Tag Archives: Jill Scott

Best Albums of 2011

I'm an album guy.

I never really bought singles unless there was a B-side or a remix that was dope. And while I'm aware now that Michael Jackson's single + filler archetype is the dominant approach to album making for most black music, I still hold out hope that artists will give me 10, 12 or 14 songs that fit together in a way that makes for a complete listening experience.

In 2011, that happened far more infrequently for me than I would have liked. Last year, I did a list of 30. This year, I only got 10.  

NOTE: I should also say that I haven't really had time to digest new material by Anthony Hamilton, Common, Meshell N'degeocello, Trey Songz, and The Roots (tho my initial reaction here was that it's the best album of the year) so I just couldn't justify ranking them at all.

Before we get to the top 10 after the jump, here are albums I liked, but didn't love:

  • Anwar Robinson, Everything (pleasant, but unremarkable except for "Come Over," which is sublime)
  • Johnny Gill, Still Winning (pleasant but unremarkable)
  • Idle Warship, Habits of the Heart (feels undercooked in places)
  • Frank Ocean, nostalgia/ultra (definitely feels undercooked)
  • The Paxtons, Avenue: A (a shade too in love with Kanye and Jay Electronica, but tight rhymes)
  • Cali Swag District, Kickback (far too long, far too short on the verve that makes their singles so hot)

 And albums that disappointed me:

  • Ledisi, Pieces of Me (too adult contemporary for my tastes. much of this material is just not worthy of Ledisi's voice)
  • Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun (unfinished and undisciplined is the last thing Jill Scott needs. Tried to be like Worldwide Underground and failed miserably).
  • Beyonce, 4 (didn't go far enough toward real tried-and-true R&B or soul. full of messy lead vocals)
  • Kelly Rowland, Here I Am (the definition of derivative. three strikes and you're out, Kelly!)
  • Kelly Price, Kelly (zzzzzz)
  • Tyrese, Open Invitation ("Stay" should have been an indication of what this album would be, but unfortunately it's just a weird outlier on a standard bad male R&B album)
  • Ginuwine, Elgin (why Ginuwine thinks "maturity" equals "boring" is beyond me. someone get him his groove back, please.)
  • Pharoahe Monche, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (some mediocre production ruins this one for me)
  • Talib Kweli, Gutter Rainbows (too long, too much bad production. feels like an afterthought)
  • Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin' (i am over this retro Ray Ray. time to step into the new millennium, homie)

 

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The Evolution of Jill Scott

The most enjoyable thing about Jill Scott’s evolution is watching her become increasingly comfortable showing how much she revels in being a beautiful woman.

I didn’t really care for her first studio album and much of her second – too much coffeehouse pretension and abstraction in the lyrics for my tastes – because I felt on those early records that she was writing songs that she thought fit the image of her (mother soul goddess) rather than songs that let us connect with the woman behind the image. And that wasn’t all that interesting to me. To have all that voice and just sing about generic sentiment seemed a waste.

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Best Albums of 2010 (12-7)

Numbers 12-7 after the jump.  I should have said this earlier, but feel free to comment.

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On Real Women, Intention, and Nicki Minaj

I watch Nicki Minaj’s videos, like this most recent one:

 

 

and I listen to her songs, particularly this new collabo with Eminem:

 

 

and I wonder if Nicki is going to admit that the characters are bullshit.

If the song wasn’t called “Roman’s Revenge” there’d be no way to distinguish Roman from Nicki Minaj. Roman Zolanski doesn’t even emerge here as a fully formed persona*. None of her personas do. None of it feels to me like an artist experimenting with persona, so much as an artist who likes to play with inflection was asked why she likes to play with inflection and gave some silly answer that makes her sound more intentional and creative than I think she is.

And now she’s sorta forced to do songs in these voices. But she has not yet figured out how to make these characters distinct enough that the performances feel fluid, or even clash in ways that convincingly portray schizophrenia.

Why not just go for broke and make these characters truly distinct? Give them each their own flow, cadence, point of view. I mean…something.

I don’t know. My girl Alyssa admires what she does visually, but I just see a disgusting orientalism that is even more offensive than when Gwen Stefani was doing it. But it does intrigue me that her visual artistry bests her musical artistry, at least in so far as it feels coherent and complete a statement…of something.

