25 Slept-On R&B and Soul Albums of the Past Decade (2003-2013)
If you look at the present landscape of R&B, it seems like it’s upside down. Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Miguel are all the biggest draws in the genre currently followed closely by Frank Ocean. Meanwhile, usual R&B stars like Usher, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown have embraced David Guetta & Taio Cruz inspired Euro Techno & club music in order to move units rather than stick with the Soul music that they built their careers on initially. Given The-Dream’s recent failure to do significant numbers with his latest effort ‘IV Play,’ it seems like R&B is an a precarious situation. Worry not, for all is not lost.
At the same time mainstream R&B is lacking for Black R&B stars or ones that aren’t trying to make European stadium club music or faux EDM it’s thriving at the independent level where artists such as Bilal, José James, Alice Smith, Lianne La Havas, Adrian Younge, Zo!, Thundercat, Andreya Triana, Quadron, Eric Lau, Mayer Hawthorne and others still make exciting Soul and R&B music.This list will highlight 25 excellent but criminally underrated and overlooked Soul and R&B albums from the past decade. Without any further ado, let’s delve into “25 Slept On R&B/Soul Albums Of The Past Decade (2003-2013)”. Enjoy:
Amy Winehouse – Frank’ (2003)
Amy Winehouse caught on stateside with the lead single ‘Rehab’ for her 2006 album ‘Back To Black’ but her debut release ‘Frank’ was released in the UK back in 2003. Very few American fans were aware of Winehouse back then and the iTunes Music store was only about 6 months old at the time of it’s release. “Frank” wasn’t released in the US until June 2008 and it’s still an overlooked project almost a full decade later.
Janelle Monae – ‘The Audition’ (2003/2006)
Janelle Monae was the talk of the urban music blogosphere beginning in 2006 when Atlanta area music bloggers like Maurice Garland began writing about Janelle Monae and her unreleased album ‘The Audition’ made the rounds on the Internet. In 2007, ‘Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)’ emerged and it was later released commercially by Bad Boy Records the next year. However, it was the extremely ambitious album Janelle Monae wrote and executed between the ages of 17 and 18 that initially made R&B fans fall in love with her.
Raphael Saadiq – ‘Ray Ray’ (2004)
Raphael Saadiq’s follow up to his critically acclaimed 2002 LP ‘Instant Vintage’ with hit the singles ‘You Should Be Here’ featuring D’angelo and ‘Still Ray’ was the under appreciated “Ray Ray” project. While most mainstream fans wanted him to make “Instant Vintage 2″, Raphael Saadiq and Ali Shaheed Muhammad made an incredibly funky and soulful album in it’s own right only made greater by guest appearances from Teedra Moses, Joi, Lucy Pearl, Tony Toni Toné & Babyface.
The Foreign Exchange – ‘Connected’ (2004)
The Foreign Exchange was a modern R&B/Soul album in every conceivable way possible. Phonte Coleman and Nicolay used to email music and completed tracks back and forth between each other and they utilized the Internet and other digital means to complete this incredible album. Phonte & Nicolay didn’t meet until after the project was completed and this landmark LP birthed FE Music, the label which is home to a few of the releases on this very same list.
Byron & Onra – ‘The Big Pay Back’ (2007)
Onra and Byron The Aquarius collaborated over the Internet in much the same fashion that Phonte and Nicolay did years previously. Byron was a keyboard player in Alabama and Onra was a producer in France but they managed to make one of the standout Soul/R&B LP’s of the past decade nonetheless. It was first released through a Japanese label called Circulations which ironically had limited capabilities distribution wise. The album was shared through messageboards and music websites for years before it was finally made available for purchase on iTunes in 2010. This gem remains slept on to this very day.
Olivier DaySoul -Kilowatt (2008)
Olivier DaySoul released his debut album ‘Kilowatt’ on 4lux, a Soul/R&B label based in the Netherlands thus it didn’t get the push or publicity necessary to promote it stateside. Only the serious music fan purchased and heard it. Lucky for you all, I’m that guy.
Coultrain – ‘The Adventures Of Seymour Liberty’ (2008)
Coultrain’s 2008 debut ‘The Adventures Of Seymour Liberty’ is easily one of the best examples of classic R&B albums from the past decade that the overwhelming majority of R&B fans aren’t even aware it exists. ‘The Adventures Of Seymour Liberty’ is irrefutable proof that people still make Soul music in this day and age.
Wayna – ‘Higher Ground’ (2008)
Wayna’s ‘Higher Ground’ was one of the many key albums released during a crucial stretch of 2008 during which several important R&B albums came out. Wayna emerged from the Washington D.C. area music scene alongside such artists as Muhsinah, Eric Roberson, Bilal Salaam, Alison Carney, Roddy Rod, Jon Laine, Kev Brown, Kaimbr, Kokayi, Oddisee and many others. Five years after it’s release it remains overlooked.
