Sunday, February 12, 2023

Best Of 2022: Jazz, Latin, And Global

Seeing L'Rain, Sons Of Kemet, and Makaya McCraven in a spectacular concert last summer was a powerful reminder of the ability of jazz to electrify a crowd and unite them in a journey though the unknown. On a record, the trajectory is more intimate but can be equally thrilling. Latin music, in the form of pop crossover from the likes of Bad Bunny, is more popular than ever but true fascination may be found more in the niches. As for music made beyond the US/UK hegemony, Africa is still a strong source, but Europe - especially when cultures blend, as on Topical Dancer - can still bring much to the table. Beyond Charlotte Dos Santos, who has at least as much jazz in her musical DNA as anything else, and Jimmy Delgado, I didn't find as much of the many Latin varieties as I have in other years. That will likely change in 2023, but in the meantime  discover some of the best recent releases in these genres below, beginning with those few albums I previously covered. Give a listen to tracks from each in this playlist or below.

22 For 22 (Part Two)
Jimmy Delgado - A Mis Mentores...To My Mentors
Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul - Topical Dancer

Autumn Flood (Part 3)
Charlotte Dos Santos - Morfo


Amanda Whiting - Lost In Abstraction It takes a certain boldness as well as a light touch to traverse ground trod by such greats as Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, both avatars of the jazz harp, not to mention stunning contemporary talents like Brandee Younger. Whiting, a classically-trained player from Wales, rides that line perfectly on her second album. Whether sweeping the strings with a seductive flamboyance in Venus Fly Trap or plucking delicately around the groove of Suspended, she seems to always know just what's required by a song. Sensitive and engaged backing from Aidan Thorne (bass) and Jon Reynolds (drums) is enhanced by Chip Wickham's flute and sax and Baldo Verdú's percussion for a blend of lush and spare textures that is very satisfying indeed.

Chip Wickham - Cloud 10 Wickham himself is in fine form on this swinging set of soulful spiritual jazz - or is that spiritual soul jazz? - with an expansive sound courtesy of his compatriots, including Whiting on harp, Ton Risco (vibes), Sneaky (bass), Jon Scott (drums), Jack McCarthy (percussion) and  Eoin Grace (trumpet and flugelhorn). Informed by the past but not indebted to it, Wickham is keeping jazz moving forward in a fashion that is accessible and full of integrity.

Makaya McCraven - In These Times I'm still buzzing from that explosive Central Park show so I have trouble seeing this finely wrought if a bit too chill album as mostly a placeholder for the next time. What a huge talent, though, and an essential part of the story of jazz in our time.

Tyshawn Sorey Trio with Greg Osby - The Off-Off Broadway Guide To Synergism I remember watching these Jazz Gallery gigs take place from afar - i.e. Instagram - in March 2022 and wishing I could be there. This triple album is a damned good consolation prize, however, with the energy of Sorey's drums, Aaron Diehl's piano, Russell Hall's bass, and Osby's sax fairly leaping out of the speakers. The sets are filled mostly with standards from the likes of Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn, but there are also two killer takes on Ornette Coleman's Mob Job and a fine version of Miles Davis's Solar, both of which should be considered standards by this point anyway. Sorey is fully in command throughout, conducting the band with drum hits and cymbal crashes rather than a baton. Next time I hope to get there in person! 

Timuçin Şahin's Flow State - Funk Poems For Bird Spiky, fractured, and often witty, this Charlie Parker-inspired collection is a perfect showcase for Şahin's unique guitar playing, with plenty of push and pull from Cory Smythe (piano), Reggie Washington (bass), and Sean Rickman (drums). Şahin uses a custom-built double-neck guitar with one fretless neck, which gives him an infinite palette of colors and textures to deploy. Must be fun to watch live, too. And what a delight to hear Smythe, who I'm mostly familiar with from his work with the International Contemporary Ensemble, let his fingers fly in an improvised setting!

