Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 2019 Vol 5 - All Things Soulful!

2019's top R&B and hip hop efforts land here.  Set 1 has a much heavier R&B/upbeat lean.  Set 2 gets into edgier stuff, though still contains a lighter number or two.  High impact social consciousness/political statements dominate the encore. 

Lots of good stuff in the genre this year, especially on the female R&B side.  Here's the Spotify link.  Enjoy. 

SET 1 (Fun, Lively, Smooth)

1. Rocket Fuel - DJ Shadow (feat. De La Soul): Just a super fun, super old school hip-hop number with an assist from some golden era greats to start things off from DJ Shadow's 2019 release Our Pathetic Age.

2. Cuz I Love You - Lizzo: One of the standout R&B releases of 2019, Detroit-born ultra-posi singer/rapper/actress Lizzo's breakout third album Cuz I Love You (Solid Recommend) is one thrilling, wild ride, full of inventive numbers that seem to fall fully within the accessible mainstream R&B & Hip-Hop bubbles while simultaneously pushing hard against their barriers, a dichotomy well on display in the album's title track here.

3. You Ain't The Problem - Michael Kiwanuka: We're tapping three more songs from the marvelous first half of Michael Kiwanuka's third full-length effort and second album in his and Dangermouse's distinctive spaghetti-soul vein KIWANUKA (Strong Recommend), starting with the critics favorite song off the album, the Richie Havens-ish opener You Ain't The Problem

4. Old Town Road - Lil Das X (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus):  Not much I can add to the conversation on Lil Nas X's mega-hit Old Town Road from his 2019 7 Ep other than agreeing it's a super fun song, and notable stylistically for being one of the first successful mainstream mergers of country and hip hop aesthetics. 

5. This World Is Drunk - Raphael Saadiq: We're going to tap a few songs from former Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman's deeply personal and eclectically moving Jimmy Lee (Solid Recommend), which tackles a number of stressors and hot button issues central to the poorer African American experience, most filtered through the perspective of his troubled older brother who died of a heroin overdose several years ago. 

6. History Repeats - Brittany Howard: Alabama Shakes' frontwoman's Brittany Howard's solo debut was very well received by critics, but I think Alabama Shakes more classic rock and blues-leaning fans will struggle, as I did, to find a lot to like in the highly experimental, far more contemporary neo-soul-angled Jamie (Mild Recommend). Howard deserves major props for her willingness to charge full force into a number of fascinating, exploratory R&B ideas, but except on the fantastic History Repeats included here, and to a lesser degree on a few other tracks, she rarely sticks the landing.  Here's hoping the end result match the huge aspirations on Howard's next solo outing, because from a raw talent standpoint she remains a force of nature whom I still think could have an stone-cold classic in her down the line. 

7. Come Home - Anderson .Paak (feat. Andre 3000): While not quite as exciting as his 2016 debut Malibu, omnipresent hip-hop hyphenate and Dr. Dre protege Anderson .Paak's sophomore full-length Ventura (Solid Recommend) still provides a lot of the same pleasures as what came before from one of the best vocal talents presently active in the genre. Here on record opener Come Home he teams up with Outkast's Andre 3000 to get things started off in a wining way. 

8. Shea Butter Baby - Ari Lennox (feat. J. Cole): Another promising neo-soul enchantress to make her full-length debut in 2019 with Shea Butter Baby, we're going with a bit of a cheat here for representative cut with the album's title track, which originally appeared in 2018 on the Creed II soundtrack.

9. Own It - Stormzy (feat. Ed Sheehan & Burma Boy): Continuing to be one of the most exciting artists on the present day British Grime scene, we're gonna profile two of the rappers three top ten UK singles from his sophomore effort Heavy Is The Head (Solid Recommend), starting with my favorite uptempo number from the record, Own It.

10. MILES - Jamila Woods: Three-fourths of Jamila Woods tribute to inspirational artists and writers of color LEGACY! LEGACY! (Solid Recommend) is dedicated to females, but as said earlier, for some reason, the most musically exciting songs are those dedicated to men. On this mix, we touch on three more male artist tributes from the album, starting with the Miles Davis tribute Miles.

11. Super Zodiac - The Comet Is Coming: The year's most celebrated jazz album (at least in more pop/rock-oriented critical circles) was the crazed, futuristic tuba-heavy sophomore effort from The Sons Of Kemmet's acid-jazz alter ego The Comet Is Coming's Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery (Solid Recommend). At times as much electronic as Jazz, we'll be checking out highlights on both this mix and Vol 7 - All Things Disco, starting with the album's most aggressive number Super Zodiac here.

12. Selfish - Little Simz (feat. Cleo Soul): While for me, most of the best moments on rising grime superstar Little Simz's GREY Area (Strong Recommend) focus on the multi-talented artist's impressive rapping skills over compelling minimalist beats, she is also a commanding presence in the contemporary R&B world, as best demonstrated on the album's biggest hit Selfish here.

