Order of Operations
Post Malone—Beerbongs & Bentleys
What to Know: Malone’s 2016 debut, Stoney, was a streaming monster. It debuted at no. 6 on the Billboard 200, but had an astonishing level of staying power, hanging around the top 10 until eventually being certified platinum last April. Post’s next major post-Stoney offering was the 21 Savage–assisted “Rockstar,” which soon hit no. 1; as soon as that song began to slip, he put out “Psycho” with Ty Dolla $ign, which peaked at no. 2. The appeal of those tracks was largely the same as what fans found on Stoney: catchy, replayable, and melodic post–Chief Keef trap anthems. Post’s output has been too consistent, and his fan base too rock solid, to imagine Beerbongs & Bentleys doing anything other than dominating the charts and the airwaves like Stoney did.
Why Stream It: Four tracks into Beerbongs & Bentleys, there are already what feel like two surefire hits: the Swae Lee duet “Spoil My Night,” which Post previewed at Coachella, and the Disney Channel nostalgia play “Zack and Codeine.” Post is a master of the earworm hook, and his tobacco-smoker vocals add a degree of character that his rudimentary lyrical ability fails to provide. No one is listening to Post for his poeticism, but Beerbongs & Bentleys makes an effort not to be completely one-note in its celebration of youth and wealth. These are party records designed to fit more moods than just that one; the album’s ethos can be boiled down to the subtly titled third track: “Rich & Sad.”
Why Skip It: Many of the reasons to pass on Post Malone have little to do with the music itself. He drew the internet’s ire for saying hip-hop music lacked lyrical and emotional depth as a genre—as his song about “fucking hoes and popping pillies” tore up the charts—and survived a fairly run-of-the-mill n-word controversy that was somehow less than shocking from an artist who blew up by dubbing himself “White Iverson.” Call him a wave-rider, a cultural appropriator, or simply an idiot, but it’s also worth noting that the actual music on Beerbongs & Bentleys is painfully repetitive, wholly unoriginal, and as shallow as any album you’ll hear this year.
Janelle Monáe—Dirty Computer
What to Know: Monáe tends to do well in whatever medium she decides to venture into. Her debut studio album, 2010’s The ArchAndroid, garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and her foray into acting in 2016 with roles in Hidden Figures and Moonlight was a resounding success. ArchAndroid and its follow-up, The Electric Lady, were praised for Monáe’s sonic ambition as well as her execution: The former was a concept album from the perspective of a futuristic android, while the latter enlisted Prince and Erykah Badu to further the plot. The 32-year-old Monáe was quiet in 2017, but has built momentum leading up to Dirty Computer with a quartet of singles and a pair of music videos that fueled romantic speculation.
Why Stream It: Monáe’s ability to move seamlessly between genres has always been a selling point, and Dirty Computer is her first real showcase for that versatility without a narrative anchor. Throughout the album, Monáe deftly weaves through topics like feminism, sex positivity, and intersectional identity without a trace of the weariness that has set in for many since the 2016 election. On uptempo Pharrell collab “I Got the Juice,” for example, she sings, “If you try to grab my pussycat, this pussy grab you back.” In case it was unclear what or whom she’s referring to, Monáe’s website revealed that the album was inspired in part by “wack ass fuckboys everywhere (from the traphouse to the White House).” After a confusing and upsetting week of art and politics colliding, Dirty Computer is a reminder that artists who choose to address the current climate can do so in ways that are thoughtful, innovative, and—crucially—entertaining.
Why Skip It: Dirty Computer is 14 tracks and 48 minutes long, but Monáe’s decision to group all four singles between the sixth and 10th slots on the tracklist makes the whole project feel like a showcase for that set of songs. The issue with that approach is that they’ve all been out for weeks, accompanied by visuals that add to the overall experience. There are worthwhile moments across the album, but the videos for “Django Jane,” “Pynk,” “Make Me Feel,” and “I Like That” contain much of what’s compelling about Dirty Computer in about a third of the total run time.
The Internet—“Roll (Burbank Funk)”
What to Know: As Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean have graduated from the Odd Future camp to critical and commercial triumph, the five-member alt-R&B outfit the Internet has made sure not to get left behind. 2015’s Ego Death was Grammy nominated, and the group’s individual members have found increased success since: frontwoman Syd dropped a solo album in 2017 with Fin, and beatmaker Steve Lacy has a share of a Pulitzer Prize (is that how that works?) after landing a placement on Kendrick Lamar’s Damn.
