Numbers 18 through 13. Check em out after the jump.
It took me a while to appreciate The ArchAndroid. And that's weird because I loved the Metropolis suite and she's doing pretty much the same thing here. But it was hard to hear the music over the din of hype that was telling me that she had come to save Black music from some kind of purgatory. Which is fantastically stupid and only said by people who know absolutely nothing about black music, contemporary or otherwise. So let's be very very clear. Janelle Monae is Atlanta funk with orchestral flourishes that are mostly cosmetic. She can sing. She's a terrific performer. And The ArchAndroid is incredibly listenable, incredibly well-made, and heralds exactly nothing. That is all, nothing more.
How I Got Over is definitely the most subdued Roots album and so its charms take a little longer to reveal themselves than usual. In this way, it is very much a companion to Phrenology, the most obtuse of Roots records. But understand that How I Got Over is an album about struggle. About picking oneself up and getting over. And it's the kind of album that you listen to in one sitting. Songs really do bleed into one another and take on greater meaning within the context of the greater album narrative. It's a thoughtful record from one of the most thoughtful groups currently working in hip hop.
I don't think anyone expected El DeBarge to come back so strong on Second Chance. This isn't just any old comeback. We are talking about one of the finest tenors in the game coming back after nearly two decades of drugs, drama, and arrests. The kind of hell that El has been through leaves scars. But what makes Second Chance a joy is that El doesn't dwell because for him the simple fact that he can sing – and I really mean sang – is pure joy. A gift. Because he knows that he almost never sang again. And he invites us to share in that joy, which is just magnificent to hear. If you want to hear a real singer, pick up Second Chance. He's a living legend and thank god, buddha and nem he is back in the game.
There are actually no real words to describe how dope a producer DJ Premier is. Other than to say he's the best producer in the history of hip-hop. And so you can imagine how exciting it is that he's got his own label and has put out a compilation album with an array of talented rappers (including one half of Slaughterhouse in Joell Ortiz and Royce da 5'9) who have the supreme pleasure of rhymin' over a Preemo beat. And how dope it is that one of the best joints features KRS-One and Grand Puba and that he is smart enough to have put The Lady of Rage on a track? Get this album now.
The Ballad of Purple St. James is Yahzarah's coming out party. It's a big, bold, stylistically diverse album of many many pleasures. She rocks ("Why Don't Cha Call Me No More" and "Change Your Mind"), she gets soulful ("Have A Heart" and the brilliant "Last to Leave"), she parties ("Cry Over You"), and she covers (Stevie Wonder's "Come Back As A Flower"). Every single song gives her a chance to show us just how versatile a vocalist she is. You can feel in every song just how much Yahzarah enjoys getting to be all the many things that she is on this album. Few vocalists can be so good at so many different things.
Sade is a perfect example of how to create a sound that is unique and definable and yet constantly find ways to explore new wrinkles in that sound. Soldier of Love is an album about fighting for love. It's melancholy and emotional. It is not until "The Safest Place" that we feel that there is any hope left. And yet, it's remarkably easy to listen to. Take the reggae-tinged "Babyfather," which has a deep groove. Or check out the great guitar work on "Bring Me Home." Sade is for grown folks, but don't think that means that the group is boring. Never that.