The Best R&B of 2010

by Tyler Lewis

9 December 2010

 

6 - 1


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El DeBarge

Second Chance

(Interscope)
US: 30 Nov 2010
UK: 30 Nov 2010

Review [24.Feb.2011]

6

El DeBarge
Second Chance

Like his brother Chico did last year, El DeBarge made a triumphant return to record with Second Chance, his first album in 16 years. And he made a classy, introspective throwback R&B record that just sounds great. Themes of redemption predominate, most explicitly on the title track and the insistent, beautiful “How Can You Love Me”. But the best thing about Second Chance is listening to El’s gorgeous tenor, which sounds as clear and pure as it ever did.

 

 


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Yahzarah

The Ballad of Purple St. James

(Foreign Exchange Music)
US: 4 May 2010
UK: 4 May 2010

5

Yahzarah
The Ballad of Purple St. James

Yahzarah is probably your favorite female R&B singer’s favorite female R&B singer. And that’s because this classically trained dynamo has range to spare and a virtuoso’s command of her instrument. Even when she’s letting loose on “Strike Up the Band” or going full bore on your heartstrings with the brilliant “Last To Leave”, Yahzarah knows exactly what she is doing. The Ballad of Purple St. James is a stylistically diverse album of many pleasures, designed to show off the many sides and tastes of Yahzarah. And yet, it does feel like an album—a true testament to her talent.

 

 


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Sade

Soldier of Love

(Epic)
US: 9 Feb 2010
UK: 8 Feb 2010

Review [9.Feb.2010]

4

Sade
Soldier of Love

After a decade of waiting, Soldier of Love arrived and earned the distinction as the first must-have album of 2010. Not bad for a 25-year-old band that some probably thought wouldn’t make it in the new millennium marketplace. But nobody does smooth-as-butter R&B for adults better than Sade and people know that. The ten songs here are tinged with melancholy, appropriate since so much of the album is about healing a broken heart. Good then that the strongest song, album closer “The Safest Place”, leaves the listener hopeful that love really will return.

 

 


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Erykah Badu

New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)

(Motown)
US: 30 Mar 2010
UK: 29 Mar 2010

3

Erykah Badu
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)

New Amerykah Part One was Badu’s political manifesto. It was heavy, precise, hard, and in-your-face. On Part Two, Badu’s exploring themes of love and relationships in that inimitable Badu way. It is warm, inviting, soft, and comforting. Ever since “Otherside of the Game”, love for Badu has always been grounded in life as it is, in the matter-of-fact knowledge that we can be horrible to one another and yet still love each other deeply. Case in point: one of the song titles is “Fall in Love (Your Funeral)”. On the brilliant ten-and-a-half minute long closer, “Out My Mind, Just in Time”, she straightforwardly confesses to how deep her love is, calling herself “a recovering undercover over-lover.” When so much of popular songwriting about love is steeped in generic sentiment, give thanks for Erykah Badu who eschews all of that for raw emotion and real talk.

 

 


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Cee-Lo

The Lady Killer

(Elektra)
US: 9 Nov 2010
UK: 8 Nov 2010

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Cee-Lo

Stray Bullets

(Self-Released)
US: 5 Jun 2010
UK: 5 Jun 2010

2

Cee-Lo
The Lady Killer and Stray Bullets

Cee-Lo’s brilliant third album, The Lady Killer, and Stray Bullets, the free mixtape that preceded it this year, are a package deal. They each provide Cee-Lo with the opportunity to explore, in his uniquely weird and fascinating way, romantic warfare. Contrary to its title, Bullets’ aim is clear and direct—it’s the less polite, less congenial sister to Killer (just listen to the marvelously insane “I’ll Kill Her” with Lonan the Destroyer or the hilarious “Cho Cha the Cat” with the B-52s). But Killer holds its own. Its scale is greater—check out the monstrous “Bright Lights Bigger City”, for instance—and the theme is handled more subtly in the lyrics, though do not mistake it for softness. I mean, you heard “F*ck You”, right?

 

 


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Bilal

Airtight’s Revenge

(Plug Research)
US: 14 Sep 2010
UK: 6 Sep 2010

1

Bilal
Airtight’s Revenge

Bilal returned after nearly a decade to release what I consider to be the best album of the year, genre be damned. Airtight’s Revenge is the work of a virtuoso who sincerely wants to find new ways to convey old things, but not for the sake of being different. You never get the sense that Bilal is just showing off or being purposefully weird. “Cake and Eat It Too” sounds tortured because that’s what the song is about. Ditto for “Restart”, which feels like it’s constantly starting and stopping because the song is about one man’s inertia. In a year in which many an idiosyncratic artist has broken through to the mainstream, Bilal bested them all with this assured, thrilling album.

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