What I Read This Year

Wow has it really been almost a year since I did my last book rundown! I must admit, my reading habits have fallen off over the past few years. Freelance work takes up a lot of time and leaves reading mostly for transportation once a month mostly. However, I have managed to finish a few books since the last book post. Many of them have been e-books and been some of my favorite reads since I needed more work with happy themes. So while I finish working my way through From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, here’s how I spent the last few months of my reading life.

 

Rebekah Weatherspoon – Sanctuary, Tamed, Wrapped, and Xeni

I usually do this in alphabetical order, but this time I must start with this: as far as my reading habits go, this has been the year of Rebekah Weatherspoon. After re-reading Rafe, I went on to find some of the works I missed and then focused on her latest released Xeni. Her books became not just a safe space but also a reprieve when I needed just a bit of happy with characters I would like.

sanctuary

Sanctuary falls in line with Haven in the Beards and Bondage series and introduces us to Liz Lewis, a lawyer who finds herself going into hiding when a former client puts a hit out on her. Through a series of events, she ends up in the small, rural town of Ghent under the care of Silas McInroy. And, well, let’s just say from there, the two decide to explore a mutual attraction. There was a lot I liked about this one, but I think I appreciated most that although the driving factor is a dangerous situation, it doesn’t loom over the plot as Liz and Silas navigate their relationship. It never got too heavy even with the drama.

tamed

Tamed is the second book in the Fit trilogy, one of the first series I ever read of Weatherspoon’s. This one was a good read once I remembered who Armando was from the first book. However, the protagonist is a new character, Nailah who comes from a close-knit family and a domineering father. So her attraction to her new fitness trainer Armando when she realizes he is deep into kink is a bit of an awakening for her. This one was a good reminder of the Fit trilogy as I read it some time ago and helped me revisit characters that recur in other stories.

wrapped

Wrapped was also a good reminder of the Fit series and also connects to the Beards and Bondage series, letting two of Weatherspoon’s universes overlap and expand. I enjoyed this one as a nice Christmas novella with a bakery (a weakness of mine) at the center as Shae and Aiden connect as Shae works through the pain of her divorce and Aiden just tries not to screw things up with the new woman in his life. This is definitely one of my lighthearted favorites.

xeni

Xeni, however, is one of my favorite Weatherspoon books since Rafe and not just because the protagonist reminds me of someone *wink*. Xeni finds herself in the aforementioned Ghent when her favorite aunt passes and leaves her an inheritance. There she finds herself pushed into a marriage of (in)convenience with Mason McInroy (Silas’ cousin) so that they can both gain their inheritances. The fun of the story is the two actually like each other though they resist falling in love believing the marriage to be over in a short while once they have secured the inheritance. However, for those who enjoyed Sanctuary, it’s also a great expansion of the Ghent community and two bisexual main characters. And let me just say the comedy in the first chapters is A-plus. Bonus: if *somebody* ever wanted to do a spinoff book focusing on the Everly sisters in their prime… I’m just saying…

freedom is a constant struggle

Angela Davis – Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement

I found this collection of essays from a little free library and remembered what I loved about Angela Davis’ work. This book is primarily a collection of speeches given during the 2010s before its 2016 publication. There are many enlightening ideas as well as reminders of why we must remain vigilant and aware, even more so following this book’s publications. Those who are interested in various forms of activism and how and why they should connect should give this one a read. I mean, it’s Angela Davis.

baaaad muthaz

Bill Campbell – Baaaad Muthaz

Seriously, this graphic novel is probably the most fun I’ve had with a book this year. Baaaad Muthaz is both an homage and a send up of ‘80s R&B, ‘70s kung fu and funk, and blaxploitation all set to a space opera. And, yes, all that works together. The adventures of this space pirate James Brown cover band feels like a Parliament/Funkadelic album come to life in the best possible way. I really want this to be adapted to an animated show because the first season is all here. For now, I’ll just have to wait until the next volume.

let's play white

Chesya Burke – Let’s Play White

I must confess it took me almost seven months to work up the nerve to read Burke’s “Say, She Toy,” but it made me even more of a fan after her novel The Strange Crimes of Little Africa. However, this short story collection is lots of original horror, expanding the canon of Black thrillers. Seriously, I would love to see a horror anthology series adapt these stories along with Nisi Shawl’s Filter House and Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love with Hominids. And definitely check out the exquisite “I Make People Do Bad Things.”

moments in maplesville

Farrah Rochon – A Perfect Holiday Fling and A Little Bit Naughty (Moments in Maplesville series)