Brandon Lopez - Ingrid Laubrock - Tom Rainey - No es la Playa Just as he collaborated so well with Tak Ensemble in 2021, bassist/composer Lopez inserts himself seamlessly into the duo of Laubrock (saxes) and Rainey (drums). The word "seamlessly," however, doesn't convey the excitement the trio generates, a swirling interaction built from deep listening and the vast array of experiences the three bring to the studio, from free jazz to contemporary chamber music. More fun can be had in the latest from Laubrock and Rainey, Counterfeit Mars, with the drummer pushing her to be her wittiest while still full of sharp angles. Laubrock also shines on Fragile, another duo album, traversing between poles spiky and contemplative with pianist Andy Milne, who even injects a bit of blues into the mix. What a year for Laubrock, who continually proves herself to be one of the most exciting players in jazz and classical music today.

Nate Wooley - Ancient Songs Of Burlap Heroes As he put on full display in 2021's Mutual Aid Music, trumpeter/composer Wooley has the gift for assembling a sound world out of perfectly chosen groups of players. In this case, an impressionistic, almost cinematic world arises from Mary Halvorson's electric guitar, Susan Alcorn's pedal steel guitar, and Ryan Sawyer's drums, with an occasional assist from Mat Maneri's viola and Trevor Dunn's electric bass. The group roils and retreats, like the stormy tide heard in the four interludes, making for a deeply absorbing experiences. Wooley is great thinker, too, and as he explains it, "A burlap hero is one who marches—consciously or not—back to the sea in hopes of making no splash, who understands and embraces the imperfection of being, and in that way, stretches the definition of sainthood to fit." So wear your burlap proudly and let this be the soundtrack to wherever you march.

Sam Gendel - BlueBlue I was recently chatting with an old friend of mine and we got to talking about Gendel, remarking on how he can play just about anything and find his way in a staggering variety of musical settings. In this case, he's putting guitar to the foreground and duetting with himself on breathy woodwinds and synths for a quietly radical set of pieces based on ashiko, a traditional style of Japanese embroidery. The relationship is mostly in his own mind, as pieces like Amime (網目, fishing nets) bear no obvious relation to that particular pattern. But no matter - whatever it takes to get him going! He also invited percussionist Craig Weinrib into the fold, who virtually jams with Gendel, adding a stylish, if still restrained, swagger to the album.


Etran de L'Air - Agadez While this Saharan family band shares some of the hallmarks of other Tuareg artists such as Tinariwen, Tamikrest, or Mdou Moctar, there is an overall air of celebration that sets them apart. It came as no surprise to learn they're the most popular wedding band in Agadez, their home city in Niger. The percussion also feels a bit more progressive than on other "desert blues" releases, with touches of arty disco (think Dennis Davis on Bowie's Fashion) and dance-rock underscoring the high-flying guitars. Bring the party to your house, wherever that may be.

Vieux Farka Touré - Les Racines Somehow I lost track of this Malian guitarist and singer after putting his superb sophomore album, Fondo, on my top ten in 2009. Correcting that record starts here, with his first solo album since 2017. Hypnotic, meditative, and deeply engaged in the sound world of his legendary father, Ali, it's both a beautiful tribute to, and a continuation of, that legacy. While on Fondo, he had to be deliberate about escaping his father's shadow, here he can confidently embrace all that that shadow encompassed. Between Ali and Vieux, the Touré name is synonymous with Malian music and all it has to offer, which you can find here in abundance. If you use a streaming service, don't be fooled by the algorithm that wants to serve you with Ali, Vieux's unfortunate collaboration with milquetoast try-hards Khruangbin, which has, on average, more than 100 times the streams as Les Racines. That's a goddamned shame and hopefully a few of those listeners will find their way to the real thing.

Various Artists - A Guide To The Birdsong of Western Africa In a testament to the power and importance of going to record stores, I only discovered this series, which has been going since 2015, when my daughter spotted the cover on one of our trips to Rough Trade. The color, variety, and sheer artistry of the illustration is an accurate reflection of what can be found within. Each artist was given the birdsong of an endangered species from their country and asked to incorporate it into a new song. Vieux Farka Touré is here, jamming with the call of the Black Crowned Crane, alongside nine other less familiar names. The collection opens with the airy delight of Les Mamans du Congo & Rrobin paying tribute to the Loango Weaver with a synth-based groove and plenty of call and response. Another highlight is the charming Nimba Flycatcher by Ruth Tafébé, propelled by delicate acoustic guitar, clicking percussion, and her bittersweet voice, but there are no weak tracks. Ask your local store to stock it!

