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, Travis Scott brings in some famous friends for a Cactus Jack compilation, Ariana Grande thanks us for a stellar tour and Kanye West produces one of the nation’s best-known choirs. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below
The Album That’s An Unexpected Hip-Hop Stocking Stuffer:
Travis Scott, Jackboys
Travis Scott has enjoyed the type of year typically reserved for music superstars: while he didn’t drop a proper new album, he performed to thousands of fans, brought back his Astroworld festival to raves, showed up on a slew of hits as a guest artist and even found time to collect another Hot 100 No. 1 with “Highest in the Room.” As successful as this relative down year for Scott has been, he’s also gifted fans a late Christmas treat in the form of Jackboys, a seven-song “pack” from his Cactus Jack collective that serves as a high-powered placeholder until his next project arrives. Don Toliver’s stock continues to rise with a pair of appearances, and one week after Young Thug tapped Scott for his track “Hop Off The Jet,” Thugger shows up here on the trippy flute showcase “Out West”; however, the highlight here is a remix of “Highest In The Room” featuring Lil Baby and a clearly delighted Rosalia.
The Album That Lets You Live (Or Relive) One of The Year’s Best Live Shows:
Ariana Grande, K Bye For Now (SWT Live)
Anyone who caught Ariana Grande’s Sweetener world tour in 2019 knows that, despite her music career beginning in earnest in early 2013, the singer has already amassed a full career’s worth of recognizable hits. They also were lucky enough to witness Grande’s impeccable vocal range in person, and K Bye For Now, her first live album, attempts to bottle that wondrous instrument and showcase it across 93 minutes. K Bye For Now works as both a one-listen experience — soak in the glory of an Ariana Grande concert during a long car ride, or across an extended house clean! — or as a project to dip into for a particularly strong run of tracks (such as the three-song masterstroke of “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” “R.E.M” and “Be Alright”). Let’s just hope that its title isn’t reflective of too long of a break for one of pop’s steadiest presences.
The Album That Will Make You Feel Like You’re At Christmas Mass All Over Again:
Sunday Service Choir, Jesus Is Born
The most interesting aspect of Jesus Is Born, the pseudo-follow-up to Kanye West’s Jesus Is King, is how little of West is on it: the forever-controversial rapper executive produced the project, which is billed as a Sunday Service Choir album, and indeed does not feature Bible-inspired bars like its predecessor. What we were given on Christmas Day, then, is less of a presentation of West’s ongoing religious reckoning and more of a rock-solid gospel album. Tracks like “Ultralight Beam” and “Father Stretch” nod to West, of course, but Jesus Is Born mostly captures a talented choir in its element, spreading the good word through hymn and manicured harmonies; the one-two punch of “Lift Up Your Voices” and “More Than Anything” in particular will remind you how soulful West’s production can become when he wants it to be.
The Song That Will Make You Feel Like It’s Beach Season, Somehow:
DJ Snake feat. J Balvin, Ozuna, Nicky Jam, Natti Natasha, Darell & Sech, “Loco Contigo (Remix)”
“Loco Contigo” has become another notable summer hit for DJ Snake after arriving earlier this year as a tropically flavored collaboration with J Balvin and Tyga; now, a remix featuring some of the Latin pop world’s best and brightest has nearly doubled the original track’s run time and allowed a handful of distinct voices a crack at the producer’s slippery beat. Ozuna naturally winds his way around a hook, and Nicky Jam, Darell and Sech all make for welcome additions, but, as she has a habit of doing, Natti Natasha crashes the boy’s club and steals the show. DJ Snake and co. were wise to save Natasha’s energy for the end of the “Loco Contigo” remix — as it crosses the five-minute mark, the singer-rapper provides an injection of attitude.
The Song That Teases A Big 2020 From an R&B Star:
Kehlani feat. Keyshia Cole, “All Me”
It’s been nearly three years since Kehlani disrupted the R&B world with the inventive approaches on her SweetSexySavage album, and while 2019 brought the entertaining stopgap While We Wait, a steady trickle of new music suggests that her fans are in for a prolific year. Following the Teyana Taylor team-up “Morning” is “All Me,” another collaboration (this time with genre mainstay Keyshia Cole), but this time with more tempo and a more immediate melody. Kehlani always operates at a high level when she finds a rhythm that can match her buoyant delivery, and “All Me” corrals another steady voice into her ever-expanding sonic world.
The Song To Slip Onto Your New Year’s Eve Playlist ASAP:
Alan Walker feat. Ava Max, “Alone Pt. II”
To close out a busy 2019, Alan Walker beats the buzzer with this combustible follow-up to his hit “Alone” that finds “Sweet But Psycho” singer Ava Max adopting its message of togetherness. “We all need that someone, who gets you like no one else / Right when you need it the most,” Max sings, in a moment designed for glass-clinking, unified swaying and other forms of party camaraderie; elsewhere, Walker deploys a stuttering drop that sounds beamed in from the glory days of EDM. “Alone Pt. II” demonstrates the evolution of Walker’s production techniques — he’s become a surefire crowd-pleaser, and with a little luck, this track could cross over during the doldrums of winter.