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 and Taylor Swift are the joker and queen, respectively; Pusha T is back in the lab; and Nicki Minaj makes more heat with Lil Baby. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Ed Sheeran feat. Taylor Swift, “The Joker And The Queen (Remix)”
Last year, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift revisited their 2012 duet “Everything Has Changed,” the longtime friends and collaborators linking back up for her re-recorded Red (Taylor’s Version); a few months later, they’ve rejoined once again, as have the now-grown-up characters from the “Everything Has Changed” music video for the visual to “The Joker And The Queen.” The new Swift-assisted version of Sheeran’s = song showcases their combined strength on emotionally charged pop duets, their personal relationship shining through when their voices intertwine.
Pusha T, “Diet Coke”
Dating back to his Clipse days, Pusha T has always been hip-hop’s master of the drug metaphor, effortlessly spinning gritty tales with the help of cocaine euphemisms and hard-nosed wordplay. “Diet Coke” returns the rap vet to the lyrical world he dominates, with Ye and 88-Keys providing buttery-smooth production as Pusha sneers about “master recipes under stove lights,” his flow as intoxicating as ever.
Nicki Minaj feat. Lil Baby, “Bussin”
Perhaps “Do We Have a Problem?,” the Nicki Minaj-Lil Baby team-up that was released last week, was simply an appetizer for “Bussin”: whereas “Problem?” functions as a more straightforward rap exchange between the two superstars, their second collaboration in as many weeks is more uptempo, unhinged and exhilarating, with Minaj and Baby corralling the quickening tempo and tossing out catchphrases and charisma. Both songs are worthy of repeats, but “Bussin” will be the one burning up the clubs in the coming months.
Saweetie feat. H.E.R., “Closer”
Saweetie proved a triple-double threat on last year’s Doja Cat team-up “Best Friend,” scoring points in her rap bars and grabbing the pop melody while assisting her A-list co-star in the process. While “Closer,” featuring H.E.R., looks like an attempt to recapture that magic on first glance, its formula more closely resembles Doja’s own “Kiss Me More,” with the hip-hop and R&B stars sashaying over disco-pop production that sounds vintage and fresh at the same time.
Eddie Vedder, Earthling
There’s a looseness to Eddie Vedder’s first solo release since 2011’s Ukulele Songs that should appeal to longtime fans of the Pearl Jam legend, a step down from 2020’s towering Gigaton that allows room for the rock legend to breathe and experiment. His backing band — which includes Andrew Watt, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer — helps crystallize that shaggy vibe, and especially on the rollicking Elton John collaboration “Picture,” Vedder sounds like he’s having a ball within a large-hearted detour.
Becky G & Karol G, “MAMIII”
For their first collaboration since 2018’s “Mi Mala” with Mau & Ricky, Becky G and Karol G have offered something slinky and sumptuous with “MAMIII,” a reggaetón track that flirts with the dance floor on its hook but finds its stride while gliding along at a slightly slower tempo. The G’s have reunited days before Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg presumably perform “Nuthin But a ‘G’ Thang” at the Super Bowl. Coincidence? Probably, but certainly a happy one.
Mary J. Blige, Good Morning Gorgeous
Although Mary J. Blige’s latest studio album, Good Morning Gorgeous, arrives on the eve of the R&B legend’s appearance at the Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show on Sunday night, her latest full-length proves far more substantial than a performance tie-in, even if that performance is on the world’s largest stage. Good Morning Gorgeous includes a carefully curated mix of guest stars and solo cuts, with Usher, Anderson .Paak and Fiveo Foreign among the collaborators stopping by before Blige shines on her own on tracks like “Enough” and “Love Without The Heartbreak.”