Black Sherif - The Villain I Never Was Here's one case where the algorithm worked in my favor, as the one track that has a guest (Burna Boy) landed this Ghanaian singer-songwriter in my Release Radar. And I'm glad it did, as the album is sleek and canny combination of the deeply rooted genre of Highlife and contemporary Afrobeats with touches of reggae and hip hop. In a further quest for universality, Black Sherif sings in English, offering his reflections on his life, country, and status in a strong tenor, occasionally distorted with autotune. While there is a mournful, haunting quality to many of the songs, he never falls victim to cloying sentimentality, which can sometimes mar music from the region. Give a listen and raise a hand in welcome to an important new voice in the music of Western Africa.

Burna Boy - Love Damini In 2019, I praised this Nigerian Afrobeats pioneer's African Giant for being "suave, smooth, and funky," elements that are still in place on several songs here. On a whopping 19 tracks, the best stuff is front-loaded, with tracks like Science, with ticky-tack drums, brooding horns, and sensual vocals, Cloak and Dagger, with its sharp feature from J. Hus, and Kilometre, a choppy slice of dancehall, as strong as anything from his catalog. But things go awry on the back half, where nearly every song has a guest, including regrettable appearances from bards of bland like Ed Sheeran and J. Balvin. In his quest for ubiquity, Burna Boy is in danger of leaving behind what made him so popular in the first place. Hopefully next time, he'll leave the grabs for Pepsi-commercial pop stardom on the cutting room floor because when he's at his best, as on at least half the tracks here, he's a special artist indeed.

Florence Adooni - Yinne I've written before about the joyful, intricate sounds of Ghanaian Frafra before, as presented by the German label Philophon. On the first song on this latest single from the label, "Gospel Queen" Adooni sails her lighter-than-air voice over a delightfully busy arrangement, all blaring horns, swirling guitars and synths, burbling bass, and precise percussion, barely breaking a sweat as she sings in praise of Yinne, the Creator. For Yelle is more contemplative, with an almost folky melody and arpeggiated guitars. Here's hope for an album from Adooni - as well as a follow up to #1, Guy One's extraordinary album from 2018.

There's more from these genres in the archived playlist and you can follow along with what I discover in 2023 here.

You may also enjoy:

Best of 2021: Jazz, Latin, and Global
Best Of 2020: Jazz, Latin, and Global
Best Of 2019: Jazz, Latin, and Global 
Best Of 2018: Jazz, Latin, and Global

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Best Of 2022: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae

Hip hop continues to dominate popular music, whether as itself or as an influence on production and songwriting. But there is great depth to the field as well, far beyond the commercial frontier. The same can be said for RnB, which now incorporates hip hop, pop, and the old DNA of soul and funk into its makeup. As for reggae, I've stopped worrying about where Jamaican music would go after dancehall and just listen for the sounds that hit my sweet spot. See below for what I discovered in these intertwined genres, starting with the releases I already covered. Find a track from each (except Isaiah Rashad) in this playlist or below.

Record Roundup: 22 For 22 (Part 1)
FKA Twigs - Caprisongs
Pusha T - It's Almost Dry
Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Record Roundup: Evocative Voices
Moor Mother - Jazz Codes See also the powerfully skeletal Nothing To Declare by 700 Bliss (Moor Mother with DJ Haram)
Lizzo - Special

Record Roundup: Songcraft
Steve Lacy - Gemini Rights
Sudan Archives - Natural Brown Prom Queen


Isaiah Rashad - Music 4r Da Vibers Given that his best album included the word "demo" in the title and his second album was about writer's block, it's obvious Rashad sometimes gets in his own way. Following up last year's The House Is Burning with this leaked collection of demos and snippets may point a new way forward for him because it's even better than that excellent album. Warmth, immediacy, and a cutting self-examination are just some of the characteristics that have had me coming back to this over and over, along with the smeared, grimy beats. 

