Tag Archive | Robin Thicke

R&B: The Good & Bad Takeaways So Far in 2014


Beyonce7-20130903-58

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 :)

Beyonce3-20130903-63Beyoncé gave R&B a shot in the… well she gave it a shot of commercial relevance with her ‘visual album’

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 WilliamsG 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.

Ashantiz-20140127-165Ashanti’s long-delayed BraveHeart sells 28,000 copies and keeps her top ten Billboard 200 streak alive; better than expected after a lengthy hiatus and a switch from major to indie

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 :-(

81hOVzIzucL._SL1500_R&B STILL doesn’t sell like it used to (except for Bey…)

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!

41u6FsCRi-L._SL500_AA280_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.

 

Review: Pharrell Williams, ‘G I R L’


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G I R L easily one-ups Williams’ 2006 debut, In My Mind

Pharrell Williams • G I R L • Columbia • US Release Date: March 3, 2014

Pharrell Williams-20140303-0Arguably, no one had a better year in 2013 than Pharrell Williams.  A longtime veteran of the music game in a numerous capacities, things had become considerably slower for one of music’s brightest beacons.  But then the music heavens delivered some big-time juggernauts via “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk) and “Blurred Lines” (Robin Thicke) that clearly reinvigorated the producer/artist’s career.  William’s accomplishments would be celebrated by a couple of notable Grammy victories and an Academy award nomination for “Happy”, his infectious, number one single from the animated feature, Despicable 2.   Pharrell is no dummy – he knows that you’re only hot for so long and then demand dwindles.  Because he’s ‘hot’ right now, it’s the perfect time to drop his second solo album, G I R L.  It’s not merely a strategic thing either, as G I R L has the quality to back it up.  Compared to In My Mind, G I R L is tons more fun!

Marilyn Monroe” initiates G I R L with a sophisticated, classical-sounding string flurry. And NO, those aren’t MIDI strings, but the real-deal, arranged by – get ready for it – Hans Zimmer (among others, with Bruce Fowler serving as orchestrator).   The overall sound and vibe is ‘Pharrell-ean’, given the expected cues characteristic of the artist, but also incredibly soulful.  As sensational and classy as the production is, Williams’ flawless falsetto seals the deal, particularly given the gentlemanlike tone of “Marilyn Monroe”.  “Not even Marilyn Monroe / Queen Cleopatra please / Not even Joan of Arc,” sings Williams on the refrain, “That don’t mean nothin’ to me / I just want a different girl…can’t another good boy keep it this through.” Essentially, Williams is hopelessly in love, and not even another ‘dime’ could atone for his affection towards ‘her’.  Chivalrous as albeit.

Pharrell2-20140305-72The chivalrous spirit continues on the Justin Timberlake assisted “Brand New”, which may be best summed up by its chorus: “Honey, you got me feelin’ (brand new) / like the tag’s still on me…jumpin’ round in your bag…” Essentially, the boys are saying ‘she’s’ changed them and reinvigorated them; they are renewed.  Sure a lyric like Williams’ “A winner never quits / a quitter never wins / I thought about what I wanted / and you were on my list” is sort of schmaltzy, but it is memorable.  Ultimately, “Brand New” proves to be a pop-soul track that’s clearing #winning.  “Hunter”, the follow-up isn’t too shabby either, though Williams allows for a bit more naughtiness.  Post-chorus lyrics like “My love has come…sex has come” clearly switch from the emotional side of the relationship to what goes down in the bedroom.  Still, Williams keeps things classy enough.  Again though, the falsetto is so ‘nasty’, William’s sensual thoughts can be heard audibly in that upper vocal register.

So much for classy! “Gush” is not referencing ‘gushing’ ocean waves by any means.  But rather than stick that god-awful parental advisory sticker on G I R L, “Gush” has been edited, even if ubiquitous lyric “light that a$$ on fire” slyly remains intact.  The jazzy, soulful harmonic progression is clearly in Neptunian style, aka The Neptunes production.  That said, Williams was the driving force behind that production style, and he produces the entirety of G I R L.  But any who, Williams admits his perverted side didn’t come from his momma: “I don’t know what’s come over me / my momma didn’t raise me that way.”  Still, the continuation of the pre-chorus seems like an excuse only by a man possessed by the three-letter word (“…You lit a fire, from inside of me / that’d light your seat ablaze, girl…”), only confirmed by the chorus (“Tonight I wanna be dirty, girl…do you wanna get dirty girl? Let’s go”). Well, Williams is saying what most guys are thinking, right?

Pharrell Williams2-20140210-66Atonement for improprieties or being a ‘D-O-G’ comes with the undeniably enthusiastic “Happy”.  Sure, many knew that “Let It Go” from Frozen was going to be difficult to beat for an Oscar, but didn’t everyone have sweet spot in their heart for arguably the year’s most positive song? Throwback soul never sounded so relevant in a time where soulfulness isn’t the dominant trend.  That said, “Happy” is so addictive and infectious, that it is undeniable to want to move your body to it and smile.  Really, there’s no more to say – it’s classic.

