Right: Sen Morimoto.
This August was a month full of loss. As summer approaches its end, it's easy to feel down about what could've been a season full of friends, crowded bars, music festivals, and sweaty music venues. And the recent deaths of Justin Townes Earle and Riley Gale, to name just two of the essential musicians gone too soon, compounded the grief. It seems like everywhere you look, from rampant police brutality to hurricanes, an ongoing pandemic, and a horrifying election season, circumstances seem irrevocably bad. But even though it’s overwhelming to all take in, as this month's Noisey Next artist NNAMDÏ sang on his 2020 LP Brat, "It's OK if you're not OK."
That sentiment is a perfect reminder of how much music has been a salve and a necessary, momentary escape. Songs like "WAP" became a late candidate for song of the summer, giving us a flashback of when life was fun, while others like Divino Niño’s "Made Up My Mind" show that life can be grand even in the smaller moments. As a return to normalcy no longer seems like an inevitability, support these artists by checking out the songs that got us through this hot and horrid month.
Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion, "WAP"
Anyone outraged by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" is a freak in sheep's clothing. Following in the footsteps of rappers like Lil Kim, Khia, and Trina, "WAP" is an exploration of sex that centers on a woman's pleasure. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion assert their power sexually in a way that doesn't make them props, but active participants in their sex lives. As the first female rap collaboration to sit at the top of Billboard's Hot 100 chart, the two rappers are proving that they could create a moment without the help of radio. No "clean" versions, please. We want to scream about the "dangly thing that swing in the back of [our] throats" in peace. —Kristin Corry
When VICE interviewed Oceanator’s Elise Okusami about how the Brooklyn indie rocker's writing has changed since the pandemic, she said, "I think my songs were already about the end of the world, everything being terrible, and being alone.” And while that’s true of her excellent new album Things I Never Say, which is out today, it’s anything but a dour and depressing listen even when the songs deal with anxiety and the apocalypse. In fact, single “Heartbeat” is joyous, with careening surf-rock guitars and an enormously catchy “whoa-oh” pop-punk breakdown. With lines like “And I’ll know this time / that we’ll be fine / ‘cause I can’t help but feel alright / when you’re by my side,” Okusami perfectly captures the thrill of a new relationship. —Josh Terry
Loyal Lobos, “Everlasting”
“Everlasting,” the self-titled track from Loyal Lobos' debut album, is a frantic lullaby that calls on the simultaneously sweeping and everlasting nature of love, sexuality, and trust. Lobos have crafted a romantic and mystical style of songwriting, having moved from Bogotá to Los Angeles and soaked up jazz and traditional Latin folk on the way. Teddy Geiger executive produced the album, which takes a ghostly, celestial lens to alternative pop and folk. —Jaime Silano
Popcaan featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR & Drake, "TWIST & TURN"
Every now and then, Drake dusts off his acting chops and puts on his best non-descript Caribbean accent. But even a mega-star like Drake is left in the shadows of "TWIST & TURN," in the presence of PARTYNEXTDOOR and Popcaan's natural patois. The shape of a woman mesmerizes each man, but they're even more entranced by how she moves her waistline. Under normal circumstances, "TWIST & TURN" is the sort of song that brings a raging bashment to a slow simmer. Pour out some Shandy in memorial of the summer that should've been. —Kristin Corry
Bartees Strange, “Boomer”
There’s a playfulness and a defiance to Bartees Strange’s music. The D.C. via Oklahoma musician made his 2020 EP Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, where he reimagined songs by his favorite band the National, after he noticed he was the only Black man in their crowd. While he made those songs his own, his solo music is an even better reflection of his background and his diverse influences. Just take “Boomer,” the incredible single off his forthcoming LP Live Forever, which could easily be compared to artists as disparate DaBaby, Kings of Leon, and Jimmy Eat World. Over twinkling guitars, Strange kicks off the song with a boisterous rap verse ("I told my girl that I was working that's a lie I’m in the trap / Told my momma I was savin' fuck I spent that shit on wax”), but once the chorus hits, it’s arena-ready southern rock. —Josh Terry
Burna Boy, “Level Up (Twice As Tall)”
