Neo Jessica Joshua might have begun her career as a background singer for fellow UK acts Kwabs and Jarvis Cocker, but her debut album brings her into the spotlight with sultry pop elements, highlighting a journey into as well as out of love. Over 18 tracks, the singer brings forth cries of love on the sublime “Inhale, Exhale” tosses flirty exchanges on “Get To Know Ya” and plays to her vocal strengths on “Adore You.” Her take on pop delights is appreciated even more than her unspoken odes to Sade and Prince. Nao has been praised over the pond for her dynamic debut, but it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. follows suit.
Worthy for the Aux:
“Bad Blood” “Fool to Love,” “Feel Like (Perfume,)” “Voice Memo 161”
Mya’s low-key approach to music has worked out in her favor. Refusing to conform to the complexities R&B has presented as of late; the singer released Smooth Jones, a 12-track project dedicated her high sex appeal and signature pop-soul origins. The singer keeps it real throughout the album striking with an angelic voice the aspects of womanhood confined through the conceptional creation of “Smoove Jones Radio.” The singer exudes confidence on “Smoove Jones Afta Glow Show,” “Team You” and flips the lyrics to her ‘03 hit “My Love Is Like Woah” on “Phya.” Her switch from benevolent pop to dominating soul proves her staying power isn’t in a Top 40 hit, but in a theme all women can reach. No wonder she scored a Grammy nod.
Worthy for the Aux:
“Team You,” “One Man Woman,” “Circle of Life”
Kamau does a really good job at putting words together. After all, the Toronto artist tells you so on “Jambo,” the opener to his striking EP, A Gorgeous Fortune. Many might be familiar with his track “Justfayu” featured on FIFA 17, about a friendly reminder to his unappreciated lover on his continued efforts to please her. Over drums and vocal instrumentals, the theme continues on “Gaims” but switches over to mindful lust on “BooDhia.” With minimal production, you’re able to focus on Kamau’s mission of freeing the mind. Prepare to be astonished.
Worthy for the Aux: “Justayu (featuring No Wyld,)” “Gaims,” “FoolMoon”
Ameriie’s modern yet classic vocals remind us of a good time in music where the genre was rich in hip-hop, but not enthralled in stealing its lush personality. After a mini-break from the music, the singer (and low-key book nerd) released the eloquent Drive, a clean EP with hints of self-reflection on the battlefield that is love and happiness. “Every Time” pairs her vocals with Fabolous, extending their 2009 modest hit, “More Than Love.” She takes the wheel on “Thru the Stars” and “Sing About It,” while highlighting the trouble of letting go with “Take the Blame.” Overall, the EP gives us a teaser on Ameriie’s steady journey back to our hearts.
Worthy for the Aux: “Everytime,” “Sing About It,” “Take the Blame”
If Crooklyn’s Troy Carmichael grew up to create music, we’re sure Noname would be the equivalent. The Chicago MC fits sonic soul sounds with open and honest bars on Telafone, her debut mixtape. Focusing on humble beginnings and those nostalgic memories of juking with friends, Noname shares her life while narrating the listeners'. She reminisces on blissful moments back home with Raury and Phoelix on “Diddy Bop” and shares young black mortality on “Shadow Man.” Having a sense of self in hard times is almost needed. If you’re still searching, be sure to introduce yourself to Telafone.
Worthy for the Aux: “Shadow Man (featuring Phoelix, Smino & Saba” “Diddy Bop (featuring Cam O’bi & Raury,)” “Casket Pretty”
Living out loud is ABRA’s mission, whether you f**k with it or not is solely up to you. Her EP Princess embodies this with tracks like “Vegas” and “Pull Up.” She’s not above feelings as she shares on “Crybaby” how her man’s demands for perfection leave her an emotional mess. The makings of ABRA are left on wax, which makes her the project so satisfying and relatable. She does her best to do you right, but won’t break her back in doing so.
Worthy for the Aux: “Pull Up,” “Vegas,” “Crybaby”
T.I.’s evolution from Trap King to lyrical revolutionary is firmly felt in US Or Else. The rapper finds a way to make righteous (and sometimes dance worthy) music that pairs lovely with the mission to suppress the opposition. “We Will Not” opens the project and gives a blueprint to the issues that plague people of color like mass incarceration while questioning the origins of the modern Black family dynamic. With the help of Quavo, Meek Mill and Killer Mike, all POV’s of Black men are addressed with thoughtful dedications to Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and the many more than go unreported or overlooked. “40 Acres” points out the power of the black dollar and how money divides African-Americans. “Take your a** out the trap, middle finger to Trump/ F**k the police, they crooked as they come/ They pull you over and know you legit /Ask you for your license/ when you reach then they dump/ Now the prison yard like the cotton field,” Tip squeezes in. Truth hurts don't’ it?
