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, Machine Gun Kelly delivers another mainstream moment, Latto drops a major statement and J Balvin and Ed Sheeran transcend language. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Machine Gun Kelly, Mainstream Sellout
Machine Gun Kelly was a star before his 2020 album Tickets To My Downfall, a brash hip-hop artist from Cleveland with some real crossover pop appeal and plenty of film/TV credits to his name. Yet Tickets To My Downfall, a hard pivot toward pop-punk after some previous forays into alternative rock, crystallized MGK’s skill set: hovering above his many talents was a sense of rebelliousness, and when paired with some slick hooks and screeching guitar riffs, that devil-may-care attitude took off from the runway with ease. Mainstream Sellout both complements and expands upon Tickets To My Downfall by adhering to MGK’s newfound sound, recognizing his past, and almost always keeping the focus on his larger-than-life personality; he’s an even more commanding presence than he was on Tickets To My Downfall now, understanding that this is his shot at even greater mainstream stardom, and telling his singular story on his terms.
The success of Latto’s top 20 single “Big Energy” underlined the arrival of a fierce, unflappable new presence in popular hip-hop, and new album 777 argues that such a presence is ready for the A-list. Latto’s flow mesmerizes on tracks like “Soufside” and “It’s Givin,” but her singing is just as impressive — when she lets her voice wander and soar on the sensual “Like a Thug” with Lil Durk, she shows exactly why the pop world should be paying attention to her every move.
J Balvin & Ed Sheeran, “Sigue”/”Forever My Love”
J Balvin and Ed Sheeran are both global superstars adept at crafting club-ready pop and heartfelt balladry, and on a new collaborative two-pack, the pair delivers two sides of their artistry while feeding off one another’s energy. Sheeran sounds confident crooning in Spanish across both tracks, while Balvin offers bare emotion on the strumming sing-along “Forever My Love” and a party atmosphere on the island-flavored “Sigue”; the friends have found a compelling halfway point, and here’s hoping for further exploration.
Summer Walker feat. SZA & Cardi B, “No Love (Extended Version)”
“No Love” was already an obvious highlight of Summer Walker’s excellent Still Over It album, a masterful rejection of a heartfelt reunion, with SZA the perfect co-star to support Walker’s new-school R&B approach. This new version with Cardi B adds more star power into the mix, but Cardi wisely veers away from her alpha-rap, killer-punchline mode and instead provides a soulful, unguarded verse: “I just wanna be everything you need / I wish you could see how you hurting me,” she declares.
Maren Morris, Humble Quest
At the root of her forays into pop, electronic and rock music, as well as her straightforward country tunes, is Maren Morris’ impeccable songwriting, always conscious of presenting her point of view from an accessible space for listeners. Third album Humble Quest follows a mountain of multi-level success, from smash hits to award wins, with personal storytelling that invites you in as a confidant, addressing her beginnings on “Circles Around This Town,” long-term romance on “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” and grief on closer “What Would This World Do?,” dedicated to her late producer Busbee.
Daddy Yankee, Legendaddy
Although Legendaddy marks Daddy Yankee’s farewell album following a surprising recent retirement announcement, the reggaetón icon is not going out on a somber note: the 19-track full-length is bursting with life and celebratory guest spots, from Bad Bunny on the electric “X Última Vez” to Pitbull to the horn-led scorcher “Hot.” Daddy Yankee has transcended genre lines and influenced Latin music’s foothold in North American pop — he deserves a widescreen parting shot, and Legendaddy delivers.