Monday, December 21, 2009

Smart Music Mondays, Guest Edition: TOP SOUL/R&B ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: A Rory Analysis

Folks, this edition will be handled by my good friend, Rory AKA Black Dynamite... he's one of the best writers I know that doesn't write. Without further ado, here is he is!

Greetings, FB family. Well, we have survived the first decade of the 21st century and I am sure you have been inundated with not only 2009 Year in Review news clips, but 2000 -2009 Decade in Review news articles, videos, and commentaries. In the next couple of weeks I will write several notes on the 2000’s, but for the first note I wanted to focus on music. Now, most of you know I am a self-described “music nerd.” I’m the type of brother that actually reads the CD booklets when he purchases CD's. And yes…I still buy CD’s but I’ll save that conversation for another time. Below I have listed the top 10 Soul/R&B albums of the 2000’s. Of course, this is solely my opinion but to a lesser degree I did consider album sales, radio airplay, etc. However, this note is more of a commentary about what YOU should have in your music collection be it digitally, CD, album, cassette, bootleg, etc. I only considered Soul/R&B albums released between the year 2000 and Now. They are listed in no particular order. Enjoy and I look forward to your comments!

1. Carl Thomas – Emotional

Believe it or not, Bad Boy Records actually put out some great music and artists post-Biggie Smalls. I won’t begin to discuss my disdain for the artists Diddy threw on us the last 6 years (Ahem, Day 26…Danity Kane). I digress. Carl Thomas’s “Emotional” is a solid R&B album—one that you can listen to from beginning to end. “Emotional” was released in 2000 and the first single was “I Wish.” That single had all the elements a true R&B song should have (i.e. theme of heartbreak, soulful vocals, catchy hook). Then there is “Summer Rain” with its sexy, Caribbean vibe and the title track. My personal favorite is “Supastar” (hoooooot…LOL). Brothers, if this song is not on your love mix CD, something is wrong because I am sure the ladies love this song. Point blank: if this isn’t in your collection get it. It still sounds good 10 years after its release.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Supastar” & “Hey Now”

2. Jill Scott - Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1

Jill is like the Ella Fitzgerald for the hip hop generation. I don’t think I can even do this album justice with my commentary! That’s how awesome Jill’s debut CD is. “Who Is Jill Scott” is a fitting title because each song on the album is a breakdown of Jill and her personal experiences. “A Long Walk” captures the essence of bonding with someone mentally and spiritually; “Honey Molasses” and “Love Rain” takes it to the physical level; “Watching Me” serves as a social commentary on the black community. Combining spoken word, jazzy instrumentation with hip-hop elements, and lush vocals, Jill Scott crafted an album for a diverse group of listeners (i.e. jazz connoisseurs, hip-hop heads, etc.). Her album is literally a POEM set to music; just look at the lyrics for each song. FB family, if none of you own this album we cannot be friends anymore!

Rory’s favorite tracks: “Slowly Surely” & “Do You Remember”

3. Usher – Confessions

I’ll put it like this: in the year 2004 Usher’s “Confessions” was the Kool-Aid and everybody was drinking it. Album sales do not lie-- 1.1 million copies, the most copies ever sold in a week by an R&B recording artist. The album has since gone diamond (over 10 million copies sold). I don’t think anyone could go to a club and not hear “Yeah” blasting over the speakers. And if you were one of the individuals who thought that track was all fluff, Usher came with the slow-tempo “Burn.” I admit I can be bourgie when it comes to my musical tastes, but overall, music should be fun. “Confessions” is a fun album with its dance tracks (the aforementioned “Yeah” and “Caught Up”). Yet, I believe we were eavesdropping into Usher’s life with songs like “Burn” and the title-track. It was scandalous…Did he cheat on Chili (of TLC fame)? Did he really get a chick pregnant? Or was this truly a snippet of Jermaine Dupri’s escapades? With a weaker musical artist this concept album could have been pathetic R&B hood drama, but Usher made it classy thanks to A+ production from the likes of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon, and Dre & Vidal.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Throwback” & “That’s What It’s Made For”

4. Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi

Mariah Carey owned the 1990’s. But then there was that bump in the road called “Glitter”—the movie and soundtrack they almost wrecked her career in the early 2000’s. In 2005 Mariah introduced us to Mimi. I personally did not buy this album when it came out. I like Mariah, but I’m not a hardcore fan; there’s only so much screaming I can take. Ha! However, I liken this album to Usher’s “Confessions” because (a) the production is stellar (b) commercially, it has sold millions of copies (c) we—the listeners—were curious (Who is this alter-ego Mimi?) and (d) it was a fun album. Billboard recently named “We Belong Together” the #1 song of the decade; it was #1 for 14 weeks back in 2005! All of Mariah’s albums can be considered pop albums; however, this album genuinely feels like an R&B album. We want Mimi to stay.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Stay the Night” & “Shake It Off”

