It's no secret that I'm a lover of soul music. Growing up in my household it was everywhere--singing along to Stevie Wonder, the Temptations or even Janis Joplin with my mom... Rocking out to the Stones or Hendrix with my dad. Almost everything was rooted in gospel and blues, with just the right amount of "fonk" tossed in. So it's no surprise that when I thought about my favorite albums of 2011--no matter what genre they fall under--I realized that they are all by artists with a heavy soul influence. These artists' music embodies this mix of rhythm and blues and evokes a sense of realness that can't be denied. So without further adieu, here are my top 5 albums of 2011:
Adele - 21
All I have to say here is: 21. The fact that the (now 23-year-old) songstress put together an album with so much depth and lyrical maturity at 21 years old still blows my mind. Couple that with it being a (beyond) commercial success: top album on the Billboard charts for weeks, singles for days, amazing sales in a down market, multiple Grammy nods--this no doubt finds its way to the top of many lists this year.
From the album opener, Rolling in the Deep--what Adele describes as a, "dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune"--to Someone Like You, she pours her raw emotions into the album. You're taken on a ride with a young woman going through a devastating breakup, from the initial shock, to bitterness, to finally coming to terms with the relationship's ending. It's a theme that I can relate to, and, apparently, so can the rest of the world.
Kendrick Lamar - Section 80
I officially fell in love with Kendrick when I heard him spit on Overly Dedicated. I couldn't imagine how he could release an album that could top, or even serve as a decent follow-up to that EP. And while I still personally prefer OD to Section 80, it still makes one of my top albums of 2011. I've spoken on him before, and for good reason. One of the up-and-coming artists that's really caught my eye, his work portrays his masterful blend of rapper/artist/Gen Y representative/activist/LA kid/"human mothaf***in being."
While this effort is definitely more commercially palatable than his EPs, his hunger hasn't waned. His signature writing style, delivery and soulful influences shine through, and leave me excited for what's to come from this young Compton native.
Beyonce - 4
Oh, Bey. I'm teased constantly for being such a Beyonce fan, but how can you really blame me? Always flawless, vocally sound and the definition of a true entertainer, she manages to keep us on our toes--a difficult feat when you fall into more of a mainstream "pop" lane. This album, however, hearkens back to the R&B lean that made us fall in love with Miss Beyonce Knowles in the first place. This album covers the gamut of emotions felt in relationships, from break ups to working through complications, to finally having your Love on Top. And having Andre 3000 as the sole feature on the album officially elevated it to boss status.
Jill Scott - The Light of the Sun
Jill Scott to me is the personification of feminine strength. She has a way of laying herself open on each and every album, yet still maintaining a strength and a boldness that is unmatched. I was lucky enough to be invited to her album release showcase back in May, where she further brought the album to life. Rife with female anthems and ish-talking (with love), she put together a piece that makes it easy for women, young and old, to relate. The Light of the Sun portrays a woman that has been hurt, that has been burned by love, but has managed to grow in wisdom, still recognizing her blessings and appreciating her "Rolling Hills." What more can you ask for?
Feist - Metals
I loved Feist's album so much that I've already written a full album review. As with the other women on this list, Leslie Feist explores love and relationships, but she does so with a dark, lurching tone. Her style is folksy and impassioned, and displays her unique, personal brand of soulfulness. It came as no surprise to me that "Metals" was recorded in an ad hoc studio she set up in a house in Big Sur. Far from your average studio album, the fully developed, multi-faceted project is a departure from her earlier, more pop-influenced albums--and a refreshing one at that.
So that rounds out my top 5 albums of 2011. What made your list? Let me know in the comments below!
Without getting all nostalgic on you, let me just say that radio isn’t what it once was. Seriously, when was the last time you listened to one station for more than three songs straight without wanting to strangle whoever was responsible for the Ke$ha/Kreayshawn marathon that was assaulting your ears? Yeah, I can’t remember either. Despite what you may hear on the radio there are a lot of unique, dynamic artists out there. And if I could break into a radio station and take over the airwaves here’s what that would sound like:
This dude has me really excited about hip hop right now. Repping hard for the west coast, and catching the attention of none other than Dr. Dre, I’m looking forward to the moves he’s about to make. If you haven’t already, check out his mixtapes, especially Overly Dedicated. My radio selection (from his other mixtape, Section 80): Rigamortis
This French band was actually brought to my attention when I was listening to Pandora one day. Though all their lyrics are all in French, the energetic beats and upbeat vocals made me want to dig for more from the trio. Have a listen (and try not to dance.) My radio selection: C’est Pas Une Vie
Pretty much anything from Jill Scott makes its way onto my list. Bold yet vulnerable, sexy and fearless and are just a few adjectives to describe Ms. Scott--and her ridiculous catalog of music. Make sure to check her most recent album, “Light of the Sun.” My radio selection: Le Boom Vent Suite
Dom Kennedy is definitely one to watch. With a one-of-a-kind flow and signature laid back demeanor, he brings a refreshing new dimension to the hip hop scene. He’s made some major independent moves over the past few years, and it will be interesting to see where his brand of “Grind’n” will take him. My Radio Selection: Locals Only
Recently signed to Interscope Records, Lana Del Rey is a tough one to characterize. Her haunting vocals, blunt delivery and almost folksy influence definitely caught my attention. I’m curious to see what an album from her will sound like. My Radio Selection: Blue Jeans
This British musician/producer’s music is influenced by dubstep, R&B and Chicago house music, among others. But I can’t say that I’ve heard anything quite like his particular combo of musicianship vocal styling. He’s definitely in heavy rotation right now. My Radio Selection: Trials of the Past
I’m not sure where this chick came from, but I’m loving what I’m hearing. With the Slightly Portishead, slightly electro Amy Winehouse vibe, I’m all over this. There isn’t too much more to say--besides listen for yourself. My Radio Selection: Bad on the Bottle
What should I add to this list? Let me know in the comments!