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, Juice WRLD receives another posthumous collection, Alicia Keys continues to innovate and Rick Ross is as steady as he’s ever been. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Juice WRLD, Fighting Demons
After Legends Never Die, last year’s posthumous Juice WRLD album, continued the late rapper’s legacy with revealing lyricism and blockbuster streams, follow-up LP Fighting Demons offers 55 more minutes of raw emotion and guest stars paying homage to a singular artist gone too soon. As with Legends Never Die, some of the posthumous team-ups, like “Feline” with Polo G and Trippie Redd, crackle, and some solo cuts like the pre-release single “Already Dead” are difficult to absorb; Juice’s voice remains vibrant throughout the project, another reminder of the enormity of his loss.
Alicia Keys, Keys
Early next year, Alicia Keys will compete for the song of the year Grammy with her Brandi Carlile duet “A Beautiful Noise” — 20 years after she won the trophy for her debut hit, “Fallin’.” The R&B mainstay’s longevity has been built on different platforms, but with eighth studio album Keys, she offers a reminder of her power and creativity as a recording artist: the project is divided into two halves, “Originals” (which offers more classic soul-pop) and “Unlocked” (which playfully reworks those same songs, with producer Mike WiLL Made-It often by her side).
Rick Ross, Richer Than I Ever Been
If you volunteered Rick Ross’ discography as the most underrated in all of mainstream hip-hop over the past 15 years, you wouldn’t be wrong: the rap veteran has developed a breathtaking consistency, with each project boasting crime stories and radio-friendly hooks in addition to his rumbling flow. Richer Than I Ever Been doesn’t reinvent the wheel that Ross has carved out in the rap universe, instead letting him stay in his pocket and deliver more hits, from the opulent “Outlawz” with Jazmine Sullivan and 21 Savage to the chest-thumping title track.
Monsta X, The Dreaming
The Dreaming is Monsta X’s latest all-English release, but regardless of the language, the K-pop group’s has demonstrated a keen sense of pop craft over the course of their time together. New songs like “One Day,” “Whispers in the Dark” and “Blame Me” aim at the grandest melodies imaginable, and more often than not conjure sing-alongs; now at the new label home of BMG, Monsta X is ending 2021 by showcasing their increasingly lofty ambitions.
Rauw Alejandro & Chenco Corleone, “Desesperados”
Rauw Alejandro’s recent album Vice Versa has a shiny new addition: “Desesperados,” a team-up with Chencho Corleone of Plan B fame, draws out both of their respective strengths while adhering to the contours of the full-length it’s joining. Alejandro uses the straightforward beat as a springboard for another vocal showcase, while Corleone sounds especially animated, making the most of the end-of-year collaboration.
Various Artists, Don’t Look Up Soundtrack
Adam McKay’s upcoming star-studded Netflix film Don’t Look Up has been preceded by a collection of Nicholas Britell-helmed music, as previewed last week by the Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi collaboration “Just Look Up.” While that single receives a gorgeous new performance video, Brittle also receives an assist on the soundtrack from Bon Iver, who contributes the sweeping, life-affirming song “Second Nature.”