Favourite Albums of 2018 Part 2

Last year,  I managed to compile together (against constraints) what I felt was a solid list of some of the best projects to grace my ears over the course of the year. A difficult task seeing the amount of music I got through and despite the hard decisions, some had to be delegated to just ‘honorable mentions’.

This year, I’ve been absolutely swamped with music and for the most part it’s been pretty good stuff. So, just like last year, rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation.

Here are my “Favourite Albums of 2018” – Part 2. Enjoy.

Janelle MonáeDirty Computer1200x630bb

Janelle Monáe’s third studio album, Dirty Computer, was a rather pleasant surprise,  packaged as an excellent concept album. Accompanied by a short film of the same name, the album showcases Monáe’s unique style of blending genres, a hint of pop, a sprinkle of funk, a dash of hip-hop and all organic

Monáe managed to successfully insert inclusivity into her music, especially with the short film – set in a futuristic world, the singer, songwriter and producer attempts to portray a reality without prejudice, where being true to oneself comes before anything else.

Standout “Django Jane” – by far one of my favourite songs to come out in 2018 – she raps on the power of womanhood, especially black womanhood, fuelled by her own empowerment and beautifully dancing the duality of poetry lyricism and potent wordplay. And it’s over dope production might I add.

Honoring women and the spectrum of sexual identities, Dirty Computer sees Janelle coming into her authentic self with a more personal offering, as she herself explores her own sexual identity with themes of self-worth, blackness and female power. It comes together in a package that oozes purely creative genius.

 

Geography – Tom Misch

tom misch geographyAfter working with some amazing talent in front and behind the scenes, we have the culmination of efforts of 21-year-old singer/songwriter and DJ Tom Misch’s several self-released mixtapes and EPs – Geography.

Geography takes on many of Misch’s different influences. Main elements of Funk and Jazz are staple to his brand but also Soul in smaller parts cover the breadth of this album for a smooth, glossy finish. Fans of his, especially long term, will appreciate even the most minute of details.

There are some really beautiful songs on the album, like the introductory bright and upbeat “Lost in Paris” or the electric “Disco Yes” with Poppy Ajudha. You can also not to forget the anthem stand out “Water Baby” with Loyle Carner, sandwiched between dreamy ballads, covers and a cheeky guest feature from Hip-Hop legend Posdnuos of De La Soul. There’s no commotion in the ocean with this one. It’s an album suited for relaxed listening.

 

East Atlanta Love Letter – 6LACK6lack east atlanta

If you were enticed by his chilly vocals, minimalist beats, and conditions of the heart on Atlanta artist 6LACK’s first album then you may be thoroughly impressed at what he brings to the table on his newest project. If we take a look under the robust set of melancholy pianos, rasping drum machines and ambient synths, we have an open and transparent 6LACK; his complications, flaws and complexities projected in a gloomy but alluring monotony.

While the album as a whole follows a style could fit well as background music, there are definitely some standouts which you shouldn’t miss out on. The title track features the star power of rapper Future who assists in making a street record with pop overtones.  As piano melodies encompass the album feel, it’s done brilliantly on “Disconnect” which makes a horrible break-up sound so soothing. And the rattling, hard-hitting lead single “Switch”, sandwiched between all the melancholy proves that 6LACK is able to create sensational music which can be played outside of personal listening and still hits hard.

 

Saturn – NAO

nao saturnOn her second outing, alt-R&B singer-songwriter Nao relives all the intricacies of a quarter-life crisis through an astrological lens. Saturn draws from R&B, pop, and funk influences at lengths and breaths to cover personal growth, the complicated art of love and heartbreak and the treacherous journey of young adulthood with keen soulful attention.

Make It Out Alive” typifies the entire mood of the album in trying to make sense of what’s complicated and it’s not surprise that it was the lead single. It’s silky, straight-talking R&B cut and is one of the two duets on the album as it features SiR; the other being the beautifully solemn title track with Kwabs.

Highlights “If You Ever” and “Yellow of the Sun” are light and fluttery daydreams to romance, beautified by Nao’s sublime vocals while the electric funk of “Gabriel” leans on sultry tendencies. “Drive and Disconnect” is surely Nao at her most expansive – an unexpected Afrobeats-inspired jam that’s worth the listen. Between Nao’s lush voice and the album’s glossy production, it’s easy to get lost in Saturn.

 

Oxnard – Anderson .Paakanderson-paak-oxnard

The multi-faceted music maestro Anderson .Paak released one of the most long-awaited albums in Hip-Hop this year. Named in homage to Anderson’s California hometown, it paints a clear sonic picture of its cultural landscape, influenced by funk and soul, the very genre the area boasts. Paak is clearly made from these quintessential sounds and his own persona is a central crux.

Hip-Hop Legend Dr Dre helped Anderson .Paak produce an album bursting to the brim with funk without losing rap flair or soulful edge. From the bitter price of fame on the breezy summer jam “Tints” to the joys of opulence on the rebellious “Mansa Musa”. A woozy tale of love in “Trippy” or a hard-line Casanova’s tale in “Sweet Chick”. You get a showcase his versatility as a vocalist and a rapper with just a thin veil of innuendo form. There’s a lot to take in but if you’re into that then it’s pure eargasms.

 

Outside – Burna Boy

Burna-Boy outside

The soundscape of modern African Music is quite diverse. Somehow, Burna Boy as an artist attempts to straddle these multiple worlds with Outside. As a whole, you can place songs into three categories: Dancehall, Afrobeats, ‘Experimental’ and he tackles them all with flair and showmanship in a way that not many can do.

If the upbeat melody and infections drums on “PH City Vibration” or the traditional Fuji vibes and Yoruba flavour of “Koni Baje” are not shaking your spirit, then maybe the J-Hus-assisted “Sekkle Down” or the reggae inspired “Giddem” will get you moving your hips in the mood for seduction. Burna is in no way or form predictable as he manages to throw curveballs into the mix, “Heaven’s Gate” with its unrivalled sound and “Devil in California” shows that Burna Boy can be R&B-ish and be vulnerable.

With the Afrobeats anthem “Ye” hallmarking an incredible 2018 for the man and becoming a viral sensation in the process, Outside will long live in the memory of many fans of African music as the gift that kept on giving.

 

But of course, I can’t have them all. In good spirit, honourable mentions must go to:

  • Purple – A2
  • Ghetto Gospel II – Ghetts
  • Seasons – Mahalia
  • November – SiR
  • Godfather II – Wiley
  • Milky Way – Bas

As we conclude part 2 and come to the end of the list, be sure to check out part 1 here.

Favourite Albums of 2018 Part 1

Last year,  I managed to compile together (against constraints) what I felt was a solid list of some of the best projects to grace my ears over the course of the year. A difficult task seeing the amount of music I got through and despite the hard decisions, some had to be delegated to just ‘honorable mentions’.

This year, I’ve been absolutely swamped with music and for the most part it’s been pretty good stuff. So, just like last year, rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation.

Here are my “Favourite Albums of 2018” – Part 1. Enjoy.

Room 25 – Noname

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Noname is unconventional of sorts. And while she captivated listeners with her innocent cadence and playful production on her debut effort Telefone, her follow up is a more mature approach. Room 25 is more experimental sonically; it’s jazz at the core but in ways which may surprise you from the young Chicago artist. She really hones in on her poetic form but with rawer subject matter.

It’s fair to say that the last two years between albums have been used to mature as these collection of songs capture the duality between the things that have now become prominent in her life.

Blaxplotation”, a portmanteau of ‘Black’ and ‘Exploitation’, explores Black stereotypes and the anxieties they cause. The sunny “Montego Bae” is Evidence of Noname’s sexual awakening, fantasized as a Caribbean fling. As deep as the album can get, “Ace” serves as a playful tag-team brag with frequent collaborators Smino and Saba – a breather just to flex some bravado. Noname is an artist of quite some depth and for a woman seemingly going through a quarter life crisis, she is handling it as best she can.

 

Care For Me – Saba

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Saba’s marvellously produced, reflective sophomore album, CARE FOR ME serves two interlinking purposes. Firstly, it is him truly processing his grief and the sense of loneliness he feels with the loss of his beloved cousin Walter, an integral part of his life even in music. The depression and self-doubt that occurs is laid out bare on this project.

Secondly, it offers the listener an insight to the harsh reality of living in inner city Chicago in the hopes of better.

A mood of beautiful melancholy enwraps the entire project. The 23-year-old’s fleet, singsongy raps manoeuvre through piano-centric arrangements, which build sets for the scenarios he’s reliving. There is a sense of journey to be had. Opener “BUSY/SIRENS” provides us with initial anxious thoughts, relatable in every sense. He bravely relives the trauma through “LIFE” and he retells Walter’s horrific account in “PROM/KING” but by the final act “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME”, he makes peace with his demons and rests assured that Walter is in a better place, looking down over Saba and so he is truly not alone.

 

Lady Lady – Masego

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The Virginia R&B musician’s debut album is the mark of a turning point of his career. His previous efforts have gone above and beyond to prove his ability purely as a talented musician, but Lady Lady makes the case for Masego as a masterful writer and song creator. Masego is mature and so is his content as he dedicates this project to the women – those loved and lost, those who’ve taught him hard lessons along the way, those who haven’t entered his life yet.

His music is sophisticated. 80s R&B with hints of smooth jazz along the fringes, building on his famed “trap house jazz” sound. Masego reveres women highly, his ode to black women on “Queen Tings” doesn’t go amiss and he’s definitely not one to discriminate as “Old Age” proves. Culminating at the end with “Black Love”, a lush ballad which he dedicates to his potential bride at the altar, Lady Lady essentially offers a wide-ranging glimpse into the different facets of woman, presented in a soulful vocal package by a Masego who’s come of age.

 

Glory Sound Prep – Jon Bellion

DqyWdN_XQAA8SO0After disappearing into deafening silence for two whole years once the fanfare of his debut album The Human Condition eventually died down, Jon Bellion was able to provide us the greatest follow-up to such a big album.

Full to the brim with Bellion’s signature adlibs and production ticks, the album is host to a smooth blend of hip hop, rap, pop and even a New Orleans jazz band, while managing to sound not only cohesive but also larger than life.

One of the few people I’d consider able to sing just as good as he can rap, the album spans several different themes. We find Jon reminiscing on his come-up in “JT”, speaking on the harsh realities of social media on “The Internet” and just having beautifully crafted but honest dialogue about his own insecurities in life and love. There’s also a beautiful orchestrated medley dedicated to all the mothers out there featuring Quincy Jones himself. At only 10 tracks long, Glory Sound Prep is an enjoyable listen.

 

DOU3LE 3AK – WSTRNwstrn

It felt like the West London trio-turned-duo had a lot to prove. With the unfortunate loss of bandmate Akelle, the odds were stacked against them. A few hot singles but could they put together a body of work that could stand strong? And the answer is yes. DOU3LE 3AK encapsulates the myriad of sounds within the UK very well. Whether its Trap, Rap, Dancehall, Afro swing or R&B, WSTRN’s versatility is something of marvel.

Hailee makes a strong case for himself with his knack for creating punchy and catchy melodies and choruses and Louis Rei, with his distinctive tone and flow, demonstrates his ability to conceptualise and shows that he can bar with the best of them. They didn’t leave Akelle out, with “Soon Home” a gentle reminder of the talent that we have been missing and an honest account from the man clearly set to reunite with his brothers one day soon. It’s rare that an artist can put together a project that s sonically diverse and still works but WSTRN have done that.

 

But of course, I can’t have them all. In good spirit, honourable mentions must go to:

  • Purple – A2
  • Ghetto Gospel II – Ghetts
  • Seasons – Mahalia
  • November – SiR
  • Godfather II – Wiley
  • Milky Way – Bas

As we conclude part 1, be sure to check out part 2 here

 

Favourite Albums of 2017 part 2

I present to you Part 2 of my Favourite Albums of 2017 series.

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

In the truest act of respect and dedication to her grandmother Laila, Rapsody gives us the most brilliantly underrated Hip-Hop album of the whole year. It’s the sort of album that transcends whatever entrenched gender biases that may still trouble the genre and puts her in the same category as the current greats. Not only is she your favourite female rapper, she’s one of your favourite rappers, period. It showcases Rapsody’s indisputable excellence as a lyricist. The opener and title track “Laila’s Wisdom” finds Rapsody regurgitating the guidance and wisdom passed on from her grandmother; self worth and empowerment – themes paired beautifully with Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted And Black” as the sample.
61c8c7d4dd777c786a13e47c6a959fdd.1000x1000x1.jpgWith jazz and funk running through the core, Laila’s Wisdom, produced in large part by 9th Wonder, bares comparisons to To Pimp a Butterfly. The beats ALONE tell a story which you can easily get lost in. Kendrick just so happens to feature on this album too, on one of my standout tracks “Power” which explores exactly that. The power in the culture, the powers that be in society and power within themselves.
Ridin’” featuring GQ is also one of my standouts. The duality between loyalty and freedom is played out over a beat as smooth as butter. Such a joint you could play while you’re Ridin’ out too.
There are so many songs which I enjoyed listening to as a real Hip-Hop fan so it would be remiss of me to not include this. As a whole, it’s a smooth blend of self-assurance and vulnerability and has themes of quintessential Blackness as Rapsody makes Black womanhood sound untouchable one moment and  mortal the next.

