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….

#BlackExcellence – What’s all the fuss about?

My contribution article to The Move Hub speaking on the idea of #BlackExcellence.

In the age of information abundance and millennial satisfaction, social media plays a massive role in dictating the trends of culture. Right now, amongst all the hashtags, one that seems to be doing the regular rounds on ‘Black Twitter’ and other affiliates is #BlackExcellence. The idea is that we, our community, are celebrating individuals who are excelling or generally doing well and good. We are changing the already imposed narrative that most of us of the darker hue may not amount to much.

Thing is… I would like to say it’s that simple but nothing in this life ever is. I’ve seen a lot of criticism on social media in reference to the hashtag but they primarily boil down to two arguments:

1) We’re always praising academic achievements, white-collar success, subscribing to the capitalism ideals and benchmarks of success etc. etc. etc.
2) Why isn’t there a #WhiteExcellence?

(sigh)

Let…

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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.

On The Come Up – Noname

Next up, we have Noname. Anyone who is familiar with that Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop realm might be familiar with the name Noname (brilliant pun, see what I did there?). As well as having features on a few songs with Chance The Rapper she’s befriended and worked with new school names like Mick Jenkins, Xavier Omar and Smino.

Here you have quirky, young black Chicago native doing what one would say is the equivalent to Slam Poetry…and it is dope! Excuse my colloquial English. While her artistry roots are found in poetry circles, Ms. Fatimah Warner has always had a love for music as wide reaching as it comes. She cites her inspirations being blues musicians Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf from an early age as well as Tina Turner, Jay Electronica and Tony Morrison. Her love for music, passion for poetry and being around other Chicago creatives helped evolve a pursuit into rap.

noname_charbage

After the delays and a shift in musical  direction, she released her debut project ‘Telefone’ to become one of the most critcally acclaimed albums of 2016; one of the reasons being that it bent the rules of what we define as Hip-Hop. Sure you have gender benders all around but Noname is different and Telefone was a breath of fresh air. Centered around important telephone conversations that Noname has had over the years, Telefone speaks of black women’s strife and also highlights the struggles of growing up in her Chicago hometown with a unique blend of melodies, rap/poetry and out-of-the-box production. Definitely long awaited as well, three years in the making. But being able to endure life experiences and put it into your music makes for true art. For her , it was the introduction officially and finally to who Noname is as an artist.

Despite controversially not appearing on the XXL Freshmen Class of 2017,

noname-telefone

she still has managed to develop a name for herself and her mixtape featured on The Skinny’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2016’ and Noisey’s ‘The 100 Best Albums of 2016’ as well as a coveted appearance on NPR Music’s notable ‘Tiny Desk Series’. Now fans in America and beyond sit and wait for her next project to drop ‘Room 25’. The hope is that she doesn’t delay for three years AGAIN but releases in timely fashion and carries on the momentum that she has. Will she remain an independent is not known but the path she treads is most definitely working for her.

 

“I don’t typically think about myself when I’m thinking about making music like [I’m a female rapper and this is my role in Hip-Hop], I’m more so just making art…”

Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator – Open and honest

“This is the best album he’s ever produced!” I hear some say.

I’ll be honest and say I was a little sceptical about listening to this album. Tyler is not my go-to Hip-Hop artist but I can appreciate what he does for the culture. However, there was something with this album; the low key hype as well as the buzz Tyler is getting in general, I had to sit myself down and really listen to the album and decipher it for what it was.

There are different themes that run through the album, encompassed in this overarching nature/garden motif. As mature as the content is, we still exploring the breadth and tyler-the-creator-unreleased-track-00depth of Tyler’s mind. He presents his human condition to us in all its forms. Tyler is an eclectic soul which fits the narrative as well as the album title and artwork in itself.

One of my favourites “See You Again” is Tyler showing the emotional  side to him. An ode to a fantasy lover which only exists in his dreams and the emotional agony that such a longing is having on him. He really puts across his innermost thoughts, running alongside the daydream, orchestral chorus and the contrasting beat flip in the verses. It really brings his emotional turmoil to life. Combine “See You Again” with songs like “Garden Shed” and “Glitter” and you see a level of vulnerability now more than ever as he opens up, alluding to the possible idea of him being gay.

Both “Pothole” and “November” reminds us that Tyler is still human…
“Pothole” he speaks on him dealing with the fame, its after-effects and all the ups and downs that has come with it all in reference to the idea of driving. All these obstacles in 5_a4gw5u-1_yca13bhis life are the potholes which are in the way, stopping him from having an easy cruise. while the beat itself is nice and easy to cruise to.
“November” – filled with low-key anxiety. It’s as if he running through this thoughts so frantically and airing out his insecurities as he is longing for the better days; his “November”.

“911/Mr. Lonely” is like one of those classic singles from back in the day; Side A with the subtle old school hip-hop and R&B nuances while side B is new school Rap. The content has heart-rending undertones transcending both sides alluding to how his old issues of depression may actually not be ‘old’

The album presents deep issues but its not all doom and gloom. The closing track “Enjoy Right Now, Today”  tops off everything with a very positive and bright sound in a way showing all through the ups and downs, it’s important to be positive. If Tyler can do it, so can you.
The album title serves as a metaphor for Tyler himself. A ‘Flower Boy’, a guy who don’t fit the typical ideals of a manly-looking man. An internal struggle between soft romanticism and rugged aggression and depression laid out in fine musical form.

 

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.