Kicking off our look back on albums of the year Matt Sellars takes us through his favourite five
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak has been in the game since the beginning of the decade but it wasn’t until his appearances on Dr. Dre’s Compton in 2014 that he truly entered the mainstream. Malibu is .Paak’s second studio album and is a delightful blend of hip hop and R&B. It’s funky, fresh, and unbelievably smooth. .Paak’s unique raspy voice glides effortlessly over the luscious instrumentation, whether it’s belting out a captivating hook (‘The Season’), or spitting flawless bars (‘Come Down’). Credit also goes to ScHoolboy Q, Rapsody, The Game, and Talib Kweli for their great feature verses. Malibu is an outstanding modern neo-soul project with nostalgic flavours.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
The world waited eagerly for any news from the Frank Ocean camp after the success of his first album, channel ORANGE. Over four years passed before we were provided with not just one, but two full-length projects from the illusive singer. Whilst Endless, the album that came accompanied by a mysterious video of Ocean woodworking, is fantastic in its own right, it feels more like a collection of unfinished ideas. Blonde is incredible front-to-back. The first single, ‘Nikes’, may have been jarring to many at first due to its pitch-shifted vocals but I knew the album was going to be something special by the end of the track. The stripped-back instrumentals allow Ocean to focus on his gorgeous melodies and flows. The beat-switch in ‘Nights’, which occurs exactly halfway through the album’s runtime, shows how well constructed Blonde is. Ocean’s lyrics concerning sexuality and duality will help this album stand the test of time.
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
I’m a self-confessed Kanye West super-fan so I wasn’t surprised at all when I found this album in my list, despite some of the mixed reviews it received. I won’t lie: The Life of Pablo is a hot mess. But by god it’s the hottest mess I’ve ever listened to. The original rollout of the album was chaotic and meme-filled and Kanye continued to update songs, as wel l as the tracklist itself, in the ensuing months. There are some bizarre skits (I’m looking at you, ‘I Love Kanye’ and ‘Silver Surfer Intermission’) and a lack of structure, but I simply can’t stop listening. Several songs contain some of Kanye’s weakest lyrics yet (‘Famous’, ‘Wolves’), whilst other tracks could be considered some of his best ever (‘Ultralight Beam’, ‘Real Friends’). I don’t mind Kanye’s focus on the production because the diverse instrumentals are still incredibly pleasing to the ear. The album’s namesake would surely be proud of its spontaneity and fractured nature.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
When Donald Glover announced another album under his Wu-Tang-Generated moniker ‘Childish Gambino’, I was excited because I thought his previous effort, because the internet, was one of the best projects of 2013. I was sceptical after hearing from those who attended his PHAROS concerts in September, where he performed “Awaken, My Love!” in its entirety, that there would be no rapping whatsoever and that Gambino had gone down more of a funk and soul route. However, my concerns were alleviated as soon as I heard the singles ‘Me and Your Mama’ and ‘Redbone’. I had always enjoyed Gambino’s singing but these tracks showed what he was truly capable of. “Awaken, My Love!” harks back to George Clinton’s best work in the 1970s with Parliament-Funkadelic. The artwork even alludes to Funkadelic’s 1971 album Maggot Brain. This album is groovy, sexy, experimental, and unlike anything Gambino has ever done before.
Kaytranada – 99.9%
The best way to describe Kaytranada’s beats is that they knock. His distinctive drums and synths have become a signature of his production style and they are used better than ever throughout 99.9%. Kaytranada’s unique instrumentals are complimented excellently by the various feature artists; Craig David, Vic Mensa, Phonte, Anderson .Paak and Syd tha Kyd provide particularly memorable vocal performances. The album starts emphatically with ‘Track Uno’ but the highlight of the whole project has to be ‘Lite Spots’, where Kaytranada cleverly utilises an obscure sample from Brazilian singer Gal Costa for one of the grooviest cuts of the year. Kaytranada has continued to provide immaculate production for a variety of hip hop and R&B acts this year, including Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper