2014 has been a mixed year for R&B. There’s been some good and there has also been so bad. Even though R&B is still struggling, 2014 has allowed for R&B to have its moments. Then again, it’s also had its bombs…big time bombs.
The Good :)
Alicia Keys regains some lost swagger, besting John Legend for the Grammy award for Best R&B Album
Sharon Jones shows she’s back with a vengeance following cancer on her new LP (with The Dap-Kings), Give The People What They Want
Toni Braxton & Babyface perform better than expected commercially on Love, Marriage & Divorce (66,000 copies sold the first week)
Pharrell Williams’ G I R L debuts at no. 2 and sells a respectable 112,000 copies…
The Recording Academy finally recognizes Robin Thicke with multiple Grammy nominations, albeit in pop categories.
John Newman (Tribute), Daley (Days & Nights), and Sam Smith (Nirvana EP) bring top-notch Brit-soul to America.
Algebra Blessett delivered one hot independent R&B album with Recovery (eOne).
Electronic duo Phantogram give legendary soul group The Chi-Lites some love on their song “Bill Murray” (Voices), which samples “The Coldest Days of My Life”.
Bruno Mars was awesome at the Super Bowl. Classify him as pop if you want to, but Bruno has plenty of soul. Oodles of it!
The Bad :-(
Tamar Braxton gets no Grammy love for her powerful adult contemporary R&B hit “Love & War”… guess it didn’t matter how much she was fighting for love…
No Grammys for Fantasia’s Side Effects Of You? Guess that’s what happens when one is nominated alongside Rihanna.
Candice Glover debuts with embarrassing numbers for her debut R&B album Music Speaks; additionally the numbers are south of R&B contemporaries (no. 14, 19,000 copies)
Going back to that American Idol thing, Ruben Studdard released his sixth album, Unconditional via Verve. It got very few bites… that would be an understatement. But this again, his debut did have that song “No Ruben” on it… just saying!
John Legend doesn’t win a Grammy of any sort for Love in the Future, a truly brilliant, soulful affair… just wrong! Do we have no appreciation for one of the classiest, soulful artists of our generation?
Ashanti’s numbers suck (regardless of the “good” point)… 28,000 copies, really? #NOSWAG
British R&B singer Daley’s debut album, Days & Nights got slept on big-time… Where was the promotional intensity? Dude can blow vocally!
Ty Dolla $ign is, um, NASTY! Have you heard Beach House (EP)?
Did I mention R&B doesn’t sell like it used to? I thought so.
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.
From album: Black Panties
Oreos everywhere has been violated… enough said.
From album: Britney Jean
To Britney done told y’all – you better get to work! “Work B**ch” is the best song from a lackadaisical Britney Jean.
From album: Beyoncé
Examine the entire song or even excerpted lyrics and you’ll understand why it graced this list: “Can you lick my skittles / that’s the sweetest in the middle…” Couple that with R. Kelly’s “Cookie” and something is definitely going down in the bedroom…
“For The Rest of My Life”
From album: Blurred Lines
Well, at least Robin Thicke followed up “Blurred Lines” with a lovely ballad with some substance. Still won’t get the skeptics off his back about “Blurred Lines” though, LOL.
From album: Reflektor
Front man Win Butler has a message for you young guys – don’t be so selfish about sex/endeavors when it comes to your girlfriend(s)!
From album: A Love Surreal
The lyrics speak for them self: “Baby, you’re a winning hand / a game change, I’m on the roll.” I want a winning hand… Hehe.
“Here’s To Never Growing Up”
From album: Avril Lavigne
In case you’re wondering, Avril hasn’t grown up any. If anything, she’s prolonged her carefree youth with curse words. Cheers to eternal youth!
“Love and War”
From album: Love and War
Another instance where the lyrics speak for them self: “We stay on the front lines / Yeah but we’re still here after the bomb drops / we go so hard we lose control / the fire starts then we explode / when the smoke clears we dry our tears / only in love and war.”
Ariana Grande featuring Mac Miller
From album: Yours Truly
Basically, young Mariah is at work, and she gets the assist from Easy Mac. Did I mention Grande sounds angelic? And ole boy keeps it clean…no ‘birdcalls’.
“Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”
From album: Reflektor
A tragic story given Eurydice’s death and Orpheus’ infatuation with his late lover (Greek mythology), “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” finds AF front man Win Butler singing “I know you can see / things that we can’t see / but when I say I love you / your silence covers me…” Ultimately, “Awful Sound” matches the ‘all over the map’ nature of its parent album.
From album: Yeezus
Ever controversial, Kanye West manages to resurrect the horrid past of African-Americans, particularly playing up past shortcomings and present stereotypes (“Y’all throwing contracts at me / y’all know that n***as can’t read…”). Even so, agile and edgy rhymes make “New Slaves” worthwhile.
From album: No Beginning, No End
Jazz and soul music create a beautiful union on the signature cut from José James’ superb album No Beginning, No End.
“Wild For The Night”
A$AP Rocky featuring Skrillex
From album: Long. Live. A$AP
A$AP is partying hard, and he’s bringing an unlikely buddy in Skrillex with him. What more can be said – clubs are bumping!
From album: Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Based on some of Mac Miller’s lyrics, the goose bumps he be giving his girl are serious, cause when he dies he “bet she f**k my hologram…” He’s confident in his, err – he’s confident, we’ll leave it at that!
From album: Three Kings
This song has been my ringtone for minute, really! TGT absolutely slaughter the chorus: “Now I know / it ain’t ever worth your heart / and it ain’t ever worth your tears / and it ain’t ever worth those scars that might not heal / I need, I need, I need (you)…” Hey, us guys sometimes need that masculine R&B perspective, even when it’s sensitive!
“Where Are We Now?”
From album: The Next Day
Sometimes it is simplicity that carries a great deal of weight: “Where are we now, where are we now? The moment you know, you know, you know…” Bowie slays this ballad, no questions asked.
The Flaming Lips
From album: The Terror
Three words: “LUST TO SUCCED!”
From album: One True Vine
“Holy Ghost” – a cover from band Low – finds Staples commanding and soulful atop folksy production work. While she’s reserved, Staples still packs a punch, particularly when her 74-year old voice cracks with expression.
“Don’t Swallow the Cap”
From album: Trouble Will Find Me
The National’s “Don’t Swallow the Cap” shines, despite its pessimism (“…I have faith but don’t believe it / it’s not there enough to leave it…”). Sporting exceptional songwriting as well as a solid arrangement/production, characterized by keyboards, haunting strings, and pummeling drums, “Don’t Swallow the Cap” is arguably the valedictory track from Trouble Will Find Me.
“Take This Dirty Water”
From album: The Diving Board
On brilliant track “Take This Dirty Water”, Elton John combines facets of gospel, blues, and rock. Incredibly soulful and feel-good, “Take This Dirty Water” is easily one of Elton John’s most distinct and best songs in years.
Kanye West featuring Charlie Wilson
From album: Yeezus
“Bound 2” bucked the trend of most of Yeezus; it sounded more like West’s classic material with soulful sample intact.
“Strictly Reserved For You”
From album: Victim of Love
Every bit of Charles’ love – well, it’s “strictly reserved for you.” Aww, the feeling of feeling loved.
From album: ARTPOP
Didn’t you know you’re worth more than a dime bag any day in Lady Gaga’s eyes? “I need you more than dope.”
From album: Black Panties
When it comes to R. Kelly, well, everything seems to revolve around a three-letter word. Here, the salacious 46-year old R&B singer/songwriter is a “sex genius”, supposedly.
Tyler, The Creator
From album: Wolf
As written previously, Tyler, The Creator is the “cowboy on [his] own trip”; he holds his own destiny. Be sure to check out the previously released first part with songs #100-76, as well as upcoming parts #50 – 26, and #25 – 1.
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)
Ah, there is always plenty to write about the music industry and the number of trends that come and go, as well as those remaining constant. 2013 was another interesting year, whether merely for its pleasant surprises or its disappointments. Many observations will and can be made of the year musically and pop-culturally in regards to its artists. While my inner musical nerdy side wishes that I could nitpick and analyze every facet microscopically, I’ll rely on a Childish Gambino rhyme to express why that’s not possible: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” What I do have time for is to share five takeaways I gathered from music in 2013.
