“Fire It Up” Album cover featuring Rick James
By Jules Champion
In honor of Black History Month, I’ll be reminding you of 5 classic albums to re-add to your rotation, and introducing you to 2 that should be there with them.
1. Brandy (1994)- Brandy
Song Recommendation: “Sunny Day”
The Self titled 1994 Album by “That Boy Is Mine” singer Brandy has everything that early 90s RnB has to offer. You want something with funky slap bass and booming drums? This album has it. You want soulful female vocals? This album has it. You want romantic feel-good songs? This album has it. You want a three part spoken word dedication track that was later sampled by Drake on “Fire and Desire” on his 2016 album Views? This album has got you absolutely-positutely covered. Overall this album is the perfect addition to your rotation and can match any tempo and energy you want.
2. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)-The Pharcyde/Atrocity Exhibition (2016)- Danny Brown
Track Recommendation: “Passin’ Me By”- The Pharcyde, “Ain’t it Funny”- Danny Brown
Here we have one of the greatest rap albums of all time in “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” from Los Angeles rap group The Pharcyde. Each song on the album emphasizes fun over everything, and it shows–each song feels like you’re with your friends hearing them taking turns on the beat. The Pharcyde has unbelievable chemistry as a group, with each rapper playing off of each other, adding ad libs for their friends, and laughing at the punch lines each rapper adds to their verse. That’s not to say that the album lacks in non lyrical aspects: the beats are emblematic of classic 90s rap. Each song is full of bounce and rolling drums. The Pharcyde further capitalizes on the genre by experimenting with their beats. Being one of the originators of Jazz Rap, the group has no issue with experimenting with sounds and adding beautiful piano and saxophone to their tracks.
Alongside this album I added “Atrocity Exhibition” by Danny Brown, which I view to be the logical development of what Pharcyde started. The main similarity lies in the voice. Both albums are full of high pitched, bending, vocals that focus on punchlines that are sure to catch the listener off-guard. Danny Brown takes the fun of the genre and pushes it to mania all while having composition to back it up. The tracks are fast and funny, despite the dark themes and sounds on the album, as Brown pulls influence from Jazz and Punk (even sampling Pulsallama, a 7 girl all bass and percussion band from 1981).
3. Let It All Out (1966)- Nina Simone
Track Recommendation: “Love Me or Leave Me”
On a very different note than the previous addition to the list we have “Let It All Out” by Nina Simone. The 1966 album is simply Simone with a small band of piano, percussion, and bass, which highlights the beauty and charisma of her voice. Each song is very well recorded and due to the instrumentation sounds like a modern project. Nina Simone is perfect in every sense of the word, using her voice to embellish on every emotion the song can offer. Along with this the album also includes 3 live recordings that blow the studio recorded tracks out of the water in terms of raw sound.
4. Songs in the Key of Life (1976)-Stevie Wonder
Song Recommendation: Press shuffle and Enjoy!
Without a doubt one of the best albums historically, lyrically, musically, sonically, etc. Enough Said.
5. A Seat at the Table (2016)- Solange
Song Recommendation: “Don’t Touch My Hair” (feat. Sampha)
It’s very rare that an album can fluidly tell a story while still delivering songs that can exist in a vacuum without that story. A Seat at the Table accomplishes this with ease.
Every listen of this album feels different to me. When I first heard it I was jamming out listening to the smooth, cool pop beats and having a good time. On my second, I started to hear the story and heard Solange speak on her experience as a Black Woman while using carefully placed interludes by her parents, her friends, and Master P to guide the narrative of reflection and what it means when the word ‘black’ is part of your identity. As previously stated, this narrative structure does not diminish the power of each track on its own. Each song is powerful and collected even in its anger. Solange has meditated on her identity, her place in the world, and she delivers a hopeful and inspiring album full of anthems of Black positivity.
Now for 2 recent, innovative albums that you should definitely give a listen to this Black History Month
Sen Am (2017)- Duval Timothy
Track Recommendation: “lbs”
A very, very, very, very, clean piano album with beats that you can study to, walk to, drive to, and anything in between. Each song is beyond polished and delivers simple beats with powerful sweeping motions that are sure to catch you off guard.
Fade Em All (2018)- Fade ‘Em All
Track Recommendation: Cargo
Ever wonder what it would sound like if four guys from Houston made a punk album that creates a new line between Yeezus and explosive early 90s punk? Well you do now. Fade ‘Em All is honestly one of the bands I am most excited for in the future. Their 8 song album is explosive, relatable, relentless, and graceful. The opening of the album has long wobbling electronic vocals leading into the meat of the album filled with angry punk music taking its aim at capitalism. It’s hard for me to say much about this album without simply saying it’s great. The instrumentation of each song is stellar with heavy emphasis on powerful basslines. Only beyond that is the topic of each song, the frustration the band feels and the love and resilience they use to identify themselves is palpable. Luckily we won’t have to wait long for their new music with their new song “Brainwashin’” out now.