In Better Than I Imagined, Meshell Ndegeocello fashions her spoken word portion of the song as a voice mail to her lover. Many parts of it stop me in my tracks, but in February of this year, as I waited impatiently for my name to be called in the vaccination lottery, I most appreciated her closing lines:
It’s a prayer. It has been my prayer as we continue to navigate the pandemic. In the past, my hope for others was that they were thriving. As we entered month 12 of the pandemic (and now in month 22), my hopefulness had not waned, but it has become more grounded. I hope you’re safe. I hope you’re making good choices. I hope you’re finding joy in small things.
Better Than I Imagined by Robert Glasper and remixed by KAYTRANADA featuring H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello is my song of the year because it represents how I’m feeling as 2021 comes to an end. It’s bold and reflective. There’s a lilt of melancholy, but it feels bursting with possibility in many ways. It’s grateful for even the challenging experiences. They are worthwhile in memory. The present, even as a new variant and rising cases will wreak havoc on our best-laid plans, is better than imagined.
The rest of my 2021 mixtape is like my Spotify music aura for these last 365 days: happy and bold. There are explorations into jazz (classic and modern), Nigerian pop, hip hop that made you want to nod your head and move your feet, and singers whose voices were infectious. It closes with Charlie Parker’s April in Paris: rekindled hope for the new year.
I didn’t explicitly write about Tyler, The Creator’s CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST in my HOT WIND BLOWS post this past July, but it was on heavy repeat throughout that month, and I have returned to the full length again and again.
In a time when popular rap is so depressed or grim or vapid, the whole thing is a wake-up. It’s ENERGY! It’s clever. It’s Tyler at his best, most sure, and most whole, and I can’t help but grin while listening.
The other albums that brought me great joy and comfort this year weren’t all released in 2021 but were essential nonetheless: