Favorite Albums and EPs of 2018

There can be no denial that this year belonged to Janelle Monae. Having followed her career ever since a MySpace friend shared a video of a performance of “Happy Violet All-Stars” at a hotel (which culminated with Janelle jumping into the pool), I have been a fan and am so proud that her 10 years of hard work have seen her become a cultural icon. However, we all know that I try to focus on indie and under-represented artists, so Dirty Computer won’t be on my list. But there are many other albums released this year that deserve as many of the accolades given to higher profile artists, so these are the albums and EPs that made an impression on me this year.

 

Annabel (lee) – From This Side/I Came Across a Dreamer

I have been enamored with Annabel (lee) since their first album Solitary Places. After two albums, the duo presented us with two three-track EPs while they work on individual projects still to come. In the meantime, we get more goth jazz goodness.

BbyMutha – BbyShoe/Muthaz Day 2/Muthaz Day 3

Bbymutha has been a favorite since her 2017 anthem “Rules” and has been on a roll since then. This year alone, she released three EPs. Yes, THREE. All this while wrangling two sets of twins.

Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed

I mostly knew Bettye LaVette from her 60s soul hit “Just Dropped in (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” However, earlier this year, I listened to an interview she did as she prepared for the release of her latest album, a collection of Bob Dylan covers. I’m an avid believer in “Black girls do it better,” and LaVette puts her stamp on the songwriter’s work beautifully.

Big Freedia – Third Ward Bounce

So the world is finally catching up to Big Freedia. After more well-known artists used her voice for several hit tracks this year, many who had been long-time fans did the work to make sure she got the attention she deserved. And Freedia rewarded us with a lively EP that only gives a small modicum of what she brings to New Orleans, bounce music, and any party.

Big Joanie – Sistahs

I’ve been a fan of Big Joanie for years and an admirer of Stephanie Phillips’ work for women in rock. After a few EPs, Big Joanie finally released their first full-length album this year. All the work has paid off with a solid album that is both enjoyable and at times poignant.

CupcakKe – Ephorize/Eden

CupcakKe has had a busy year, bookended with her January release Ephorize and the November follow up Eden. All the while, she released singles and visuals to show why she is by far one of the more superior rappers on the scene right now.

 

Ebony Bones – Nephilim

Ebony Bones can never make a bad album to me. This year’s offering is no exception, especially as she appears to focus even more on her role as a composer and producer. With lush production assisted by the Beijing Symphonic Orchestra and the Bones Youth Choir, Ebony shows she is all about creating a coherent and unique album.

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload

When it was announced Georgia Anne Muldrow would be joining Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, I knew she would fit right in her new label home. And I was right. Not only does she keep her own unique craft she has honed over the years, but she has also evolved her sound.

High Priestess – High Priestess

With my work for the Black Swan Collective, I rarely listen to anything these days that do not involve Black women. High Priestess was one of two exceptions this year. What can I say? I find slow prog heavy metal pretty irresistible.

Joi – SIR Rebekkah Holylove

My love and respect for Joi Gilliam has grown exponentially over the years as I finally caught up with her work and keeps growing the more I listen to her latest work. She’s another artist I feel is incapable of making a bad album, and she shows her influence and longevity in yet another brilliant project.

Jose James – Lean on Me

Jose James is the other exception to the “artists who aren’t Black women” who had an album I loved this year. But to be fair, I found it because of his collaboration with Lalah Hathaway. While their duet for “Lovely Day” is a standout to me, his entire album of Bill Wither covers is done beautifully and respectfully.

Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen

I think I first heard of Kadhja Bonet when I listened to her lovely throwback song “Remember the Rain.” However, I was blown away earlier this year when I first caught it on NPR’s “First Listen” series and have kept it in rotation ever since.

Kam Franklin – Nu Metals

I’ve loved Kam Franklin since I first discovered The Suffers and likened them to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. So of course I followed her to her solo EP that changed course with her take on revamping four rock songs, among them “Freak on a Leash” by Korn.

Leikeli47 – Acrylic

Leikeli47 has been doing the damn thing for quite some time now, and as much as I’ve been enjoying her singles, I still wasn’t prepared for just how good her concept album Acrylic would be. But with this album, she has put herself in league with the best of the new class of lyricists on the scene today.

Macy Gray – Ruby

I still feel Macy Gray is underrated considering she has been consistently good since her work with the Black Eyed Peas. And in the year before the 20th anniversary of On How Life Is, she’s shown that she can still make an album that’s deceptively heavy under great musical arrangement.

Malina Moye – Bad as I Wanna Be

Malina Moye proudly leads in a group of Black women guitarists who have been emerging for quite some time. This year, she finally released her latest EP and reminded us she’s not one to play.

Mayyadda – Holding Space

Mayyadda is one of those artists you listen to on those days you need to fill the dark spaces. Something to keep you company when it’s just you and your thoughts. While much of her work can feel heavy, it’s also filled with beauty.

Mal Devisa – Shade and the Little Creature/Mystery Tsrain/Animal Equation

Mal Devisa has had a hell of a year. It seems she’s recovered from a sudden illness that left her hospitalized earlier this year and had a lot of music to get out of her. Not only did she release two albums on the same day, but she also released an EP four days later. And each one crosses and blends genres in ways to take you on as complicated a ride as her year must have been.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism

There aren’t too many artists besides Meshell who have been as daring while remaining interesting and innovating without compromise. So this year, when she decided to release an album of covers, it should have come as no surprise that she would give the finger to genre and expectations and come up with gold. With Ventriloquism, she shows how a cover can be revamped almost beyond recognition while still paying tribute to the originators.

Militia Vox – The Villainess

After years of waiting, metal legend Militia Vox finally got to release her much-anticipated solo album. And after that wait, she did not disappoint. And she still plans more to come with the album next year so…

Nao – Saturn

I don’t remember how I first came across Nao’s early EPs but do remember hearing her track “Zillionaire” in a commercial soon after. Since then, she’s been consistent with the quality of her work and gave us one of the year’s best albums with Saturn. I mean, she teased us with a string of singles first, but she was worth it.

Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics

While she didn’t make us wait 18 years this time, Neneh Cherry did take four years to craft her latest album and remind us why she is one of our legends. From the visuals of “Kong” and “Shot Gun Shack” to the lyrics of tracks like “Natural Skin Deep,” Neneh shows why it’s always a good idea to let artists take their time.

Noname – Room 25

Noname is part of an awesome creative collective of artists coming out of Chicago right now who are completely fucking up the game in a good way. And of all of them, Noname showed just how strong of a creative force they can be on albums. The lush production is so dreamy and relaxing, you just may do a double take at some of the sly lyrical wordplay peppered throughout the tracks.

Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart

Everyone knows Cammie Gilbert is one of my strongest musical crushes right now, so I was ecstatic when Oceans of Slumber teased their new album last December with visuals for their track “The Decay of Disregard.” However, we had to wait until March for the rest of the album. But at least that gave me most of the year to revel in all this prog metal goodness.