13. Pearl Cadillac - Gary Clark Jr.: He's among the most exciting contemporary blues guitarists out there, but I'm still waiting for the day when Gary Clark Jr.'s songwriting capabilities consistently rise to the level of his instrumental chops. On This Land (Mild Recommend), Clark Jr. stretches out lyrically, tackling political and racial issues in a far more outspoken manner than before, to significant success, but it's his continuing attempts to be near every type of contemporary black musician - raging bluesman, classic smooth-soul crooner, Prince-like funk futurist, acid-jazz shaman - that make This Land, just like his previous studio albums, such a simultaneously exciting and maddeningly uneven affair. Still, the peaks make every Clark Jr. effort worth checking out, and that was no different on This Land, as on the Purple Rain-ish Pearl Cadillac with its crushing closing jam perfectly demonstrates.

14. Limitless - Sudan Archives:  One of the most likeable songs on this mix, from Cincinnati-born, LA-based violinist and beat-maker Brittney Denise Park's (aka Sudan Archives) 2019 full-length debut Athena.

15. Sea Gets Hotter - Durand Jones & The Indications: Some absolutely top-tier retro-soul here from one-time Hoosier college band Durand Jones & The Indications second full-length release American Love Call. And damn, is Anderson Paak. like the best gun-for-hire vocalist out there these days? Love his guest turn on this song.

16. Let Me Go - SAULT: One of the most prolific and mysterious forces at the moment in contemporary R&B, anonymous UK electro-funk outfit SAULT's fifth release 5 presented one of the freshest production updates on the genre in 2019, as clearly exhibited by the album's best song Let Me Go here with its cavernous sonics. Watch out for this guys/gals/whoever they are in 2020!

17. Can't Believe The Way We Flow - James Blake: While this gorgeous ballad from the soulful electronic producer's fourth release Assume Form follows (pun intended) very true to the classic James Blake form, listeners who check out the rest of the album while find a much stronger hip-hop influence than on his earlier records.

18. Heaven Help Me - Lizzo: Another standout cut from Lizzo's adventurous, wildly eclectic breakout release Cuz I Love You (Solid Recommend) to close out Set 1 with a bang!

SET 2 (Bangers, Art and Edge)

19. All Humans Too Late - Kate Temptest: Pure poetry, there's no music to be heard on this interstitial cut from the Irish spoken-word artist Tempest's third full-length The Book Of Traps And Lessons (Solid Recommend), but few tracks hit harder in 2019 than this three minute number. Talk about having on finger on the pulse of the times. Came very close to including this one Vol 2 - Best Albums Left.

20. Her Mighty Waters Run - Matana Roberts: The most experimental album represented on this mix, Chicago-born, New York-based multi-media artist Matana Roberts latest chapter in her ongoing COIN COIN album series exploring history, memory and ancestry COIN COIN Chapter 4: Memphis (Solid Recommend) is an unusual but often exhilarating work, mixing African American traditions with dramatically avant-garde techniques.

21. Corn Maze - Malibu Ken: One of my favorite rap efforts of the year, experimental hip-hop duo Malibu Ken's self-titled debut (Solid Recommend) which combines the talents the hyper-literate Aesop Rock and inventive multi-instrumentalist Tobacco, features some of the most unusually cool beats of 2019.  We're including two cuts from this fairly unique album on this mix, starting with the album opener Corn Maze.

22. Ricky - Denzel Curry: Like your hip-hop banging?  Few 2019 hip-hop releases offered more pop-per-minute than Florida-based rapper Denzel Curry's celebration of his hometown of Miami ZUU.

23. Doorman - slowthai (feat. Mura Masa): The most punkish hip hop track on this mix comes from provocative and humorous grimer Tyron Kaymone Frampton's Mercury Prize nominated debut Nothing Great About Britain.

24. Boss - Little Simz: Having already presented British rapper Little  Simz's neo-soul-chops with Selfish, we get back to showcasing the hyper-cool, minimalist rap numbers that made her third studio outing GREY Area (Strong Recommend) the best hip hop album of 2019 on either side of the Atlantic.

25. WHAT'S GOOD - Tyler, The Creator: As already stated on the write up for Earfquake on Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites, I was not a huge band wagoner on Tyler, The Creator's IGOR (Mild Recommend), 2019's most critically praised hip hop album. Admire the album for it's genuine adventurous originality, but in the end, just didn't jive with it's sound except for Earfquake and the by comparison harder-hitting What's Good presented here. 

26. Suge - DaBaby: One of the biggest hip hop hits of the year from breakout artist DaBaby's debut Baby On Baby, I enjoyed this number, but it's here mostly because my teenage children might have pulled something Suge-like on me had I not included it.

