First Stream: New Music From Ed Sheeran, Young Thug, 5 Seconds of Summer & More

Mark Surridge
Ed Sheeran

Feeling overwhelmed by the new songs, albums and videos being unveiled today? You’re not alone. 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, Ed Sheeran shows off his hip-hop know-how, 5 Seconds of Summer roars back after their biggest single yet, Young Thug calls up some famous friends and Flying Lotus discovers surreal new worlds. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Song That Shows Off a Superstar’s Range:
Ed Sheeran feat. Chance The Rapper & PnB Rock, “Cross Me”

Ed Sheeran working with hip-hop heavyweights is not that gasp-inducing at this point: he’s recorded songs with Eminem and Future, and has spit some fire of his own on tracks like “Don’t.” Still, hearing the British giant fit in alongside Chance The Rapper and PnB Rock on “Cross Me,” from his upcoming collaborations album, demonstrates how naturally Sheeran can hopscotch across genres. He functions as an ambidextrous R&B crooner over a warm collection of beats here, threatening anyone who tries to mess with his lady before Chance extols his queen with a joyful exclamation: “Gotta respect the HBIC!”

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The Song In Which Rap’s Finest Form Like Voltron:
Young Thug feat. Travis Scott and J. Cole, “The London”

Following last year’s Slime Language tape, Young Thug has re-surfaced alongside two of the biggest names in hip-hop, as J. Cole and Travis Scott guest on the bass-heavy rap summit. Although Thugger’s natural charisma shines through during his breathless verse, Cole snags the Best Reference trophy on this one with a nod to the 2002 comedy Juwanna Mann. As summer officially approaches, Young Thug has offered three-plus minutes of his own singular type of heat.

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The Song That Will Get You In the Summer Mood For More Than 5 Seconds:
5 Seconds of Summer, “Easier”

In 2018, 5 Seconds of Summer scored its biggest hit to date with “Youngblood,” on which the Australian pop-rock quartet embraced a more mature sound while flaunting an impossibly catchy hook. “Easier,” the first new 5SOS music of the year and the group’s debut on new home Interscope Records, expands upon that formula, with frontman Luke Hemmings mining more raw emotion but within a more sparse arrangement. If the hook reminds you a little bit of Charlie Puth’s best-known hits, that’s not an accident: the “Attention” star served as a co-producer on “Easier.”

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The Pop Song With The Strongest Throwback Vibe:
Ally Brooke feat. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, “Lips Don’t Lie”

Former Fifth Harmony member Ally Brooke has kicked off her solo career by teaming with a pair of melodic hip-hop stalwarts, first with Tyga on “Low Key” and now with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie on “Lips Don’t Lie.” The new single is a natural fit for Ally, as a slice of airy pop-R&B that allows the singer to throw out a few sly innuendos while showcasing her impressive range. If you’re a fan of Ashanti’s breezy early-‘00s smashes, you’ll find a like to admire about “Lips Don’t Lie.”

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The Album That Revels In Its Ambition:
Flying Lotus, Flamagra

Flying Lotus has earned critical acclaim and a cult following by finding artistic rhythms — amalgams of jazz, avant-garde hip-hop, funk, elelectronica and post-rock — that no one else is even searching for. Flamagra, the sixth album from the producer born Steven Ellison, is a world worth getting lost in: lush sonic textures bloom and then abruptly end, leading into completely different universes, while legends like George Clinton and David Lynch (!) coexist on the track list with Tierra Whack, Denzel Curry and Anderson .Paak. For his first album in five years, FlyLo has offered 27 songs over 67 minutes. Go ahead and get lost in the sprawl — you won’t regret it.

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The Song That Best Shows Off A Singer’s Linguistic Skills:
Juanes feat. Alessia Cara, “Querer Mejor”

As you might imagine, credibly singing in a different language can be difficult to pull off! Yet Alessia Cara, who makes her Spanish-language debut as the guest on veteran Latin star Juanes’ latest single, sounds effortlessly convincing here, allowing her measured vocal approach to guide her over the contemplative percussion and into the back half of the chorus. This team-up might have appeared surprising on paper, but Juanes and Cara crackle together on “Querer Mejor.”

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The Album Full of Hip-Hop Bangers That Will Still Get You Choked Up:
YG, 4REAL 4REAL

YG has spent the past half-decade as an ambassador for West Coast gangster rap, giving out G-funk anthems while also creating one of the most incendiary political songs of the decade, “FDT,” with Nipsey Hussle. 4REAL 4REAL’s release date was pushed back following Hussle’s death earlier this year, and while the album contains YG’s typical brand of street poetry, there’s a somberness here that’s directly related to the untimely passing of the MC’s “FDT” partner. YG remains a larger-than-life rap hero, but the decision to include the touching “My Last Words - Nipsey Tribute,” the audio from his eulogy at Hussle’s funeral, on the track list also makes him very human.

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The Song That Creates Even More Anticipation For One of the Year’s Big Country Releases:
Thomas Rhett feat. Kelsea Ballerini, “Center Point Road”

As he’s ascended to country music’s A-list, Thomas Rhett has been able to both collaborate with some of the genre’s biggest stars as well as fine-tune his songwriting to maximize the narratives at the core of his hooks. “Center Point Road” pulls off both tricks at once, bringing Kelsea Ballerini into Rhett’s orbit while building a stirring chorus around a small-town, big-dream story (“We wrote our own destiny / In parking lots and empty streets,” they sing). Each advance song from Center Point Road, his new album out next week, shows how much Rhett has comfortably grown into his role as a star with something to say.

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The EP That Brings a K-Pop Group to The Next Level:
NCT 127, NCT #127 We Are Superhuman

K-pop has never been more important to the fabric of mainstream American music, and NCT 127 have settled into a distinct musical lane within that boom. Their new six-song project takes its lead from the funky, fantastic single “Superhuman,” mixing in some hip-hop poses and EDM breakdowns but streaking forward with glossy pop refrains. From a pure smile-inducing standpoint, you won’t find a more successful track this week in K-pop than “Highway to Heaven,” this EP’s magnetic opener.

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