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, Rihanna has another stirring soundtrack single, Bruce Springsteen covers some hand-picked classics and Wizkid is as cool and collected as ever. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Rihanna, “Born Again”
Rebirth as a metaphorical concept has been a lyrical trope in popular music for generations as artists shed their creative skins and begin new eras, but “Born Again” — Rihanna’s second single from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, following the stark ballad “Lift Me Up” — takes that idea and turns it literal, swelling from a somber reflection of someone who’s passed into a thundering new beginning thanks to an extended choral outro. The end of “Born Again” is purposely unrecognizable from its beginning, but Rihanna’s graceful approach serves as the connective tissue; she’s been gone for years, and we’re not taking her for granted now that she’s back.
Bruce Springsteen, Only The Strong Survive
Although cover songs have always been part of the Bruce Springsteen live oeuvre, Only The Strong Survive, a collection of the Boss’ interpretations of older and slightly obscure soul tracks, is his first studio covers collection since 2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, and following a prolific recording period that includes 2019’s Western Stars and 2020’s Letters To You. Because Springsteen can set his songwriting aside and focus on his voice with this project, Only The Strong Survive comes across as delightfully free-wheeling, with producer Ron Aniello helping construct snappy renditions of songs like “Nightshift,” “When She Was My Girl” and “Turn Back the Hands of Time.”
Wizkid, More Love, Less Ego
Wizkid’s fifth studio album arrives with expectations unlike anything the Nigerian superstar has experienced before — particularly in North America, where his Tems collaboration “Essence” became a slow-growing top 10 smash last year, and where Wizkid will headline New York’s Madison Square Garden next week. Yet More Love, Less Ego sounds utterly free of professional pressure: the Lagos native may be flaunting a bit more braggadocio on the mic and inviting some new guest stars into the fold (Don Toliver and Skepta are among those who stop by), but Wizkid’s confidence sounds effortless across the project, as if international superstardom was a natural next step.
Rauw Alejandro, Saturno
Rauw Alejandro may have found in urbano music before Saturno, but the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter’s new project accentuates every aspect of his aesthetic across 18 thrilling tracks: this is a euphoric yet personal dance project, full of bleary synth lines, rumbling percussion and the echoing voice of someone who knows how to command the moment. Alejandro has had plenty of memorable moments in popular Latin music prior to Saturno, but this is his most accomplished project to date, and a full-length that sounds essential to understanding the current moment in the genre.
GloRilla, Anyway, Life’s Great…
Anyway, Life’s Great… is the cherry on top of a whirlwind year for Memphis rapper GloRilla — following a breakout hit in “F.N.F (Let’s Go),” a label deal with CMG, and recently a top 10 Hot 100 hit with the Cardi B team-up “Tomorrow 2” — and as such, the nine-song EP basks in the MC’s enviable run while also laying the foundation for an even bigger future. Songs like “No More Love” and “Unh Unh” utilize GloRilla’s microphone tenacity in different ways, the former focused on post-fame betrayal and the latter on mid-stardom flexing, but throughout the project, she sounds ready for an even bigger stage in 2023.
Louis Tomlinson, Faith in the Future
A press release for Louis Tomlinson’s Faith in the Future touts his sophomore solo album as “a collection of songs designed for the live environment,” and indeed, the soaring pop-rock tracks on display here certainly keep the deafening crowds that packed One Direction’s stadium shows in mind. Yet Faith in the Future offers a hopeful vision of Tomlinson as an adult singer-songwriter, carving out a sound after a few years of experimentation — a song like “Silver Tongues,” driven by sprightly piano and shouted hooks, points toward a defined, agreeable aesthetic.