Beyonce the Annoying; or, Why Blond Hair Does Not a Star Make

Beyonce Knowles is the most annoying presence in pop culture. Everything about her is so glaringly artificial that it continually baffles me how people identify with and adore her so much.

But of course, I understand that the gay men love how extra she is. They love her writhing around in the black dress in the video for Me, Myself and I. They love her diva trip at awards shows, big hair and oversinging galore. They love the champagne glass image in Naughty Girl. They love the romance we all aren’t supposed to know about with Jay-Z, ryde or die and all.

And I understand how little girls really believe Bootylicious is about female empowerment. I understand that they love the “deep” songs like Girl, Sweet Sixteen and Gift From Virgo. I get that they love the catty “realness” of Nasty Girl. I get that they identify with Beyonce because she enacts images of female strength.

What I don’t get is how people, critics mostly, seem unwilling to be honest about how calculated and yet how astonishing Beyonce’s growth as a persona and an artist have grown concurrently. As big as Beyonce has gotten, she manages to strive for complexity and honesty in her work, something that other young women in her position (Christina and Britney) only pay lip service to.

At the end of 2003, Beyonce’s stunning debut album, Dangerously in Love, made the list of best albums of the year by Rolling Stone and they said that (essentially) the album was only good for the singles. This bothered me tremendously. Dangerously in Love worked because it made Beyonce into a three-dimensional woman with fears, hopes and real strength. The meat of the album lies between Hip-Hop Star and Speechless (a song so brilliant, so subtle, and so emotionally potent, I can’t believe no one has discussed it). With each song in this little suite, Beyonce depicts with clarity and believability her own feelings from her drive (Hip-Hop Star) to her willingness to wait (Yes) to her unbridled passion (Speechless). Yet, again and again the diva trips of Crazy in Love, Naughty Girl, etc got all the attention.

Beyonce as the Jezebel in the increasingly smaller and smaller clothes is far more interesting to the power structure. Her growth as a songwriter and a person is not. This is readily apparent in the critical pass the new Destiny’s Child album, Destiny Fulfilled, continues to receive. The album is maudlin, plodding and rushed. The arrangements are boring, featuring Beyonce’s voice prominently, even though this is supposed to be a group. It marginalizes Michelle and, interestingly, sets up a fascinating tension between Kelly Rowland’s more emotive singing style and Beyonce’s bombast.

The deficiencies of the album are ignored because what the public, what the power structure loves is in full effect on the singles, Lose My Breath and Soldier–the diva trip. The stilettos, the struts, the homothugs as window dressing. And right in the center is Beyonce, blond hair a-flying and completely oblivious to her surroundings. This is the Beyonce that the public and critics love. She is completely focused on the camera, her vapid persona in full effect. She muggs for the camera even if the focus is on Kelly or Michelle (as short a time as that is).

Everything about this Beyonce is designed specifically to court the mainstream consumer who is socialized to see black women always and only as sexual objects (esp. if they are light-skinned and have some Caucasian features). She’s the lightest of the girls, she’s blonde, and she rattles off the meaningless sound bytes in interview like the pro she is. She’s a tailor-made star and it all just seems too obvious to me.

White folks love her body, it’s thin but still “black” (read=big booty). They like that she wants to be blonde. She’s exotic! But not “too” much. Right?

It’s offensive.

Her being singled out was ordained by Daddy Matthew because he was shrewd enough to know that although Kelly has the more versatile voice she wouldn’t draw the attention and awe that Beyonce would with her lighter complexion. He understands the color-struck black bourgeous. He understands the white racist patriarchy as well. He understood, even when the girls were adolescents, that the children of rich blacks and whites would be drawn to Beyonce because she was lighter. So he made it easier. He bleached her hair. He put her in front. He let her write songs.

What probably surprised Daddy Matthew was that his baby girl turned out to be a gifted songwriter and arranger. He’ll probably kill anyone who would insinuate that he didn’t know what he had in Beyonce as a full-bodied artist, but it’s probably true.

Her arranging of the vocals on the Survivor album is among some of the best in recent memory. The songs themselves are complete drivel, but to hear how gorgeous she, Kelly and Michelle sound on Sexy Daddy, Apple Pie La Mode and most notably on their gorgeous cover of Emotions is to hear what is great about vocal groups. To hear how effectively she explores love and identity on Dangerously in Love is to see a nascent talent beginning to bloom. And to hear just how much she respects the voices of her groupmates on If and Through With Love (which is clearly the best original song DC3 ever recorded) from Destiny Fulfilled is exquisite, but ultimately is a mixed blessing. The songs are brilliant, but it only makes listening to the rest of the album with its messy arrangements and maudlin lyricism (Cater 2 You anybody?) a disappointment.

People talk and joke about and hate on Beyonce because she is driven and clearly meant to be the star. But does anyone wonder if Beyonce knows any other way of being? It’s hard to not feel entitled when everyone tells you–and has told you all your life–that you are entitled. It’s hard to imagine that Beyonce is truly aware of just how much she dominates Destiny’s Child. To her, giving Michelle all the bridges to sing probably seems really fair. And there is no one around her to tell her that it really isn’t.

I think what is sad about stars like Beyonce is that they are groomed to be a certain way for public consumption and the public knows this and the star is then trapped in a limiting image. Yet the public embarks on this love/hate relationship with that star precisely because of this image. People hate Beyonce for dominating the group, but they love her diva affectation. People hate Beyonce because she’s light skinned, but they don’t seem to love Kelly and Michelle anymore for their gorgeous chocolate complexions; they all run out to get blonde weaves.

I don’t hate Beyonce. But her persona does irk me. Me, Myself and I is a wonderful song about learning to find oneself and not look for completion in a man. But in the video Beyonce is writhing around on the floor in a tight black dress, looking stunning. What the hell does that have to do with the song? Nothing. But the “diva-ness” of the video is what people respond to, thus overshadowing and marginalizing what made that song one of the strongest on her debut.

This is irritating.

Beyonce will compromize, it seems, the integrity of her work to maintain her status as the pop princess. Me Myself and I was the third single and it was released about eight months after the album had been out. She needed to maintain momentum, the complexity of the song was not important. But she could pay lip service to it in interview, even though visually the song’s themes were not evoked in the video.

Again and again, Beyonce is made to, or decides to, oversimplify her music, oversex her image, and oversing her songs to maintain her status. We love the drama. White folks love their lil black Barbie doll.