Megan Thee Stallion - Traumazine Wildly entertaining, vulnerable, and intricately assembled, Megan's second album proves her staying power. The best songs feature not only her sharp flow but also a kind of vocal counterpoint going on the the background, breath sounds, random words, and vocal tics creating an atmospheric tapestry. Ending with Anxiety ("They keep sayin' I should get help/But I don't even know what I need/They keep sayin' speak your truth/And at the same time say they don't believe, man"), the first 11 songs alone would have been enough to get Traumazine on this list. Things get a little patchier after that, with the pace slowing down and Megan becoming almost a guest on her own album. But when she's ON there are few others who can do what she does. 

Conway The Machine - God Don't Make Mistakes and Conway The Machine & Big Ghost Ltd. - What Has Been Blessed Cannot Be Cursed While this Buffalo-based rapper seems to be working all the time, God Don't Make Mistakes is only his second album proper after 2021's excellent La Maquina - and he's raised the bar significantly this time. When he ends Tear Gas with the line "I keep the guns and the drugs just for the paranoia," I couldn't help but think, "And for the lyrical content." But by the time you get to the extraordinary title track you realize there's nothing sensationalist about the gritty noir that defines his style. Over a grimy track by the Alchemist, Conway runs through a series of questions about the life-changing aftermath of getting shot ("Sometimes I wonder, if this Bell's Palsy didn't paralyze my grill in/Would there still be murals of my face painted on side of buildings?") ending with his mother praying over his grievously injured body in the hospital. It's a haunting finale that will have you hitting repeat so you can try to grasp how he pulled a new beginning out of that near ending. While God Don't Make Mistakes represents Conway's major label debut, What Has Been Blessed... finds him back with Big Ghost and showing no sign of losing touch with his roots. As he raps on Bodie Broadus: "I'm the main source of the culture, I'm love's professor/The one that every major label wanna all get next to/And that's just from recordin' pressure, all it cost was effort/Bars so electric, shit might could charge your Tesla." All never truer than on these two albums.

Freddie Gibbs - $oul $old $eparately After the haymaker one-two punch of Bandana, produced entirely by Madlib, and Alfredo, produced entirely by The Alchemist, I had some trepidation when I heard Gibbs was going the major label-multi-producer route. I was at least a little bit right to be concerned as there is definitely a more diffuse, diluted vibe to this collection. Even the concept - Freddie locked up in a Vegas hotel trying to finish his album - is not quite enough to make it cohere. But Gibbs is never less than committed when comes to the microphone there's nothing slack about his raps. The concept also imposes a number of skits on the album, which are amusing, but when you have a song as hot as Gold Rings, with its killer Pusha T feature, I kinda wish it didn't end with 30 seconds of tomfoolery, i.e. Jesus leaving a voice mail. They should at least put those on their own track so you can weed them out if you want to.

Prodigy - The Hegelian Dialectic 2: The Book Of Heroine While this collection is uneven, it's good to see Prodigy's planned trilogy finally coming to fruition. Following 2017's darkly elegant The Book Of Revelation - the last album released during his lifetime - this one addresses lighter concerns of "sex, drugs, and partying" as opposed to apocalyptic, political themes. Some of the beats feel demo quality but Prodigy's voice is always strong, rapping with intent. As on the romantic Low from the last Mobb Deep album, Prodigy actually, er, rises to the occasion of discussing sex and love on I Heart You: "Candle-lit rooms, shadows on the wall kiss/Her silhouette shape on the wall so thick/The flames on the wick dancin' to the music/Make our hearts melt like wax into each other palms." It's hard to know what he would have done differently, but I imagine he would be proud to have Big Daddy Kane, D.J. Premier, Faith Evans, his old running buddy, Big Noyd, and others on the project. Perhaps even more importantly, Prodigy's estate was finally able to resolve the business tangles that kept his work off of streaming services, making his indelible legacy available again. The final album in the trilogy, promised to confront death itself, is coming out later in 2023.

