Today I want to share with you some favourites from my playlist this year:
I accidentally happened upon Woods sometime last year only because I was listening to a Drake playlist. “Drama“. “Drama” was the song changed my life. I found out that there was this whole hazy, moody, harsher Rn’B that his 2015 EP Exis exudes. There are songs like “Jealousy” and “Get You Good” that give a laid-back feeling that is popular now a days but songs like “Gwan Big Up Urself” throw in mellowed Jamaican slangs and pronunciation to give his work some energy. His debut album Waking at Dawn is less special to me though because his sound is less distinctive from the broodiness and sometimes sleepiness of a Tyson Briller, PARTYNEXTDOOR or a Majid Jordan but Woods is still only 20 (the youngest artiste to be signed to OVO BTW), experimentation is a necessary thing. However, I hope that he knows his uniqueness before he loses it in this new Alternative Rn’B crowd.
Canadian artiste Roy Woods, 2016 (image source).
So I’ve realized that it’s okay if I cannot describe what connects with me so deeply and so easily to someone or in this case to music. Olivia O’brien embodies this current enigma. There is something in her voice that is so vulnerable- even when she sings electro pop- and also closed off in that teenage way that we see but never like this. Say you sing Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” in a down tempo, striped version, how is it possible that you make the song your own? Remember James Arthur and that raw dangerousness that we first heard in his voice? She has hints of that to me except more contained and angsty. Mainstream music now has a distance, bored style to express the pain of loss and love but O’Brien’s sadness is real, I hear this in her original version of “i hate you, i love you” and “Find What You’re Looking For (my current obsession),” and it is a little scary too, I mean, she only just turned 18.
Her sexuality definitely made her stand out to me but it wasn’t even that really, it wasn’t even “OOOUUU” either, it was her interview on The Breakfast Club that made me stand up, relisten to “OOOUUU” and put her in my subconscious- you know waiting for her to give me something that really made me go crazy- then “EAT“came out I had to listen to other things she’d done. DJ Envy was right when he sad she has a presence, a realness about her, you hear it in her bars. She is a breath of fresh air to the rap scene, she puts a new flare in the hustle songs- tired of hearing about Nicki’s ‘assets’ and the ménage lines she puts in every song and Future’s side pieces and Rick Ross’ and Khaled’s plane trips and designers. To me M.A brings back the harshneess, the hardness of street rap, that still fits into mainstream but without the excessive candy coloured pop hybrid thing going on these days. It makes me even happier that a female, a gay female too, is doing this for the music.
I believe that “Panda” is one of those rare Hip-Hop songs that will last decades because of the double time flow, the way the song turns, how it feels like a freestyle but especially because of how cryptic the lyrics are. In certain songs Desiigner does sound like Future but I never listened to Future (mainly because I don’t like him as a person and the bragging in his songs never really appealed to me) so it doesn’t really bother me anyway. But generally Desiigner voice seems to have more energy, just like his performances, he is like a race car rearing to go at the starting blocks. Unfortunately, his mixtape, New English is a copycat of Future’s style but “Tiimmy Turner” and “Panda,” his two biggest songs, are not and they prove that if Desiigner keeps on working on songs like those he will eventually find a formula to create his one lane.
Dexta DAPS, Alkaline and Vybz KARTEL
Dexta Daps did an interview with OnStage last year and Winford Williams basically told him that he already had a catalogue of songs to live on for his entire life as an artiste. Lets recap he’s done: “7/11,””Jealous Ova,” “Chinese Jordan,” “Pretty Nicky,” “Shabba Mada Pot” and this year, “Coolest Summer,” all in the span of two years. While listening to him I realize that Daps is unique because he is both a singer and a deejay and both a gangster and a gyalis. I see I recipe for success. (wo-wo-wo-wooo-wo.) The only person to surpass Daps this year with content, quality and consistency is Vybz Kartel. King of the Dancehall only had three good songs to me, but it was the releases that came after, an ad campaign for versatility, that made me sit up and listen: “Real Youth,” “Summer ‘16,” “Best Place Pon Earth,” “Miracle” and “Electric” all in different ways confirm the genius that is Vybz Kartel. I remember being in second form in high school when the world saw the meteoric rise of the Gaza Nation in 2009/2010. This year Alkaline brought back that excitement more than 5 years later. The last 9 songs on his Vevo channel have made Dancehall billboards this year, the cult following, similar to the Gaza/Gully loyalty of the past, says Alkaline has something special. But it was not obvious to me until I heard “Afterall” two months ago then I finally understood that Dancehall really has a new prince and he’s not too far away from the crown either.