But it would be nice if once or twice, Beyonce the truly gifted artist would emerge and show us that a black woman of integrity can be on top. That a black woman that is more than her very nice light skinned body can dominate the industry.

That a black woman with a voice actually uses it.

Originally written on March 12, 2005

Oscars 2005 or Yes Massa, I Wanna Work in the Big House

Three years ago, I found myself watching the Oscars and tearing up at Halle Berry’s profoundly radical acceptance speech. For her to link her personal triumph to the struggle for black women in the arts was a daring and historical moment. And her genuine surprise, humility and courage stood as a model for how black celebrities could behave in such instances.

Given the wins of Morgan Freeman (a very deserved Best Supporting for his brilliance in Million Dollar Baby) and Jamie Foxx (a very deserved Best Actor for Ray), one would think that the Academy has woken up to the abundance of talent in the black acting community.

But I do not think that is the case. I think that what wins black people major awards are good parts, good scripts, and great characters. And until there are an abundance of good parts, good scripts, and great characters for black actors, Oscars are going to continue to be a rarity.

More importantly though, the great characters that win awards are great characters that reinforce stereotypes held by the general public and further entrench the status quo of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (a term coined by Ms. bell hooks). Every major acting award won by a black actor fits this mold. Great character that is subservient to the white power structure/stereotype.

And I’m supposed to be happy that, although Monster’s Ball is a terrific film about resisting patriarchy, Leticia (Halle Berry) is merely a tool through which the white man(Billy Bob Thornton) realizes his racist attitudes are unhealthy, are killing him. Again and again, black women’s bodies are the sites where white men play out their fantasies, their lives. Similar to the transvestite character in The Crying Game, Leticia exists solely to bring about the change and radical break from patriarchy’s grip of a white man.

And seriously, after breathtaking work in Mississippi Masala, Malcolm X, Mo Better Blues, Courage Under Fire, The Hurricane, He Got Game, Philadelphia and The Pelican Brief, am I really to believe that the best leading performance Denzel Washington has given is in Training Day?

Is that really what I’m supposed to believe? Both he and Freeman won awards based on good will and Hollywood felt most comfortable giving them a “we know you’ve done a lot of good work, accept this as appreciation for it all” Oscar. But it is worth noting how both these characters reinforce systems of domination.

Morgan Freeman is playing, essentially, a eunuch/servant role subservient to Clint Eastwood’s character. He has no agency, no life outside of his relationship to Eastwood. Similarly, the relationship he builds with Hilary Swank’s character calls to mind the relationships depicted in Shirley Temple movies between Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Worse still, is the falsely “evil” representation of Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day. We are led to believe, through the eyes of Ethan Hawke’s character, that Washington is just a dirty cop, a real evil guy. But in the one moment that is neutral (not seen through Hawke) we see the pressure on Washington from the white capitalist patriarchy embodied by aging white men.

This could have been a turning point in the film, where we could see how black men are pressured into illegal and extralegal behavior, or how the system is fucked so we fuck it back. This doesn’t happen. A simplistic moral dichotomy is set up with Hawke (the pure white “good” cop) versus Washington (the evil black “bad” cop). Denzel is shrewd in his performance; he never plays the character as evil. Not for a second. But the racist promotional campaign, led to great receipts, coupled with great reviews that pay no mind to the racist way the character is written and….tada!!! Long overdue Oscar, meet Denzel Washington.

Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles was everything a great performance should be. But the film spent a lot of time on Ray Charles as a sexual predator and nowhere near enough time on his musicianship. However, I do think that, compared to the other performances by black actors recently, this one is the one that is most likely to have been won on merit alone. The fact that Jamie Foxx had a great year in 2004 (the Kanye West collabo, Slow Jams, notwithstanding) made it much easier to see that his performance as Ray Charles wasn’t just a fluke.

I wonder, then, if we as black people put too much stock in white approval. Just this morning I saw an article on Jamie and Morgan in Jet magazine. Now the Ebony/Jet style of writing is clearly bourgeois, “white-is-right” pandering, but this article seemed more overt in its “whitey is finally accepting us” tone.

I don’t think I’m oversensitive because were the integrity of black films important to black people then films like Soul Plane wouldn’t be the only ones opening to big numbers.

Where is the love for Brother to Brother, Eve’s Bayou and The Caveman’s Valentine from the black community? It’s never stated but the black bourgeois loves to laud the films that depict black people as the same as white people (The Best Man and the like). But what they really mean when they say that is that they love that the signifiers and stereotypes that white people respond to are erased or they are played for farce.

(For instance, Taye Diggs’ Harper in The Best Man saying to Morris Chestnut’s Lance, “I’m gonna blow her back out!” is funny because Harper is supposed to be the “most bourgeois of the men.” He doesn’t understand why Murch works with troubled kids if he’s not getting paid, for instance. This is statement funny because he spends the film distancing himself from “negative blackness”, looks down upon his own people and their struggle but straddles “crosses back over” when it’s time to “get down” with his boys.)

What is more important is that black people as artists continue to diversify, not just in producing the latest barbershop trendy movie, or the latest ghetto farce (All About the Benjamins, Soul Plane, etc), but in diversifying and supporting a multitude of black films. The Wills and Jadas, Halles and Jamies need to show up at black film festivals and make their celebrity mean more than just which white stars they know. The Nias and Morrises, Angelas and Laurences need to produce more than just films from great black literature that they “whitewash”.

The Morgans and Denzels, Wesleys and Sanaas need to create vibrant, radical new images of black people that will not just win them awards, but win them the respect and love of their people for more than just breaking the glass ceiling and sitting in the big house with their nice shiny trophies.

My favorite films of 1999

This piece was originally written for Epinions.com. An archive version of it can be found here. Links have been updated.

1999 was an oddly rich year for films. It seemed like Hollywood had finally taken a hint from the indie world and made films that challenged viewers to think while watching, to dream, to question, to laugh with characters not at them.

Even studios tried and true disappointers, the romantic comedy and the teen comedy, were above average. Movies like Cruel Intentions, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Notting Hill succeeded largely because they were based in strong writing and the fact that the female leads (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Julia Stiles, and Julia Roberts) turned in finely crafted, multi-layered performances.

But in my opinion, 1999 was the year of the director. The year where not only the writing was inventive and strong, but the directors did great things with new types of material and new things with old stuff. Everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Doug Liman was taking their art forward&#133and still managed to entertain and inform.

