ENTERTAINMENT

First Stream: Lil Baby, 6ix9ine & Nicki Minaj

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, Lil Baby reflects on the national protests, 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj once again team up, and Chloe x Halle deliver on their promise. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Song That Will Help You Channel Your Anger:
Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”

Lil Baby is furious on “The Bigger Picture”: after an introduction that consists of a news report concerning the militarized police response to the George Floyd protests, the superstar MC unleashes over the beat, referencing his own time behind bars, the senselessness of violence against black Americans and his own inherent fear living in this type of society. Baby punches home point after point before arriving at a surprise feeling of hope on the chorus: “It can’t change overnight,” he croons, “But we gotta start somewhere.” Lil Baby has already released a best-selling album and fair amount of guest spots in 2020 — no one would blame him if he had rested on his laurels, but instead he made an unexpected return with a raw, righteous statement.

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The Song That Everyone Will Be Arguing About on Social Media This Weekend:
6ix9ine & Nicki Minaj, “TROLLZ”

“I know you don’t like me / You wanna fight me.” Both 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj rap these words in their latest collaboration, which follows their 2018 track “Fefe” and is built around the self-admitted polarizing nature of the collaborators. 6ix9ine, with his second track since his prison release, keeps his wild-eyed flow in check more often here than he did on “GOOBA,” although he punctuates his verse with a throat-clearing assault; meanwhile, Minaj, fresh off her first Hot 100 No. 1 with Doja Cat’s “Say So” remix, radiates slick confidence through sex euphemisms and nods to her longevity. 6ix9ine and Minaj have been divisive in different ways, yet they’ve given the Internet something else to talk about, and will likely keep doing so for a long time.

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The Album That Makes Good on Years of Promise:
Chloe x Halle, Ungodly Hour

The talent of Chloe and Halle Bailey has been obvious for a while — after all, the best new artist Grammy nominees were signed to Beyonce’s management company a half-decade ago, back when they were in their early teens. Now 21 and 20, respectively, the sister duo is ready to unveil a collection of songs as wide-ranging and satisfying as their vocal skllls. Ungodly Hour lets Chloe x Halle explore a variety of sounds and ideas, from the radio-baiting pop of the Swae Lee/Mike WiLL Made-It collaboration “Catch Up” to the classic R&B of the early standout “Forgive Me” to the rhythmic trap of “Do It” to the hilarious hip-hop kiss-off “Tipsy.” And for their part, they handle every style admirably and never sound out of place, making Ungodly Hour a freeform exercise of two dynamic voices today.

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The Remix That Reckons With The History Books:
DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar” (Black Lives Matter remix)

As protests against police brutality and racial injustice rage on around the country, two black men — from Charlotte and Compton, respectively — are at the top of the charts, with DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 earlier this week. Unsatisfied with allowing their hit to reside in these trying times and not comment on the larger situation, the pair has released a “Black Lives Matter remix” of the track, in which DaBaby recounts his own run-ins with the law and the unique reality in which he lives as a successful black American. “They pushin’ negative narratives — I’m ready though,” the quick-witted MC announces, addressing the unique moment in which he’s become a star and making the right call with this timely remix.

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The Songs That Make a Breakthrough Album Even Bigger:
Maren Morris, “Takes Two”/”Just For Now”

GIRL has been out over a year & has been one of the most transformative periods of my life,” Maren Morris wrote to her fans earlier this week. “During this time off the road, I had the opportunity to polish up 2 older songs of mine that I couldn’t wait for you to hear.” Thus, “Takes Two” and “Just For Now” have been added as bonus tracks to Morris’ 2019 sophomore album, contributing to that album’s more mature vision of country-pop as compared to her 2017 debut Hero. “Just For Now” will delight listeners searching for a follow-up to Morris’ smash “The Bones,” while “Takes Two,” a more R&B-indebted tune with a yearning vocal performance and fuller production, suggests a new path for the singer-songwriter moving forward.

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The Song That Addresses The Deep Wounds of Yesterday and Today:
Leon Bridges feat. Terrace Martin, “Sweeter”

“I thought we moved on from the darker days,” Leon Bridges sings on “Sweeter,” the words tumbling out of his mouth in a swirl of pain and confusion. The singer-songwriter’s new collaboration with Terrace Martin comes from the perspective of a black taking his last breath before being wrongfully killed — a harrowing, timely portrait of racism that Bridges makes both personal and universal, letting the hurt seep into his soulful voice and crack through his always-steady demeanor. “Sweeter” sounds designed for this moment, but like so much of Bridges’ music, will likely endure long beyond it.

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The Song That Will Make You Miss an Artist Even More:
Pop Smoke feat. Rowdy Rebel, “Make It Rain”

The shooting death of Pop Smoke in February, just days after his project Meet The Woo Vol. 2 became his first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 chart, is a human and artistic tragedy — the Brooklyn rapper was just 20 years old, and was about to become a flat-out superstar based on his unique sound and mic command. “Make It Rain,” the first release from an upcoming posthumous full-length, is classic Pop Smoke, with a wall-shattering beat and enough chest-thumping lyrics to ensure that the rapper’s gravelly voice never loses your attention. Listening to the song in the greater context of a career cut way too short makes for a jarring experience, yet “Make It Rain” also capture Pop Smoke at his most triumphant, and it’s a fitting pose.

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The Video That’s Both Eye-Popping and Gut-Busting:
J Balvin, “Azul” video

In the age of quarantining, artists have had to get creative with their music videos — and with the clip for “Azul,” J Balvin has decided to view that burst of creativity and one-up his competition. The wild, sexually explicit, oft-hysterical computer-animated video finds Balvin falling for a mail-ordered robe-girlfriend, who… proceeds to cheat on him. Will the superstar win her back by video’s end? What comic reactions will his dog provide? “Azul” keeps you hooked until the end, and Balvin, always a daring visual artist, goes full Pixar here.

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The Album To Put On This Sunday Morning:
Norah Jones, Pick Me Up Off The Floor

As her landmark 2002 release Come Away With Me approaches its 20-year anniversary, Norah Jones has continued to grind out layered, deeply felt albums with no intentions of ever topping that blockbuster commercially. That’s perfectly fine: Pick Me Up Off The Floor, her first proper full-length since 2016’s Day Breaks, gathers songs left over from shorter sessions and comprises them into a meditation on a dismal national period and recovery from greater sadness. The arrangements vary and sometimes stray from Jones’ piano-rooted jazz, but offer a uniform intimacy as the singer-songwriter’s voice spins off the ground like a well-worn magic trick. It’s a careful, heartfelt album made from a total pro, and is worth the time of longtime fans as well as those who only know “Don’t Know Why.”

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