Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums



1. Janelle Monáe
The Electric Lady
(Warner)

If Electric Lady doesn't rank somewhere, anywhere, on your best of list for 2013, you probably weren't paying close enough attention. Time will tell if Monáe's brash, loose and unapologetic futurist angle on traditional R&B by way of her "android" alter ego Cindi Mayweather is career-limiting, but for the moment, Electric Lady finds her at an artistic high.

The follow up to the similarly striking ArchAndroid builds upon the previous "secret origin" of Mayweather, filling in the blanks of the backstory behind the utopian freedom fighter. Monáe's approach to musical world-building has always been ambitious, and credit goes to her to continuing to maintain such a heady approach in the mainstream eye.

For hype believers, Monáe's latest lives up to it; for casual listeners, the genre-bending project has something for all tastes. Even at 21 tracks, the album never feels indulgent and maintains a passionate, emotional core throughout, covering inclusive, aspirational themes of tolerance and loving the skin that you're in. Scoring top tier names like Prince and Erykah Badu — on respective tracks "Giving Them What They Want" and "Q.U.E.E.N." — serve to show that she's worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those artists, while sensuous numbers like "Can't Live Without Your Love" and "Primetime" smoulder. Deeply personal and carefully crafted, Electric Lady is a project destined to hold up over time. (Ryan B. Patrick)