5 For Friday: VanJess, NAO, slowthai & More

After a short break filled with leftovers, even more lockdown news and some of the coldest weather we’ve experienced in recent times, the Nation of Billions team would like to wish you a Happy New Year! 2021 has shown no signs of slowing down with the breaking news or the music content; at this point we just have to accept what is being given to us. So while we have no newscasters in our outfit, we do have our latest roundup of the best vibes of the week. Tuck in as you wind down to the coldest edition (quite literally) of our 5 For Friday yet!

slowthai Feat. A$AP Rocky – MAZZA

Northampton’s poster boy slowthai has kick started his new year with the release of ‘MAZZA’ – his third single taken from the upcoming sophomore studio album TYRON. With high-octane production coming from the man himself and SAMO, slow and A$AP Rocky trade contrasting yet similarly themed bars as the former touches on suicidal thoughts and depression, (“suicidal tendencies, what’s up, man? (Bang, bang), feel like I’m down, I say ‘what’s up?’”) while the latter takes us through mosh pits and New York (“got jokes uptown, Harlem world, New York like I’m Pop Smoke, riding ’round in the drop rolls, watching rats in the pot roast”) in equally frenzied verses.

With video direction from THE REST, the visuals find both artists in separate hotel rooms, the varying camera shots that the direction captures slow and Rocky in portray the feeling of an LSD trip, while the red-blue themes of each room evoke memories involving the same coloured pills in the first Matrix film. Taken from the satirical side A of his incomig album, expect more to come from slowthai come the 5th of February.

Ragz Originale – brush u

The self-proclaimed ‘showa man musician’ Ragz Originale wastes no time this year, topping us up with his ever-ethereal yet enchanting sounds (and THAT bassline), delivering a level of artistic consistency that is often underappreciated in these parts. ‘brush u’ follows ‘OG lullaby’ as his latest offering from his upcoming mixtape WOAH. A co-producton by Ragz and E-Whizz weds a tantalising bongo-led bassline with soothing chords and instinctive sound progression; the perfect soundscape to allow Ragz’ quiet confidence to shine through.

Within his gentle melodies are witty one liners that are humorous yet will bring listeners back to Earth. “She wanna breed me a child, I said three is a crowd” sticks out as Ragz brushes off any distractions to his purpose. The clean visuals – co-directed by Ragz and CHAMU – pairs our leading man with a stunning beauty as her dancing and sensual nature clash with Ragz’ pensive looks. My only complaint is that ‘brush u’ is criminally short but you know how that adage goes; less is more.

VanJess Feat. Jimi Tents & Garren – Curious

Sisters and contemporary R&B act VanJess are renowned for their lush vocals, growing list of bops to move our bodies to and treating the genre they dwell in with the same reverence that their idols once did. They have laid an early marker with their first release of 2021 with the sonically enticing ‘Curious’, which has been laced with an undeniable groove courtesy of Jay ‘Kurzweil’ Oyebadejo.

The song finds the California via Nigeria residents in their element as their detail their intentions with a person of interest that catches their eye. Featuring rapper and singer (repectively) Jimi Tents and Garren, the chemistry on this fourway is clear to see, making for a strong R&B collaboration all round. Will we finally get a follow up to 2018’s Silk Canvas? Here’s hoping! In the meantime, we need a choreographed visual for ‘Curious’ as we look forward to hearing more from VanJess this year.

Nao Feat. Adekunle Gold – Antidote

More than two years since Nao’s sophomore album Saturn blessed our ears and in the time since, we have experienced a lot in the world. Amidst last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and collective grief at the lives lost to police brutality, the singer-songwriter welcomed a baby girl into the world. This newfound love of her baby girl has manifested in the release of her latest single ‘Antidote’, a song that is pure in intention yet so wholesome sounding to the ears.

Featuring Nigerian highlife artist Adekunle Gold, ‘Antidote’ is intended as a musical remedy – with it’s afrobeats inspired sound served up by Sarz – and a loving tribute to their daughters who were born weeks apart. Lyrics such as “you take the sun with you when you leave the room, it’s incredible, I put you on a pedestal” and “you save me (you save me), you bring me life, you bring me joy” encapsulate the earnest nature of this release. The accompanying visuals are gorgeous and the contrasting hues evoke positive feeling that will be needed to navigate these trying times.

Jazmine Sullivan Feat. Ari Lennox – On It

It would be inaccurate to say that R&B songstress Jazmine Sullivan has been absent from the game. But no studio album siince 2015’s Reality Show has left fans clamouring for more in the years that have followed. In that time it seems as though Jazmine has worked some things out and delivered some of her best work in ages in the form of 14-track Heaux Tales – EP. Across 32 minutes and 21 seconds of sultry, sensual yet authentic songwriting, Jazmine has gently laid a CLEAR marker for the standard of R&B releases early doors and quite frankly, calling this body of work an EP is modest. Of the 14 tracks, an early highlight for me is the very salacious duet titled ‘On It’, featuring the equally luscious ‘Shea Butter Baby’ Ari Lennox.

Co-produced by WU10 and Cardiak, the two R&B sensations take turns to let the listeners know how bad they need their fix in a tasteful yet intentional duet that is sure to end up on several love making playlists in due course. This is one instance where quoting lyrics isn’t necessary as the horny police are more active than the Metropolitan kind. In short, this is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this EP.