Eric Lau – ‘New Territories’ (2008)
UK producer Eric Lau’s debut album on Ubiquity Records was the eye opening producer album ‘New Territories’ that featured the voices of Rahel, Taiwah, Sarina Leah, Meshach Brown & Tosin over Eric Lau’s bouncy & soul infused instrumentation. As the years have passed, Eric Lau has become increasingly popular but his first album has yet to be discovered by Soul/R&B enthusiasts stateside.
Jesse Boykins III – ‘The Beauty Created’ (2008)
Jesse Boykins III’s debut album came out at the perfect time. 2008 was shaping up to be the first legitimate explosion of Soul/R&B just as ‘The Beauty Created’ made it’s way onto music sites, blogs and urban music message boards. Jesse’s star actually began to rise due to the combination of his debut album and his accompanying EP ‘Dopamine: My Life On My Back’ which eventually overshadowed the album. Every subsequent project raised his profile but this was the genesis.
Daru & Reggie B. – Future Music (2008)
Daru & Reggie B.’s 2008 album ‘Future Music’ is another criminally overlooked Soul/R&B release that was obscured by the fact it was released on 4lux’s sub label and it received little to no push or promotion outside of the typical urban music blogs that cater to the international music scene. Both Daru Jones and Reggie B. hadn’t yet gained the followings they presently enjoy so this album remains pretty obscure and other releases usually served as their introductions to the overwhelming majority of their individual fan bases. If you love R&B then you need this in your life.
Muhsinah – The Oscillations: Triangle (2009)
Vocalist/producer Muhsinah is an integral part of the rich Washington, D.C. area Soul/R&B scene and ‘The Oscillations: Triangle’ was her digital only follow up to her debut ‘Daybreak 2.0.’ Due to the fact it was the first edition of her digital only ‘The Oscillations’ series it didn’t spread too far past her fan base. Five years later, ‘The Oscillations: Triangle’ is considered even more of an obscure R&B project. Damn shame, too.
Lee Fields & The Expressions – ‘My World’ (2009)
Lee Fields & The Expressions’ ‘My World’ album is the second most important of the first wave of throwback R&B/Soul albums behind Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ 2007 LP ‘100 Days, 100 Nights.’ Leon Michels of El Michels Affair leads the way in modern revivalist Soul and the end result is an album that sounds like it was cut in the Stax Memphis studio by a mix between Booker T & The MG’s & Sons Of Slum circa 1971. Not to be missed.
PPP – ‘Abundance’ (2009)
Platinum Pied Pipers’ debut on Ubiquity was the breakout 2005 LP ‘Triple P.’ Waajeed and Saadiq’s first effort was equal parts R&B and Hip-Hop. When they returned for their follow up album in 2009, they shortened their name to PPP then enlisted Karma Stewart, Monica Blaire, Neco Redd, Coultrain and Jamila Raegan to handle vocals on what was an amazing and versatile Soul/R&B project. Since Waajeed & Saadiq haven’t made another PPP album, most R&B fans never got to go back and discover it.
AB & Daru – ‘A Work In Progress’ (2009)
This time around Daru Jones teamed up with AB, an associate of Black Milk and Slum Village. AB is not only a vocalist but a keyboard player and a producer. His technique of layering his vocals coupled with Daru’s production resulted in 2009’s epic ‘A Work In Progress.’ AB & Daru toured with Black Milk as part of his live band (Daru is a world class drummer) so their joint project never got promoted to it’s full potential. Daru has toured extensively with Jack Black and his outfit The Ruff Pack in recent years gaining quite the following. Hopefully, R&B fans get hip to his earlier discography.
Ayah – ‘4:15′ (2009)
Canadian songstress Ayah enlisted production from DJ Jazzy Jeff, Slakah The Beatchild, Hazel and others which turned into her excellent debut album ‘4:15.’ The 9 song set didn’t get the attention it deserved based on it’s quality due to the fact Ayah & Canadian and there wasn’t a label or any marketing money behind the project. Regardless, this is a must own album for serious R&B fans.
Quadron – ‘Quadron’ (2009)
Quadron consists of producer Robin Hannibal and vocalist Coco O. They both are members of the Danish collective Boom Clap Bachelors so when their debut album dropped in Summer 2009 on Plug Research, few people outside of the usual suspects that keep tabs on the international Soul music scene were aware of it initially.
Eventually, Quadron spread through the music press and constant touring. Quadron’s new album “Avalanche” dropped last month on a major label following Coco’s guest appearances on Tyler The Creator’s “Wolf” and the soundtrack of “The Great Gatsby”. If you want to hear how the buzz all started go back to the beginning.
