Ah, who doesn’t love a good ‘come-up’ story? Schoolboy Q has reason to celebrate as his third LP Oxymoron takes over the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Apparently, them “Collard Greens” were pretty potent, as 139,000 people decided to add Oxymoron to their music collection. 139,000 copies isn’t the ‘end all be all’ in regards to album sales, but its definitely sound for what could be considered an up-and-comer, even three albums into a rap career. Compared to his colleague Kendrick Lamar, the numbers are less favorable (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City missed the top spot, but sold 241,000 copies), though Kendrick also had bigger buzz surrounding him at the time, not to mention the fourth quarter to propel him.
Schoolboy Q fended off that feisty Frozen Soundtrack, which continues to put up respectable numbers. This week, the magic number for the runner up was 91,000, which according to billboard.com was an increase from the previous week. Frozen kept another new release and veteran, Beck from the runner-up spot. Beck settles for no. 3 with 87,000 copies sold of Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Even though Beck couldn’t match a previous high watermark – a no. 2 peak for 2005 effort Guero – or its robust 162,000 copies start, he managed to outperform prognostications.
Surprise albums seem to be all the rage these days, with Kid Cudi’s oddball Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon fitting right into the trend. Kid Cudi doesn’t quite have the Beyoncé effect, but does debut at no. 4 with 87,000 copies. Compared to last year’s slightly more accessible Indicud, the numbers are down for the left-field rapper. In fact, Satellite Flight is Cudi’s lowest debuting album as of yet. The next closest in terms of his discography was his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, which sold 104,000 good for a no. 4 bow. Previous album Indicud debuted at no. 2 selling 136,000 copies. Indicud was a drop-off itself, specifically from Cudi’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at no. 3, but sold 169,000 copies. Is Scott Mescudi just too odd for sustainable commercial success? Perhaps.
Keeping things close (and new), Romeo Santos debuts at no. 5 with Formula: Vol. 2. Formula sold 85,000 copies, awesome numbers for a Latin album. Dierks Bentley didn’t quite get in on the “80s” action (80K that is), but Riser did debut at no. 6 with 63,000 copies. 63,000 copies doesn’t have much of a ceiling itself, but Bentley isn’t exactly country’s most consistent selling male artist. Still, 63,000 copies isn’t too shabby. The Fray would’ve enjoyed being even remotely close to 63K; they settle for a no. 8 bow and 37,000 copies sold of Helios. Seems like the popularity of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” hasn’t translated to the band’s more recent efforts. Other than Frozen, the only holdovers are Eric Church (The Outsiders), Now 49, and Beyoncé (Beyoncé). Good sales week – finally!
Pharrell Williams goes into next week’s chart with the momentum of retaining no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Happy“). Pharrell’s second solo album GIRL is one of the competitive albums fighting for the top two spots on next week’s chart. Second solo album you ask? Well ole boy released In My Mind a couple of years back and snagged a Grammy-nomination for the LP. Rick Ross should have no. 1 locked up as he releases his sixth LP, Mastermind. With the exception of Ross’ best LP (in my opinion), Teflon Don, Ross has locked down no. 1 four previous times. Lea Michele wishes she could muster up the numbers expected from Ross or Williams, but according to Billboard prognostications, she won’t come close. And as for Eli Young Band, well 10,000 Towns is far behind. I won’t even mention Ashanti’s Brave Heart – it doesn’t have a shot.
Oh and going back to the Billboard Hot 100, what about my homeboy John Legend breaking into that top four (last week I believe)? Who would’ve thought that “All Of Me”, an old school, piano-driven ballad would be a hit in 2014? It remains at no. 4 this week according to Billboard. Rock on John, rock on!
The College Dropout sounds as fresh as ever, ten years later.
Kanye West • The College Dropout • Roc-A-Fella • US Release Date: February 10, 2004
“Sometimes I feel no one in this world understands us / but we don’t care what people say.” True that, true that. The aforementioned quote from “We Don’t Care” is a fitting characterization of Kanye West. Over the course of his career as a rapper, Kanye West has been one of the music’s most polarizing, idiosyncratic characters. Incredibly creative yet also incredibly complex and likely misunderstood, West has often found himself in trouble for being loud-mouthed and extremely opinionated. That creativity and frankness has served Mr. West’s music well, even when it’s personally hurt perceptions of him as a person. But as West would tell anybody, he “gives no f***s”. Charming. He certainly gives none on The College Dropout, his tour de force that is the ripe old age of ten. As difficult as it is to believe, it was ten years ago that The College Dropout changed the rap game forever. Listening to it ten years later in 2014, the album remains superb losing none of its edge.
