New New: “i” Kendrick Lamar, video

In a country where the essence of blackness isn’t always admired for its perfect imperfections, Kendrick Lamar reiterates a theme of self-love once prominent in the black community of the 1960s and 70s. Laced with Ron Isley and his brothers’ classic ode to a lady, “i” breathes the resilience of a people, culture, in a mere three minutes. In a year that has rocked the souls of black folks, this is a reminder that we’ve been here before, and  love as always will conquer all.

Peace. Love. Soul.

New New: “i” Kendrick Lamar, video

ill: “Right Now” Mary J. Blige

All hail the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul as she embarks on her thirteenth studio LP, aptly titled The London Sessions. The around-the-way girl reaches a new plateau of stardom as she’s recorded her newest offering entirely overseas. The soul singer has enlisted some of today’s freshest songwriters and producers – including previous collaborators Disclosure and Sam Smith – for a dance-influenced soul album.

In the LP’s first visual “Right Now,” Blige struts abound London’s cobble-stoned streets and alleys as only the Queen can. While her combat boots may be replaced with red bottoms, she still possess the same swagger, refined for a grown woman.

ill: “Right Now” Mary J. Blige

illReview: “Tough Love” Jessie Ware

Brit’s dance siren Jessie Ware returns with her highly-anticipated sophomore album, Tough Love. Her sensual, dance-scented R&B courted a new wave of soul artists a few years back. Ware’s mastered a stronger set than before, shedding some of the electronic influence for possible pop-ready dominance. But never fret fans, her magic hasn’t strayed far from its cauldron.

The opening title track rattles with a Prince-esque rim shot as Ware coos in falsetto. “Cruel” finds Jessie questioning a lover’s resistance, confused his actions don’t match his words. First single and tour de force is the labor-of-love “Say You Love Me.” The tempered ballad echoes themes of Smith’s “Stay With Me,” campaigning for all or nothing in a dwindling affair.

Ware meets with R&B savant Miguel on the sexually-tinged “Kind of …Sometimes…Maybe” detailing that Drake-ish feeling in all of us. And she says goodbye to love on the soaring “Pieces.” The standard version stands at eleven tracks, while the deluxe delivers four additional songs. The flirtatious “All on You” is grown and sexy lounge music, club goers chatting, two-stepping and exchanging more than numbers. “Midnight Caller” brings out Ware’s maneater as she warns a suitor she’ll only break his heart atop a haunting synth.

Tough Love is by far one of the year’s best. As R&B stateside continues to surf this hip-hop/alt wave, naturalists look across the pond for the real thing. And artists such as Ware steadily deliver.

illReview: “Tough Love” Jessie Ware

illReview: “Sound of A Woman” Kiesza

Sound compiles the best moments of early 90s dance music, conjuring yesteryear memories for today’s eighties babies. In the vein of Cathy Dennis, Taylor Dayne and Tara Kemp, Kiesza effortlessly maneuvers from house, to pop, and even R&B. Her soulfully alternative vocals are accessorized perfectly with bubbly production and strong songwriting.

Lead single and track “Hideaway” opens the doors as a jovial love song. Its increment beat-building brightens any mood. A melancholy acoustic version at the end highlights Kiesza’s vocal capabilities and knack for lyrics. “Losin’ My Mind” and “Bad Thing,” both tracks with the album’s only features, derive a strong hip-hop/soul origin. Mick Jenkins laces the former with a nice verse while ProEra’s Joey Bada$$ adds jabs on the sensual latter.

Kiesza handles her slower offerings with just as much control. “So Deep” rides a romantic rhythm even as it cascades into a dub-step rhythm in its latter half. And her stripped cover of Hadaway’s “What Is Love” transforms the poster child of dance tracks into the emotive heartache song many wouldn’t recognize.

While its categorized as an electronic album, Sound of A Woman encompasses an array of influences. And its a strong calling card for an artist talented beyond the dance realm.

illReview: “Sound of A Woman” Kiesza

illReview: “Aquarius” Tinashe

Aquarius is the best Janet Jackson album not by Janet. And before you stans come for a writer’s throat, take a second to comprehend the former declaration.  There hasn’t been a chick in the game to covet Ms. Jackson’s spot since Ciara, and she lightly brushed the throne with The Evolution. (Beyonce while influenced by Janet isn’t in that lane musically). Tinashe not only exudes Damita Jo in her musical style, she’s almost replicated album construction as well as songs. In a good way though.

(If Janet is too harsh of a comparison, consider a Jhene Aiko and pairing it with the urban sensibility of Ciara.)

The 18-track LP coasts with six-plus minute tracks as well as thoughtful, intricate interludes. Boasting strong janet. and The Velvet Rope influences, Tinashe’s isn’t the strongest vocalist. But the production – lustful and encompassing – draws listeners. The moments created audibly are amazing.

The title track acts as an unofficial intro before rolling into the tribal echoes of “Bet.” A love song stretched beyond its nominal being with gargoyle-ish bellows. “Cold Sweat” sensually bleeds like recent Janet until the closing seconds takes a cue from Velvet Rope’s You.” And if this interpolation isn’t enough, Tinashe borrows Control’s sex siren for the Future-assisted “How Many Times.”

Hit single “2 On” with its club-ready melody seems a bit out of place, but it doesn’t distract from the collection. “All Hands on Deck” snaps with a Ms. Nasty attitude. And the ASAP Rocky featured “Pretend” is a beautifully-written ballad that follows an interlude that mimics Jackson’s “morning” and “racism”.

The rest of the album is balanced between atmospheric mid-tempo tracks (Far Side of the Moon, Wildfire) and current potential hits (Thug Cry, Feels like Vegas).

Tinashe will never be Janet, but something should be said for the risks taken and executing rather wonderfully. Aquarius is an interesting listen.

illReview: “Aquarius” Tinashe

illNext: “Takin It No More/Shut It Down” Sharaya J, video

Sharaya J, protege of Missy Elliott, first burst onto the scene with her eclectic “BANJI.” We also heard her spit alongside Elliott on Faith Evans’ new single “I Deserve It.” The singer/raptress has released a new video directed by none other than the Misdemeanor herself.

“Takin’ It No More” is a dancetastic spin on a spoiled relationship. The video is bright and fresh, much like Sharaya’s persona. Elliott’s influences are strong, even in the crazy “Take Away” sample. The second track feels more like a club record you and your posse may blast during pregaming. Can’t wait to see what more J has up her sleeve.

illNext: “Takin It No More/Shut It Down” Sharaya J, video

New New: “Never Catch Me” Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar, video

Kendrick is on a roll as we await his nearing sophomore album. Off the tails of his soulfully-spirited first single “i” come the visuals from his collaboration with L.A. producer Flying Lotus. “Never Catch Me” dropped about a month ago. The song gets a rather joy-in-the-pain video as we see life doesn’t stop when the body does. Lotus’s You’re Dead comes to life October 7th.

New New: “Never Catch Me” Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar, video