Ravyn Lenae – Crush

In disclosure, I’d forgotten Ravyn Lenae released an EP this year. It deserved much more fanfare than it got, especially as the young singer-songwriter has been consistent with her work since she first emerged at 18. With Crush, she keeps it going and shows that she is definitely capable of greater things.

Shea Diamond – Seen It All

I have been enamored of Shea Diamond since I first heard her in 2016 and anxiously awaited her debut EP. She was finally able to release it this year and all I can say is wow. That voice is searing whether she sings about her personal desires in “American Pie” or bragging about her beauty in “Keisha Complexion.”

Sunny War – With the Sun/Particle War

It seems that every year the universe gives me at least one Black woman with a great folk/Americana album. This year it was Sunny War. And elegant and deceptively varied album, With the Sun establishes Sunny as one of the premier voices of acoustic sounds while Particle War finds her collaborating with Particle Kid.

Tasha – Alone at Last

While Noname gave us one of the best rap albums this year, she’s not the only one from Chicago who’s making the city one of the most crucial hubs of Black creatives this decade. Tasha’s latest release Alone at Last shows us a softer side and also reminds us of another Chicagoan keeping it real while keeping it soft, Jamila Woods. But Tasha has her own style and own voice that she uses to great effect.

The War and the Treaty – Healing Tide

I had no idea before this year that Tanya Blount has been doing roots and folk music for quite some time now. However, as Tanya Blount Trotter, she, along with her husband Michael, have created something special together. There’s love for each other and for humanity that shines through, particularly with the power of Tanya’s vocals.

Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain

Witch Mountain has something in common with Oceans of Slumber: I paid attention to neither until they revamped themselves with a beautiful, charismatic Black female singer. And although the outfit has been around for about 20 years, their new addition, Kayla Dixon, does them well, giving me the kind of prog metal I love.

Witch Prophet – The Golden Octave

Ayo Leilani has been doing the damn thing for almost 10 years now whether she’s creating under her own name, Witch Prophet, or her collective 88 Days of Fortune. So no surprise that this year, her album The Golden Octave was among the best I heard this year. She continues to progress in her sound and work with others who are just as innovative as she, showing that Toronto has cultivated an incredible cadre of artists of color.

Yazmin Lacey – When the Sun Dips 90 Degrees

SoulBounce has been my friend this year. And perhaps one of my favorite discoveries through the outlet has been Yazmin Lacey. Her neosoul-laced work reminds me of the subgenre I grew to love in the late 90s and early 2000s without the hotepness. Just comes to show that our British counterparts are indeed paying attention.

Honorable Mention: Tierra Whack – Whack World

At first glance, you might miss that Tierra Whack’s 15-minute video is indeed an album. With 15 songs at one-minute each, she gives little nuggets to show us just enough of what she can do. As much performance art as it is an album, Tierra has a place in the Afro-surrealism realm that gave us a lot of unique images and stories in pop culture this year.

The Year 2018 (In Music)

It finally happened. Pretty much all the tracks that I kept on repeat this year were featured on the show. Only a few exceptions. And yes at least one cheat that was technically released last year, but since the visuals were released for it at the end of December last year, it counts as a 2018 favorite. Doesn’t matter since we can’t remember what happened because the year lasted forever. Anyway, enjoy the first 20 tracks.

And if you liked that first 20, here’s the other half of the list!

Favorite Albums and EPs of 2017

No matter how the year went, we can always find some hotness that went down in the music world. There were plenty of mainstream successes as well as some newer artists who had an incredible breakthrough year. You’ll see some of them here, but mostly you’ll see artists I got to know through the Black Swan Collective and others I feel might have been overlooked on all those other esteemed Best of the Year lists. Also note that even though they aren’t here, Jamila Woods, Imani Coppola, and Little Simz all re-released their albums from last year. So hope you catch up with some awesome but overlooked artists and be reminded of a few of your faves. Apologies for anything that didn’t embed properly, but there be links.

Amerasu – Rebecca

Sometimes the demons aren’t really demons. Sometimes you gotta embrace something that others see as a weakness to keep you strong. That’s how Star Amerasu begins her EP Rebecca with the track “Klonopin.” While Rebecca takes you places, it’s more than a fluffy ambient piece although it does evoke a mood. It elevates. It also mellows and balances, much like the drug in question of the EP’s opening track. Amerasu continues what she began with her EP from last year and shows she has what it takes to stand out from Top 40 banality.

Annabel (lee) – The Cleansing

I’ve been absolutely enchanted with Annabel (lee) since I first heard their 2015 debut By the Sea… and Other Solitary Places last year. Haunting and atmospheric, Shelly Ellis has a voice perfectly complimented by a musical background that calls to mind the old Hammer horror films from which she draws much inspiration. This was one of my most anticipated albums this year, and I was far from disappointed with the finished product. With a hard to pin down sound, no one else sounds like Annabel (lee), making them a unique and original pleasure in indie music.

Charlotte Dos Santos – Cleo

Pigeons and Planes is becoming one of my go-to pubs to find outstanding Black female music talent. Charlotte Dos Santos is one of the reasons why. After familiarizing myself with “Red Clay” and the album’s title track, I listened to the entire album, and I must say Charlotte is one of my favorite discoveries from this year. Not only does she capture the creative spirit of contemporary R&B like Daniel Caesar and Moses Sumney, but she also incorporates that 70s aesthetic that made the neosoul children some of the best artists of their generation.

Cold Specks – Fool’s Paradise

None of Cold Specks’ three albums sounds like the others. Yet Al Spx, aka Ladan Hussein, always remains identifiable in her sound, particularly with her rich, haunting voice. She puts it to great use on her release this year, celebrating her Somali heritage throughout these gorgeous 10 tracks. She also lays bare her soul, exposing all the trauma and heartbreak that also helped inspire this beautiful work from an artist who always brings her A game.

Daniel Caesar – Freudian

I was directed to Daniel Caesar by my friend and podcast partner Didi. I immediately realized why. While Daniel Caesar has apparently been making a name for himself for some time now, he came out of left field for me. Freudian is a gorgeous addition to contemporary R&B. Not since Donnie’s The Colored Section has a man created something that resonated so perfectly and purely with me. Actually, this year there was two… stay tuned…

Denitia – Ceilings

Denitia Odigie never disappoints whether she’s Denitia, Adesuwa, or denitia and sene. Well, there might be one small disappointment with the Ceilings EP – it’s only four tracks. All good tracks though, and this is the best thing about an EP, no filler and no tracks to skip over. Just Denitia’s smooth as buttah voice over those ambient electronic tracks that have served her so well in the past.

Exit Eden – Rhapsodies in Black

I love when random Twitter encounters lead me to something cool. And a random Twitter encounter pointed me in the direction of Exit Eden, a heavy metal supergroup of sorts consisting of four female artists from different countries. The collaboration works and their album of covers puts new spins on several pop culture staples and newer hits. And the covers work as much as this grouping. Exit Eden gave me something I’ve been looking to enjoy again for quite some time: a heavy metal girl group.

Goapele – Dreamseeker

I’ve had to admit that I let Goapele’s talent slip by me after I failed to connect fully with her debut album. However, when her track “Power” and a couple of other singles came across my desk, I had to revisit her and check out Dreamseeker. What I found was the reason Goapele had the staying power to keep her in the game for nearly 15 after her debut. She’s shown her prowess as a vocalist and a talent for the type of songwriting that’s both deep and accessible.

Gorillaz – Humanz

Gorillaz is one of those groups that when you first encounter them, you’re guaranteed to stick around to see what they do next. After catching singles from them over the years, I was finally ready for my first full album, particularly after leading with the incredible collab with Benjamin Clementine, “Hallelujah Money.” The first time I listened to Humanz, I kept looking back at the playlist to not only see the name of the songs but also the names of the many collaborators who contributed to one of the most creative albums of the year. Had I not been a fan already, Humanz would have been the deciding factor.

H.E.R. – H.E.R./Volume 2

When H.E.R. emerged last year in a cloud of mystery, it had just the effect she wanted: speculation about her identity and music judged on its own merit. This year, H.E.R. returned not only with the second volume to follow up her EP, but she also put together a full album that combined volumes one and two of the self-titled EPs as well as included new tracks. The result is one of the best alternative R&B albums within the past few years much less this one.

 

 

Ibeyi – Ash

I didn’t realize Ibeyi had an album set for release this year until the day of the album’s release. Probably a good thing because I don’t know if I could have stood the anticipation of what I knew would be excellence from beginning to end. And on their second album, the Diaz twins did not disappoint. Ash continues the work Ibeyi began on their first self-titled album and show even more growth beyond the already beyond their years maturity displayed in their debut.

The Isley Brothers, Santana – Power of Peace

I’ll never understand why I hesitate to get into a Carlos Santana album unless I’m already certain my mind will be blown by the flawlessness. Well, this year I found out that Carlos can still make a great album, especially when he’s recalling Woodstock era Santana. But this time, apparently he and Ron Isley got along so well after working together on last year’s album, they decided to do it again on an entire album with a great assist from Cindy Blackman Santana, who makes this album just as much hers as theirs. With that, Power of Peace becomes one of those albums that shows some artists just know how to make good music in any era.

Jidenna – The Chief/Boomerang EP

After a nearly two-year build up, Jidenna finally released his debut album The Chief. All that development paid off with a solid album then followed it months later with a bonus EP Boomerang. The Chief expands on the persona of the first artist to present an album from Janelle Monae’s Wondaland collective. What we get is the first voice of a Black collective out of Atlanta reminiscent of the artists and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Jlin – Black Origami

It might be a cop out to call Jlin’s Black Origami avant garde, but even though she is squarely within electronic music, she somehow manages to defy that category but is called footwork. Jlin comes from a hip-hop house tradition with roots in the Midwest that takes an Afrofuturistic approach. With her follow up to her debut Dark Energy from 2015, Jlin becomes a creative darling of music journalists who pride themselves on breaking the hot new artists. Not that she needs it.

Jungle Leez – Supanova

Unfortunately, I missed Jungle Leez when she debuted around 2013. However, after a few EPs, she brought her cosmic soul back with this short but sweet album Supanova. Her sound is early 2000s throwback but still contemporary, alternative R&B with a rock edge reminiscent of Res’ How I Do. Just one of those good album listening experiences we used to get from a solid but undersung artist who understands vocal nuance.

Kelela – Take Me Apart

No doubt Kelela has been one of my favorite artists for some time. I’ve followed her since her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me. Her 2015 EP Hallucinogen let me know we were dealing with a talent unlike anyone else on the scene right now. And this year, Kelela did with Take Me Apart what I hoped she would: she broke through. Kelela has finally shown once and for all that she’s a force within the contemporary R&B landscape that not only creates her own way but also in her own time.

Kona – Uncanny

Kona got me with a cute video for her track “Working Woman.” Then I found the rest of the EP was no disappointment. Like a lot of indie music these days, Kona’s Uncanny is laid back, easy on the ears but has a strong enough vibe to make you move it you want.

Lalah Hathaway – honestly

Confession time: I’d never heard an entire Lalah Hathaway album until her live album in 2015. Even though she always stayed rooted in contemporary R&B, I associated her more with traditional R&B and jazz. So I was surprised to find that honestly is firmly rooted in the here and now but not at all disappointed. Lalah shows she has been one of the most versatile and capable vocalists in the game since the early 1990s and shows no signs of hanging it up any time soon.

Ledisi – Let Love Rule

Seriously, I hoped the title track from Ledisi’s new album would be a cover of the title track of Lenny Kravitz’s first album. Well, it wasn’t, but I was far from disappointed. Ledisi is one of those vocalists who knows how to get under your skin and appreciate each and every chill that runs through it. Her latest album brings us that grown folx R&B that demands appreciation and a bit of reflection on life, love, and soul.

Lizz Wright – Grace

I’m convinced at this point that Lizz Wright is incapable of creating a bad album. Simply incapable. Lizz has run the genre gamut from jazz, folk, blues, and gospel among others, but here she performs an album of covers and gives them a reworking worthy of her Southern heritage and that honey-dipped voice that shines gold on all it touches.

Lizzie No – Hard Won

Finding Black women who perform folk/country-adjacent is always a welcome thing with me. I’m not sure how I came across Lizzie No, but her album Hard Won and its title track speaks to that Southern girl in me, the one who grew up on stories of lone wanderers who had the privilege of indulging their wanderlust and “find themselves.” Yet somehow, Lizzie’s ruminations of anger, grief, and other subjects feel like an escape while confronting the worst of the realities we live in as marginalized people, a safe space to scream, cry, and mourn.

Lorine Chia & Romero Mosley – When Morning Comes

I liked Lorine Chia immediately when I first saw the video for the single she released early this year “Feeling Groovy.” While that track comes from an EP she released last year, Introduction to Sweet Noise, she followed up this year with this collaboration with Romero Mosley, When Morning Comes. While Lorine has her own style, she shows similarities in style and tone as another great singer/songwriter/producer/beat maker Georgia Anne Muldrow. And with this latest outlet, she adds to the already impressive repertoire she’s been building for the past five years.

Mabel – Bedroom/Ivy to Roses

I hate to harp on the fact that Mabel McVey is the daughter of Neneh Cherry, but I must point out that she learned well from her mother. Releasing two EPs this year and becoming a known face and name on the UK charts must have highlighted her year. And I dare say she did it of her own merit. Both Bedroom and Ivy to Roses provide more than a hint of Mabel’s creative capabilities and establish her as an artist to watch further grow and develop.

Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

I try not to feel guilty when the first complete album I hear from a legend comes late in their career. Yet with Mavis Staples’ latest album, I have to ask myself what I’ve missed throughout the long and varied career of the R&B/soul legend. Apparently, this is her third collaboration with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and I’ll say to his credit that his respect for the music comes through in Mavis’ performance.

Maxine Ashley – Paranoid

Maxine Ashley released her EP Paranoid early in the year. Fortunately, her evolution of trip hop brings this short but sweet outing to the forefront of the many hopefuls giving us good music on Soundcloud. Doesn’t hurt that Maxine has a stronger range than many yet has a voice that is radio friendly enough without being bland.

Mayyada – eightynine

Mayyada brings that perfect blend of folk and rhythm, the kind of music you might have heard at Lilith Fair if Black girls with acoustic guitars were valued. She makes anthems for the stereotypical carefree Black girl who wears flower crowns in her hair while sitting barefoot in a field playing her guitar for the woodland creatures and birds. And, well, I’m into it.

Minnie Riperton – Perfect Angel Deluxe Edition Reissue

Everyone knows how much I love Minnie Riperton. I’d been planning my audio essay for her as early as May. However, what I didn’t know was that this year would bring an estate-approved deluxe reissue of her second solo album Perfect Angel. Even those of us who have listened to this album ad naseum will find something new to respect in the bonus material featuring alternative versions of each track. It’s like listening to the album in a whole new way and reminds us why Minnie’s music has endured so long after her much too early passing.

Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

So that second album from a Black man that feels just as good as Donnie’s The Colored Section? Aromanticism by Moses Sumney. I’ve heard several tracks from him over the past couple of years and watched his progress. By the time he did his NPR Tiny Desk concert, I was a fan and fell in love with the album. Aromanticism is one of those concept albums that seamlessly ties together and shows a kind of artistry that is difficult to come by in our age of EPs and singles.

Nicotine – Nicotine’s Famous Honey: An Open Letter

I forget how I came across Nicotine, but oh am I glad I did. Sometimes you just hear something so flawless and meant for you that you have to thank the music globs. Nicotine’s Famous Honey: An Open Letter is the public declaration of love gone wrong you remember from your academic days when you hung out at the coffee shop on open mic night. At least the first track is. But the entire EP keeps the public confessional spirit right up to the closing.

Purple Ferdinand – Rain or Shine

While “In My Dreams” remains my go-to track for Purple Ferdinand, I was pretty excited when I saw earlier this year that she’d dropped another EP. Even more so when I found the short but sweet work manages to run a number of genres from indie pop to quiet storm R&B. Purple Ferdinand is another of our alternative R&B artists who shows why its moving more into the realm of contemporary R&B we might actually hear on mainstream outlets.

Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom

While Black women have yet to reach the heights of commercial success as their male counterparts in the rap game, they have consistently shown that they are among the most talented and innovative in the genre. Fortunately, Rapsody has been one who has managed to garner mainstream attention after two EPs and the release of her album Laila’s Wisdom this year. This year proved to finally be her breakout year of critical acclaim from rap fans and music aficionados in general.

Ravyn Lenae – Midnight Moonlight

Ravyn Lenae has been one to watch since she debuted with her album Moon Shoes last year at only 18 years old. She returned this year with Midnight Moonlight, continuing to impress as an up and coming creative force in alternative/indie R&B artists coming out of Chicago. With the carefully crafted short but sweet EP, we continue to watch the evolution and development of a young artist.

Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Every since her tenure with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has been one of the most prominent voices of Americana. With Freedom Highway, she continues that tradition and cements Black women as the center of roots music. Only her second solo album, Freedom Highway captures Rhiannon at her best paying homage to the silenced, retrieving them from the depths of a history that tries to bury them while reclaiming a genre that likes to forget its early innovators.

Ruby Francis – Night Time Therapy

Ruby Francis is one of those artists I came across in the course of doing the show and in the back of my mind remembered they made an impression somehow. In revisiting her EP Night Time Therapy, I remembered why. These four tracks are fine soft alternative R&B pieces fitting perfectly under the title of the album. Just the thing you need for a quick fix of peace to compliment the quiet.

Sampa the Great – Birds and the Bee9

I was first introduced to Sampa the Great in 2015 with The Great Mixtape. Since then, she’s done a few singles here and there, but she finally released a new mixtape in early November. Sampa’s poetry roots show strong on Birds and the Bee9 but so does her steady flow, which reminds me a bit of an artist I wish had broken through in the 90s, Simple E. And with this mixtape, she takes on the theme of spirituality and the self, something near and dear to my heart. In the same league as her contemporary Little Simz, Sampa is definitely one of the British women in rap to watch.

Sampha – Process

I’ve joked that Sampha’s voice sounds like someone just broke up with him five minutes ago, but he had to go on and perform anyway. As much as I like that joke, I do love Sampha’s voice and his music even more. Process sees him finally giving us a full-length album, one hinted at from previous works and collaborations throughout the years. Topped with an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, Process firmly establishes Sampha as one of the most distinct voices in alternative R&B, one not afraid to express vulnerability.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman

Sharon Jones’ passing last year was a devastating loss. However, on the first year anniversary of her passing, Sharon’s band released her last album posthumously. And as with everything Sharon did, it’s nothing short of the Blackest excellence. Soul of a Woman completes a career cut short but nevertheless full and every evolving while remaining steeped in an older music tradition. Sharon would be proud.

Sudan Archives – Sudan Archives

Sudan Archives is one of those artists I knew I’d like right away. The violinist made a strong impression with her track “Queen Kunta,” so I waited for more material. Eventually, we got the release of her self-titled EP. Like Syna So Pro, she uses looping to make herself a one-woman band, effectively keeping creative control over her work, giving us a solid and connected piece of art worthy of her artistic vision. And her EP works as an introduction to what we’ll get when she decides to create even more.

Syd – Fin/Almost Never Home

Let’s be honest: Syd’s Fin is one of the top albums of the year along with Kelela’s Take Me Apart and Ibeyi’s Ash. Her tenure with The Internet (which is not over!) gave Syd the room she needed to find her stride and develop an album fitting for her voice and her knack for songwriting. Then on top of that, she celebrated her upcoming tour with a three-track EP Almost Never Home later in the year. And considering her work with Sampha and Quin among others this year, it’s safe to say that Syd has made herself a valued entity in a music industry that barely deserves her.

 

Tawiah – Recreate

Tawiah quietly snuck up on me with her single “Queens” off her EP Recreate. After listening to all five tracks, I immediately looked up her debut EP In Jodi’s Bedroom. Tawiah fits into that collective of artists like Terence Nance who creates work you can’t quite label but it was made for you anyhow. She expresses the openness of a folk singer, albeit one who puts as much fire into political anthems as she does vulnerability in her more personal outings. Tawiah is definitely on my stay tuned and watch list.

