Female Rappers Lead the 2019 Freshman Class

XXL Magazine finally dropped their freshman cyphers, and Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, and Tierra Whack are carrying the 2019 freshman class on their backs.

XXL 2019 Freshman Class Revealed - Official Announcement

For a solid decade, Nicki Minaj was the only female rapper to maintain mainstream success.

When Cardi B came stomping onto the scene in her "bloody shoes," Barbz were fighting to keep Nicki's throne. Now, a few years later, female rappers are on the rise—proving there's plenty of room at the top.

XXL Magazine finally dropped their freshman cyphers, and Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, and Tierra Whack are carrying the 2019 freshman class on their backs. Unsurprisingly, none of the women were paired together. If they had been, the rest of the freshman class would have no real competition. Each rapper had their own particular style and flow that, as Tierra Whack phrased it, came "for necks."

Megan Thee Stallion is particularly having a bomb "hot girl summer," creating a movement after dropping one of the most stirring projects of 2019, Fever. The Houston rapper has been on the rise, grounding her lyricism in epic and mega-hit freestyles. Hot Girl Meg is legit.

DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, YK Osiris and Lil Mosey's 2019 XXL Freshman

Meanwhile, Rico Nasty may fit into the category of a freshman rapper, but she has already released six mix tapes. At 21, she showed a different side of herself on the 2019 cypher. Deft, exhilarating, and biting, Rico Nasty enchanted viewers both familiar and unfamiliar with her work. She bodied the beat, spitting bar after bar.

Blueface, YBN Cordae and Rico Nasty's 2019 XXL Freshman

Featured on Beyoncé's The Gift, Tierra Whack brought her imagination to "MY POWER" with her controlled and bewitching delivery. The rapper, who Remy Ma cosigned, got real with fans, rapping, "I used to wanna be lighter, but I still shine being dark." Finally, a dark-skin female rapper is making a name for herself without conforming to the pop-rap precedent set by Nicki and Cardi— the rap game will hopefully never be the same.

Roddy Ricch, Comethazine and Tierra Whack's 2019 XXL Freshman


Beyoncé Brings Afrobeats to Mainstream Audiences with "Lion King: The Gift"

"Lion King: The Gift" may be a Beyoncé album, but she's not the standout in her own collaborative production.

Beyoncé in all her glory.

Columbia Records

Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift is in direct competition with the live-action remake's 2019 soundtrack.

It's difficult to imagine Disney allowing any other artist to challenge the success of their latest production, but Beyoncé has surpassed celebrity—she is a movement, an icon, and a spokesperson for a generation, and her name being associated with the movie can only mean good things for the company, even if her Lion King-inspired album is separate from the movie in which she stars. After all, Disney's remakes have received criticism from the get-go. What was the need for a live-action remake of a movie conceived by a bunch of white executives who referred to the project as "Bambi in Africa?"

Still, Beyoncé's involvement loaned the project credibility, and clearly the artist saw the potential to reclaim the Africa-set narrative to create what she calls "sonic cinema." She worked with "some of her favorite artists [and] the most talented and important African artists of the day to both pay tribute to the iconic film and bring the authentic sounds of African music to the world." Although how authentically and accurately the star's achieved this goal is up for debate, there's no question that Beyoncé was able to use her influence to shine a spotlight on the diverse range of artists, some who even outshine her.

The album begins with James Earl Jones, backed by a soft violin, repeating Mufasa's iconic lines to Simba: "Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. You need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures. From the crawling ant to the leaping antelope. We're all connected in the great circle of life." This sentiment, that all African people are connected, is emphasized throughout the rest of the album. The interlude is followed by "BIGGER," Beyoncé's lyrical build up to the message,"If you feel insignificant, you better think again / Better wake up because you're apart of something way bigger." It's another reminder that every person is connected to each other and to the earth.