The College Dropout initiates with a silly, though funny “Intro” performed from the by West’s ‘college professor’. “Me and the other faculty members was wonderin’ could you do a lil some…/ somethin’ beautiful, somethin’ that the kids is gon’ love when they hear it,” The professor states. “… somethin’ for the kids for graduation to sing?” The intro serves as the perfect precursor to full-length opening joint, “We Don’t Care”, West’s answer to his professor’s request (“Oh yeah, I’ve got the perfect song for the kids to sing”).
On the real-talk, rebellious “We Don’t Care”, the hook sums up the sentiment of its title: “Drug dealin’ just to get by / stack ya money ‘til you get sky high (Kids sing, kids sing!) / We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 / joke’s on you, we still alive / throw your hands up in the sky and yell: We don’t care what people say.” Kids, indeed literally sing the hook, fitting in line with the highly structure narrative/concept of the album. In addition to the memorable, ‘f**k you’ mentality of the hook, West gives specific examples throughout the verses of the ‘hard-knock’ life and black culture. Filled with notable lyrics, among my favorite lines is from verse two, as West raps that “The drug game bulimic, it’s hard to get weight / a n***a’s money is homo, it’s hart to get straight / but we gon’ keep bakin’ til the day we get cake / and ‘we don’t care what people say’”. Unapologetic, West begins the game ferociously.
Unsurprisingly, the professor is unhappy with West’s song choice, opening interlude “Graduation Day” with “What in the f**k was that Kanye!” The professor goes off on a rant that is as comical as it is offensive. A then little known John Legend concludes the interlude, referencing different ambitions compared to what others might have. Even though it is Legend who performs this interlude, he is essentially speaking from West’s perspective. West, a college dropout, chose a different path (music) as opposed to staying in school (the traditional route).
Popular single “All Falls Down” proceeds, featuring Syleena Johnson channeling her inner Lauryn Hill (Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” is interpolated here). The hook is incredibly simple, yet was one of the most memorable of 2004, being mindful the original appeared in 2002. “Oh when it all, it all falls down / I’m telling you all, it all falls down,” sings a soulful, raspy Johnson. West is on autopilot, delivering honest and hilarious rhymes. Among the best of those is from the first verse: “But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny / now, tell me that ain’t insecure / the concept of school seems so secure / sophomore, three years, ain’t picked a career / she like, f**k it, I’ll just stay down here and do hair.” The acoustic guitar-driven production and brilliant conception makes “All Falls Down” just another vital reason why The College Dropout is one of music’s modern masterpieces.
Following an interlude entitled “Fly Away” (literally the church tune “I’ll Fly Away”), the brilliant “Spaceship” takes off. “I’ve been workin’ this graveshift and I ain’t made sh*t / I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky,” West sings on the memorable hook. A song much like “We Don’t Care” depicting the hardships of, “Spaceship” finds West getting the assist from Consequence and GLC. All three MCs paint a gloomy, though honest picture that’s as vivid as a book. Over a thoughtful sample of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover”, “Spaceship” was as consistent as the singles from The College Dropout, despite receiving less buzz. Even though “Spaceship” is pessimistic, Kanye West definitely feels entitled to his newfound success: “Lock yourself in a room doing five beats a day for three summers…I deserve to do these numbers”. Indeed Mr. West, indeed.
The crowning achievement for The College Dropout was one of the most unique records of 2004, “Jesus Walks”. Thoughtful, yet not quite ‘sanctified’ in a religious sense, “Jesus Walks” was a pivotal part of West’s career. The fact that West associated Jesus and rap – two unlike things – was shocking. Still, Wests makes numerous relevant points throughout, some of which could easily be supported biblically – well with modern interpretation that is. West’s most memorable series of rhymes reside in his second verse: “We rappers is role models; we rap, we don’t think / I ain’t here to argue about his facial features / or here to convert atheists into believers / I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers / the way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus.” Amen…I think. Still, I don’t think too many clergymen will take too kindly the line “we eat pieces of sh*t like you for breakfast…” Just saying!
