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

9. Blood Orange
Cupid Deluxe

Devonté Hynes both stands in stark juxtaposition to 2013 and encapsulates it perfectly. In R&B, his Blood Orange project is out of step with both the smoky noir of artists like the Weeknd and Miguel and the more EDM-based pop-R&B of the Top 40 — a fact he happily acknowledges in interviews — and yet, like breakthrough artists Disclosure and Deafheaven did in electronic and metal, Hynes adhered to the 2013 genre crossover narrative with the soulful Cupid Deluxe.

He did it by looking backwards. Cupid Deluxe is more Prince and Lionel Richie than Usher (or anyone else from this decade), in that Hynes prioritizes the R ahead of the B: "Uncle Ace" is a funk-guitar tune lent attitude and romance by Hynes' breathy sing-speak and saxophone melodies peppered throughout; "It Is What It Is" reaches a mid-tempo groove aided by skeletal marimbas, clapping and Samantha Urbani's yearning croon; even the lengthy ballad "Chosen" is driven by a slow rhythmic backbone of plush snares and strong bass plucks.

So while Hi-NRG single "You're Not Good Enough" is the most danceable, it's closer "Time Will Tell," a sparse piano reprise of "It Is What It Is," that best demonstrates Hynes' ability as a songwriter and the power of Cupid Deluxe. By eschewing the worry-free groove of the original, he emphasizes the latent hope, bitterness and triumph of the song, reminding listeners that even tunes seemingly all about having fun can carry potent emotional heft. (Stephen Carlick)