Music is still happening and thank god for that. As COVID-19 continues to devastate all aspects of the music industry, postponing tours, delaying major album releases, displacing venue staffers and touring crews, and making isolated rich celebrities so bored that they restart feuds from several years ago, we need all the hope we can get. Even as things look bleak with worldwide streaming numbers down, platforms like Bandcamp, which briefly waived their share of revenue to give artists 100% commission, sold a whopping $4.3 million worth of music and merch. Now more than ever it's important to support artists. This list is a small slice of acts we think are worth your time, even with everything going on in the world. From marquee singles by Jay Electronica, Dixie Chicks, and Megan Thee Stallion to under-the-radar tracks by NNAMDÏ and Deeper, here's what you should check out right now.
Dixie Chicks, "Gaslighter"
The backstory of Dixie Chicks' long-awaited, fantastic return to music in "Gaslighter" is a personal one. In December, singer Natalie Maines finalized her divorce with actor Adrian Pasdar, and has said in interviews that much of the material on the new LP is directly inspired by her turbulent relationship. This single is no exception; it features lines as specific as, "We moved to California and we followed your dreams / I believed in the promises you made to me / Swore that night 'till death do us part / But you lie-lie-lie-lie-lied." With its soaring three-part harmonies and its fist-raising hook, it's worth the 13-year wait. —Josh Terry
Megan Thee Stallion, "Savage"
Due to a discrepancy with Houston label 1501 Certified Entertainment, Megan Thee Stallion wasn't sure when she'd be releasing new music. But after being cleared to release Suga, her highly-anticipated follow up to Fever, "Savage" quickly rose in the ranks as a fan favorite. The restless energy of COVID-19's quarantine and paired with a new TikTok dance made Megan Thee Stallion the newest recipient of the viral boost. With a hook that acknowledges all parts of her identity, just like each of her EPs introduces a new persona, it's no wonder the world fell in love with it. —Kristin Corry
Jay Electronica featuring Jay-Z. "A.P.I.D.T.A."
The final track on A Written Testimony, "A.P.I.D.T.A." features production from Khruangbin, the "Thai funk, surf soul" band from Houston, Texas. The drums are bare, slow, and steady, and would do well as a guide for breathing exercises. Recorded the night of Kobe Bryant’s death, this song has Jay Z and Jay Electronica hurting over friends and family who now only exist in their phone contact lists. To imagine a figure like Electronica poring over screenshots of conversations with his late mom heartachingly humanizes a man who often seems to exist in another world. The song is not without hope; a snippet of Emory Jones, a friend and cousin of Jay Z who served 13 years in prison, provides encouragement to continue: "Gotta finish them scriptures, man. It’s needed, man." —Ashwin Rodrigues
The Districts, "Sidecar"
Philly band the Districts stretched out their striking indie rock on their latest album You Know I'm Not Going There; the blistering "Sidecar" is proof. Buzzsaw guitars anchor frontman Rob Grote as he wails, "I'm going faster, losing all control/The wheel, it's shaking in my hands/The axle straining and my knuckles white/Yeah, I can really feel my heart now." The band's best songs have always felt like they could go off the rails at any second. —JT
Lil Uzi Vert featuring Chief Keef, "Bean (Kobe)"
"Bean," which originally leaked in 2017, has been years in the making. Factor in discrepancies on Lil Uzi Vert's Eternal Atake, and fans were unclear if the Chief Keef and Uzi collaboration would ever be officially released. Three years later, Uzi's opening line hits a little different: "You know I'm balling, usual like Kobe." Kobe Bryant references feel a lot more somber after Bryant's death in January, but "Bean" masterfully pays homage to the basketball legend. Pi'erre Bourne's playful production finds Sosa and Uzi exchanging braggadocious bars for sport. —KC
Deeper, "The Knife"
In the just-released video for Deeper's "The Knife," the Chicago post-punks are fed-up mechanics who finally stand up to their greedy boss. It's the perfect visual treatment for a single as nervy and angry as this, with lines like, "nonsense career/nonsense come here." The four-piece band are masters of establishing tension and a dark mood, and their new album Auto-Pain is full of that brooding energy. —JT
iMarkkeyz and Cardi B, "Coronavirus"
It seems like anything Cardi B touches turns to gold, and that's especially true for the unintentional hit, "Coronavirus." DJ iMarkkeyz took the Invasion of Privacy rapper's Instagram post expressing her concerns about COVID-19 and transformed it into his latest production. Cardi screaming "Coronavirus! Shit is getting real" is a pretty accurate vibe check for the news cycle lately. The song sitting at the top 15 of iTunes' Hip-Hop charts confirms one thing: Cardi B is rap's most viral sensation. —KC
NNAMDÏ, "Gimme Gimme"
Compare the bonkers rave up "Gimme Gimme," NNAMDÏ's latest single from his incredible new album Brat, with the previous low-key acoustic offering "Flowers To My Demons" and it's just a sliver of how versatile the Chicago musician can be. On the single, NNAMDÏ' throws his voice and contorts it into a pitch-shifted falsetto over a booming, bass-heavy backing track. Brat won't be quite like anything you'll hear this year, but it's a can't miss LP. —JT
Jessie Reyez featuring Eminem, "Coffin"
Jessie Reyez uses her unlikely privilege as a woman expertly. If a man spoke about love in a way as rough as she does, there would be blowback. Eminem, at his peak, probably wouldn't survive in the era of identity politics, but Reyez reserves space for him on "Coffin"'s grisly messaging. The song's production is stripped down with only a guitar like much of Reyez's earlier work. Although the singer's relationship is less than perfect, she'd rather love him into the afterlife in a coffin made for them both. As delicate as the song sounds, the lyrics are eerily morbid. "I'll probably see you in the window, while I'm falling past the fifth floor," she sings. —KC
PARTYNEXTDOOR featuring Rihanna, "Believe It"
If "Believe It" is how we can get new music from Rihanna, we'll take it. The song might not channel the same basement party energy "Work" did, but the PARTYMOBILE single is the sauntering R&B duet we need right now. Usually, the Canadian singer is borderline arrogant but "Believe It" finds him navigating vulnerability. "If I propose, would you say no? / Would you break my heart? Would you embarrass me or play your part?" Even the life of the party needs time to reset sometimes. —KC
The Weeknd, "Hardest to Love"
The Weeknd has come a long way from crooning about being lonely, horny, and intoxicated over sparse production. On After Hours, he's talking about high-profile breakups, loneliness, and even his promotional deal with Mercedes-Benz. On "Hardest to Love," The Weeknd admits his shortcomings as a romantic partner on top of electric, water droplet synths and a constant, low vibrating drum n bass beat. The track features a hard-to-shake chorus and production that would really put the sound system of a brand new, electric German SUV to the test. —AR