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, Nicki Minaj is back on her throne, Mitski sounds ready for the mainstream, and Machine Gun Kelly and Willow both have an eye on an emo girl. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Nicki Minaj & Lil Baby, “Do We Have a Problem?”
Since Nicki Minaj’s last album release, 2018’s Queen, Lil Baby has leveled up significantly in mainstream hip-hop, to the point where the queen’s long-awaited return alongside Baby on “Do We Have a Problem?” makes for one of the most exciting era kick-offs in recent memory. Both artists sound focused on continuing to scale up: Minaj’s rhymes are tight and compact, favoring tough talk and quick-hit punchlines (“I am the one, bitch you a deuce!”), while Baby matches her intensity with references to Jay-Z, Michael Rubin and fashion brands du jour. Hopefully, “Do We Have a Problem?” not only suggests a lot more Minaj music to come in 2022, but more team-ups between its two headliners.
Mitski, Laurel Hell
When Mitski previewed her sixth studio album last year with “Working for the Knife,” an entrancing single about grappling with the amount of control one singer-songwriter possesses within the churn of the music industry ecosystem, it was clear that Laurel Hell would be a thoughtful interrogation of personal and professional freedom. While the album reflects on the shifting idea of success, Mitski’s songwriting is more accomplished than ever on Laurel Hell, a project positioned to deliver her to a very wide audience while also dazzling with its details — the cracking piano notes on “Stay Soft,” for instance, or the dissonance between the production sweep and the lyrical heartache of closer “That’s Our Lamp.”
Machine Gun Kelly & Willow, “Emo Girl”
“Emo Girl,” Machine Gun Kelly’s new single alongside Willow, serves as something of a ready-made time capsule, a moment in time in which both former tween pop star Willow Smith and former rapper MGK have impressively remade themselves as leaders of the pop-punk revival and can happily croon about falling in love with a girl in “thigh-high fishnets and some black boots” (Kelly’s description) and “eyeliner on her dark skin” (Willow’s words). Toss in Travis Barker’s Warped Tour-ready production and Megan Fox beginning the song by declaring “I am a god,” and “Emo Girl” functions as a summit of artists hoisting up their rock cred in joyful unison.
Jennifer Lopez & Maluma, Marry Me (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
As Jennifer Lopez and Maluma prepare to delight romantic comedy audiences by co-starring in the Valentine’s Day release Marry Me, the original soundtrack to the film boasts a slew of new solo tracks and duets from the Latin pop superstars. Some of the tracks, like the 2020 collaboration “Pa Ti (For You),” will already be familiar to listeners — blame the pandemic for delaying the film’s release — but Lopez and Maluma shine on fresh pop tracks like “Church” and “Segundo,” respectively.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Black Summer”
With their forthcoming album Unlimited Love, Red Hot Chili Peppers have gotten the band back together, in a sense: guitarist John Frusciante is on board for the first time since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, while producer Rick Rubin is back in the fold a decade after his last work with the veteran group. Yet lead single “Black Summer” doesn’t suggest any back-to-basics pivot or course correction for the ever-steady RHCP, as Anthony Kiedis waxes poetic about nature and the passage of time, a chorus ripe for alternative rock radio arrives, and Frusciante’s guitar solo provokes the type of gentle head-banging that the band has specialized in for decades.
2 Chainz, Dope Don’t Sell Itself
Almost exactly 10 years ago, 2 Chainz signed to Def Jam, reinventing himself from his Playaz Circle days as a mainstream titan; in the decade since, the Atlanta MC has collected his share of hits, but he’s also settled into his identity as one of the most consistently rewarding lyricists in hip-hop. Dope Don’t Sell Itself is a relatively brief check-in from 2 Chainz, but he makes each of its 32 minutes count, packing each track with boisterous ad-libs and delicious wordplay as well as offering up more crowd-pleasing fare like the club rattler “Pop Music” with Moneybagg Yo and Beatking.