Yesterday I got to see R. Kelly perform inside a glass studio box at SiriusXM. This was after reading Alexis Stephens’ 10 Alt-R&B Artists Who Actually Blurred Lines in 2013 piece on MTV Iggy. She did an excellent round up of the anomalous center of my favorite genre. So getting to see Kells do “Bump and Grind” twice, once with a backing track and once emitting a wail straight from Jesus himself a cappella—and singing like and imitating Michael Jackson while telling the story of “You Are Not Alone” and performing a medley of hits and describing his wring process and and and—I started to feel a little bit meditative about R&B.
One of my goals this year was to start a genre column at Stereogum. My ambition became a little bit more realized right before I left. I’m not even entirely sure that the readers would have cared. But I’ve always gotten the most pleasure from writing about it. Doing Suite 903 with Nikki and Julianne is still one of my favorite things I’ve done in my career. So here we are. It’s the end of the year—lists abound! And I’ve decided to make my own. Last year I listed my five favorite things of 2012 and I plan to do that again and forever, but here’s a new one for my personal archives.
I’m sorry I’ve neglected you so much this year, Tumblr. I’ll be back next year, boo.
5. August Alsina’s The Product III gave this a lot of burn this year after writing long about it for Mixtape Of The Week at Stereogum. I probably listened to his version of “Suit and Tie” (“Shoot or Die”) more than most songs and I deeply regret staying back in Brooklyn. I don’t even remember WHY I didn’t go. But it’s one of my biggest minor regrets of the year. Here’s a little excerpt from my MOTW review: But Songz Alsina is not. His output straddles the line between [The-Dream]’s unabashed balking at the necessity to be sweet when singing about love and sex, and the thug-crooning of someone like Tim Vocals. Vocals had some wowing moments last year with his mixtape Live From Harlem, which featured him spitting explicit new lyrics over songs like Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” and Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” But while both those songs (“Bust My Guns” and “Bags Of The Sour,” respectively) are given new life via Vocals’s addition of street parlance, it’s rare when he makes the original better (the major exception being “K In The Trunk,” his version of Kirko Bangz’s “Drank In My Cup”)…[Alsina’s] original material gives way to a new, grimy space where producers and songwriters should stretch their legs. On a track like “Inhale,” we get a cooing lamentation of being a part of a girl’s first time, singing to her that she “took it like a G” — only it’s not about sex, it’s about smoking. And while it takes us until the chorus to actually confirm the lyrics are not all euphemisms about Alsina, ahem, himself, there’s something weirdly endearing about sweetly sung, blantant weed-proliferation that you’d never get from a Lloyd or a Mario, despite their sonic similarities… could be gauchely categorized as GangsteR&B, were we to allow ourselves to invent a neologism as silly as PBR&B (e.g., Frank Ocean, the Weeknd). But with salaciousness and filth-mongering already present as ever (e.g., R. Kelly, Omarion’s new Maybach Music persona), a distinction about the generally unheard thuggery needs to be made. Alsina is writing the blueprint for how we synthesize a lot of what we value from rap themes and R&B sounds.
And there was the “I Luv This Shit” remix. While it totally diverges from the beautiful, crushing tone of the original into a panty-dropper, it’s devoid of a Trinidad Jame$ struggle-verse and—fuck it, I’ve loved boning music since I would blushingly listen to Rated Next on headphones before bed. And this is the most disgusting I’ve ever heard Trey Songz (who I truly believe was trying to filth up to Alsina’s level). He is literally singing about his ejaculate dribbling from a woman’s mouth. You’d think this was just a preamble for some painful, awful verse from Chris Brown who swoops in on some romance shit and kind of steals the show. I’m not here for post-February 2008 Breezy, but I’ll tell you that I played the shit out of his self-titled debut and Exclusive for the longest. It was a pleasant surprise. This is a triptych of full freak and I love this shit.
