Last Juneteenth, H.E.R. released “I Can’t Breathe,” a searing reaction to the killing of George Floyd and police brutality that inspired protests around the world; this year -- with a song of the year Grammy award for “I Can’t Breathe,” and an Academy Award for “Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah, in her back pocket -- the R&B star gives us an engrossing new album. Back of My Mind is far from a victory lap after a successful awards-show run: if anything, the project allows the singer-songwriter to explore new terrain as a collaborator (Lil Baby, Cordae and Ty Dolla $ign all pop by) as well as a vocalist, particularly on ballads like the yearning “My Own” and the wounded “Mean It.”
Tyler, The Creator, “Lumberjack”
Ahead of the release of his next album, Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler, The Creator has offered a single that masquerades as a straightforward rap song flexing fame and fortune -- but look closer, and it’s easy to spot the idiosyncrasies that make “Lumberjack” an irrepressible Tyler track. The caustic beat, the nods to hip-hop’s glory days -- yup, that’s DJ Drama with the ad-libs -- and the outlandish wordplay (“Salad-colored emerald on finger, the size of croutons”) distinguish the song from everything else in modern rap music right now, much like the most memorable Tyler, The Creator tracks.
DaBaby, “Ball If I Want To”
DaBaby, one of the hardest working rappers in the world, found time to make his music video directorial debut with the clip for “Ball If I Want To,” a new solo single that’s a little under two minutes of not-so-thinly veiled sexual innuendo. The Charlotte superstar carries so much charisma that he pulls off the X-rated lines as well as the celebratory, high school-set visual, which gleefully posits, what if an average library contained 100 percent more twerking?
Leon Bridges, “Why Don’t You Touch Me”
“Why Don’t You Touch Me” represents a new look for Leon Bridges: the singer-songwriter, so adept at crafting throwback soul and heartwarming melodies, previews upcoming third album Gold-Diggers Sound with a plea for affection steeped in modern R&B production. Following last year’s politically charged “Sweeter,” Bridges is continuing to challenge himself in the studio, and the tests are paying dividends.
Blanco Brown, “Nobody’s More Country”
Nine months ago, “The Git Up” star Blanco Brown was involved in a motorcycle accident that was nearly fatal; thankfully, he’s recovered quickly, and in some respects, new single “Nobody’s More Country” functions as a breath of fresh air after a sigh of relief. Brown sounds reinvigorated while singing about his travels across the States and his appreciation of dirt roads over a country-trap beat, but the highlight is in the first 10 seconds, when he lets out a life-affirming “Waaaaa-hoo!” over handclaps.