Come Get It Bae” gets the tall task of following the gem, but the sick grooving number does a good job.  Williams enlists the help of Miley Cyrus, but to hers and his credit, it works.  Sure, the cut isn’t what you’d declare intelligent, but it is irresistible – and sexual. Yep, probably a perfect reason for ‘new Miley’ to guest… “Come get it bae, come get it bae… you wanna ride it, my motorcycle / you’ve got a license, but you got the right to,” Williams sings on the chorus, “Gonna pop a wheelie, don’t try too high / take it easy on the clutch, cause girl I like you.”  That motorcycle certainly can’t be a Harley… just an observation!

After getting riled up on “Come Get It Bae”, Williams settles things down with the help of Daft Punk.  “Gust of Wind” is amongst the albums’ best, featuring exceptional production work, driven by its groove.  Williams’ vocals are clear, soulful, and nuanced, among his best performances of the entire effort.  The chivalrous nature returns, contrasting the freakiness of “Bae”: “When I open the window / I wanna hug you / cause you remind me of the air / I said yeah / cause when I’m feelin’ real low / I remember I love you / I put my hands in the air / and you were there.”

Lost Queen” is lengthy, but that is because it features a hidden track (I won’t reveal it).  Like the rest of G I R L, “Lost Queen” is enjoyable and well conceived, but it isn’t quite as valedictory as the top echelon, which includes “Brand New”, “Happy”, and “Gust of Wind”.   As for that hidden track that I won’t name, it’s worth the listen.  “Know Who You Are” brings in Alicia Keys, who ends up collaborating well with Williams.  Like the rest Pharrell Williams-AES-121317of the LP, production remains top-notch, but the overall song/songwriting matches up well here too.  G I R L closes with “It Girl”, in which Williams’ falsetto is ripe from the jump.  It’s not as dominant a close as “Marilyn Monroe” opens, but it holds its own.

Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler.  Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear.  He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy.  Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.

Favorites:

“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”

Verdict: ★★★★

Heartbreak City: It’s The End For Robin Thicke and Paula Patton


Paula Patton Robin Thicke-AES-123457

Speaking from the perspective of a bachelor, being single isn’t too bad.  Sure, you get lonely sometimes, and you may not have someone to share your innermost secrets with but – yeah being single can suck! For those who have found their soul mate (cue the late-great Gerald LeVert’s song “Soul Mate” please), better yet their wife or husband, marriage, if approached equally from both sides, certainly should be the most wonderful thing, like ever… EVER!  I wouldn’t know mind you, but I imagine if I were to find the right gal, were to “put a ring on it” (sings “Single Ladies”), a brother would have it M.A.D.E. Scareface album from 2007.  Sigh, “all this love talk”…. Oops, one of my own lyrics. LOL.

But enough chitter-chattering from moi about hopeless romanticism and emo-love – “ain’t nobody got time for that!” (any number of sources, be it the viral video, Childish Gambino, or otherwise). I’m not usually one to even give a celebrity split the time of day unless its one of Taylor Swift’s endless breakups that turns into an annoyingly-delicious country/pop song (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, “Dear John”) or of course Justin Bieber.  However, after having such a big year, I can’t leave my boy Robin Thicke out of the gossip – err news.  The news that broke recently was that Robin Thicke and teenage sweetheart Paula Patton are separating following eight years of marriage and being linked together for what, two decades?

Well, we all know that relationships in “Hollywood” (regardless if that’s where they actually take place) are usually short-lived.  But for a while, it seemed Thicke and Patton seemed to work.  As of yet, there are no concrete details on the reasons for the break-up and honestly, and its really none of our business.  That said, much has been said about Thicke’s ‘behavior’ and no that doesn’t completely lay blame nor completely neglect that god-awful, abysmal, and ill-fitting Beetlejuice suit that was violated by Miley Cyrus’ more horrific twerking at the MTV VMAs.  JUST SAYING – It really didn’t help that Cyrus really “won’t stop” and “can’t stop” when she really, really NEEDS TO [BLEEP] STOP! Sigh! Apparently, Mr. Thicke seems to “get around”.  Again, speculation and gossip are horrid things, but one has to wonder, did a potentially “Unfaithful” Robin Thicke drive Patton crazy, making her feel undervalued? Did you catch the Rihanna song reference?

Here’s a “slow motion” version of Miley’s infamous VMAs performance for your enjoyment… or torture.

Then again, one has to question the incredibly controversial “Blurred Lines” and its effect.  Not only was the song raunchy regardless of what he and Pharrell intended, but the video was X-rated.   Yeah men enjoyed it – why wouldn’t they? But ask most married men if their wives would be okay with them filming a music video with nude women? That would be grounds for break-up or divorce for many right there, I can assure you and I ain’t put a ring on no one’s finger!  If the nude females didn’t do it, perhaps the reference to the size of the “crown jewels” would truly be the last straw… If you don’t catch my drift, well watch “Blurred Lines” again for yourself.

