First Stream: New Music From Nicki Minaj, Morgan Wallen, J-Hope & J. Cole and More

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, Nicki Minaj revives a Lumidee smash, Morgan Wallen tries to take everything One Thing at a Time, and J-Hope links up with J. Cole for an ode to fans. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

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Nicki Minaj, “Red Ruby Da Sleaze”

After scoring her first solo Hot 100 No. 1 last year with “Super Freaky Girl,” a pop-rap smash that reanimated Rick James’ timeless 1981 hit “Super Freak,” Nicki Minaj jumps ahead to 2003 for her inspiration, and turns Lumidee’s “Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)” into the backbone of new single “Red Ruby Da Sleaze.” Unlike “Super Freaky Girl,” however, the focus of Minaj’s latest swerves away from its sample on numerous occasions — the chorus here functions as a percussive breakdown, with only the faintest “Uh oooooh’s” in the background — and morphs that familiar hook into something new and modern, all while Minaj talks her game with (somehow) name-checks for her Christopher Reeve and Karl Malone.

Morgan Wallen, One Thing at a Time 

“I was a bad reputation, with an attitude to match,” Morgan Wallen sings on “Dying Man,” the closing track of his new 36-song album. “Hell, man, I’m goin’ nowhere / And gettin’ there lightnin’ fast.” The song is about romantic redemption — one of the primary themes of One Thing at a Time — but also provides a glimpse into Wallen’s mindset, as he grappled with being a magnetic vocalist and the biggest new country star of the past half-decade while also making personal missteps and being mired in endless controversy. Two years after Dangerous: The Double Album plowed to No. 1 — and a public fallout made its success taste bitter — Wallen’s epic new full-length prods at his frustrations and attempts at self-improvement while delivering some of the most agreeable country tunes you’ll hear this year; his reputation is still debated, but Wallen is no longer stuck in neutral.

J-Hope & J. Cole, “On the Street”

J-Hope accomplished a ton as a solo artist in 2022, from his bold Jack in the Box project to his prominent performance at Lollapalooza, and the BTS member uses new single “On the Street” to express his gratitude toward the fans who helped make it all happen. Meanwhile, J. Cole’s effortless flow sounds natural when placed next to J-Hope’s delivery: both artists understand how to pack heady thoughts into tight spaces, and operate above a whistle melody with confidence and charisma. Both artists are hungry, and bonus points to Cole for expressing as much: “You see a top 10 list, I see a Golden Corral.”

Kali Uchis, Red Moon in Venus 

Kali Uchis continuously beguiles new fans by constantly pushing boundaries: the 28-year-old Colombian-American has spent her career dissatisfied with the parameters placed between Latin pop and R&B, then redrawing them in ways that she sees fit, whether that include sinking into dreamy hooks like on breakout hit “Telepatía” or exploring synth fantasias like on recent single “I Wish You Roses.” Red Moon in Venus, Uchis’ third album, maintains a singular approach but offers the most satisfying songwriting of her career — a love album that ranges from floating slow jams (“Worth the Wait,” with Omar Apollo) to pop come-ons (“Endlessly”), the full-length sounds like nothing else, and like Uchis’ mainstream arrival.

Marshmello & Manuel Turizo, “El Merengue”

“El Merengue,” the new team-up from dance superstar Marshmello and reggaeton sensation Manuel Turizo, begins with some subtle synths off in the distance, as if the song is being transmitted from another planet — and when the track fully kicks in, it charms and provokes movement without ever overpowering the listener. One of Marshmello’s strongest production traits is his ability to allow his collaborator ample room without getting outmuscled by a beat, and Turizo is more than game to play his foil on “El Merengue,” shimmying across the verses and crooning when needed on the chorus.

Portugal. The Man, “Dummy”

Portugal. The Man were more than a decade into their run as a successful, festival-ready alt-rock band when their single “Feel It Still” crashed the top 10 of the Hot 100, became inescapable on pop playlists and turned the band into Grammy winners; the group enjoyed a well-earned victory lap with the smash, then took a few years off to plot their next move. “Dummy,” which previews the Jeff Bhasker-produced new album Chris Black Changed My Life, serves as an apocalyptic jingle that’s ripe for alternative radio: lines like “Everyone I know / Is running from the afterlife” exist inside undeniable grooves, and Portugal. The Man nod to both longtime fans and casual listeners seeking another catchy-as-hell hit.

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