The Year In R&B: 2006

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal 
There are quite a few years in R&B that tend to go ignored for their overall dope music, and 2006 seems to be one of those years. Sure, many feel that music took a sharp decline around that time period and while that may be true to an extent, there are a number of artists and musicians that released projects in 2006 that were solid. Sure, you'll hear about the albums from Rihanna and Beyonce, who both teeter the line between R&B and pop, as well as the blue eyed soul stylings of Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake, but the albums that mattered the most to me this year weren't your usual suspects, in a way. I'll get to those later however.

Then, the albums from contemporaries like Van Hunt, with his solid "On The Jungle Floor" project and the beautiful Amel Larrieux with her "Morning" release helped cap the year off perfectly, as did the Neo-Soul stylings of India Arie with her "Testimony Vol. 1, Life & Relationship" album. While it wasn't her best, it was still a solid release from India and an enjoyable listen also. A budding songwriter with a knack for singing would also bring something to the table with his Def Jam debut album and R&B in the 21st century wouldn't be the same again. The debut of Ne-Yo came this year and his album "In My Own Words" helped to scorch the charts and the radio airwaves for the genre. With songs such as "So Sick", "Stay", "Sexy Love", and the sensual ballad "Mirror", Ne-Yo created an album that was equal parts 90s R&B and the new age sound. Other notable releases came from Jaheim, Monica (who would have a solid release with her "The Makings Og Me"), Avant with his solid "Director" album, Jagged Edge with their self titled project, and a truly slept on Brian McKnight album "Ten" (which featured the super underrated single "Find Myself In You").

The legendary Isley Brothers would release an album as well, aptly titled "Baby Makin Music", and Lyfe Jennings would continue his short lived run with his album "The Phoenix". However, the ladies wouldn't be outdone this year either. Of course, the two big albums of the year were Beyonce with her infamous "B'Day" album and Rihanna with her "A Girl Like Me" album, but Janet Jackson would return some 20 years later after her Control dropped with "20 Y.O.", her 9th studio album release. While that album wasn't necessarily the best listen, an artist she inspired would release one of the better releases this year, as Ciara put out her second album "The Evolution", which featured her intriguing 50 Cent collaboration that sparked dating rumors and the seductive track "Promise", which is one of her best tracks. Christina Aguilera would release the DJ Premier produced "Back To Basics", which wasn't necessarily R&B, as it borders on pop music, Cassie would make her debut with her self titled album, Heather Headley would release her "In My Mind" album, and Kelis would return with her "Kelis Was Here" album featuring the irritating yet popular song "Bossy".

Of course, the two blue eyed soul artists, Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake, would release their albums "The Evolution of Robin Thicke" and "FutureSex/LoveSounds" to much fanfare, as both albums were huge hits for the genre. There was a lot of genre mixing in this year, and Gnarls Barkley could be seen as a group that managed to utilize both funk, soul, pop, and R&B,  similar to the stylings of the great Prince, who also released an album this year. The release "3121" was a solid album and one of the more slept on projects in Prince's career. There are a few other solid albums for the year 2006, including my favorite release, but I'll get to that in my outro. For now, let's give the team the floor to discuss their favorite releases.

In 2006, the model/actress Cassie had burst on the scene with "Me & U" and the song was all over the charts, as well as a YouTube smash, and Ne-Yo had started out slow,  but as soon as "So Sick" was released he took off to the moon. Kelis was back with yet another anthem in "Bossy" and years after leaving Destinys Child Letoya Luckett emerged as a solo artist with "Torn".

2006 was the year of sophomore projects. Beyonce was continuing her path to run the game releasing "B'Day", Rihanna was still trying to find her sound and place in the game with "A Girl Like Me", Omarion was trying to match the success he had on his debut with "21", Justin Timberlake brought us a hip, soulful & groovy Timbaland driven "FutureSex/LoveSounds , and Ciara was giving the fans what they wanted from her on "Evolution" with a few ballads & a few dance tracks. The late great Amy Winehouse, who hailed from London with a soulful urban sound that no one had at the time, eventually spawned a few sound alikes because of her success with the solid "Back To Black". Akon was back with his unique style on "Konvicted" alongside a star studded tracklist, John Legend was continuing to make his mark with his soulful voice and highly loved ballads, Robin Thicke initially got off to a slow start with "Evolution of Robin Thicke" which debuted at #45 selling only 20,000 copies, but after a few months once his single "Lost Without You" got hot, it went platinum and made him a star.

There are artists who were usually pop, but as the story always goes, when they need reinvention they try hip hop or R&B, and it works. This is what happened with Nelly Furtado on "Loose", hooking up with Timbaland and revamping her style churning out a bevy of hits. For "Back To Basics", Christina Aguilera picked producers to fuse a jazz, hip hop & R&B sound while Fergie sampled hip hop hits from the 80s for "The Dutchess". JoJo collaborated with urban writers and producers for "The High Road" as well, finding a sound that actually worked for her.

