Ranking the very best albums of any year is incredibly difficult; there are always misses. 2013 was filled with some triumphant musical moments, though not all of their parent albums were necessarily ‘worthy’ of being considered the best of the year. Because of various factors, this list has its surprises and like any album reviewed, its triumphs and flaws. One thing’s for sure – the top ten to fifteen albums are pretty close to the cream of the crop from my perspective. Here are the 50 (+1) best albums of 2013!
Modern Vampires of the City
Recommended Spins: “Obvious Bicycle”; “Unbelievers”; “Diane Young”; “Finger Back”; “Worship You”; “Ya Hey”
Seals The Deal: “Obvious Bicycle”
Give credit to Mr. West where credit is due – previously Yeezus probably wouldn’t have landed in the top five, let alone the top two. But as with certain wines and cheeses (Swiss namely), there is an aging process to provide a delicious and satisfying taste. The same could be said of West über-ambitious Yeezus – or something similar that is!
Recommended Spins: “Black Skinhead”; “I Am A God”; “New Slaves”; “Blood on the Leaves”; “Bound 2″ featuring Charlie Wilson
Seals The Deal: “Blood on the Leaves”
The Electric Lady
Don’t put the fork in R&B music just yet – Janelle Monae delivers the year’s most intriguing R&B album that brilliantly encompasses numerous styles and keeps things both classic and progressive. One of a kind, all should bow down to JM.
Recommended Spins: “Give Them What They Love” featuring Prince; “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu; “Primetime” featuring Miguel; “Dance Apocalyptic”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Seals The Deal: “Prime Time” featuring Miguel
Random Access Memories
The best, and arguably most exciting electronic album of 2013, is shockingly less futuristic compared to its colleagues, drawing back to old-school pop, disco, and soul. Throwback it is, Random Access Memories is one of the year’s finest albums regardless of genre, and stands a solid shot of winning the Grammy for album of the year.
Recommended Spins: “Give Life Back to Music”; “Giorgio By Moroder”; “Lose Yourself to Dance” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Touch” featuring Paul Williams; “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Fragments of Time”
Seals The Deal: “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams
Love in the Future
John Legend redeems himself big time on his fourth studio album Love in the Future following a somewhat disappointing effort in 2008′s Evolver. While there are some more contemporary ideas here, Love in the Future is more about Legend flexing his soulful muscles, a niche he perfectly fits.
Recommended Spins: “In The Beginning”; “Who Do We Think You Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “Made To Love”; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Seals The Deal: “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
Blues albums rarely rack up huge accolades on a ‘big stage’, but Get Up! is that incredibly worthy exception. Soulful and consistent through and through, Get Up! Easily ranks highly among the year’s gems.
Recommended Spins: “We Can’t End This Way”; “I Ride At Dawn”; “Get Up”
Seals The Deal: “We Can’t End This Way”
More than just the agnostics, atheists, and secularists will be pleasantly surprised with Black Sabbath’s most important album in years. Why is album 13 so important? It reunites the whole Black Sabbath crew (save for the drummer) for the first time 35 years! Dark and foreboding, yet ‘sinfully’ appealing, 13 is quite the epic heavy-/black-metal album.
Recommended Spins: “End of The Beginning”; “God Is Dead?”; “Zeitgeist”; “Live Forever”; “Dear Father”
Seals The Deal: “God Is Dead?”
Nothing Was The Same
Drake didn’t necessarily ‘step his game up’ on Nothing Was The Same – he just continued to flex his emo-/ alt-rap muscles like the pro that he is. NTWS is filled with gems, all completely different from one another. One thing’s for sure, he may have “Started On The Bottom”, but Drake is on top of the game by all means.
Recommended Spins: “Tuscan Leather”; “Started From The Bottom”; “Wu-Tang Forever”; “From Time”; “Hold On, We’re Going Home”; “305 To My City” featuring Detail
Seals The Deal: “Wu-Tang Forever”
Beyoncé shocked the world with her surprise fifth studio album, Beyoncé. Even so, that’s not the reason ‘Yoncé makes this list. Ultimately, the R&B chanteuse delivers a sharp, risqué fifth effort that separates itself from the rest of her discography and many of the other releases from 2013. Both shocking and alluring, Bey does her thang.
Recommended Spins: “Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Seals The Deal: “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z
Few might’ve expected for Arcade Fire to follow-up their album of the year winning effort The Suburbs with an album like Reflektor (I didn’t). However, as all-over-the-place as Reflektor is, there are plenty of moments for alt-rock fans to cheer about. Danceable, conceptual, and ultimately incredibly unique, Reflektor cracks the top ten best of the year, easily.
Recommended Spins: “Reflektor”; “We Exist”; “Here Comes the Night Time”; “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”; “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”; “Porno”
Seals The Deal: “Reflektor”
It truly saddens me to see R&B, a personal favorite style of music, in a state of uncertainty. 2013 found the numbers of R&B down considerably, a trend that is consistent year in and year out. Save for a select few commercial bright spots (led by an unexpected Beyoncé album), R&B only dented the charts. Even so, finding 25 albums with some significance wasn’t difficult to do. Sure, some of the lowest ranked albums have their flaws, but each has some reason for being selected. Enjoy!
The Electric Lady
In a world where R&B and soul music have cooled off considerably, one incredibly talented Janelle Monáe is still ‘on’ so to speak. Monáe balances the retro with the contemporary and alternative like a champ on her brilliant The Electric Lady, my pick for the best R&B album of 2013. Simply put, this album kicks some serious… watch yo mouth! Consistent, fresh, retro, and captivating, Monáe paves her own way and has it going on in a big way. All hail “Q.U.E.E.N.” Janelle!
“Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Love in the Future
G.O.O.D. / Columbia
John Legend may take some risks on Love in the Future, but ultimately, his formula is the same as it always has been. Love in The Future not only has the goods to challenge for the best R&B album of the year, but it also challenges Legend’s own discography as his best album yet. With five years between solo albums, Legend sounds riper than ever on this top-notch work. Rock on John!
“In The Beginning”; “Made to Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Beyoncé shocked the world by keeping her fifth studio album Beyoncé a secret. Her rollout wasn’t the only shock; the album itself is alluring because of its cutting edged approach. No longer does Beyoncé show herself as a suggestive R&B diva – she’s now an unapologetic, fierce one unafraid to state her emotions or intentions. At her most naughty, ‘Yoncé is at her best.
“Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Victim of Love
65-year old soul singer Charles Bradley represents for the retro-soul veterans atop these rankings. Bradley isn’t nearly as ‘decorated’ as his colleagues of similar age because his ‘chance’ didn’t arrive until late in his life. Regardless, Bradley does it like a pro, delivering a compelling, soulful tour de force on Victim of Love. The young bucks can learn plenty from Bradley, who is on autopilot throughout the course of Victim of Love – no misses to speak of.
“Strictly Reserved For You”; “Victim of Love”; “Confusion”
No Beginning, No End
Distinctly voiced jazz/soul singer José James joins a list of incredibly underrated, super talented artists. His Blue Note January release No Beginning, No End was nothing short of a critical smash, consistent through and through. Sure James is refined like any jazz musician, but he also allows for his sensual, soulful side to shine on tracks like “It’s All Over My Body.” His best moment, however, comes by way of instant jam “Trouble”.
“It’s All Over My Body”; “Trouble”; “Vanguard”
Side Effects of You
Over the course of four albums, former American Idol winner continues to captivate vocally. Sure, sometimes the material doesn’t always match up with her prodigious pipes, but more often than not, Fantasia makes up for it with her heart-wrenching, soulful vocals. Side Effects of You overall is well put together featuring some enjoyable songs showcasing ‘Tasia at her best.
“Supernatural” featuring Big K.R.I.T.; “Ain’t All Bad”; “Without Me” featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott; “Change Your Mind”; “Lose To Win”; “End of Me”
A Love Surreal
Bilal has been captivating alt-soul fans’ hearts years before Frank Ocean, Miguel, or The Weeknd came along. He continues to shine on his fine A Love Surreal, where his vocals remain powerful and soulful. Eclectic and consistent, A Love Surreal is easily one of the year’s top R&B efforts.
“Westside Girl”; “Back To Love”; “Winning Hand”; “Slipping Away”; “Butterfly”
Underrated and under-appreciated, Alice Smith is an exceptional artist by all means. On She, Smith delivers magnificent vocals coupled with magnificent songwriting and production. Among her most triumphant moments is a fierce cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool For You”, which she makes her own. A tight album with only 11 tracks and 36 minutes in duration, She is that exceptional album you definitely shouldn’t be sleeping on.
“Cabaret”; “Another Love”; “Loyalty”; “Fool For You”; “Be Easy”
Sail Out (EP)
Don’t let Jhene Aiko’s chill delivery discourage you – the girl can pack a knockout punch without sweating once! Sail Out provides an excellent picture of what the singer’s full length will sound like, embracing elements of pop and alternative R&B.
“The Vapors”; “Bed Peace”; “Stay Ready (What A Life)”; “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)”
Chrisette Michele just might be R&B’s most underrated female. While commercial success has only been so-so for Michele, she’s been rock-solid where consistency is concerned. Better is a sensational and eclectic R&B effort that shows Michele’s range as an artist. Nothing is better here than promo single “A Couple of Forevers”, which was easily among the year’s best.
“A Couple of Forevers”; “Let Me Win”; “Love Won’t Leave Me Out”; “Visual Love”; “Charades”
Jaheim has cleaned up his act since his excellent ‘Ghetto’ days, but don’t get it twisted, he’s still an edgy R&B singer. Jaheim appreciates the female throughout, perhaps most specifically on “***** Appreciation”… gasp. But he’s most impressive on his socially conscious turn on “Florida”, written about the Treyvon Martin controversy down south.
“Age Ain’t A Factor”; “He Don’t Exist”; “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”
A Place Called Loveland
Raheem DeVaughn is one of the most underrated R&B artists, but he’s also one of the best and most consistent. A Place Called Loveland may lack the flash to appeal to a new audience, but it is exceptionally put together.
“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”
Is she pop or R&B – that is the question? Not from my perspective, as Ariana Grande cements herself as Mariah Carey’s successor on her fine debut Yours Truly, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Quality from start to finish, Grande has a promising career ahead of her.
“Honeymoon Avenue”; “Baby I”; “Right There”; “You’ll Never Know”; “The Way” featuring Mac Miller; “Almost is Never Enough” featuring Nathan Sykes
One True Vine
You could argue this album is ‘Americana’ as the Grammys suggest, but the Mavis Staples I know and love has gospel and soul roots. Album One True Vine may be a genre bender, but Staples sounds incredibly compelling as a 74-year old. “Age ain’t nothing but a number” Mavis.
“Holy Ghost”; “Every Step”; “Can You Get To That”; “I Like The Things About Me”
I’m not sure if its cool for guys to listen to K. Michele, but ole girl definitely keeps it real. Early cuts like “Kiss My A$$” and “I Just Wanna” don’t even grace the set… If you are a woman scorned, K. Michele is who you should listen to for reassurance or a ‘pick me up’. Brash but honest, K. Michele soulfully executes on her debut, Rebellious Soul.
“Damn”; “Can’t Raise a Man”; “V.S.O.P.”; “Ride Out”; “When I Get A Man”
For Robin Thicke, it was a career transformative year. “Blurred Lines” was the gift single that kept giving (and perhaps taking), making the former neo-soul singer relevant within pop circles. “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the only shining moment, as Thicke kept his silky, smooth pipes going strong on thoughtful ballad, “For The Rest Of My Life”.
“Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”; “Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”
Super groups are hard to come by these days. TGT, comprised of Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Tank, three of R&B’s finest, come together to deliver one of the finest panty-dropping fests of the year. Just imagine of Trey Songz had somehow made his way in and Three Kings would’ve totally been too hot to handle.
“Sex Never Felt Better”; “I Need”; “Next Time Around”; “Explode”; “Running Back”; “Burn Out”
Where Does This Door Go?
Mayer Hawthorne’s album sadly drifted from the ranks of playlist glory on my iPod, but I couldn’t tell you why. Where Does This Door Go certainly had its skeptics, but I wasn’t one of them. Vocally, one of the hippest bespectacled white dudes can blow and does here.
“Back Seat Lover”; “The Innocent”; “The Only One”; “Her Favorite Song”; “Reach Out Richard”
Even though Ciara received high marks on my end of things, I may have still underrated it. Ciara doesn’t sport a powerful voice like some of her contemporaries, but it sits well contextually within her music. Ciara is both sexy and enjoyable.
“Sophomore”; “Body Party”; “Keep On Lookin’”; “Super Turnt Up”
Talk A Good Game
Kelly Rowland has been consistently patterning herself as a more risqué alternative to her ‘sister’ Beyoncé (well until Beyoncé itself shocked the world). Talk A Good Game comes full circle, intact with parental advisory label to match. It doesn’t supersede the exceptional Here I Am, but it definitely has some shining moments.
“Kisses Down Low”; “Down on Love”; “Dirty Laundry”; “Red Wine”
Doubleback: Evolution of R&B
“Something For You”; “Easy”; “I’d Rather Have A Love”; “Love & Sex” featuring Fantasia; “More”
Love and War
Tamar Braxton makes this list because of the significance of her accomplishments with Love and War. The album has some shining moments, but doesn’t lack flaws. Even so, Braxton has an exceptional voice and when she’s fully invested with superb material to perform, it’s pure fire.
“The One”; “Stay and Fight”; “Love and War”; “One On One Fun”; “Where It Hurts”; “Prettiest Girl”
“Luv Letter”; “Sweet Tooth”; “Love Starved”; “Definition of Down”; “Beautiful”; “The Long Play”
My True Story isn’t a flashy album, but it is a fine retro-soul effort that covers classics from the early era of R&B, the 1950s and 60s. Neville may be long past his prime, but vocally the 72-year old still got it. Bow down!
“My True Story”; “Ting A Ling”; “Under The Boardwalk”
Maybe it’s a stretch to include Black Panties on this list, but part of the reason for its inclusion is because Kelly returns to his true self – edgy, sensual, and just plumb freaky. Sure he overdoes it and seems to think sex supplants sexiness, but there’s some pieces there. Oreos are still tasty…
“Legs Shakin’” featuring Ludacris; “Cookie”; “Genius”; “All The Way” featuring Kelly Rowland
- The best albums of 2013: No 9 – The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe (theguardian.com)
- Ten Random Songs I’m ‘Thankful For’ From 2013 (brentmusicreviews.com)
So the Grammy nominations just came out, and guess who is already putting his two cents in about who’s gonna win? This guy is! Yep it is technically ‘way too early’, but who cares? How about some December predictions for what’s gonna go down in January?
The Big Four
Record of the Year
“Radioactive”, Imagine Dragons
“Locked Out of Heaven”, Bruno Mars
“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell
This is one of the most competitive categories, period. All five of these are worthy records, which isn’t always true. If one feels like it’s out of place, it is Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven”, mostly because it is the ‘oldest’ of the bunch.
Both “Blurred Lines” and “Royals” are deserving of love based on their impact, but just because you ruled the Hot 100 certainly doesn’t equate to a Grammy. If one of these two wins, I’d give the edge to Lorde, who doesn’t have various controversies on her back. Still, rock would get a huge recognition if Imagine Dragons’ mammoth hit “Radioactive” was awarded here. Still, doesn’t Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” seem unavoidable here, particularly if the duo is victorious in the Album of the Year category?
Way Too Early Pick:
Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”
Album of the Year
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red, Taylor Swift
I’m not even going to curb my biases – I’m rooting for Kendrick Lamar’s rap opus Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. But I won’t even begin to act like it has a shot after hip-hop has been avoided like a plague in this coveted category; its only been a decade since OutKast’s undeniable masterpiece Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was awarded AOTY. But Kendrick also has killer competition within his own genre with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ breakthrough The Heist, which is certainly considered more ‘friendly’ hip-hop. I think both cancel each other out, which leaves Sara Bareilles, Taylor Swift, and Daft Punk. As good as Red is, Taylor Swift has already won for her career-breakthrough, Fearless. Sara Bareilles’ inclusion over bigger pop albums is shocking, but never count out the surprise nominee… sometimes that’s the album that wins. Personally, I think Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is the frontrunner.
Way Too Early Pick:
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Song of the Year
“Locked Out of Heaven” (Bruno Mars)
“Roar” (Katy Perry)
“Same Love” (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert)
Another big-time category, my goodness! All of the nominees here should be jumping for joy that “Get Lucky” wasn’t nominated in this category. Again, I’m going to eliminate “Locked Out Of Heaven”, no matter how good it is; I don’t think it’s Bruno’s year. While I love Pink and approved of “Just Give Me The Reason” (with Nate Ruess of fun.), I’m not sure the no. 1 hit is the best song of the year. If the voters want to go bold (and political), they vote for the fine “Same Love”, courtesy of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert. If they don’t, they’re left with the inspirational breakthrough “Roar” and the ubiquitous “Royals”. If Katy Perry was ever to win a Grammy, “Royals” would be the perfect song. However, that “Royals” is one unique song contrasting its fellow nominees.
