The final entry in the Black History Month series includes some records that I love that did not make previous entries. These are records that are both musically important and some favourites of mine. I would love to hear about your favourite records as well…so Tweet me, email me or leave a comment on this post. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!!! Well, here we go:
Erykah Badu: Mama’s Gun
This record is just a vibe. A cross between pop R&B, funk, hip hop and cruising on the celestial plane…this record has everything. If you are not familiar with Badu’s work, this is a perfect introduction. A very eclectic record that you will listen to over and over again. Tracks like Cleva take on gender roles within a smooth jazz / funk groove, while My Life has a definite hip hop / R&B vibe with a tight snap on the snare. While short tracks like Hey Sugah will have you reaching for the black light and lava lamp. Just a masterful record.
Sade: Lovers Rock
Saying this record is sexy is like saying space is big…you are factually correct, but vastly underselling it. This is one of the most sensual records ever made and a big comeback for Sade. Her sexy focal effortlessly flows over jazz guitar and deep bass lines. Highlights are the title track Lover’s Rock and The Sweetest Gift, while the track Slave Song describes the impact of African – American’s traumatic history of slavery, while also celebrating people’s strength for survival. An excellent record with sensuality and depth.
Mary J Blige: No More Drama
Ok, I really just put this record on for Family Affair. However, tracks like No More Drama and Testimony makes this more than a one hit record. Mary has a legion of fans and it is easy to see why. She displays an uncanny pop R&B sensibility, but is still able to keep the soul in her vocal. This is not a cookie cutter pop R&B record, but one that will get you out of your seat and throw your palms up to the sky.
Living Colour: Vivid
I loved Living Colour and played this record to death when it came out. At a time of hair bands in 1988, an all black hard hitting metal / rock band broke the mould. The drums and guitar on this record are impeccable with both drive and raw power. The record is best known for the hit Cult of Personality, but tracks like Desperate People speaks to the hardships of people in the city. Moreover, they showed their pop chops with the anti – glam / hair rock track Glamour Boys. A fun record that is worth another listen.
Gary Clark Jr.: This Land
Guitar virtuoso and blues rock monster Gary Clark Jr. took a hard change on this raw, politically charged hip hop / blues crossover with this record. The title track This Land compares the politics of the Trump rhetoric with the country’s history of racism and discrimination. This track is a call to action, which lays the foundation for the rest of the record with tracks like What About Us and Got to Get Up. The entire record questions whose land it is and how the American Dream is a story of how white America has exploited African – Americans throughout history and in the present day. This is a politically charged record with some of Gary Clark Jr’s most powerful lyrics and music.
Tribe Called Quest: Low End Theory
I mean, there has to be a Tribe record on here. This is my favourite Tribe record, which firmly establishes them as an East Coast force with tight verses and a fusion of jazz and hip hop. Tracks like Buggin Out, Check the Rhime and Jazz (We Got) are hip hop must listens and showcase Phife and Q – Tip at their lyrical peak. This is an important record in my own musical journey and a must listen to rap / hip hop fans world wide…oh yeah…and a middle finger to all those punk MCs.
Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman
I often look back in amazement on how a folk record in 1988 could dominate pop music. There are no tricks on this record. It is Tracy’s emotive vocals, a guitar and lyrics that speak to the human condition. I think it did so well, because tracks like Fast Car and Talkin’ Bout a Revolution spoke to the disillusionment and longing for a better world that we were all feeling as we moved from the roaring 80s to the dystopic 90s. She spoke for the marginalised in society and gave hops for a better world. I love this record and Chapman’s message is as relevant today as it was in 1988.
Cody Chesnutt: Landing on a Hundred
In his follow-up to Headphone Masterpiece Cody Chesnutt put together a tight soul record that was a throwback to the old Motown sound. His amazing vocal range brings back memories of Marvin Gaye, while his lyrics speak of love, connection and family. This record does not have the raw edge of Masterpiece, but the soulful vibe of this record of Hundred feels like a dose of sunshine in summer.
Bad Brains: Bad Brains
This is some high octane punk. Listening to this record feels like someone poured gasoline on a pile of instruments and set it on fire. The raw energy of this record is unlike anything in punk music. This is a band really going for it that has something to say. Tracks like Banned in D.C. take on authority and all into question who holds power in society, while Jah Calling is a mix of reggae and psychedelic guitar. Bad Brains is not your average punk record, but brings truckloads of anarchy and energy.
TLC: Crazy Sexy Cool
This TLC record is R&B distilled into its pure essence. The smooth beats with tight harmonies is soulful perfection. Hits like Waterfalls highlights issues with drugs and marginalised people in the city, while Creep speaks to women having enough of cheating men and their lies. Other classic grooves like Diggin on You round this record out into a must listen for women led R&B albums. Unfortunately, fights within the band and Left Eye’s death meant that the band would never hit the heights of Crazy Sexy Cool, but this record will always stand the test of time.
Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul
What can I say, this is the ultimate soul record. Tracks like Chain of Fools speaks to how men can treat women like objects and treat them only as conquests, while (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman shows how a healthy and loving relationship built on respect can help you grow as a person. Also, Aretha’s gospel pipes are on full display on the incredibly moving People Get Ready. There are even deep cuts on this record like Niki Hoeky that will bring out that soul rock sound that defined the late 60s. I love this record.
James Brown: Revolution of the Mind (Live – Apollo 1971)
Now, James Brown has a litany of studio and compilation records; however, this live record best encapsulate his energy and power as an artist. You have classic soul / funk tracks like Sex Machine, Make it Funky and Give it Up or Turnit Loose. However, in the 1970s Brown was exploring more civil rights / social issues in his music. The track Soul Power talks about power to the people and makes connections to the Black Power movement. Unlike other tracks on this record, Soul Power is a call to action and equality. This record is a great look at the different facets of James Brown’s music, while also harnessing the live energy that made him famous.