More ‘important’ songs overshadow “Never Let Me Down”, but it’s still high quality work. This is an early collaboration where West works with his ‘big brother’ Jay-Z, as well as poet J. Ivy. Continuing the practice of sampling (Michael Bolton’s “The Power of Love”), “Never Let Me Down” rolls right along with little to quibble about. Similarly, “Get Em High” is another solid track overshadowed by better ones. Notable aside from guests in Talib Kweli and Common is the fact that sampling isn’t employed… shocker. As always, West’s rhymes are entertaining, though West raps about his ambitions on the first verse: “My teacher said I’s a loser, I told her why don’t you kill me / I give a f**k if you fail me, I’m gonna follow / my heart, and if you follow charts / or the plaques or the stacks / you ain’t gotta guess who’s back, you see.” There it is. Oh and in regards to the hook, West can’t resist the opportunity to play the double meanings game (i.e. high on weed, hands in the air). Remember, he don’t care!
After “passing the dro” on “Get Em High”, “The New Workout Plan” was a later single released from The College Dropout. “The New Workout Plan” definitely has little to do with exercise… it’s all about sex. West’s hook says it all: “It’s been a week without me / and she feel week without me / she wanna talk it out but / ain’t nothing to talk about / unless she’s talking about freaking out / then maybe we can work it out.” Of course, even before that, the first verse states West’s intentions: “one and two and three and four get them sit ups right and / tuck your tummy tight and do your crunches like this / give head, stop breathe, get up, check your weave / don’t drop the blunt and disrespect the weed…” I guess West is allotted one track with less depth.
Keeping with he sensual vibes, “Slow Jamz” – a former number one hit – remains as great as it was ten years ago. “Slow Jamz” is reprised on The College Dropout; it originally appeared on Twista’s Kamikaze. Jamie Foxx’s hook is as effective and memorable as ever: “She said she want some Marvin Gaye / some Luther Vandross / a little Anita / Will definitely set this party off right.” Hearing Twista at his artistic peak on the third verse – sigh – “Those were the days!”
Ludacris comes along for the ride on “Breathe in Breathe Out”, delivering the catchy hook over a killer loop. “Yeah, breathe in, breathe out / if ya iced up, pulla ya sleeves out / push a big truck, pull ya keys out / girls go wild and pull ya deez out…” The hook is typical Ludacris for sure. While “Breathe in Breathe Out” is as consistent as anything else, I prefer “School Spirit” and its Aretha Franklin sample “Spirit in the Dark” (from 1970 album of the same title). As soulful as “School Spirit” is with the sample itself, Tony Williams’ backing vocals add even more sweetness. A skit both precedes and follows “School Spirit”.
“Two Words” follows the final skit of the effort, “Lil Jimmy Skit”. Like many of the non-singles, “Two Words” could actually go ‘toe to toe’ with the most notable, hyped cuts. It doesn’t hurt having help from the likes of Mos Def and Freeway, not to mention The Harlem Boys Choir. Each MC begins their respective verse with the titular lyric, which is a nice unifying touch. The Harlem Boys Choir truly enhances the hook, offering a legato passage (“Throw your hands up high / ‘til they reach the sky”) underneath West’s brasher rhymes (“Now throw ya hands up hustlers / busters, boosters, hoes / everybody, f**k that / still nowhere to go, still nowhere to go…”).
“Through The Wire”, perhaps West’s most personal single, still sounds as relevant ten years later as it did in 2004. The intro sums it up best: “…They can’t stop me from rapping, can they… I spit it through the wire…” The story behind the song was West’s horrific auto accident, which he was fortunate to recover from. Fittingly, “Through The Wire” samples Chaka Khan’s classic, “Through the Fire”. “Family Business” is nothing flashy, but is both sound and soulful. A track like “Family Business” will always register near the bottom of the hierarchy, but still epitomizes West’s total artistry. Juggernaut “Last Call” receives appropriate placement, given its length and how it sums up the album and West himself. “Last Call” details West’s ascent and ‘come-up’. It’s a cut that the listener is less likely to spin, but it does give insight into West.
