Billboard’s First Stream serves as a handy guide to this Friday’s most essential releases — the key music that everyone will be talking about today, and that will be dominating playlists this weekend and beyond.
This week, it’s about damn time for Lizzo’s grand return, J-Hope’s solo opus and Steve Lacy’s breakout moment. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Three years after becoming an A-lister with retro-leaning rhythmic pop hits like “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell,” Lizzo has returned to the spotlight with “About Damn Time,” another smash in the same vein that’s been sashaying in the top 5 of the Hot 100 recently… but the most exciting thing about Special, Lizzo’s long-awaited new full-length, is how it’s not beholden to one style of hit. As a meditation on love and its many entanglements, Special delves into the modern R&B sound that Lizzo has explored throughout her career to help demonstrate her vocal skill, but songs like “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready),” a vulnerable dance workout and surefire hit, gesture to where Lizzo’s focus might be headed in the future.
J-Hope, jack in the box
Casual BTS fans pressing play on jack in the boxthe debut solo project from group member J-Hope, and expecting to hear radio-friendly earworms like “Dynamite” and “Butter” simply haven’t been paying enough attention to what he’s capable of inside and outside of the group dynamic. jack in the box is brimming with sonic ambition, as J-Hope explores breakneck-paced, ’90s-indebted hip-hop with an agreeably darker tone on tracks like “Arson” and “Pandora’s Box” — the project is only 21 minutes, but is exciting enough to leave listeners breathless, and wanting more.
Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights
After shining as a member of the R&B collective The Internet, Steve Lacy has forged a singular solo path, and engineered a mainstream breakthrough that feels like it’s only beginning: as he releases sophomore solo LP Gemini Rights, the single “Bad Habit” has given Lacy his first Hot 100 hit and has kept climbing the streaming charts since. Those unfamiliar with the polymath will be duly impressed with what he pulls off as a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist on Gemini Rightswhich meets a mountain of hype with futuristic R&B, psych-rock, bossa nova and jazz, all wrapped in an accessible package.
Calvin Harris with Justin Timberlake, Halsey & Pharrell, “Stay With Me”
Time for what may well be the main attraction of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2: after Calvin Harris began previewing his latest star-studded, summer-ready project with “Potion” (featuring Dua Lipa and Young Thug) and “New Money” (featuring 21 Savage), third offering “Stay With Me” contains even more A -listers, as Halsey joins longtime collaborators Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams over the slickest production we’ve heard from Harris’ new project. “Stay With Me” plays out like a game of hot potato — Timberlake’s verse leading to Williams’ pre-chorus leading to Halsey’s hook — but the performers are so magnetic they pull off each mic pass and get the listener moving.
“Girls just wanna have rights / So, why do we have to fight?” P!nk demands on “Irrelevant”; current events make the line all the more poignant, but the pop superstar’s new single works in any historical context as an anthem about balancing political urgency with personal fear. P!nk is not only an expert at dialing up the intensity of a track like this — following along as the plucky guitar works leads into the heavy drums of the chorus — but also can land too-school-for-cool lines like “Sticks and stones and all that s–t” better than anyone.
CMG, Gangsta Art
“You never seen this many gangsters in the same squad,” Yo Gotta crows at the beginning of the title track to Gangsta Art, the riveting new compilation album from his CMG imprint. The idea of a “label compilation” might seem outmoded in 2022, but Gotti’s roster has always reflected his rumbling flow and relentless drive, and Gangsta Art‘s incorporation of artists like Moneybagg Yo, EST Gee, Black Youngsta, 42 Dugg, Mozzy and Lehla Samia sounds natural and time-honored, as if the entire label had been working its way to a showcase this cohesive.