So without further ado…

10. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut
Like all Kubrick’s films, his real interest lies in the subtext and he is the master of it. Eyes Wide Shut is a difficult film only because the rumors surrounding its creation and content made it impossible for people to be pleased. I mean if you think that you’re gonna get to see the biggest film star in history butt a** naked and bangin’ his (then) wife on film for the first time, you might not be inclined to look for much else. But people forgot that this was a Kubrick film, not a Tom Cruise film.

As such Tom Cruise gives what I truly believe to be his best performance to date (and that includes Collateral and Magnolia which are right behind) as a man who cannot come to grips with the possibility that his wife is not totally devoted to him. In a stunning comment on patriarchal control, Kubrick uses Tom’s character to dissect the psyche of the modern man who can’t seem to let go of antiquated notions of marriage and devotion.

What Kubrick says with this film is really quite simple…that feeling doesn’t really go away, it’s natural. The film feels odd and unformed because Cruise’s character never leaves the turmoil of his odyssey because the purpose of it was for him to realize that the turmoil he’s feeling isn’t supposed to abate on its own.

9. Alexander Payne’s Election
This is one of those films that gets funnier every time you see it. It is so superbly crafted and depending on your perspective when you see it, the film still works. Films that work on many levels are few and far between, but Election proves that all you have to do is take your subject seriously enough to really skewer it a billion times. Reese Witherspoon, as usual, is tremendous, as is Matthew Broderick but Chris Klein’s performance as the dumb jock who can’t seem to realize that his whole world is a big joke on him rings so true to me, that I refuse to watch anything else he does. That’s the biggest compliment I think can be paid to him. His work is unflappable and so is the film.

8. Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry
Hilary Swank broke my heart in this film. What a performance! I think the true strength of this film though is in how clearly we see every character in this film. From Chloe Sevigny to Brendan Sexton III to the highly overlooked and underappreciated performance of Peter Sarsgaard. Pierce’s starkly lyrical film is so mordantly and beautifully jarring in its linear and simple portrayal of Brandon Teena’s world. The final act is the second most chilling moment on screen that year because it is presented so simply. The tension comes from the coldness of the characters, the bareness of the landscape, and Swank’s Brandon Teena.

7. Andrew Fleming’s Dick
Of all the actors on Dawson’s Creek Michelle Williams has the most interesting and (in terms of sheer breadth) successful career. She manages to create such fascinating portraits and it all started here with this fine film. She has the juiciest role and she steals every scene.

Watch the precise way she and Kirsten Dunst play the ditsy Betsy and Arlene. Films like this are delicate balancing acts and the kind of comedic timing that Dunst and Williams show while simultaneously layering intelligence and heart underneath it, is astounding. The moment Williams comes to grips with who Nixon is is one of the most poignant moments of the year.

And that doesn’t even count the fact that as a political satire, Dick is the finest cinematic gem since Dave.

6. Sam Mendes’ American Beauty
Again, not a particularly original choice, but American Beauty is a rare gem, a studio film that satirizes, in an unflinchingly way, the very people it wants to plop down $8 to see it. Funny enough, the film has always been misunderstood in my opinion. The film is more about a family than it is about Lester Burnam or rather, two families incapable of adjusting to the reality of suburban living and must find beauty in different places. Featuring the year’s strongest ensemble and the sharpest satirical writing, American Beauty caps off a year that was all about satirization.

5. Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother
All About My Mother marked a turning point in Almodovar’s work. It gets everything right that was wrong with his previous films and expands upon all the aspects of his films that seemed to be so effortlessly sharp before. It could be that the story of a woman’s journey through pain after the unfortunate death of her teenage son is the most emotionally resonant one of Almodovar’s career, but that is to slight the wonderful direction, the performances, and the vibrancy of the subplots that mesh so well with the main story. His direction has a focus and a keen eye for detail it didn’t seem to have to the same degree before. To be blunt, it’s the most complete movie to come out of Spain in a very long time and one of the finest pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen.

4. Doug Liman’s GO
It needs to be stated that the so-called Tarantino style of interconnecting plotlines is done to much richer effect here. Where as Tarantino’s use of said style is purely for style reasons, in GO the style serves the plotlines themselves. Plus, it is just done with less arrogance and more restraint and whole ideas aren’t ripped off from better filmmakers.

Liman’s film works because the characters are taken seriously, especially the more eccentric and strange ones, because it has to in order to be funny (esp. in the Scott Wolf/Jay Mohr sequence) and interesting. There is not a weak link in the cast but special note for me must go to Mohr and Wolf who are a f*cking riot.

3. Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam
I’ve read a lot of reviews of this film that knock the film for not being about Son of Sam. And that is rather silly, given the title of the film. The film is about the summer that Son of Sam terrorized New York. The film shares a kinship with Lee’s masterpiece Do The Right Thing in that it is about the effects that outsiders (or the perception of an outsider) have on isolated communities. The film is riveting and features career making performances by Adrien Brody, John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, and Jennifer Esposito who turns a one-note character into a fascinating portrait of co-dependency.

2. David Fincher’s Fight Club
This isn’t a fairly imaginative choice, but the simple fact is that Fight Club is a masterpiece. It’s as intellectually arresting as it is visually arresting. Brad Pitt is flawless in a caged performance of smirking arrogance and Edward Norton, as his foil, gives yet another perfect performance. But the film is a directing triumph, from the blown-out colors to the set design to the vivid way Norton’s character’s psyche is depicted. This is yet another film that deals with men of generation x and where to place all their notions of patriarchy and male primacy in a world that is critiquing the values of those things.

1. Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
It’s never been fully stated what a fascinating interpretation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley really is. It would be nearly unfilmable to make the protagonist a cold-hearted killer in a film unless there was something, anything redeemable about him. Highsmith’s Ripley is irredeemable and in a novel that can, and often does, work.

What Minghella did was try to get at what could make Tom Ripley do the things he did. He found the locus for Tom’s rage and it was a bottomless pit of insecurity. That kind of naked desire and passion and self-loathing is repulsive to us because we live in such a cold-hearted society where any amount of real emotion for another human being, especially a man for another man, is mistaken for co-dependency and psychological deficiency.

