The past twelve months have added up to a great year for music as many artists pushed the envelope with genre-blending albums post-pandemic.
For Black music in particular, it was the year of experimental and anticipated comebacks. Beyoncé gifted the dance floor with RENAISSANCE, The Weeknd demonstrated his melancholic creativity on Dawn FM, Steve Lacy blossomed into a breakout musician with Gemini Rights, SZA achieved record-breaking success on SOS, and finally Kendrick Lamar maintained his hip hop status with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.
It’s seemingly challenging to assemble the best music releases, especially when a ton of good music has dropped across hip hop, R&B, pop, jazz, gospel, afrobeats and beyond. Conversely, this top-five list captivated our hearts and headphones this year.
The unequivocal definition of a renaissance is the revival or birth of art. Nonetheless, Beyoncé’s seventh studio album feels like the beginning of a new era. RENAISSANCE is arguably one of Beyoncé’s best albums to date. With no-skips, every song is attention-grabbing, hence the first single “BREAK MY SOUL” and the viral TikTok smash “CUFF IT.” But it’s the magic on “VIRGO’S GROOVE,” the tenderness on “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA,” and the call-and-response energy on “HEATED,” along with the other mesmerizing tracks that make this album an immersive experience. Beyoncé manages to sequence RENAISSANCE in a way that flows effortlessly regardless of the sonic contrast on each record. Since its July release, RENAISSANCE in its entirety, has been a crowd pleaser at venues across the nation. With elements of dance, house, techno, disco, and bounce the full-length project is a carefree soundtrack to Black, Brown, and queer communities.
The Weeknd’s Dawn FM is a well-executed concept album that takes the listener on an apocalyptic joyride. The fictitious “103.5 Dawn FM” is cleverly introduced as an hour-long interlude towards the afterlife. “You’ve been in the dark for way too long, it’s time to step into the light and accept your fate with open arms,” Jim Carrey mysteriously narrates on the title track. Obviously, The Weeknd is a genius when it comes to capturing a particular mood, as previously displayed on the After Hours LP. The first half of Dawn FM begins with a synth-pop sound that’s reminiscent of the 80s–evidently on “How Do I Make You Love Me?” Then the album transitions to an alternate sound midway on “Out of Time.” As Dawn FM progresses, it delivers a modernized electro sound in the second half with songs like “Best Friends” and “Don’t Break My Heart.”
SZA’s long awaited album arrived at the end of 2022. And it was well worth the wait. The singer-songwriter has mastered the art of storytelling in a way that resonates with today’s R&B palette. Similar to her acclaimed 2017 mainstream debut CTRL, SZA vulnerably narrates her insecurities and heartbreaks, but clearly there’s growth on her sophomore project. TDE’s leading lady confidently reintroduces herself on the album opener “SOS” and follows up with fan-favorite “Kill Bill.” The songstress boasts about her maturity and in the same breath obsesses over an ex boyfriend, foreshadowing her girl-next-door subject matter. The remainder of the comeback LP includes familiar tracks like “I Hate U,” “Shirt,” and “Good Days.” Moreover, the punk-inspired “F2F” signifies SZA’s progressive musical direction.
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar returned from his five-year hiatus and dropped a thought-provoking LP in May. The two-part album marked Lamar’s first release since his Pulitzer prize-winning DAMN, released in 2017. On Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Lamar makes it evident that a lot has changed over the years. The beloved rapper uses his latest release as a confessional to address his childhood trauma, vices, infidelity, shortcomings, and much more. Lamar also sparked cultural conversation with “We Cry Together,” a theatrical domestic dispute, “Auntie Diaries,” an open dialogue about gender and sexuality. And of course, “Savior,” the celebrity culture outcry. With serious undertones on the album, “Die Hard” featuring Blxst manages to shine as one of the bops in addition to “Silent Hill” featuring Kodak Black.