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….

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.