But Minghella saw Tom Ripley as a shell, a man so desperate for the one thing he’s never had—love. The film is so eerily and creepily disturbing that it is completely understandable why people didn’t like it. It is not, however, acceptable to dismiss the flawless craft of the movie as a result.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in order):
1. Splendor
2. South Park: Bigger, Louder, and Uncut
3. Three Kings
4. Being John Malkovich
5. The Insider
6. Dogma
7. An Ideal Husband
8. Cradle Will Rock
9. Sunshine
10. 10 Things I Hate About You

Best Director: Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Runners-up: Sam Mendes and Spike Jonze

Best Ensemble: Cast of American Beauty
Runner-up: Cast of GO

Best Actor: Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Runners-up: John Leguizamo and Tom Cruise

Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

Best Supporting Actor: Adrien Brody, Summer of Sam
Runners-up: Chris Klein and Peter Sarsgaard

Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry
Runners-up: Mena Suvari and Jennifer Esposito

Breakthrough Performances (in order):
1. Wes Bentley in American Beauty
2. Scott Wolf in GO
3. Michelle Williams in Dick
4. Matt Keeslar in Splendor
5. Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich
6. Ice Cube in Three Kings

Reviewing Adina Howard’s The Second Coming

This piece was originally written for Epinions.com. An archive version of it can be found here. This is a slight revision.

The Second Coming album coverIt’s perhaps meaningful that it has been a full decade since Adina Howard has released an album. Do You Wanna Ride was a brilliant ode to the need for sex masking a need for love. It was also hampered by a shitty ad campaign that chose to flatten Adina’s image and leave her flailing in the winds of public and media perception about black woman’s sexuality. Despite Adina’s repeated statements that she considered healthy freaky sex to be wonderful in a committed relationship, media and public perception made her out to be a cheap floosy.

This is to be expected however. Assertive sexuality in black women has always been a catch-22 in contemporary times. On one hand, black woman taking control of their bodies is the ultimate subversive move. On the other, it can sometimes be perceived by those who lack the ability to understand (apparently) difficult concepts like context to be playing into mainstream America’s stereotypical ideas about black women as Jezebels.

But what is unacceptable is how Adina’s handlers didn’t allow the strength of her voice to silence some of the doubters. Many people would have been astonished to have heard her gorgeous rendition with gospel singer Michael Speaks on Rene and Angela’s You Don’t Have To Cry. That should have been a nice live performance to give people both sides of what her debut album was about.

Well, it is 10 years later, and The Second Coming was released independently and Adina Howard gets executive producer credit. This album is more varied and more soulful musically than her debut, but it follows closely what seems to be Adina’s main theme: sex.

But remarkably the album chronicles the lifespan of a courtship from meeting Outside (The Club) to separation Missing You. Like Koffee Brown’s outstanding Mars/Venus each song has a context imbedded in the song and one from its placement in relation to other songs. So the sexy songs are not meant to be about casual sex, but about what occurs when two people are committed. This goes a long way toward alleviating criticism that Adina has been subjected to in the past.

The first 3 songs, Outside (The Club)Wannabe, and Don’t Wait Up are the party songs that depict the initial meetings and attraction between two people. Wannabe is the weakest of the three, simply because it is a lil’ hook heavy and cutesy in execution. The other two are fine examples of creative party songs that feature strong vocals, clever lyricism, and sharp arrangements. Don’t Wait Up, in particular, is a prime example of just how expressive Adina’s voice is. The melody percolates while Adina sings purposefully and passionately. This song was perfect for single consideration.

Missy Elliott’s Crank Me Up is a return to the sharp lyricism of the stuff she used to write early in her career for Aaliyah and 702. It’s the continuation of Don’t Wait Up’s anticipation of sex. In this song, it’s about the first time having sex with the person you are feelin’. What You Need then talks about what each person needs for the relationship to work. It’s perhaps a bit too materialistic, but again, this is a common motif in contemporary black pop, so it’s neither here nor there. The song itself is serviceable.

The meat of the album lies in the middle from T-Shirt & Panties to Buttnaked. These songs are highly sexual and they chronicle the different way in which Adina approaches sensuality. T-Shirt & Panties is teasing seduction, Nasty Grind is a confident subversion of gender roles, and Buttnaked is languorous afterglow. Each of these three songs is remarkably different musically and Adina’s vocals carry each one in uniquely compelling ways. Nasty Grind features strong vocals in Adina’s chest voice, while Buttnaked casts her in her lower register. This creates the feeling perfectly in the song of laying with the man you love after sex. It is similar in tone to Janet Jackson’s last movement of Twenty Foreplay; afterglow.

The last half of the album gets more relationship-oriented as the relationship starts to take different turns. It’s Not Over, the album’s gorgeous highlight, is a duet that shows the deterioration of the relationship before it even starts. Ee De plays the cheating man and Adina is the conflicted lover. Adina’s vocal performance is sharp here. She starts her verse angry and then gets confused saying, You’re makin’ it hard for me and starts to doubt her anger. It’s all in the ways she sings and how she alternates her phrasing. The song achieves its brilliance in the bridge by showing the turn where they go from singing It’s Not Over to Adina singing N*gga, it’s over. You hear the moment where Adina regains her composure and where Ee De makes the fatal mistake, I was drinkin’ baby. The song is gorgeously written, the way a duet should be written and rarely is these days, and flawlessly performed.

Let’s Roll is a call to a man to “put up or shut up”. That Man is the only song that doesn’t use sex as a metaphor for relationships. It is just pure happiness at having a good man. Say What You Want is about diggin’ in and feeling confidence in your love when other people are jealous or think they see problems. And finally, Missing You (her nicely fine tuned solo writing job) is about loss and loneliness when your partner is gone.

The production more often than not bolsters Adina’s sharp vocals. On Wannabe and What You Need the music and lyrics are just a tad too generic. But Adina never sounds lost or confused or exploited in her music. It’s hard to pull off sensuality and sexuality on record in a mature way. But Adina has done it.

Buttnaked, in particular, is a wonderful song because it’s about loving the person’s body in its natural state. After sex, spending time watching your man lay about. She sings, I’m sittin here lookin at your body, baby baby baby/I’ve never seen somethin’ so beautiful here lately lately lately/I love the way the candles bringin’ out your skin tone baby baby baby/Don’t ever put your clothes on again, stay buttnaked baby baby baby. It’s romantic in a completely new way. The song never rises above a murmur and that is what makes it work.

Nasty Grind, I swear, is about penetration of a man by a woman and the intimacy (and taboo…the song is called Nasty Grind) of such an act is treated matter of factly. I could be wrong about that interpretation though:

(One), come over
(Two), turn over
(Three), remember
(Four), you’re a freak like me
(Five, I’m on my knees you’re beggin me please
(Six), nobody’s gonna do you like me
My nasty grind. 

