Megan Thee Stallion

If you first encountered Megan Thee Stallion (Megan Pete) on Saturday Night Live where she excoriated Kentucky’s attorney general, you might consider her a new and savvy political light.

If you heard her collaborate with Cardi B on “WAP,” you might dub her a new queen of raunch. While the latter observation is closer to reality, the first proper album release from the Houston rapper, Good News (300 Entertainment), is all about the empowerment of women of color and the expression of positive sexuality. Sure, her collaborator guests like Da Baby may try some traditional male-dominant roles, but Megan is too fast for them. More important, the album provides necessary positive energy in very bleak times, which is her overt intention.

The album opens with a rapid settling of terms over the injuries from August when Canadian rapper Tory Lanez allegedly shot her in the feet. “Shots Fired” doesn’t waste time lamenting though, zooming rapidly to Megan’s tough survival skills. The album works best when she tries layered arrangements like “Don’t Rock Me to Sleep,” or the collaboration with SZA, “Freaky Girls.” The straightforward sexual swordfighting songs get a little repetitious after 17 tracks, but Megan Thee Stallion deserves credit for showing us 2020 offers plenty reasons to smile.

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Joan of Arc, Tim Melina Theo Bobby (Joyful Noise) – When a band as mercurial as Chicago’s Joan of Arc declares a “final album,” there are fewer expectations of something majestic. Instead, what we get is a sampler pack of where members have been: a little bit of Melina Ausikaitis’ hillbilly singing, a weary yet fascinating Tim Kinsella reciting his job résumé, and sweeping electronic effects over everything. Joan of Arc departs with as much understatement and mystery as when it arrived.

Miley Cyrus, Plastic Hearts (RCA Records) – This is not Cyrus’ “punk album,” nor is it a new-wave re-imagining, despite guests such as Joan Jett and Billy Idol. Instead, it is Cyrus interpreting what 1980s poppy punk could have been if it was spiced with the influence of herself, Pink, Halsey and other 21st-century divas. Are there trite lines in the title track or “WTF Do I Know?” Sure. But it’s the best pop material from Cyrus since her Hannah Montana days.