Way Too Early Pick
Best New Artist
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Another category where I’m biased to one artist – Kendrick Lamar! Again though, Lamar is up against heavyweights Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Kacey Musgraves unapologetic brand of country is notable from what I heard, but I’m not sure she outpaces the huge hip-hop nominees. Ed Sheeran feels either a year late or a year early, depending on your perspective, but could certainly play spoils. James Blake’s nod is a ‘trap’ for the hip-hop favorites, amplified by his Mercury Prize victory for superb sophomore album Overgrown. I’m truly torn here, so I’ll go with who I think is most deserving, even if it doesn’t come to pass.
Way Too Early Pick
Welcome to the final part of my Favorites, Least Favorites, and Honorable Mentions of 2013. Here is where I housed my honorable mentions, which were many. If you missed the previous two posts, here’s how I opened them up respectively, beginning with Favorites and ending with Least Favorites:
“As I look over my 2013 playlist from my iPod, I realize I have listened to numerous albums this year. In fact, the amount of music that my ears have consumed and my pen has analyzed is pretty scary…and I still missed lots of albums! SMH! Some were special, some made me cringe, and some fell somewhere in between the two extremes. As difficult as it was, as of October 7, 2013, I have compiled a list housing my favorites, least favorites, and honorable mentions. I’m almost certain I’ve slighted someone and I’m sure there will be continual revisions, but for now, here’s what you should’ve spun, what you should’ve avoided like the plague, and those that were strongly consideration for favorites. Enjoy!”
“Welcome all who dare to part deux of my Favorites, Least Favorites, and Honorable Mentions of 2013 for all who dare to enter the brentmusicreviews zone! Ha… If you missed the first part (Favorites, Least Favorites, and Honorable Mentions of 2013, Part 1), you should like totally check out my favorites from 2013, ‘cause there was some awesome albums. If you’re not one for positivity and optimism, maybe you’re just checking this out because some you enjoy skepticism, criticism, and the occasional, um, cynicism.
Onward to the honorable mentions!!!
Travis Garland, Travis Garland
Ariana Grande, Yours Truly
Lorde, Pure Heroine
Conor Maynard, Contrast
There was one dominant pop album in 2013 and it was not by Justin Bieber (yep cheap shot). Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience was sort of ‘the promised land’ of pop. But Justin wasn’t the only album that impressed. John Mayer has been more subtle lately, but Paradise Valley was well conceived. Travis Garland isn’t well established yet, but he should be following EPs and his compilation effort Travis Garland. Ariana Grande sounded angelic, particular with boyfriend Nathan Sykes (The Wanted) on “Almost Is Never Enough”. Lorde’s sorta pop, sorta alternative mix made it a fine listen while Britain’s Justin Bieber Conor Maynard out-swag’d the “swaggy” singer easily with debut Contrast.
Harry Connick, Jr. Smokey Mary
Harry Connick, Jr. Every Man Should Know
Michael Bublé delivered my favorite traditional pop album of 2013, but who can deny the musicianship of either Harry Connick, Jr. Or George Benson? Smokey Mary introduced the funky “S’pposed To Be” to my constant rotation playlist while Every Man Should Know added its country-tinged self-titled ballad. As for George Benson? What more is there to say to hear a legend paying tribute to one of his own legends on tracks like “Route 66” or “Unforgettable”?
Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull
Alice in Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
John Fogerty, Wrote A Song For Everyone
Rock certainly didn’t dominate 2013, but there were definitely some exceptional albums. While Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork and David Bowie’s The Next Day took top honors in my eyes, Kings of Leon, Alice in Chains, and John Fogerty definitely ‘did work’ too. Kings of Leon impressed on “Supersoaker” and were humanized on the seemingly autobiographical “Wait For Me”. Alice in Chains reminded us just how good 90s rock/metal was, particularly on title track “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”. As for the legend of this trio, John Fogerty’s collaborations effort Wrote A Song For Everyone was so much better than expected, like really!
Depeche Mode, Delta Machine
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
The National, Trouble Will Find Me
Let’s just keep this short and sweet. Stacked, stacked, stacked!!! This category of music is always loaded, period. An annual number one seed you might say. Vampire Weekend were definitely the act to beat, but Phoenix, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and The National all rocked too, as evidenced by their spot on my list. “Entertainment” from Phoenix just made me feel happy because of its bright brilliance. For electro-alt vets Depeche Mode, it’s the general darkness of the music that has a hypnotizing effect; they never sound old. Nick Cave’s exceptional songwriting is undeniable, particularly on standouts like the opening “We No Who ‘U ‘R” and the infectious groove of “Finishing Jubilee Street”, which is a follow-up to “Jubilee Street”. The National pleased with “Don’t Swallow The Cap” and “Humiliation” among others.
Bilal, A Love Surreal
Chrisette Michele, Better
Alice Smith, She
Yeah, I know I’ve whined about R&B, but most of the time it wasn’t the quality of the albums but rather the dismal sales. None of the above mentioned albums exactly made a huge chart impact (Fantasia did well contextually speaking), but all four were and are definitely worthy of some spins. “Without Me” was definitely my jam from Side Effects Of You, even if it is more of a women empowerment cut… don’t judge me, it’s sick! “Winning Hand” tickled my fancy from Bilal’s A Love Surreal, while one of Alice Smith’s best moments was actually a cover of Cee Lo’s “Fool For You”. As for CM, “A Couple of Forevers” is among my top cuts of the year regardless of genre. All four albums receive my humble approval.
Teena Marie, Beautiful
Aaron Neville, My True Story
R&B isn’t getting much attention in general, so of course the veterans get the worst of it. Teena Marie’s posthumously released final studio album is one she would’ve been incredibly proud of. As for Aaron Neville, there is literally no one who come close to the versatile soul singer’s vocal timbre. He exceptionally covers old, old school classics on My True Story.