If it is what I interpret it to be, it’s the most remarkably subversive song in decades. If not, than it’s a brilliant song about women’s control of being penetrated. Either way, it’s a gorgeous song.

With The Second Coming, Adina uses sex as a conceit to display different aspects of love and relationships. But more important than the lyricism, which is sharp more often than not, is how varied Adina’s voice is on the album. She goes from controlled intensity of It’s Not Over and Say What You Want to genteel calm on Missing Youto throaty seduction and passion on Buttnaked.

4.5 stars

STANDOUTS–It’s Not OverSay What You WantNasty GrindButtnakedDon’t Wait Up and Missing You

Music 2004–All Over The Place; Better Than Recent Years

This piece was originally written for Epinions.com. An archive version of it can be found here. Links have been updated.

2004, for me, was a really strong year. I copped a lot of truly stellar albums and found that when compiling this list that I had to make it a top 15. Because most of this stuff, none of y’all heard and I truly believe you should hear it.

Hip-hop is continuing to deteriorate for me. And it’s not the image per se…its the fact that everyone is sounding the same…looking the same. Really what is the difference between a T.I. song and a Chingy song (sh*t, the goofy pretty boys even look the same)? Or for that matter, what is the difference between their videos?

R&B, soul, “neo-soul”, whatever limiting term you use to define it continues to deepen as a wide variety of new artists come into the market to spice it up. Lyfe Jennings is exciting! Ciara, well as a performer, she’s electrifying.

And a lot of people came back and did their thing in 2004. Regina Belle, Anita Baker, Teena Marie, Adina Howard, and the like released stellar albums and to hear women with really emotive voices make music that seems so effortless makes you loathe (or at least feel depressed about) how artificial commercial R&B; is and how artificial “neo-soul” is as well.
But it was a good year. B2K broke up and so they can no longer annoy. America seems to be smart enough to see that Joss Stone has a great voice she has no idea how to use yet. They haven’t been flockin in droves the way they have to Christina Aguilera, her American counterpoint…although I have a sneaking suspicion its more xenophobia than anything else. JC Chasez proved with his release that he’s a risk taker, STILL a better singer than Justin, and brilliant…and no one bought his record.


But here’s my wrap up. Feel free to blow up the comments section. It’s all love, baby!

BEST SINGLE OF THE YEAR–Usher, Yeah
See the thing about Usher, is that he is more than the sum of his parts. That he is the best f*ckin’ performer is unmitigated, but his ability to command a song vocally is equally as impressive. Even a casual listener of this maddeningly catchy song can hear how effectively Usher uses his voice. That the man is an accomplished singer is not lost on me, but it’s a shame, on some level, that this song might define his career. It’s a production showcase…a brilliant one…but not truly an Usher song. Nonetheless, it’s the best damn song of the year. No arguments, kids.

2. Van Hunt, Down Here In Hell With You (pain made simple)
3. Mos Def, Ghetto Rock (proving we STILL do own rock)
4. Destiny’s Child, Lose My Breath (Kelly owns it!!)
5. Adina Howard, Nasty Grind (Cause no one is a FREAK like Adina!!! I mean that! CLASSY sistah!)
6. Snoop Dogg, Drop It Like It’s Hot (man, Snoop mixes his funk flow with Neptunes party jawns, and shows how a hip-hop party need be THROWN!!!)
7. Mario, Let Me Love You (had to throw this on, its just well crafted soul pop and that is hard to come by)
8. R. Kelly, Happy People (cause he still can’t be beat musically…f*ck what you heard!)
9. Usher, Burn (the one honest moment on the album, methinks…and damn good!)
10. Akon, Ghetto (moving piece of work!)

BEST NON-SINGLE SONG OF THE YEAR–Rahsaan Patterson, So Hot
If you are smart you will pick up the US version of Rahsaan Patterson’s latest full-length masterpiece. Dude is AMAZING!! On So Hot, Rahsaan gives you pure contemporary funk with a disco twist and makes raw passion seem like a party! His voice is so pure, so clear. It makes you wonder why no one else sings like him. The breakdown at the end of the song is perhaps the most brilliant 20 seconds of music all year.

2. Usher, Follow Me (best song on the album…why is it last?)
3. Destiny’s Child, Through With Love (Michelle brings this jawn HOME, y’all! best song they’ve recorded)
4. Nas, Virgo (just classic Nas baby, classic Nas)
5. En Vogue, Losin My Mind (En Vogue on some soul sh*t…bout damn time)
6. R. Kelly, How Did You Manage (those who don’t like R.’s new album haven’t heard it. This song is magnificent. Simploe, but magnificent)
7. Adina Howard & Ee De, It’s Not Over (still a classy girl KNOWS how to put it down in a duet)
8. Lyfe Jennings, Must Be Nice (innocence in a whole new way)
9. Van Hunt, Who Will Love Me In Winter (because no one did pain the way Van Hunt did it this year, and this cut is quite frankly the unsung track on the album)
10. Ashanti, Only U (Can’t stand her, but this song is the WAY TO GO MA!!! do it up! The video is hot to DEF too!)

WORST SINGLE OF THE YEAR–Destiny’s Child, Soldier
GOD AWFUL!!!!! But I’ll say this so y’all can not kill me for hating this song…Kelly Rowland runs this song (and the video…girlfriend is makin moves to blow up in her own right, y’all!!). She’s the only one of the girls who sounds halfway believable talkin bout “carryin big things” and “soldiers” and other such drivel. That is a compliment of the highest order, because it is hard to maintain a classy demeanor and complexity when you are singing crassly (and not so subtly) about how big a man’s penis needs to be. Don’t act like you don’t know what the song is about!!!

But more to the point, it has 2 (why 2?) terrible rappers drawling on, bad vocal mixes and generic lyrics. The production is watered-down crunk (which is itself watered down Rick James funk) and not really well executed. The song might be the most poorly mixed song I’ve heard in a while…and I suspect it mighta been purposeful. Their choice, but it wasn’t a good one.