Pop music was ‘down’ overall, but had its moments…
Maybe I’ll be stoned (not that I care), but I wouldn’t consider 2013 a particularly great year for ‘pop music’, at least how most year’s are traditionally evaluated. Sure, Justin Timberlake carried the torch single-handedly with his surprise comeback The 20/20 Experience (both albums debuted at no. 1 with 968,000 and 350,000 copies respectively) until things percolated with releases from Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Lorde, and One Direction, but generally, pop’s impact seemed slower than usual. Other than big-time late pushes, who else was there to help a brother out? I mean John Mayer seems to have lost his swagger – Paradise Valley didn’t have a great footing, bowing modestly at no. 2 with 144,000 copies. Yeah 144,000 copies would be great for most, but not considering Mayer’s track record. Pop/R&B starlet Ariana Grande was impressive on Yours Truly, bowing at no. 1 and selling an impressive enough 138,000 copies, but the album hasn’t had sustainable success per se.
R&B music continued to limp commercially compared to other genres.
This isn’t news, but R&B hasn’t been nearly as competitive as it was, say, five years ago. This year, the genre’s artists continue the uphill struggle for commercial footing. The fortunes haven’t improved, with most of the genre’s stars settling for sub 100,000 copies selling bows. It’s sad because there were some exceptional releases courtesy of Fantasia, John Legend, Chrisette Michele, TGT, K. Michele, and Jaheim amongst them. All sold < than 100,000 their debut week with only Fantasia coming close (91,000 sold of Side Effects of You). Still, a few artists got a sound start. Tamar Braxton’s Love and War sold 114,000 copies its first week out while Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines moved 177,000 copies. Take the victories when and where you can get them I guess.
Country wasn’t nearly as dominant or relevant as it’s been in the past…
I’ll admit I slept on country music throughout the year, but can you blame me? There was once a time where new releases from Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Toby Keith were among the most anticipated releases regardless of genre. All these folks released albums in 2013, but who’s talking about ‘em? Alan Jackson even managed to release two! Country still managed to have its bright spots with the likes of Blake Shelton and a rising Luke Bryan holding down the fort, but others dropped the ball. The Band Perry didn’t have the commercial impact that I’d have predicted, while Lady Antebellum’s Golden was about as much fun as watching paint dry when compared to previous albums. Then there’s the newbies, who I can’t personally keep up with, mainly because they’re impact is quite minimal commercially.
Rock/alternative delivered some of the years most sensational albums.
Rock and alternative music had a much more triumphant 2013 than other genres from my perspective. That doesn’t mean they were necessarily commercial powerhouses, but they did deliver some knockout punches critically. Black Sabbath’s 13 and Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork both outperformed expectations commercially, not to mention how awesome both albums were in regards to the material. Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City), The National (Trouble Will Find Me), and Arcade Fire (Reflektor) delivered exceptional efforts that also put up respectable chart numbers in the alt department. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push the Sky Away), certainly no household name to most, STRFKR (Miracle Mile), and Atlas Genius (When It Was Now) were among other alt bright spots failing to receive big-time commercial recognition, but definitely were critically praised for exceptional studio releases. There were others as well.
Like rock, hip-hop/rap was a bright spot in 2013.
You know, for a while, it seemed that it was a popular sentiment to consider hip-hop as being “dead”. Perhaps hip-hop was dead briefly, but 2013 has shown no death or funeral for the genre, which had some gargantuan commercial impacts on the music industry. Big sales from Eminem, Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and J. Cole definitely pumped some meds into a sagging musical economy (792K, 658K, 528K, 327K, and 297K debuts), not to mention had us head-nodding, LOL. Other hip-hop albums also captivated us with solid 100,000+ starts, including Kid Cudi’s Indicud (no. 2, 136,000 copies), A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live ASAP (no. 1, 139,000 copies), and Mac Miller’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off (no. 3, 102,000 copies). Others fell below that ‘threshold of success’, but gained our attention nonetheless: Tyler, the Creator (Wolf, no. 3, 80,000 copies), Earl Sweatshirt (Doris, no. 5, 49,000 copies), and A$AP Ferg (Trap Lord, no. 9, 32,000 copies). “Hip-hop don’t stop.”
Of course there are plenty more takeaways…there’s always more takeaways. Lady Gaga’s underwhelming showing would be worth noting, while Miley Cyrus definitely deserves a headline all by herself. Daft Punk and the successes of electronic music itself are quite notable, but I’ll save those for a later time. Enough analysis and opining for one post!
- Comparing Five R&B Artist’s First Week Sales in 2013 to Their Previous Effort (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Thoughts on the 56th Annual Grammy Nominations (brentmusicreviews.com)