The time has come for the unveiling of my favorite R&B album of 2014. But first, how about examining some of my favorite R&B albums over the past 10 years. In 2004, I graduated from high school and began college in the fall – I’m so old. Anyways, staying on script, here are some favorite R&B albums from 2004 to 2014.
2004 was a beast for urban music. R&B wasn’t nearly in the shape that it is today. But we all know that there was one album that dominated the year and that belonged to Usher’s Confessions. “Yeah!” was unstoppable, and everyone was truly “letting it Burn.” Crown Confessions one of few modern day classics that remains as fresh as it was in ’04. Usher ruled 2004, but don’t forget about magnificent efforts from Jill Scott (Beautifully Human: Words & Sounds Vol. 2) and Prince (Musicology).
Mariah Carey had a huge year with her comeback effort The Emancipation of Mimi, but the best R&B album of the year came in December with Mary J. Blige’s The Breakthrough. If 2003’s Love & Life was generally considered less triumphant than her past works, The Breakthrough greatly exceeded expectations.
2006 had plenty of excellent R&B albums, though arguably pinpointing one is harder to do than in 2004 or 2005. Still, the one that stands tall above the rest is a retro-soul effort by way of the late, great Amy Winehouse. Back in Black is an album that is simply timeless and will forever remain a modern R&B classic. Even with so many solid contemporary R&B albums issued, it’s the throwback vibe of Back in Black that represented the best of the year.
Mary J. Blige would release another fine album called Growing Pains in 2007, though it would never outshine the unbeatable The Breakthrough. Alicia Keys would also release her first proper studio album since 2003 smash The Diary of Alicia Keys. Even with two preeminent divas and a fine sophomore album by Ne-Yo, Keyshia Cole had her moment with Just Like You, her best album to date where consistency and magnificent vocals are the M.O.
Dominance wouldn’t be the best word to describe R&B in 2008, but there were plenty of great albums. Beyoncé had everyone onboard with “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” from her double album I Am Sasha Fierce. Jazmine Sullivan had us “busting window out” on her superb debut, Fearless, while Jamie Foxx told us to “Blame It on the alcohol” on Intuition. Still, arguably the most polished, refined R&B album of the year went to Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman. It wasn’t flashy, but definitely a sound, enjoyable album.
Again, a lack of dominance could describe the R&B market. Even so, albums by Rihanna (Rated R), Chrisette Michele (Epiphany), and Trey Songz (Ready) were all worthwhile. But the best R&B went to Maxwell, who seemed to keep neo-soul music alive just a little while longer on his Grammy-winning BLACKsummers’night. Those “Pretty Wings” were gorgeous!
Pick any number of great R&B albums and you have 2010 characterized. Looking over a number of albums that made me smile, one of the best came by way of Jazmine Sullivan, whose sophomore album Love Me Back was incredibly under appreciated. Who expected her to be as consistent as she was on her debut? Fantasia didn’t do too badly for herself either with Back To Me. Also, depending on how you characterize him, Bruno Mars did his thing on Doo Wops & Hooligans.
Hmm, who did have the best R&B album in 2011? First, let me give a shout out to Adele for her crossover appeal with 21. While there is ample soulfulness on 21, we’ll award Best R&B album to an album best defined as R&B. Yes, plenty of people gave Chris Brown props for F.A.M.E., but there were also better albums. With no one dominant, let’s give Anthony Hamilton some much-deserved recognition for Back To Love.
This is a tie. With the alternative R&B movement growing, two artists truly stood out: Frank Ocean (Channel Orange) and Miguel (Kaleidoscope Dream). But also shout out to Melanie Fiona, who’s The MF Life was one of the best, most underrated R&B albums of the year.
This one’s easy – it’s Beyoncé, hands down. Still, with many great R&B albums released, another that deserves recognition is John Legend’s Love in the Future.
And the winner for Best R&B album of 2014 is… a tie between Pharrell Williams’ Girl and Mary J. Blige’s The London Sessions. William’s album is slickly produced, benefiting from its grooves. The London Sessions may not be another The Breakthrough for Blige, but it shows some of her best musical attributes artistically.