This double feature had been on my Kindle for quite some time, so I finally gave them a read when I needed something I figured would be light and fluffy. And, yes, I got what I needed when I read them. One of the things I appreciate about the Maplesville series is that its set in a smaller community because I noticed lots of romances are set in large urban areas. However, Maplesville is a smaller community outside of New Orleans, so I do appreciate the vibe. Between the two books, there is sweet romance and a bit of kink, so there’s a little something for everyone here.

halal if you hear me

Fatimah Asghar & Safia Elhillo – Halal If You Hear Me: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3

Among a batch of books I found in a Little Free Library, this is a beautiful collection of poetry from the Muslim experience and also includes a few essays. All I’ll say is it’s essential reading, particularly with the current political climate and the targeting of Muslims for hate crimes escalating even more under the current regime. Even if you know nothing of Muslim experience, this is one way to see the variety and beauty of it in an accessible form.

worlds seen in passing

Irene Gallo (ed.) – Worlds Seen in Passing: 10 Years of Tor.com Short Fiction

I actually won this book in a giveaway and quite frankly fell in love with its beautiful hardcover form. However, I found this to be a very good compilation documenting Tor’s first 10 years especially as it shows the ways in which some outlets of science fiction have attempted to make the space not only more inclusive but also richer in the stories that find a home. Tor is one of those outlets and has chosen only a few of the standout stories it has published in the past 10 years.

the gilda stories

Jewelle Gomez – The Gilda Stories

A birthday gift from last year, I forgot to include it in the previous rundown probably because I spoke about it in my audio essay on found family. I wanted to read this before it was adapted and found out why it is not only a science fiction classic but also QUILTBAG essential reading. Gomez uses vampire lore to tell the story of Black experience from the mid-1800s to a future yet to happen. However, without giving too much away, the themes of predator and prey throughout the centuries feels familiar on many levels.

this is how we survive

Mai’a Williams – This Is How We Survive: Revolutionary Mothering, War, and Exile in the 21st Century

I’d only read Williams’ two poetry zines and an essay in another collection on motherhood before reading her memoirs this year. To say the least, it’s a compelling story not only about motherhood but also about activism and a commitment to living life as freely as possible in any world context. It’s not always pretty but yet oddly hopeful in that the focus isn’t always struggle but more about living.

amazons abolitionists and activists

Mikki Kendall – Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights

I must confess I anticipated this one for a long time. I finally got to read this one during a doctor visit and found it to be one of the more pleasant history lessons I’ve read in a long time. I love primers, and this graphic novel works not only as a primer but also as an accessible history lesson at all levels. Kendall not only looks at the women, named and unnamed, who have always fought for equal rights but also the forces and factors that have made it necessary, even when those forces were other women. It doesn’t shy away from inequities in women’s rights struggles and why it has been a constant fight.

sister mine

Nalo Hopkinson – Sister Mine

One thing I’ve realized about Nalo Hopkinson over the years is that no one writes paranormal, fantasy, or speculative quite like she does. Fortunately, I always go into her work with no idea what to expect and always find myself in awe at her worldbuilding prowess. Sister Mine is no exception. It’s deceptively gritty under its beautiful prose as it tells the story of fraternal twins blessed and cursed with supernatural power. And, oh, the homage and reference to the power of music was quite a draw as well. Hint: Jimi’s guitar figures very prominently in the story.

daughters of the root

SJ Strothers – Daughters of the Root

I will admit, I was about to leave this one after the first couple of chapters, but I decided to see it through. And I’m glad I did. Strothers story of a family of powerful women begins to come together as they discover their powers and family secrets. However, there are some pacing issues because to be honest, the story should have been longer and given more room to build this world and the characters. Also, the story sets up a series but is self-contained, which is a plus for me because I don’t like cliffhangers.

crush-interrupted-by-zaida-polanco

extra credit

Zaida Polanco – Crush, Interrupted and Extra Credit

I picked these up as free reads and to be honest, they were mostly good for passing the time. I suspect they would be more enjoyable to those who are mostly into erotica for erotica’s sake. Extra Credit works in this way because the story itself feels rushed, but Polanco includes plenty of the sexy stuff (which I’m thinking was the point). However, Crush, Interrupted focuses more on the story and gives the reader more of a chance to get to know and care about the characters. And, yes, sexy stuff aplenty. So these are good for those who like to lean more heavily toward the “let’s get it in” side of things.

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.