Ah yes…the end of the year and critics, award shows, and news people galore are all chipping in to remind you of the best moments and memories that will forever be the personality of 2008.
For me personally, this was an epic year in music for the mere fact that my taste buds were exposed to a plethora of new rock music thanks to the wicked invention of Rock Band (both 1 and 2). I developed a love for artists like Interpol, The Donnas, Paramore, Coheed and Cambria, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, and Disturbed.
Being a massive Prince fan, I've always liked rock music but never quite new where to begin exploring the genre. Thanks to the crew at Harmonix (the Rock Band developers) and MTV, I can now comfortably delve into the world of rock, many of its classics and legends. Even before Rock Band became a daily part of my routine, though, I jumped on the bandwagon of a one-time Metallica cover band from the UK named Bullet For My Valentine. Their amazing sophomore album, Scream Aim Fire, is a high-energy, amazing effort that never leaves any of my metal playlists.
Now, onto what I do truly know about: hip hop and soul music. And trust me, this was a big year for both. So let's get it going (in no particular order):
Black Milk – Tronic
Plain and simple, Black Milk is the next big producer/emcee in the hip hop game. With blazing production credits for Slum Village emcee Elzhi's debut CD (also a 2008 must have in the underground hip hop scene) as well as GZA/Genius, Busta Rhymes, Kardinal Offishall, Pharoahe Monch, and more, Black has managed to carve out a J Dilla-esque style that is both amazing and energetic. His emcee skills are also on display on this album, showing that he can hold his own while featuring the talents of fellow Detroit emcee and Eminem affiliate Royce Da 5'9". Standout tracks "The Matrix", "Bounce", "Losing Out", and "Reppin For You" are sure to shock the casual hip hop listener into becoming an underground aficionado.
Muhsinah – Daybreak 2.0
Needless to say, this has been a huge year for this singer/songwriter/deejay/producer/artist. First of all, her above mentioned debut CD is an amazing blend of hip hop and soul music that flexes her affinity for complex harmonies and atypical percussion. In addition to that, she adds in an oddly appealing production style that involves reversing a track in a melodious fashion. This debut was so amazing that it prompted production and guest spots on Foreign Exchange, Stacy Epps, Bilal Salaam, and Common.
J*Davey – The Beauty in Distortion/The Land of the Lost
I was kind of slow to jump on this bandwagon and I'm ashamed that I didn't find this duo of Jack Davey (aka Briana Cartwright) and Brooke D' Leau earlier. A double CD (yeah, you heard me) of music from two earlier released EP's of the same name, J*Davey manages to place funk and soul/electronica back on the map in a sexy, seductive kind of way. The confident and outrageous persona of the group shines in a way that shows that they are both looking to shock and inspire their listeners much in the same way that Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse do with their Gnarls Barkley project. Look out for these two.
Janelle Monae – Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase (Special Edition)
Though this EP was first released in late 2007, the special edition release of the album — which was released this year — along with the the hyper-spaced Outkast-esque track "Many Moons" has catapulted Janelle to Grammy nomination status. Also, getting picked up by Bad Boy Records in a joint effort between Outkast's Big Boi and Puffy himself, Janelle is set to make huge noise in 2009! Get hip to her amazing voice and sound now!
The Foreign Exchange – Leave It All Behind
Little Brother emcee Phonte and Netherlands-born producer Nicolay connected back in 2004 with their genre defying hip hop effort Connected under the project name Foreign Exchange. The buzz was unmistakable when they announced a sophomore effort to be released in '08. Then as the project developed, emcee Phonte and Nicolay decided that the chemistry that they'd developed was leaning more towards Phonte's unique vocal talents. Bringing in featured vocalists Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, and Muhsinah, they proceeded to craft a completely hip hop devoid album that both shocked and delighted old and new fans alike. The results have to be heard to be believed.
This list is far from complete, but here are some other standout albums of the year in soul and hip hop:
- Jazmine Sullivan – Fearless (blazing debut effort from an unparalleled soul voice)
- Wayna – Higher Ground (underground soul at its finest)
- Sy Smith – Conflict (more underground soul)
- Santogold – Santogold (genre defying, one-time punk group Stiffed lead vocalist)
- The Roots – Rising Down (The legendary crew delivers one of their best efforts to date)
- Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It (throw-back soul sound delivers some great songs)
- Q-Tip – The Renaissance (The ghosts of A Tribe Called Quest are pleased!)
- Nicolay & Kay – Time:Line (Nicolay's trademark production with an underrated emcee's best work)
- N.E.R.D – Seeing Sounds (Pharrell and Chad Hugo blend genres and deliver quality music)
- Adele – 19 (a surprisingly soulful sound from a UK-alternative-pop vocalist)
- Jean Grae – Jeanius (hip hop's illest emcee delivers; check out "Love Thirst" and "My Story")
- Dwele – Sketches Of A Man (Detroit multi-instrumentalist provides his patented soul)
- Zo! and Tigallo – Love The 80's (Detroit producer Zo! and Little Brother emcee Phonte provide faithful covers of memorable 80's tunes!)