Alicia Keys’ sixth album, Here, is an unexpected masterwork. Quite unlike her previous release, Girl on Fire, it is an album infused with rhythm, creativity and purpose not heard since her earliest albums. And it’s also one of this year’s must-hear releases.
It is said that the tough times are the true measure of a person’s character. By that definition, Solange is empress, artist and saviour all in one. Eight years after this maverick R&B singer’s second album, and four years since her cathartic portrait of a break-up (True EP), she has gifted us with a bold, vibrant album about freedom and the worth of her people.
Corinne Bailey Rae is content. Content that the creation of her third album has been a fresh direction for her, even if it may not feel like that to all listeners initially. Six years on from the phenomenal, Mercury-nominated album, The Sea, the Leeds musician, who tragically lost her first husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, in 2008, is in love again and wants to share her newfound happiness with the world. The Heart Speaks in Whispers doesn’t quite have the total flourish of its predecessor, but it is an album of serenity and patient beauty.
Surprise digital album releases have simply become the “new standard” for a section of big-name artists. Still, Solange’s reveal of her first full-length album since 2008, A Seat at the Table, was enough to send the R&B faithful into a spin last week.
Syd tha Kyd may already be known to you if you’re familiar with the neo-soul of The Internet or the just-about-safe-for-work side of rap group, Odd Future. The Crenshaw alt-soul singer’s latest tune is fit for plenty of superlatives.
40. Disclosure – Caracal
39. Marina and the Diamonds – Froot
38. Kitty, Daisy & Lewis – The Third
37. Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
36. Songhoy Blues – Music in Exile
35. Years & Years – Communion
34. Oshun – Asase Yaa
33. Sherika Sherard – Just Saying
32. Gengahr – A Dream Outside
31. Everything Everything – Get to Heaven
Dial that number back, and rewind the track. Over the summer, Drake set corners of the web ablaze with a vicarious, trap equivalent of white phosphorus, called ‘Hotline Bling’. Now, the high queen of neo-soul, Erykah Badu, has put her own spin on the track, and it’s even more intoxicating than Drake’s.
If you have a problem with the struggle for equality and self-respect, Oshun’s debut mixtape, Asase Yaa, is not for you. The goal of this neo-soul and hip hop duo is to “empower women, and all people,” through music. Care to disagree? Because let’s not kid ourselves: Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé may be having the time of their lives “feeling” themselves, but history shows us that women, and women of colour especially, get the shortest straw of all in the white man’s world. But what makes Asase Yaa all the better is the sleight of hand and the alluring lyrical flow with which Oshun share their stories.