Worthy for the Aux: “We Will Not” “Black Man" (featuring Quavo, Meek Mill , Rara,) “40 Acres (featuring B Rossi and Killer Mike)”
After years of living under the radar with the release of “Treat Me Like Fire” in 2012, Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman known by Lion Babe came to life with their debut album, Begin. With easy comparisons to soulful goddess Erykah Badu, Harvey proved to be wise beyond her years with the spirited tracks “Impossible,” “Jungle Lady” and the Pharrell-assisted, “Wonder Woman.” Appreciating the Badu comparisons but hailing Chaka Khan as her true muse, Harvey’s vocals (and dynamic stage presence) keeps the listener in a trance.
Taking the alias as Astro Raw, Goodman is the sugar to Harvey’s spice, by bringing a fresh and enlightening take on R&B, a genre that is currently recovering from its airy emo binge.
Worthy for the Aux: “On The Rocks,” “Got Body,” “Jump Hi” (featuring Childish Gambino)
Atmosphere's first project since 2014’s Southsiders plays as an ode to their everyman rap days and a conscious teaser of what’s to come. After all, the proof is in the album title. For over two decades rapper Slug and producer Ant have been praised for being themselves, but still found a way to piss off critics by examining the world like many of us do; questioning everything without trying to find the answers. On “Pure Evil,” the song paints the perspective of a police officer, who is more about his ideals than the common man. Slug drops more deep thought moments on “Besos,” “Seismic Waves” and “Perfect” where he battles with his own identity as a biracial being. “Some say that I pass, none say that I'm passive/White trash with a fraction of blackness” and “Irish name, Scandinavian frame/I'm a Rubik's cube, I'm the American dream.” You might have to submerge yourself into the soil, but the gems are well worth it.
Worthy for the Aux: “Pure Evil,” “Perfect,” “Chasing New York” (featuring Aesop Rock)
Usher’s eighth album plays as an applied R&B research test, teasing the sexy, somber and joyful moods the genre represents. With the help of a wide-ranging set of producers and artists like Metro Boomin (“Make U A Believer”) Raphael Saadiq (“Champions,”) The Dream (“Bump”) and PartyNextDoor (“Let Me”), Usher sounds the best he has in years by playing into his strengths. As fans continue to search for another Confessions, the singer attempts to stay true the art, despite an obvious temptation to pleasing the charts. What else explains the clear aura of Ty Dolla $ign all over “No Limit?”
Worthy for the Aux: “Bump,” “Make U A Believer” “Rivals” (featuring Future)
Happy delights bring dab-worthy jams thanks to Virginia collective Divine Council. Their EP Council World introduces $ilk Money, Lord Cinco, Cyrax! and Chicago native/producer ICYTWAT to the ethos with the previously released tracks “P.Sherman (PS42WW$)” and “Rolie Pole Olie.” With the help of mentor Andre 3000, the fellas are making a name for themselves in the untapped Virginia rap game.
Worthy for the Aux: “P.Sherman (PS42WW$)” “Nevaland” “Decemba (Remix)” featuring Andre Benjamin
The Chicago glo-up is real. Saba might be known for his collaborations with Chance The Rapper (“Everybody’s Something”, “Angels”) but his album Bucket List Project sets him apart from his peers. Questioning the values and parallels of the heart and mind, Saba drops lyrics that also question the 22 years he’s lived on mother earth. On “GPS” with Twista, he forces the listener to reset their mission without fear while “Church/Liquor Store” pours some out for the fallen in his crime-ridden community. “There's no logic in love, but there's no love in the streets” he says after sharing his frustrations with the Westside. The rap game might give Saba clarity, but fans are given the portrait of a man becoming an artist.
Worthy for the Aux: “In Loving Memory,” “GPS (featuring Twista,) “MOST”
“Still hangin' with ni***s that can't do nothin' but cause damage, Guess I'm bein' a real n***a like I'm 'posed to be,” could be a troubling retrospect into the world of ScHoolboy Q or simply just a dip into the pool of realness. Either way, fans got to experience the TDE warrior in true form on his sophomore effort. Reaching the top of the charts at the time of its release, it’s still possible for the album to fall in between the cracks of a grief-stricken 2016. Dropping the same week as the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Blank Face is a gritty yet beautiful interruption. The rapper continues to reach trippy and raw levels while soaking up psychedelics themes on tracks like “Groovy Tony” and “Big Body” featuring Tha Dogg Pound. The rapper (reluctantly) peddles to radio with “Overtime” featuring cool R&B kids Miguel and Jasmine Skye. In the end, Blank Face should never be forgotten and gives us plenty of tracks to comfortably rest with until his next go around.
Worthy for the Aux: “THat Part” (featuring Kanye West), “By Any Means,” “TorcH”