2. Ciara, Goodies (generic)
3. Lloyd Banks, On Fire (umm…he is trash!)
4. The Cam’ron/Diplomats songs..ALL OF THEM!!! (Cam is the prettiest rapper alive [that skin is FLAWLESS], but he used to be a good one as well..what happened!)
5. Jacki O, P*ssy (ummm…its just bad…i can write an essay on why…lame hook, lame production, generic rhymes, lazy vocals execution…etc)

WORST ALBUM–Destiny’s Child, Destiny Fulfilled
See when you have a title Destiny Fulfilled you gotta come wit it! DC DID NOT DO THAT!!! I am adamant about it because the thing about being on top the way DC is is that people characterize your skill and quality by the fact that your singles are selling. But the singles from DC albums have never really been indicative of what a DC album truly is. So to some degree, DC’s image is a nice contradiction. Great singles, bad albums.

That being said, this album is the most consistent, but it’s also the one that is the most rushed, sloppily mixed album of their career. It is purposeful that even when all three girls are singing, to hear Beyonce the most. It is purposeful that Michelle always sings the bridge, because there she isn’t forced to emulate Beyonce’s phrasing. It is purposeful that Kelly was put to the fore a lot more on this album.

It was not purposeful, I think, for the songs to be kind of maudlin and perfunctory in their execution. It gets a bit weary to hear Beyonce and Kelly on the verses, Michelle on the bridge all the time. It might be interesting for Beyonce to bring the song home on a bridge once or twice, let the other girls take lead.

That being said, Kelly’s voice has blossomed into one of true grace and her phrasing is really starting to become her own. Witness how gorgeous she sounds (and the graceful changes) each time she sings her part on T-Shirt and Is She The Reason. But despite all the people that love this record, its just average. Nothing really special. And its a shame because DC has the chops. But they don’t have to be amazing…they just gotta deliver vamp and pomp and circumstance and a hot single. Shame they only meet, not exceed, expectations.

MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUM OF THE YEAR–Jon B, Stronger Everyday
I’m real mad about this record, feel me? Jon B for me represents everything that is right and beautiful about appropriation of black music styles. The respect and knowledge is there. The sheer ability and proficiency with instruments is there. And the humble respect for the fact that you walk in forms you did not create is there. This is important…feeling entitled to other cultures’ art is a problem of Western society and we too often ignore it.

That being said, Jon made a boring a** album. And the reasons are clear…he didn’t write too much of the stuff alone and the collabos are uninspired. Tank doesn’t give him any of the brilliance that is evident on his own albums. And his new songwriting partners are just not as good as Ngai Gee and his other partners. Jon seems content to coast on this album. It’s safe. It’s well made. But it lacks the passion and raw intensity of his previous work. And that is just a shame. He’s still one of the best pure artists working, but he just didn’t put it down this time. And that is just a shame.

2. Destiny’s Child, Destiny Fulfilled (see above)
3. Brandy, Afrodisiac (Timbaland tries to overshadow, B-Rocka don’t let him, but it still works less than it should)

MOST SLEPT-ON ALBUM OF THE YEAR–Teedra Moses, Complex Simplicity
Teedra’s album title is apt. Her songs seem kind of generic middle of the road first time you listen to them. But the subtlety of her lyricism and the complexity of her rhythm arrangements grows with each song. There was no push for this album, as there rarely is for new artists that don’t fit into a box. She’s deep, without being pretentious…and that is a hard thing to pull off. And she’s sensual, without being anything more or less than that…this is also hard to do. Cop this record!

2. Lyfe Jennings, Lyfe 268-192 (umm, where was the pub?)
3. Van Hunt, Van Hunt (too hard to categorize, y’all got confused)
4. Rahsaan Patterson, After Hours (too unique, y’all got confused)
5. Lalah Hathaway, Outrun the Sky (too brilliant, y’all got confused)

BEST HOLDOVER FROM LAST YEAR–Dwele, Subject
Dwele did what few other contemporaries singers can do. He flipped the ghetto/bourgeous player image and turned it inside out as well. Unlike Raphael Saadiq, who has personified and codified it on his latest release (to stunning results), Dwele finds the soul in the convention. Find A Way is a sad love song if I ever heard one, its just midtempo. Sho Ya Right is bravado maskin’ real insecurity. It’s what Tank does with contemporary R&B…finding; the sensitive lover man in motifs that aren’t know for their sensitivity. Subject is a brilliant song because the metaphor encapsulates the intent of the album, to take an existing trope and find the “subject”, the heart, the three-dimensional. Dwele doesn’t want a simple girl, he wants one that is more than the sum of her parts..a complete person. The album grows in complexity with each listen and it’s a shame it didn’t do better last year and this year as well. Dwele is a man to look out for.

2. 702, Star
3. Anthony Hamilton, Comin Where I’m Comin From
4. Alicia Keys, The Diary of Alicia Keys
5. OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

BEST NEWCOMER–Lyfe Jennings, Lyfe 268-192
Lyfe is like the essence of what it means to be completely naked in your art. He captures his soul without gimmick. I’m gonna be short, because how I feel about this record makes me wanna gush, and this is already running long. You’ll see him for a very VERY long time. He manages to be honest about life and not make it seem like a retread. And that is hard, given his subject matter. But there’s a melancholic undercurrent that makes the whole endeavor weighty in a unique way. Cop this!!

MOST OVERRATED–Beyonce Knowles
Here’s the thing about Beyonce. She was groomed to be here. Like Justin Timberlake, she carries herself with a sense of entitlement that makes her off-putting to anyone not into the whole “diva” trip.

That is neither here nor there tho. Many artists are groomed to be stars. The thing that’s irritating about Beyonce is that she’s lauded for the elements of her persona that are the least important to what makes her truly gifted and fascinating to watch mature and grow. The videos from Dangerously In Love were designed to give her a unique image, but they were completely incongrous with the songs. Me Myself and I is a song about self-reliance, about learning to find strength in oneself…but the video has her writhing around on a floor in a tight sexy black dress, looking stunning. NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SONG!!! But it makes her look good! Her videos are glossy, transparent, and made to showcase B as a performer (or rather, a little girl loving to play dress up…witness Naughty Girl).

But the singles, excluding Me Myself and I, are not indicative of what made Dangerously in Love such a startlingly strong record. The album had an honesty to the lyricism, even when it didn’t always work (Gift From Virgo for instance) that made Beyonce into a three-dimensional woman.
But her image works against her because it seems to want to capitalize on her fierce work ethic, her drive, and what many perceive to be gross arrogance. It paints her as the unattainable beauty with the ungainly voice (which admittedly she’s becoming more and more proficient with using).