 

4:44 – JAY-Z

“But i’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for 9.99”

That line right there in my opinion perfectly summarises the essence of JAY-Z thirteenth studio album.
Not only is a ‘Blueprint’ (see what I did there) for business, but also relationships and life as a whole. In order to achieve this, 4:44 was tailored to be more personal than his previous efforts. which was to be expected from the infidelity scandal.
4-44_album_coverBut this is not necessarily a response to Lemonade but rather a statement of acknowledging where he is now and where he aims to be. By the end of the project, you feel what he has been aiming to do the entire album – leave his mark, his “Legacy” Acting as the concluding track, it also is one of my favourites. His poetic and reflective approach; if he was to pass away today, this could double up as a will and a eulogy. “Bam” with Damian Marley is also another favourite, not only for his flex of bravado but also because it’s a straight head banger.
Like for real. “Caught Their Eyes” is pretty dope too.
Almost all decisions made on this album were smart. 10 tracks on the standard edition make for a complete album with no ‘excess’ spilling out the sides. Minimal features allow for his messages to not be overshadowed. There is an excellent use of samples on every track which gives it an authentic JAY-Z feel. He and No I.D. have truly created something special here. Testament to this is its numerous Grammy nominations and No I.D. being nominated for Producer of the Year. Despite the whole Tidal/Sprint story, 4:44 is artistically sound. JAY-Z is Hip-Hop.

 

FR32 – Wretch 32

An album with minimal promotion, Wretch’s 2017 effort serves almost as a B Sides to his critically acclaimed album of the previous year, Growing Over Life. While the previous  was more solemn wholistically, this album acts as a celebration of his life – aptly named and released for his 32nd birthday. 12 songs, 44 minutes and full of Wretch’s lyrical genius.IMG_9743_0.jpg
He carries the same level of sincerity and honesty as last year… With Songs like “Time“, for example. An honest account. A full unleashing of culminated emotions and you feel every last one wrapped in his words. He vents on his shortcomings as a man and his desire for more time to accomplish the things most dear to him. Performed over simple but beautiful piano chords,  I herald this as the tear-jerker of the album.
But Wretch is in a better place, that’s for sure. He brings his soft side out for the lullaby-esque “Happy“, a song dedicated to love. If you’ve found something special, appreciate it and cherish it forever. J Warner features for your listening pleasure; his soft and dreamy vocals transport you into a place of bliss.
Don’t think he has completely gone soft on us though. He still gives us straight vibes on the leading single “Tell Me” with Jalani and Kojo Funds, a street symphony with a calypso twist and if you haven’t by now, I’m going to have to ask you to listen to “Gracious” one time and understand despite it being a straight banger that pounds through the speakers, the ‘come up’ and becoming a great is definitely not easy.  Wretch and Kojey Radical tag-team on “Colour Purple” which is a different take on pro-black sentiments, less assertive than last year but both artists deliver artistically articulated testimonies on being ‘blacker than black’.
For an album that doesn’t have as such an evident and overarching theme as others in 2017, there is a real emphasis on production; you can really appreciate the layers on certain songs. While possibly unintentional, both projects side by side are symbolic. Growing Over Life was Wretch detailing his pains and struggles. On FR32, he retrospectively looks back; he’s finally free and you the listener can be ‘free too’.

 

These albums were some of my personal favourites that I really enjoyed listening to over the past year. However, some albums which just missed out but should get a mention and should not be slept on include:

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar (NARROWLY missed out on my comprehensive list, still an INCREDIBLE album)
CTRL – SZA (Also narrowly missed out on my  list)
Fin – Syd
and the Anonymous Nobody… – De La Soul
The Ascension LP – Brik.Liam
Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Kites – Anik Khan

That concludes 2017. Here’s to a more musically bliss year and more amazing work in 2018.

Favourite Albums of 2017 part 1

This is nothing new here, and an evolution rather of something I did previously. This year, I’ve just been immersing myself in what I feel is quality music. Rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation. Divided into two parts, this is my “Favourite Albums of 2017”. Enjoy.