Why Stream It: “Roll (Burbank Funk)” might be the Internet’s true comeback single, or it could be a transitional release meant to tide fans over (after a couple of listens, I’d lean toward the latter). Either way, it should satisfy both diehards who have been aching for new music and curious newcomers wondering what the band is about. The Internet fuses funk, R&B, and soul music and adds in a dash of hip-hop attitude. As the title suggests, the funk takes center stage on “Roll.” Lacy takes the lead in the video, which matches the tenor of the track perfectly. In it, the group two-steps to an addictive bass loop and has a readily apparent and enviable amount of fun working as a unit again.
Why Skip It: “Roll” is pretty bare bones compared to some of the Internet’s better-known songs, and doesn’t feature a true hook-and-verse structure. For a band that’s not exactly mainstream, Ego Death was surprisingly accessible and chorus-driven; “Roll” might be a tougher pill to swallow for those seeking something to sing along to. Really, though, there’s one major flaw with the song: There are no solo Syd vocals! Clicking on a new Internet release and getting a Syd-free track is about as disappointing as clicking on a new Kanye West freestyle and getting this.
What to Know: Rising Puerto Rican singer Ozuna has made four appearances on the Hot 100 in the past seven months, including the underappreciated “La Modelo,” featuring Cardi B. The song would likely have climbed higher than its peak of no. 52 had it come out after Cardi’s explosive debut rather than before, but the 26-year-old Ozuna isn’t hurting for chart chances: “Única” is less than 24 hours old and already has 3.7 million views on YouTube.
Why Stream It: Ozuna used the word “joyful” to describe his forthcoming album, Aura, and if the vibrant visuals and club-ready rhythm of “Única” are any indication, the project should live up to that billing. The lyrics match that energy, finding Ozuna singing to a woman who is unafraid to approach him despite his fame and extolling her confidence and charisma (and, of course, her sex appeal). “Única” seems destined to become his fifth Hot 100 entry, so it would seem that Ozuna has on his hands what DJ Khaled would describe as “another one.”
Why Skip It: If you live in a region with miserable weather, a song this sunny this early in the year might just make you angry. There’s also a chance you prefer your Spanish-language jams with a Justin Bieber verse tacked on as an intro. If that’s the case, you might want to stream “Única” anyway in the hope that it racks up enough plays to catch the attention of the Biebs—who’s totally respectful of the language and culture, by the way.
The Wild Card
YoungBoy Never Broke Again—Until Death Call My Name
What to Know: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A talented youngster pens a promising song or two, receives a couple of glowing writeups from respected publications, and seems poised to make a leap into stardom. And then an unsavory video surfaces, or a criminal charge, or both. No, I’m not talking about Kodak Black or XXXTentacion. YoungBoy Never Broke Again (formerly NBA YoungBoy) is the latest in this line of troubled and troublesome rap stars. His debut album, Until Death Call My Name, is being released while he’s behind bars and in the wake of allegations that he was involved in a disturbing incident of domestic violence.
Why Stream It: Like Kodak and X before him, YoungBoy’s music is inextricable from his legal troubles. The difference is that while Kodak sneered away allegations of sexual assault on “Tunnel Vision” and X’s newest hit “SAD!” is an abusive relationship anthem, YoungBoy has never been one to boast about his illicit activities. Until Death Call My Name, like much of his catalog, centers on the horrors of his childhood and his deep-seated paranoia about the violence he’s seen following him into his future. The fact that violence has reemerged through his recent actions is unsurprising and unfortunate, and even if he’s undeserving of our sympathy, songs like “Overdose” and “Traumatized” are mournful meditations on YoungBoy’s inability to dodge his demons. There’s a profound sense of pain in both YoungBoy’s lyrics and the dark instrumentals he chooses to rap over, nearly all of which feature a crying-in-the-club combination of melancholic keys and rattling Metro Boomin–style drum patterns. Streaming hit “Outside Today” is the most prominent example, but “Astronaut Kid” might be the best distillation of his style and abilities.
Why Skip It: Until Death Call My Name opens with the claim, “I ain’t no bad person. ... Everybody make mistakes.” Whether you take that plea at face value and give YoungBoy’s debut a try is a decision that might be more about morals than music. It’s a reasonable stance—and perhaps the correct one—to staunchly refuse to give someone like YoungBoy a cent from streaming. Navigating the continued relevance of artists who are bad human beings is part of being a consumer in 2018, but much like his problematic predecessors, YoungBoy’s popularity suggests he’s here to stay.