Her talent lies not in her beauty, the blonde weave (which for MANY reasons, needs to be a thing of the past) or her sometimes screeching vocals. It lies in her willingness to be honest on record (not the singles usually tho) and really put herself out there. Sometimes it’s shallow, often times its maddeningly pedestrian, but the mark of a true artist is not the amount of success, but the breadth of the work. Beyonce is building a fine catalog. It’d just be nice for everyone to recognize that it doesn’t really include the songs you might think.

MOST UNDERRATED–Kelly Rowland
Kelly Rowland has two very serious obstacles in her path to real stardom. And one is something she can very much change, one she is actively changing as we speak. The other is harder, something that she has no control over.

The first thing is she really has to work to create her own identity. First and foremost in that creation is the revamping of her phrasing. Destiny’s Child was designed to be a vehicle for Beyonce. As talented as B is, her arrangements are built around her voice and phrasing, not on the interplay of the other girls’ voices with her own (although to her credit on Emotions and If that is not the case). So Kelly was taught to sing like Beyonce…its not that she tries to do it…she really didn’t know anything else.

With the new DC singles, Kelly is really coming into her own. She completely dominates both songs. And the album really is a showcase for how differently Kelly and B approach songs. Kelly’s vocals are really starting to become emotive. Listen to how she sings on Is She The Reason in particular. Her section is the only section with any emotional resonance. Beyonce’s verses are a mishmash of her stutter style delivery and meaningless lyricism, but Kelly’s part just hammers home that feelin in the song of loosing out.

The biggest thing holding Kelly back is her skin. Let’s face it, dark skin women are not the rage. Beyonce was in the front for a reason. Matthew Knowles knew what he was doing. But as she grows into being more and more comfortable and her material (hopefully) improves, this can become a non-issue. But she was relegated to sidewoman for this reason (among others).
But because Kelly has been relegated to sidewoman and her voice, in the past, has resembled Beyonce’s people are really not paying attention to the astonishing talent that Kelly is just beginning to show. Witness her gorgeous performance of Endless Love with Lionel Richie on Motown 45. She completely owned that song. And I’ve already discussed her dominance of the new DC record. But the fact that not a single review I’ve read, excluding speed’s on here has even made passing reference is just proof that they aren’t listening to the album (esp. since they are grading it WAYYYYYY too high)

AWARD FOR PROVING ME REALLY REALLY WRONG!!!–Jill Scott, Beautifully Human
Here is the thing about Jill Scott. Raw talent? She’s probably unmatched by any of her contemporaries that aren’t Angie Stone and Erykah Badu.

But Jill falls victim to believing her own hype to a certain degree. Witness the self-congratulatory reverence in her liner notes about her “struggle” to define the new album. I acknowledge that the album was a struggle, but I quibble with the tone of the writing of that piece. It places too much weight on Jill as an artist and on her music on the whole. Because, frankly, Jill has a long long LOOOONNNNGGG way to go.

Beautifully Human is a nice normal jump forward. It’s not light years ahead of Who Is Jill Scott? but it does correct some of the easier things that were wrong with that record. First, it eliminates her poetry. Let it be said now, I don’t think Jill’s a terrible poet, I just think she, like many “spoken word” artists, says nothing new and says it in exactly the same way as every other spoken word artist. What makes artists like Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, and Saul Williams GREAT “spoken word” artists is that they have distinctive styles and rhythms to their writing. Jill sounds like every sistah in a coffeehouse angry at the treatment of black women by black men and society at large. Nuttin wrong with that, per se…but it does drag down the quality and flow of her albums and contributes to a tone of condescension.

Most significantly, tho. Jill’s lyricism is just better on this album. It does away (except on the abominable Family Picnic which recycles all kinds of cliches about black families that the bourgeois love in their music and writing…never mind that its essentialist nonsense that mistakes archetype for specificity) with the generic “sistah girl”, “this is black life-positive” that makes her a critical darling and an aural snooze.

Songs like Bedda at Home and Razool work because they have point of view and specificity and don’t pass judgment. The songs is just put forth and Jill sangs the HELL out of em!
If she wants to grow, this is the direction in which she should go. It’s important for the “neo-soul” artists, particularly the ones comin’ out of Philly, to remember its not about affectation (real instruments, generic bourgeois sentiment, and simply being the opposite of whatever is mainstream) that makes them “true” artists or even artists worth listening to, but its the specificity, the point of view and intention in their work that makes them artists. It does so because it gives them identity. One not forged in an “idea” of blackness, but one forged in who they are as black people. SUBTLE difference. Yet common mistake.

THE LIST
Just so y’all know. These 15 albums are all 4.5-5 star albums. These represent the cream of what is happening in music when you all aren’t really looking. It’s not a question of mainstream versus underground here because I see a good mix. Its really about these 15 artists really pulling out all the stops and making fantastic music that is first and foremost their own. We put a lot of pressure on artists and usually its in the most uselessly constrictive ways. These artists represent the kind of artists that really don’t seem to care too much about the public consciousness. Some ride the wave of mainstream/white (and bourgeous black…which is the same thing…beautiful thing assimilation, eh?) acceptance and respect, others ride below the wave unfettered too much by the fickle nature of commerce.

In any case, I suggest that you at least listen to these albums. My lists are always different, and like I said last year, were I a less secure person, I’d think I didn’t know what I was talking about.

15. The Roots, The Tipping Point
Streamlining the sound and lettin’ Black Thought loose for 12 tracks was a masterstroke. The only reason this is low is because the albums above this are simply better. Black Thought puts it down! And The Roots have the sense enough to have Latif on vocals AND Jean Grae spittin!
Key Tracks: Boom, Guns Are Drawn

14. Adina Howard, The Second Coming
I really understand how this album fell under the radar. I do. But I really wish that Nasty Grind hadn’t been the first single. It wasn’t a song that could be played on the radio or a video that could be shown on TV…even in an edited version. And some of the other tracks, especially the club-ready ones, could really have set her off on this new phase in her career.
Nevertheless, Adina Howard proves that no one has done adult sexual love this good since Millie Jackson and Ms. Howard has grown so beautifully as a singer. And with Missing You, her solo writing gig, she shows a flair for melody that had been previously untapped. Bravo, ma!
Key Tracks: Nasty Grind, It’s Not Over, Missing You and Buttnaked