At What Cost – GoldLink

The DC rapper’s stock has been rising since he dropped The God Complex in 2014. A Complex feature, Rick Rubin collabs and a spot on the XXL Freshman Class in 2015 later and he finally dropped his debut album since his RCA record deal.
At What Cost is a salute to GoldLink’s hometown, the birthplace of go-go music, Washington D.C. There are groovy go-go feels running through majority of the tracks and generally in the theme of the album from the skits to the artwork which are married 1200x630bbwith his ‘future bounce’ vibe (Hip-Hop/House). He further salutes with having prominent D.C. legends Mýa and Wale as guest features. Couple trap-like songs towards the end of the album as granted with the times do make the album fizzle out so track listing could be better but it doesn’t take away majorly from the strength of this album. “Meditation” with Jazmine Sullivan has its groovy baseline and party-like beat and synths; “Roll Call”  with Mya is disco sweetly mixed with base guitars and violins. Definitely my favourite songs on the album along with “Summatime” with Wale. Seeing him perform live last month definitely brought the album to life and reaffirmed what I believed all along, he is undoubtedly a showman. “Crew” almost serves as the patriarch of the album. It has performed very well chart-wise and garnered GoldLink his first Grammy nomination so I wish him good luck on that front. If you need funk and groove in your life, I present to you the album to do that.

 

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$ is another guy on the come-up. A young man who is navigating the Hip-Hop journey in some style. He has grafted considerably to the place that he stands at now and all his experiences have birthed an album that far exceeded my expectations. Suggestive from the name, an overt reference to Ice Cube’s first solo album AmeriKKKa’s Most Alll Amerikkkan Badass.pngWanted, his latest project ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a very politically fuelled body of work, addressing issues like social mobility, racial tensions and the whole political sphere in general through Joey’s storytelling rhymes. It is an album that encapsulates the ideas and feelings of being a young black man in America and I feel like he captured that especially sublimely with the visuals for “TEMPTATION” and “LAND OF THE FREE” Sonically, it leans towards Hip-Hop in a classic sort of way; “RING THE ALARM has a sort of dark feel to it, with raw, gritty rap style synonymous with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan or Ruff Ryders. He also does so on my favourite of the album “LEGENDARY” featuring Rap phenom J. Cole. The re-work of Andile Yenana’s “Thembisa (The People)” had me from the drop. Shout out the GOAT Statik Selektah. Not only does Joey tell his narrative but also the narrative of others and that’s why the album is so powerful. There is a clear vision and message being sent here. An expert job in bringing a new lease of life into ‘Conscious Rap’.

 

Everybody – Logic

Who knew an album so simply titled could be so complex. On one front, a lot of it did come across as apologetic. He’s ‘sad and sorry’ to ‘be white’ and is resentful of his MIXED heritage, especially when taking into consideration the current state of racial politics in America.  One may feel like he over-compensates with his approach to Black empowerment at times even though his intentions are pure with it.1a2c364a06d2844fd9e294ee0ea798ff.1000x1000x1
But in spite of all that, it a nod to the Human Condition, which runs parallel with the most intimate parts of his biography. It is an album of consciousness and edification.  There are some real gems on this album like the beautifully orchestrated, Grammy nominated “1-800-273-8255” featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid which touches on the sensitive matter of suicide, “Killing Spree” featuring Ansel Elgort which touches on the negative aspects of social media & new age technology, and the soul-uplifting & quirky “Black SpiderMan” with Damian Lemar Hudson which is a celebration of diversity and acceptance. The skits/storyline running through the album weaves in with the overarching theme and all ties together by the end of the final track; reminding the listeners to live, love and enjoy, because no matter who you are – everybody is born equal – eloquently put across by the incomparable Neil Degrasse Tyson and symbolised once again by the title to the album, Everybody.

 

Common Sense – J Hus

J Hus Is The Sound Of Diaspora’s Boomerang.

His debut serves as a unique coming-of-age story, one that should resonate with young people domestically and beyond. The nuances in this project, whether small or large, play key parts. The title track “Common Sense” doubles as the intro track. The way the song fades in like a crescendo is such a brilliant way to start the album. The live J_HUS_COMMON_SENSE_HUE_1_1__ja9y9i.pnginstrumentation also adds to making this a powerful into – The Compozers are to thank for that. The drums, the keys, the bass, the keytar, the trumpet… with every instrument you can feel the passion oozing through.
He pays his homage in this album as he blends the different sounds of his vibrant London hometown and upbringing – UK Rap, Afro-Bashment, Garage etc. There may not be skits or a inherent and obvious storyline running through the album but the theme of the project is still obvious to me. J Hus is back and this is his ego-filled statement of intent to let you know and feel that he is THE MAN. Lyrics matched with bold production; understand his level of bravado. The elastic bounce of “Bouff Daddy”, the grime menacing “Clartin” or maybe you’d prefer the reflective yet unmatched party vibe “Spirit“.
Take your pick, J Hus makes GOOD music. With him and his trusted producer and brother JAE5, there is a bond that is deeper than rap. The understanding they have is real and has cultivated one of the best urban offerings of the year. It’s not by chance. If a Mercury Prize nomination doesn’t turn your head and make you pay attention then I honestly don’t know what will.

