Numbers 18-13 after the jump. Sorry this is so late. Enjoy.
18. Monica – "Stay or Go"
This Ne-Yo/Bei Maejor joint stands a full head and shoulders above everything on Monica's stunning comeback album, Still Standing. The song finds Monica giving dude an ultimatum, but what you hear in her voice is sadness, not anger. This interpretation is the primary reason the song resonates so well. From the very first note, you know that Monica is just tired. Listen to how she sings "this is so annoying." She sounds straight weary. And as the song builds what you hear is her become more and more confident in the demand that by the time you get to the end you can hear that she is just done. It's beautiful, thoughtful singing from a singer who hasn't had material this good since Dallas Austin's "Street Symphony."
17. Trey Songz – "Can't Be Friends"
Trey Songz isn't known for being a vulnerable singer. So it's a wonder that something as melancholy as "Can't Be Friends" made the album, let alone became his second single. But it actually is a perfect song for a singer like Songz who is by far the most expressive R&B singer of his generation. The verses are where he really shines because his staccato phrasing rather ingeniously echoes the percussion in the track. "Can't Be Friends" is the latest in a line of great Songz tracks – from "Gotta Go" to "We Could Be" - that make great use of his ability to convey tremendous longing. Only this time that little touch of vulnerability makes it that much more compelling.
16. Janelle Monae – "Oh, Maker"
Janelle Monae is an artist of grandeur, but her best work is small and intimate. "Oh, Maker" is far and away the best song on the album. It gives her the ability to be expressive in short melismatic doses that are just as telling as her shouts on the uptempos. That line – "it's amazing that your love was mine," is the emotional focal point of the entire song. And each time she sings it, there's such a sense of wonder in her voice. It's beautiful, beautiful singing.
15. Chrisette Michele – "Goodbye Game"
Chrisette Michele is actually an incredibly subtle vocalist. She's a stylist. She knows how to let a song build. "Goodbye Game" is by far the best showcase of this fact that we've gotten from her to date. It's a song all about self-reliance and inner strength, but you don't really even hear it until the bridge. That's when she takes the song to the next level. She's done. And you feel it. Every note from this point on is pure exasperation and it's thrilling. There are so few singers who can do what Michele does here. It is truly masterful.
14. Bilal – "Restart"
"Restart" is really about confusion. And so it's crowded and messy and heavy. And right in the center is Bilal trying to make sense of his life and career. After nine years in limbo, wouldn't you? What I love most about this is that a song that is all about whether or not to restart a career is a beautiful example of why he must continue. Other than the great Van Hunt, there is no other Black male artist who so beautifully obliterates the line between rock and soul. Or rather, reminds us that rock used to have soul when it was called rhythm and blues (or "race music" if you were White).
13. Teedra Moses – "International Playboi" & "All That I Have"
Teedra Moses is the best R&B singer that no one is getting to hear. Some label needs to snatch her up, like yesterday. And so of course it was incredibly hard to chose one song from her brilliant mixtape, Royal Patience Compilation…a love journey. And so I didn't. I chose a ballad, "All That I Have," and one of her brilliant updates of mid-80s black synth pop, "International Playboi." Both are written around beautiful melodies that allow Teedra to use that wonderfully elastic voice to stunning effect. The former finds Teedra laying it all out for a man that she knows damn well can't appreciate her. Listening to how she gets to the point where she realizes that he ain't worth it is gripping because she doesn't shy away from sounding downright pathetic. On "International Playboi" she's basically tellin' a dude that he's too much of a player to really find love. Listen to her vamp at the end. Gorgeous singing. Royal Patience is a free download. Run, don't walk.