This week, SZA makes a delightfully unexpected return, Big Sean big-ups his hometown and 6ix9ine aims for the mainstream. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That’s The Most Pleasant Surprise of the Day:
SZA feat. Ty Dolla $ign, «Hit Different»
Although it’s only been three years since SZA released her masterful Ctrl album, the relative silence that has followed has been maddening for fans, as they eagerly await the next move from one of R&B’s most captivating voices. Now, out of nowhere, we get “Hit Different,” a new single featuring Ty Dolla $ign, produced by the Neptunes and showcasing the vision that makes SZA so unique. A song about yearning after a man and the jealousy that springs from passion, SZA runs circles around the sinewy beat, packing each thoughtful observation with enough vocal flair that she overshadows Ty’s sturdy hook. Will “Hit Different” lead a new project, or is it a one-off to tide us over? Either way, it’s nice to hear SZA back at what she does best.
The Album That Helps Cement a Legacy:
Big Sean, Detroit 2
A sense of peace defines Detroit 2, Big Sean’s first album in three years and a sequel to his 2012 mixtape: once a punchline rapper looking up to Kanye West on the G.O.O.D. Music releases, Big Sean is now a seasoned, surefooted veteran, and his confidence in his craft elevates the work. Detroit 2 is a jam-packed record — there’s a nine-minute cypher featuring 11 Detroit MCs, a TWENTY88 reunion, a Travis Scott collaboration designed to be a smash, and an Erykah Badu spoken-word interlude, and that’s just the second half of this behemoth. Yet Big Sean nimbly hops around the different styles without sounding overtaxed or losing his carefree approach; on “Lucky Me,” he opens up about being diagnosed with a heart condition as a teenager, and through that lens, Detroit 2 is a celebration of life and survival from a still-hungry artist.
The Album That Tries To Bring Trolling To The Mainstream:
What happens when an underground hero, defined by his controversies and cult-figure status, goes fully mainstream? It’s the question that 6ix9ine’s latest full-length, TattleTales, tries to answer: after all, the most polarizing figure in modern pop is coming off of a jail stint as well as his first Hot 100 No. 1, both free and ready to dominate the charts with collaborators like Nicki Minaj, Akon and Lil AK. TattleTales ultimately straddles the line between more traditional pop craft — check the opening one-two punch of “Locked Up 2,” a rework of the Akon hit, and the rhythmic “Tutu” — and ultra-aggressive rap, as on “Punani” and the previously released “Gooba.”
The Album That Compels You To Move:
As you look at the track list to Ozuna’s new project, ENOC (El Negrito Ojos Claros), your eyes linger on the heavy-hitting guest list: not only has the reggaeton star tapped fellow Latin A-listers J Balvin, Nicky Jam, Daddy Yankee and Karol G, but he’s also united Doja Cat and Sia on the radio-ready single “Del Mar.” The collaborations often live up to their pedigree, but the 72-minute ENOC also gives Ozuna ample time to shine on his own, his voice deepening and winding around the simmering beats on tracks like “Sincero,” “A Escondidas” and the hit “Caramelo.” Both charming and prolific, Ozuna has figured out how to evolve on his own and alongside other major artists.
The Music Video That Is… Absolutely Not What You Expected:
DJ Khaled feat. Drake, “Popstar”
It’s easy to imagine a music video for “Popstar,” the recent DJ Khaled/Drake collaboration, after a single listen — Drake and Khaled, floating around a decadent existence with expensive toys surrounding them, as they’ve done in countless clips together and separately. Instead, the “Popstar” video is high-concept — after an opening monologue in which Drizzy vents his frustration with Khaled’s many demands, he calls in a favor from Justin Bieber, who lip-synchs the song and enjoys the luxurious setting in his place. The gamble pays off, as “Popstar” sounds more arresting when its visual is an unexpected experience; also, kudos to Drake for some over-the-top, genuinely funny exasperation in the intro.
The Remix That Unites Six Rising Stars:
Chloe x Halle feat. Doja Cat, City Girls & Mulatto, «Do It» remix
Grouping Chloe x Halle, Doja Cat, City Girls and Mulatto together on the same remix feels like it will be a quietly important moment — as if, years from now, we’ll look back and marvel at how many soon-to-be stars shone on a single track. And the best part: this remix of Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour standout “Do It” somehow doesn’t stray too far from the essence of the original, as the guests join the party without making the room too crowded. Listen for Doja Cat’s raucous energy, City Girls’ melodic flow and Mulatto’s confident drawl, but don’t overlook the classy vibe Chloe x Halle carried over from the original.
The Song That Aims To Inspire During a Tumultuous Time:
Finneas, «What They’ll Say About Us»
In a statement, Finneas reveals that he wrote his new solo track “What They’ll Say About Us” in June, inspired by both the powerful voice created by the Black Lives Matter protests as well as the sorrow inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic: “I hope this song can offer some sort of comfort to those who may need it,” he writes. During a year of great upheaval, Billie Eilish’s most trusted collaborator has done his best to take center stage and transmit 2020’s mix of emotions. While the production on “What They’ll Say About Us” is effectively restrained, credit Finneas for going full-on showstopper when he draws out the line, “We’ve got the time to take the world / And make it better than it ever was.”
The Song That Understands its R&B History:
Bryson Tiller, «Inhale»
On the same day that SZA has returned with a new single, another enigmatic R&B star whose last project was released three years ago, Bryson Tiller, also takes a bold stride back into the spotlight with a single, “Inhale,” that’s daring in all the right ways. Sampling both SWV’s “All Night Long” and Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry,” Tiller uses the prism of ‘90s R&B to refract his own vulnerabilities on the track: “Yes, I spent all these f–kin’ years dwelling, yes, I feel irrelevant,” he sings, a few seconds after admitting he’s been both crying and overanalyzing text messages. Dating back to 2015’s TRAPSOUL, Tiller has proven to be a songwriting dynamo, and “Inhale” is one of his most inventive moments yet.