It's hard to deny Cardi B's "I Like It."
It's hard to deny Cardi B's "I Like It."
Thursday marks the official start of the summer season. Now that the sun's at its highest altitude – elongating our days, deepening our tans, amplifying our excuses for an extra round of post-work drinks – it's time to nominate a song of the summer. We're talking about the groovy, fun-loving single that adds an extra bounce to your step. The one you repeat-listen to on your long morning commute, even skipping over your daily news briefing just to hit the chorus one more time. After all, Steve Inskeep can wait – right?
On the charts Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin's "I Like It" is ramping up to be Billboard's official song of the summer — and it's well deserved. But here at NPR Music, we've decided to give you some options. There's no secret formula, no algorithm that determines the optimal hip-hop to electro-pop ratio, no special preference for a funk-inflected bass. Just our tastes, and the songs that we think will tide us through the heat.
So take a listen. If you're craving more, come back Friday to see our crowdsourced playlist of your favorite summer songs.
Cardi B, "I Like It" (feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin)
The drop of the year was born in Bronx living rooms long before Cardi B was born. Pete Rodriguez's 1967 hit "I Like It Like That" is the crown jewel of early boogaloo, a genre that became emblematic of a New York City musical movement driven by Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans across the African diaspora in the 1960s and '70s.
And now, trap and reggaeton. Cardi B's collaboration with Puerto Rican trapero and mischievous sobrino archetype Bad Bunny and Colombian J-of-all-trades J Balvin marks another unifying moment — what Bad Bunny deems a "new religion" of "Latino gang" — for urban Latin music at the top of charts. The song claimed the No. 8 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of its release on Cardi's debut Invasion of Privacy, the highest charting song on an album full of big tracks.
"I Like It" celebrates the long days of a humid summer somewhere in the Caribbean and across its diaspora, playing dominos in the park in Little Havana or savoring a piragua in the Bronx. In a summer of public Latino grief in the United States, we can at least hear the overwhelming joy of this song blasting from every rooftop function. Viva la raza, y'all. — Stefanie Fernández
Drake, "Nice For What"
- from Nice For What (Single)
Though Drake used to get clowned for it at the start of his career, his unabashed adoration of women in song has worked out in his favor these last few years. In early April, just as the first day parties of summer were being plotted, the Toronto rapper shared his best women's empowerment anthem to date: "Nice for What." Drizzy employs members of his usual production arsenal — Noah '40' Shebib and Murda Beatz — for this heart of gold cheek-clapper. By speeding up lush samples of a lovesick Lauryn Hill, a jubilant Big Tymers and the oh-so-fierce NOLA bounce forebear Big Freedia, Drizzy connected all facets of the women he loves.
The strength of a summer anthem depends on its ability to unify and start a party. Nearly every line of the song is an Instagram caption. ("That's a real one in your reflection / Without a follow, without a mention" is my personal favorite.) And every bridge is a chance to celebrate at full volume in the heat of the moment, purging the anger of a breakup, the stress of a crazy work week or the general disdain for rivals talking down on your name. The track surged to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 soon after its release and stayed there for six consecutive weeks. The track will likely enjoy a renewed boost of energy after the rapper drops his upcoming album, Scorpion, on June 29. — Sidney Madden
American Aquarium, "The World Is On Fire"
It's shaping up to be a grey summer, a hard summer, one more in need of a prayer than a party anthem. American prayers are supposed to be grounded in freedom of expression; rock and roll prayers are personal, serving even those who've felt that faith has abandoned them. This one is built on sacred steel and Hammond organ and a strong kick drum, answering earlier anthems of dissent by Woody Guthrie and the Drive-By Truckers and Hurray For the Riff Raff. American Aquarium leader BJ Barham started writing it after the 2016 election, and it's for anyone who couldn't sleep that fall, and in this sticky season is still up late staring at screens that only seem to bring news of rage, dissolution, hate speech and families torn apart, one way or another, by politics. This song sounds like every rock anthem you've heard before, but it's different, because it dwells in the humidity of cynicism and self-doubt, and then fights for a clean breath. The guitars ring, message is plainspoken, necessary: "We must go boldly into the darkness, and be the light." — Ann Powers
Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa, "One Kiss"
Ever since the erstwhile EDM star rebranded himself as a retro-boogie producer last year, Calvin Harris' sweaty bops have become the sound of backyard pool parties accompanied by Tiki drinks. But "One Kiss" seems to be set just before dawn, when only new lovers are left awake after an all-night rager. Nostalgic for the thumping funk of 1990s house music (and, let's be honest, Daft Punk's pre-robot jam "Around the World"), the Scottish producer enlists pop singer Dua Lipa, who leans into her deeper register to illuminate that sleepless, confident thirst: "One kiss is all it takes / Fallin' in love with me / Possibilities / I look like all you need." — Lars Gotrich
Aya Nakamura, "Djadja"
Already a Top 10 single in France, R&B singer Aya Nakamura's "Djadja" is a takedown of a guy running his mouth about what he may (or may not) have done with her. "I'm hearing atrocious things about me," Nakamura warns Djadja — and then proceeds to demolish him lyrically. The 25-year-old Nakamura was born Aya Danioko in Bamako, Mali (her stage name comes from the sci-fi show Heroes) to a family of griot singers — and even within this thoroughly modern setting, she lets her voice spin off into rootsy roulades that evoke one of her idols, the Malian vocalist Oumou Sangare. And underneath those "don't play me" lyrics, "Djadja" is a summer song, through and through: Nakamura frames her voice against big, thumping Caribbean beats and slips of a sweet, African-style guitar — sonic semaphores that signal a party. — Anastasia Tsioulcas
Zedd & Maren Morris & Grey, "The Middle"
Anyone who has gleefully purchased a bag of Airheads Xtremes, ingested it all in one sitting, and then maniacally poured the remaining sugar down their throat knows that sometimes, a little artificial indulgence is exactly what the doctor called for. "The Middle" is a sugary, perfectly-engineered earworm whose irresistible hooks make it the ideal summer song — 4 out of 5 dentists recommend. — Catherine Zhang
Shal Marshall, "Splinters"
It's always summer in Trinidad & Tobago (at least by North American standards), which is why I turn to soca music when I'm in need of an outdoor anthem. On "Splinters," Port of Spain radio host Shal Marshall is an unrepentant fête fanatic concerned with only one thing: the wait time at the bar. Like all great soca tunes, "Splinters" is powered by an undeniable riddim, in this case The 2:00AM Project by St. Vincent production duo Fryktion Muzik. — Otis Hart
Janelle Monáe, "Pynk"
Listening to Janelle Monáe's "Pynk" is like drinking a frothy strawberry milkshake on the hottest of summer days – sweet, refreshing and totally deserved. Her soft voice bounces on top of an undeniably groovy synth that makes this a sensual dance anthem for pink and purple summer sunsets. — Emily Abshire