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New Music Fridays: Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, Zayn, and Tinashe

#NickiDay delivers, Thugger drops an EP, and a couple of R&B options for your weekend

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Every Friday, we’re bombarded with a slew of new music releases vying for inclusion on our streaming playlists. To help cut through the fat, this column will assess the week’s most notable single and album drops and advise you to either stream or skip.

Order of Operations

Nicki Minaj — “Barbie Tingz” / “Chun-Li”
Tinashe — Joyride
Zayn — “Let Me”
Young Thug — Hear No Evil
Princess Nokia — A Girl Cried Red

The Headliner

Nicki Minaj — “Barbie Tingz” / “Chun-Li

What to Know: It’s been more than a year since Nicki Minaj last blessed her rabid fans with new solo music. She hasn’t had a problem staying in the headlines, though, as the rise of Cardi B has led to theories about a feud between the two. In an interview with Zane Lowe on Thursday, Nicki opened up about feeling miffed that Cardi didn’t pay her proper respect when recording “MotorSport,” even saying, “I can only imagine how many girls wished they could’ve been on a song with Nicki Minaj.” As egotistical as that statement may sound, it’s hard to argue with her continued relevance: #NickiDay spent most of Thursday as the no. 1 trending topic on Twitter.

Why Stream It: When I saw that Nicki was dropping two songs, I assumed she’d try to satisfy both factions of her fan base by catering one to the hip-hop heads and one to the Hot 100. Instead, she decided to go all in on flexing her rap muscles. “Barbie Tingz” recalls late-’80s New York boombox rap, and “Chun-Li” sounds almost like a sped-up and sinister flip of “All the Way Up.” “Barbie Tingz” has the grittier lyrics of the two, but not by much; its second verse is swaggering, vulgar, and violent, while “Chun-Li” finds Nicki dubbing herself “Miss King Kong” and embracing her role as “the bad guy.” Together, these two tracks amount to a rousing showcase for one of the most electric spitters in the game.

Why Skip It: “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” find Nicki about as subdued as she gets, but if you take issue with her tendency to employ cartoonish voices and groan-inducing punch lines, know that those moments aren’t completely absent. The hook on “Chun-Li” is the main culprit: Nicki sneaks in a mild (and unidentifiable) accent, and makes the questionable decision to rhyme “King Kong” with “ding dong.”

The Queue

Tinashe — Joyride

What to Know: Tinashe may be dating the NBA’s Rookie of the Year favorite, but she’s not exactly a newcomer. She’s more than three years removed from her well-received debut album, Aquarius, which feels even longer ago when you remember it was released at the peak of DJ Mustard mania. She hasn’t had one of her own songs in the Hot 100 since 2014, but there’s still hope for a run at stardom: She can carry a catchy hook and hold her own riding a beat, and she’s still just 25 years old.

Why Stream It: Like Aquarius, Joyride is quietly assured, a quality that eludes the albums of many pop and R&B artists. There’s no chart-chasing misstep on the tracklist, yet plenty of the offerings, like the bouncy “Me So Bad” (cringeworthy title aside), would feel right at home on the radio this summer. The second half of the project, which slows the tempo considerably and highlights Tinashe’s capable vocals, is sure to please those who use words like “chill” and vibes” to describe their music of choice.

Why Skip It: It’s hard to shake the feeling that Joyride is a perfectly fine album, but one that other similar artists have already made, and made better. If people still sold bootleg CDs, Joyride would be your consolation after you failed to negotiate a fair price for Rihanna’s Anti.

Zayn — “Let Me”

What to Know: Zayn Malik, formerly one-fifth of One Direction, has been solo for three years after his decision to leave the group and make #realmusic. His 2016 debut Mind of Mine hit no. 1 and spawned a triple-platinum single in “Pillowtalk,” so it seems his quest has been a successful one so far. 2017’s “Dusk Till Dawn” was his first step toward a sophomore LP, and “Let Me” is next in line.

Why Stream It: Most of Zayn’s hits sound like they would fit on a Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack (including “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” which was literally on a Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack). He makes ostensibly steamy relationship anthems that lack steam. “Let Me” is more of a pivot toward true R&B, something closer to what you’d actually play in an intimate setting. “Let me be your man / So I can love you” might not leap off the page as a refrain, but the simplicity works in Zayn’s favor here.

Why Skip It: It’s still very much a Zayn song, and as such does not pose the danger of setting any bedrooms on fire. And while it’s a relief that a stadium-ready beat drop never kicks in, “Let Me” is as formulaic structurally as it is fresh sonically. The brief verses and over-reliance on the hook indicate that it won’t lend it itself well to repeat listens, but that won’t stop the streaming public from sending this to the top of the charts.

Young Thug — Hear No Evil EP

What to Know: Just about 50 days after announcing he wouldn’t release any new music in 2018 in solidarity with his deaf brother, Young Thug is back with a three-song EP, Hear No Evil. His last release was the Future collaboration Super Slimey, and this June will mark the one-year anniversary of his tragically overlooked solo effort Beautiful Thugger Girls. Evidently, Thugger realized there were better methods than going silent to honor the hard of hearing: the EP’s title, artwork, and the music video for opener “Anybody” serve as a nod to his brother and the deaf community.

Why Stream It: Young Thug invents a new flow on what feels like a verse-by-verse basis. The highlight on Hear No Evil is the Lil Uzi Vert–assisted “Up,” which pump fakes with a cookie-cutter hook before Thug busts out one of his wackiest rhyme schemes in recent memory:

Hear No Evil also attempts something like narrative cohesion, a rare phenomenon in the Thugger discography. The EP opens with this ominous assurance: “I never killed anybody / But I got somethin’ to do with that body.” Later, on “Up,” he whispers about putting a dead body in a trash can. It’s no Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, but it’s an intriguing thread to follow through the project.

Why Skip It: The high-profile collabs on Hear No Evil—Nicki Minaj, Uzi, and 21 Savage— should be the high points of the project, but they don’t add up to anything special. Nicki’s contributions are easily her least inspiring work from #NickiDay, and the already clunky “Now” feels even more rote once 21’s verse is done. There’s also the fact a sizable majority of the music-consuming public never has any earthly idea what Young Thug is saying. If you’re in that group, Hear No Evil will likely do nothing more than frustrate you.

The Wild Card

Princess Nokia — A Girl Cried Red

What to Know: Princess Nokia is a 25-year-old Harlem rapper who gained attention with last year’s brash 1992 Deluxe. She may still be better known for pulling a J.R. Smith on a racist subway ranter, but her album and its provocative music videos garnered acclaim in 2017. In February, she announced that she’d be releasing an “emo mixtape,” which has arrived in the form of the eight-song, 20-minute A Girl Cried Red.

Why Stream It: A Girl Cried Red’s closest analog might be XXXTentacion’s ?. Both albums are unabashedly sad, to the point of being uncomfortable to listen to at times, but feature a vibrant instrumental backdrop. Take these lines from Princess Nokia’s “Your Eyes Are Bleeding,” for instance: “Looking back on things I had, I ruin everything / Everything’s my fault, and it’s the bad luck that I bring.”

Why Skip It: I’ve run through A Girl Cried Red a solid five or six times, and cannot for the life of me decide whether I think it’s good or not. Princess Nokia’s heavy enunciation either drives home the emotional weight of her words or makes her sound like an overeager newscaster; her inconsistent vocals either highlight the raw intensity of her songwriting or simply sound flat and out of tune. If listening to a project out of morbid curiosity isn’t your thing, A Girl Cried Red should probably be a skip.