skies" is one of the more serious tracks, with introspective half-sung lyrics over a moody guitar line. We've talked a lot about the ways rap is evolving, and Skies is yet another rising artist with a sound based on wide-ranging influences.—Alex Gardner
Watch Lil Skies talk old heads, drugs, and "Red Roses" on Trending Topics here.
Jorja Smith ft. Stormzy - "Let Me Down"
Jorja Smith's last song was a UK Garage-inspired dance track produced by Preditah. Her new single, "Let Me Down," is very different. With Paul Epworth on board as a co-producer, Jorja Smith unleashes a heartbroken ballad, belting out vocals like Adele or Sia over swelling strings and keys. Stormzy slides through for a subdued verse, too, but at the end of the day this is all about Jorja's voice. Wow.—Alex Gardner
Cam O'bi ft. Smino - "TenderHeaded"
Back when Chance The Rapper released Coloring Book, a track titled "Grown Ass Kid" featuring Mick Jenkins and Wiley started circling around the internet shortly after the project's release. Due to sample clearance issues, the track never officially made the final project but thankfully it still lives on the internet for us to enjoy.
Fast forward to 2018, and Cam O'bi revamps his productions just a bit for a new track titled "TenderHeaded" featuring Smino. Keeping with the theme of the original track and the playful baby noises within the background, Cam and Smino focus on the topic of black youth and hair—dealing with the pain of hot combs, barbershop visits, and all the residual trauma of having hair that doesn't quite fit the stereotypical "norm." The smooth single sounds playful but still tackles important issues while making it clear that all of these past hardships are what continue to make us stronger today.—Adrienne Black
MGMT - "Hand It Over"
MGMT are gearing up to release their first album since 2013, and the project's third single "Hand It Over" has us excited about the prospect of a return to form for the duo. Since breaking through with Oracular Spectacular back in 2007, they haven't been afraid of taking detours and experimenting with their sound. Follow-up records Congratulations and MGMT challenged listeners more than their pop-friendly debut, but the pleasant psych-pop sounds of "Hand It Over" hint at a return in that direction—albeit at a slower, more methodical pace.—Eric Skelton
Suzi Wu - "Taken Care Of"
Suzi Wu's "Taken Care Of" isn't the kind of pop that's popular right now. It's raw and a little unkempt, and there's a punk energy to Wu's charisma that gives the 19-year-old London artist an edge. But despite that, the song is catchy as hell and addictive. Wu may not fit in neatly with popular music in 2018, but that's what makes her stand out. We can't wait to hear more.—Jacob Moore
Octavian ft. Sam Wise - "100 Degrees"
If you haven't heard Octavian's "Party Here" yet, you're missing out. The French-born, London-raised rapper's track was an incredibly impressive introduction, and now he's got to build on the momentum that's seen him playing at Virgil Abloh's Paris Fashion Week show and getting cosigned by Drake. His next move is "100 Degrees," a menacing song that comes with another vivid video. Octavian shows off another side to his sound on the dark track, but still throws in some melodic flourishes, while House of Pharaoh’s Sam Wise contributes a guest verse. It's a strong follow up to a breakout moment, and has us even more excited for whatever comes next.—Alex Gardner
Rejjie Snow ft. Kaytranada & Aminé - "Egyptian Luvr"
Rejjie Snow has always had an easy, natural presence on the mic, and he showcases it brilliantly with “Egyptian Luvr,” a neon lit groove produced by Kaytranada and featuring guest turns from Aminé and Dana Williams. The bouncy single sets the tone for his long-awaited debut, Dear Annie. It’s dance floor ready thanks to Kaytranada’s sharp drum programming and Snow’s rhythmic delivery, but it’s also bittersweet and wistful, a reflection on the unshakeable weight of our past and how it lingers with us, most glaringly as we pursue new partners and look to the future. Aminé and Snow are a perfect tandem, Williams adds melodic heft on the hook, and “Egyptian Luvr” makes the lengthy wait for Dear Annie seem well worth it.—Grant Rindner
Marshmello & Lil Peep - "Spotlight"
Not a day goes by in which I don't think about Lil Peep. In such a short space of time, he left a huge impact on so many. Connecting with people going through everything he represented, he was far more than just a promising musician. The first official drop since his passing, "Spotlight" arrives with considerable heft. As an indication of how much more he had to give, it's a heartbreaking epilogue to his career. He says it best himself in the song, singing, "Now you're gone I can't believe it."—Joe Price
Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, the Creator & Bootsy Collins - "After the Storm"
Just seeing certain names together is enough to assume that a collaboration is going to be good. That's what happened when Kali Uchis announced her new single "After the Storm" with Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins. Uchis and Tyler have worked together many times, so this comes as no surprise—even the lyrics ("After the storm's when the flowers bloom") work as the perfect entrance for the self-proclaimed Flower Boy. But a feature from funk legend Bootsy Collins is a bit more surprising.
