J. Cole just released “Middle Child,” the first single from his upcoming album, The Off Season. Produced by T-Minus and Cole himself, the song’s title is an analogy for the rapper’s (self-proclaimed) position of being caught between two generations (“I’m dead in the middle of two generations, I’m little bro and big bro all at once”).

J. Cole does a fair amount of name-checking on the track, but the part that’s getting the most attention online is the rapper’s mention of Drake, who he acknowledges as a fellow legend. This is followed by what could only be considered a Kanye diss:

This watch came from Drizzy, he gave me a gift
Back when the rap game was prayin’ I’d diss
They act like two legends cannot coexist
But I’d never beef with a nigga for nothin’
If I smoke a rapper, it’s gon’ be legit
It won’t be for clout, it won’t be for fame
It won’t be ’cause my shit ain’t sellin’ the same
It won’t be to sell you my latest lil’ sneakers
It won’t be ’cause some nigga slid in my lane

Listen to “Middle Child” below.

“Happiness is the same price as red bottoms”

Ariana Grande is all about rings and things on the aptly titled “7 Rings,” which is the third single from her upcoming album, Thank U, Next — her fifth studio LP. The track is said to be based on a real-life event — according to reports, Ari bought engagement rings for herself and six of her closest friends after her breakup with Pete Davidson. The song was written that very day and even references that shopping trip.

The first two verses are sung to the tune of “Favorite Things” from Sound of Music, with Ariana singing about overcoming her tribulations with the help of retail therapy. She revels in materialism and brings her girls along for the ride.

Sonically, the song is very nü Beyoncé, especially on the third verse, which sounds like it could be something from Lemonade or Beyoncé. The video is trap-meets-Harajuku, with Ariana and a gaggle of girls partying in Japanese-inspired gear at a house that appears to be modeled after 2 Chainz’s famed trap house — complete with the pink finishing and black graffiti on the walls.

Overall, the song is no “Thank U, Next,” but it’s definitely something you can nod your head to. Check it out below.

Today is Ray J’s birthday, so I figured I’d make a selection from his catalog for this week’s TBT post.

In 2001, Brandy and Ray J took on Phil Collin’s classic, “Another Day in Paradise,” for the tribute album, Urban Renewal, which was a collection of “urban” remakes of Collins classics.

The “Paradise” remake served as the album’s lead single and reached the top 10 in many European countries. The single — much like the album — wasn’t promoted in the United States, and quite frankly, if I didn’t live abroad at the time of the song’s release, I probably wouldn’t know it.

The Norwood siblings definitely made this classic their own. And as if a cover wasn’t enough, they made a Stargate-produced remix that knocks oh so hard. Check it out below.

Before Adele or Frank Ocean or any of these younger artists who like to play mysterious, there was Sade Adu, the Queen of Mystique. The lead singer of the band, Sade — yes, it’s been a band this whole time — rarely does interviews and declines almost every collaboration request. My theory on people like this is that they probably obsess over fame more than the artists who chase it more openly.

Unlike most “mysterious” entertainers, Sade is actually honest about her motivations for being that way. In a 2010 interview, she explained that collaborations with other artists might expose the fact that there isn’t enough talent to back up the hype. I respect the honesty more than words could tell.

In any case, today is Sade Adu’s 60th birhtday, and in celebration of her six decades, I’ve posted my six favorite Sade songs.

“Smooth Operator”

“The Sweetest Taboo

“Is It a Crime”

“By Your Side”

“No Ordinary Love” (Live Performance)

“King of Sorrow”

Today would’ve been Aaliyah’s 40th birthday. It’s crazy that she’s been gone for almost two decades now; I remember the day she died like it was yesterday.

She was a young star at the height of her career and on an upward trajectory, and she was loved by all. Though I often wonder what she could’ve achieved if she got to live longer, I’m thankful for the years we got. She was a true talent and a timeless beauty.

Below are my four favorite Aaliyah songs. Happy birthday and rest in peace, Baby Girl.

“Back & Forth”

“Are You That Somebody?”

“The One I Gave My Heart To”

“If Your Girl Only Knew”

Sam Smith and Normani have joined forces to make “Dancing with a Stranger,” which I would describe as a musical cousin to Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and Nick Jonas’ “Jealous.” Their beats are all so similar that I thought they shared a producer or two, but they don’t.

The song was produced by Stargate, Jimmy Napes, Tim Blacksmith and Danny D, and is expected to appear on Sam Smith’s third album. Check it out below.

Kehlani sings about a fickle female lover on “Nights Like This,” which features Ty Dolla $ign.
This isn’t the first time Kehlani is singing about a woman on a collabo with a man, which is interesting only because male-female duets — from “Endless Love” to “My Boo” — tend to have the performers portraying lovers.

Sonically, “Nights Like This” is very Kehlani, which isn’t a bad thing — she even uses familiar ad libs. Check it out below.

Vocals. Melody. Soul.

“I Care ‘Bout You” is truly for the lover in us all. Written by Babyface and performed by supergroup Milestone — made up of K-Ci, JoJo, Babyface and his two brothers, Kevon and Melvin Edmonds — the song is about unreciprocated love, which is a theme you’d hardly find in songs by male R&B artists today. Can you imagine Chris Brown or any of these young’ns singing about how his girl stays out late to avoid him? Ha!

The song appears on one of my favorite soundtracks of all time — the Soul Food soundtrack; the movie also happens to be an all-time favorite. The melody in the chorus borrows from Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew,” and somehow, this fact went unnoticed by me until very recently, which is crazy because it is a pretty obvious sample.

“I Care ‘Bout You” wasn’t a smash hit, but any true R&B fan above a certain age understands that this is a classic. If you’ve never heard this song before, you’re welcome.