Part four contains several deep dives into the world of R&B as well as my favourite Pop album of the decade.
10. BRYSON TILLER – TRAPSOUL (RELEASED OCTOBER 2015)
Arguably the most influential album of the decade, Trapsoul was so effective that many began to name the entire genre of alternative R&B crossed with neo-soul and Hip-Hop after it. For Trapsoul to contain almost dreamy balladry and emotion and feature an aggressive, bitter bite with even an aggressive Street Fighter II sample on “Sorry Not Sorry,” quality bleeds through this project. It’s almost a throwback to classic R&B crooning in terms of Tiller’s attention to detail vocally. His riffing and melodic capabilities back by spacey but crunchy instrumentals is a perfect mix, and at a concise 45 minutes, the album does not overstay its welcome like many others in the genre this decade. The tracklist features top-tier chart hits such as “Don’t” and “Exchange,” cult classics such as “Rambo” (no I don’t believe The Weeknd remix is actually better) and deeper, mellow cuts such as the closer “Right My Wrongs.” Trapsoul and Tiller himself hit the sweet spot of being both personally relatable and just edgy enough to spring your imagination. For the most part the album is petty pseudo-love songs for the modern dating app-obsessed lover. It’s what The Weeknd’s Trilogy would have been with a conscience. It is the everyman fantasy of a wild lifestyle with fewer consequences. It’s somewhat of a backwards story, akin to eating your dessert before you plan to eat your main, then you forget about it and have another course of dessert.
STANDOUT TRACKS: The Sequence, Sorry Not Sorry, Right My Wrongs
9. CARLY RAE JEPSEN – EMOTION (RELEASED JUNE 2015)
Like many, I first heard the name Carly Rae Jepsen on the horribly sweet “Call Me Maybe” way back in September 2011. This bubblegum earworm infected the minds of many, but presented Jepsen not much more than the standard ‘girl-next-door’ type overnight one-hit wonder. Fast-forward almost 4 years and Jepsen releases her second album Emotion. An immediate red-flag for the album is that I believe the lead single, “I Really Like You”, is the stonewall worst song on the album and it’s not even close. That song grates on your ears worse a 100-year-old rusty cheese appliance and should be consigned to the history of terrible pop songs. However, Emotion, thankfully sees Jepsen switch up her style to a somewhat synthy, 80s edge with a hint of darkness and a large dose of longing and the celebration of love. Although it strongly pulls from artists such as Madonna, this album doesn’t feel like simply a cheap knock off. There is catchy track after catchy track riddled throughout this project and although a pessimist may ridicule the seemingly focus-grouped nature of the subject matter and layout of the tracks, there can be no doubt that Emotion is miles ahead of anything else that Jepsen had done in her career. Even as someone who specialises more in the realms of Hip-Hop and R&B music, this often cheesy but still thrilling pop music hits a necessary spot sometimes.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Run Away With Me, Gimmie Love, Your Type
8. JAY-Z – 4:44 (RELEASED JUNE 2017)
The greatest rapper of all time, cements his place in the Mount Rushmore of rap icons; I know, shocker right? As we get closer and closer to the top of this list I struggle to find faults with any of these albums that indicate why they wouldn’t be number one. This album is built on the foundation of brilliant yet simplified beats crafted through clever samples by the ever-present No I.D. It features some of Jay-Z’s most down-to-earth and personal lyricism of his entire career, which is somewhat surprising when looking at his two other major releases of the decade in Watch the Throne and Magna Carta Holy Grail. It’s a tight 36 minutes of run time slathered in swagger and class all while talking about ostensibly painful subjects of adultery, systematic racism and his mother being revealed as a lesbian. Sure, the original release was mixed like ass. Sure the album cover looks like a 3-year-old’s remake of a printed vinyl they found in their parents collection from 1972. These things do not take away from the wonderfully smooth sample layout and Jay-Z’s timeless, easy flow. It’s the kind of album that I can play for my mother and even she can appreciate his genius without an ounce of backstory. It is Jay-Z’s most mature album and I struggle to see how he will top it in the future. Quite comfortably it fits somewhere in my top 3 Jay-Z albums of all time alongside Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Smile (feat. Gloria Carter, 4:44, Family Feud (feat. Beyoncé)
7. KELELA – TAKE ME APART (RELEASED OCTOBER 2017)
Modern-sounding, less cliché afrobeat mixed elements of techno and dubstep, topped off with a heavy measure of gorgeous R&B vocals. This is the recipe for Kelela’s Take Me Apart and although it sounds like too much dinner on your plate, the mixture is pulled off with majestic ease. The opener “Frontline” sets the brooding yet confident tone with lyrics all about the confidence of leaving someone who is not benefitting your life anymore. There are also edgy similarities to FKA twigs in terms of both vocal range and lyrical content here as well as mutual producer Arca. Although it’s far from your typical baby-making, radio-friendly R&B music, there are plenty of moments of catchyness such as the growling (or more like mooing) synths and claps on “LMK” or the funky, seemingly UK garage-scene inspired, “Waitin’.” Saying all of this, my favourite track on this fantastic album is actually the shortest pre-closer skit semi-thought “Bluff.” As much as you might want to listen to angry or sad songs during a break up, this song represents something that I believe is truly indescribable during this time – vulnerability. You may feel vulnerable being alone, vulnerable that your feelings have taken a beating or vulnerable that you may do something regrettable in your overly emotional state. They are all challenges as indicated in this short song. Kelela’s beautiful voice also helps hammer this home.
STANDOUT TRACKS: LMK, Blue Light, Bluff
6. DVSN – MORNING AFTER (RELEASED 2017)
If you needed a palette cleanser from the seeming rawness and darkness of Kelela’s album, Morning After is just that. Although it’s very much firmly rooted in the same R&B genre as the previous album, DVSN are at the total opposite end of the spectrum. There is nothing glitchy about this project. There will be no great ambitious switch up found here. The beats from Nineteen85 (yes the guy who also produced Hotline Bling) are nothing truly groundbreaking. The crooning from the other half of the duo, Daniel Daley, is reminiscent of old-school Usher sound. The lyrics can get sharp and crass such as on the tracks “Think About Me” or “Don’t Choose.” However, for the most part it is a formulaic album, ideally meant for one long run through consumption and features spacey instrumentals and soft vocals leaving the listener in a trance. That to me is the true beauty of this album. I can put it on and it is the same parts soothing, bitter and hurtful. The allure of the album is the release timing in conjunction with my life situation. Going through a breakup with this album was a confusing yet alluring time. It casts a bloom of elegance over a negative romantic situation and holds a special place in my memory that many may not understand.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Run Away, Body Smile, Conversations in a Diner
Feedback and comments are always appreciated. Have you found something interesting in these albums too? What albums would make your list?
Part V with the my final top 5 favourite albums of the decade coming soon!