Sure, “Blurred Lines” was the biggest hit of Thicke’s career, trumping his more chivalrous “Lost Without U” from 2006 (The Evolution of Robin Thicke).   “Lost Without U” could be argued to be the better song of the two because of messaging, but it only made it into the top twenty.  “Blurred Lines” was the gift that just kept on giving, through theft charges, misogyny, and general bad taste.  The voters at the Recording Academy knew they couldn’t even reward the juggernaut – it’s lack of substance, despite its addictiveness, was just in “bad taste”.  No song references here, sorry!

Robin Thicke-AES-123459Did “Blurred Lines” destroy the Thicke marriage? Likely not, but for as much success as Thicke had after a lengthy career in the period of one year (2013), there has been an equal amount of controversy.  It was once said that “controversy sells”.  While it does to an extent, when does controversy become too much? Same could be said with marriage.  With whatever problem that arises, where is the breaking point? I mean, Keri Hilson said “Every women has a breaking point y’all…” (I think this was before she threw shade at Beyoncé).  When does a spouse’s bad decisions reach past the point of repair and too damaging to patch up?  Being the positive being I am, I hope that Thicke and Patton can one day work out their differences (Yep cue up “We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles) whatever they may be, but as of now, they are “Done.” – The Band Perry.  Go ahead and give me kudos for my country music reference.  Peace peeps!

BTW, in all seriousness, separation and divorce is no laughing matter.  But I think that many truly perceptive pop culture fanatics could tell something just wasn’t right…

56th Annual Grammy Award Predictions: The Big Four


Kendrick Lamar lands multiple Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist.

Grammy predictions for Record of the year, Album of the year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist

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.

Record of the Year 

“Get Lucky”, Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers

“Radioactive”, Imagine Dragons

“Royals”, Lorde

“Locked Out of Heaven”, Bruno Mars

“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell

41FJb1q2VyL._SL500_AA280_The Record of the Year category is one of the most stacked categories, no questions asked.  Honestly, any of these five songs are worthy of being THE ‘record of the year’.  Many times in the past, a rock or rock-oriented record has been victorious here.  That would bode well for the monster Imagine Dragons record “Radioactive” (I’m singing it in my head right now!).  However, this being the sole big-time song nomination for “Get Lucky”, I’ll go with Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, and Nile Rodgers FTW. “Get Lucky” was a tremendous crossover hit, regardless of missing the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

Album of the Year 

The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles

Random Access Memories, Daft Punk

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar

The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Red, Taylor Swift

41FJb1q2VyL._SL500_AA280_Ultimately, four of these nominations make sense as legitimately deserving recognition as album of the year.  While Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest was a solid album, doesn’t this seem like this should’ve been Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars’ nomination to represent the pop category?  Again, if I were picking, I’d choose Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, which I consider one of the best rap albums in some time.  However, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ‘did work’ too, and likely the two cancel each other out.   Thinking like the voters though, probably The Heist might outscore Good Kid M.A.A.D. City whether it should or not.

Because I’m not feeling the power of The Blessed Unrest, that leaves Red and Random Access MemoriesRed was a great album, BUT, Taylor Swift has already been awarded the Grammy’s most prestigious award, and I’m not sure that a few short years later (incredibly quick) she’ll be awarded again.  That would leave Random Access Memories as the victor.  It’s a fantastic album and would definitely make a statement for electronic music, which is incredibly popular currently.  

Song of the Year 

“Just Give Me A Reason” (Pink featuring Nate Ruess)

“Locked Out of Heaven” (Bruno Mars)

“Roar” (Katy Perry)

“Royals” (Lorde)

“Same Love” (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert)

41XAtgtU1xL._SL500_AA280_This is another fantastic category – sigh.  Again, all five songs are deserving of recognition and any of the five could be victorious.   Personally, P!nk seems to be incredibly underrated when it comes to Grammy-love, and my gut tells me that “Just Give Me A Reason” will be underrated here.  “Locked Out Of Heaven” is a superb song by Bruno Mars, but it’s up against some big-time juggernauts that materialized later in 2013.  That leaves “Roar”, “Royals” and “Same Love”.   Of the three, “Same Love” is arguably the most legit song, singing about socially relevant subject matter.  That said is “Same Love” too big of a leap for voters particularly being a hip-hop song?  That leaves the youthful Lorde and the multiple times nominated Katy Perry.  “Roar” is Perry’s most serious and mature song to date, and perhaps if “Royals” weren’t so unique, she’d leave victorious.  With “Royals” possibly losing Record of the Year, Lorde comes up victorious by the slightest edge in Song of the Year.

Best New Artist 

James Blake

Kendrick Lamar

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Kacey Musgraves

Ed Sheeran

51BomNkKT2LThe Best New Artist category is another strong one by all means.  What makes this category incredibly unique is the fact that none of the artists in this category are nominated for record or song of the year; two are nominated for album of the year though.  It’s nice to see an artist like James Blake receive a nomination here; particularly considering the British DJ/producer/singer is still a relative unknown in the U.S.  That said, don’t place bets that Blake will be victorious, particularly if Ed Sheeran has anything to do with it.  My gut tells me Sheeran is a dark horse, as the fight for this award seems to be between hip-hop heavyweights/album of the year nominees Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.   As for Kacey Musgraves, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the rebellious country artist.  Again, like James Blake, I doubt Musgraves comes out on the winning end.  I’ll vote with my heart and give Kendrick Lamar the win, but I could definitely see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis accepting the statue as well.