27. MUDDY - Jamila Woods: It should come as no surprise that on the artist by artist homage that is Jamila Woods LEGACY! LEGACY!, the song dedicated to Muddy Waters has the most forceful guitar-driven punch.  

28. Giannis - Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (feat. Anderson .Paak): And now one of our greatest contemporary hoopers gets his due on Freddie Gibbs & Madlib's second collaborative album Bandana (Solid Recommend).

29. Spongebob - Billy Woods & Kenny Segal:  After Malibu Ken's debut, Hiding Places (Solid Recommend), the collaborative fever dream debut between Brooklyn rapper Billy Woods and LA producer Kenny Segal offered up some of 2019's coolest left-field beats.

30. Cleo - Rapsody: One of Phil Collin's edgiest tunes gets a glitchy reworking on this fine hip hop number from veteran North Carolina rapper Rapsody's latest full length Eve

31. Free Years Later - Kano: An interesting counterpoint to Dave's Pyschodrama, Grime pioneer Kano's sixth release, the Mercury Prize nominated Hoodies All Summer (Mild Recommend), found the charismatic rapper tackling similarly lyrical topics and sonic territory in the same thoughtful manner as the newcomer, but from the perspective of a grizzled veteran. As a representative track, we're going with the album's exceptional opener, Free Years Later.

32. Pop Out - Polo G (feat. Lil Tay): One of the biggest breakout mainstream hip-hop singles of year here from rising Chicago rapper Polo G and his full-length debut Die A Legend

33. Final Form - Sampa the Great: My favorite song from The Return, the full-length debut for this rising Zambian-born, Australia based rapper, a bit of a Aussie scandal surrounds this song, as when the track won Best Hip Hop release at the 2019 ARIA's (Australia's own Grammys), television producers choose to cut to commercial rather than air Sampa's acceptance speech. 

34. Papi I Missed U - JPEGMAFIA: Edgy Digible Planets-like effort from former US soldier JPEGMAFIA's critically lauded but difficult latest All My Heroes Are Cornballs

35. Time (is) - Solange: My favorite cut from Solange's wonderfully produced 2019 release When I Get Home (Mild Recommend). 

36. Dirty Laundry - Danny Brown: Another oddball number from one of hip hop's most unpredictable and unique gangsta' rappers, Detroit-veteran Danny Brown, and his fifth full-length effort uknowwhatimsayin?

37. Therapy - Little Simz: One last exercise in cool from Little Simz' kick-ass GREY Area (Strong Recommend), the swaggering slow burner that is Therapy.

38. The London - Young Thug (feat. J. Cole & Travis Scott): The closing track and lead single to Atlantan Young Thug's 2019 full length So Much Fun, it was 2020 Grammy nominee for Best Rap/Sung Performance.

39. 1+1=13 - Malibu Ken: A logic perfectly suited to these Orwellian times, here's our second selection and my personal favorite number from Malibu Ken's self-titled debut

40. sad day - FKA twigs: Another highlight from FKA Twigs stunning MAGDALENE (Strong Recommend), as she hopes for another chance at romance with a past lover.


41 & 42. Rolling & I've Been Dazed: We lead off our encore with a joined pair of tracks, one funky, one deliciously chill, that perfectly communicates the intoxicating, seamless flow of the first half of KIWANUKA

43. Jerome - Lizzo: One last hit from Lizzo's Cuz I Love You, Jerome, which ironically, on an album so playful and adventurous, was the 2020 grammy winner for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

44. Crown - Stormzy: Here's our second top-ten UK hit single to be profiled on this mix from Brit grimer Stormzy's Heavy Is The Headthe emotive Crown.

45. BALDWIN - Jamila Woods (feat. Nico Segal): Shifting her attention away from musicians and towards those armed with the pen, this tribute to the sixties writer and activist James Baldwin is the moving penultimate cut from LEGACY! LEGACY!.

46. Hold Your Own - Kate Tempest: In the end, it all comes down to character, principal and perseverance. An age-old lesson, one too many on the national stage seem to have forgotten recently, but one poetically and persuasively repurposed for today's times on Kate Tempest's impassioned The Book Of Traps And Lessons

47. Environment - Dave: We've already heard the devastating Lesley on our Vol 2 - Best Albums Left. Now here's another empathetic number from Dave's excellent debut Psychodrama (Solid Recommend) where he breaks down the gulf between an artists public persona and the actual life lived behind the curtain.

48 & 49. Rikers Island & Rikers Island Redux - Rapheal Saadiq: Raphael Saadiq closes out his musically thrilling but emotionally difficult examination of his older brother's tragic life Jimmy Lee with a broader examination of the debilitating impact of mass incarceration on African-American society, potently capped with a guest closing rap from guest Daniel J. Watts. 

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