“Platinum with no features” are four words that J. Cole has made his own, becoming the rare hip-hop superstar in the 2010s to put huge numbers on the board with projects that often eschewed major guest stars. The North Carolina MC seemed to be taking the same approach with the highly anticipated LP The Off-Season, revealing a track list with zero other artists name-checked... but the album slyly deploys other contributors, from Cam’ron’s chest-thumping intro on “95 South” to Lil Baby’s contemplative coda on “Pride is the Devil” to Diddy’s heartfelt prayer on “Let Go My Hand.” Of course, Cole’s mesmerizing use of language and personal revelations -- particularly regarding fatherhood -- remain the main attraction on The Off-Season, a full-length that adds to the legend of its creator.
Nicki Minaj, Beam Me Up Scotty
Before Pink Friday, the countless radio hits and monumental strides for women in popular hip-hop, Nicki Minaj was a cutthroat mixtape star, a rising Young Money MC and one of Lil Wayne’s most promising proteges. Hip-hop obsessives have adored her 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty for over a decade, and now the project has finally reached streaming services -- complete with a new Lil Wayne-Drake team-up, “Seeing Green,” as well as all the beloved mid-‘00s hip-hop samples intact, including the “Donk” rework on fan favorite “Itty Bitty Piggy.”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
Ready for a change-up? Olivia Rodrigo certainly is, after conquering the Hot 100 with “Drivers License” and mining similar thematic and sonic territory with follow-up “Deja Vu.” Ahead of the release of her Sour album later this month, however, Rodrigo shakes up her aesthetic on “good 4 u,” a riotously fun pop-punk flare-up that toasts Warped Tour days of yore; the sound recalls Paramore, but the lyrical acidity and attention to detail can be directly tied to Reputation, from Rodrigo’s idol (and new friend) Taylor Swift.
When Migos released their Culture II album in early 2018, the rap trio had completed a five-year run of hyper-productivity that also made them stars; it was inevitable that Quavo, Takeoff and Offset needed a moment to breathe after that, releasing solo projects and sliding through as occasional guest stars. “Straightenin’” trumpets their return ahead of the long-awaited Culture 3, and showcases a refreshed triumvirate -- nimble on the mic after the time away from it, tossing out delirious metaphors (“Tasmanian Devil, we spin on your block!” cries Offset) as quickly as they did during their ascension.
Katy Perry, “Electric”
If you’re wondering why Katy Perry’s new music video features the pop star singing alongside a CGI Pikachu, that’s understandable -- but the new single, released in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pokemon, dares you to imagine that “there’s no reason that this life can’t be electric,” even in a world without cuddly battle-monsters. Perry, less than a year removed from her Smile album, offers more major-key uplift here, with a chorus that recalls some of her Prism cuts.
St. Vincent, Daddy’s Home
Throughout her career, Annie Clark has focused her songwriting as St. Vincent on worlds outside of her own and her production on the future, resulting in acclaimed albums full of vividly drawn characters interacting within ear-catching musical landscapes. As a personal reflection on family ties inspired by ‘70s pop-rock, Daddy’s Home represents a departure from that longtime approach -- but fortunately, Clark’s song construction hasn’t suffered one bit, with lush throwback jams like “Down and Out Downtown” and “Live In The Dream” inviting the listener to get lost in a gorgeous new environment.
Jorja Smith, Be Right Back
“This isn’t an album and these songs wouldn’t have made it,” British singer-songwriter Jorja Smith says of her new eight-song project in a press statement. “If I needed to make these songs, then someone needs to hear them too.” Be Right Back may be a stopgap for the R&B star and former best new artist Grammy nominee, but these 25 minutes sport some deeply sumptuous songwriting: lead track “Addicted” leans upon Smith’s impeccable ear for hooks, while “Bussdown” with Shaybo grabs hold of a soulful hip-hop texture and refuses to let go.
Skrillex feat. Swae Lee & Siiickbrain, “Too Bizarre”
In the first 30 seconds of the music video to Skrillex’s new single “Too Bizarre,” the EDM mastermind picks up an electric guitar and finds a snarling line, his long hair shagging in his face. The image recalls his early days in post-hardcore outfit From First To Last, but also nods to the melting pot of his sound right now: once focused on deploying dance anthems to festival crowds, Skrillex now gives Rae Sremmurd star Swae Lee a chance to play a rock hero with a clean, uncluttered piece of guitar-led production.