A Seat at the Table came out of left field and surprised as one of the most complete artistic projects to come out this year. The neo-soul production was absolutely spectacular and her honest, raw, social commentary make this a must listen. Her sister waded in the shallow end of black consciousness and cultural embrace, Solange dove in the deep end head first.
Starboy isn't so much of a reinvention as it is a readjustment. Easing up on some of the seediness and dark narratives have made this his safest work to date, but it's still a highly entertaining listen and shows why he's still leaps and bounds ahead of his many imitators.
Darkness and Light is his most ambitious album in years, flirting with the deeper, darker side of himself but never fully committing to going 'there.' Resulting in yet another great sounding but safe album that doesn't resonate for all that long.
SweetSexySavage was a solid, albeit somewhat shallow, major debut from the singer. It's high quality, studio production combined with her great prototypical R&B voice and natural swagger create some really infectious moments, but ultimately drags on a bit due to it's sheer length.
The Drum Chord Theory is the second solo offering to come from the members of The Internet and it's their second really strong offering that shows off everything they're capable of as individuals. Matt Martians is a phenomenal rising producer who's crafted some great experimental grooves that dabble in funk, R&B, and neo-soul. There are some definite hints of early Pharrell and Star Trak.
I don't understand the hype NAV got outside of being associated with The Weeknd. There's nothing special or original here that differentiates him from the other "trendy" acts out there, and these acts are a dime a dozen these days. Just another checklist of everything that's considered cool at the moment.
Tuxedo is a more than admirable throwback to the disco/funk golden era of yesteryear without feeling like a cheap imitation. Their second go around improves on their formula in every way possible and begs for you to just throw it on and groove out the whole way through.
JMSN has been one of the most consistent artists out there. Constantly giving us solid project after solid project. Whatever Makes U Happy won't change your opinion about him but it's yet another solid project that really captures the essence of that 90's era neo-soul he loves so much.
Bad Boy Records has been at it for 20+ years and their recent outpouring of nostalgia inducing collections and concerts has left me wondering about what could've, should've, and would've been Bad Boy Records. If it wasn't for some untimely losses, poor signings, and the rise of Sean Combs as a star, they'd go down as the greatest "urban" label ever.
Hard II Love is probably one of Usher's strongest projects in years. His vocals are strong as ever and the production mostly manages to blend more traditional R&B staples with newer trends successfully. Some of the subject matter, however, feels outdated in today's edgier R&B landscape.
Here is Alicia Keys' homage to classic hip-hop and the essence of New York. It's still her tried and true sound of a girl and her piano, but with a lot more grit and edge. Her vocals are as strong as ever as she continues this trend of black consciousness and culture. She's the definition of consistent greatness.
Awaken, My Love! is an interesting experiment that has some noteworthy moments but is ultimately held back by it's too faithful adherence to it's 70's funk influences. Sorely missing the levity, personality, and subject matter Gambino has become known for.
Fin serves almost as a proof of concept for the rising singer, and the way she can effortlessly glide from one style to the next with her signature humble bravado, proves that she's capable of almost anything. She took some already fantastic production and elevated it to the next level; that's the mark of a star, and the sky's the limit for her after this one.
This is the third solo offering from The Internet, and while it's the shortest of the trio it might show the most potential. At only 18 years of age, Steve Lacy shows a command and understanding of funk and soul well beyond his years. He is as equally strong in front of the boards as he is behind them; giving us glimpses of what might be the next big thing.
American Teen is an interesting first effort from the up and comer. It has a really unique retro feel to it that sets it apart from his peers, but at times it can come off as too forced. If hipster had a sound, this might be it. But I can see why so many are excited about his potential. He's like a lesser, male American Lorde.
I was always skeptical about SZA's true musical talent and appeal. None of her previous work ever connected with me and I found her rather lethargic. However, after CTRL's fantastic production and the raw honesty in the songs, I'm a skeptic no more. There's something to all the hype.
Allan Kingdom's major debut may not be particularly groundbreaking but it is still a very strong first offering that manages to push the envelope of what is modern hip-hop that much more. With shades of Cudi, he's got a bright future ahead of him.