Ok. Numbers 24-19 after the jump.
This was an exceptionally strong year for Black music so I chose to expand both lists to 30 just so I could have the opportunity to extol the virtues of a lot of worthy music. This was such a strong year that most of the albums at the top of this list are either flawless or within a song or two of being flawless (though it needs to be stated that emcees would probably make stronger albums if they limited themselves to 10 or 11 tracks).
Compiling this list took considerably longer than it has in years past because the order started becoming a hassle. I'm not entirely pleased with the order of much of this, excluding the top 10 or so…maybe. But I do think it is important to give you some sense of the relative quality of all of these albums, so I stuck with the ordering format. Imperfect though it may be.
As always, my list is a total reflection of my tastes, nothing more. So if you think Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Alicia Keys, Lil Wayne are somewhere on this list, you will be disappointed. I am not in the habit of conflating cultural impact with artistic merit…you know, unless an artist of superb quality happens to break into the mainstream. Which is exceedingly rare in this historical moment for the industry with respect to Black music.
Also – I do not make distinctions between official releases and mixtapes, or between singles, album tracks, or leaked songs. I just don't much care about that unless I can make a point about the kinds of songs that end up being left off of official albums that shouldn't have been (for instance, listening to mixtapes by Chrisette Michele and Raheem DeVaughn prove that they would be better served if the label just let them do whatever they want).
I usually do this as one big post, but I have decided to break this up into increments of 6. I will be publishing each installment – one post of singles and one post of albums – every weekday this week.
Check out my contribution to a conversation with The Atlantic's Alyssa Rosenberg and Politico's Sara Libby about the state of the female emcee – specifically commenting on the beef between Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj – on The Atlantic's website.
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.