Madonna, “Devil Pray”

Surprising fans and music leakers alike, Madonna reasserted her absolute power over the music industry by immediately uploading six new songs from her upcoming album, Rebel Heart. After hackers uploaded six in-progress demos of the tracks, Madonna one-upped the key punchers with the completed tracks produced by the likes of Diplo (“Living for Love”), Kanye West (“Illuminati”), and Avicii (“Devil Pray”).

The latter, which once again recycles Madonna’s penchant for religious imagery, is one of the more assertive mixes off the album’s sampler tracks. True to Avicii’s trademark style, the cut is a mash-up of acoustic guitar-backed verses with a synth-hard chorus warning America’s youth about succumbing to the Devil through drug-fueled escapism and waywardness.

Nevertheless, “Devil Pray” is simply Madonna’s rehashed sensationalism with contemporary production that foreshadows the dance-oriented approach used in 2012’s MDNA and the superior, Confessions On A Dance Floor. While Madonna’s proven she still has the power to destroy hacking attempts, the 56-year old once again falls short of transcending her own monotonous “reinventions” for authentic innovation.

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Beyonce, “7/11”

Sure, I was excited to learn that Beyonce’s latest single shares its title with my birthday. Yes—Beyonce sold 828,773 copies in three days with no notice. Quantity, however, doesn’t always mean quality.

While Beyonce’s self-titled 5th LP may be the icon’s most impressive, if not definitive release to date, “7/11″—a track described as “R&B ratchet record similar towards ‘Partition,” —hardly carries the weight of ‘Yonce’s sexiest anthem to date.

Hyped through fake track-lists and insider comments, “7/11” is a minimalist trap cut that sounds more like an unfinished demo than a finished, radio-ready single. Rampant auto-tune, simple instrumentals, sloppy lyrics—all characteristics we’d never expect from a Beyonce release yet are plentiful in “7/11.” With so little to offer, the best feature of the song is the final segment which finds Ms. Carter playfully ad-libbing over a relatively lush pad vamp.

One viewing of the low-maintenance music video and anyone would conclude “7/11” is Beyonce’s attempt to let loose and play after a year of divorce rumors and back-to-back world tours. Still, fun and innovation—both of which “7/11” strives for yet falls short of—shouldn’t sound this forced. It’s hard to believe that “Partition” placed 10 spots lower than “7/11” on the Billboard Hot 100 yet became a viral phenom without the build-up.

I won’t lie: I don’t hate “7/11.” The track does, however, seem like a lazy, tired attempt from such the 21st century’s most elite diva. Beyonce’s latest single proves the hit-maker doesn’t need a reissue as much as a well-deserved break.

Madeon, “Imperium”

Since July 7th, 2011 —the date when Madeon’s 38-song sampler, “Pop Culture,” was first uploaded onto Youtube—the 20-year old DJ has steadily been on the rise. Between remixing deadmau5 songs, performing at major Music Festivals, and working on Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, Hugo Pierre Leclercq has had little time to release more than just a handful of singles and an attempted E.P.

This hard-hitting floor stomper, however, marks a major change in the young producer’s career; “Imperium” is Madeon’s battle cry of a lead single from his much-anticipated debut album:

“’Imperium’ is probably one of the hardest sounding songs I’ve made. . .It was inspired by the past couple of years of touring around the world. My intention was to write something that was fueled by the energy of dance music but with a narrative element. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the album yet it’s an important part of it, it’s the transition between two phases. I wanted to capture the feeling of ‘confidently walking into adversity.” — Madeon, On “Imperium”

True to the latin phrase, Madeon storms into the last quarter of 2014 with a synth anthem for the masses. Madeon blends sax samples, brass riffs, and squelchy synth stabs into a 3-minute electro-stomp that never risks too much repetition. The tracks mainstay, however, is the bold bass line which completes Madeon’s vision of a rebel yell to herald in an undeniably formidable debut LP.

Azealia Banks, ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’

Azealia Banks fans have had to wait a few years for her debut LP, Broke with Expensive Taste, to finally hit shelves. After several delays, Bank’s first full-length release was dropped unannounced on November 6th. Banks’s last multi-track release was 2011’s 1991, which featured the lifted track, “212.” In the meantime, the 23-year-old became the Queen of Twitter feuds while hinting at collaborations with the likes of Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Pharrell (the latter was eventually released in 2013), and pushed her 2012 mixtape, Fantasea.

As with any “post-Nicki” rapper, the comparisons with Minaj have become unavoidable. Both rappers attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High SchoolMinaj was rejected by the Vocal Department but went on to the theater department. Banks seems to have followed the same route (although, tracks like “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” prove Banks probably could have been accepted into the rigorous department). Banks has also followed the “femcee” trend, delays aside.

Before listening to Broke, I must warn you: Banks is not a British rapper. The album itself is heavily influenced by UK Garage and house rap, with many of the tracks being prime candidates for any rave mix. “Luxury” and “BBD” in particular, blend trance with 808 trap samples. Still, one word sums up the Broke experience: Witch-hop.

“sonically, it’s very mature…I didn’t want to do anything that was like, young [or] mainstream. I stayed far away from dubstep, and I tried to stay far away from trap, but I have one trap record…everything on my album is going to be like, anti-pop, or just anti-what’s-happening-now.”

Meanwhile, cuts such as the catchy opener “Idle Delilah” and “Wallace” incorporate Latin kits and marimbas into Banks’s collection. While the relatively sluggish “Wallace” stagnates as album filler, “Idle Delilah” stands as one of Bank’s most relevant tracks —touching upon economic competition and suicide—despite it’s inspiration from a supposed 20th Century retaliation murder.

Besides “Idle Delilah” and 2011’s “212,” the majority of the album’s first half pales in comparison to its more experimental counterpart. One of the major pitfalls of Banks’s debut is her tendency to recycle identical rhythms on her rap tracks while overindulging in her “trademark” combination of mumbling and rapping. While Azealia Banks is no Mariah Carey—or Ariana Grande for that matter—it’s a refreshing change when Banks warms up her pipes as it shows a surprising versatility many listeners wouldn’t expect. “Chasing Time,” and the formidable, surf-rock jam “Nude-Beach-A-Go-Go” charts territory Banks’s fans have probably never explored. If surf-rock doesn’t work out, however, the irresistible “Soda” and aggressive “Luxury,” seem likely candidates for any club mix, offering a promising avenue into dance-floor diva-dom.

Such adaptability in genres, however, shouldn’t appear as promising career paths for when the monotonous rapping no longer works for Banks. Rather, such diversity only highlights an innate resourcefulness in Banks’ catalogue that makes her debut a much more rewarding listen than Minaj or Iggy Azalea who, quite frankly, should’ve thought twice before copping the name of a femcee who, despite sales, will most likely outlast her.