So here’s the scorecard:

Record of the Year:  “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers

Album of the Year: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk

Song of the Year: “Royals”, Lorde

Best New Artist: Kendrick Lamar

The 100 Best Songs of 2013: Complete!


Juicy J-WBU-019355

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.

100

“I Luv This Sh*t”

August Alsina featuring Trinidad James

From album: Downtown: Life Under the Gun

August Alsina has one foul mouth on him, but his real talk mixed with the slower, horn-accentuated production is a match made in heaven, if a blasphemous one (see the hook).

99

“Cabaret”

Alice Smith

From album: She

According to highly underrated alt-R&B musician Alice Smith, Hollywood isn’t very kind: “I see no reason for chasing / in Hollywood, got to lose my patience / want this life to be a cabaret…” Hollywood may not be for the ‘faint of heart’, but “Cabaret” it self is brilliant.

98

“Every Man Should Know”

Harry Connick, Jr.

From album: Every Man Should Know

Sometimes the simplest, and most important life lessons to become a gentleman are best conveyed through song, preferably a mix between traditional pop, jazz, and country.

97

“Sophomore”

Ciara

From album: Ciara

Judging by this track, Ciara is far from being a ‘freshman’… definitely. “I ain’t no amateur / baby I know how to handle ya / If you ready for this ride, get your saddle up / I need a boy with some stamina…”

 96

“Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)”

Wale

From album: The Gifted

We expect nothing less than Wale’s clever wordplay between “piece” and “peace”, particularly on an album titled The Gifted.  Specifically, Wale informs us that too many people don’t want to hear about Jesus or his ‘peaceful’, Christian approach; they’re more concerned about the bling-bling (aka Jesus piece).

95

“Holy Grail”

Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake

From album: Magna Carta…Holy Grail

Magna Carta…Holy Grail certainly left plenty to be desired, but few can deny that Jay-Z is one of the kings – all hail, “Holy Grail”!

94

“Unf**kwittable”

Kid Cudi

From album: Indicud 

Basically, Cudi is saying you can’t mess with him… he’s unbreakable… or something like that.

93

“Let Us Move On”

Dido featuring Kendrick Lamar

From album: Girl Who Got Away

Even English singer/songwriter Dido had to get Kendrick Lamar on the track… can’t blame her.  “Let Us Move On” is arguably the best moment from an underrated album nobody bought.   Well, I bought it to be fair.

92

“Vegas Girl”

Conor Maynard

From album: Contrast

The video is a trip…‘course the song is too.  Conor may still have some ‘schmaltz’ about him, but he also has some swag.  Swag on brother – swag on!

91

“Pusher Lover Girl”

Justin Timberlake

From album: The 20/20 Experience

Love and sex have been compared and likened to everything at this point (thanks R. Kelly).  JT decides to make his lady like a drug dealer, only she deals love instead of say cocaine.  What’s shocking is that this album opener works triumphantly.

90

“Clappers”

Wale featuring Juicy J Nicki Minaj

From album: The Gifted

What does one learn from the ‘cellulite anthem’ “Clappers”? That “Shawty got a big ole butt…OH YEAHHHHHH!!!”

89

“Heart Attack”

Demi Lovato

From album: Demi 

I’m not going to front, I’ve been listening to Demi put her “defenses up” all summer…  I don’t think she could really survive the number of heart attacks she’d receive at the hands of my playlist on repeat though…

88

“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”

Alice In Chains

From album: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

While the Bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs (at least that I can remember off the top of my head), I’m not so sure Satan created them… Regardless, this title track from Alice In Chains’ most recent album was among the best hard rock performances of the year, potential misconceptions and all.

87

“While I’m Alive”

STRFKR

From album: Miracle Mile

While I’m Alive” sports an irresistible, danceable groove; Electronic cues further sweeten things while the soulful guitar is the ‘cherry on top’.  Well written, the theme of “While I’m Alive” is getting past the past, broken relationships, and living ‘while I’m alive.’

86

“Bandz A Make Her Dance

Juicy J featuring 2 Chainz Lil Wayne

From album: Stay Trippy

Everyone needs a good stripper anthem in his (or her) lives, right? On the raunchy “Bandz A Make Her Dance”, Juicy J spits: “Bands a make her dance, bands a maker her dance / All these chicks poppin’ p***y, I’m just poppin’ bands…”

85

“Body Party”

Ciara

From album: Ciara

Just when ‘the art of making love’ was getting boring… Ciara’s here to spice things up!

84

“Her Favorite Song”

Mayer Hawthorne

From album: Where Does This Door Go

Yeah, the accompanying music video is weird, even if the ‘dogs’ are meant to represent guys that are dogs (in theory), but the song is brilliant.  “But when she gets home, she puts her headphones on / she plays her favorite song and fades away…” I do the same thing… well not quite in the same context though…

83

“Brave”

Sara Bareilles

From album: The Blessed Unrest

Here’s the gist of the song: STAND UP AND BE A MAN!!!  $%^!