Mac Miller, Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Tyler, The Creator, Wolf
Earl Sweatshirt, Doris
A$AP Rocky, Long. Live. A$AP
A$AP Ferg, Trap Lord
This is one lengthy list right? There are also probably omissions and arguable omissions. To answer the skeptics, yes I purpose excluded Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail off this list – it was not my favorite, least favorite, nor really an honorable mention in my eyes. Kanye West definitely had an argument for a ‘favorite’, but I also had my own reservations with the album itself. Mac Miller showed more maturity on Watching Movies With The Sound Off, but not without his fair share of references to his… Anyways, Odd Future releases are always captivating (Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt), while A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg both impressed with their respective efforts and signature styles. I know I’ve left off others… it was a good year for hip-hop.
I’ll admit, I knew very little about Congo Natty, also known as Rebel MC. After being given the opportunity to review Revolution, however, I was extremely impressed with the album and Congo Natty himself.
Avishai Cohen, Duende
Gerald Clayton, Life Forum
Redtenbacher’s Funkestra, The Cooker
I absolutely adore jazz, period. However, it is easy to ‘sleep’ on a genre which played a huge role in my musical education. Yes, it sounds like I turned my back which seems hypocritical given my jazz piano background. Actually much of the reason is that popular music tend to ‘shock’ and pull in so many major headlines. It’s not fair obviously, as some of today’s greatest talents lie within the jazz realm and definitely don’t receive the attention they deserve. Jazz may often take a backseat on this particular site, but it doesn’t in my heart in the least. I do review it in addition to the ‘pop’ and Avishai Cohen, Gerald Clayton, and Redtenbacher’s Funkestra definitely had killer albums. #MadRespect
- Album Playlist: Favorites, Least Favorites, and Honorable Mentions of 2013, Part 1… (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Album Playlist: Favorites, Least Favorites, and Honorable Mentions of 2013, Part 2… (brentmusicreviews.com)
2 Chainz Does Dumb Surprisingly Well on B.O.A.T.S. II
2 Chainz⎪ B.O.A.T.S. II: #Me Time⎪Def Jam⎪⎪US Release Date: September 10
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go… 2 Chainz is crazy! Like totally cray cray. Honestly, B.O.A.T.S. II: #Me Time should be a disaster (add a profanity of choice in front of ‘disaster’). Somehow though, through all of Tauheed Epps’ stupidity, he puts together a dumb, but fun rap album. Yeah, maybe there isn’t one single cut that supplants the brilliantly, naughty “Birthday Song” which I still jam out to on my iPod, but there is plenty of songs that lack substance that give the listener, um, a guilty pleasure. 2 CHAINZ!
The fun starts with “Fork”, in which 2 Chainz “…had a dream that rap wouldn’t work / woke up on the block, had to hit it with the fork / skrrr, skrrr, skrrr, skrrr, skrrr: hit it with the fork… rap don’t work, records ain’t bein’ sold…so much money on me, it won’t even fold….” Yeah something like that. What is he talking about? Good question! Well, sounds like drugs, rap albums not selling, and having more money than he’ll ever need. If that’s not enough, he elaborates on his excesses, maybe best epitomized by a lyric like “I drink red b**ches, I don’t drink Red Bulls…” Alrighty then, heck of a way to start 2 Chainz by hitting it with the fork.
On “36”, the king of dumb educates us listeners on the hook: “36 / that’s how many ounces in a brick / 36, 36, 36, 36…” So if you had no idea about the wait of drug paraphernalia, 2 Chainz has schooled you over the course of one minute and a half. Feel lifted? Then after all the drugs, the “Feds Watching”, featuring and produced by Pharrell Williams. 2 Chainz begins his first verse with bragging about material things (“Dreads hang on designer everything…”), then goes on to the strip club (“This that category 5 when I walk up in the strip club…”), and throws in some drugs for good measure (“Backing soda marketing , I’m getting it ain’t I? Obviously…”). He caps all of his higher level thinking with a simple, summative hook: “I’mma be fresh as hell if the Feds watching….” So basically, even if 2 Chainz gets caught, he’s going to be ‘fresh to death’ I’m assuming? I don’t know about all that, but the track is killer.
“Where U Been” keeps things consistently ‘materialistic’, featuring the assist from Cap.1. Simply, 2 Chainz has been balling “getting money, where the f**k you been?”. Oh and to add a little more oomph to his brashness, he throws in the ‘tasteful’ punch “bought a new crib just to f**k you in.” Seems extreme to me, but he is 2 Chainz. Oh an as for Cap.1’s contributions, perhaps the lyric “My b**ch she’s so pretty that’s my Pocahontas…” takes the cake. Next, my boy brings in Drake and Lil Wayne for the superstar collaboration “I Do It”. Simplicity remains key, particularly given 2 Chainz’s opening ‘salvo’: “Hang up on a b**ch, call it crucified”. Still, he has his moments. Drake may have the best line, when he alludes to Lil Wayne near the end of the second verse: “Man I just hear this sh*t and think about what Tunechi will tell you / he might call up Patricia, she ‘bout to call up Melissa…” Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes Lil Wayne talks about sex on his verse… shocker. The Outro is a nice contrast though.
