I’m rather opinionated about music. Folks know this.
And while all that frustration criticism comes through loud and clear when I write or tweet, I’m definitely not as good at communicating that I understand and respect how profoundly difficult making music really is.
“Producers these days are lazy. Making tracks. Sending emails. I’m just saying. When you make music under the same roof, with the actual artist that you’re working with, everybody is praying together, eating together, laughing together. It’s a different kind of nuance that’s created around music.” (emphasis mine)
I do think there’s something profoundly special about the music that can come from songwriters, producers and artists spending time together crafting music that the artist feels a close connection to because that artist has had some input into making it, but with that understanding comes a deeper understanding that I think critics of black music don’t articulate nearly enough: what Tyrese longs for is the exception in the music industry, not the rule, particularly with black popular music.
In other words, a lot of people aren’t afforded the luxury of getting into a room with the best songwriters and producers and creating something that they can feel has the personal touch because that’s not the kind of artist they are intended to be, whether they know it and acknowledge it or not. We should be honest about this fact.
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.
Yet one more reason why Tyrese should give up books, movies, and Twitter.
I actually admire Tyrese a lot for making this the lead single from his upcoming album. This is not the kind of song that fits anywhere on the radio right now.
I love the retro Al Green feel to this. It even sounds like it was recorded with the background vocalists in the same room with Tyrese. There's a chemistry to the interplay between the lead and the backgrounds that I don't think you can really manufacture in the usual way. The imperfect mix of the backgrounds I think actually makes it sound even more retro than it might have otherwise.