Thundercat – Drunk

I’ve been a bit enthralled with Thundercat ever since I first heard “Them Changes” last year. So I was not a bit surprised when I found his album Drunk as one of my favorites of the year. Thundercat’s latest album is oddly uplifting, perhaps because the quirkiness overshadows some of the darker themes addressed in the album. He truly belongs in the class with contemporaries such as his collaborator Flying Lotus as well as other collaborators Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins.

 

Torraine Futurum – Colonial

Torraine Futurum released her debut album Colonial at the beginning of the year. Twelve months later, it’s still better than a good majority of album releases this year. Torraine paints dreamy landscapes with her music, speak-singing at times in a melodic voice that’s as sexy as it is calming. This album has some of the most calming, laid back vibes I’ve heard all year.

Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

Of all the artists I “discovered” this year, I don’t think any of them has blown me away as much as Vagabon. From the first time I listened to “The Embers,” I knew I’d found one of my kin. I immediately found her other work, a collection of live tracks from the Infinite Worlds album, an Audiotree live session, and a previous EP, Persian Garden. Vagabon is another one of those “if Lilith Fair were touring today and had a Black female lineup” artists that I’ve grown to love over the course of the year and my tenure with the Black Swan Collective.

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June is one of those artists who made me appreciate my Southern, Tennessee roots even more. Yet The Order of Time reflects Valerie’s move from the South to New York. The album feels more upbeat than the darkly sublime Pushin’ Against a Stone. But Valerie continues to grow and take chances as an artist, exploring her fuller range and making music on her own terms.

Various Artists (88 Days of Fortune) – Cosmic Melanin

Ayo Leilani, aka Witch Prophet, has been providing a space for queer Toronto artists known as 88 Days of Fortune for more than eight years. And in that time, they’ve dropped several dope albums. This year was Cosmic Melanin, an outing that included Stas THEE Boss and Sassy Black (both of THEESatisfaction), Nappy Nina, Gifted Gab, and Latasha Alcindor among others. I expected nothing less than excellence from this, and that’s what was served.

Violents & Monica Martin – Awake and Pretty Much Sober

I have no idea of the future of PHOX, who captured me with their self-titled album in 2015, but I can’t say I was disappointed to see Monica Martin front and center of her collaboration with Violents. While her work with PHOX drew inspiration from a plethora of influences including alternative, indie, folk, and even polka (it seems), Awake and Pretty Much Sober appears to draw more from alternative R&B, which also works with Martin’s soft but capable vocal stylings. Hopefully, this means more opportunities for her to branch out.

Vlooper – Queendom

I’m still not sure how I first encountered Vlooper except to say that I’ve had a couple of her EPs in my collection for some time and apparently I keep going back. Well, with her Queendom EP, Vlooper has become part of the Montreal beat making scene, and the result is an ambient mixtape as weighted as it is airy. She finds herself in line with those like her hero J Dilla, to whom she paid tribute with an album in 2011, and fellow artists JLin. So no matter how I found Vlooper, I’ll definitely stick around to see what she does next.

Weaves – Wide Open

Seems like everything I love comes out of Toronto these days. And Weaves is one of the only rock groups who made my radar this year. This is not at all in small part due to lead singer Jasmyn Burke who has all the charm and swagger of a rock frontwoman. More than that, Wide Open is just an enjoyable album, a pick me up in my own musical landscape that admittedly is a bit mellow and laid back these days.

Please Don’t Stop the Music: 2016 Favorites

I don’t know the person who said it, but this tweet is the best description I can think of: this year was a terrible movie with an awesome soundtrack. Or something to that effect. In a year when we lost Natalie Cole (technically 2015), David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Glenn Fry, Sharon Jones and… Prince… we lost Prince…, it’s easy to lament the genius we lost rather than celebrate the genius we might have gained. In that spirit, I am going over some of the artists and their albums and EPs that contributed to the year 2016’s awesome soundtrack. I tried to focus on talent that might not appear on the lists of bigger publications, so albums like Rihanna’s Anti, A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It from Here and Frank Ocean’s Blonde are all awesome but absent here. There will be some overlap, but this list is overrun with Black Girl Magic and Joy.

Adesuwa – Air Light

I love Denitia Odigie in all her incarnations and she started this year giving us the chillwave tone we needed in what would be a long winter called 2016. Recording this project under here middle name, Denitia’s voice is always buttery smooth and soft, perfectly complimenting whatever music style she chooses. From the beginning with “One Only” to the end with “Firelight” of this five-track EP, Air Light takes us out of the stratosphere and to a whole new level of consciousness to give us just a few lovely moments reprieve from this terrible experience called everyday life.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3980453241/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Adia Victoria – Beyond the Bloodhounds

I’ve spent lots of time this year thinking about my Southern heritage this year, more so since I wonder how it informs my growing spiritual beliefs. Music goes a long way toward this exploration and Adia Victoria’s music has been essential to it. With tracks like “Stuck in the South,” “Howling Shame” and “Dead Eyes,” Adia has spoken to me on a spiritual level that only Black women speak. She is one of my witchy sistren in my mind and this album was most definitely a fave this year with its gothic soul sound and Adia’s own enigmatic voice.

Ah-mer-ah-su – Eclipsing

From the funky, hand-clapping march of “Boom Crash Bang Clang,” Star Amerasu announces herself as the “Trans* Poptronica Princess composer” or “Siren Witch Poptronica Princess” she is. In March, she released her EP Eclipsing, her own brand of “witch house” enchanting as it is lush with her rich voice and introspective lyrics. She brings her interdisciplinary experience to this project, part of her effort to “make Amerasu famous” plan, as the name of her website declares. Her roots in folk and choral music shine through and make it one of the most unique entries in indie electronica music this year.

AlunaGeorge – I Remember

AlunaGeorge has been on my radar since the emergence of the tracks that eventually became Body Music, so I anticipated their return this year with I Remember after we got a few teaser tracks months before the release of the album. Aluna Francis’ syrupy sweet vocals work well with George Reid’s electronic R&B tracks, making them feel like what we would have gotten if Amel Larrieux and Bryce Wilson had stayed together and given us more Groove Theory. This sophomore album runs the gamut of chillable (“My Blood”) to danceable (“Jealous,” “I’m in Control”) in its explorations of futuristic R&B and pop.

Anthony Hamilton – What I’m Feelin

Ari Lennox – Pho

Ari Lennox’s Pho was a couple of months old before I finally got to it and gave it a listen. I should have picked this up a lot sooner. I feel like I’d listened to her work previously as I often come across mixtapes and EPs through a number of channels, but to my surprise, Pho is Ari’s debut effort and she makes an impression. She effortlessly blends an old school aesthetic with a contemporary sound that makes her stand apart from many of the new artists dropping singles and mixtapes on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and other outlets.