82

“Trojans”

Atlas Genius

From album: When It Was Now

I promise this song is not about a popular brand of condoms or making love… really:  “Take a picture you could never recreate / write a song / make a note / for the lump that sits inside your throat…” I promise!

81

Forbidden Fruit

J. Cole featuring Kendrick Lamar

From album: Born Sinner

I know, I know – I somehow missed this gem on my “50 Best Rap Songs”, but the atonement is on this broader list.  The one-two punch of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar is nothing short of fire, period.

80

“Love Me”

Lil Wayne featuring Future Drake

From Album: I Am Not A Human Being II

“Love Me” may have been a shallow as everything else was on I Am Not A Human Being II, but at least it was enjoyably shallow.  “Long as my b*****s love me / I can give a f**k ‘bout no hater…”

 79

“Angel”

Depeche Mode

From album: Delta Machine

Sure, this track is titled “Angel”, but it surely must be representing a dark angel… Mysterious, chilling, and ‘bothered’, “Angel” finds Depeche Mode doing what they do best.

78

“Nosetalgia”

Pusha T featuring Kendrick Lamar

From album: My Name Is My Name

The rap IQ on “Nosetalgia” is off the charts, particularly with Kendrick Lamar collaborating with Pusha.   Pusha T proclaims himself the “Black Ferris Bueller, cutting school with his jewels on…what I sell for pain in the hood, I’m a doctor…” while Kendrick Lamar’s slaughtering verse is capped off with “Go figure mother f**ker, every verse is a brick.” True.

77

“Ain’t It Fun”

Paramore

From album: Paramore 

Ain’t It Fun” may be Paramore’s best track EVER.  Driven by a funky groove, the band goes ‘big’ with a gargantuan bass line, full-force punk-laden guitars, and gospel vocals.  ‘ain’t it fun’? – Definitely!

76

“Pop That”

French Montana featuring Rick Ross, Drake & Lil Wayne

From album: Excuse My French

The raunchiest track from French Montana’s debut album is the best.  It’s all about popping… and I’ll leave it at that!

Read More…

The 100 Best Songs of 2013: Part 4 (#25 – 1)


Lady Gaga-20131031-66After 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.

25

“Started From The Bottom”

Drake
From album: Nothing Was The Same

Once more, the hook sums it up best: “Started from the bottom now we’re here / started from the bottom now my whole team f**kin’ here…”

24

“Diane Young

Vampire Weekend

From album: Modern Vampires of the City 

‘Dying young’ in it self is a drag, man, but “Diane Young” and its bubbly sound, quick tempo, and sharp-as-a-tack wordplay is a blast! “Baby, baby, baby, baby, right on time!”

23

“Q.U.E.E.N.”

Janelle Monáe featuring Erykah Badu

From album: The Electric Lady 

Catchy, ‘real talk’, soulful, contemporary, and laden with swagger, “Q.U.E.E.N.” proves to be one of the best songs of 2013, regardless of genre. “Am I a freak for dancing around?” Of course not! Monáe even throws some rhymes in there, further showing her incredible artistic versatility and restlessness. Dance on Janelle – dance on!

22

“Who Do We Think We Are?”

John Legend featuring Rick Ross

From album: Love In the Future

Legend impresses lyrically on the soulful, throwback “Who Do We Think We Are?”  Filled with widely interpretable lyrics including “We love, we love, we love the stars / we could fall so hard…”, Legend seems to reference any number of things including stardom, living up life, and/or literally getting high.  Rick Ross balls hard on his assist: “She gets Chanel / Ski trips to Vail / only the highest grade like trees that I inhale”.

21

“Two Fingers”

Jake Bugg

From album: Jake Bugg

From Jake Bugg’s perspective, life hasn’t been easy – Clifton (England) had its issues, though he’s getting moving forward from a rough past.  On this brilliantly penned, retro singer/songwriter cut, Bugg has to “…drink to remember, I smoke to forget…”, and eventually “…hold(s) two fingers up to yesterday / light a cigarette smoke it all away / I got out, I got out, I’m alive, but I’m here to stay.”

20

“F**kin’ Problems”

A$AP Rocky featuring 2 Chainz, Drake & Kendrick Lamar

From album: Long. Live. A$AP

Basically, even though adding an f-bomb technically intensifies problems rather than solving them, the relief of letting the obscenity slip psychologically makes things feel both calmer and better… something like that! LOL! The f-bombs are here for the taking.

19

“Wrecking Ball”

Miley Cyrus

From album: Bangerz

Thank goodness there was more to “Wrecking Ball” than the atrocious video where Miley Cyrus rides the wrecking ball in the nude.  Miley’s shock value seems to be part of her ‘new Miley’ thing, but “Wrecking Ball” it self stands tall without any extra attention-seeking gimmicks.  The refrain alone is shimmering pop at its best.

