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)
Most people who read me or know me know that I was pretty underwhelmed by most black music released this year. I do think this was a stronger year for individual songs than it was for albums, but even so I could literally only come up with 10 songs that I really love, that I played a lot, that I repped for hard this year.
Before we get to those though, here are a few runners-up. These are songs I like, that are good in their own way, but didn't quite bowl me over the way the top 10 did for one reason or another.
Anwar Robinson, “Come Over”
EPMD, “Don’t Get Clapped”
Frank Ocean, “Back”
JLS, “Shy of the Cool”
Johnny Gill, “In the Mood”
LastO ft. Stern Savage ,“The City”
Van Hunt ,“What Were You Hoping For”
Teedra Moses, “To Hell Wit It’
Mobb Deep ft. Nas, "Dog Shit"
Jazmine Sullivan, “Fly & Sexy”
Lalah Hathaway, “Small of My Back”
Common ft. Nas, "Ghetto Dreams"
After the jump, get into the 10 songs that I adored this year.
Drove Me To Tears is the standout track on LSG’s first album because it is the one song where all three men sing the entire song alone. Too much of that album relied on gimmicks, rappers, guest stars (most notably on All The Times), and, worst of all, didn’t use Johnny Gill nearly as much as they should could have.
But here the only voices you hear are Johnny, Gerald and Keith (even on background). And – none of the men try to outsing one another.
In fact, the interplay between the three men represents the only time they actually sound like a vocal group, not three lead singers sharing a song. They also show a keen ear for what each voice sounds best singing. Keith begs in that measured nasal whine, Gerald seduces with the full-throated passion few men can achieve, and Johnny uses his perfect phrasing and tone to convey vulnerability like nobody’s business.
The song very easily could have been a power ballad. But each vocalist sings with such amazing restraint that the song is a slow burn instead of an explosion. Even Johnny’s wail at the end feels relaxed. As such, the song actually conveys some sense of helplessness, of being “driven to tears.”
Listening to this, one wishes that LSG had made better use of their odd pairing and made songs this good all the time.