Another poignant interlude spoken by James Earl Jones introduces "FIND YOUR WAY BACK," an R&B, Afrobeat version of Lemonade's "Daddy Issues." Unlike the original, "FIND YOUR WAY BACK" is a filler song with an infectious beat—it seems to exist just to add to the story of The Lion King. It has nothing on the songs that follow: Tekno, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, and Lord Afrixana's "DON'T JEALOUS ME" and Burna Boy's "JA ARA E." Both tracks are danceable but in distinctly different ways. The gritty and visceral "DON'T JEALOUS ME" produces a teeth-clenching, head-bouncing effect—it's captivating and mystifying, while "JA ARA E" is a hip-swinging, sexy summer anthem.

The Nigerian Afro-fusion artists highlight exactly what the Western world is missing out on, musically. The variety and simple good vibes could create a cultural moment for Afro-fusion in Western mainstream music, similar to what "Despacito" did or Latin Pop (minus Justin Bieber, thankfully).


Next, "NILE" and "MOOD 4EVA" keep the album's soulful momentum going, despite the many interludes beginning to bog down the bops. Kendrick Lamar's classic rap delivery on "NILE" sets up another one of his iconic beat-drops. But, in the last thirty seconds of the track, Beyoncé's textured vocals end too quickly, making "NILE" feel incomplete. "MOOD 4EVA" captures all that was successful about The Carter's EVERYTHING IS LOVE album. Beyoncé's voracious performance and enchanting, oozing confidence outperform Jay-Z's. Beyoncé outdoes him with lyrics like, "Piña colada-in' / you stay Ramada Inn," and concluding with, "I be like soul food / I am a whole mood." Unfortunately, the song's low-point is Childish Gambino's feature, which only makes a minor contribution to the already electrifying mood.

At the album's halfway mark, the majority of the noteworthy tracks have already passed. "BROWN SKIN GIRL" and "MY POWER" are the only tracks left that stick in the mind of listeners. The sweet-natured, empowering "BROWN SKIN GIRL" begins with Blue Ivy Carter's first singing performance. Then Nigerian artist WizKid aids the celebratory track, which speaks directly to the brown skin girls of the world. The song separates itself from the rest of the album as an easier, mellower, lullaby-inspired song, while still positioning black people at the center of the celebration.


Conversely, up-and-coming rapper, Tierra Whack, leads "MY POWER" with the declaration, "They'll never take my power / They feel a way, oh wow"—celebrating all black women and what they're capable of. On the track, South African artists—Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswe—gloriously sing African praises, injecting the song with an emboldened, unwavering verse.

The rest of the album has its individual, exceptional moments, like Beyoncé's almost holy vocals on "OTHERSIDE" and Jessie Reyez's ingenious verse on "SCAR." But, still, only six out of the fourteen main tracks succeed in creating something new, inspiring, and other-worldly. The other interludes strip Lion King: The Gift of cohesion and flow. But still, with The Lion King: The Gift, Beyoncé has cemented her legacy of celebrating black experiences and art by bringing African musical influences to Western, mainstream audiences. If there was any doubt left that Beyoncé is more than just an indomitable vocalist, surely it's been dispelled once and for all by this album. Lion King: The Gift demonstrates what is possible when collaboration occurs across borders to create cross-cultural, truly globalized music.


The Lion King: The Gift


6 New Songs You Should Hear This Week: The Times, They Are a-Changing

Featuring tracks from Suki Waterhouse, Jimi Somewhere, Shura, and more.

This week's new indie music selections oscillate between nostalgia and a resolute desire to embrace the present and future. While Jimi Somewhere, Suki Waterhouse and Rae Isla miss bygone times, Tierra Whack is done with bullshit and ready to power into her strength, and Holly Herndon is basically already living in the matrix.

Each of these songs grapples with the reality of change in a completely different way—but ultimately, each is guaranteed to remind you that you're not alone in feeling a lot of things about it.