Awa Ly – Five and a Feather/Here and Everywhere (with Faada Freddy)

I’m sure Awa Ly is someone I came across as I looked for music for the Black Swan Collective. I must have been impressed enough with whatever single she was promoting to find the entire album. And I have no regrets. Five and a Feather is a nice entry of indie acoustic jazz-tinged pop with a sprinkle of whimsy, just the type of music I love and often shows up on playlists I make for indie films that do not yet exist. Awa’s sound is just the nice shot of mellow we often need to deal with the harshness that made this year such a drag. Following it up with the Here and Everywhere EP, a collaboration with Faada Freddy in which the two create the same track with various artists around the world, later in the year was a nice topping.

BJ the Chicago Kid – In My Mind

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is

It’s no secret to anyone that I had a crush on Ben Harper in college, especially with his album Burn to Shine, which I still have on rotation to this day. This year, he released a new album with the band he spent the 90s with and returned to form after projects such as Fistful of Mercy, his other band The Relentless 7, Charlie Musselwhite and The Blind Boys of Alabama. Call It What It Is finds Ben even more political than he has been in the past with responses to the state of the Union over the past few years.

Betty Davis – The Columbia Years 1968-1969

Betty Davis has been a hero of mine since the early 2000s when I first encountered her work. Her distinctive growl and blatant sexuality was a revelation for me. However, the label Light in the Attic Records has unearthed some of her earlier work before her official debut album, the self-titled classic. This earlier work showcases a young Betty around the time she was writing for other artists like The Chambers Brothers. She hadn’t yet developed her sex kitten persona, but we do see the beginnings of her star power with this album. Now we just need that documentary…

Black Milk & Nat Turner – The Rebellion Sessions

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=172911903/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Brandee Younger – Wax and Wane

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4148476683/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Butcher Brown – Virginia Noir

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1172662599/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Chloe Charles – With Blindfolds On

When I first heard Chloe Charles “My Child” and played it on the show, I made note to go look her up later. When I did, I found that she had a previous EP, little green bud, released before Break the Balance, where the track appears. However, I also found she released the album With Blindfolds On this year. Chloe remains consistent with the effort in her introspective lyrics and quiet musical melodies to accompany her soothing voice. With her works, she has become one of my witchy sistren to whom I turn when I need to get in my witchy feels and leave it all behind for a while.

Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

Corinne Bailey Rae did something most people didn’t do this year: she released a full CD-length album, clocking in around 75 minutes. The Heart Speaks in Whispers is a reminder for many of us who still appreciate the work it takes to produce a quality full-length album in an era of EPs and LPs that are the length of 60s records. Nothing wrong with either, but Corinne is still an artist who can provide a long body of work that you find worth sitting with for the entirety without getting bored, especially not with standout tracks like “Been to the Moon” and “Green Aphrodisiac.”

Dawn – Redemption

I love Afrofuturism. I devote a music playlist to it every year. With Dawn Richard, I’ve found another name to add to my annual celebration. She spent much of the year dropping singles like “Renegades” and teasing us for what was to come with her finished album. Finally in November, we got Redemption, a futuristic follow up to last year’s Blackheart and 2013’s Goldenheart, the first installments of her Redemption trilogy. Dawn continues to stray further from her Danity Kane legacy and carve out her own as a talented creator in her own right and a prominent voice in dance/electronica music.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1609192242/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

denitia and sene. – love and noir.

After giving us a tease with her project under her name Adesuwa, Denitia Odigie returned at the end of the year reunited with her parnter Sene on their sophomore effort to remind us she really can do it all. Even after her work with Air Light and his work on the show Luke Cage, it appears the two of them will always find their way back to each other. And we all win when they do. With tracks like “hundreds.” and “witchu gone.,” the duo reclaimed their place atop electronica’s elite and keep pushing the boundaries of this genre dubbed “alternative R&B.”

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=757067858/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Ella Mai – Time/Change

Ella Mai released not one but two EPs this year: Time and Change. Similar in themes and style, Ella is here to deliver some good old fashioned “everything goes wrong in my love life” R&B that a lot of us grew up on and quite frankly still listen to no matter our situation. However, Ella has more than a whisper-thin voice and plenty of attitude that puts her in line with soul divas of old. Taking us through going off on her man, staying with her man, putting the other woman on blast, Ella keeps us in those messy relationships we all love to hate, especially if we’re not the ones in them.

Emeli Sandé – Long Live the Angels

Believe it or not, Emeli Sandé managed to top herself after her excellent indie pop album Our Version of Events. I was late coming to her and only recently listened to that album this year. However, it left me anticipating Long Live the Angels when word got out about its release. Emeli brings more of what made her first effort a standout and expands on it, stepping out of the folk and pop reminiscent of 90s Lilith Fair acts that colored Our Version of Events. With this release, she moves closer to her other contemporaries out of the UK like Corinne Bailey Rae and Laura Mvula, who both also released great albums this year.

Eryn Allen Kane – Aviary: Act II

After releasing Aviary: Act I last year, Eryn Allen Kane followed up with the second installment, Aviary: Act II. The second offering is just as good as the first, giving us a companion piece to an excellent work that showcased Eryn’s vocal prowess along with her musical abilities. When so much of the music I listened to goes for trap or other inexpensive production techniques (which is okay if done properly), Aviary: Act II stands out and makes of grateful for the artists who have the means to do more. From the gospel-tinged “Sunday” to “Dead or Alive,” Eryn brings it all.

Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

Esperanza Spalding has always been a been whimsical in her style and presentation. Her music has finally caught up. With a live performance for NPR, Esperanza showed us a less serious side of herself even though the album itself takes her musical prowess as serious as her art deserves. However, it’s less jazzy and classical than much of her previous work. Esperanza rocks, funks and takes on other genres from the opening of “Good Lava” and leads us on one of the most epic music journeys of the year, reminding us of why we fell in love with her from the beginning.

Flavia Coelho – Sonho Real

Hadassah. – Oakmere Drive

Harsh Crowd – Better

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1556221474/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

H.E.R. – H.E.R., Vol. 1

I kept tracks from this EP off the show for one reason: I did not know for sure if H.E.R. was a Black woman. About a month after this effort dropped, the artist was revealed to be Gabi Wilson, with whom I am not familiar. However, it turns out Gabi is a child prodigy who went behind her record label’s back to present a reinvented Gabi. While not as drastic as a reinvention as Rhianna’s good girl gone bad, Gabi makes it clear from this EP that she is no longer the child her fans once knew. Hopefully, this is only the first step in Gabi taking control of her music and career.

Imani Coppola – Hypocrites

I eagerly awaited the release of Imani Coppola’s newest album Hypocrites. And then I missed it the first couple of weeks of its release. Bad fan! At least I was not disappointed as I rarely am with Imani’s work. She still brings that trademark wit and genre-defying style to an album that feels like a companion piece to her previous outing, The Glass Wall. She also still addresses her own identity issues (“Mixed Nut”) as well as issues that many more of us can relate to as artists, humans (“I’m an Artist” and “I’m the Shit”). With her music, Imani shows that she can never be called a hypocrite.