They Hate Change - Finally, New Even though their set was cut short at IndiePlaza last fall, at least the festival succeeded in turning me on to this Tampa-based duo. Vonne Parks and Andre Gainey combine tag-team, high energy raps with an eclectic landscape of beats that incorporate dub, drum & bass, and all manner of electronic dance grooves - sometimes in the same song. No dilettantes here, however, as they take full ownership of every sound. While they are aggressive in making it clear they stand apart from much of the hip hop universe (As Gainey raps in Blatant Localism: "It’s funny how y’all get excited about crime/I can’t deny, I thought them rhymes was really true to they lives"), it's less clear where they do stand lyrically - but the words sound good nonetheless, making for an assured package. No surprise, as they've been working their way up to this album since 2015 - hence the "finally" in the title. 

Pinkcaravan! - Bananaz and Eazy Bake Since 2018, when her delightful EP 2002 came out, we've been lucky to be gifted one or two songs a year from this unique artist. These two tracks do nothing to stop me from wanting more of her candy-coated hip hop confections. Perhaps 2023 will make that happen.

Saba - Few Good Things While nothing here quite matches the cinematic sweep and emotional depth of Prom / King, the standout track from his 2018 album, Care For Me, this third album is also more consistent. You can learn a lot about what he's giving us here just by the picture of his seemingly indomitable grandfather on the cover - and the ambiguity of the title. There is no bitter without the sweet, and vice versa, in Saba's universe. As he noted when describing the short film attached to the project, "An empty glass is full of air. An empty bank is full of lessons. An empty heart is full of memories." But this album is full - full of heart, soul, anger, humor, not to mention juicy beats, mostly cooked up by Saba and his Pivot Gang cohort. As Saba tries to just live life, I think you'll find him enriching yours.

Vince Staples - Ramona Park Broke My Heart While his last two projects didn't connect with me, in 2017 I highlighted Big Fish Theory for its "high tech" feel and Staples' "gritty and compelling" raps. Now, on his fifth album he's caught me again, although he's in a much more reflective mood. As the title hints, he's exploring his relationship to the Long Beach neighborhood that raised him. An example of the complexity and depth of his approach is When Sparks Fly, which uses Havoc's echoing beat from Mobb Deep's More Trife Life to provide atmosphere and drive for a love song between a man and his gun, playing with the many ways the language of romance can have a double meaning: "She said, "Baby, keep me closely, love it when you hold me/Know that I'm a real one, I don't do no ghostin'/I know that you love me, you don't gotta show me." Sampling the chorus from Lyves' yearning 2016 track No Love, with its "Lovers in arms" line, is yet another clever feint, making the song sound even more romantic. Of course, there's a subtext about why a young Black man in Long Beach would need a gun. As a bit of of autobiography in the otherwise bloody Magic notes: "Momma met my daddy, then they had me in the ghetto/Handed me a thirty-eight and told me I was special." Touches like that are what makes these songs, and the album, so haunting.

Billy Woods - Aethiopes and Church It's not uncommon for hip hop to come across as cinematic, the words making pictures in your mind that move with the music. Aethiopes, with a textured background by producer Preservation coming from a realm of deep knowledge of many musics of the African diaspora, comes across with the electric, intimate immediacy of an Amiri Baraka play. The Doldrums, for example, stitches together harpsichord stabs, Ralph Towner guitar fragments, throbbing drums, and brooding bass as Woods barks out a tapestry that links the slave trade with the drug trade, both of which can leave people stranded in the doldrums: "Thick mist, piff smoke, draw straws from clenched fists/Sinkin' ship, human souls in thе hull/He got the whole world in his hands, ice cold/Open them palms up, turned black as a ghost." Church features production from Messiah Musik and feels murkier and less coherent than Aethiopes, but still compelling.

Elucid - I Told Bessie Elucid is Billy Woods' partner in the long-running avant hip hop duo, Armand Hammer, and Woods appears on four songs and executive produced I Told Bessie. But as tribute to the love and support Elucid received from his grandmother, Bessie, who died in 2017, it's clearly very personal to him. The album is filled with languid, minimalist beats from a variety of producers, all of whom hew to Elucid's vision and give him space to spin his impressionistic rhymes. Impasse is one highlight, with Elucid interrogating his mortality over an off-kilter drum track and nocturnal horns: "Who will close the book, who ain't write my name down?/Who gon' hold the torch, what the cards say now?/Last good kiss, last call, the lights up/It's where the road splits, asphalt shakedown." With this album, Elucid has definitely written his name in the book of hip hop.


