Flashback: Black Men United, ‘U Will Know’

 

There are so many small pleasures in this song that grab me. The first time the hook comes in and you hear these amazing voices in harmony. The depth and power of Gerald Levert and Christopher Williams ("it _taint_easayyyy"). The stunning clear tones of Joe and Brian McKnight. The absolutely devastingly beautiful performance of R. Kelly, who takes that moment – "woo hoo" – to let the message sink in.

But it's Raphael Saadiq and McKnight who choke me up every single time:

And then I got stronger
And tired of the pain
That’s when I picked up the pieces
And I regained my name

I love the vulnerability of the couplet- "That's when I picked up the pieces/And I regained my name." It's the heart of the song for me. It's the moment that the song reveals itself to be more than an anthem. It's empathy for black male brokenness makes the whole thing work so that when you hear "you must act like a man" it doesn't feel like judgment. It's recognition. And I regained my name.

The song is hopeful of course, but that undercurrent of profound sadness actually makes its anthemic qualities resonate more deeply. It's literally the struggle to be a whole, healthy black man in song.

R. Kelly’s Joyous Sound

I hadn’t been able to articulate why R. Kelly’s two-album retro excursion, which has culminated in the just-released (and very lovely) Write Me Back, is superior in every. single. way. to Raphael Saadiq’s similar two-album experiment.

Until I saw the video for R.’s latest single, “Feelin Single.”

 

 

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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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On Kelly Rowland

Sorry Kelly, but this:

Also, this album is NOT limited, I am not allowing ANYONE to put me in a box, with sound. That’s not where I belong. The album IS consistent sonically and I am writing, creating, having fun, and healing………it’s been a BLAST!!!

doesn’t make me want to hear your album. Not if that “consistent sonic” palette is just your way of saying you’re going forward with Europop even though no one likes that idea and it doesn’t serve you well at all.

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Contemptuous

From the great Alyssa:

"But I do wonder about what happens to our popular culture in a world where everyone contracts artistic schizophrenia. There's a virtue to concentrating on what you're best at, refining your skills and deepening your vision. If everyone has to go out and prove they can do anything, what works of art aren't going to get made?"

I thought about this quote when my ipod got around to playing Jamie Foxx' new album and I sat through Foxx's best Drake emo singer impression on "Fall For Your Type:"

And my thought is: What happens to our art when a multitalented artist treats one of his gifts with contempt?

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