 

The Other Side – The Walls Group

I am a stickler for good singing (which you’d be surprised doesn’t exist too much these days and The Walls Group truly personify that to the nth degree.
The greatest thing take away from the Gospel quartet’s junior album is that it is mature yet youthful. While that seems to be a juxtaposition, the essence is that this latest project is a much more mature take from their 2014 effort Fast Forward where they were younger, less experimental and took heed more to the wisdom and musical direction of mentor Kirk Franklin yet still has their signature ‘Walls Sauce‘. They have come a long way since then and the album is a now reflection of who they are as artists and as lovers of music.The-Walls-Group-The-Other-Side-album-cover_sized-1024x1024
What I love about this album is that it has genuinely has something for everyone. It navigates through classic and modern without it feeling like a ‘mash up’. It goes from Country, Pop Rock to Contemporary Worship and others but as varied as it is, they make it work. My favourites are the New Jack Swing anthem “Don’t Cha Know” and R&B/Rap vibe “Mercy” which I had on repeat for the longest time. Plus their upbeat leading single “My Life” has been a staple in my Gym Playlist and carries the age old message that people seem to forget – just let me be me, let me be great. Thanks be primarily to Eric Dawkins and Warryn Campbell who were key to the project. It is a tight body of work that allows the group to fully flex their God given vocal talent while be unique, faith-filled and expressive.

 

Part 2 to follow….

Women of Soul – My Black British Top 5

It’s Black History Month, so why not (shrugs).

I’ve never had that typical musical upbringing. You know, the usual narratives like…

“My Dad had – insert classic artist names here – in his vinyl/CD collection”

or the infamous “My mum always played – insert popular artist name here – in the front room when we had to clean the house”

Yeah, none of that. My mum didn’t often play music at home and if she did, it was her Worship music compilations. Still, that didn’t stop my young, inquisitive self putting my ears in places it shouldn’t have been; It opened me up to the big, beautiful musical world. I developed a real appreciation for R&B and Soul but I feel sometimes the British trailblazers don’t get enough credit. I’ll do my bit. Here’s my top 5, in no particular order of course.

1. Sade Adu

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you might have noticed this is not the first time I’ve mentioned her name and probably won’t be the last. Sade-Adu7-600x488I don’t know what age I was when I first heard “Smooth Operator” but that song has stuck with me for the longest. There’s no-one I know that sounds quite like Sade. She just has a way with words and her vocals & tone are so full of character that they could tell a story when words may fail.  I personally don’t think there are many famed singers  who wouldn’t cite her as a source of influence and inspiration. She has developed a strong global fan base (she’s a lot bigger in the US than the UK) which is evident from her ability to tour and make a #1 hit record despite going on more than one hiatus, in an industry where it is not difficult to become yesterday’s news today. While these days she has become more reclusive, she is most certainly not irrelevant.

2) Beverley Knight

‘The Queen of the Black Country’ or ‘The Queen of British Soul’ or whatever you may wish to call her, Ms. Beverley Knight is a household name and has been a staple in the British Music industry for a few decades now.153265 It’s crazy because just the other day I stumbled across “Keep This Fire Burning”, a song which I haven’t heard since Primary school (a banger might I add) and I could almost sing the whole chorus AND the video gave me crazy nostalgia feels. While her traditional Gospel and Soul background is greatly evident in the way she performs, especially live,  the beauty of her artistry is how natural her catalogue of hits navigated through different genres… and how simple she could make it all look. Beverley Knight encapsulated an era of music in Britain where R&B, which was essentially Pop back in the day, was really in heavy rotation. She was a name that you were bound to hear on the radio and see on TV.

3) Estelle

I’m not biased because we’re birthday twins. For me, Estelle was one of the first artists of my generation that I recognised really making major moves. I became a fan from when she dropped “1980” (which happens to now be one of my favourite Estelle songs) and Estelleshe was on my radar ever since. She has definitely come a long way from her humble beginnings and in every interview or public appearance, she definitely flies the flag and is proud of whom she is and where she’s from. If there is one thing I have always appreciated it is her versatility; the soul in her, the R&B, the Pop and Hip-Hop can all shine on a particular album as a reflection of her own influences. Despite her last album dropping in 2015, she’s been generally flying under the radar as of late with the exception of features here and there for De La Soul and Tyler, The Creator but it’s high time that we got a brand new Estelle album.
She dropped a new single “Love Like Ours” – go pree that.

