Final Thoughts on Black Music in 2008

In previous years, I broke down my year-end wrap ups on black music into categories.  I didn’t do that this year in my previous posts (found here and here) because I felt that this year was a very strong year for black music and the categories ended up being a bit obvious (i.e. Jazmine Sullivan woulda got my Best Newcomer).

I did however want to write a bit about what I didn’t like and then end up with something a lil new – Best Videos of 2008.

So…

Two Albums I Couldn’t Stand…and why.

 

Janet-discipline-album-2Janet Jackson’s Discipline.

I wrote a post on Janet’s latest right after the album came out, and 10 months later, my feelings haven’t changed much.  Sure – I’ve come to appreciate the sheer beauty of the title track and the Missy collabo has a perversely silly appeal.  But the essence of what I loved about Janet Jackson is pretty much gone now.

What I loved about Janet was the sense that each album gave me a peak into who she was right then.  Rhythm Nation had the naive optimism and concern about world issues that (with 2PACALYPSE Now) shaped so much of my political point of view.  janet. ushered in my puberty and The Velvet Rope remains a blues and folk masterpiece wrapped in state-of-the-art turn of the century black pop production genius.

There is nothing as expansive, thoughtful, interesting, or even emotional on Discipline.  And, in a way, there isn’t really anything wrong with that other than the fact that you can get this kind of music from everyone else.  But I’m willing to grant Janet the license to make a crassly purely commercial record for the average music listener today who doesn’t know or understand the importance of the Jacksons (and Janet specifically as a woman) to American music.  And I do.  She has every right to become a different kind of artist, a pure pop artist.  But in doing so I think we’ve lost the last remaining member of a musical dynasty.

 

808nheartbreakcoverKanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak

I don’t know if I expected what Kanye West delivered with this self-indulgent mess.  It’s hard to tell because the world is so enamored with everything he does. And while I appreciate Kanye West for his bold choices, for his style, for his arrogance even, his music so rarely works.  It always feels like a guy tryna be cool.  A guy tryna be important.  Tryna be the defining artist of his generation.

And that’s just it.  The effort shows. In fact, it seems that Kanye wants to be the man simply because he tries harder for it than any other artist currently recording.  Nah brother.

The irony of course is that his flow gets worse every album.  His lyricism gets more transparent and one-dimensional.  And his production becomes more and more like Play-By-Numbers U2 rip-offs.  That he went through enormous pain this year is evident only in the promotional materials and the fawning reviews of this putrid piece of music.  This is a cold, impersonal album with not an ounce of real emotion or vulnerability.

Three Albums That Disappointed Me Deeply

Madonna-hard_candy-coverMadonna’s Hard Candy

I like this album for the most part.  But it should have been more.

Madonna has had a long love affair with black music and culture.  That love affair peaked with her 1994 Bedtime Stories album, which remains the greatest album of her career.  That this album comes nowhere near it is intensely disappointing.  Interestingly, I think the album was undone by the ubiquity of its producers.  Nothing on here sounds fresh because Tim and Pharrell are clearly out of fresh ideas. Madonna’s melodies are strong for the most part, but every track sounds like something I’ve heard before.  This make Madge look more follower than trendsetter and resulted in an album that is enjoyable, but oddly inert.

HumanBrandyBrandy’s Human

So I was really really excited for this album.  And upon listening to it – I just don’t like it.

I think the choice of pop rock writers and Europop writers flattened Brandy’s sound in a way that makes her sound strained, when she should sound sad; that makes her sound melodramatic, when she should sound transcendant.  A few songs work (True, The Definition, the acapella joint, and Right Here), but the bulk of the album sounds overmodulated, produced within an inch of its life, and maudlin.

Beyonce’s I Am…Sasha Fierce

At this point, I don’t know why I’m so easily disappointed by Beyonce.  I don’t know why I harbor secret feelings of hope that she’ll be the artist everyone thinks she is.  I think its because Dangerously in Love was so strong.  I think its because when she’s on — like on Speechless or Resentment or Kitty Kat or Hip Hop Star — she’s downright untouchable.  But so much of what we get from Beyonce is artifice.  It’s all some marketing gimmick. The irony is that Dangerously in Love gave me the sense that I was learning about who Beyonce is or wants to be.  I Am, with its pop schlock arrangements and pedantic lyricism, gives me the sense that I’m being told who Beyonce is even though I know it ain’t her.  I don’t believe that every artist should bare their soul, but at this point Beyonce has got to do better at selling the fantasy.  And with Sasha Fierce, with its obvious attempts to outpander (to her gay base) B-Day, ain’t cuttin it, folks.  It’s the worst kind of commercial tripe.  Lifeless, moronic, and annoying.

Five Best Videos of 2008

5. Ne-Yo, Closer

The cinematography, the choreography, and a new confidence in Ne-Yo make this a winner.

4. Solange, I Decided

Unabashed in its love of black musical history, this video reintroduced Solange Knowles as a major creative force.  For a young woman so steeped in classy sophisticated music, she’s remarkably fun and silly and unpretentious.

3. Common, Universal Mind Control

A slightly awkward Common fits beautifully into this futuristic funky video.  More importantly, by making such a video, Common tells us that the future of hip hop could be a return to its funkier, freer, fun-loving past.

2. SugaRush Beat Company, L.O.V.E.

This video captures the funk (and also the subtle melancholy) of this track beautifully.

1. Pretty Ricky, Knockin Boots ’08

The best video of the year. Pretty Ricky have made the most radical, celebratory video of black male sexuality I’ve ever seen. In fact, I don’t know that there’s been anything like this ever. It shatters almost everything that came before it with its brazen, confident, images of men enjoying themselves , their bodies, and showing them off.  Truly radical stuff.  Bravo!

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
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