4 Your Eyes Only J. COLE The dude that went platinum with no features. As Rap activists go I see J. Cole as a softer version of Kendrick Lamar. Self-aware, critical of society, honest and desperate for change. There are so many lines that get you from this album: a line in the titular track teaches, “real ni**as don’t speak when the got beef with you” and I find that the whole album is dedicated to teaching, breaking down what it means to be a man. “Deja Vu,” (“damn intricate soft lips, soft voice… she f**k with small town ni**as, I got bigger dreams”) and “Folding Clothes” hit me to ma soul because Cole raps about the beauty in simpler things. Racism comes up on “Neighbours” in a not so obvious way on the hardest beat of the album (my mums bobs her head while listening to this, I’m not sure she even hears the lyrics) which is a lot different from how Lamar would play it. The core of the album comes from both parts of “She’s Mine” which are soo beautiful to me, “I’ve fallen in love for the first time/ I wanna cry and I ain’t even tryna fight it…” This is my favorite album of the year.
Life of Pablo Kanye WEST No matter how psychotic Kanye West is, he is still one of the dopest rappers and producers in history to me. I loved the Gospel used to begin the album (“Ultralight Beam” is the best album opening song I’ve ever heard in my life) but the most creative song by far is, “I love Kanye,” “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye/Called ‘I Miss the Old Kanye?’/Man that’d be so Kanye.” Only Kanye could go from reverent to superego in one album and the whole album is like that too. He goes up and down in tempo and tone as well as how much of soul he chooses to express (for example, “Real Friends,” is that about Jay Z tho?– and “Father Stretch My Hands Part 2”). However, the winners of the album go to the guests. All of Kanye’s features are staples to me. I cannot hear “High Life” without Thugga Thugga, I cannot hear “Waves” without BOOM BOOM and I cannot hear “Fade” without Ty Dolla $ign… that’s a big deal.
22, A Million Bon IVER Ain’t gonna lie, I heard my first Bon Iver song from Twilight: New Moon– “Roslyn.” (*hangs head in shame* I was young OK. I wasn’t strong enough back then, I was a sheep.) The special thing about music like this- Indie Folk- is that it’s atmospheric. “10 dEATh bREasT” for example blends so many things together, you hear Jazz and a little Country with electronic sounds that all feed off each other. There is the near yodelling in “29 #Strafford APTS” that made me nearly tear up, “715 CREEKS” is barely intelligible but even in an automated voice I still feel a misery that comes with unrequited love, the melancholy Gospel in “00000 Million” is beautiful… all I could think while listening was, The Beatles meets Daft Punk with a softer otherworldly edge. 22, A million is your childhood, your disturbances, your softest, prettiest, lightest emotions heard on the darkest night. I listened and I didn’t hear songs, I felt emotions. This is a magnificent album.
J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only, 2016 (image source).
You Want It Darker Leonard COHEN Orchestral albums could never hold me steady; I do not listen classical music. And even though this is a classical album, it coaxes me into it. There are African drums, Spanish guitars and Gospel overtones along with the regular violins and pianos. You Want it Darker is a spoken word album. Cohen speaks in rhythm over beautiful instrumentals (almost like Sam Hunt’s, “Break Up In A Small Town” or “Take Your Time” but not really). Plus Cohen’s voice is like Marlon Brando’s: slow, unsettling and grim. Cohen sings about things I cannot relate to like losing love, sobering up to old age, – I mean he is 82- but listening to him is like watching a melodramatic classic Hollywood film, no one can relate to these people but it’s still fascinating to watch anyway, right?
Views by Drake for infusing African and Caribbean vibes into his moody world of relationships and celebrity paranoia. Unfortunately, the topics he sings about are things I’ve already heard from Drake and the large amount of singing I could do without.
Lemonade by Beyonce because of how fiercely personal and honest her work is. She is not playing the pop game like everybody else: she drops albums whenever she wants, does no interviews and sings about things nobody has ever sang about. But personally I am not a scorned wife so I couldn’t really relate to Lemonade that much and plus I’m still waiting on the third consecutive album (remember Off The Wall to Thriller to Bad?) to make Queen Bey an undeniable living legend like the late great, right now she is only a three-quarters there.
The artiste Tory LANEZ because he is an amalgamation of every underground alternative Rn’B artiste in the last five years and that’s great but somehow he still doesn’t have his own sound.
The artistes Jahmiel and Shenseea for showing that there are talented and creative young people- Jahmiel is 24, Shenseea just turned 20- who want to inject new life into Reggae and Dancehall. Every Jahmiel song is an anthem, a song for upliftment that comes from a place of truth without the washed-up lines about badmind that too many of these songs have today. With “Loodie” Shenseea is breaking the glass ceiling that female Dancehall artistes use as an excuse to put out mediocre songs- the one exception is Spice- because Shenseea has great management, branding and substance (I mean, did you hear that freestyle on Nightly Fix last month? Girl’s here to stay).
[cover art by: Eric Zener]