I can still remember the lead up to this. D'Angelo is easily my favorite musician and there had been a long, tumultuous 14-year wait for this album. There were rumors for years, and finally with a warning of only a few days, D'Angelo would be releasing Black Messiah. Well worth the wait. This is easily in my top-five albums. It's lush, it can be grating, it's soulful, it's layered and textured in only a way that D'Angelo and his team could pull off. D'Angelo addresses today's social issues in a way that isn't preachy and balances his more romantic/love songs with a funky, bass and guitar-heavy soundtrack.
My favorite album bar-none. I've listened to this album hundreds of times. This album is the reason I'm even into music the way I am today. It opened up a whole hobby for me for not only enjoying music casually, but taking in every nuance, texture, sound and feeling. Everytime I listen to this album, I hear something different and it takes me to a different place. Russell Elevado's analog mixing creates this warmth, while having an impeccable soundstage which can be really appreciated with good headphones. From Devil's Pie, talking about life's temptations and its dangers to the rhythm in Spanish Joint to the ultimate love ballad, Untitled (How Does It Feel). I started learning piano with the sole goal of wanting to be able to play Untitled (I'm almost there!). I can't imagine hearing a better album.
I remember being in a hotel in Vegas when this album leaked and dropping everything to play it while the people in the room with me were asking what the hell I was listening to. This is tied for favorite Kanye album for me. It's aggressive, raw, and goes hard as hell. Kanye brings up all the anger he had for the world and more specifically the fashion world, and turns into an album that puts Ye's ego on full display.
Everyone knows me as a big Kanye fan, but fun fact: I hated Kanye between the Graduation and 808s phase. I thought he got too cocky from his fame and I was a little stubborn music wise. I was at the record store and saw his elaborate vinyl package and heard good things about it and picked it up and took it home. And it blew me away. The album was peak opulent rap mixed with the dark themes psychopath themes he was trying to get across. This album has a ton of features and brought out the best of every single one of them. Nicki's best verse. Rick Ross' best verse. Cy Hi The Prince's best verse. Okay and Jay-Z's worst. The backstory of Kanye's breakdown helps, from Donda's death to the Taylor Swift incident. This was Kanye putting all of that into an album and it came out as a masterpiece. The beats are lush and opulent, the lyrics have depth, the features are spot on, and it gave everybody the Kanye ego we love, but supercharged.
"I'm coming after whoever. Who Has it? / You blowin' up, that's good fantastic"
Jay-Z was a massive part of my upbringing. His music was the initial inspiration that largely shaped who I am today. Every Jay-Z album matters to me, but The Blueprint is special because it's SO FUCKING GOOD and has so few misses that his other albums had. He gets vulnerable with Song Cry, he goes back and forth with Em in Renegade, he raps over one of the best rap beats ever on U Don't Know, and goes after Nas and Prodigy in the legendary Takeover. This is peak NY rap with Just Blaze, Kanye, Bink and Timbaland producing in their primes.
Young Thug hasn't had a breakout album yet, but this is as close as it gets (though Slime Season 2, and 1017 Thug are incredible mixtapes). You either like him or you don't. I love him. He's different, and he's trying something different. It works and he's fun as hell to listen to. Barter 6 is his most cohesive project, and the beats bring out the best of him. His lyrics swim over them with his hypnotic voice and style. People give him shit for not being lyrical and no, he's not Jay-Z or anything, but he's got bars and punchlines. And when the lyrics are weak, he delivers them really well.
"Every time I dress myself, that shit go viral"
Lianne La Havas' should have a bigger reputation than she does. She has an incredibly soulful voice, and the musical skills to use it to create beautiful music. Her lyrics are deep and vulnerable in a way that you can relate to through falling in love and breaking up. I haven't seen many artists get some of these feelings as well as she has.
"'Cause it used to be my life and soul / Keeping everything in tune / What the heck man / Last time i checked man / We had it all, it was just me and you / So what happened to you?"
