The Playlist: Lil Wayne Recaptures His Old Magic and 8 More New Songs

Posted December 31, 2017 4:36 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. Unknown Mortal Orchestra releases a 28-minute song, Major Lazer chills out, and Frightened Rabbit searches for hope.

Lil Wayne featuring Baby E

‘XO Tour Life’

Considering how integral Lil Wayne is to the DNA of contemporary hip-hop, he’s been a ghost of late, a victim of hip-hop’s rapid turnover, intractable label problems and perhaps his own boredom. His new mixtape “Dedication 6,” which arrived on Christmas, is his only full-length release this year. One of the standout tracks is “XO Tour Life,” his remake of Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3.” In the middle of his two-minute-long verse that starts the song, he raps in a skittish pattern that runs against the sprightly beat (and in a different way than Uzi did), but the opening is vintage Wayne, imagistic and clever and with some underappreciated dry wit:

I been walkin’ on this water, bone dry, hard timesR.I.P. baby, my phone died, but don’t cryHeaven’s gates was closed, I went to hell, there was a long lineTwo hoes in the bed, it’s hard to wake up on the wrong side


Unknown Mortal Orchestra


Ruban Nielson, the neo-psychedelic home-studio auteur behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, has been busy since the group’s previous album, “Multi-Love,” was released in 2015. “SB-05” — following “SB-04,” released last Christmas — is a 28-minute instrumental that sounds like more than half a dozen songs in progress. Sometimes heard through an analog haze, complete with static and tape-speed glitches, are a confident twin-guitar march, distortion-topped anthems, a boom-bap strut, buzz-bombing guitar riffs, woozy synthesizer melodies and jazz-trumpet coda — a glimpse into one songwriter’s primordial soup.


Pascal Le Boeuf


Pascal Le Boeuf, a pianist and composer typically associated with jazz, recently earned a Grammy nod for “Imaginist,” an album of classical crossover material that he made with his brother, Remy, and the Jack Quartet. In December, he released a studio video of “Wanderlust,” a captivating new composition recorded with a different string quartet, plus the drummer Kenneth Salters. The 6 1/2-minute piece is a snaky composite, full of rugged friction; it ranges from dissonant, naturalistic sounds to tight, tolling minimalism to a subtly ripping piano solo from Le Boeuf.


Major Lazer featuring Kes

‘Go Dung’

For Major Lazer, less is more. This collaboration with Kes, the popular calypso-pop band from Trinidad and Tobago, is among the least rowdy things the Diplo-led group has ever been a part of. Typically, Major Lazer remakes Caribbean music as pneumatic-drill-intense roars, but here, it eases up and lets the studiously smooth Kes take the lead.


Jada Heart and Mura Masa

‘unevercallmebutIdontmindbecauseImintheclub (Jadu VIP)’

“U Never Call Me,” a pointillistic complaint about an unfulfilled flirtation from the female duo Jadu Heart produced by Mura Masa, was released in November. A month later came “unevercallmebutIdontmindbecauseImintheclub,” distilling and abstracting the song into a multitextured rhythm track. With a bass line that feels Afro-Cuban, house music hi-hats, and samples of disco strings and horns, primitive drum-machine sounds and possibly field-recorded African vocals alongside a few syllables from Jadu Heart, it’s all over the map in the best way.


Lil Pump


For Lil Pump, more is less. This new song is produced by Zaytoven, a more musically inclined producer than the brawny SoundCloud rap auteurs who’ve provided him with some of his biggest hits. And Lil Pump responds by rapping with more density than he’s accustomed to, undermining what’s great about him: his abandon. Here, he gives off less energy than the audio snippets of news reports about his misbehavior that open the song.



‘Don’t Play It Safe’

Oddly aimed in the year of #MeToo, the insinuating “Don’t Play It Safe” has Cassie cooing to a hesitant guy, “Don’t need an invitation for moves I want you to make” and adding, “Don’t wanna wait for, wait for all these rules and confirmations.” The production by Kaytranada aligns the vocals over a squishy synthesized bass line, yet it has drum-machine sounds accenting the backbeat, like a little bit of subconscious foot-dragging.


Frightened Rabbit

‘No Real Life’

Pain, self-doubt and depressive reveries have long filled the songs of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, which released “No Real Life” on Christmas. The song mentions “a Christmas light,” but isn’t exactly seasonal. It’s about a longing for escape, transcendence or a way to “make believe,” and as the arrangement climbs from folky picking to a reverberant, orchestral processional, the music offers a glimpse of hope.




Presented as a conversation with a now-married ex, “Chilly” sinks into post-break-up numbness: “Been so long since the love bug bit/I’ll admit, maybe I quit,” Niki sings in a constricted melody that only expands when she’s singing about him. The backup is mostly the trap skeleton of a slow shuffle beat, a few piano chords and sporadic bass tones, echoing life at an emotional standstill.