The album as we know it is dead. While there are artists who still produce cohesive bodies of work, many aspiring newcomers have mastered the game of “the playlist,” dodging half of the work it takes to conjure art, while reaping most of the same profit and exposure. Does it tarnish the music?  Leave that to whomever controls the aux cord. I just know back in my day, nothing left the studio until it was FINISHED. Either way its a new formula we’ll have to get used to. In an era when an album can be recalled, remixed and reshipped to the masses in real time, I’ve complied my favorite projects of the year. No particular order.

Black Panther: The Album

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was about to take the world to Wakanda with the most-anticipated film in its franchise since The Avengers. To match it’s hype, the powers that be enlisted TDE and Kendrick Lamar to produce Black Panther: The Album. On the zenith that is the beautiful “All the Stars,” Lamar and a host of guests detail struggle and triumph as the tale of a good man who must become king. illTracks: “Opps” “King’s Dead” “Redemption”

Life After Love: Parts 1 & 2

Victoria Monet released two projects boasting her versatility as a songwriter and artist. Whether cynically loving someone else’s man on “Let Her Go,” or channeling new jack realness on “New Love,” she proves she’s the R&pop princess we need. illTracks: “Freak” “All You Need”

Good Thing

Leon Bridges continued his journey as R&B’s coolest cat with his sophomore LP. Still channeling a swagger of yesteryear, his sound has evolved dipping into more contemporary production. He enlists jazz instrumentation on “Bad Bad News” and mimics D’Angelo-esque soul with “Lions.” At the same time he can flip a Usher-like track with “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be).” He’s one of rhythm & blues most consistent and hardest-working artists today. illTracks: “Bad Bad News” “Shy” “Beyond”

The Kids Are Alright

While most R&B sounds like it’s being sung by Optimus Prime and Jazz these days, Chloe x Halle came sounding like Heaven’s trumpets. With vocals groomed since birth, the sisters channeled soul, rock, pop & hip-hop on their eclectic first LP. From the title track, to the grown-ish theme song and the bubbly “Happy Without Me,” the ladies proved this generation is not lost. illTracks: “Babybird” “Everywhere” “Hi Lo”

Invasion of Privacy

After finessing fans on Instagram and Monaland, Cardi B tried her hand at this music game. Many called her first hit “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” beginner’s luck. Fortunately, Ms. B had the last laugh with one of the year’s most critically-acclaimed projects. TWO #1 Billboard hits later – including the infectious “I Like It” – Cardi readies for the Grammys and world domination. illTracks: “Get Up 10” “Bickenhead” “She Bad”

Everything Is Love

Just in case we forgot, The Carters reminded us they’re dangerously, crazy, drunk in love with no end in sight. Dropping midway through the European leg of their OTR II tour, Everything Is Love displayed why he’s the G.O.A.T.; and, she is the best entertainer alive. While the album may not be either artists’ best, Mr. & Mrs. Shawn Carter have nothing else to prove. Even on a rough day, they slay. illTracks: “FRIENDS” “NICE” “APESHIT”

R.O.S.E.

Jessie J took some time off to recoup from heartbreak – literally and figuratively – to give us the intimate 4-EP series. On it she dips into her R&B bag to give us searing, personal songs detailing her struggles with love lost (“Think About That,” “Four Letter Word”) and gained (“Not My Ex” “Play”). Mostly she came to terms to loving herself. Hands down my favorite R&B project of the year. illTracks: “Dangerous” “Someone’s Lady”

Harlan & Alondra

California rapper Buddy finally dropped his official debut this year. After appearing on the scene back in college, he disappeared from the radar. As the album tells, he’s been through some “Real Life Shit,” and we’re fortunate he lived to tell it. At 12-tracks Buddy relays daily struggles with a wise outlook years beyond his senior. He’s introspective on “Hey Up There” with Ty Dolla $ign, and keeps it it on the left side with Snoop on “The Blue.” It’s an organic display of an artist being totally authentic to his sound and vision. illTracks: “Black” “Shine” “Trouble on Central”

 

FM!

Vince Staples dropped an out-of-nowhere project resembling a day in the life of a LBC radio fan. FM details life on the Best Coast with surprise appearances from radio personality Big Boy, rapper E-40 and snippets from earlsweatshirt & Tyga. It’s a summer album to break the winter chill in the air. illTracks: “FUN!” “Relay” “Outside!”

Caution

Fourteen albums after her epic debut, Mariah Carey is finally receiving the praise she deserves as a complete artist. While we cannot deny her vocal prowess, her songwriting had always been an afterthought. With her pen responsible for the majority of her #1’s, Mimi may see her name in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. It’s the sweet cherry atop the release of her best album since The Emancipation of Mimi. illTracks: “A No No” “Givin’ Me Life” “8th Grade”

Saturn

The UK’s NAO returned with a seamless project. Shorter in length than her debut, Saturn finds the Brit soul singer relaying more depth in her lyrics. Her reflections on life and love tell a tighter, more intimate story. One worth playing again and again. illTracks: “Orbit” “A Life Like This” “Saturn”

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