5. Anthony Hamilton – Comin’ from Where I’m From

Someone needs to build a time machine and tra<nsport Anthony Hamilton to the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. Why? Because I don’t think we give this man the props he deserves. He is essentially this generation’s Al Green, but commercial success seems to elude him. I remember buying this CD five years ago, and just this past weekend I bumped the whole album on my way to Georgia. I had an epiphany: if you listen closely you will realize that this album is more of a blues album than a soul album. Raspy voice? CHECK. Solemn, pleading, heart wrenching lyrics? CHECK. Minimal guest appearances? CHECK. If you are a true R&B fan you must have this in your collection.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Float” & “I’m A Mess”

6. Musiq Soulchild – Aijuswanaseing

I’m not trying to pressure you,

Just can't stop thinkin' 'bout you,

You ain't even really gotta be my girlfriend,

I just wanna know your name,

And maybe some time

We can hook up, hang out, just chill… --“Just Friends (Sunny)”

Something is in the water in Philly. The O’Jays. Sister Sledge. Patti LaBelle. Jill Scott. Musiq Soulchild. This album was a breath of fresh air in 2000. Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and D’Angelo had already paved the road for neo-soul in the 90’s. Musiq was more than happy to walk the path. “Aijuswanaseing” is Musiq’s most successful album to date (over 2 million copies sold). In one word I can describe this album: laidback. Neo-Soul critics claim the genre is too conscious or “earthy” (as if songs can’t have messages. Whatever). This is the album to chill to. There aren’t any up-tempo songs. Each song is practically mid-tempo (listen to “Girl Next Door,” “L Is Gone,” and “143”).

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Mary Go Round” & “Poparatzi”

7. India.Arie – Acoustic Soul

India. Arie got all the nominations. Alicia Keys got the glory. That’s not a slight to Alicia; I truly like her. However, “Acoustic Soul” is more of a consistent album than “Songs In A Minor.” India.Arie sampled Brick’s “Fun” for her song “Video.” Before then, we all credited that beat to Akinyele’s “Put It In Your Mouth.” No comment. LOL. So I give her props. More importantly, there is so much affirmation of self-love and acceptance throughout the album. “Brown Skin” reminds me all the time why black-on-black love is such a beautiful thing. “Ready for Love” is a testament to maturing in your affections. Furthermore, Arie plays her own instruments.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Brown Skin” & “Strength, Courage, & Wisdom”

8. Mary J. Blige – The Breakthrough

We all like a “sad” Mary J. Blige, just like we like “big” Luther (pronounced Loo-fah). Blame it on “My Life.” That album was all gut-wrenching agony. But “The Breakthrough” gives us a mature, happy, and successful Mary. First single “Be Without You” was a sure hit. Good lyrics, radio friendly production, and great vocals from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul abound. When it was released the album sold over 729,000 units its first week (United States); her highest first week sales. “The Breakthrough” brought many accolades and awards to Mary. Production-wise, it is Mary’s most diverse album and she has never sounded better. Her rendition of U2’s “One” is awesome. Furthermore, I saw Mary in concert (2006) in support of this album and Mary gave a show!

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Ain’t Really Love” & “No One Will Do”

9. Aaliyah – Aaliyah

I do not need to go into detail, but Aaliyah’s death was a major shock to the industry. Some could argue that her death contributed—ironically—to the success of this album. I disagree. This is a solid album. On “One In A Million” Timbaland’s signature syncopated beats and production were prominent. On “Aaliyah” they are more subtle. This was a more mature Aaliyah. She sang about domestic violence (“Never No More”). She experimented with rock (“What If” and “I Can Be”). When you listen to “I Care 4 U” you sense that Aaliyah is preparing to hug you. Aaliyah may have never belted notes like Monica or Beyonce, yet her soft soprano was seductive. R.I.P. Baby Girl.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “It’s Whatever” & “Rock the Boat”

10. Alicia Keys – Songs In A Minor

When Lauryn Hill won 5 Grammys in 1999 it was a feat no woman artist had ever accomplished. Then Ms. Keys stepped on the stage. I struggled with including this in the top 10. I actually prefer “The Diary of Alicia Keys” to Alicia’s grand debut. But her first album captured a moment in time. We witnessed a star being born, and her star continues to shine so brightly. “Fallin’” was inescapable—you heard it everywhere. We thought, “who is this biracial, corn-rowed pianist?” Then single after single came. “A Woman’s Worth.” “How Come You Don’t Call Me.” And you have to be pretty good for Prince to grant you his blessing to remake one of his songs. The album has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. Yes…you should have this in your collection.

Rory’s Favorite Tracks: “Troubles” & “Butterflyz”


Usher - "8701"

Floetry - "Floetic"

Beyonce - "Dangerously In Love"

Erykah Badu - "Mama's Gun"

Raphael Saadiq - "The Way I See It"

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