This decade has seen a shift of sounds in music in a way that I didn’t really imagine experiencing when we entered the 2010’s. I remember listening heavily to Wiz Khalifa and some of Jim Jones’ mixtapes during my first year of University and only listening to soul music when I revisited Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo albums.
My interest in the genre reignited in the early years of the decade when I saw Jill Scott and Erykah Badu in concert within months of each other, I totally fell in love with live bands and the skill of performance and crowd interaction, so I began to actively seek new sounds which mirrored one of my favourite genres – Soul. Fast forward to December 2019, I co-host and produce a radio show (Soul Surge) dedicated to highlighting Soul and Jazz sounds from the UK, this has allowed me to connect with artists and their music through live shows and conversation.
It seems like 2019 was the year that saw artists who’ve been grinding and putting in work get their recognition and elevate to a much bigger platform. 2013-2016 was the golden era of Soundcloud, which allowed artists with as little as 10 followers to connect with music lovers across the world. This is where my love for discovering UK soul acts was nurtured and I found artists like Ego Ella May, Emmavie, Alfa Mist, Ella Frank as well as discovering artists such as SiR, BJ the Chicago Kid, Alex Isley and more. Joe Kay’s Soulection show was definitely instrumental in expanding my knowledge of soul musicians around the world and birthed a hunger to search for more.
This year has been phenomenal for music across all genres and the end of year lists have been plentiful to say the least, but the RnB/Soul world is still behind on getting write-ups and recognition. So, I figured I’d write about some of the RnB/Soul albums which shaped my year and got me through the ups and downs.
There are a number of albums which gripped me and challenged the way I consume music, forcing me to listen to tracks on repeat to digest the drum pattern or the groove of the bass, pressing rewind to further inspect lyrics or reload the feelings induced from each song. An album that stood out for me and really became my go to for meditation, escapism, energy and freedom was the self-entitled album by KOKOROKO – a group of young Brits who use instruments to communicate a feeling and create a sea of movement during their live shows! The three leading ladies, Cassie, Sheila and Richie all bring a versatility to their style of performance on this record and inject the flavour needed to solidify this as an album which can be played in years to come with their use of brass instruments reminiscent of Ebo Taylor or Fela Kuti’s sounds. Having already amassed millions of views after releasing a live performance of their track ‘Uman’ on Youtube in 2017 and ‘Abusey Junction’ in 2018, the anticipation for the album has been ongoing and did not disappoint. Check out KOKOROKO here and get yourself a ticket for the upcoming European 2020 Tour!
Released in May this year, ‘Shea Butter Baby’ by the notable Ari Lennox set a new bar for Soul music in 2019. Reverting back to the traditional sound of soul and RnB, Ari describes her experiences of identity, love and lust while being unapologetically herself. Giving us personable, sexy and soulful sounds laced with saxophones and groovy bass work, this record gives an insight into the possibilities of what can happen when there’s some backing and money behind a black woman with soul who doesn’t water down her message or sound! The level of transparency in her music came through during her live show in Camden’s Electric Ballroom this December as she talked to the audience about some of her songs and how she felt when writing them. It has been a long time since I have been so connected to an artist and their work, the last time I really felt this way was when I first listened to Jill Scott’s ‘Who is Jill Scott: Words and sounds vol.1’. If Ari’s reception is anything to go by, this is an exciting artist who should be on every soul lover’s album of the year list.
Released in July, YBN Cordae’s debut record ‘The Lost Boy’ came as a surprise to me. Having never heard of him before, and being sceptical of new, young rappers, I was pleasantly surprised by the honest and skilful rap style of YBN Cordae over carefully chosen soulful hip-hop beats. If you can’t tell already, I love a solid bassline and was gripped by the combination of keys, sax and bass on the opening track ‘Wintertime’ – which of course got many reloads. Boasting with features from Chance The Rapper, Anderson Paak, Pusha T and others, this is a great introspective debut album which speaks of family and experiences without continuous mention of the violence and drugs we hear from many of today’s rappers. His track featuring Arin Ray ‘Family Matters’ creates some familiarity and connection as YBN Cordae gives us an insight into some of his families issues, which many of us can identify with. While he gives us a more bouncy club vibe on ‘Have Mercy’, further displaying his versatility and precision when flexing his lyrical muscle and style.
The mandem stepped up this year as SiR, Daniel Caesar, BJ The Chicago Kid, Kadeem Tyrell, Lucky Daye and Kojey Radical all released great albums. SiR’s ‘Chasing Summer’ was a welcomed and much needed injection of contemporary RnB with features such as Jill Scott, Kendrick Lamar and Kadjha Bonet detailing love escapades, relationships, situationships and more on soulful cuts like ‘That’s why I love you’ and ‘The Recipe’. This was a standout record for me this year as not only the vocal arrangement and lyricism was on point, the sequencing and overall feel of the album indicates the level of precision and intention that went into creating it. SiR is an artist I am looking forward to seeing live if he decides to add Europe to his tour destinations!
2019 has been flooded with great releases from within the UK and across the pond, with both Ego Ella May and Emmavie releasing their debut albums ‘So far’ and ‘Honeymoon’, proving that the UK does indeed have soul! Ella Frank’s ‘Sorrows into silk’ was a sultry, soulful release with messages of self-love and patience permeating through each track which stood out to me this year. With infusions of brass instruments and a great production team including super DJ and producer Intalekt.
If I could delve into a discussion about all of the albums I have enjoyed this year, we’d be here for a very long time, but it seems like we are entering a space in society which has an appreciation for this genre of music and a huge following which just needs the right artists to deliver quality projects and connect, similarly to what Ari Lennox has done this year! So, I’ll leave you with some of my favourite tracks from this year in RnB, Soul and Jazz sounds which include artists you should keep an eye on in 2020 – SoulSurgeUK’s 2019 Hitlist
Emmavie – Honeymoon
Ego Ella May – So Far
Kojey Radical – Cashmere Tears
YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
Kokoroko – Kokoroko
SiR – Chasing Summer
Ella Frank – Sorrow into silk
Snoh Aalegra – Ugh, those feels again
Summer Walker – Clear EP
Lucky Daye – Painted
Alfa Mist – Structuralism
Seed Ensemble – Driftglass