1. Jimi Somewhere — "I Shot My Dog / 1st Place"

Jimi Somewhere's newest release is a harmony-laden, sun-drenched tune in the vein of Kevin Abstract and Roy Blair. It's an angsty and expansive track that seems meant for lying on the floor of your mom's basement, staring at the vomit stain from one of your high school parties, questioning everything and missing your childhood dog. But it also has enough energy to propel you off that floor, out onto the highway and into a dramatic running scene that ends with you kneeling down in a wheat field and suddenly deciding to change your life, dedicating yourself to love rather than self-pity. "I Shot My Dog" is a mixed bag of emotions, and it's a promising taste of the Norwegian up-and-comer's first EP.

2. Suki Waterhouse — Good Looking

Suki Waterhouse - Good Looking (Official Video)

The English singer returns with an almost luxuriously vapid single that sounds like a ripoff of a Twin Peaks trance-ballad. But the fluorescent guitar and opulently dramatic ending give the song a trippy, relaxing warmth, making it feel kind of like a sonic hot spring. It's a saccharine, glistening tribute to superficiality, and it feels kind of like wandering through Sephora, fully aware that you're being sold exorbitantly expensive products that will benefit you in absolutely no way—but not letting that stop you from lingering over the latest colorstay vegan moisturizing face-rejuvenating turmeric-infused eyeshadow palate, $75. Fortunately, listening to "Good Looking" is free and will give you the same rush of bittersweet joy you would receive from any overpriced cosmetics.

3. Rae Isla — "American Paradise"

Rae Isla - American Paradise (Official Audio)

As long as humans have existed, we've dreamed of paradises—a certain garden, nirvana, and heaven are only a few of the perfect worlds we've imagined and clung to in times of duress. In "American Paradise," Rae Isla pays her tribute to a haven of her own—our ever-idealized California dream. Vaguely reminiscent of old Irish folk songs, full of seasonal imagery and lit with a spacy kind of innocence, this nostalgic ballad is ultimately about fear of change. "Oh this country, so divided with its science and faith. Give me freedom in the valley / that is where I'll find my place," she sings. "California, do you love me?" It's unclear whether she's singing to California the state, a lover, some lost sense of happiness and peace, or a combination of all three, but regardless, "American Paradise" is about the all-too-human longing for escape.

4. Shura, "BKLYNLDN"

Shura -

Since the release of her debut album Nothing's Real in 2016, British songwriter and producer Shura has been quiet, but her new single "BKLYNLDN" breaks the silence with an intoxicating beat and expertly delicate orchestrations. Shura moved from London to Brooklyn to be with her girlfriend, and the song reflects the fear and excitement that defines major life changes. "We could take the subway to the beach where there's a breeze, cause we're in America," she sings, making it clear that she is, indeed, new to Brooklyn. Just wait, Shura, the bedbugs will find you. But for anyone who's ever made a long-term move or sacrifice in pursuit of love, this song will resonate—and plus the video is a sultry tribute to queer love, sure to engage the attention of everyone who's ever been attracted to a woman, or felt the sting of a difficult romance.

5. Holly Herndon, "Eternal"

Holly Herndon - Eternal (Official Video)

This erratic work of electronica is a collaboration between Herndon and an A.I. she created called "Spawn." Herndon, a longtime computer musician, has thought long and hard about the implications of making music with an inhuman partner. "I don't want to live in a world in which humans are automated off stage," she said in a statement. "I want an A.I. to be raised to appreciate and interact with that beauty." While these are important discussions to be exploring, "Eternal" sounds a little bit too synthetic to feel like an actual expression of emotion or a cohesive composition. It's a little too caught up in its lofty ideals, a little too close to the uncanny valley—but maybe that's the point.

