First Impressions: Drake, Cardi B, Calvin Harris And More

Written By the interns on 04/11/2018

First Impressions sees our writers and contributors review the newest tracks by giving a spiel and slapping a score out of five on them. This week gave us some of the biggest releases of the year and here’s what we thought:

Drake – Nice For What

Ti Butler: I like this a whole lot more than God’s Plan. It’s about women doing their own thing and gettin’ shit done and so OF COURSE IT’S GOT A LAURYN HILL SAMPLE. 4.5

TJ : By this point in 2018 it’s hard to be surprised at how good the Drake machine is at dropping singles that come out of nowhere to perfectly capture the zeitgeist, but Nice For What still manages to astonish in the way it combines disparate influences, navigates a potentially problematic female empowerment message, acts as a vehicle for Drizzy at his most charismatic and still comes off as irresistibly good natured and effortlessly enjoyable.

Like the best Drake singles, Nice For What rewards repeat listening with memorable and meme-able bars at every turn, complimented by an effortless vocal melody that just nudges upwards just at the right moments. Murda Beats flips a sped up Lauryn Hill sample (a la the classic Kanye playbook) into an absurdly fun New Orleans bounce instrumental that continually builds in energy, withholding the baseline until pivotal moments for maximum effect. Then, just after two minute mark, the whole song collapses into a joyous call and response led by New Orleans Bounce figurehead Big Freedia and the rest is just a victory lap of blown out percussion, chopped and sliced vocals and a reminder that even in 2018, Drake still knows how to stay firmly top of the pop landscape. 5 – perfection

Sam Murphy: This is the most exciting thing Drake has done since…I don’t know when. Drake’s at his best when he’s celebratory but he’s even better when he’s soulful and he’s paired the two together for his sunniest cut in ages. The Lauryn Hill sample is genius and the way he crafts that effortless hook outta nowhere is so superior. Murda Beatz has also gone the extra mile with this production. That breakdown at the end is really something I was not prepared for. 4.5

Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa – One Kiss

Ti: I’m fine with not having a Funk Wav Bounces Vol II if we get more of this. This is classic Calvin – get one of the biggest vocalists in the world, and put together a radio-ready (and now Spotify-ready) summer hit (for the northern hemisphere) for them. 4.25

TJ: Calvin and Dua Lipa have crafted a perfectly serviceable 2000’s house retread that somehow fails to take advantage of Dua’s world-dominating charm or Calvin’s recent playful explorations of breezy funk and disco, or even his earlier penchant for rocket-boosted stadium bangers. The menacing synth bass and pitched down vocal chops that creep in after each chorus hint at a more interesting direction this track could have gone but it’s actually Dua that drags this collaboration down with forgettable lyrics and a fairly bland vocal melody that refuses to move out of first gear. Still, Dua’s voice is a pleasure to hear and Calvin ensures every sound is faultlessly engineered. Expect to hear this relentlessly in bottle service clubs, supermarkets and algorithmically generated Spotify playlists. 2.5

Sam: I’m hearing a lot of people saying this is going back to the old Calvin but I gotta disagree. For me, the sounds in this are closest to Nuh Ready Nuh Ready. He’s serving something fresh while working in his favourite tempo, going back to pop without opting for a huge, anthemic EDM chorus. Lipa is the perfect voice for this. With anybody else on board it would’ve been at threat of being totally forgettable. 4

A$AP Rocky – A$AP Forever

Ti: Moby must be desperate if he’s approved this sample. 1

TJ: Flipping a slightly sped up sample of Moby’s Porcelain was always going to a risky move for any rap artist, but for A$AP Rocky, who relies almost entirely on charisma and atmosphere, it’s even more risky. As a flex track about the A$AP gang, Rocky delivers some energetic and intricate flows but the sample, vocal and we-will-rock-you style stadium claps-and-stomps feel rushed and never quite seem to gel into a cohesive whole. It isn’t until the two minute mark, when the beat relaxes to the original tempo and the weightless but all too brief cameo from guest vocalist Khloe Anna reveals itself that the endorphins start to hit. Did this need Rocky at all? 1.5

Sam: This is the best and most ambitious Rocky has sounded in ages. He’s been giving us mixtape-level rap tracks for too long now and with this track it finally feels like his focus is on an album. The video is impeccable, showing his visual aesthetics are on-point and honestly, if this is the vibe he’s going with sonically, I’m on board. It feels new despite the vintage Moby sample. 4

Azealia Banks – Anna Wintour

Ti: This is very okay until it hits 2:05, and then it becomes very good with the shouty-distorted bit,and then it’s 2:23 and then it becomes *great*. Imagine how good this would be if the Mel B feature hadn’t fallen through. 3.5

TJ: Can Azealia Banks every truly fulfil her potential? The fact that we’re still wondering this in 2018, over six years after the enormous impact of 212 confirms both her incredible and undeniable array of vocal talents and her repeated ability to self-destruct in a variety of entertaining ways. Unfortunately, Anna Wintour is not the breakout moment she’s been looking for. Over a fairly flaccid house instrumental Azealia showcases her her lyrical trick bag: she can sing well, she can write good melodies, she has plenty of power in her voice, she sounds cool manipulated and chopped and she can scream. But it’s not until she raps that she feels truly magnetic, and unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. By the end of Anna Wintour’s 4:33 running time her talents are confirmed, but we are left fatigued instead of thrilled. 1.5

Sam: Which one of your faves can give stadium vocals and fire bars over an electronic beat that no popstars or rapstars would touch? After all these years, Banks is still an extraordinary artist making songs like no other. This is the sort of injection of energy the clubs need right now and I think that’s exactly what she was setting out to do. It may not bring many new fans on board but old fans whose loyalty was fading will almost definitely be back on board. 4.5

Lil Xan & Charli XCX – Moonlight

Ti: Someone wise once said: “you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter”. I propose we update this for the music industry to be “you can’t polish a turd, but you can add a Charli XCX feature”. 2

TJ: Lil Xan has garnered a tremendous amount of hype from a few well chosen beats and a some charismatic vocal performances that find him grouped with a growing handful of variously turned-up or Xan-ed out Soundcloud rappers that are poised to cross over into the mainstream with major label debuts. But that same charisma doesn’t shine through in Moonlight, his collaboration with pop savant Charli XCX, who despite her best efforts can’t save an unusually phoned in, trend-hopping beat from super producer Mike Will that any one of 20 rap producers could have delivered in 2018. Whilst Charli’s emotion-rich, auto-tuned rap performance further proves her versatility, Xan fails to provide an emotional centre for the track, his sleepy drawl coming off as forgettably half-baked instead of enjoyably melancholic or hedonistic. Even Charli couldn’t save Moonlight, and that really hurts. 1

Sam: I mean, I’m not about to jump into the album after this but it’s totally listenable. The melody is actually quite brilliant and it almost makes it easy to wait for Charli to finally deliver her verse. She brings it home so strong that you almost forget Xan was there in the first place. 3

Cardi B – Money Bag

Ti: I totally get the Cardi B thing. I get that she’s the big new thing, I love that she’s a true entertainer, I know she’s endlessly quotable, I respect her hustle, I enjoy her social media presence, I love watching her in interviews, I get that she’s respected across the industry — I even heard a rumour on Twitter, so it’s probably not true but go with me here, that Nicki Minaj’s label were on her to release new music this week but Nicki said she wanted to hold off so as to not ruin Cardi’s moment with her album release. I get it. She’s cool. I just think, apart from the production and the excellent salty-sodium-petroleum-podium section, this sucks. I mean, great, you’ve got money, you’ve got different cars for Monday and Friday. Good for you. So does Jay Leno. (No rating given, it’s just not for me. Have an emoji instead. 💱)

(note: I hated Bodak Yellow when that came out too and now it’s like a solid 3.75/5 for me, so maybe I’ll keep listening to the salty-sodium-etc bit and it’ll grow on me over time.)

TJ: Cardi B comes out swinging with Money Bag, oozing confidence and charisma in a way Pretty Flacko, Banks or Lil Xan could only dream about on their releases this week. In sections, Money Bag echoes the flows of Bodak Yellow in but ratchets up the aggression and directness and this time ads a chorus that Cardi’s boo Offset would be proud of in its memorable triplet-flow simplicity. Producer Jermaine White employs similar tricks that he used in Bodak – nimble, dramatically syncopated 808 bass that slides deep into your chest, a menacing, repeated synth line and rattling high hats that combine to skyscraping, cinematic proportions. Meanwhile, Cardi looms large over the whole affair, delivering multi-levelled, playfully surreal punchlines with the ease and charisma of Lil’ Wayne at his most free flowing and effortless peak, dragging out syllables to create a relentless, machine gun flow that is both thrilling and enjoyably predictable in it’s rhythmic precision. It’s Cardi’s world, and we’re all just living in it. 4.5

Sam: There’s much more than just Bodak Yellow follow-ups on Invasion Of Privacy but if that’s what you’re looking for then this is the song. The beat is harder than BY and Cardi sounds even more confident like she knows that she’s the queen of the turn-up anthem. She sounds in total control the whole time squashing any fears that this whole project was rushed out to beat her baby’s arrival. Invasion Of Privacy is proof there are no limitations to what Cardi can do and this is one of its finest moments. 4.5

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