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.
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‘.
Some 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.
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.
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.
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’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 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.