Not unlike the random May-weather weekends that have been popping up to keep hope — and climate change anxiety — alive during the otherwise brutal Boston winter, some of pop and R&B’s favorites have been dropping singles left and right to keep us going until we’re blessed by actual album releases this spring and summer. March has already given us not one, but three new Nicki Minaj tracks, two much-anticipated Lorde singles and the first new song from Alt-J in three years. Oh, and more Frank Ocean. That should be enough to hold us over until R&B’s comeback sweetheart Tinashe drops “Flame” today, which she might just perform during her set at Spring Fling in April if we wish hard enough.
“No Frauds” – Nicki Minaj
Last week saw the simultaneous release of three new Nicki tracks: “Changed It” featuring Lil Wayne, “No Frauds” featuring both Wayne and Drake and “Regret In Your Tears.” While “Changed It” is standard fare for Nicki and Wayne and “Regret In Your Tears” is notable as the first song in which Nicki reveals her feelings about the end of her long-term relationship with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, “No Frauds” is the real news here. The track is a direct response to rapper Remy Ma’s “ShETHER,” a vicious attack on all things Nicki released on Feb. 25.
Nicki’s beef with Remy goes way back, and although Nicki has certainly found mainstream success that remains elusive to Remy, “No Frauds” doesn’t do much to support her status as reigning queen. On the track, Nicki raps, “Tried to drop ‘Another One,’ you was itchin’ to scrap / You exposed your ghostwriter, now you wish you were scrapped / Heard your pussy on ‘Yuck,’ I guess you needed a pap / What type of bum bitch shoot a friend over a rack.” This lyrical approach is more passive-aggressive than is usual for Nicki, and she appears to have let expectations grow insurmountably high during the two weeks between the release of “ShETHER” and “No Frauds.” Drake does alright and it’s still Nicki, but it’s all pretty forgettable.
“3WW” – Alt-J
Oh, Alt-J. We’ve missed you so. Although their sophomore release “This Is All Yours” (2014) was an inevitable disappointment after their oozy, sexy and infectious debut alternative album “An Awesome Wave” (2012), it’s exciting to hear “3WW” in anticipation of their third album “Relaxer” (2017) in June. The acoustic guitar and soft maraca intro do not show the intensity we’re used to hearing from the trio, and the whole song suggests they will take a more experimental singer-songwriter approach to their next release. This could be a disappointment for some, but it’s actually refreshing to not hear the band recycle the distinctive sound of their first album that others have been able to parody. Also, the lyric “I just want to love you in my own language” is a far cry from “Triangles are my favorite shape.”
“Liability” – Lorde
Everyone and their mother is eagerly anticipating Lorde’s sophomore album, “Melodrama” (2017), due for release on June 16. Although the pre-summer release date should have given us a clue, “Melodrama” doesn’t sound like it’s going to be as, well, dramatic as “Pure Heroine” (2013). While her debut was filled with a powerful and resonant teen angst, her two newest singles “Green Light” and “Liability” demonstrate a tonal shift towards pared-down piano rhythms and pop accessibility. “Green Light” has taken off with its danceable backbeat, but “Liability” steps into Adele territory, with Lorde crooning about perceiving herself as ‘difficult’ in relationships. “You’re a little much for me, you’re a liability, you’re a little much for me / So they pull back, make other plans, I understand / I’m a liability, get you wild, make you leave / I’m a little much for everyone,” she sings. It might be on-the-nose, but it will probably make you cry at your desk at least once.
“Chanel” – Frank Ocean
Frank stunned the scene with his sophomore release “Blonde” (2016) last August, and he’s been dabbling in features since but has otherwise laid low. “Chanel” is warm and gauzy and everything you could want from Frank, featuring obscure literary, film and cultural references surrounding the perfect hook, “I see both sides like Chanel,” most likely a reference to the singer’s bisexuality and the name of his first album “channel ORANGE” (2012). Designer Coco Chanel was rumored to be bisexual, and the Chanel logo features two intertwining C’s facing opposite directions. It’s all really great, okay? Frank never disappoints, so it’s going to hit hard when he eventually, someday, puts out something less than great.