This year has been extremly important in the history of black music. Hip Hop is finally bigger than rock music. It sells more than any other kind of music. For the first time no white man is nominated for the Grammy Awards, just a lot of great rap and R&B taking it all. So this is a symbolic list, where every title stands to represent a particoular movement for the evolution of black music during the past year.

King Kendrick is back, is 30 years old and, of course, all the success during the past year, black music owe it a lot to him. An istant classic like To Pimp A Butterfly changed the game so much, bringing lot of attention to rap and R&B. Now it’s time to stress who is the greatest, talking again the language of commercial rap at its best level and keeping it deep and meaningful. So just sit down, be humble.

From Street Corner to Corner Office“, then the rap leaves the stage to spoken word and an almost 50 years old man does the math with every mistake and everything good he made, using the great sounds of people like No I.D. orJames Blake to ask himself “Where is hip hop going? What is my role in it? Will I be remembered? Will I still being a voice against racism?”, and using music as a therapy to save a million dollar marriage with Beyoncè too. Elegance and heart, family and roots for a new evolution of hip hop.

“What if my music too weird for the masses?
And I’m only known for tweets more than beats or
All my day ones turn to three, fours ’cause of track seven
Fuck, what if I get stuck?
What if I got comfortable? I gotta keep it buck fifty
What if I lost it all and ended up back in Ladera
At them shitty apartments that’s across the Bank of America
Damn, I would be hurtin’ ”

The creepy head of Odd Future is finally grown up. Now the colors of a fashion skater wearing GOLF are even dominant after the disturbing darkness of Yonkers, in an hybrid world made of soul, jazz, hip hop till pop, where you can be whatever you are, colorful, like youth and Odd Future, never forgetting to express his creepiest side in songs like Who Dat Boy.

“Where the fuck is my VMA? Where the fuck is my Grammy?” ask Vince in Homage, and he is right. Comparing himself to SAMO/Basquiat or River Phoenix, dark nihilistic lyrics slowly and heavy or robotic and fast going down on plastic night beats made by Jimmy EdgarFlume or Justin Vernon, always with an eye at UK sounds, from Burial to the words of Amy Winehouse and a Damon Albarn featuring. This is pure future and Vince knows that there is only K.Dot upon him. “When the Vince Staples is playing it’s 2029 bro” so it’s time to return to the future.

Future, right. The 34 years old R&B voice has made her debut for Warp Records, a sort of dark lab full of gurus playing the sounds of tomorrow, also bringing new ideas into pop music trough R&B. According to this they use to call Kelela the american answer to FKA Twigs. So, behind the machines in this album you can find Night Slugs‘ producers like Jam CityBok Bok, or Kwes and, of course, Arca.

TDE is a sort of flag of the West Coast brought up by Kendrick, followed by great artists like Ab SoulSchoolboy QIsaiah Rashad and SZA. 27 years old singer from New Jersey made her debut with CTRL, which is a perfect hybrid of great featuring, sophisticated sounds, urban attitude and easy pop like in Drew Barrymore. Lyrics are really catchy, spreading about sexual freedom and loneliness, modern dating and delusions.

 

R&B has never been so fresh, but soul never dies too. After the hype and the wide appreciation that came after Frank Ocean‘ Blond, it’s time for intimate music and great voices.  Daniel Caesar is a 22 years old performer  and Freudian, his debut album, has even wider space for instruments like guitar, piano and rhodes. Symbolic is the opening track Get You featuring canadian young instrumental hip hop/jazz band Badbadnotgood, the only male featuring. Symbolic, in fact, is also the tracklist with all female collaborations like Kali UchisSydH.E.R. and Charlotte Day Wilson in an album that is all about the relationship between men and women and, of course, about love.

The third album in a year by the “American Boy Band” BROCKHAMPTON ended the Saturation trilogy and defined even more why this collective, lead by Kevin Abstract, is one of the coolest thing on the scene. A crew of creators, visionaries, open minded rappers, producers and visual artists keeping it jazzy and funky, good if you like old school, but always fresh and colorful, in a world where gay people, ex drug dealers and who just want to live his dream cohexist.

Soundcloud, here are the real rockstars. Colored dreads, metallic teeths, benzos, depression and schizoid flow that goes from melodic cloud/emo rap to harsh noise in a brand new numetal sound. XO Tour Lllif3 by Lil Uzi Vert is acclaimed to be one of the greatest songs of the year, a lot of kids are still repeating Gucci Gang with Lil Pump and the yellow/black (now totally grey) dreads are already iconic. Then comes reality. Lil Peep died at 21 due to overdose, after being one of the most interesting voices in melodic emo rap, also using samples from 90s emo bands, becoming a martyr for a generation that lives even faster. In this context, 17 appears like a real confession of a problematic 19 years old guy trying to drive out his demons. This is definitely not the noisey sound of Look at me! but a flow of sad melodies, where the beat is not indispensable too. The mistery of Shiloh Dinasty is all over the album, samples of his beautiful voice keep looping in the tracks that seem to be prayers for everything that vanished.

Everyone loves grime,  from Drake to Kanye West, everyone loves Skepta. It’s a great time for UK music, also signed by the comeback of the godfather Wiley with a new raw and intense album. All their legacy is left to people like Stormzy, who is taking the game to another level. What makes this album great is the elegance which keeps together the usual killer and martial grime flow with the trap beats and the acoustic moments. From the cold darkness of South London to the American pop/R&B.

“I was in the O2 singing my lungs out
Rudeboy, you’re never too big for Adele.”

 

Brown Sugar is a Puzzle Radio podcast about black music and culture.

Ascolta “Brown Sugar” su Spreaker.