Ten years later, The College Dropout remains a rap masterpiece. Scratch that – it’s a masterpiece. The College Dropout is one of those pivotally important albums of recent times. Sure, it is hard to find certified classics in the new millennium, but this particular effort is definitely a candidate. Consistent, creative, and certainly a contrast to other hip-hop albums out at the time, The College Dropout and Kanye West were trailblazers, ushering in the new movement of hip-hop. Even now, it’s remarkable how exceptionally well this album is assembled.
“All Falls Down”; “Jesus Walks”; “Spaceship”; “Slow Jamz”; “Two Words”; “Through The Wire”
The 56th Annual Grammy Awards Broadcast takes place on Sunday, January 26th. Previously, following the announcements of the nominations, I made predictions in regards to who I thought would walk out with statues. After sitting on it a while, it is time to make one last set of predictions before Sunday’s broadcast. Here goes nothing! Picks are in bold.
First things first, let’s recap my BIG FOUR predictions:
Album of the Year (AOTY): Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Song of the Year (SOTY): “Royals”, Lorde
Best New Artist (BNA): Kendrick Lamar
Best Pop Solo Performance:
“When I Was Your Man”, Bruno Mars
“Roar”, Katy Perry
“Mirrors”, Justin Timberlake
This category is notable because often, a couple of the record/song of the year nominees are found in this category. Here, “Royals” (ROTY and SOTY) and “Roar” (SOTY) are the ‘culprits’. Logically, don’t bet against those two, no matter how good Sara B., Justin, or Bruno was sounding! My money is on “Royals”.
Best Pop Duo / Group Performance
“Just Give Me A Reason”, Pink featuring Nate Ruess
“Stay”, Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko
“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell
“Suit & Tie”, Justin Timberlake & Jay-Z
The pop categories in general play a huge role in the biggest awards given out at the Grammys. There are three huge performances here that simply can’t be ignored: “Get Lucky” (ROTY), “Just Give Me A Reason” (SOTY), and “Blurred Lines” (ROTY). My gut tells me that Pharrell Williams is going to win one these, likely with Daft Punk.
Best Pop Vocal Album:
Pure Heroine, Lorde
Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno Mars
Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke
The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience, Justin Timberlake
Sticking with a previous pick, Justin Timberlake has to be honored, right? If not him, doesn’t Bruno Mars have to win something?
Best Rock Performance
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, David Bowie (The Next Day)
“Radioactive”, Imagine Dragons (Night Visions)
“Kashmir”, Led Zeppelin (Celebration Day)
“My God Is The Sun”, Queens of the Stone Age (…Like Clockwork)
“I’m Shakin’”, Jack White
If one big gun were to lose in a smaller category, it would be Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”. However, can the voters really snub such a gargantuan rock record (also nominated for ROTY), even with veterans on the list? I don’t think so.
Best Rock Album
The Next Day, David Bowie
Mechanical Bull, Kings of Leon
Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin
…Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age
Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young With Crazy Horse
Rock didn’t receive a representative album of the year nomination this year, so this category perhaps is a bit more ‘wide open’. Three albums stand out in my eyes: 13, The Next Day, and …Like Clockwork. David Bowie’s comeback might’ve been the big narrative, had Black Sabbath not legitimately reunited (meaning Ozzy Osbourne on vocals). Any of the five could win here, but I’ll put my money on Black Sabbath.
Best R&B Album
Girl On Fire, Alicia Keys
Love in the Future, John Legend
Better, Chrisette Michele
Three Kings, TGT
I love you Alicia Keys, but I’ll give the edge to John Legend here.
Best Rap Performance
“Tom Ford”, Jay-Z (Magna Carta…Holy Grail)
“Swimming Pools (Drank)”, Kendrick Lamar (Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City)
“Thrift Shop”, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Even though Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are nominated for AOTY, this category feels more wide open given the superb choices. I still think “Thrift Shop” may be too big to ignore, but “Started From The Bottom” definitely was notable. Kendrick’s “Drank” is no slouch either.
Best Rap / Sung Collaboration:
“Part II (On The Run)”, Jay-Z featuring Beyoncé (Magna Carta…Holy Grail)
“Holy Grail”, Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake (Magna Carta…Holy Grail)
“Now or Never”, Kendrick Lamar featuring Mary J. Blige (Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City)
“Remember You”, Wiz Khalifa featuring The Weeknd (O.N.I.F.C.)
