Best of 2011 in local hip-hop and R&B: Gerrick D. Kennedy
Throughout the week and holiday season, Pop & Hiss will be presenting various top 10 lists from its contributors. What follows are the favorite albums of the year from staffer Gerrick D. Kennedy.
1. Stacy Barthe, “Sincerely Yours” (Surf Club): A well-tapped songwriter (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kelly Rowland, Brandy), Barthe has a debut EP that echoes the Sade school of poetic R&B. Despite melodies exploring darker snapshots of love and loss, her hooks remained catchy thanks to the Caribbean rhythms she employs. A bonus: Frank Ocean drops in for a scorching duet.
2. Frank Ocean, “nostalgia, Ultra” (self-release): Whether using Coldplay or the Eagles as springboards, or crafting one of Beyonce’s most interesting ballads, Ocean has asserted himself as a reinvigorating force in R&B. Proof is in the rawness of “nostalgia, Ultra,” with its avant-R&B hooks and textured narratives.
3. TiRon & Ayomari, “A Sucker for Pumps” (The Cafeteria Line): Behind beautifully produced atmospheric beats and lush strings TiRon & Ayomari present the male-female dynamic without spending the whole album in the bedroom or degrading the ladies. Though they favor intellectual hums over punchy bars, the result is a disc that manages to empower women and expose a gentleman’s sensitivity.
4. Dawn, “The Prelude to a Tell Tale Heart” (Self-release): Here, Dawn harnesses the Euro-pop synths she learned as part of Diddy’s hip-hop fusion collective Dirty Money. This 15-track mix of booty-shaking anthems is full of lust and love and stripped-down ballads of triumph that feel far more organic -- and interesting -- than Rihanna’s newest.
5. Van Hunt, "What Were You Hoping For?" (Godless Hotspot/Thirty Tigers): Once tied down to a major label, Van Hunt’s first indie release advances the funky R&B melodies of his earlier works into a sublime mix of psychedelic-soul/blues/soul. He avoids that overworked “retro” sound, and even gives a shout out to his hood in the rollicking opener "North Hollywood."
6. Kendrick Lamar, “Section.80” (Top Dawg Entertainment): Lamar offered the best representation of contemporary West Coast rap in a post-Tupac /N.W.A. landscape. A more soft-spoken rhymer, “Section.80” is less about offering a prophetic viewpoint of the world, and more about calling it how this 24-year-old sees it. And his vision, no matter how blurry at times, is a fresh one.
7. Sonyae Elise, “Lady Rebel Vol. 2” (The BBM Group): Before winning Bravo’s “Platinum Hit,” Sonyae Elise issued the second in her “Lady Rebel” series. She isn’t reinventing the genre, nor is she jumping aboard current trends. Instead, she just delivers one of the more solid, traditional R&B albums of the year.
8. Phlo Finister, “Crown Royal” (Self-release): Her six-track EP of hip-hop, jazz and grunge mash-ups is infused with catchy pop melodies and bathed in slick production. Finister also samples Nancy Sinatra, the Doors and Garbage here while emulating Aaliyah and TLC in her vocals. An inspiring, if not eclectic, combo.
9. Mateo, “Love & Stadiums” (Krucial Noise): The lone true mixtape on the list, Mateo -– clearly inspired by the heavy stadium sounds of Coldplay – transforms Kanye, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj into cherubic ballads and pairs them with his layered R&B melodies that unlike his contemporaries stays out of the bedroom.
10. Thurzday, “L.A. Riot” (92 Crew): Using the 1992 Los Angeles riots as the backdrop for this ambitious concept album, Thurzday weaved an incendiary tale of social uprising and racial inadequacy. His raps growled with urgency, and felt especially poignant up against the Occupy unrest of late.
--Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Frank Ocean at the El Rey Theatre. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times