Indigold (Ivy Sole) – Home/Eden

Izzy Bizu – A Moment of Madness

From the opening of Izzy Bizu’s “Diamond,” it’s tempting to compare her to Andra Day. The same pitch, the same old school meets new school vibe, the same inspirational lyrics. Yet Izzy is very much her own artist. She doesn’t rely as heavily on 60s aesthetic and production techniques as singers like Amy Winehouse did for her work, but she does not shy away from that influence either. Izzy’s style seems to be where neo-soul meets retro-soul with a touch of surf rock and walks away as something that only fits into the contemporary much like Andra.

Jamila Woods – Heavn

With the single “Blk Girl Soldier,” Jamila Woods gave us all the anthem we needed in our summer of discontent. With the album Heavn, she gave us the Blackgirl release we needed to continue the healing process. Much has been made of the Chicago native since her debut and she joins the new school of Chicago artists currently making waves throughout the industry. Heavn includes guest spots by perhaps the most heralded of the group, Chance the Rapper, as well as other newcomer Noname, who’s own debut Telefone also gives us a dose of Black Girl Magic that made this year bearable.

Jesse Boykins III – Bartholomew

Jimetta Rose – The Light Bearer

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=215737736/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Johnnyswim – Georgica Pond

Karun – Indigo

Kelsey Lu – Church

Kelsey Lu’s presence entrances you, enchants you. So does her music and her voice. When the cellist dropped her video for “Morning After Coffee,” I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit, more so when I saw the visuals for “Dreams.” These are only two of the tracks that make up the exquisite EP Church, Kelsey’s debut. With this effort, Kelsey has shown herself to be adept not only as a skilled musician but also as a visual artist. In our EP era, she has created one of the most cohesive works and probably given us only a hint of what she is capable. And yes this is my church.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/74QfVSImAQZ1amvPlZtfOB

King – We Are King

We have anticipated a full album from King since they debuted their three-song EP years ago. We finally got it with We Are King. From the opening of “The Right One” to the last notes of “Native Land,” King took us on an epic mellow musical journey of flawless harmonies and production perfection we don’t get enough of these days. Just goes to show that when you allow artists to take their time and perfect their craft in their own time, they will do the opposite of disappoint. King gave us the grown ass Black woman music we’ve needed since the peak of neo-soul.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=119528827/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Klein – Only/Lagata

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=486485128/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2179575331/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Lady Moon & the Eclipse – Believe

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=46917232/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room

Laura Mvula offered lush arrangements and lovely, soaring vocals with her debut album Sing to the Moon. These elements are not missing from The Dreaming Room, but Laura does show more of what she can do in the studio. With tracks such as “Overcome” and “Phenomenal Woman,” she encourages us to dance and celebrate who we are, not simply reflect while we admire the beauty of her voice (although we still do that with every track on this album). With The Dreaming Room, Laura gets even more personal than she had with her previous effort and still makes us relate.

Little Simz – Stillness in Wonderland

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2416227662/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Lizzo – Coconut Oil

Big girls of the world unite! Lizzo has come through with some anthems that celebrate and elevate. I missed her the first time around with her album Lizzoworld and eventually copped Big Grrrl Small World but eventually caught up with her when she released “Good as Hell” from the Barbershop soundtrack. It reappears on Coconut Oil among five other bangers including the funny but accurate “Phone.” Lizzo offers a good time in a year we desperately needed some happiness, celebration and fabulousness. This short but sweet EP shows that Lizzo knows how to evolve with the time and make music to move to.

Macy Gray – Stripped!

Macy Gray is an underrated genius as far as I’m concerned. Critics have tried to dismiss her as a kook from the beginning. However, she has been consistently good with her album releases since On How Life Is. Her album Stripped! falls in line with the softer sounds that has colored her more recent work including Covered and her remake of the entire Talking Book album. Her latest work belies a maturity hinted at in her earlier work and shows that Macy is still among the best of our late 90s, early 2000s artists with staying power.

Mal Devisa – Kiid

It’s hard to put Mal Devisa’s Kiid into a category. That’s what makes it such a beautiful album. Just when you think the album is a freewheeling acoustic joint a la indie folk about two steps away from depression, Mal hits you with some experimental hip hop for good measure. She is one of my favorite discoveries of the Black Swan Collective and she is the type of creative genius I enjoy seeing in Black women. Tracks like “Everybody Knows” bring it just as hard as “Dominatrix” and show that she has a little something for everybody, especially those of us who like having their eclectic tastes fulfilled all in one place.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2165096228/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Malia – Letting Go

Mayaeni – Basement Kid Mixtape – Hip Hop Series/Elocution

Ever since she dropped a semi-acoustic cover of Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” I’ve considered Mayaeni one to watch. Not simply for giving an acoustic spin to one of the all-time greatest rap songs of the 90s but also for refusing to switch the gender of the object of affection. Well, as nice as that three-track mixtape was, she followed up a few months later with Elocution and showed that she has even more range than her re-imagining of Pharcyde. From the rock edge of “Shooter” to the vulnerability of “Break Me,” Mayaeni shows she truly does have the range.

Mayyadda – Blue

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4226441005/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Mick Jenkins – The Healing Component

Miles Davis & Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful

I’ve been a bit infatuated with Robert Glasper ever since I saw that one of his project’s name was The Robert Glasper Experiment. With album titles like Artscience and Black Radio, you knew he had to come with it. With this latest experimental piece, Everything’s Beautiful, Robert remixes and refixes Miles Davis, putting it in a new context that Miles himself would have approved of. Bringing along the likes of Bilal, Laura Mvula, Stevie Wonder, King, Erykah Badu, Ledisi, Hiatus Kaiyote and Georgia Anne Muldrow for perhaps the year’s best collaborations, Robert presents a perfect musical experiment and cements his place as one of the most original creatives working today.

Moor Mother – Fetish Bones

I won’t lie, I wanted to hear this based on the title alone and also because I could not figure out if this is the same artist as Moor Mother Goddess (she is). Moor Mother’s Fetish Bones creates a more experimental vibe, disconnected and sometimes discordant sounds that reflect the Black experience since its permanent existence on Turtle Island. Not unlike the first project I heard from her, Vague Audio Mixtape, showing that while the name may have a slight change, her vision and creativity remain the same. She embodies the spirit of her foremothers while leading the way to an uncertain future.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3359254905/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Muddy Magnolias – Broken People

I don’t know what I expected when I first encountered Muddy Magnolias, but I do know I have no regrets with taking a chance on them after previewing the album on NPR’s First Listen. With the likes of Valerie June and Brittany Howard, I’ve been glad to see more Black women reclaiming country and roots rock. With her musical partner Kallie North, Jessy Wilson brings a wonderful blend of soul and folk that puts them right in line with any country-rock outfit worth its salt. Even John Legend, who joins them on the track “Leave It to the Sky,” knows what’s up with this new duo.

