After four years, Mariah Carey returns with a new album, settling comfortably into her style as a timelessly creative R&B artist. Anderson .Paak gets political on "6 Summers" off of his latest album, Oxnard, but still sounds like he's having fun. Indian-American rapper-songwriter Raja Kumari blends East and West in a bold new track in advance of an upcoming EP. Mysterious crooner Allan Rayman returns with tormented rock on a new album. And on Alec Benjamin's latest mixtape, the pitfalls of youth get examined with clear eyes and sensitive storytelling.
"Caution," Mariah Carey
Calling Mariah Carey a diva is not an insult; in her case, it's a compliment. It's acknowledging her mastery of her chosen lane, and the hard-earned superiority she can claim as an artist who has maintained pop relevance for nearly three decades, all while cowriting (and, of course, performing) the bulk of her discography. "Caution," off her new album of the same name, warns naysayers to proceed delicately. It's been four years since Carey put out a new album, but no matter: "Caution" sees her doing what she does best, sinking into slinky R&B that sounds effortless yet is filled with layers of precise, intimate vocals. It's hard not to fall under her spell.
"6 Summers," Anderson .Paak
There's an interlude in the middle of rapper Anderson .Paak's insistent new song "6 Summers" off album Oxnard that pulls no punches. "The revolution will not be televised, but it will be streamed live in 1080p on your peabrain head in the face a-- mobile device, alright!" says an unnamed woman. Then .Paak returns to his addictive singsong, mirthful rapping, before downshifting into a more melodic series of verses. "6 Summers" is rich in content and delivery: from taking jabs at President Trump to addressing the need for gun reform, .Paak leans in to his political side. But he does it with a heavy dose of funk and jazz, so you'll want to listen again and again, even if the picture he paints lyrically is less than pretty.
"Shook," Raja Kumari
Raja Kumari, born Svetha Rao in California of Indian heritage, has been a songwriter for the likes of Fall Out Boy and Gwen Stefani. But it's her own voice — and her distinctive rapping style with its flair and intensity — that she's focusing on now. She spent the last few years in India, getting in touch with her familial background; "Shook" overflows with the effects of that experience, weaving in Indian musical tropes and cultural references to a song that drips with blustering self-assuredness over an echoing beat.
"Crush," Allan Rayman
Allan Rayman's song starts out as simple enough rock 'n' roll, edgy but direct. Yet it's the enigmatic and media-shy Toronto artist's casual, lower-register delivery that elevates it to something more, a grunge-y meditation over heavy bass, before breaking into his restrained howls. Rayman's voice contains multitudes: a rough ache, a smooth hum, a rock star's confidence. "Crush" coasts along on the power of these levels, a looping song with no real resolution but plenty of tension.
"Water Fountain," Alec Benjamin
Sometimes, thinking back to the mistakes we made as kids — crushes we failed to capitalize on, friendships we messed up — can be painful. Singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin, himself just 24, seems intimately acquainted with that feeling on "Water Fountain," a bittersweet retelling of a young relationship that slipped away. Benjamin calls his latest project, Narrated For You, a "mixtape" — and "Water Fountain" suggests a mixtape's casual intimacy, a collection of stories that show off his sensitive perceptions of youth and growth.