Another category I am torn on, sigh. “Power Trip” stands out as does “Holy Grail.” That said, the more and more I hear “Now or Never”, it is incredibly difficult to deny. Mary J. Blige is a Grammy darling too…
Best Rap Album:
Magna Carta…Holy Grail, Jay-Z
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Yeezus, Kanye West
Here’s the thing. Kanye West has never lost when he’s been nominated for Best Rap Album as a solo artist (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). However, if Kendrick Lamar wins no other award, and if he’s competing head-to-head with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis all evening, I give him the edge here. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is the best album in this category.
Best Country Album:
Two Lanes of Freedom, Tim McGraw
Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves
Based On A True Story, Blake Shelton
Red, Taylor Swift
The Grammy darling goes home with the award this time around (Swift lost to Lady Antebellum in this category previously for Speak Now).
After a year filled with numerous albums and even more songs, choosing 100 of the best is an incredibly difficult task. Like with the best albums of 2013, there will be surprises as well as snubs. Sometimes the snubs are oversights while at other items there are just so many notable songs that some just get lost in the mix. Regardless, here are 100 songs I found to be notable in 2013.
“Drunk In Love”
Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
From album: Beyoncé
Well, since Beyoncé and Jay-Z are husband and wife, it’s probably fine for them to be ‘drunk’ off of each other’s love. That said, some of the personal side of that ‘romance’ is made public on this bold track from the surprise ‘visual’ album. It is what it is…
2 Chainz featuring Fergie
From album: B.O.A.T.S. II: #METIME
You know how fitness trainer Shaun T. says he “don’t do anything but abs”? Well 2 Chainz don’t do anything but stupid. At least he does it like a pro. Making a sex tape and putting it on Netflix may be genius, maybe. LOL!
“Wait For Me”
Kings of Leon
From album: Mechanical Bull
Caleb Followill explains it best: “It’s all better now, it’s all better now / wait for me, wait for me.”
“Who I Am”
Pusha T featuring 2 Chainz & Big Sean
From album: My Name Is My Name
Because Pusha T and his star-studded crew stay true to themselves, they shine on “Who I Am”. “Woo! They said be all you can be / Woo! They said be all you can be / I just wanna buy another Rollie / I just wanna pop another band / I just wanna sell dope forever / I just wanna be who I am.” To each his own… not that I wouldn’t mind a Rollie let alone more than one!
From album: Paradise Valley
“Wildfire” is a folksy/roots/country/pop hybrid that sounds incredibly distinct from anything Mayer has released previously. Vocally, Mayer sounds clear and enthused, shedding with mad skill (as always) on the guitar.
“Do I Wanna Know?”
From album: AM
Ah, drunken confessions of love. Alex Turner is honest on this exceptional opener from Arctic Monkeys’ most recent effort, AM: “Crawlin’ back to you / ever thought of calling you when you’ve had a few? / ‘Cause I always do / Maybe I’m too, busy being yours to fall for somebody new…” You get the idea!
“All American Boy”
Has there ever been a viral hit that was such a ‘hit’ as “All American Boy”? Steve Grand’s country song with a gay love storyline made a gargantuan impact, everywhere. Because homosexuality and country are rarely associated with one another, “All American Boy” like “Same Love” was to hip-hop, breaks down social barriers.
“Take A Fall For Me”
James Blake featuring RZA
From album: Overgrown
At the beginning of “Take A Fall For Me”, James Blake claims that, “You can’t marry her yet…” RZA goes on later to state “I heard through the grapevine that great love, it takes time / sex shapes the body, truth shapes the mind…” So basically, this track seems to be about a relationship that is incomplete of all the necessary facets, or something along those lines.
A$AP Ferg featuring A$AP Rocky
From album: Trap Lord
Ferg and Rocky are on that “Sha-Sha-Shabba Ranks”… rings, change, gold teeth, women… Sound so appealing, doesn’t it?
Janelle Monáe featuring Miguel
From album: The Electric Lady
Sometimes, a great R&B duet doesn’t have to be oversexed or completely stripped of its romance. “Primetime” is a perfect example of this. The vocal chemistry between Janelle Monáe and Miguel is magnificent.
“Kisses Down Low”
From album: Talk A Good Game
Ooh Kelly, you so nasty! “I like my kisses down low / makes me arch my back / when you give it to me slow / baby just like that…” When the word ‘arch’ is used in a song, it’s rarely referencing the ‘arch’ of the foot… just sayin’!
