BEST NEW ALBUM
Beyoncé – HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM
Only Beyoncé could have a 40-song album from a year-old live performance be the best album of the year so far. HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM is a blend of both weekends of her legendary Coachella, sorry, Beychella performances. The album is an achievement in engineering and mixing; Bey and her team were able to seamlessly mix two separate two-hour live performances, edit out the crowd, and accentuate every instrument used on that stage. Every gulp of air, stomp, clap, and scream are audible in ways that they weren’t on the actual Coachella stream last year. Those smaller elements elevate the entire project and remind us just how powerful of a performer and live vocalist Beyoncé is. Read my full breakdown of her Homecoming film here.
Anderson .Paak, Ventura
Technically, this album is two weeks old, but I didn’t do a Best New Music installment last week and the album deserves some kind of recognition. Truth be told, I was not a fan of Paak’s last record, Oxnard. There were some nice tunes (“Left to Right”; “Tints”; etc.) but overall, the grittier sound was not one that worked well for him. On Ventura, however, Paak delivers a smoother record that fully leans into the glory of traditional funk and R&B. With a stunning roster that includes Smokey Robinson, Lalah Hathaway, Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy, Nate Dogg, and more, Paak delivered with this album. “Jet Black,” which features Brandy, is a bouncy summer anthem and the Smokey Robinson-assisted “Make It Better” is a future classic in the making. Paak’s dedication to analog instrumentation and his attention to detail (there are so many layers, yet the album does not feel cluttered at all) are his greatest strengths on Ventura.
Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
Lizzo’s explosive pop music and her infectious personality have catapulted her to superstar status this year. Her debut album, Cuz I Love You, is a celebration of self-love, body positivity, and overall good vibes. She blends doo-wop, rock, R&B, funk, soul, and rap to create a record that is as undeniably Black as it is feminist and fearless. Her vocal performances are emphatic and expressive, but they never overpower the excellence of the tight production.
BEST NEW SONG
Beyoncé – Before I Let Go
This just might be peak Blackness. On this song, which doubles as an end credits song and bonus track, Beyoncé covers Maze’s class “Before I Let Go,” and blends it over Cameo’s “Candy” beat. The intersection of R&B, bounce, rap, line dance music, and funk is Beyoncé’s sweet spot — she always shines there. She croons that she “pulled up to Coachella” and “did the damn thing” and while asking us to “turn around, kick, then slide” and “swag the right and surf the left.” If you’ve ever been to a Black barbecue or cookout, you know the beauty of this remix. Electric slides will never be the same after this summer!
Lil Dicky – Earth
Lil Dicky somehow united half the music industry for an adorable and endearing ode to climate change. Starring Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Rita Ora, Kevin Hart, Shawn Mendes, Adam Levine, Zac Brown Band, Miguel, Sia, Hailee Steinfeld, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor and more, “Earth” is equal parts “We Are the World” and comedic genius. Each celebrity stars as a different animal or character (Bieber as a baboon; Grande as a zebra) as they belt about environmental sustainability and saving the planet. The shimmery pop-rap beat is the perfect foundation for the comedy-driven track; we even get Ariana Grande’s signature belts and runs! To top it all off, all proceeds from the song will be donated to various environmental charities and causes.
SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott – Power Is Power
I’ll say this now because it really cannot be ignored: this is basically a copy of The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther cut “Pray for Me.” Nevertheless, three of the most interesting and impactful artists of the past decade have united on this new track for the final season of Game of Thrones. Lyrically, this is less compelling than “Pray for Me” as “Power Is Power” relies too heavily on lowbrow metaphors and Game of Thrones themes (fire, ice, power, power, more fire… c’mon guys!) The saving graces are The Weeknd’s beautifully understated vocal performance, SZA’s vocal control, and the slick production that exists somewhere between industrial music and stuttering trap beats.
Also check out Katy Perry’s remix of Daddy Yankee & Snow’s “Con Calma”; Dinah Jane’s “Heard It All Before” and “Fix It”; and Madonna & Maluma’s “Medellín”