4) Marsha Ambrosius

Marsha Ambrosius needs not an introduction but ‘The Songstress’ is renowned for being one half of the legendary R&B duo Floetry. Fans of R&B/Soul music the world over know of the Grammy nominated pair for songs like “Say Yes”, “Getting Late” and “SupaStar”. marsha-kimWhile I feel their active years were quite short lived, Marsha never stopped contributing to the world of music and staying true to her genre and art form. She is appreciated for the bold and effortless way she works her unique tone and it has gotten her the chance to work with just about everyone BIG in the game – from Nas to Queen Latifah, From Dr. Dre to Robert Glasper, from Kanye to Jamie Foxx. Not only does her talent lie in her vocals but also in her pen, writing one of my favourite MJ songs (originally recorded by Floetry) “Butterflies”. She often isn’t the first name the comes to mind and like Sade isn’t as embraced in her homeland but her contributions definitely paved the way.

5) Lianne La Havas

While it’s not the typical soul … I have really developed a special and deep rooted affinity to Lianne La Havas and the wonderful way she has concocted her brand of Soul b8d40aca0412d6bf75fa703482f7f3abe6df5f5cwith elements of Folk and R&B. Arguably, one of Britain’s best soulful exports in recent years excluding the giants like Adele, her Grammy, Mercury, MOBO, Brit and Ivor Novello award nominations are testament to her craft. I believe it is the power of her style of music and her sophisticated writing ability that has allowed her and also her beloved guitar to take to festivals and stages all over the world. A genuine fan of her 2015 album Blood, she is not an artist you should pass up on by any means. If you don’t at least have “Lost and Found” in your Spotify or Apple Music playlist somewhere then I really question what you are doing.

 

While there can only be a top 5, honourable mentions must go to Corrine Bailey Rae, Melissa Bell & Caron Wheeler, Emeli Sande, Shola Ama, Cynthia Erivo and Gabrielle. These ladies plus the 5 aforementioned have really helped make British Soul/R&B what it is today and I would hope their names can live forever more.

The 4 pillars of a great album

New music is literally being released every day. As you read this, someone somewhere is getting ready to premiere a body of work to the world for appreciation and scrutiny. And everyone’s taste is different. No matter how hard you try, you can never have the PERFECT album because as human nature dictates, people’s tastes vary. However, some of the best albums to touch this earth followed some of the same principles. I’ve taken the liberty to package it into a nice acronym for you guys for easier reading – PACT. As subjective as it can seem, I could have found some sort of answer.

Production
We are moved by the power of sounds. When you listen to a song, EP or album for the first time, your immediate reaction and your opinion on whether it deserves another play or a straight skip is determined on what it sounds like. The instrumental, percussion, the use of real instruments or synth-bass and 808’s; we enjoy being able to identify the elements and appreciate the hard work making a melody sound so nice.
An artist can’t afford to be lazy in this regard. While they may rely on a producer for that banging beat, they must also have a musical ear to decipher what works and what doesn’t. Many artists and producers have a sound that is synonymous with them. Quincy Jones is noted for having a beautiful relationship with Michael Jackson which birthed two of his greatest albums Off The Wall’ and Thriller’. I liken it to the relationship J Hus has with JAE5. JAE5 has helped make J Hus’ ‘UK-afro-bashment’ sound so unique and stood as executive producer in his critically acclaimed and Mercury Prize shortlisted Common Sense.
rick-ross-kanye-studioSome artists take to production themselves because, I mean, who knows your musical style, taste and preference better than yourself. The likes of Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder have really shaped their respected genres by taking the music into their own hands.

 

Ability
We judge the greatness of an artist based primarily on their ability. For a rapper, it’s their abstract metaphors or double-time flow, rhyming style, storytelling prowess. For a singer, it’s their tone, their vocal control, riffs, runs & harmonies. We can sometimes be so swayed by a singer or rappers acrobatics on a song but it is that well executed dynamism that ultimately have people wanting to listen to the song or the album again and again. No better example than ‘Section.80’  by Kendrick Lamar and in particular “Rigamortis” . Take time to really listen to the song, you may be wowed by his effective use of double-time flow but what is more fascinating is his subtle and elaborate rhyming style. 15-phenomenal-female-british-soul-singers-u1
A sign of a great rap album is when you can listen to it much later and discover a new metaphor astonishingly like its the first time you heard the song. As crazy as that sounds, I still have that feeling when I listen to Wale’s Attention Deficit’ or Wretch 32’s Black and White’.
In like respect for a singer, it’s how your songs are vocally arranged, how you work through your range and no one did it better in prime like Sade. With songs like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love is King”, her famous sultry vocals crowned her introductory album Diamond Life’ a top album of the 80’s era.