18

“Black Skinhead”

Kanye West

From Album: Yeezus

“Black Skinhead” was one of the most unapologetic tracks of the year – no questions asked.  Among my favorite lyrics:  I’m aware I’m a wolf, soon as the moon hit / I’m aware I’m a king, back out the tomb b***h!” There it is!

17

“Power Trip”

J. Cole featuring Miguel

From album: Born Sinner 

All about love or a play on double meanings – you decide on the year’s smoothest rap track that’s got Cole “up all night, all I’m singing is love songs…” Face it – you can’t go wrong when you got Miguel on the track! He’s a beast…a sensual one at least.

16

Eminem

“Rap God

from album: The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Eminem confirms whom the real “Rap God” is as he ‘wipes his butt’ with the competition (not as frankly as he might put it, but I’m trying to ‘be good’ here).  No one is exempt – well maybe except for Kendrick Lamar.

15

“Mirrors”

Justin Timberlake

From album: The 20/20 Experience 

On standout track “Mirrors”, Timberlake graces his audience with an eight-minute juggernaut that straddles the lines between pop and urban music.  His falsetto is sweet as syrup, the vocal harmonies superb, with the strings of The Benjamin Wright Orchestra providing the ‘cherry on top.’  The chorus is among the very best moments: “Cause I don’t wanna lose you now / I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me / the vacancy that sat in my heart / is a space that now you hold …”

14

Miley Cyrus

“We Can’t Stop”

From album: Bangerz 

You know, the sad thing is that when Ms. Cyrus told us she “won’t stop,” well, she told the absolute truth.  Who would’ve thought that referencing twerking and popping mollies would only be the beginning? “It’s our party we can do what we want!” Indeed Miley, indeed.

BTW, what about a little parody fun?

13

“Reflektor”

Arcade Fire

From album: Reflektor

“Reflektor” definitely didn’t represent the expected direction many thought that Grammy-winning collective Arcade Fire would take, given its percussive, danceable groove. The cut dances tastefully though, eschewing today’s EDM cues in favor of a mix of neo-disco and traditional Arcade Fire characteristics.  The songwriting is accessible, with the chorus being irresistibly catchy and simple.

12

“Obvious Bicycle”

Vampire Weekend

From album: Modern Vampires of the City

“Obvious Bicycle” is arguably the most beautiful song from Vampire Weekend’s discography at this point.  Highlights of the mysterious opener include Ezra Koenig’s effortless falsetto, which is ripe as ever on the chorus. “Obvious Bicycle” is nothing short of warm and hypnotizing.

11

“A Couple of Forevers”

Chrisette Michele

From album: Better

Chrisette Michele returns the ‘passion’ and ‘romance’ to R&B with this breathtaking, thoughtful ballad.  “Just a couple of forevers / a couple of forevers / I’m the only one, you’re the only one / together ‘til never…” I’ll be your ‘forever’ CM.

10

“Same Love”

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

From album: The Heist

This hip-hop anthem embracing tolerance and equality for same-sex relationships was quite a risky, courageous move.  More than just merely breaking barriers, “Same Love” is a brilliant song.

9

“Blood On The Leaves”

Kanye West

From album: Yeezus

Blood On The Leaves” is the crowning achievement from Yeezus. Constructed around a Nina Simone sample (“Strange Fruit”), thoughtful piano, and some awesome biting brass, “Blood On the Leaves” shines like a beacon.

8

“If I Had A Tail”

Queens of the Stone Age

From album: …Like Clockwork

Characterized by a killer driving groove, a classic rock-worthy anthemic chorus, and standout songwriting, “If I Had A Tail” yet another gift that keeps on giving.  “If I had a tail / I’d own the night / if I had a tail / I’d swat the flies.”

7

“We Can’t End This Way”

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

From album: Get Up! 

Soulful, gritty, and organic, this blues-gospel number is truly a gem.  The backing gospel choir truly puts the cherry on top.  After all, “we can’t end this way!”

6

Do What U Want

Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly

From album: ARTPOP 

Taken at its most literal (aka sexually), “Do What U Want” is a good song.  When examined figuratively (empowerment, non-shallow things), it’s just plain awesome.  If there was ever a question of Lady Gaga’s vocal abilities, she squashes them deader than a doornail here.

5

Roar

Katy Perry

From album: PRISM 

The lyrics say it all:  “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter / dancing through the fire / cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar…” You better “roar” Katy!!!

4

“God Is Dead?”

Black Sabbath

From Album: 13 

Atheists and Christians alike can appreciate this hard-rocking joint… well to an extent (at least the question mark is in place).  To Ozzy’s credit, later on in the track he states, “I don’t believe that God is dead…” Still, the communion (sacrament) seems compromised when Ozzy states “The blood runs free / the rain turns red / give me the wine / you keep the bread…” Oh well.

3

Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams

From Album: Blurred Lines

Even after multiple controversies surrounding “Blurred Lines” (misogyny and potential ‘artistic theft’), Robin Thicke’s career is thankful for the gift that just kept on giving. You can’t deny how catchy it is, or how slick ole boy’s falsetto is.