In 2017, I praised SZA's "versatility and burgeoning mastery" on her debut, CTRL. Five years and, by all accounts, hundreds of songs later, we get more of the former and evidence that the latter needs no qualifiers. Of course, versatility can become a liability when you have trouble recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, which leads to some longueurs on this 68-minute album. But for every miss, like the rote pop of F2F, you get three hits, like the delicious revenge fantasy, Kill Bill (complete with Tarantino-esque video), the yearning Nobody Gets Me, or Ghost In The Machine, which finds power in sisterhood with Phoebe Bridgers, who guests on the song. Hopefully next time she doesn't feel the need to be all things to all people - after all, as proven by the best songs here, she's already perfect at being herself.

Kehlani - Blue Water Road While the first three tracks on this third album are in no way unpleasant, they feel unfocused, like a warmup. But when the rounded weight of the beat from Slick Rick's Children's Story drops on Wish I Never (one of a few well-deployed samples on the album) the momentum kicks in and doesn’t let up. Even Justin Bieber can’t interrupt the flow of song after song of sleek, emotionally engaged R&B. The ballads, like Melt, which starts off with little more than an acoustic guitar and a drum machine, have an urgency and a melodic inevitability that keeps you listening. When the burner is lit, Blue Water Road is a triumph for Kehlani and their main collaborator, Pop Wansel. The son of Philly Soul legend Dexter Wansel, Pop is in nobody’s shadow by now - and neither is Kehlani.

Phony Ppl - Euphonyus Over a decade into their career, it would be easy to take this Brooklyn-based R&B group for granted, but the fact is there aren't too many like them around anymore, such is the focus on solo acts in the genre. But that would all be immaterial were it not for the many varieties of charming tunes here, from upbeat electro-dance tracks like Dialtone and Warmest Winter, neo-disco like To Get Home (feat. Leon Bridges and The Soul Rebels, who lay down some nice horns), or a creamy ballad like Been Away, which rises to a glorious guitar-driven crescendo. Then there's Fkn Around, another electro track that airlifts Megan Thee Stallion in for a signature rap, complete with counterpoint, which only adds extra juice to the quintet's classic tales of infidelity. 

Yaya Bey - Remember Your North Star Bey comes across as self-effacing, with those lower-case song titles and that sweet voice, which assays jazz, reggae, soul, R&B, and hip hop with equal ease, but don't be fooled. The first words we hear are "Fed up bitch/I just won't let up bitch/I take my foot up off your neck when I feel like bitch," which clues you in to her steely resolve to realize her music and express her feelings, which center around the "deep wound" Black women have around finding love and being loved. Self-produced with assists from Phony Ppl’s Aja Grant and DJ Nativesun, the music ranges over all those genres in which her voice feels so at home. With 18 songs from 16 seconds to 4:25, there's almost a sense of cracking the code of someone's iPhone and scrolling through their voice notes. The vocal sound on a song like Street Fighter Blues only reinforces that vibe. Intimate, vulnerable, and powerful, you won't soon forget Yaya Bey or her music.

Michelle - After Dinner We Talk Dreams Having been lucky enough to catch this charming sextet in concert I am happy to report that everything you hear on this second album is real - the harmonies, the unity, the tunefulness, the grooves, the sheer delight they have in making music together, a feeling they seamlessly translate to the listener. It's also a remarkably consistent album so don't trust those Spotify play counts and only listen to the first four songs. Also give an ear to the Side Dishes single, which has two more great songs. There's a deep well here, so drink up.

Stimulator Jones - Round Spiritual Ring On his debut and subsequent instrumental album, Sam Lunsford displayed his dazzling, somewhat off-center facility at many forms of R&B and dance music. On his latest, he gives us another mix of related styles, from hearkening back to Shannon's Let The Music Play on Pain Inside to paying homage to the mid-70s Isley Brothers on Love Will Light Your Dreams, complete with a smoking hot guitar solo. The album's dreamy trajectory gets goosed by the uptempo rock of Peace, Love, Respect & Adoration, connecting him with other traditions. And it is all about connection - the album title may have originated in a misheard Prince lyric but is a good metaphor for the interchange between creator and listener and between inspiration and creativity. 

