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Best New Songs of July 2020, from Black Thought to Anitta

This July may feel less celebratory than others, but that’s not stopping artists from finding new ways to both interrogate our present moment and share music that offers a brief respite from it. This week, Kane Brown teams up with Swae Lee and Khalid for a genre-less collaboration that feels meant to be. Brazil’s Anitta flexes her reggaeton muscle on “Tócame.” Jazz prodigy Jacob Collier brings in Rapsody for an unhurried kind of duet. Black Thought of The Roots expresses himself on “Thought vs. Everybody.” And the Dalai Lama—yes, that Dalai Lama—releases an album of meditation and chants that might just prove helpful to anyone in need of a moment of uplift.

“Be Like That,” Kane Brown feat. Swae Lee and Khalid

Country star Kane Brown‘s velvety drawl blends gently with rapper Swae Lee’s floating rhymes and Khalid’s lilting vibrato in “Be Like That,” a song about frustrated love that’s surprisingly tender and balanced. The three artists—all young Southern stars with roots in Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas, respectively—sound right at home as a trio. It’s a smart collaboration, mixing rap, pop-R&B and country in a way that should remind us just how pointless “genre” categorizations have become. Brown has become a major name as a breakthrough country act, and his buzzy appearance at June’s BET Awards as the first Black male solo country artist to grace that stage drove home his unique position. Not only is he a Black artist in a predominantly white category, but “Be Like That” proves he’s ready—and well-prepared—to make a musically savvy statement beyond that narrow world.

“Tócame,” Anitta feat. Arcangel and De La Ghetto

For a few years, Anitta has been Brazil’s biggest name at the cross-section of Latin pop and carioca funk. “Tócame,” her first release off an upcoming album produced by hitmaker Ryan Tedder, doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. It simply basks once more in the joys of reggaeton, with a hefty steel-drum beat over which she sings, sultry and insistent, in Spanish. Arcangel and De La Ghetto, a reggaeton duo, provide punch and contrast. Filmed in quarantine, the music video makes use of drone footage and fan-submitted dance videos—a nod towards her status as a dance-trend initiator.

“He Won’t Hold You,” Jacob Collier feat. Rapsody

Not everyone knows the name Jacob Collier—yet. But most players in the music industry certainly do. The British Collier, often considered a jazz prodigy with his multi-instrumental talents, has become a key, fresh voice as a collaborator and musician in the past few years, building a following of major names: he’s managed by Quincy Jones, shared vocals on Coldplay’s last album and has released singles with Ty Dolla $ign and Mahalia. “He Won’t Hold You,” off the third volume of his Djesse album series, is an unhurried, generous wash of sound in the vein of a sweeter James Blake. Rapper Rapsody comes in late in the second half to share something that’s more spoken word poetry than song. “I dance in the rain knowing I can swim too,” she says: “Found liberation, found my freedom, where it begins is without you.” Collier turns it all into a kind of meditation.

“Thought Vs. Everybody,” Black Thought

Black Thought has plenty going on: as a member of The Roots, he’s on air regularly as part of Jimmy Fallon’s house band. But as an independent rapper, he’s been releasing work since 2018. His new EP, Streams of Thought vol 3: Cane and Abel, is out in full at the end of the month. As a taster, here’s “Thought vs. Everybody,” a sharp, unflinching track over a minimal beat. Thick with innuendo, references and condemnation, it’s about this moment—and a little bit about the feelings of futility of living through it. “I hear police discussin’ whether to try and kill us all, I questioned if that would matter/ Much like a tree that falls in the woods, even with iPhone footage to see it fall.” But in the end, he’s found a way to move forward: “Up steps the one who upsets all carriages/ Cause it’s imperative we change the narrative.”

“Courage,” Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has plenty to teach us about respecting our place within the grander scheme of things—and appreciating the interconnectedness that binds us. An unusual new project from His Holiness, an album of meditations and chants released to coincide with his 85th birthday, serves as a reminder of these lessons. “Courage,” one of the tracks, is a gentle instrumental with a female vocalist backgrounding the Tibetan spiritual leader’s chanting of a mantra. The effect is calming, reflective and healing all at once. We may not have expected the Dalai Lama to come through with a summer album, but as it turns out, it’s here—and much appreciated.

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

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