6. Tierra Whack — "Wasteland"

Tierra Whack – Wasteland (Audio)

#WhackHistoryMonth just keeps getting better and better. On "Wasteland," the rising star laces aggressive lyrics over a mellow beat and churchy organ motif. She shows off her singing voice alongside effortless bars as the tune sways and swells at just the right times, echoing sentiments shared by any woman who has simply been Done with a man's shit. True to her innovative release style, Whack has been releasing one new song each week this month as a prelude to her upcoming 2019 LP.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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Sunday Selects: Six New Songs to Revive Your Faith in Humanity

This week's best new releases are united by a common theme: tentative optimism.

The best new tracks of this week look to the future, choosing to reflect on possibility rather than languishing in the past.

With empowering anthems by femaley artists Tierra Whack, Sophia Danai, Sigrid, and Dessa in honor of International Women's Day, along with hopeful apologies from Andrew Bird and Khalid, this list is a taste of what should be an amazing next few months of music.

1. Gloria — Tierra Whack

As part of "Whack Month," the rapper-singer has steadily been releasing a song each week. Her latest, Gloria, is a shoutout to her supporters and a renunciation of everything keeping her down.

Tierra Whack – Gloria (Audio)

Her 2018 debut Whack World featured 15 songs with videos in 15 minutes and won her extensive critical acclaim, and a recent Jimmy Kimmel performance of last week's single "Only Child" proved that she has plenty more boundary-breaking multimedia ideas in store.

Gloria pits her characteristically dextrous bars over an infectious beat, a promise that she's just getting started.

Tierra Whack - Only Child (Live From Jimmy Kimmel Live!/2019)

2. Manifest — Andrew Bird

"I'm starting to question my manifest destiny / my claim to this frontier," begins Andrew Bird's sonic criticism of manifest destiny—that destructive idea that anyone can own the earth. This song is a tribute to the autonomy and strength of the natural world, wrapped up in an optimistic tangle of strings and snare drums. Bird's new album, My Finest Work Yet, arrives March 22.

Andrew Bird - “Manifest" (Official Audio)

3. Through the Dark — Sophia Danai

This song checks all the boxes of a typical pop jam but has enough gritty synth and ambient guitar to set it spinning into the realm of the psychedelic. It's about fighting through the toughest parts of a relationship or gritting one's teeth through a personal struggle. "The best way out is always through, and when we run, we are only running from ourselves," Denai said of the song's message. The up-and-coming Vancouver native's EP Real Eyes will be released on April 5th.

Come Thru - Sophia Danai (Official Music Video)

4. My Bad — Khalid

The fifth single from Khalid's April 5th release, Free Spirit, is a chilled-out apology to a lover who he "didn't text back" cause he "was working." Sounds fake, but the song is so pleasing to the ear—so full of light electric guitar that accents the 22-year-old's velvety vocals, laced together with the best production that modern studios can provide—that the hollowness of the singer's excuses hardly matters. Free Spirit will be released along with a short film of the same title, also about "the beauty and pain of growing up."

Khalid - My Bad (Audio)

5. In Vain — Sigrid

The Norwegian songstress goes full Janis Joplin on "In Vain," letting her voice break and shatter as she details her fear of taking a plunge into the unknown. It's off her March 8 release, Sucker Punch, an album that sometimes grows too predictable and pop-focused, doing a disservice to Sigrid's incredible pipes. Still, when she leans into the punk-rock edginess and powerful emotions that her voice can convey, she sounds like the unstoppable new presence that she is.


6. Grade School Games — Dessa

Dessa returns one year after her debut album's release with a surprisingly infectious antidote to pop music's obsession with "sex, drugs and pain"—which she denounces as "grade school games." This song is about how moments that feel like the end of the world in our lives—all the love and the drama and the chaos—have been happening to people all the time; and for better or for worse, none of us are that special. The song itself is far from desolate, though; it's a glittery and climactic celebration of the universality of human experience, layered over exuberant beats and creative orchestral arrangements, and it bodes well for her next release, which is TBD.

Dessa - "Grade School Games" (Official Audio)

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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