For fans of Soul, R&B, Pop and Adult Contemporary formats, these are Music Industry Quarterly (MIQ’s) Ten Definitive 2016 Picks in Alpha Order
Anderson.Paak – Malibu
It’s been a groundbreaking year for this wonderfully-talented artist. Last year’s Compton release, conducted by Dr. Dre, put Anderson on a path to experience some much-deserved commercial success. Malibu, nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album, undoubtedly delivers. A composite of Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk and psychedelic flavorings, Malibu is intelligently street, experimental and melodious, all from an artist obviously influenced by the greats like Stevie Wonder, Prince and Sly Stone, but with mad respect for the sounds of today, featuring guest collaborators ScHoolboy Q, Rapsody, The Game and Talib Kweli.
Beyoncé – Lemonade
At first, I almost omitted this album purely out of some artificial protest due to its vast commercial success. But that wouldn’t be fair to the artist, who perhaps created her most personal and revealing project to date. Not only did Beyoncé craft a genre-diverse album: Country (“Daddy Lessons”), Rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself” featuring Jack White), and of course her base of Contemporary R&B songs, along with some timely pro-Black sensibilities (“Freedom” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and the controversial “Formation”); but once again proves she is also a master of the visual album. Lemonade, nominated for 9 Grammys, is too important to leave off the Definitive List.
Bruno Mars – 24k Magic
A friend of mine (let’s just say he’s over 45) recently said 24k Magic, “Represents everything he likes about music,” I replied, “No, it’s everything you used to like about music.” He agreed! The production on this album is flawless, and a throwback to the late ‘70s and much of the ‘80s. We hear parts Michael Jackson, James Brown, Bobby Brown, Zapp & Roger, and more. But that’s okay, especially in this era where Pop singers like Justin Timberlake, Nick Jonas and Justin Bieber are clearly making R&B/Pop albums. I give Mars the edge though if and when comparing, as his vocal range and penchant for melody is peerless.
Corrine Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks
This gem has been severely overlooked, as Bailey Rae continues to defy genre and obvious radio format. It’s near criminal that the project’s blissful first single, “Been to the Moon,” did not stir more interest. Another highlight to check out is the lusciously-delivered ballad “Do You Ever Think of Me,” that Bailey co-wrote with the legendary Valerie Simpson, sharing writing credits with the late Curtis Mayfield whose “The Makings Of You,” was an inspiration for said song. Bailey Rae also collaborates with the sisters of the Soul music trio King, Esperanza Spaulding, and Moses Sumney. Check it out!
Frank Ocean – Blonde
The wait was finally over, as Ocean put out the much-anticipated follow-up to his Grammy-winning breakthrough album Channel Orange, with not one but two albums: the visual album Endless, and the studio album Blonde. The celebrations were short-lived, as it seemed both albums kind of came and went. But Blonde is a superb work of art- if not vastly left of center, or perhaps too avant-garde for the average fan; yet lyrically is on point, particularly on the various interludes like “Nikes” with its references to the late Trayvon Martin, who unknowingly would become a civil rights symbol in the aftermath of his senseless murder, and “Be Yourself,” with its messages of self-empowerment and self-love. Dare to be different!
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room
I will yell from the rooftops to help promote this artist. On The Dreaming Room, Mvula starts were her 2013 critically-acclaimed Sing to the Moon leaves off. She’s yet to be a household name here in the States, in part because she sounds like no one. Perhaps you may hear shades of Nina Simone or even Amy Winehouse, but Mvula is an artist who’s minimalistic yet dark and hallow sounds defy category. She is a classically trained vocalist, and the songs possess a soulfully-classical appeal with their lush orchestrations and semi-operatic tones (“Show Me Love”).
Robert Glasper – Everything Beautiful/Art Science
It’s been a particularly creative year for Glasper, starting with this wonderful re-appropriation of Miles Davis-music, a companion piece to the Miles Ahead movie, starring Don Cheadle. It’s not easy (or even recommended) to rework Miles Davis material but Glasper handles it with the care it so richly deserves…bringing along some friends like Erykah Badu, Laura Mvula, Ledisi, Bilal and Stevie Wonder. On Art Science, unlike the highly-successful Grammy-winning Black Radio pair of albums, Glasper sheds himself of the various marquee artists to display the talents of his Experiment band for a collection of Soulful/Jazzy vocal tracks, almost reminiscent of those ‘70/80s Stanley Clarke-George Duke projects.
Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine
An album by Mac Miller. Just when you think you’ve got this guy figured out musically, he does a complete 180. He was never a mere Hip-Hop artist to begin with, but this conceptual album explores love, relationships, the needs for great sex, and the complexities of women from a very soulful perspective. The tracks are quite melodic practically Neo-Soul and jazzy in nature, with Miller delivering a fusion of Rap, Spoken Word and singing cadences. He is joined by some notable collaborators like Anderson.Paak, Bilal, girlfriend and muse Arianna Grande, Cee-Loo, Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $Sign.
Solange – A Seat at the Table
What I’ve always liked about Solange is that she’s always created her own lane musically…instead of following the obvious path of her more famous sister. Solange certainly takes her time in putting out music with each project more mature (she’s 30) and insightful than the last. Cranes in the Sky takes one back to a simpler more soulful time when artists like Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams and Patrice Rushin were turntable staples; thanks in part to Raphael Saadiq, the album’s co-producer. But more importantly, A Seat at the Table is chock full of messages, most notably a recognition of black female independence and empowerment.
Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits
This Los Angeles-based saxophonist/producer/MC has won acclaim most recently for his work with Hip-Hop artists the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. But for Velvet Portraits, Martin collaborates with an array of artists to deliver one of the finer sleeper projects of the year. Velvet Portraits reaches beyond just R&B, receiving a 2017 Grammy nomination for Best R&B album, but into the realms of Jazz (“Valdez Off Crenshaw), Blues (“Patiently Waiting” featuring Uncle Chucc & the Emotions), old school Funk (“Push” and “Turkey Taco”), to the symphonic (the album’s finale “Mortal Man”). Always one to deliver is the inimitable Lalah Hathaway on the moving track, titled Oakland.