We are in an historical moment where larger than life women (Lady Gaga and Janelle Monae) are more interesting than real women (Chrisette Michelle and Jazmine Sullivan). What bothers me tremendously about that – particularly in the case of black women who just have a hard time if they aren’t jezebels like Beyonce or earth mother soul goddesses like Jill Scott** – is that when you strip away the larger than life part, there just isn’t much there.

It just seems like a bunch of women who grew up watching Madonna and Grace Jones and only saw reinvention, not intention.

 

*In fairness, Eminem’s Slim Shady persona never felt all that real to me either.  There was a loose distinction between The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, and The Eminem Show, but nowhere near as great and distinct as I think was intended.  That said, he never pimped this trinity in quite the way Nicki Minaj is pimping these personas.

*To be clear, I’m talking about the image and marketing of these two women. Though Beyonce’s first album was a three-dimensional statement of young black womanhood at the start of the 21st century, the image that was sold was one of a wanton sexual creature. Jill did a whole album that sexualized and humanized her and people hated it.  So I think both women are capable of complicating their personas, but it’s unlikely that the marketplace will notice and respond favorably.

Tigger’s 25 Best Albums of the Aughts (00s), Part 1

The thing that is interesting to me about all the lists I’ve read about music in the Aughts is how little the lists reflect the impact of the internet.  Reading most lists, you wouldn’t think that the industry changed as much as it did.  You’d also think that, reading other lists, that the industry figured out the internet immediately and it became just another promotional tool for them to give you whatever it is they’ve decided is hot music.

Napster started in June 1999, just six months before the new millennium and the music industry has never been the same.  Illegal downloading meant that people could hear an artist’s work before it was done.  They could hear songs that artists never intended for them to hear.  And they could hear multiple versions of a song that ultimately went to another artist (how many people downloaded Posh Spice’s version of Beyonce’s Resentment?).

What this meant is that the single had even less meaning than it did in the past, though the industry and your favorite artist will never tell you that.  Indeed, the minute that iTunes and other online music services offered you the ability to pick which song you want to own, singles just became different animals.  Oh sure, we still had huge singles in the decade that everyone bought and then couldn’t escape for years – Yeah!, Crazy In Love, and Hey Ya come to mind – but the point is, how the consumer interacts with an artist shifted completely.  Many artists began to release as singles album tracks that were buzzworthy on the internet in hopes of increasing sales (Mariah Carey seems to live and die by her message boards, which explains the yo-yoing of her career of late).

It also meant that the industry’s devaluation of the album was complete.  Oh sure, people still buy albums, but with the ability to pick and choose what you want, there was even less incentive for the biggest artists to make albums a complete experience.  More then ever, what we got from corporate artists were three or four “radio singles” and a bunch of lamentable album tracks (you know, the ones that artists like Britney, Rihanna and nem point to as evidence of their “growth” because the songs might have an actual bridge or something).

For me, as a music lover, it was a wonderful time to discover music online I might not otherwise have heard.  I was able to follow the rise of homo hop, get copies of shelved albums by artists like Joi Gilliam and Nicole Wray, get obscure albums by Ricky Bell, LaTocha Scott, and Mark Middleton, and find artists who had been discarded by the industry but were making music on their own terms (Shanice, Smoke E. Digglera and Digital Black from Playa).  And let’s not forget how R&B artists have embraced the “mixtape” concept as a way to put out music that perhaps the label didn’t want you to hear or just to keep their names in your mind (Teedra Moses, Trey Songz, Amerie).

What this meant was that I had something else to compare to whatever it was the industry was throwing at me.  It meant that I didn’t have to fall for the othering of British “phenoms” who were ripping off American Black music unconvincingly.  It meant that I didn’t have to be mired in the industry’s mistaken belief that artists were only as good as the song Rich Harrison, Timbaland, Pharrell, Rodney Jerkins, or whoever gave them.  It meant that what I listened to was more driven by me than the industry.  Great as the 90s were, I was largely at the mercy of the industry.  That is simply not the case anymore – even for consumers (and artists) who live and die by the Billboard charts.

I say all this to say that my list reflects very much my experience with black music in the Aughts.  It is not a list that is designed to rank the biggest commercial albums of the decade and then find creative ways of equating art and commerce.  Which is not to say that there aren’t some obvious choices on here.  But this is my list, not a list that necessarily reflects the perspective of the average music consumer.

You been warned.

NOTE – The list is long, so its broken into two parts.  This post has the first 13 albums.

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