2

“Royals

Lorde

From album: Pure Heroine 

Now this teen has real swag… Justin Bieber, take notes!  “And we’ll never be royals / it don’t run in our blood / that kind of lux just ain’t for us / we crave a different kind of buzz…”

1

“Get Lucky

Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams

From album: Random Access Memories

The groovy, sexy “Get Lucky” only makes the act of ‘making love’ even more enticing.  Pharrell sings it best on the golden hook: “She’s up all night to the sun / I’m up all night to get some / she’s up all night for good fun / I’m up all night to get lucky…” Yeah boy!

Be sure to check out the previously released parts with songs #100-76, #75-51, and #50 – 26.

The 100 Best Songs of 2013: Part 2 (#75 – 51)


Mac Miller-PFR-010521

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.

75

“Cookie”

R. Kelly

From album: Black Panties

Oreos everywhere has been violated… enough said.

74

“Work B**ch”

Britney Spears

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.

73

“Blow”

Beyoncé

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…

72

“For The Rest of My Life”

Robin Thicke

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.

71

“Porno”

Arcade Fire

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)!

70

“Winning Hand”

Bilal

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.

69

“Here’s To Never Growing Up”

Avril Lavigne

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!

68

“Love and War”

Tamar Braxton

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.”

67

“The Way”

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’.

66

“Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”

Arcade Fire

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.

65

“New Slaves”

Kanye West

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.

64

“Trouble”

José James

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.

63

“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!

62

“Goosebumpz”

Mac Miller

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!

61

“I Need”

TGT

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!

60

“Where Are We Now?”

David Bowie

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.

59

“You Lust”

The Flaming Lips

From album: The Terror

Three words:  “LUST TO SUCCED!”

58

“Holy Ghost”

Mavis Staples

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.

57

“Don’t Swallow the Cap”

The National

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.

56

“Take This Dirty Water”

Elton John

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.

55

“Bound 2”

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.

54

“Strictly Reserved For You”

Charles Bradley

From album: Victim of Love

Every bit of Charles’ love – well, it’s “strictly reserved for you.” Aww, the feeling of feeling loved.

53

“Dope”

Lady Gaga

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.”

52

Genius

R. Kelly

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.

51

“Cowboy”

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.

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The 50 (+1) Best Albums of 2013


Kanye West-20131126-42

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!

1

Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires of the City

XL

51Tqebc+IZL._SL500_AA280_The Ivy Leaguers outdo themselves on this eclectic, alt-rock tour de force. Stacked from start to finish, Ezra Koenig and company deliver sharp wordplay and highly liberal thinking.

Recommended Spins: “Obvious Bicycle”; “Unbelievers”; “Diane Young”; “Finger Back”; “Worship You”; “Ya Hey”

Seals The Deal:  “Obvious Bicycle”

2

Kanye West

Yeezus

Def Jam

51xNTn2L83L._SL500_AA280_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” 

3

Janelle Monae

The Electric Lady

Bad Boy

51q3xK+M7zL._SL500_AA280_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

4

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Columbia

41FJb1q2VyL._SL500_AA280_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

5

John Legend

Love in the Future

Columbia

41o5xUIKO+L._SL500_AA280_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 

6

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

Get Up!

Stax 

51dp0nxPTmL._SL500_AA280_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”

7

Black Sabbath

13

Republic 

510gRIX6xfL._SL500_AA280_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?”

8

Drake

Nothing Was The Same

Republic 

41E34dng69L._SL500_AA280_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” 

9

Beyoncé

Beyoncé

Columbia

31-q26oFwyL._SL500_AA280_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

10

Arcade Fire

Reflektor

Merge

51wzw69ySAL._SL500_AA280_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”

Read More…

25 Best R&B Albums of 2013


John Legend-20130621-53

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! 

1

Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

Bad Boy

51q3xK+M7zL._SL500_AA280_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!

 

Recommended Spins:

“Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” 

2

John Legend

Love in the Future

G.O.O.D. / Columbia

41o5xUIKO+L._SL500_AA280_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!

Recommend Spins:

“In The Beginning”; “Made to Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”

3

Beyoncé

Beyoncé

Columbia

Digital Booklet - BEYONCÉBeyoncé 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.

Recommended Spins:

“Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”

4

Charles Bradley

Victim of Love

Daptone

Charles Bradley1-20131108-265-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.

Recommended Spins:

“Strictly Reserved For You”; “Victim of Love”; “Confusion”

 

5

José James

No Beginning, No End

Blue Note

412OsY-eNgL._SL500_AA280_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”.

Recommended Spins:

“It’s All Over My Body”; “Trouble”; “Vanguard”

6

Fantasia

Side Effects of You

RCA

51R6Qpg7HKL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“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”

7

Bilal

A Love Surreal

Entertainment One

518G2jOk81L._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Westside Girl”; “Back To Love”; “Winning Hand”; “Slipping Away”; “Butterfly”

8

Alice Smith

She

Rainwater

Alice Smith's She easily ranks among 2013's best albums.

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.