Lady Wray - Piece Of Me Twenty-four years on from her debut as a protege of Missy Elliott and Timbaland, nearly everything about Nicole Wray has changed - not just her professional name. Her voice is stronger and her artistic vision more her own, just to name two things. Some of what you hear on this third album was evident on 2016's Queen Alone, when she reemerged in the soul-revival orbit of Leon Michels, Lee Fields, and Charles Bradley. But while she's still recognizably in that world, the sound of Piece Of Me injects much that is new - whether a folk-like directness on Come On In or hints of dub and lovers rock on Through It All - into what can quickly become formulaic. This is also her most personal album, with her father and daughter making appearances, lending even further warmth. Follow her lead: invite the family, then put this record on.


Kabaka Pyramid - The Calling It took not only a 2023 Grammy nomination but an Instagram post from Damian Marley, who produced this third album, for this artist to gain traction in my eardrums. Granted, his output has been slow, with his debut coming over a decade ago. But this rich 15-song collection is a great showcase for his songwriting and toasting. Even if nearly every song has a guest, starting with the opening track, which features an effective sample of the late Peter Tosh,  Kabaka is a commanding presence more than able to hold his own with anyone in contemporary reggae. Grateful is a great showcase of his rhythmic flexibility, with verses seamlessly transitioning from rapid fire flow to stop-start segments. The song has a sweet hook sung by Jamere Morgan, grandson of Denroy Morgan, too, lending an additional sense of legacy to the track. For anyone waiting for Damian Marley's next album - his last, the excellent Stony Hill, came out in 2017 - this fills the gap very nicely.

Koffee - Gifted Nearly twice as long as her fine 2019 EP, Rapture, this gives us a chance to get to know Koffee's breezy, winning style better. Opening with X10, which has her casually singing over Bob Marley's Redemption Song, was a bold move, and many tracks have spare backing to keep the focus on her voice. Whether toasting intensely over Where I'm From or sweetly starting the party on West Indies, where she tosses in a hint of Lionel Richie's All Night Long, she's effortlessly versatile. 

Horace Andy - Rockers & Scorchers One of reggae's most legendary voices, Andy released two albums in 2022, Midnight Rockers and Midnight Scorchers, both brilliantly produced by UK dub magus Adrian Sherwood. This deluxe edition compiles both of them with two bonus tracks, giving us a cup that runneth over with passionate roots reggae. Several songs are updates, like This Must Be Hell, originally on his classic 1978 album, Natty Dread A Weh She Want. But he sounds so engaged, you won't hear complaints from me. He also covers Safe From Harm, the Massive Attack song, in convincing enough fashion that I wonder why he didn't do it in the first place. With so many of the great voices now gone, having Andy nearly at full strength is a gift indeed.

Dubokaj Meets Lee Scratch Perry - Daydreamflix With Perry's death in 2021, I was sure we would be inundated with subpar scraps from the master's workbench. Maybe they're out there - but this is not one of them. Recorded in 2017, Daydreamflix finds Perry working with Swiss-based dub scientist, Daniel Jakob, on a series of spacious, spacey dub tracks, heavy on the electronics and full of atmosphere. Jakob is not too reverent either, processing Perry's voice and treating it like just another color on his palette. A fitting addition to Perry's vast discography with the only mystery being why it took five years to reach fruition.

Dubmatix Meets Future Dub Orchestra - Frontline Dub Smooth, expansive, and never without forward motion, this collaboration between the Toronto-based producer and the Bristol, UK band is an object lesson in dub, if not quite as titanic as the Sly & Robbie connection from 2018.

Find more beats, rhymes, grooves, and rhythms in the 2022 archived playlist and follow the 2023 playlist to see what this year brings!

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2021: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae
Best Of 2020: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae
Best Of 2019: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae
Best Of 2018: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2017: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2016: Hip Hop and RnB