Thanksgiving week is historically a pretty slow week for new music, but that didn’t stop the hip-hop and R&B worlds from chugging through the rest of the calendar year. On Sunday night (Nov. 26), Keke Palmer hosted an intimate edition of the Soul Train Music Awards featuring performances by Muni Long, Dante Bowe, legend award winner T-Pain, Spirit of Soul award winner Janelle Monáe, SWV and Keke herself. SZA was the night’s biggest victor with four wins, including album of the year for her nine-time Grammy-nominated SOS, and fellow 2023 Grammy nominees Victoria Monét (two) and Coco Jones (one) also took home some hardware.
Even as the Thanksgiving weekend forced everyone to prioritize leisure, a bevy of artists seized the opportunity to unleash some new music upon the world. With Fresh Picks, Billboard aims to highlight some of the best and most interesting new sounds across R&B and hip-hop — from Coco Jones’ aptly-tiled new Christmas anthem to Senth’s shape-shifting amalgam of Afrobeats and R&B.
Be sure to check out this week’s Fresh Picks in our Spotify playlist below.
Freshest Find: Senth, “Bend It”
Placed directly in the middle of Senth’s Wayyy Saucy EP — his first body of work this year — “Bend It” achieves peak sensuality with a tantalizing mixture of booming brass, pounding drums, and a lead vocal that morphs from whispery mumble to impassioned exclamations of sexual tension. Between notes of house, soul, hip-hop, and a rhythm that pulls from both Afrobeats and dancehall, “Bend It” traverses the musical multitudes of the Black diaspora with startling ease.
Otis Kane, “Closer”
Steeped in the same reverence for the warmth of soulful old-school R&B that permeated 2023 records from the likes of October London and Lucky Daye, Otis Kane’s “Closer” channels the steady grooves of Marvin Gaye for a tender ode to the never-ending process of growing closer to your lover. There’s a levity to “Closer” that immediately separates it from the murkier contemporary R&B scenes; Kane’s slight rasp adds some dimension to his vocal performance, but it’s the way he floats over the instrumental that truly encapsulates the track’s dynamism.
Luh Tyler, “Change My Wayz”
A year removed from the viral success of “Law & Order,” Florida rapper Luh Tyler takes a moment to reflect on his whirlwind rise with the introspective “Change My Wayz” — from his growth in relationship to his transition to real chains and jewelry. Unlike some of his most popular tracks, “Change My Wayz” does not rely on a quirky sample or a familiar hook-reliant song structure. Instead, Luh Tyler delivers a singular stream-of-consciousness verse over a mellow CashCache-produced beat. “Know I got to stay on ten, I got to keep my head on/ She mad cause I done fucked her friend, she like, ‘You know you dеad wrong’/ Damn, I gotta change my ways,” he spits.
Tink has helped shape the sound of R&B for close to a decade now, and her new single “40x” offers yet another dose of morose, guitar-inflected balladry. “Real bitches can’t be bought/ So tired of being strong/ Someone come keep me soft,” she croons. By the time she reaches the chorus, Tink has attached the “40” quantifier to everything from the number of nights since she’s cried to the amount of lies her ex-lover told her. Here, Tink balances her lyrical focus on the “blues” part of R&B with a melodic cadence that brings her closer to contemporary hip-hop while still showcasing the different shades and capabilities of her voice.
Adam Blackstone & Boyz II Men, “Greatest Gift”
Mere weeks after adding two more Grammy nominations to his belt, Emmy-winning music director Adam Blackstone has gifted fans A Legacy Christmas, his first holiday album and second solo LP. Of the project’s 11 tracks, Blackstone’s collaboration with iconic R&B vocal group Boyz II Men was the instant standout. In characteristically pitch-perfect fashion, the trio delivers their trademark ear-melting harmonies with all of the wide-eyed earnestness that holiday music requires. Blackstone’s twinkling jazz-rooted arrangement offers the group a playground of pockets to play around with, making for a winning original Christmas collaboration in a year filled with them.
Coco Jones, “A Timeless Christmas”
Coco Jones’ recent momentum is borderline unstoppable. As if securing five Grammy nominations and a Soul Train Music Award victory for best new artist wasn’t enough, the “ICU” singer also dropped off a terrific new original Christmas song, aptly titled “A Timeless Christmas.” Co-written with Tiyon “TC” Mack, the new holiday tune smartly employs Jones’ rich voice over lyrics that paint a gorgeous winter pastoral. “There’s laughter in our hearts, a special kind/ Sharing love and kindness in every rhyme/ Every rhyme/ We gather ’round with friends by our side/ And feel all the magic in the sky/ In the sky,” she coos. Complete with chugging percussion that offers a sleek sonic contrast to the background strings and jingle bells, “A Timeless Christmas” is yet another home run for Coco Jones.