2013 has been quite a year for music, particularly for hip hop, which I mentioned in my recent post on the Grammy’s. According to Grammy.com, the 2014 nominations reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres.
So that can only mean one thing: artists and musicians were on their game this year and were desperate to give their audience a new spin on classic genres.
I usually try to limit myself to one album per genre, but this year a lot artists cranked out some killer music so it was hard to limit the Best of to just one album. Take a look at which albums Roots Rhythm and Rhyme selected for Best of 2013.
J.Cole: Born Sinner
J.Cole is just like everyone else: a born sinner. But he doesn’t let the negative title get to him. Instead he embraces his inescapable flaws and that’s what makes his album so relatable and creatively touching. The MC pulled quite a stunt, releasing Born Sinner on the same day as the notorious Yeezus, which was already being predicted as the most thrill seeking LP of Kanye’s career. But, Cole is used to the daily pressures of being a rapper, especially one that is signed to Jay-Z’s label.
Born Sinner marks Cole’s sophomore LP on Roc Nation and it masterfully showcases the artist’s struggles at attaining fame (Trouble, Forbidden Fruit, Rich Niggaz) and the consequences of falling victim to money and groupies. He also gives mad props to his idols like Tupac, Biggie, and Nas, even dropping a song dedicated to the Illmatic rapper called “I Let Nas Down.” J.Cole proved that he is on his way to becoming as dope as those he admires and with the mad energy he brings on this album, you can tell that he isn’t far from that goal. Check out album review here.
Kanye West: Yeezus
Kanye is never one that is far from a Best of list. If it’s not in music, then it’s for something that is outlandish, ridiculous, or controversial, which should be his middle name. A lot of people hate on the Chitown MC, but he’s just doing what other rappers strive to do, which is make a difference with their music and raise the bar for hip hop. He definitely accomplished that with Yeezus.
On this unfiltered, anti-political album, Kanye takes his obsession with arrogance and hip hop superiority to another level and let’s everyone know about his battle with fame and women. The profound lyricism he conveys is equally reflected in the hardcore beats and eclectic sounds, which include rock ‘n’ roll, dancehall and R&B, just to name a few. Kanye definitely proved his point of wanting to create a rap album for the ages and while it’s at times hard to take in, there is plenty of shock value for fans to absorb. Check out album review here.
Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit
When thinking of classic jazz male vocalists, artists like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Joe Williams usually come to mind. But, with the 21st century, it’s a bit harder to name a ton of male jazz artists, at least a lot who have made accrued national crossover appeal. Gregory Porter has, in a sense, resurrected the classic vocal jazz genre for men in the industry with his smooth, baritone voice and natural vocal talent. And on his latest album, Liquid Spirit, he further showcases his musical brilliance both as a singer and songwriter. On his debut album for Blue Note, Porter demonstrates his affinity for the genres he was raised on like R&B, gospel and blues, and gives his all to every note. Check out album review here.
Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild
This year was certainly the year of the young jazz vocalist and a reminder that the brilliance of jazz does not simply lie in the hands of the veterans and departed legends. Jazz has always been enhanced and pioneered by young people and Cècile McLorin Salvant is another example of this fact. Only 23, Salvant has already received deep comparisons to jazz divas like Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Quite an honor for someone who just released their debut album.
But, after listening to the young songstress, there is no doubt about her mature vocal range and classic style. On WomanChild, Salvant flaunts her comfort and creative take on blues, jazz and vaudeville standards. She is definitely a shoe in for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2014 Grammy’s and I’m sure there will be no sad faces if she takes home the title. Check out album review here.
Janelle Monae: Electric Lady
Psychedelic soul sister Janelle Monae is no stranger to hipness. She naturally defines the state of hipness and eccentricity with full intentions. She proved just how serious she was about putting a fresh 21st century coat on R&B and soul with her 2010 album The ArchAndroid (Suits II and III) which was chock full of futuristic soul and pop infused tunes. As many critics have stated, Monae is truly an underrated artist and deserves much more attention than she has gotten. Of course some of this unsung nature comes from her goal of standing out from other artists and not being defined by her physical appearance, but rather by her musical ability.
Her uniform attire is worn for a reason, which is to honor her parents who were city workers. Aside from her unique style, the girl has got some chops and she puts them to the test on Electric Lady, her third album. On Electric Lady, there is plenty of rock infused, go-go pop ear candy and her idol Prince even has a guest appearance on “Give Me What You Love.” Her position as a female empowering artist is fully realized in the R&B driven tune “QUEEN.” To put it frankly she is as close to the female Jimi Hendrix as we’re going to get.
Justin Timberlake: 20/20 Experience
If there was a contest for biggest comeback artists of the year, then JT would have claimed the prize for sure. Earlier this year, he broke out of his hiding zone and released one hell of a solo record. His grown man facade was in full effect and with an added dose of hip hop king Jay-Z, he brought the classic suit and ties look back in style for all of the guys. He also showed a bit of his tender side with a few love songs to reflect his newlywed status.
Along with help from hit producer Timbaland, who produced his last solo project FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake was in good company as the two created some definite club bangers. JT was so anxious to bust out with some new music that he released a followup to the album in September, only six months after releasing Part 1. So, don’t expect Mr. Suit and Tie to be taking any long hiatuses any time soon. He made quite a huge return to music this year, so I’m excited to see what he has in store for 2014. Check out album review here.