I still have memories of driving in my old city, when I first got access to a car, playing this album non-stop. The lyricism was UNREAL. I've been coming to the realization lately, that Lil' Wayne is the best rapper alive. His metaphors and style just can't be beat. He has plenty of mixtapes to keep you occupied for a month, but The Carter was the best showcase of his talent (with the Carter 2 a close second). From the heartbreaking I Miss My Dawgs that documented the Cash Money Records he grew up with falling apart to the ultimate 2004 anthem, This Is The Carter. This was peak Mannie Fresh when he was churning out multiple albums every year and bringing the New Orleans sound to the masses.
“You watch your grill what you ought to do/ before your ribs get barbecued”
My favorite album from 2016, and one of my favorites of the last few years. With all the social issues going on right now, it was an important album. Right from the first track, Rise talks about how we go through our own normals so we can live peacefully. Weary weaves a beautiful optimism song when you're tired from not finding your place in the world. Cranes in the Sky opens up about running from the problems we have. The music is lush and soulful throughout. Songs like Don't Touch My Hair and F.U.B.U. add a powerful perspective on black empowerment. It was also a nice touch to have Master P, who came out of nowhere in 2016, to give his perspectives.
"They don't understand what it means to me / Where we choose to go / Where we've been to know"
I found Gregory Porter during my Michael Buble days (I know, I know). I think it was through the Grammy's Best Jazz Album nominations. I listened to Water and immediately became obsessed with Porter's incredible voice. And his lyrics and the music behind it were incredible. From solemn songs like Illusion that helped me through a breakup to 1960, What?, a passioned time capsule into the Civil Rights riots. He caps the album off with a gorgeous acapella cover of Nina Simone's infamous Feeling Good that really showcases what his voice can do.
"Based on pain from bare decisions / Just like clothespins snapped by wild winds / Sometimes you can't hold on to love and never die"
I still remember waking up on release day, and biking 20 minutes straight to the HMV in the mall to buy a copy of College Dropout. I knew of Through The Wire already and had known Kanye already through his production. I listened to that album non-stop. As a Jay-Z fan, I clearly didn't fit into the picture he was depicting, but I could relate much more to Kanye. The rap outcast. The guy who wore Gap and made it cool. The guy who did what he wanted. The accident to up and coming rapper comeback story. The beats all had the signature soulful beats we were used to hearing on the radio, and he was rapping about conscious stuff in a fun way that other rappers weren't able to pull off. Kanye was the ultimate "I can do it" rapper for all of us younger folks to idolize after. The motivational meets ego theme throughout the album was helpful for a lot us going through high school drama that we thought was bigger in our heads. More importantly, this album still holds strong 13 years later.
"It seems we living the American dream / But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem / The prettiest people do the ugliest things / For the road to riches and diamond rings / We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us / We trying to buy back our 40 acres / And for that paper, look how low we a stoop / Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe"
Maxwell helped define a whole new era of R&B with Embrya, Urban Hang Suite and Now. Now is my favorite just because he showcases his incredibly smooth vocals with the peak of the neo-soul movement. Just listen to Lifetime or Woman's Work. Woman's Work opening vocals set the tone by pulling you in, and beautifully creates a rendition of Kate Bush's song about losing the love of your life and the emotions attached to it. Songs like NoOne bring the old Maxwell sound into the album but with a refreshing twist to it.
I mean, it has Adore. It has Starfish and Coffee. It has If I was Your Girlfriend. It has The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. This album has some of my most favorite Prince songs. It combines the soul, funk, and 80s electronic of Prince that's timeless. This album showcases Prince's skill for layering his vocals throughout each track, creating a lushness that artists will emulate for years. Songs like It, show how he can bring out the raw feeling of lust. And then there's Adore... that highlights his talent for creating one of the best ballads ever made.
This album's special to me, not because of the lyrics or the music specifically, but I was driving through the Bay Area redwoods one day through winding roads with this EP playing and it was an almost cinematic feeling. It always has a special place in my heart for that alone. The ambient electronic music combined with his voice, make this an incredibly relaxing album that just takes me back to that moment.
"Falling short again / I'm falling short again / The Range is set so high / And I could never climb / Falling"