Georgia Anne Muldrow – ‘Early’ (2009)
Georgia Anne Muldrow is one of the most prolific vocalists and producers in music today so it was no easy task trying to nail down with release of hers should be included on this list. In the end, I went with her 2009 offering ‘Early’ which was released on little known indie label Animatedcartunes and released in the middle of several of her more anticipated projects. There are many fans of Georgia Anne Muldrow that picked up her other releases “Ms. One & The Gang” or “Umsindo” rather than this one. Their loss, and everyone else’s as well.
Shafiq Husayn – ‘Shafiq En-A-Free-Ka’ (2009)
Shafiq Husayn of Sa-Ra Creative Partners branched out on his own and released the eye opening and ambitious Soul/Jazz hybrid project ‘Shafiq En’ A-Free-Ka. Shafiq employed several different production techniques, blending Hip-Hop production with live instrumentation complete with experimental vocal arrangements.
Shafiq enlisted the help of a tight knit community of musicians and vocalists called The Dove Society that includes such musical luminaries as Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner”, Chris “Daddy” Dave”, Austin Peralta (RIP), John Taylor and vocalists Jimetta Rose, Noni Limar, Fatima, Tony Powers, Bilal & Ty & Kory. The end product was an album that will restore your faith that originality and musicianship are still alive in R&B/Soul beyond Justin Timberlake records.
José James – ‘Blackmagic’ (2010)
José James’ ‘Blackmagic’ album is so good that I find it hard for me to not get angry that more people don’t know about it. José’s follow up to his 2008 debut was released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings featuring production from Flying Lotus, DJ Mitsu The Beats, Moodyman, Taylor McFerrin and José himself.
“Blackmagic” is a Soul/R&B album with elements of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Dubstep & House all throughout it. The same year he released a collaborative project with pianist Jef Neve “For All We Know” that was better promoted (due to the fact it was released on an American label) and more widely accepted by the Jazz community. These factors led to “Blackmagic” being obscured. What a travesty…
Yahzarah – ‘The Ballad Of Purple St. James’ (2010)
Yahzarah’s 2010 LP on Nicolay and Phonte Coleman’s FE Music label was her first project since her debut “Blackstar” back in 2003. This album was highly anticipated amongst rabid R&B/Soul fanatics and it was well received but she’s still yet to become discovered by wider audiences like her talent level deserves.
Roddy Rod – ‘Cuba After Market 2′ (2010)
Low Budget Crew member Roddy Rod is a prolific producer who’s well known for his Hip-Hop production work but since he became a part of the burgeoning D.C. Soul music community he’s had the opportunity to branch out into R&B/Soul production. His eyebrow raising foray into this field was 2010’s brilliant ‘Cuba After Market 2′ which features contributions from Phonte Coleman, Wayna, Ryan Nicholas Gant, Carlitta Durand & Eric Krasno. Since it was released on Roddy Rod’s Humble Monarch label not many are aware that this album even exists.
Zo! – ‘Sunstorm’ (2010)
Multi instrumentalist & producer Zo! released one of the best albums of 2010 regardless of genre on FE Music in ‘SunStorm.’ ‘SunStorm’ boasted features from Phonte, Yahzarah, Jesse Boykins III, Darien Brockington, Carlitta Durand, Monica Blaire, Sy Smith, Eric Roberson, Chantae Cann & Lady Alma and stands as proof that great R&B/Soul music is still made. It just can’t manage to make it onto the radio.
Andreya Triana – ‘Lost Where I Belong’ (2010)
I first discovered Andreya Triana through her vocal contributions on Bonobo’s ‘Black Sands’ album. Simon Green (of Bonobo) then produced her entire debut album ‘Lost Where I Belong’ and released it on Electronic music label Ninja Tune. R&B/Soul audiences in North America have yet to catch onto this UK songstress although her album dropped three years ago.
Miles Bonny – ‘Lumberjack Soul’ (2011)
Kansas City vocalist & fluglehorn player Miles Bonny’s first collection of material ‘Incense & Wine’ made it’s way throughout the blogosphere in 2009. What soon followed was him signing with German R&B/Hip-Hop/Beat culture label Melting Pot Music. After releasing several singles and making guest appearances his debut MPM LP ‘Lumberjack Soul’ was released.
‘Lumberjack Soul’ features production from DJ Day, Suff Daddy, Hulk Hodn, Twit One, 74 Miles Away, Kova and Nicolas Kopernicus a.o and it encompasses everything a modern R&B/Soul album can be. It’s both throwback and futuristic simultaneously and while his recent collaborative album with Suff Daddy ‘Supa Soul Sh-t’ & their tour has gained him quite a few new fans it’s Lumberjack Soul’ that showcased his brilliance over a full project first. Stop sleeping, folks.