From album: Overgrown
“Retrograde” finds Blake channeling his urban side superbly, accompanied initially by piano. Blake’s initial vocal runs sounds indigenous to R&B or gospel, making “Retrograde” all the more unique. Things truly grow epic on pivotal line “Suddenly I hit,” where excitement reaches a lofty peak.
“Almost Is Never Enough”
Ariana Grande featuring Nathan Sykes
From album: Yours Truly
Duet “Almost Is Never Enough” should be incredibly sappy but it isn’t! Grande and boyfriend Nathan Sykes (of The Wanted) sport sound vocal chemistry on this enjoyable track. A musical oxymoron of sorts, “Almost Is Never Enough”, is soulful, yet contemporary, and old school, yet fresh.
“Made Up Mind”
Tedeschi Trucks Band
From album: Made Up Mind
If one was unconvinced just how resolute Susan Tedeschi was, listening to her gritty, passionate performance on the bluesy “Made Up Mind” erases all doubts. She can S-A-N-G!
Fantasia featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott
From album: Side Effects Of You
Guys are totally in the ‘doghouse’ on this jam from Fantasia and friends, but even they can’t resist the nodding of head or the tapping of foot.
From album: Appreciation Day
Jaheim spent most of Appreciation Day ‘appreciating’ women, but he took a detour to go socially conscious on the phenomenal “Florida”, a track questioning the controversial Treyvon Martin verdict. Sure Jaheim sounds inspired when he’s singing of pleasure, but he sounds equally, if not more powerful, singing of pain and repercussions here.
From album: Modern Vampires of the City
Someone’s not been going to church lately… “Ya Hey” is a play on the word “Yahweh”, which refers to God. Can you say blasphemous? Religious stance aside, “Ya Hey” is another creative song courtesy of everyone’s favorite vampires. They sure know how to bite!
Ace Hood featuring Future & Rick Ross
From album: Trials & Tribulations
I rarely compliment Future (I’ve been pretty critical), but “Bugatti” sports Future’s best hook of the year/perhaps ever… “I woke up in a new Bugatti!”
Daft Punk featuring Paul Williams
From Album: Random Access Memories
On the warm and beautiful track “Touch”, Paul Williams delivers a superb vocal performance against an excellent neo-disco styled backdrop. There’s not a thing wrong with that retro swag!
“Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Drake featuring Majid Jordan
From album: Nothing Was The Same
“Hold On, We’re Going Home” has nothing at all ‘hip-hop’ about it. Despite this, this 80s-styled R&B/pop cut is nothing short of a pleasure to partake of. It’s like the most delicious dessert ever… Scrumptious!
Panic! At The Disco
From album: Too Weird to Live, To Rare to Die
“Miss Jackson” (featuring Lolo) finds Panic! At The Disco front man Brendon Urie using his contemporary R&B chops, with some emo-pop swag of course! Catchy and manic, “Miss Jackson” is nothing short of pop gold. And as “nasty” as Miss Jackson is, “…[he] love her anyway!”
“All of Me”
From album: Love in the Future
The thoughtful, radiant “All Of Me” strips down to piano, vocals, and ‘robots’, with sensational results. Legend sings chivalrously: “‘Cause all of me loves all of you / love your curves and all your edges / all your perfect imperfections.” Aww!
From album: Bankrupt!
“Entertainment” is quite exhilarating, characterized by its use of oriental sounding synths and its superb, unifying chorus. “Entertainment, show them what you do with me / when everyone here knows better / what I once refused to be / is everything they long together / I’d rather be alone”, front man Thomas Mars sings enthusiastically.
“Suit & Tie”
Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z
From album: The 20/20 Experience
Interpreting what it means to be “on that suit and tie sh*t”: Basically ole boy is looking like one dapper mother [shut yo mouth!] and he’s going to do any and everything he can to impress this girl. “Let me show you a few things…”
“We No Who ‘U ‘R”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From album: Push The Sky Away
Well written, mysterious, and diverse from many other songs in 2013, ”We No Who ‘U ‘R” is alt-singer/songwriter, alt-rock at its best. The sound is reminiscent of a 60s blue-eyed soul hit.
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