Content
After you first listen to an album and decide that you like it so you listen again, you’ll find yourself picking up on the messages of certain songs and the album as a whole. Whether the artist speaks on real-life experiences, a storyteller for others or speaking figuratively, listeners have an expectation for a quality written album (unless your songs lack proper lyrics, no shade).
lecrae-tickets_11-04-17_17_598899b350492Lecrae’s in-depth look into the African-American social-historical condition and being self reflective of his own personal journey while inspiring hope, faith and political change made ‘Church Clothes 3’ one of my favourite projects of 2016. Joey Bada$$ contribution to the message with ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ was less historical, more passionate but powerful all the same. Especially the video for “Land of the Free“!
And while heartfelt messages arguably don’t achieve proper commercial success, her mature take on love and nostalgia fittingly made Adele’s ’25’ one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century.

Theme
Theme slightly differs to content for the reason that it can be executed in a number of different ways. It’s not strictly confined to what the artist speaks; it should realistically be always down to the artist to have the freedom to express and execute his creativity. GoldLink’s At What Cost’ was greatly inspired by his D.C. roots and that gave for an album that had a go-go, funky groove from top to bottom, with songs like “Summatime” “Hands on your Knees” and “Meditation” being prime examples.
Great albums have retrospective themes that can go beyond just the audible which the listener can follow and become immersed in. I took a real liking to Jon Bellion’s ‘The Human Condition’; what he presented was more than an album. He intertwines his own stories and relatable life experiences with a hint of imagination, and with the added artwork accompanying every song on the album, creates a visual-audible experience.

If I say anything else, let me say AGAIN this is not a comprehensive neither is it industry standard but my own personal opinion based on preference and listening experience but I feel like even you, the reader, after reading this may start to see these things yourself.

Sounds From The Other Side by Wizkid – Rhythm personification

A highly anticipated release from when the high profile collaborations started rolling in and his stock started to rise, now we have finally been treated. Wizkid brings us ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, his latest release since 2014’s ‘Ayọ’. The ‘King of Hooks’ has a way of making the songs he touches hits and with this album it’s an eager attempt at such.
Now let us be honest, this EP is a far cry from the afropop/highlife sounds of Ayọ and you definitely shouldn’t listen to it with that expectancy…but that’s clear from the singles he churned out. You can see that he is paving a new path with his sound.
img_1760Honestly, this is more Dancehall project with Afrobeats/R&B stylings, more so than his previous material. Certain songs definitely have its Africa feels – My favourites are ‘Sexy‘ with the Fela Kuti vibes and ‘All For Love‘  which is flavoursome from top to bottom with the Afrohouse sauce straight from South Africa. For both, the percussion is very important in bringing out the feels.

While African producers did work on the “EP”  OVERWHELMINGLY it is not an African project.

This is me in no way saying it’s bad. I can definitely see most of the songs, like Ayọ, being played on radio and in the club; a parameter for a successful album. It shows growth for Wizkid as an artist. But there is remission of more soul-filled anthems, which I hoped for. What this project lacks in soul it makes up in Rhythm. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to vibe to it, the likes of ‘Sweet Love‘, ‘Naughty Ride‘ & ‘One For MeWizkid-performs
More so than not, this album may be an actual reflection of the modern day blueprint for an artist from the African continent to make it big time. Sure there are African artists who are quite famous (Fally Ipup, Sarkodie, AKA to name a few) but not all break through the glass ceiling. Whether the move it is good or bad is subjective.

 

I was hoping for this to be a full length album. Only having 12 songs with almost half of them already being familiar with left me wanting more. SFTOS is roughly less than 40 minutes long. Almost all songs are under 4 minutes and more than half have features and while almost songs all are radio-ready, all of this combined left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

Nonetheless, Sounds From The Other Side is to me a metaphor. For those already aware of Wizkid and his status as one of the kings of the Afrobeats, he shows a other side to him; the “mainstream appeal” side to him. For those immersed in the mainstream who he is trying to target, he is showing the ‘other side’; the afropop, rhythmic, dancehall wave that is the new trend.