4. Kelela at the Pitchfork CMJ Party at 285 Kent First thing’s first: Kelela’s Cut 4 Me is my favorite release of the year. I made it #1 on my Complex staff list and wrote the blurb for our Best Albums of the Year list, even though we already had one written from a previous list. I love this record. Throw familial labels Night Slugs and Fade To Mind with SWV in a blender and you’ve concocted something that plays to my most intense sensibilities. Kelela did that. I’ve tried to express this publicly everywhere I could. Twice on the radio. Not enough, really, in my job.
Then there was the mixtape release party at 285 Kent. It was a bummer. The sound guys weren’t prepared for honeyed belts. But good god were they the following Saturday when she performed there again for Pitchfork’s CMJ party. The gorgeousness of her voice live shook me. To be enveloped in live renditions of songs that are starting to live in your mind is a special thing. And I’m so glad that we didn’t let the previous week’s cement block-disturbed show miss this one.
And a few weeks later at a Lit City rave, a DJ spun “Rain” and she and I, on two separate ends of the room, both swooned.
3. R. Kelly performing at SiriusXM This is the reason why this list is here. I am a Pleasure P fan for life, so I know the ills of loving someone who might be the actual scourge of the earth. But Kelly’s charisma is so real. His songs are romantic and painful and so supremely hot. Sure, seeing him perform at in full dove balloon regalia at Pitchfork Festival (geez, guys. Stop being so good at booking live shit) was rad. Intimacy, even when relegated to outside of a glass box, always reigns supreme.
2. 112 at B.B. King’s My first memory of being aware of my own romantic future came from 112’s “Cupid” video. The white girl with the black bob, an adult version of me, is who made me realize that one day I would probably have a boyfriend and that songs made for people in love would be for me, too. I saw 112 perform twice at Madison Square Garden when I was in middle school during the No Way Out Tour but this was something else. Grown and hearing the hits. They fucking slayed. That IG clip of “Anywhere” gives you a little taste.
(This pic is stolen from The FADER. I didn’t take a picture that day, but this is almost precisely my view from a different listening session earlier that day. I had to swipe.)
1. Making The-Dream laugh Good fucking god, I waited so long for IV Play. Technically, we’ve all been waiting since June 7, 2011. He was supposed to only release three albums and then promised the FaNashtics a fourth, Love Affair, on that date. And it never came. There was 1979, which was fine. And the utterly epic “Body Work/Fuck My Brains Out” satiated. Then “Slow It Down” and that fake rap shit came out and it was like FUCK ME, TERIUS LOST THE THREAD. But “IV Play.” “IV PLAY.” “IV PLAY”! ” I V P L A Y”!!!!!! That is one of my most favorite songs of the year. It’s certainly the sexiest thing delivered to the public made by anyone this year. It’s the old immersive Dream that takes over your life. And while the subject matter may be a little “so, that’s what poppin’ in the streets (sheets?), huh?” it’s too layered, too intricate, too fantastical. Damn. That was a listening session I refused to miss. And all those songs, “IV Play,” “Equestrian,” “Michael” sound especially good in a studio on massive sound system. Nash don’t make music for your laptop speakers. He doesn’t play. It was perfect. (And I am still waiting for my man to just up and leak his Beyoncé collab “Fi(re)” because she is tooooo turned out on that heater.) You know what else was perfect? Being the only female member of the press at the session because I was the only person he had a conversation with. We talked about the time he crashed a FADER edit meeting to play us Love King and how it’s always a privilege to hear his music early. And then he asked me what I thought about IV Play. “Well, I’ve been mad at you since 6/7/2011 and I’m not mad at you anymore.” Dude laughed so hard that he had to bend over and grab the table. “You heard that, Gabe? She said she’s been mad at me since I lied on ‘Sex Intelligent’ and now she’s not anymore.” And then he laughed again. Charming the charmer.
Justin Bieber’s #MusicMonday Ready for this guy to take over.
John Legend’s and Raheem Devaughn’s albums SLEPT THE FUCK ON.
Ian Isiah’s “Sweat” Need more BrenmaR&B in 2014.
Jacques Greene’s “On Your Side” featuring How To Dress Well My absolute favorite song of this year.
Cassie “All My Love (Kingdom Edit)” I still think RockabyeBaby is trash money blahionaires but this is massive.