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Megan Thee Stallion and Omar Apollo lead the pack in a busy week of new music

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Debates, Supreme Court rulings, politics - how about, actually, a nice deep breath and some great new music as well? Here's Anamaria Sayre and Stephen Thompson from NPR Music rounding up the best albums that came out today, starting with the biggest album of the week, "Megan" by Megan Thee Stallion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOA")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I be showing my - they mad, huh? Is bitter, they thought it was sweet. All the sudden, they vegan, they don't want beef. Talking out of veneers, I'm knocking out teeth.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: You know, Stephen, there's so many things happening here, and I want to start with the fact that, one, this is her first independent record. So obviously, like, ownership for her. She is someone who is a force, who has consistently been so authentic upfront, empowered as a woman in the space. And this is, like, the ultimate, obviously, realization of that, which means things good and bad, right? Stylistically, it's interesting in that, like, she has her classic amazing flow, but she does have some departure on songs like "Spin," like "Worthy," where she really does lean into things that I think are maybe, like, more exploratory for her, interesting for her. The one thing, obviously, that everyone is talking about is, of course, the beef that's been present between her and Nicki Minaj, which, of course, comes up...

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Yes.

SAYRE: ...On this record, as no surprise. It was in the singles. But she does do a lot more beyond that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORTHY")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Blocked, and I'm not calling back. I ain't finna (ph) let them treat me like that 'cause I'm worthy, not worthless. I shouldn't have to beg for your love. I deserve it.

THOMPSON: I think for those who know Megan Thee Stallion from songs like "Savage" and "WAP," songs that are these big anthems, very sexually explicit, very, very frank, but also, like, very celebratory, "Megan, " the album, is pretty jarring. It's clearly lonely at the top. It's paranoid. It's defiant. And it's fixated on this uneasy relationship that she has with the internet, with other performers and with the media. And I think 2024 has already been really heavy on big pop and hip-hop stars airing their grievances. It's kind of the year of the pop culture grievance in a lot of ways. You've got Kendrick Lamar's beef with Drake. You've got these really grievance-fueled epics from people like Taylor Swift and Beyonce. And I think "Megan" fits squarely within that.

SAYRE: Right. I mean, this has been the year or maybe even two years of artist dropping albums where it's essentially them being like, oh, you could not ever understand what it's like to be in my position, and yet they're all doing it simultaneously. I'm like, I don't know if they all need to start, like, book club together and be like, it's not just me 'cause we're all seeing the parallels in their records.

THOMPSON: All right. So that's Megan Thee Stallion. Her new album is called "Megan."

Next up, we've got a wonderful new album by the singer-songwriter Omar Apollo. It's called "God Said No." And this track is "Spite."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPITE")

OMAR APOLLO: (Rapping) Why you got to ruin every night? Fifty K, I spend it out of spite. Every time I see you on my phone, hate that I still need you in my life. Tulips dying slowly in the vase. Passport's getting dirty, need a case. You're the only place I want to go. I still want to take you on a date.

SAYRE: You know, Stephen, I have so much to say about this record.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

SAYRE: I mean, you know, I think a lot of us have been really looking forward to, what is Omar Apollo's next move? Because he's been on this, like, incredible upward trajectory. And I have to say, I was blown away. I mean, someone broke this man's heart hard. That is what I will say first and foremost. I mean, thematically, he is really doing the most honest I think I've heard him, the most authentic. He really makes you feel as though you're getting a window into the experiences he's had. But at the same time, there's a lot of fun, upbeat, you know, classic Omar moments, more techno moments. He really does a lot of things that make it feel like it could be a summer album as well, but summer with a lot of heartbreak.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I love this record. Like you, I've been following Omar Apollo's career since he kind of emerged as, like, a bedroom pop songwriter, somebody who was working by himself and kind of exploring vulnerable themes, but still kind of finding himself as an artist. And you listen to this record, and you really hear someone who feels so much more fully formed. He is so in command of his sound here. Listen to a track called "Plane Trees," which is a duet with Mustafa, who is also great. And just hear yourself pulling closer to this song as it plays.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLANE TREES")

APOLLO: (Singing) How could we be dying if we're lying down underneath this tree, giving life to withered leaves?

SAYRE: Oh, Stephen, this has to be my favorite track on this record. I am not going to lie to you. The second he came in singing, I - tears. It was over. I just - the level of emotion that he carries, it was just such a beautiful ballad of a song. I mean, I don't think I've heard him execute emotion to this level before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLANE TREES")

APOLLO: (Singing) Slow, so slow. Our presence made the ground glow.

THOMPSON: So that was "God Said No" by Omar Apollo. And now it's time for a lightning round of some of our other favorite albums out today.

SAYRE: OK, Stephen, our favorite R&B star, Lucky Daye, is out with an album. It fuses all the interesting things he likes to play with - rock, R&B, alternative, and it's called "Algorithm."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALGORITHM")

LUCKY DAYE: (Singing) Connected, I'm in a net with my heart. Caught in your web. And I tried to keep it, secrets. Thoughts of you when you're on my mind.

THOMPSON: So one from the vaults, it's called "Songwriter" by Johnny Cash. It's made up of recordings that Johnny Cash made in the early '90s, around the time he was recording classic albums like "American Recordings." They've got new full band arrangements around them. It's a surprisingly strong record. It stands as a strong Johnny Cash record, which I will always welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELL ALRIGHT")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I met her at the laundromat. She was washing extra hot. I said, don't you need a little help with that big load you got? She said, no, but did a double take. And then she smiled and said, I might. As I rolled up my sleeves, I said to myself, well, all right. Well, all right.

SAYRE: OK, Stephen, drum roll (imitating drum roll).

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

SAYRE: And on this New Music Friday, we have one more record to talk about. This is Camila Cabello's fourth studio album. I feel like she's really been on this journey of finding her own sound, discovering herself, you know, since her early days of being in Fifth Harmony and creating her own experience for people. So really excited about this record. It's called "C,XOXO."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE KNOWS")

CAMILA CABELLO: (Singing) I think he knows - when I play with him like that, when I say it to him like that, have my way with him like that. I think he knows - when I play with him like that, when I say it to him like that, that he's coming right back.

DETROW: That was Anamaria Sayre and Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. You can hear their full episode of New Music Friday wherever you get your podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
Anamaria Artemisa Sayre is co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.