Uchis says Collins reached out to her after she mentioned in an interview that working with him would be a dream for her. I, for one, am very thankful that happened because the results are brilliant. "After the Storm" is mesmerizing and incredibly funky. There's a special quality about Kali's voice that always feels like you're floating through the clouds. Calm comes after a storm, and this single is truly the soundtrack for that moment.—Adrienne Black
Craig David ft. Goldlink - "Live in the Moment"
Craig David has been a massive global star since his 2000 debut went six-times platinum in the U.K., but nearly two decades into his career the singer may have found his most natural foils in Goldlink and Kaytranada. Their collaboration, “Live in the Moment,” is as smooth as anything the latter has crafted, filled with rattling percussion and glimmering guitars. David and Kaytranda had a successful collab in 2016, and the singer and Goldlink also showcase an easy chemistry, as David's pristine vocals compliment and juxtapose the D.C. rapper’s elastic, rubbery flow. “Live in the Moment” might not break any new thematic ground, but it’s definitely one to keep in the chamber for that first true spring day.—Grant Rindner
The Neighbourhood - "Compass"
The Neighbourhood kicked off their career with a winning formula of catchy West Coast songs with pop tendencies and a rock edge. Since then, they haven't stuck to the formula once. On their new To Imagine EP, the band continues to experiment with new sounds ranging from '80s rock to modern day hip-hop, and even though the formula keeps changing, The Neighbourhood keeps delivering.—Jacob Moore
Young Fathers - "In My View"
Ever since their suprise win at the 2014 Mercury Prize Awards, Young Fathers have resisted advances from the mainstream. They like their rough edges just fine, something the Liberian/Nigerian/Scottish electro hip-hop boy band confirmed with the distorted glory of White Men Are Black Men Too in 2015.
Nearly three years since that album, Young Fathers are releasing another. Cocoa Sugar is out in March, and "In My View" is the second single. The group has recalled the sounds of TV on the Radio before, but Tunde and Dave Sitek would never write a song like this. Young Fathers' hard-line positions on equality and compassion remain uncompromising, this time taking the form of an anthemic hook and striking video directed by Jack Whitely. They've doubled down on their humanistic messaging and adopted a new look (the hair plays, Alloysious), and the music is better than ever.—Graham Corrigan
Cozz - "Questions"
Cozz is back. It's been exactly two years since the Dreamville rapper dropped his last project, Nothin’ Personal, and he's beginning 2018 on a strong note with "Questions." Over piano-heavy production from Soulprofessa and Meez, Cozz snarls inspired lines like, "These ni**as ain't really sure of me, I ain't certain G / They doubt me currently even with Cole referring me." The short two-minute single is our first taste of his forthcoming album, Effected, and the South Central rapper sounds hungrier than ever. Great to have you back, Cozz.—Eric Skelton
Kendrick Lamar & SZA - "All The Stars"
Kung Fu Kenny is taking his name literally. Marvel announced earlier this week that Lamar and TDE would be producing the soundtrack for the hotly anticipated Black Panther, and "All The Stars" was our first taste of what's to come. SZA provides the hook and a silky verse, Kendrick gets thoughtful about endorsements and expectations, and Black Panther has yet another reason to fill seats on February 9.—Graham Corrigan
SiR - "D'Evils"
Earlier this month, TDE's latest signee SiR surprised fans with the announcement that he would be releasing a new album within a few days. That album, titled November, is out now and it doesn't disappoint. SiR has a specific tone that makes his music feel both a bit hazy and mesmerizing. An early standout is "D'Evils," veering a bit in a new direction but staying true to who SiR is.
The production on "D'Evils" is bass heavy and builds the perfect middle ground groove for anything from a sweet two-step to a subtle head nod. The old reggae sample featured on the hook adds a touch that ties the entire track together and completes this addictive record.—Adrienne Black
Skott - "Stay Off My Mind"
Scandinavian singer Skott just released the Stay Off My Mind EP, and it's her most upbeat work yet. The singer's previous highlights—songs like "Porcelain" and "Glitter & Gloss"—were sweeping productions, but this EP applies that same lofty songwriting with a more buoyant, immediate approach. The title track samples the beat from “Young Folks” by Peter, Bjorn and John, and it's a brighter side to Skott that we're excited to get familiar with. Check out the whole EP here.—Jacob Moore
Chloe x Halle - "The Kids Are Alright"
Sisters Chloe x Halle continue to impress with each new release. Both of them play their own instruments, produce, and write their own music. The duo kicked off the new year in a big way—they star in Freeform's new TV series grown-ish, recording the show's theme song, and sharing another single "The Kids Are Alright" that also featured in the show's premiere.
