The bubbly pop of Title might be easy to underestimate, but catchy confections like “Lips Are Moving” and “Walkashame” reveal a penchant for clever songwriting and honest, age-appropriate lyrics. The cheeky 21 year-old isn’t pretending to be anything she’s not and the result is refreshingly real. There’s no good girl phoniness (think Taylor Swift), or naughty girl posturing (think Selena Gomez). She’s just a young woman trying to grow out of her teens gracefully, all the while clearly aware of the futility of that goal. It’s the kind of music Gwen Stefani might’ve made in her early twenties if she wasn’t in a ska band. If Trainor’s able to keep cranking out hit-filled albums like this it will be exciting to watch her evolution over the next ten years.
Miguel, the libidinous heir apparent to The Purple One himself is in top form on his third LP, Wildheart. Keeping it kinky and funky for the lion’s share of the record he creates a sexy, atmospheric jam session to fuck and get high to as he explicitly describes in “Simple Things” only to wake up for “Coffee” the next day and do it all again. When it’s time to go hard (“The Valley”), his crisp tenor glides over the thumping bass line like a lover whispering sweet naughtiness in your ear as you climax. Then on the gorgeous ballad “Leaves” he opens up and shows his vulnerability and it’s still sexy as hell. The only real departure is when he gets personal about his experience growing up as a mixed-race kid in LA on “What’s Normal Anyway?” but thankfully he makes a quick return to the boudoir, cooing suggestively.
Reality Show, (or How To Find Your Inner Black Girl Magic When 100,000 Instagram Followers Ain’t Enuf), is Jazmine Sullivan’s latest and finest album in an increasingly impressive career. The concept of storytelling from the point of view of a young woman trying to tread the dangerously fickle waters of tangentially famous C-list celebrity could easily cause one to shrug, ‘Who cares?’ And in the wrong hands it might have been disastrous, but instead of taking a derisive approach as Pink did with her 2006 single “Stupid Girls” (The 2015 update might be called ‘Basic Bitches’), Sullivan’s “Stupid Girl” is a cautionary tale from a sister who has been there and done that. Also, as one of the best singers of her generation, she could have rested on her laurels and recorded an album full of vocal showcases, but instead chose to use her enviable range to add texture and nuance to songs like “If You Dare” and “Veins,” though she does let her sickening runs loose on the ballads “Forever Don’t Last” and the scorching “Let It Burn”.
K. Dot, the most celebrated MC of his generation, had a lot to live up to after his last album good kid, m.A.A.d city and he doesn’t disappoint on To Pimp a Butterfly, an instant hip-hop classic and the definitive album of the year. The optimistic “Alright” has been described as the theme song of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but honestly, almost any track could apply since Lamar has taken the opportunity to dissect contemporary black life through the lens of the past throughout the album, so guest appearances by George Clinton and Ron Isley feel just as at home as those by Snoop Dogg and Rhapsody. The most striking appearance is by Tupac Shakur who, through archival audio, has a conversation with Lamar at the close of “Mortal Man” when the younger MC completes the poem that is weaved throughout the album. The juxtaposition of the past and the present throughout the album just punctuates the theme of a struggle that’s still alive and well in 2015.
The Queen of R&B/Pop returns after a seven year break to deliver one of the most accomplished albums of her illustrious career. After her last few albums, where she seemed to be less and less invested creatively, Miss Jackson got back to her roots and re-teamed with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, her co-writers/producers for 30 years, and made the type of album that initially took her out of the shadow of her brother and set her apart from her contemporaries. On Unbreakable, she continues to prove that her ability to effortlessly hop genres and wring a range of emotions from one of pop’s softest voices is unmatched. The King of Pop may be gone, but his specter hovers over songs like “The Great Forever” and “Broken Hearts Heal”, the latter being a heartfelt tribute to him. The country tinged “Well Traveled” however, is a perfect summation of the long and storied career of one of music’s brightest stars. She sings, “I’ve come a long way, got a long way to go.” Let’s hope the journey continues to be this rewarding.
Marques Wayne has been a writer/ reviewer for Pop Culture Beast since 2011.
In addition to studying Film Production and Screenwriting at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and Los Angeles Valley College respectively, he is also co-founder of Paige9 Publishing, home of horror fiction author Pheare Alexander.