2013 is here and that means new music, new music, new music. I am more than thrilled to see a continuation of the greatness that was projected last year via new artists like Frank Ocean (who I am a die hard advocate for) and seasoned artists in the game who are elevating the status of good music.
As with last year’s prediction for new artists and music, I’m giving you the low-down on some artists and albums that I am really looking forward to in 2013. Let’s just hope these artists stay on schedule and don’t have us waiting too long.
Anita Baker – Only Forever
Ms. Baker is a legend in music, period. I cannot think of anyone within the contemporary realm of music that effortlessly and elegantly blends R&B, jazz, and soul the way she does. And I’m not just saying that because she lives in the Motor City. For over 20 years, the Grammy award winning vocalist has gracefully serenaded fans with love songs, (“Sweet Love,” “Angel,” “Body and Soul”) crooned over sad tales of lost affection(“Fairy Tales,” “I Apologize”) and added a tender touch of classiness to every one of her songs. In 2002, she joined the famous jazz label Blue Note – befitting of her jazzy take on R&B – and released My Everything, her first record since 1994’s classic soul album Rhythm of Love.
It’s been almost a decade since we’ve heard the sultry sounds of Ms. Baker on vinyl, but now she is back to claim her status as the real deal of R&B. Her new album, Only Forever is set to be released this year and what a treat it will be for Baker fans. The album was originally set to be released last October, but was pushed back to early this year. Her first single “Lately” is a sultry, soft tempo tune that perfectly captures her sizzling contralto voice . She puts a jazzy twist on the song, originally released by Tyrese in the late 1990s. The tune got Baker a Grammy nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance, and landed at #10 on the Billboard Urban AC Chart, making it the highest debut single on that chart in the last 15 years. I predict Only Forever to be as captivating as her other work and serve as proof that she is one of the baddest vocalists in music.
Q-Tip – The Last Zulu
Q-Tip is a part of hip hop royalty. If you know anything about A Tribe Called Quest, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from. One of the most intellectually gifted, poignant rhyme spitting groups to ever touch a mic, ATCQ were trail blazers in the 1990s with their unique spin on hip hop blending jazz and soul elements into their music. Along with Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammand, Q-Tip played a major role in rap and his influence is apparent in the work of tons of contemporary hip hop artists like Kanye West, Common, Jay-Z and others. What made Tip so alluring was his cool, nonchalant tone and slick rhyme patterns.
I could spend days just talking about classic ATCQ albums like Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory, but I’ll save that for another blog post. I think you get my point that Tip is about as great as they come in hip hop, and while his music remains underrated commercially, he is still making a lot of noise in the music industry. He’s produced music for a ton of artists like Kanye West, Esperanza Spalding, Beyonce, and Mary J. Blidge, and has continued to record great records. (The Renaissance is a must listen btw)
His last album Kamaal The Abstract was released in 2009, and in 2012 he was signed to Yeezy’s G.O.O.D. Music label, once again teaming up with his former Def Jam family. Now, he is working on his fourth solo album, The Last Zulu, to be released sometime this year. Rumor had it that he was supposed to be make an appearance on the G.O.O.D. Music collaboration album, Cruel Summer, but he’s confirmed his presence on the follow-up album, Cruel Winter. He hasn’t talked much about what to expect from his new album, but he says the album title was inspired by his ancestry and finding out that he has South African Zulu heritage. Whatever the outcome of the album is, I know its gonna be nothin but pure, original Tip and that’s all I can ask for.
Maxwell – Summers
If there is one word I could use to describe Maxwell, it would be mysterious. Behind those alluring eyes and pulsating vocals is a profound character that doesn’t need to be in the limelight to appeal to the masses. His music is just that timeless to the point where we could go years without hearing a Maxwell track and still find great pleasure in listening to his past albums like Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite or the pacifying soul fantasy Embrya.
As one of the pioneers of neo-soul, Maxwell has continued to elevate the classic music that sprung up in the early to mid 1990s. But, like other neo-soul leaders like D’Angelo, it’s been hard to get a lot of music out of him. After a seven year hiatus, he released the gratifying album BLACKsummers’night in 2009 to much acclaim. He announced that the album would be a part of a trilogy that would be released over the course of three years. Well, like I mentioned before, I’m completely satisfied with his music and am not building up any tense emotions after having to wait another four years for part two, but we all think it’s time that Maxwell bless us with another installment. On January 3, he released a teaser of the new song, “Gods” from his upcoming album, Summers. He is set to headline the Essence Music Festival this summer, so the best guess is that we should expect some seductive tracks from Mr. Neo-Soul himself by then. But, if not, I can definitely go a little longer listening to BLACKsummers’night.
Jhene Aiko – Souled Out
There have been a lot of changes going on in R&B within the last year or so, and we have newcomers like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd to thank. But, we haven’t seen this evolution reflect the music of many female R&B artists. At least not in the mainstream per say, but Jhene Aiko is an exception. She has set out to break the silence for female vocalists and bring her electro soul voice to the forefront of the music scene.
She has already captured a lot of attention since the debut of her mixtape, Sailing Souls in March 2011. Her style is more on the soft, sensual side with doses of R&B and heavy hip hop influences. She has been cosigned by major hip hop heads like Kanye West, Drake, and new rap sensation Kendrick Lamar, who all appear on Sailing Souls. But,this isn’t Jhene’s first step into the music industry.
The 24-year- old chanteuse has been making moves in the music scene since she was 12, appearing on R&B boy group B2K’s albums in the early 2000’s and even had a record deal with Epic at one point. But, when things didn’t work out with the deal, she took a step back from the music scene, had a daughter, and set her sights on crafting her own style. She is currently signed to producer No. I.D.’s label Artium Records under the Def Jam Records stamp and is working on her debut album, Souled Out. Her first single “3:16am” is a dark, electrosoul tune about broken love and being in a bleak state. With her deep lyricism and sultry attitude, there’s no doubt that Jhene is going places in the music industry.
Cècile McLorin Salvant – Woman Child
I believe Ben Ratliff said it best when describing jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant in a recent NY Times feature article. “”She has short hair and white, thick-framed glasses; she smiles easily, but doesn’t have the typical mannerisms of many younger jazz singers — conciliatory, or flirty, or mystical. Ms. Salvant is as serious as a library, and never corny.”
Yes, Ms. Salvant is not your traditional jazz vocalist, at least in terms of appearance, but she is radiant as a butterfly and gives off elements of jazz legends like Abbey Lincoln and Sarah Vaughn when she sings. And to only be 23 and sounding as well trained as vocalists twice her age, you can bet she has her eyes set on becoming the next big thing in jazz. She is already making major waves in the jazz field having performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as with pianist Aaron Diehl, saxophonist Archie Schepp, and bassist Rodney Whitaker.
Salvant is also not your typical jazz singer in another respect. She sings in French and Spanish (her native tongues, she is French and Haitian), and also studied classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. And if that isn’t impressive enough, she also won the 2010 Thelonius Monk Competition, which displays some of the most talented young musicians in the country. She is already a star overseas and is well on her way to becoming one in the states. She is currently signed to Mac Avenue Records and will release her debut album, Woman Child early this year. The title song off the album is described as a “parable about innocence and experience,” and was written by Salvant. She illustrates as much elegance in originals as she does in standard tunes such as “Softly In a Morning Sunrise” or “Moody’s Mood for love,” and all I can say is I’m looking forward to listening to whatever songs she has to offer.