Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

If Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly was a dense, sprawling masterwork about spiritual crisis and unholy temptation, then Damn. is a more intimate study about the nature of fear, whether it’s being targeted by a society that demonizes his blackness (“XXX,” which features a cameo by U2), or a family and community that often equates tough love with mental and physical violence (“FEAR”). The sounds are muted, and fleshed out by sampled hip-hop, thanks to Alchemist’s work on “FEAR” and 9th Wonder’s beats on “DUCKWORTH,” as well as slurred, soulful tones like the jangly underwater-like guitars of “PRIDE.” As for Lamar, he seems wary and exhausted. “Time pass and things change/Reverting back to our daily program stuck in our ways,” he raps in regard to the 2016 election on “PRIDE.” But he also sounds hopeful and ready for what lies ahead, even though, as he falsely claims on “FEEL,” “Ain’t nobody praying for me.” --Mosi Reeves

Tinie Tempah, Youth

In the States, Tinie Tempah is mostly remembered for his 2011 hit “Written in the Stars.” However, the rapper has several chart-topping hits in his native U.K., including “Not Letting Go,” the closing track on his third album Youth. Most of the songs here have an airy electronic sound and an international cast of collaborators: Swedish singer Zara Larsson adds a pop hook to “Girls Like,” Tinashe delivers an R&B chorus for “Text From Your Ex,” and Nigerian sensation Wizkid sings a festive chorus for the Carnival-like “Mamacita.” Meanwhile, “If You Know" and “Holy Moly” find Tinie Tempah asserting his grime bona fides.* --Mosi Reeves*

Bailey Bryan, So Far

The country teen leads off with her sweet, smart, stomping statement-of-purpose single “Own It,” comparing herself to Patsy Cline and Jay Z, calling herself nerdy (rhymes with “party hard ‘til at least 9:30”!), and, owns her awkward dancing and flirting skills over a wobbling beat that's just funky enough. The other four tracks on her self-penned debut EP are confessionals as close to Lorde or Alessia Cara as to Maren Morris, shouting out to “Marilyn, Cobain and James Dean” while attempting a generation-anthem piano ballad in “Scars” and missing her extreme, Pacific northwest small town over soul embellishments in “Used To” -- making is a very promising entry onto the scene. --Chuck Eddy

Rich Homie Quan , Back to the Basics

*Back to the Basics ends an unexpected hiatus for Rich Homie Quan: After scoring hits like “Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh),” he seemingly disappeared for months as he battled label issues. Now signed with Motown Records, he spends much of his new project digging deep into his feelings, whether it’s remembering how he went to jail at 21 on “Da Streetz,” or how he struggled to become a star on “Never Made It.” “I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, I know I sin every day,” he sings on “Lord Forgive Me.” Rich Homie Quan raps in a harmonic sing-song voice, and his style will remind some listeners of Future. But he tends to be more melodically and lyrically direct. “I don’t give a fck what the critics say,” he asserts on “Back End.” “I’m gonna stack it up.” --Mosi Reeves

IshDARR, Four The Better

Milwaukee rapper IshDARR blends jazz and hip-hop on his new EP Four the Better. Each track highlights a variety of musical instruments, including saxophone, piano, flute, violin and harp behind IshDARR’s verses. He samples Lil Troy’s ‘90s classic “Wanna Be a Baller” in “Mucho Mango,” adding piano notes and sings the infamous line, “Baller, shot caller/20-inch blades on the Impala” throughout the track and closes with “Get It Back,” a more modern hip-hop song with a fast, bass heavy beat about love, loyalty and friends. --Jazmyn Pratt

John Mayer, The Search for Everything

John Mayer may be a subtle chameleon, yet he’s a chameleon nonetheless. After spending a few years exploring earthy folk-rock and Americana, the singer-songwriter veers back into his love of smooth-as-silk blue-eyed soul on his seventh full-length. A lush and intoxicated throwback to Marvin Gaye’s falsetto heartache, “Still Feel Like Your Man” certainly doesn’t quell Mayer’s tabloid reputation as a lover man. The same has to be said of the aptly titled “Love on the Weekend,” which slips a touch of ethereal indie pop into its leisurely gate. As for examples of Mayer’s impeccable fretwork, the most delicious is all the gooey wah-wah sticking to the Steely Dan-flavored “Rosie.” --Justin Farrar

Bishop Briggs, Bishop Briggs

“Welcome to my dark side. It’s gonna be a long night,” chants Bishop Briggs on “Dark Night.” It’s an ominous warning that could easily apply to the singer-songwriter’s debut EP. Over the course of its six songs, including the captivating smashes “River” and “Wild Horses,” the precocious talent sucks listeners into a brooding sonic vision where smoldering gospel pleading wraps itself around eerily looped beats, off-kilter samples, and lurching, post-dubstep bass drops. Seasoned music fans certainly will detect hints of PJ Harvey’s romantic fatalism, as well as Hozier’s otherworldly spirituality. Ultimately, though, Bishop Briggs is a stunningly inventive artist, one whose soulfully bleak music is all her own. --Justin Farrar