Soul and R&B: Year in Review 2010

Soul and R&B: Year in Review 2010
1. Janelle Monae
2. Sharon Jones & The Dapkings
3. Erykah Badu
4. Bilal
5. The Budos Band
6. Bonjay
7. Minotaurs
8. Aloe Blacc
9. Gil Scott-Heron
10. Raheem DeVaughn

1. Janelle Monae The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy/Universal)
It's taken a few months to appreciate the magnitude of Janelle Monae's achievement with her debut album The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III). It took a lot of nerve and self-confidence to construct every aspect not only of this album but its entire package: a multi-part, multiyear narrative, as well as extensive costuming and visual design. Few black women in American music history have achieved this kind of creative control over major label-handled music, fewer still for a debut. This is an album ranks with some of the great concept albums of decades past both in terms of sweep and standalone tracks. Musically, it's everywhere ― soul, pop, psychedelia, jazz, classical orchestrations are just some of its ingredients. Lyrics are faithful to its conceptual update of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but explore parallels with class, race and gender issues in America. "Tightrope" is where it all comes together. No doubt one of the singles of the year, its James Brown energy is instantly engaging which sets up the many layers within the song. "Tightrope"'s message ― whether you're high or low, you're always walking on a tightrope, because that's what "the machine" wants from you ― is some serious real talk, miles away from so much anonymous R&B diva fodder. The song also juxtaposes an Ellingtonian horn arrangement kicks in overtop of a slightly samba-ish rhythm. Each aspect of this album inspires dozens if not hundreds of words of commentary. Dull spots? Sure, but it's revealing that critics and fans disagree on exactly what those dull spots are: maybe they're in the eye of the beholder, proving that there truly is something for everyone on The ArchAndroid.
David Dacks