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

 

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.