This week, DJ Khaled finally released his feature-stacked album Grateful, with collaborators like Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj as highlights of the pack. Former America's Got Talent breakout star and ukulele master Grace VanderWaal debuts a summery, upbeat new single. One of the top songs from Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen gets an Owl City makeover, with radio-ready results. Indie-pop's Fitz and the Tantrums find a pleasantly funky groove on an optimistic breakout song. And rising New York rapper Ro Ransom hits just the right notes on a slinky new single.
"Moonlight," Grace VanderWaal
A 12-year-old Grace VanderWaal first found her moment in the spotlight as a standout performer on last year's America's Got Talent. The quirky, ukulele-wielding singer-songwriter won praise from Simon Cowell, who deemed her the next Taylor Swift — a compliment that set quite a precipitous standard. But her new release "Moonlight" lives up to that hype, as she's delivered a breathy and upbeat summer song that maintains her acoustic flair while layering in a lightly tropical touch. And "Moonlight" is just the start: it's the lead single off an upcoming debut album.
"Nobody," DJ Khaled feat. Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj
DJ Khaled put together an all-star list of collaborators for new album Grateful, but perhaps one of the more powerful combinations comes on "Nobody," a gospel-inspired track that benefits from the velvety cadence of Alicia Keys's singing and the smooth flow of Nicki Minaj's rhymes over an insistent beat. It's great to see Keys still stretching her vocal talent in the hip hop sphere, as she brings a welcome musicality to an otherwise heavily masculine and rap-forward tracklist. Also: you'll hear both women speaking up for their success, sharing an unflinchingly confident and respectful anthem of mutual boosting.
"Fool," Fitz and the Tantrums
Just try to stop from nodding along to indie pop band Fitz and the Tantrums' new song "Fool," an infectiously funky summer bop from the sextet of previous hit "HandClap." Mixing analog and electro elements in their idiosyncratic style, this tune slips between more traditional pop and a synthy R&B style. And while ostensibly it's a song about getting rid of a lover gone awry, the ultimate message feels optimistic.
"Prettiest," Ro Ransom feat. Jazz Cartier
There's a dark, almost sinister undertone to "Prettiest," a sinuous new track from New York's Ro Ransom and Toronto rapper Jazz Cartier. Where Ransom's silky voice invites listeners in, Cartier shuts it down with his straight rap verses — a nicely balanced contrast between the two artists. Make no mistake, this is no love song; but its seductive, looping melody has its own repetitive magic. This is Ransom's first release in a year, and it bodes well for the little-known rapper's expected upcoming album.
"Waving Through a Window," Owl City
Broadway's new hit Dear Evan Hansen made a splash at the Tony's this month, taking home a number of prizes including Best Musical and Best Score. But for those who can't get tickets to see the stage production, the soundtrack by La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul has arrived online to fill the void — and now they're adding updated covers. This take on the reflective tune "Waving Through a Window" taps ultimate emo-pop producer Adam Young of Owl City for his signature whimsical, glitchy sound, transforming the emotional stage song into a radio-ready track, without losing its thoughtful and lyrical innocence.