“Used 2” keeps the absurdity alive and well, evidenced by the ridiculous hook which seems to reference recording the naughty and uploading it to youtube as looking for a baby mama… SMH. Repetition is 2 Chainz’s best friend here, or his worst enemy with the clumsy lines he chooses to repeat. He ‘redeems’ himself on the it’s-so-ridiculously-stupid-it’s-good “Netflix” which pairs him with Fergie… what a combo, phew! Where do you even start? 2 Chainz references weed, sex tapes, the paparazzi, high end fashion, and uninspired rappers all in the matter of his first verse. On her verse, Fergie lifts from “Birthday Song” (“When I die, bury me inside the liquor store…”), as well as dropping the obligatory weed reference, blowing wads of money, and “b**ches copying” her. And then there’s that hook… “I know you had the time of your life…you know I’m gettin’ money, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, Ill be countin’ this sh*t all night…” Geez Louise!
“Extra” is one that annoys me. Yeah, yeah, I know 2 Chainz is no Nas, but 2 Chainz’s pop-rap here is a bit questionable, even for him. The most shameful line from Chainz? “I just had a threesome for three weeks in a row / Last name Chainz, first name Two…” WTF? Rich Homie Quan guests on the third verse. On “U Da Realest”, Chainz states “I’m like a quarterback, hand it off / drop the work in the pot, watch it cannonball / I done seen ‘em ball, I done seen ‘em fall / rest in peace to my n***a, you da realest, dawg…” Somewhere in there there seems to be some substance… well besides what’s in that pot he references. But of course, he ruins a good moment too, like “Rest in my piece to all my n***as, they died while they was servin’ / rest in peace to all the soldiers that died in the service / I died in her…” I. Have. No. Words…that I’m going to publish here…
Then comes “Beautiful Pain”, which features Lloyd and Mase. 2 Chainz doesn’t take himself seriously, but Lloyd refines things on a fine hook (“Oh I feel so fly / came so far, but I still wanna fly…see what this beautiful pain, provide / baby look into my eyes…”) And of course, Mase keeps things classy. Overall, “Beautiful Pain” stands out. T-Pain joins the boatload of collaborators on “So We Can Live”, drenched in autotune as always. 2 Chainz has plenty of ‘interesting’ moments, whether it’s his illegal activities (“Mama don’t work, heater don’t work / Police pulled me over and said he seen weed on my shirt / I pray to the lord and ask for forgiveness / If he popped my trunk I can get a life sentence…”), playing copycat (“Simon says, monkey see money do / I wore the shirt, you wore the same shirt too…”) or being the sh*t (“appetite for destruction, and I don’t need a menu / so far ahead of y’all n***as, I can see you in my rearview…”) . There it is, I suppose.
He’s hella clumsy on “Mainstream Ratchet”, but isn’t that understandable? Proceed with caution folks! I mean, anything with the word ratchet in it… “And that’s ratchet huh? Her a$$ so big it look like she trying to walk backwards bruh…” “Black Unicorn” contrasts, opening with an lovely spoken word performance by Sunni Patterson. Chrisette Michele handles the hook as classy and nuanced as always. And as for Chainz, he’s not too shabby himself. Ol’ boy gets himself together on “Outroduction”, presenting himself much more thoughtfully and candidly. There are “two sides to a book” after all.
Classic or total bust? Neither, but B.O.A.T.S. II: #Me Time is actually a much better album than I envisioned it to be. It’s hard to call an effort with so many references to sex, drugs, and irresponsibility a masterpiece, but I’ll give it to 2 Chainz, he certainly has some highlights here. If you’re a fan of more intellectual rap though, this is not your cup of tea. But if you don’t mind going ‘stupid’ like a lot, well then, this album is your new jam.
Favorites: “36”; “Feds Watching”; “I Do It”; “Netflix”; “Beautiful Pain”
- 2 Chainz, Career Revisionist (brentmusicreviews.com)
- An Artist of Narrow Contrast: A Review of 2 Chainz, Me Time (popjones.wordpress.com)
- Writing On The Wall: 2 Chainz Upset With Def Jam Over “B.O.A.T.S II” (djsdoingwork.com)
- For the Haters: 2 Chainz ‘Where U Been’ Video (atlantablackstar.com)
- 2 Chainz Pleads ‘I Don’t Do Anything Illegal’ After Arrest The rapper says he showed police his guns during the Oklahoma snafu, saying ‘I probably let my guard down.’ (teebreezzy.wordpress.com)
- Review of 2 Chainz’s B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time (examiner.com)
- 2 Chainz: I’m Pissed At Def Jam For Undershipping My Album, Appears In New Fabolous Video (allhiphop.com)
- 2 Chainz Publishes Cookbook With Deluxe Edition Of ‘B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time’ (contactmusic.com)
- (MUSIC) 2 Chainz ~ Netflix ft Fergie (muzicupdate.wordpress.com)
- 2 Chainz – “B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time” – ALBUM REVIEW (jakobsalbumreviews.wordpress.com)
Picture this, the music industry, 2013 (Thanks Golden Girls). A world where one genre of music has been placed on the ‘back burner’ if you will , never to ascend back to its glory days again. A music that once easily scored ample number one albums as well as number one singles, with sound prominence throughout the ‘00s. A genre where some of its top artists had some staggering debut weeks, highlighted by a 1.1 million peak in 2004 (Usher, Confessions). Now that same artist is struggling to become gold certified, with an opening week of 1.1 million reduced to 128,000 copies (Usher, Looking 4 Myself). This picture is not a figment of the imagination, this is the portrait of the real ‘post-R&B’ world. R&B is dead my friends, call the coroner, call the funeral home, and bury it.
Yes, I’m going to get hate for making such a proclamation, so let me clarify what I mean. I don’t believe artistically that R&B is completely nor necessarily dead, even if it has its fair share of identity issues and crises. I do think, however, that commercially R&B has stagnated terribly, particularly in 2013. You know it’s sad when one of the top R&B albums of the year managed to bow with on 91,000 copies – Fantasia’s Side Effects of You. But let’s examine the rest of the numbers for a comparison point. Kelly Rowland moved 68,000 copies of Talk A Good Game, The-Dream moved 23,000 copies of IV Play, Chrisette Michele moved a disappointing 27,000 copies of Better. Yuck! See what I mean by the post-R&B world/R&B is dead thing. It’s really an issue people!
