Order of Operations
Gorillaz — “Humility (feat. George Benson)”
What to Know: Humanz, the fifth studio album from Damon Albarn’s virtual band, Gorillaz, is just over a year old. On Wednesday, they announced its follow-up, The Now Now, due out June 29; the announcement came as a surprise because the band took five years to follow up 2005’s Demon Days, and then took another six off shortly thereafter. Humanz was well received for its political themes (it’s about the idea of a Trump presidency) and its use of guests like Pusha-T and Vince Staples. “Humility” doesn’t have a rap verse, but it does have a video starring Jack Black, released Thursday.
Why Stream It: “Humility” is a laid-back single matched by its roller-skating-by-the-beach video, and both the audio and the visual are clearly aimed for summer streaming. As with all Gorillaz offerings, the video is just as much an attraction as the song itself—Jack Black does Jack Black things throughout, and there’s apparently a full-on crossover happening between the animated members of Gorillaz and Ace from Powerpuff Girls. Overall, it’s a lighthearted affair, which is a welcome change from the dystopian commentary of Humanz.
Why Skip It: Albarn’s vocals have never been particularly striking, and the supporting aspects of Gorillaz’s output are more often the selling point than the frontman’s voice. That’s again the case on “Humility,” and while it’s not an issue for one single, it could become an issue on the forthcoming full-length—in an interview with Zane Lowe, Albarn described The Now Now as being “pretty much just me singing.”
Maroon 5 — “Girls Like You (feat. Cardi B)”
What to Know: Maroon 5 has been an inescapable force on the charts for nearly 15 years. It’s up for debate whether their music has evolved, but it’s definitely undergone changes. They graduated from guitar-driven pop rock into a more electronic space at the turn of the decade (when “Moves Like Jagger” hit no. 1 on the Hot 100 in 2011, the song trailing it was LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” which tells you all you need to know about the state of the charts in 2011). Since 2016, they’ve pivoted to collabs with rappers and rapper-adjacent artists to keep up with hip-hop’s increasing dominance in the streaming era. After recruiting Kendrick Lamar, Future, and SZA in 2016 and 2017, the band is back with 2018’s favorite featured guest, Cardi B.
Why Stream It: There’s something to be said for artists who can successfully chase the zeitgeist with each new release, and “Girls Like You” does that in more ways than one. There are few features more likely to deliver chart success at the moment than a Cardi verse, but the track itself doesn’t chase the sound of the moment, using an acoustic guitar and understated percussion. The usual Maroon 5 savvy is more present in the new music video. In it, a procession of notable women—from Camila Cabello to Millie Bobby Brown to Ellen DeGeneres—pop up for a few seconds at a time to dance and sing along. It’s a simple concept, and it’s fun to see a variety of women famous for a variety of things come together in one video.
Why Skip It: “A variety of women famous for a variety of things come together in one video,” is not only a genre of music video that already exists, but it’s one that was already used by Drake in “Nice for What,” the current no. 1 song in the country. Drake’s version had slightly more artistic vision to it—the women were filmed in separate locations rather than simply cycling in and out—but “Nice for What” felt too calculated to be powerful, and “Girls Like You” falls into the same category. The video may be well intentioned, but based on Maroon 5’s trend-hopping history, it’s hard not to read it as another attempt to cash in on the mood of the moment.
J Hus — Big Spang EP
What to Know: British artists like Skepta and Stormzy have made inroads into the consciousness of American rap fans—in the case of the former, through collaborations with Drake and A$AP Rocky—but 22-year-old J Hus might be the best bet to make a full crossover. His confident Afrobeats-inspired single “Did You See,” off the exceedingly enjoyable Common Sense, racked up 52.5 million YouTube views over the past year, and it remains the best example of his appeal. It’s catchy, melodic, and refreshingly tongue-in-cheek: His idea of boasting includes lines like “They never seen such a skinny man in a big puffer jacket.” Hus earned three nominations at the 2018 BRIT Awards, including British Album of the Year, and the Big Spang EP is his first release since that prestigious acknowledgement.
Why Stream It: The three-song Big Spang EP contains three distinct sounds and styles, and feels like a purposeful showcase of the artist’s versatility. The standout is “Dark Vader,” which features similar steel-drum production to Hus’s past work but with an added energy in his delivery and a more layered instrumental than he’s used in the past. “Scene” is the grimiest of the trio, featuring Hus spitting threats over chilly production but remaining his irreverent self lyrically (“If I reach in my pouch I’m on dirts / His last words were ‘Ouch, that hurts’”). “Dancing Man” has a sultry backing guitar and a slower tempo than the first two tracks, sounding more like a solid album cut than a single.
Why Skip It: Hus’s personality is a draw for some, but could easily be a turnoff for others; the line between witty and corny is perilously thin, after all. Big Spang is a quick and entertaining listen, but only “Dark Vader” properly lives up to the highs of Common Sense, so starting with that project is likely still the best way to get into J Hus.
Big Freedia — 3rd Ward Bounce EP
What to Know: Even if you haven’t heard of Big Freedia, you’ve probably heard Big Freedia—her voice (though notably not her image) was featured on “Nice for What” and Beyoncé’s “Formation,” and her contributions were integral to the structure of both tracks. New Orleans bounce music, the regional sound she helped popularize, was also key to the success of both smash hits: “Nice for What” borrowed the fast-paced drums of bounce in addition to Freedia’s vocals; the visuals for “Formation” were emphatically set in New Orleans. Freedia recently spoke about the city and genre still not getting the credit it deserves for its influential sound, but until then the five-track 3rd Ward Bounce EP is here to capitalize off of whatever momentum “Nice for What” has to spare.
Why Stream It: Big Freedia once helped set the Guinness World Record for the most people twerking simultaneously, if you wanted a succinct explanation of her music’s end goal. 3rd Ward Bounce is made up of club records through and through, and while Drake powered the success of “Nice for What,” the bounce influence undeniably played a major part. If you enjoyed that song but found Aubrey’s empowerment bars grating or insincere, 3rd Ward Bounce provides the same fun with none of the mixed feelings.
Why Skip It: By design, there’s not a wide range of sounds across this EP. A couple of features add some color, but there’s really only one type of song on 3rd Ward Bounce, making it perfect for dancing but not flexible or applicable to many other moods.