Nao – For All We Know

Nao is one of those artists you just know is gonna make it. When I found her EPs from last year, I could not wait to hear more work from her. Hearing her work in a Samsung Galaxy Note5 commercial and during an episode of How to Get Away with Murder cemented my prediction. Nao presents electronica that is both fresh and reminiscent of the innovative stylings of Roger Troutman. Nao also has one of those voices that perfectly compliments her chosen musical genre and style, much like Aluna Frances of AlunaGeorge, although Nao at times pays homage to her contemporaries and shows a bit more range.

Noname – Telefone

This year was a good year for Black girls making music for Black girls. Noname added her name to the ever growing list of Black women using the current state of the industry to make music their way and announce that their experiences matter. While deeply personal, many of us find their work relatable and have someone to go when we need to be in our feelings. Along with artists like Jamila Woods, Noname is becoming one of our Chicago faves when we need our Blackgirl anthems. Telefone is that album full of mellow rap that differentiates itself from our current overrun of trap.

OBie Mavuso – Cosmic Fire

Oceans of Slumber – Winter

No voice has captivated me more this year than Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber. After getting acquainted with their EP Blue, I eagerly awaited for the arrival of their full album Winter. I was not disappointed. Their prog metal style perfectly suits Cammie’s yearning and soulful vocals and takes the group in a new direction. Even those who aren’t into metal or are newly acquainted will find that Oceans of Slumber have hit their stride and Cammie is among the best of vocalists of any genre whether crooning an original composition like “Devout” or covering The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”

Oddisee – The Odd Tape

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1162162222/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Phoenix Martins – 47

Princess Nokia – 1992

Quay Dash – Transphobic

Black trans women brought it this year and Quay Dash has added her voice to the ever evolving QUILTBAG presence in music and other arts. This year, she offered her EP Transphobic, a short but sweet journey into her genius. Quay raps clever lyrics that make you look twice at your speakers like “Did she really just say that!” However, her lyrics are rooted in her experience as a Black trans woman living in New York, something she addresses head on with “Queen of NY” while giving listeners a chance to shake ass and acknowledge her place among rap royalty.

Quiñ – Galatica

Ravyn Lenae – Moon Shoes

“Experimental” or “alternative” R&B has gained traction over the past few years and probably makes up the majority of R&B I listen to these days. I can add Ravyn Lenae to that list with her take on alternative R&B. Moon Shoes has a mellow vibe, dreamy and otherworldly in its delivery as the title implies. The title track with its wintry feel blends into the following track “Blossom Dearie” with ease and almost feels like one continuous track progressing to another. But the entire album does offer you the softer sounds you just might need to take your mind off this, well, year.

Rayana Jay – Sorry About Last Night

Sam Lao – SPCTRM

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2887699878/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Sammus – Infusion/Pieces in Space

Those of us in the first generation of home game consoles totally get Sammus. Not that others don’t, but the marriage of hip hop and videogames is as natural as peanut butter and jelly when you think about it. However, this is only Sammus runway and landing pad as she broke out in a big way this year, releasing both an EP, Infusion, and an album, Pieces in Space, in the same year. Sammus takes on everything from what it means to be a Black female geek to mental health. She put to words and beats what so many of us have internalized for so long and gave us an outlet. Two of them in fact.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1681434123/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3283299214/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Santana – Santana IV

Santana is one of my all time favorite artists of the classic rock era. The Woodstock era band produced three flawless albums that only got better with each outing. This year, Carlos reunited surviving members of the group and returned to the Afro-Cuban sound that made Santana one of a kind. Santana IV picks up where the group left off before the group split in the 70s to pursue other ventures. The cry of Carlos’ electric guitar, the percussion, the vocals, it all comes together again and reminds me of why I fell in love with the group in the first place.

Santigold – 99 Cents

Santigold does not know how to make a bad album. Period. 99 Cents creates a trilogy of original, daring works that defy the boundaries of genre and sound and place Santigold among one of the most creative music artists of our time. The reflections on the state of the music industry (to which the album title refers) are also not lost among Santigold’s knack for clever lyrics over danceable beats. Seriously, you can put on any of her albums in the club, let them play from beginning to end and never be bored. Not to mention her awesome visuals with “Banshee” featuring controversial artist Kara Walker…

Sarah White – Laughing at Ghosts

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=793158767/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Sassy Black – No More Weak Dates

I can’t lie: I was a bit distraught when I found that Sassy Black announced her solo work because I took it as the end of THEESatisfaction. However, it appears they may simply be taking time apart to work on separate endeavors. In the meantime, Sassy has given us one of the year’s best with No More Weak Dates in which the title track shuns dates that include an excursion to the weed man. Everything that made Sassy great with THEESatisfaction is here and shows that each woman was most definitely an individual creative force in her own right.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2201800412/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Skunk Anasie – Anarchytecture

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/5ThMlysJJoFWShIMF2E4eW

Special Interest – P.R.E.P LOVE UNITY RESPECT

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3132417855/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Strange Froots – Blossom This Froots for Thought

I was still listening to “Green Apple” from Strange Froots’ 2014 debut EP when I found out they had released another this year. Blossom This Froots for Thought expands their musical vocabulary and allows them to continuing maturing in both their tastes for genre and lyricism. After all, the girls are still teens even though their capabilities may lead you to believe otherwise. Also, they may have gotten their start as an Afropunk discovery (which they seem to acknowledge with “Afro Punkass”), but they show the influence of hip-hop artists including Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott with this latest outing.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1768782468/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

The Suffers – The Suffers

I will forever reflect on Kam Franklin’s vocal resemblance to Sharon Jones and not just because we tragically lost Sharon this year. Kam has a strong voice and makes herself heard over a full band that includes a horn section and old school musical perfection. She growls and demands over tracks like “Gwan” and coos and seduces with tracks like “Stay.” In any case, The Suffers have shown themselves to be one of the tighter outfits in music today and I just bet they put on a hell of a live show. For now, their excellent self-titled album will have to suffice.

T i K ▲ – Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid/Carry On

Tarica June – Stream of Consciousness Vol. 1.5

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1145442084/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Tasha – Divine Love

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2273655502/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Tennin’ – Hybrid

Tweet – Charlene

yaya bey – The Many Alter-egos of Trill’eta Brown

Admittedly, it’s not easy what to make of yaya bey’s exquisite outing, The Many Alter-egos of Trill’eta Brown. Possibly because the album is part of a larger project including a literary work with essays, short stories, poems and artwork. She definitely belongs in the company of Moor Mother as well as the likes of poets including June Jordan and Audre Lorde, whom she obviously draws from with her multimedia biomythography (or perhaps a written collage). With tracks entitled “Celie Jr,” “Buck McDaniels” and “An ode to trill’eta brown (magical),” the EP feels like a blues reflection on a Black woman’s experience.

Yuna – Chapters

Yzalú – Minha Bossa é Treta

Zo! – SkyBreak