So this post is only partially about this neat name I made for summing up the fact R&B sales suck today. One of my personal favorite R&B artists, Maxwell is finally returning to follow-up his 2009 Grammy winning comeback, BLACKsummer’snight. Originally, Maxwell’s comeback entailed three albums, not just one. But, Maxwell doesn’t exactly move quickly you might say. After a longer than expected four-year hiatus, and the ripe age of 40, Maxwell is returning with the second installment. Now here’s where this whole post-R&B world theory comes into play. Can a classy, 40 year old neo-soul singer like Maxwell survive this evil post-R&B world? Sure, four years isn’t lifetime, but also plenty of changes happen over such a period as well. Sigh.
I’m worried about the falsetto-loving crooner and for good reason. R&B’s most sure bets are lucky to squeeze a total NEARING 500,000 copies. I mean, did you ever think that Alicia Keys would struggle to sell an album? That’s rhetorical! Girl on Fire was only a lukewarm seller… it opened with an underwhelming 159,000 copies. What about Mary J. Blige? The same MJB who started with 727,000 copies of The Breakthrough back in 2005 couldn’t come close to such numbers with 2011’s My Life II (no. 5, 156,000 copies). It ended up settling for a gold certification, which was actually an accomplishment. I could continue to cite examples, but I’ll only further depress Maxwell, his team/label, colleagues, myself, and fans who like their music with some sensuality and urban sounds.
My advice to Maxwell about attempting to survive a dangerous and brutal post-R&B world? Hustle, hustle, hustle! And by hustle, I mean P-R-O-M-O-T-I-O-N, PROMOTION. If you merely release BlackSUMMER’Snight without another “Pretty Wings”, it’s gonna be an uphill battle. I’m excited for it, but I can’t fund a gold or platinum album alone. Just sayin’.
- Should We Believe Him This Time? Maxwell Says New Album “SUMMERS” Will Be Out By Fall! (madamenoire.com)
- Maxwell Brings His Sweet Falsetto to Essence (theepochtimes.com)
- REVIEW: Brandy, LL Cool J, Jill Scott, And Maxwell Shine At Essence Music Fest (huffingtonpost.com)
- Music Headlines: Maxwell Plans To Release Duet EP With Alicia Keys! (everythinggirlslove.com)
- Big Things Popping: Essence Music Festival Set Off by Jill Scott, LL Cool J and Maxwell (atlantablackstar.com)
What better way to live it up in July than to relive some of the musical highlights that characterized June? Most of these 20 tracks are taken from album releases in June, with the exception of one standout single without an album and a few tracks from May 28th albums. Regardless, if you have nothing going for you in July, partake of some of brentmusicreviews’ recommending spins. These are in no particular order btw.
Queens of the Stone Age, “If I Had A Tail”
Album: …Like Clockwork
“If I Had A Tail” is arguably Queen of the Stone Age’s crowning achievement from …Like Clockwork. Characterized by a killer driving groove, an classic rock-worthy anthemic chorus (“If I Had a tail / I’d own the night / If I had a tail / I’d swat the flies”), and exceptional overall songwriting, “If I Had A Tail” is a head-nodding hit worthy of multiple repeated listens.
Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”
Kanye West constructs a juggernaut centered around a brilliant Nina Simone sample (“Strange Fruit”). After the track sets up with West’s emotional pop-rapping (autotune) accompanied by piano, infuriated production, accentuated by biting brass, transforms the cut into an epic ‘tour de force‘ unlike any song from West’s past.
The-Dream featuring Gary Clark, Jr., “Too Early”
Album: IV Play
“Too Early” contrasts everything else that The-Dream has done previously. The unique song has a bluesy, neo-/retro-soul nature about it, mixed with vocal processing and hip-hop swag. Gary Clark, Jr lends his prodigious guitar skills, further sweetening a mediocre album’s crowning achievement.
Sleeping With Sirens, “The Best There Ever Was”
“The Best There Ever Was”, featuring Fronz), opens brashly (“Don’t f**k with us”), proving the ideal soundtrack for any angst-filled teenager or twentysomething. The band seems quite pissed off to say the least: “I’ve got a short fuse / so don’t you go p-p-p-push it man / don’t f**k with me / you better back off while you can…” Scary stuff right there, but one sick track.
Black Sabbath, “God Is Dead?”
“God Is Dead?” is equal parts triumphant and polarizing. Elements of atheism appear prominently throughout the single, perhaps most notably when Osbourne sings “The blood runs free / the rain turns red / give me the wine / you keep the bread / the voices in echo in my head / is God alive or is God dead?”
Kelly Rowland, “Kisses Down Low
Album: Talk A Good Game
“Dirty Laundry” has received plenty of attention, but it’s “Kisses Down Low” that is suggestively, delicious. Rowland ‘tastefully’ alludes to sex as opposed to brashly detailing her desires. “I like my kisses down low / makes me arch my back / when you give it to me slow / Baby just like that that”, she sings catchily on the chorus.
Wale featuring Juicy J & Nicki Minaj, “Clappers”
Album: The Gifted
(MMG / Atlantic)
Wale breaks from the intellectualisms that characterize much of The Gifted on this sick club banger. While lyric “Shawty got a big ole butt” is not Wale at his most profound, the ‘cellulite’ anthem is definitely one to nod your head to. Juicy J and Nicki Minaj provide Wale with some extra ‘stank’.
The Lonely Island, “The Compliments”
Album: The Wack Album
On “The Compliments”, The Lonely Island literally ‘compliment’ each other (“…he ain’t no f**king prince, my man is King charming…”). Too $hort hilariously questions their sexuality: “I’m starting to suspect that these dudes are gay / It’s none of my business, they just born this way / I mean how many times you gon’ mention your homie’s d**k / but still trying to act like this song is for chicks?”
