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, The Weeknd trumpets the arrival of Avatar: The Way of Water, Cardi B offers an extra shot of espresso to a Rosalía hit, Little Simz drops a surprise follow-up album to her acclaimed 2021 LP and more. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Weeknd, “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength)”
The Weeknd is no stranger to big movie soundtrack singles, having previously scored Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits from Fifty Shades of Gray (“Earned It (Fifty Shades)”) and Black Panther (“Pray for Me” alongside Kendrick Lamar). Still, “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength)” is perhaps his biggest soundtrack look yet, as the theme to the longer-than-long-anticipated sequel Avatar: The Way of Water. The bombastic ballad, co-written and co-produced by Abel’s buddies in Swedish House Mafia, matches the size of the assignment, with thundering drums, anthemic backing vocals, and a refrain that’s reminiscent of Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” from ’80s cult classic The Lost Boys.
Rosalía & Cardi B, “DESPECHÁ RMX”
“DESPECHÁ” already stands as Rosalía‘s biggest hit as a lead artist to date, hitting No. 63 on the Hot 100 and spending 12 weeks on the chart. But as she’s previously proven to Bruno Mars and GloRilla, nothing helps a song’s commercial fortunes like landing Cardi B on the remix. The Bronx bomber shows up for an always-welcome guest verse on “DESPECHÁ” this week, spitting, “You’ve been trying too hard not to watch my stories/ I’ve been shakin’ this ass, better not report me,” and of course signing off with a little español: “But I’m good though, ¿Cómo estás?”
Little Simz, NO THANK YOU
British rapper Little Simz was a fixture on 2021 year-end lists with her stellar LP Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, securing the No. 19 spot on the Billboard staff’s own ranking. Earlier this week, she surprised fans with the arrival of that set’s previously unannounced follow-up, the 10-track set NO THANK YOU. The LP ranges from the tender to the tense to the triumphant, Simz changing lanes in her bimma with a true professional’s ease, aided in navigation by regular producer Inflo and backing vocalist Cleo Sol. The late release hasn’t kept it from landing on yet more end-of-year lists; Rolling Stonejust named it one of the year’s 25 best hip-hop albums. “‘Play the game, play the game,’ is what they scream/ You can play the game, I don’t see the need, no,” she offers on opener “Angel.” Hard to argue with at this point.
Juice WRLD, “Face 2 Face”
The latest one-off posthumous release from the late rapper Juice WRLD — whose devastating death just passed its third anniversary earlier this month, with a second annual Juice WRLD Day being celebrated in his Chicago hometown — is an acoustic trap ballad, led by a disarmingly gentle and compassionate unplugged riff. “Everytime I go to fall to sleep/ These demons haunting me/ Facing my fears face to face as we meet,” the artist born Jarad Higgins wails in the particularly signature-sounding chorus. As comforting as it is to still hear his voice on new music this long after his passing, it’s just as disconcerting to feel like not even death has freed him from grappling with these issues.
FLO, “Losing You”
British vocal trio FLO has built a lot of buzz this year for their run of 2022 singles calling back to classic R&B girl groups of the ’90s and early ’00s, even scoring one of our staff’s top 100 songs of 2022 with the kiss-off “Cardboard Box.” The girls score another winner this week with the “Since U Been Gone”-themed ballad “Losing You,” as they realize they’re better off without the trifling dude they’ve been saddled with for too long. “Losing you was easier than I thought it’d be/ I’m happy on my own/ It’s the first time that I finally feel at home,” the trio sings on the Stella Quaresma-led chorus, over warm ’90s synth chords and a snappingly sympathetic beat (co-produced by U.K. hitmaker MNEK).
PinkPantheress, “Take Me Home”
Though she’s yet to release an LP follow-up to her breakthrough 2021 debut LP To Hell With It, PinkPantheress has still had a very productive 2022, releasing a series of excellent singles like “Where You Are” (with Willow), “Picture in My Mind” (with Sam Gellaitry”) and “Boy’s a Liar.” This week, the U.K. phenom caps her sophomore year with “Take Me Home,” a pulse-racing synth-pop banger with drum-n-bass accents and a typically arresting chorus: “It’s sad that I/ Prepared to be so young till the end of time/ I realized/ When I struggled to get out of my room last night.” Closing with a half-time coda, the single breaks new ground for PinkPantheress length-wise: at a full three minutes and twenty seconds, it’s basically her “Free Bird.”
Looking back at the fast-paced year that was 2022, R&B/hip-hop experienced its share of wins from a successful post-pandemic touring season starring The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige to Rihanna’s long-awaited return with new music and the Super Bowl LVII halftime gig. But also sharing headline space were high-profile court cases involving Young Thug and others plus the loss of more young rappers to violence. Here are 10 […]
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