Chloe and Halle are at the height of their harmonizing powers on the slow-building track, and the result is a straightforward, feel-good single that offers some encouragement while also previewing what's to come for this rising duo.—Adrienne Black
Kris Wu, Rich Brian, Trippie Redd, Joji & Baauer - "18"
"18" is a collaboration between five artists in the middle of career-defining moments. But more than that, it's a snapshot of just how far each of them have come in a fast-paced internet era. A year ago, Rich Brian was a meme named Rich Chigga getting laughed at by American rappers. Now he's making songs with today's biggest rappers. Kris Wu takes another big step in his transition from Chinese superstar to American respectability after becoming the first Chinese artist to go No. 1 on iTunes, and Trippie Redd continues his incredible momentum from 2017 into the new year.
Then there's Joji and Baauer. Five years ago, Joji was a YouTuber named Filthy Frank who started the "Harlem Shake" trend that turned Baauer's single into an ultra-viral hit. Now, Joji has a promising future as a serious musician, Baauer has successfully carved out a career for himself away from the shadow of "Harlem Shake," and the two have a great song together. Beautiful.—Eric Skelton
BØRNS ft. Lana Del Rey - "God Save Our Young Blood"
It's fitting that BØRNS' latest single came out a few hours before the official Coachella lineup was unveiled. I can already see all of the wasted youth spinning around in circles and shouting every word to this anthem. Lana Del Rey's contribution to the indie-pop slow-burner enhances the dreamy factor as she lustfully emphasizes words like "damnnnn" and "heyyyy" to build up to the sing-whispery chorus, where she and BØRNS make a plea to the big homie up in the sky.
After listening to the song on loop one too many times, I actually started to feel a little lightheaded and slightly nostalgic for my carefree, teenage self—literally "spinnin' and I can't sit still." "God Save Our Young Blood" marks the fourth single off BØRNS' forthcoming album Blue Madonna which is out now via Interscope. He'll also be performing at Coachella.—Sydney Gore
Car Seat Headrest - "Cute Thing"
We've all wished for Frank Ocean's voice, as Car Seat Headrest's Will Toledo does on the updated version of his 2011 track "Cute Thing," but the singer-songwriter-guitarist has already found the perfect vocal style, a half-sung, half-mumbled confessional that plays like brilliant screenwriting delivered by amateur actors. Released in advance of his reworked Twin Fantasy album, "Cute Thing" is earnest, powerful, and surprisingly anthemic considering Toledo's lo-fi roots. If you like your millennial angst delivered with searing guitar and funny, inventive wordplay, then "Cute Thing" is surely going to catch on for you and Toledo has established himself as something of an Ocean-esque bard for a certain subsection of his generation. That is, if Frank spent all his time on weird Twitter instead of Tumblr.—Grant Rindner
Burna Boy ft. Lily Allen - "Heaven's Gate"
It's 2018, and Lily Allen is back with new music, a tour, and an album titled No Shame, set to be released early this summer. Her comeback single "Trigger Bang" features Giggs, but Lily also popped up with another surprising collaboration. "Heaven's Gate" is a song by Burna Boy, a Nigerian reggae-dancehall artist whose new mixtape Outside is out now. The lead up to Burna's tape has been strong, with the J Hus featuring "Sekkle Down" and this track, which sees Lily's delicate vocals providing a contrast to Burna's warnings and boasts. Check out "Heaven's Gate" below and listen to the whole Burna Boy mixtape here.—Alex Gardner
OMB Peezy & Sherwood Marty - "Lights Out"
Urgency is key for OMB Peezy. Much like his "Doin' Bad" collaborator Youngboy Never Broke Again, there's no point resting on your laurels when danger is omnipresent, and every murderous bar and blast of organ only serves to illustrate the stakes. "Lights Out," a highlight track off his new collaborative tape with Sherwood Marty, is a perfect encapsulation of why we find street tales so enticing in hip-hop.
Both MCs rap in terms of needs and necessities, though young, they've already been stifled by various foes and deterred from their dreams enough to know that this is an opportunity that must be gripped tightly. The production is bluesy yet clean and brisk, giving room for Peezy's high-pitched flow to noodle something like a melody, while Marty bats clean up, showing his charisma on the mic. Young & Reckless is full of gritty street tales, and "Lights Out" just happens to be one of the most immediately attention-grabbing on the project.—Grant Rindner