John Fogerty duet w/ Miranda Lambert featuring Tom Morello, “Wrote A Song For Everyone”
Album: Wrote A Song For Everyone
In its duet, country-sensible rebirth, Miranda Lambert serves as a perfect vocal compliment to John Fogerty on “Wrote A Song For Everyone”. Tom Morello incites further excitability on the standout cut from the album of the same name, delivering an exceptional guitar solo to match the vocal chemistry.
J. Cole “Let Nas Down”
Album: Born Sinner
(Roc Nation / Columbia)
Choosing only one cut from Born Sinner was tough because the album is stacked with standouts. “Let Nas Down” is a personal favorite and has received multiple spins on my iPod. Based upon Cole’s idolization of Nas and feeling bad about disappointing his idol, the track turns out to be one of Cole’s most distinct and accomplished. Nas couldn’t possibly be disappointed about this joint – he is featured on a remixed version after all!
Chrisette Michele, “A Couple of Forevers”
“A Couple of Forevers” is Chrisette Michele at her best, exhibiting soulfulness crafted by a thoughtful sample of The O’Jays’ “Stairway to Heaven”. Relaxed, lush production work allows for CM to spoil us with prodigious vocal ‘goodness’. I mean, who wouldn’t want “a couple of forevers” after partaking of a gem like this one?
Goo Goo Dolls, “Rebel Beat”
Even with their most recent effort’s shortcomings (Magnetic is just al’ight), Goo Goo Dolls benefit from a spirited opener/single in “Rebel Beat”. ‘Sunny’ as the beach, the track may not have the star power to reinvigorate the veteran rock band, but it shines radiantly on a middle-of-the-road album.
3OH!3, “Two Girlfriends”
“Two Girlfriends” shines on brightly on a ridiculously stupid album, LOL! The hook goes stupid, but a truthful and fun stupid: “I use to have two girlfriends / now I got none / cause my number 2 girl found out about 1…”. Maybe lyric “you hang with d**ks like pubic hair…” could’ve should’ve been eliminated, but hey its 3OH!3, whattaya expect?
Alice in Chains, “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
Album: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
(Virgin / Universal)
“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” epitomizes Alice in Chains at their best. Nearly seven minutes long, it is an epic seven minutes, delivering arguably the valedictory track from its parent album. A notable chorus is a highlighting moment: “The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer / the devil put dinosaurs here / no problem with faith just fear…”
George Benson featuring Idina Menzel, “When I Fall In Love”
Album: Inspiration – A Tribute To Nat King Cole
Throughout the entirety of Inspiration – A Tribute to Nat King Cole, George Benson sounds nowhere near 70 years old, commanding each and every vocal nuance nearly (if not) perfectly. His vocal skill shines brightly on the balladry of classic standard “When I Fall In Love”, where be blends magnificently with vocalist duet partner Idina Menzel.
Mac Miller, “Goosebumpz”
Album: Watching Movies With the Sound Off
Watching Movies With the Sound Off is filled ample bright spots. “Goosebumpz” is among ‘em, elevated by Diplo’s quirky, distinctive production work (remember Wale’s “Slight Work” or Usher’s “Climax”). Miller exhibits brashness (and horniness), confidently suggesting “when I die I bet she f**k my hologram…” A bold assertion perhaps, but its both a lyric and track that stays with you.
Mavis Staples, “Every Step”
Album: One True Vine
Man I wish I could still ‘rock it out’ like the legendary Mavis Staples does shy of her 74th birthday. She and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy seem to have a knack for successful collaborations, evidenced by the stellar “Every Step”. “My lord, he knows me / every step of the way”, Staples sings on the memorable, weighty chorus. A mix between southern gospel, Americana, and folk, “Every Step” is an appreciated musical gift.
India. Arie, “Cocoa Butter”
“Cocoa Butter” may not be the year’s most distinct nor decorated R&B single, but it hearkens back to the glory days of neo-soul. Honestly and beautifully penned, Arie remains invested and soulful, giving the urban world another compelling track. “I show you my burns, you show me lessons learned,” she thoughtfully shares on the second verse, providing ‘real talk’ lyrically.
Harry Connick, Jr., “S’pposed To Be”
Album: Every Man Should Know (also appears on Smokey Mary)
“S’pposed To Be” is nothing short of a showstopper. Written in a distinctive southern gospel-jazz style, Connick delivers one of his more distinct cuts of his career, using a gospel choir on the chorus (“…Every road leads back to you / be with you when I’m s’pposed to be…”). Kim Burrell & Tara Alexander and the Frontline Vocal Movement guest, giving the brilliant number even more oomph.
Schoolboy Q featuring Kendrick Lamar, “Collard Greens”
Album: Collard Greens – Single
(Top Dawg / Interscope)
For a stoner anthem, “Collard Greens” is quite distinct. “Oh, oh luxury / chidi-chidi-ching could buy anything, cop that / oh, oh, collard greens / three degrees low, make it hot for me drop that…”, Schoolboy Q raps on an infectious hook. Throughout, Schoolboy Q seems to be on autopilot. His bud Kendrick Lamar captivates on the second verse, providing a little bit of everything, literally.
Here’s the playlist via rdio.com for your enjoyment!
P.S., I’ve reviewed nearly all of the albums mentioned here, so please check out my reviews on the site!
- Where Does Yeezus Rank in Kanye West’s Discography? (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Queens of the Stone Age,’…Like Clockwork’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Queens Of The Stone Age- … Like Clockwork (heavybassandbreakdowns.wordpress.com)
- Review: Kanye West’s “Yeezus” (nicholashautman.wordpress.com)