This is the first song on Twice as Tall, the fifth studio album from Burna Boy, a creative force who has become one of the biggest names in music globally while maintaining an inherently spiritual and personal view of his art. “Level Up (Twice as Tall)” features Senegalese singer, songwriter, activist, and politician Youssef N’Dour dueting with Burna Boy about letting go of the fear of stepping into greatness and finding beauty in the symbiosis of success and failure. —Jaime Silano
Divino Niño featuring Sen Morimoto and Resavoir's Will Miller, “Made Up My Mind”
Chicago-via-Bogotá psych-pop band Divino Niño brought silky and mesmerizing vibes of last year on their criminally underrated LP Foam. Few bands are able to find the balance making mellow, mid-tempo songs totally enveloping and exciting, and their new song “Made Up My Mind” is no exception. The band enlists saxophonist Sen Morimoto as well as trumpeter and Resavoir bandleader Will Miller for the single’s horn section, making the track lush and inviting. Singer Camilo Medina bounces between English and Spanish throughout the track, lovingly singing about finding stability in a long-term relationship: (“I just had to give life a chance / To come and show me what it could be”). If nothing else, this song is a guaranteed mood booster. —Josh Terry
Chika, “U Should”
For those of us missing the spark of romantic chemistry in real life, Chika wrote a warm summer love song about genuine admiration. “U Should,” a smooth ode to crushing, comes on the heels of the Alabama rapper’s seven-song debut EP, Industry Games. Chika poured her soul into making music to make us think about what motivates us and to explore our own image of healthy love and humanity. Chika has just begun to reveal the talents she possesses. She acted and wrote all Robin’s resonant raps for Netflix’s recent superhero film, Project Power, and not only are her words echoing throughout the film are imperative, but her voice in hip-hop is clear, stunning and defiant. —Jaime Silano
Lomelda, “Hannah Sun”
Hannah Read’s songs as Lomelda are both tender and devastatingly cathartic. Her latest song “Hannah Sun” follows a string of excellent singles like “Wonder" supporting her upcoming LP Hannah, and it’s a stunner. She first debuted the track at a Paste live session over two years ago and the final version makes the wait worth it. Opening the track, she coos, “I sent you the sun from my hometown / And Chicago, and Atlanta / Sinking at the sight of your shadow” over plucky acoustic strums. But the most transcendent moment in the song comes when her voice is overpowered by swirling synths. It’s truly lovely and wondrous music. —Josh Terry
Victoria Monét, “Jaguar”
Victoria Monét’s new album JAGUAR is full of vocal gymnastics and timelessly striking songwriting. The album is a solo step into the spotlight for a well-versed songwriter with an impressive history behind the scenes, writing for some of R&B and pop’s biggest names, from Ariana Grande to Brandy. The title track has a contagious prowess and exuberance and is appropriately titled, considering Monét’s place in music acting as a discrete but powerful force until the right moment. Read Kristin Corry’s interview with Victoria Monét to learn more about her journey from R&B’s best-kept secret to this powerful point in her career. —Jaime Silano
Sen Morimoto featuring AAAMYYY, “Deep Down”
Two of Sooper Records' owners are having banner years in 2020. Founder NNAMDÏ put out the masterful Brat in April, but Sen Morimoto’s forthcoming self-titled LP is sure to make best-of lists too. Like his labelmate, the Kyoto-born and Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist masterfully blends his disparate influences together, from jazz, hip-hop, and experimental music, into one futuristic and exciting combination. His latest single “Deep Down” is a collaboration with Japanese electro-pop mainstay AAAMYYY and the duet is a funky dose of introspection. He sings, “Deep down, what you have found?” over dreamy synths. —Josh Terry
Armani Caesar featuring Benny the Butcher, “Simply Done”
As the First Lady of Griselda, Armani Caesar has big shoes to fill at the Buffalo-based rap label. "Simply Done" is a refreshing take on New York's boom-bap roots without managing to feel dated. Caesar carries the spirit of the region's leading ladies who came before her with a razor-sharp delivery that complements a feature from labelmate Benny the Butcher. — Kristin Corry
Jazmine Sullivan, “Lost One”
You can't always take the high road. Sometimes, your spirit requires you to be selfish. That's exactly what Jazmine Sullivan is doing on "Lost One," the new single for her first album since 2015. The song is a string of sobering realizations that Sullivan's remedy to a broken heart hasn't been a healthy one. Instead, she's used sex and alcohol as a salve to fill the void of her partner. Buried beneath her honest moments of self-awareness is some pretty impractical advice to her ex. "Don't have too much fun without me / Please don't forget about me / Try not to love no one," she sings. "Lost One" finds Sullivan shooting her shot for another chance at love—even if it means she's shooting from half-court. —Kristin Corry