13. New Edition, One Love
New Edition remind you of how fresh it is to hear a group with more than one voice at the fore. They remind you of how fun new jack swing used to be. And they make it seem like no one else should be doing it. Ronnie’s voice is developing nicely, Ricky is the MVP (puttin in some great vocal work) and Johnny and Ralph anchor the group with the kind of work that is often heralded but not truly respected for its depth. And all five guys harmonies grow richer every time…even on the brilliant lead single Hot 2 Nite
Key Tracks: Newness, Hot 2 Nite, Leave Me, Come Home With Me and Best Man

12. R. Kelly, Happy People/U Saved Me
It’s easy to hate R. Kelly. He’s a pederast. Great thing about that is, that it is completely irrelevant. He’s also a very talented musician. And with this one-two punch R. Kelly moved firmly into his status as the premier songwriter of his generation. His simplicity is often discussed, but the effect with which he uses it to put forth simple messages of love (Happy People) and spirituality (U Saved Me) is completely ignored. The latter is the stronger album, but it also has the more glaring missteps. His earnestness wears thin and for even me who happens to be moved by R. Kelly’s work, it does come across insincere on a track or two. Nonetheless, R. Kelly is the man! No arguments, kids.
U Saved Me Key Tracks: How Did You Manage, Spirit and Diary of Me
Happy People Key Tracks: Red Carpet and Happy People

11. Queen Latifah, The Dana Owens Album
Umm it was like a wet dream come true for Lah to make this album. Ever since Living Out Loud (brilliant film, by the way) came out, I’d been hoping Lah would grace us with an album of her beautiful singing. And for her to do Moody’s Mood For Love was the icing on the cake. I love that song!
Key Track: Moody’s Mood For Love

10. Trina Broussard, Same Girl
Trina Broussard did her thing on Same Girl. She wrote most of the material and really used her collaborators to bring out a new clarity in her voice. Rahsaan puts it down, as does Jamey Jaz, Van Hunt and Trey Lorenz. Trina is one of them singers that will be around forever that everyone loves when they hear but then never quite get around to purchasing because her face isn’t plastered everywhere. But Same Girl is worth the purchase and just a great example of really good emotive singing.
Key Tracks: Losing My Mind and Dreamin’ of One

9. En Vogue, Soul Flower
Hot damn! This, for me, is the album I wished the four original girls made. This is a soulful album. Its got all the grace notes, the passion and the layered vocals that made 70’s soul so definable. New girl, Rhona Bennett, not only holds her own vocally, but she contributes 2 outstanding songs in Stop and Losin’ My Mind. It’s bliss almost the whole way through and its bittersweet cause as good as it is, i sorta wish it was the original four girls.
Key Tracks: Losin’ My Mind, How Do I Get Over You, New Day Callin, Careful and Stop

8. Usher, Confessions
Usher’s album is somewhat of a gimmick. And interestingly, it doesn’t much matter. If he’d called it 8702, it’d be just as accomplished, but it wouldn’t have to worry about a title that doesn’t really capture the essence of the album. Usher’s voice grows in intensity and grace with each album. The problem lies in some of the more immature moments (most notably Bad Girl and That’s What It’s Made For). But when Usher is on, he’s on…and can’t nobody really f*ck wit him. This is a very strong record, but it’s not really confessional, so much as a bit exploitative and shallow. But I think ultimately, Usher knows this. There’s sadness to the album and it makes it a much more interesting album for that reason.
Key Tracks: Follow Me, Yeah, Burn, Do It To Me and Caught Up

7. Raphael Saadiq, As Ray Ray
Man, Raphael reminded me how fun funk music and the music of the blaxploitation era really is. This album is a concept. It needn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken seriously at all. Plus since it is funk, Ray’s proficiency with the bass is on full display. Joi, Teedra and Dawn Robinson funk it up on a few cuts and the mood and texture of each track gets more and more layered and laconic as the album goes on. It doesn’t have any standout tracks because it is so damn seemless. For my money tho, Joi on Ray Ray’s Theme is HOT TO DEF!!!

6. Lyfe Jennings, Lyfe 268-192
Well, really I said it above in the Best Newcomer section but let me clarify quickly. If you think Jaheim and D’Angelo do the soulful tortured thug thing well, listen to Lyfe Jennings and be corrected.
Key Tracks: Must Be Nice, Stick Up Kid and She Got Kids

5. Lalah Hathaway, Outrun The Sky
Umm. I wish I could get away with sayin…IT’S LALAH HATHAWAY, YOU AIN’T KNOW???!!!
Oh, I can…
Key Tracks: Back Then and If U Ever

4. Amel Larrieux, Bravebird
Amel Larrieux is a jazz trained vocalist. And you can hear it in the way she sings but also in the way her vocals are arranged. Her album works the old magic of social consciousness without being overt. Every single song on this album is brilliant.
Key Tracks: For Real, All I Got, Say You Want It All and Giving Something Up

3. Nas, Street’s Disciple
Ummm, Nas is clearly the most conflicted hip-hop artist since Tupac. He’s also the most daring, the most exhilarating when he is ON, and perhaps the most infuriating when he fails. But few have the pure gift and honesty of Nasir Jones. This record is near perfection. The songs that should have been left off, really don’t matter. An unqualified triumph.
Key Tracks: Virgo, Disciple, Street’s Disciple, Bridging The Gap, and These Are Our Heroes

2. Van Hunt, Van Hunt
Well, this is the album that perfectly displays what I’m always talking about when I criticize some of the more overlauded “neo-soul” artists. Van Hunt’s lyricism is so damn SHARP. He doesn’t generalize, his lyrics are specific. They have intention, weight, and (now listen closely) specificity. Few other artists have that. Every track is musically brilliant, lyrically compelling and with Who Will Love Me In Winter the strength of Van Hunt’s voice is undeniable.
Key Tracks: Who Will Love Me In Winter, Hello Goodbye, Highlights, Down Here In Hell With You and Her December

1. Rahsaan Patterson, After Hours
This is light years ahead of every other record released this year. NO ONE makes music like Rahsaan Patterson. He seems completely unconcerned with audience. In his voice, you hear the pure love of singing. You can feel how much he enjoys it. I reviewed the UK version and the US version has two additional songs. The first is a Mike City gem called Forever Yours. The second is another Jamey Jaz collabo Sometimes (You Gotta Let Go). GOOD LORD AND BUDDAH!!! This song is great! It’s a shame that even though this fine, brilliant piece of work finally got a bearth stateside, few people are allowing themselves to be blessed with what is perhaps the finest pure talent working. Read the review!