“Love. Long as we got…”—SZA, Love Galore
2016 ended in such a discombobulated fashion that I didn’t do my usual annual accounting of the music that mattered. At least not in a blog post. In some private slack channel, Solange’s A Seat at the Table was my most important album of the year while DJ Khaled’s I Got the Keys was my favorite song. I didn’t remark on why things mattered though which is what I’m most interested in when jumping into the way-back machine to remember.
So, let’s take an accounting of 2017. A year that I thought might be dominated by protest music wasn’t. More than anything I loved music that was both adventurous and sure-footed. Musicians and performers who were confident in their vision while taking risks, sonic and emotional. Artists who entered this challenging year and decided to be more open and raw and real rather than more closed off from the world. There’s a lot of melancholy and ennui in popular music these days, particularly in contemporary hip-hop, but that’s not where my ears were drawn. Give me driving rhythm. Make me dance. Lift me up. Swing out, sister. Wake up, brother.
The 2017 Mixtape
The song I listened to the most this year was Big Amount, a 2016 single off of 2 Chainz’s 2017 album Pretty Girls Love Trap Music. It still bangs, especially on my GO! playlist which powers my workouts and runs. A close second is the GRAMMY-nominated Crew by Goldlink. Goldlink’s music dominated the first half of the year. It’s energetic and infectious and is a reminder that the spirit of DC is alive regardless of whoever is spending their nights in the White House.
My Song of the Year though is SZA’s Love Galore. The first bars transport me. I sing along. I shoulder bop and shimmy shake. It stays with me long after it ends. It sounds like nothing else I heard this year. And SZA and Travis $cott make their performances feel effortless. In an age when indie, alternative, experimental rhythm & blues is, by far, the standout genre, this is the standard-bearer.
The rest of my faves are on this YouTube Playlist. You can also find them on Spotify though you’ll be missing JAY-Z’s 4:44 and Family Feud (feat. Beyoncé) in that version because streaming exclusives won’t let us be great.
Most of the end of the year lists I’ve seen have had Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and SZA’s Ctrl in their top five or ten and often as one and two, respectively. While I’ve listened to DAMN. more, Ctrl is ahead of it on my list, but both lose out to Sango’s De Mim, Pra Você for the top spot.
Sango explained, “#DMPV allowed me to seek for more history; more understanding; more roots. We are all influenced by one another.”
This statement could’ve been tattooed on my forehead in 2017. It’s been my mission to seek a stronger connection with my fellow humans, to better understand the how and why of the ways we treat each other, to be influenced and be influential.
De Mim, Pra Você is the soundtrack for that work.
The rest of the 2017 albums that mattered to me
- Sango – De Mim, Pra Você
- SZA – Ctrl
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
- Jay-Z – 4:44
- Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – A Brand New Me
- Goldlink – At What Cost?
- Jordan Rakei – Wallflower
- Demi Lovato – Tell Me You Love Me
- Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
- Ibeyi – Ash
- Sampha – Process
- Tuxedo – Tuxedo II
- Bonobo – Migration
- Beck – Colors
- Haim – Something to Tell You
- Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
- The xx – I See You
- Migos – Culture
- Sylvan Esso – What Now
- Leikeli47 – Wash & Set
- Halsey – hopeless fountain kingdom
- Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
- The Foreign Exchange Presents – Hide&Seek
- Jessie Ware – Glasshouse
- Lorde – Melodrama
- J Dilla – Jay Dee’s Ma Dukes Collection
- Vulfpeck – The Beautiful Game
Albums from previous years that were new and impactful to me
- Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
- NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
- Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted, and Black
- Lion Babe – Begin
- Lizzo – Coconut Oil
- Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits
- Donna Summer – Bad Girls
- LaBelle – Nightbirds
- Sade – Diamond Life
- X-Ray Spex – Germ-Free Adolescents
- Andrew Bird – Are You Serious?
- Baby Queens – Baby Queens
Shout-out to NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list for being the single biggest impact on my listening habits this year. It pushed me out of a rut. It reminded me how exceptional Jagged Little Pill and Control were and still are. It gave me an appreciation for Joni and Dolly and Dusty. It connected me with Donna Summer and LaBelle in ways I wasn’t before. It presented a shocking revelation: that I had never listened to an Aretha Franklin album before—only her ubiquitous hits—and that I had been missing out, grossly so.
It sent me down a riot grrl rabbit hole that I hadn’t been in for years and left me in awe of the soul songstresses of the fifties and sixties. It made me more aware of the control playlists have on our ears—be they human curated on the radio or algorithmically driven on our favorite streaming service—and that we have to be diligent in seeking out artists and music that fails to break through our collective patterns.
I hope these thoughts and lists send you on some new sonic adventure. If it does, tell me about it, won’t you?