Recommended Spins:

“Cabaret”; “Another Love”; “Loyalty”; “Fool For You”; “Be Easy”

9

Jhene Aiko

Sail Out (EP)

Def Jam

51vWznSh56L._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“The Vapors”; “Bed Peace”; “Stay Ready (What A Life)”; “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)”

 

10

Chrisette Michele

Better

Def Jam

51v0nrvYiuL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“A Couple of Forevers”; “Let Me Win”;  “Love Won’t Leave Me Out”; “Visual Love”; “Charades”

11

Jaheim

Appreciation Day

Atlantic

51Fc7Pmf5aL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Age Ain’t A Factor”; “He Don’t Exist”;  “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”

12

Raheem DeVaughn

A Place Called Loveland

Mass Appeal

61WNU5xS-EL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

 “Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”

 

13

Ariana Grande

Yours Truly

Republic

41VAP7icdZL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Honeymoon Avenue”; “Baby I”; “Right There”; “You’ll Never Know”; “The Way” featuring Mac Miller; “Almost is Never Enough” featuring Nathan Sykes

 

14

Mavis Staples

One True Vine

Anti

51fqkurDW+L._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Holy Ghost”; “Every Step”; “Can You Get To That”; “I Like The Things About Me”

 

15

K. Michelle

Rebellious Soul

Atlantic

51AjsEvsGwL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Damn”; “Can’t Raise a Man”; “V.S.O.P.”; “Ride Out”; “When I Get A Man”

 

16

Robin Thicke

Blurred Lines

Interscope

91zMqP7d2NL._SL1500_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”.

Recommended Spins:

“Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”;  “Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”

17

TGT

Three Kings

Atlantic

51Y8U1sKI3L._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Sex Never Felt Better”; “I Need”; “Next Time Around”; “Explode”; “Running Back”; “Burn Out”

18

Mayer Hawthorne

Where Does This Door Go?

Republic

41bg0QHWBCL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Back Seat Lover”; “The Innocent”; “The Only One”; “Her Favorite Song”; “Reach Out Richard”

19

Ciara

Ciara

Epic

51TpXUESJhL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended:

“Sophomore”; “Body Party”; “Keep On Lookin’”; “Super Turnt Up”

 

20

Kelly Rowland

Talk A Good Game

Republic

8121kg2H5XL._SL1500_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.

Recommended Spins:

“Kisses Down Low”; “Down on Love”; “Dirty Laundry”; “Red Wine”

 

21

Joe

Doubleback: Evolution of R&B

Massenberg Media

6160ddGP8hL._SL500_AA280_After several albums lacking the quality of his best, Joe returns with a throwback (“doubleback”) R&B album that finds him flexing his sensual muscles like a G.

Recommended Spins:

“Something For You”; “Easy”; “I’d Rather Have A Love”; “Love & Sex” featuring Fantasia; “More”

22

Tamar Braxton

Love and War

Epic 

51WHDUdSVlL._SL500_AA280_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.

Recommended Spins:

“The One”; “Stay and Fight”; “Love and War”; “One On One Fun”; “Where It Hurts”; “Prettiest Girl”

 

23

Teena Marie

Beautiful

Ume

51qA7widqQL._SL500_AA280_Teena Marie passed on in 2010, but she left a stunning final studio album in Beautiful, which is just that.  Beautiful is Teena Marie at her very best – soulful, sensual, and brilliant.

Recommended Spins:

“Luv Letter”; “Sweet Tooth”; “Love Starved”; “Definition of Down”; “Beautiful”; “The Long Play”

 

24

Aaron Neville

True Story

Blue Note

51FcjEZV-6L._SL500_AA280_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!

Recommended Spins:

“My True Story”; “Ting A Ling”; “Under The Boardwalk”

25

R. Kelly

Black Panties

RCA

51l9Oz9KgnLMaybe 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…

Recommended Spins:

“Legs Shakin’” featuring Ludacris; “Cookie”; “Genius”; “All The Way” featuring Kelly Rowland

Five Music Takeaways from 2013…


61yONCH4jQL

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.  

1

Pop music was ‘down’ overall, but had its moments…

51PXgWbbyILMaybe 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.  

2

R&B music continued to limp commercially compared to other genres.

51Y8U1sKI3L._SL500_AA280_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.

3

Country wasn’t nearly as dominant or relevant as it’s been in the past…

51AN-VnY7bL._SL500_AA280_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.

 

4

Rock/alternative delivered some of the years most sensational albums.

41HOLOY507L._SL500_AA280_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.

5

Like rock, hip-hop/rap was a bright spot in 2013. 

51xNTn2L83L._SL500_AA280_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$AP Rocky’s Long.Live ASAP (no. 1, 139,000 copies), and Mac Miller’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off (no. 3, 102,000 copies).   Others fell below that 81LFx7SM8AL._SL1400_‘threshold of success’, but gained our attention nonetheless: Tyler, the Creator (Wolf, no. 3, 80,000 copies), Earl Sweatshirt (Doris, no. 5, 49,000 copies), and A$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!

 

Grantland

Sports and Pop Culture from Bill Simmons and our rotating cast of writers | Grantland

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