The Playlist: Justin Timberlake Stays Funky (for Now), and More New Songs

Posted January 5, 2018 6:14 p.m. EST

Pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing: collaborations between Borns and Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar and SZA, and Bruno Mars and Cardi B.

Justin Timberlake


“Haters gonna say it’s fake/So real” is the persistent refrain of “Filthy,” the new single from Justin Timberlake. Why so anxious, Mr. Timberlake? This is an unimaginative but slyly effective electro-funk vamp with acid house accents, produced by Timberlake with Timbaland and Danja. It’s cyclical and deliberate, like late-1970s big-band soul music, and only barely bothers to showcase Timberlake’s lithe voice. Maybe the erasure of the old Timberlake is the theme here. See also the video, in which Timberlake, in a Steve Jobs turtleneck, outsources his dance moves to a sleek robot. (Why this takes place at a “Pan-Asian Deep Learning Conference” in Kuala Lumpur is anyone’s guess.)

“Filthy” isn’t quite the rebirth promised by the trailer released a few days before for Timberlake’s forthcoming album. The album, due in February, is called “Man of the Woods” — yes, you read that right — and the trailer teems with lustrous nature shots and rich earth tones. There is a tepee-shaped bonfire, Timberlake striking a baptism pose in a lake, and a moment where he turns his body extremely quickly so that you can see the fringe on his leather jacket fly.

Maybe “Filthy” is a head fake, or maybe it’s the final chapter of Timberlake’s long-running R&B obsession before returning to his roots. Or, in the words of the gossip site Bossip: "M-M-MAGA Music: Justin Timberlake Is Officially White Again & Dropping Hot New Cracker Barrel Tunes Soon”.


Borns featuring Lana Del Rey

“God Save Our Young Blood”

Songwriter Borns wisely surrendered to Del Rey’s aura of fleeting West Coast sensuality in “God Save Our Young Blood.” It opens with a couple waking up to a sunrise and soon thinking about “hot wheels in the sun” and “warm waves on the coast where we love,” while wondering idly about good and evil. The track mingles distant EDM fanfares with the ticking undulation of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” While Del Ray’s voice is mostly heard whisper-singing in unison with Borns, it’s definitely her world.


Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B

“Finesse” Remix

Another week, another reason to exult over the rise of Cardi B. On this remix of Mars’ “Finesse,” she raps with a turn-of-the-1990s cadence to go with the stinging New Jack Swing production. But the real joy is the video, filmed as a faithful homage to “In Living Color,” from the multicolor Cross Colours outfits to the Fly Girls dancers — all that’s missing is DJ SW1.


Chico Mann and Captain Planet


Two producers who are experts on African-diaspora grooves — Mann, who also plays guitar in Antibalas, and Captain Planet — collaborated on a 2017 album, “Night Visions” and just released “Night Visions Remixed” with the tracks tweaked by assorted colleagues. They also added a new tune: “Ariwoko,” based on Fela Kuti’s “Ariwo.” Its foundation is still Fela-style Afrobeat, but it has a floating, twinkling electronic superstructure and glimmers of styles from Senegal to the South Bronx.


The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown

“Creatures of Habit”

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is an all-star band drawing from across the landscape of freakout funk. On “Creatures of Habit,” a new single from the band’s forthcoming album, “Volume 2,” Angelo Moore channels his finest George Clinton juju, admonishing the listener over a thick-boned bass line from Norwood Fisher (the two are longtime bandmates in Fishbone). Moore rouses up a rabble of voices in the backing chorus (“Come on, get it together/Come up to the front/Come up from the back/Funk, funk, funk”), and tees things up for the coup de grâce: Vernon Reid’s snaky, fuzzed-out guitar solo.


Kendrick Lamar and SZA

“All the Stars”

Duties are neatly divided in “All the Stars,” the first single from the soundtrack that Lamar and his label president are supervising for the Marvel movie “Black Panther.” The victorious, inspirational tasks of a movie theme are handled by the marching beat and by SZA’s chorus, singing about dreams and proclaiming, “All the stars are closer.” And to make sure no one gets complacent, Lamar gives the song its combative credentials: “Tell me what you’re gonna do to me/Confrontation ain’t nothing new to me,” he raps.


They Might Be Giants

“All Time What”

A chugging, crashing beat, chortling saxophones, fuzzed-out guitars and John Flansburgh’s nasal voice all signal one more wry, clever song in the voluminous They Might Be Giants catalog, arriving shortly before a new album, “I Like Fun.” But the lyrics aren’t so jaunty; they’re trying to cope with a sudden, devastating breakup.


Trippie Redd featuring Swae Lee


We’re at the inflection point where SoundCloud rap is becoming new-age soul. This duet between Redd and Lee is an elaborate dance of lovely moans and sighs, Redd singing into the clouds and Lee doling out sweet pinpoint melodies.


Jamison Ross

“All for One”

Ross won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition for the drums in 2012 by playing a reliable hand: He eschewed pyrotechnic displays in favor of a buoyant, catalytic pulse, gently interweaving some New Orleans funk into his standard jazz swing. He was framing himself less as an innovator and more as the guardian of some new, hybridized tradition. Since then, Ross, 29, has recorded two albums, both a mix of originals and covers with heavy debts to the jazz and R&B of the Crescent City, his adopted hometown. On the title track from the second album, he covers a little-known New Orleans R&B gem, superimposing the whirlpool syncopation of an Elvin Jones beat onto what was once a perky doo-wop tune. His vocals verge into a deep croon, betraying influences from all over the map: jazz singer Gregory Porter, gospel star Marvin Sapp, and a singing drummer from an earlier era, Grady Tate.


Big Shaq featuring Lethal B, Chip, Krept & Konan and JME

“Mans Not Hot” (All Star Remix)

Sometimes parody, in its effort to dismantle, ends up universalizing and can tease out something true from the subject of its humor that might not have otherwise gotten the spotlight. Such has been the path of “Mans Not Hot,” the grime parody by Big Shaq, a character of comedian Michael Dapaah, who lovingly and keenly satirizes grime culture.

What began as a viral sketch turned into a song, which went to No. 5 on the British singles chart. (Imagine a song from “CB4” or “Fear of a Black Hat” becoming a Billboard hit alongside Dr. Dre in the mid-1990s.) His lyrics are absurdist — “When the ting went quack-quack-quack/You man were ducking” — but his pose is quasi-serious. The song’s stoicism is the thing: it’s hot out, but he won’t remove his jacket, a tragicomic interpretation of tough guy posturing.

But the longer the song goes on, the more straightforward it all becomes. What’s the distance between an outsized boast delivered sincerely and an imagined excessive boast delivered comically, but with a straight face? Not much.

“Mans Not Hot” has been remixed ad nauseam in the months since its release, but the new All Star Remix, which features verses from titans of grime and British rap, shows its true reach. It’s faithful to the original’s quirks: the other rappers effectively toy with Big Shaq’s “quick maths” conceit (Konan: “I call my young boy Jay-Z, what you think he got the .44 for?”) and also his glorious gunplay sound effects, a grime staple, which prompts Lethal B to revisit his breakout hit “Pow (Forward).” Crucially, everyone takes the task at hand seriously, which indicates they understand at least a little of its fundamental absurdity.

In a way, more important than this remix is the clip of the live performance last month in which Big Shaq was joined onstage by many of the same rappers who appear on this remix, and also grime star Stormzy. They grin madly as they rap along with him — they know all the words, they know all the poses. They’re thrilled to play along.