The vets were playing their roles. Janet released her album 20 Y.O. celebrating 20 years of her classic album "Control". Prince being the consistent musician that he was released "3121". Natalie Cole was back doing cover versions of the top radio hits also, showing she could hang with the new artists also.

Some of my top songs this year were:
Jagged Edge - Good Luck Charm
Jagged Edge - Who U Wit
Omarion- Ice Box
Justin Timberlake- What Goes Around
Justin Timberlake & Beyonce - Until The End of Time (Remix)
Sean Paul & Keyshia Cole - Give It Up to Me
Beyonce - Irreplaceable
Ne-Yo - Sexy Love
Ne-Yo - When You're Mad
Avant - 4 Minutes
Cherish - Unappreciated

It’s no secret that music is ever changing and evolving. Sometimes we can pinpoint the specific year where this happens and sometimes we can’t. In my opinion, for R&B, that change happened first in 2005, but really manifested itself in 2006. The releases that happened that year were interesting, as it seemed like albums had heavy use of dance beats that were pushing out the soft woodwind instruments that was so signature to the genre. With that said, let's take a look at the one debut that was notable and the few other albums that stood out.

The debut this year is from Ne-Yo, as he gives us “In My Own Words” which (IMO) is the closest to the old school R&B I’ve always loved. Did he have some upbeat pop sounding songs? Yes of course, but Ne-Yo stays true to the emotional love themes we expect from the genre AND keeps the instrumentals familiar. While the first release single “Stay” was a disappointment, the other tracks carried the entire album and established Ne-Yo as a new age R&B powerhouse. “So Sick”, “When You’re Mad” and the hit “Sexy Love” are still fan favorites and highlights of the year.

Three years after her debut album, Beyonce releases her second studio album “B’Day”. Personally I’m not a huge fan of Beyonce, but I will say she knows  how to make hits. She knows her audience, she knows what she’s good at and with the help of Jay-Z (as a feature), she makes easy to listen to and enjoyable albums. This release is no different as “B’Day” seems to sound similar and repetitive on the production side, but she still manages to give us some fun tracks like “Déjà Vu” and “Upgrade U”, which both feature Jay-Z. Then she slows it down just a bit and becomes empowering in “Irreplaceable”, but the best track in my opinion is “Ring The Alarm”. Beyonce gave club DJs a fantastic crowd pleasing album to work with. This took over the year and was by far the most successful release of the year.

One year after her debut, Rihanna releases her second album. This was the year we got “A Girl Like Me”. Now I’m also not the biggest fan of RiRi, but much like Beyonce, she also knows exactly how to work her audience, top charts and please the crowds. She releases this 13 track album and she absolutely killed it with bangers. “SOS” seemed to be the most overplayed song of the year on every radio station, every hour (at least)!! If that wasn’t enough, she pairs up with Sean Paul to take over the reggae/dancehall music we expect from her. What I can’t stand about this album and what ruined it for me is the track “Unfaithful”. The lyrics, the concept and the message is foul and while at first listen it sounds nice, if you pay attention to the lyrics, it’s terrible. I might be the only person that feels this way however because this was a successful album and it did maintain the momentum “Pon De Replay” started.

My favorite release of the year personally comes from Justin Timberlake. While I never considered JT to be R&B prior, with the changes R&B went through, it fits. He releases “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and created a fantastic album. This was great all the way through, no fillers and purely enjoyable. There’s nothing bad I can say about this. My favorite tracks are “My Love”, “LoveStoned” and “Until The End Of Time”. JT was the highlight this year and really gives us great variation from track to track. This is probably the best album in his discography, as we can hear his growth, maturity and confidence since he became a solo artist. He really is great and this album affirms the claim.

While these albums are so heavily dance infused and more pop than they are R&B, it’s artists like Ne-Yo that bring the classic and familiar sounds and instrumentals to the genre. 2006 would give us a ton of feel good bangers that would solidify the direction R&B was going in.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
-Now, with all these artists releasing albums in the genre, there were very few artists who held onto the essence of R&B during this year. One of those artists would be the underrated Donell Jones, who released his "Journey Of A Gemini" album this year. The album is a bit of a throwback in a way, and it works very well, like most Donell Jones albums. Another underrated artist, Sleepy Brown, released his solo album "Mr. Brown" also, another dope project that was a bit slept on. Younger stars like Sammie and Omarion released albums, and one of my favorite songs of the year came from Omarion, with the epic Timbaland produced "Ice Box" taking over your ears as well. If you're a fan of the contemporary R&B and Soul sound, Corinne Bailey Rae and the late Amy Winehouse would release projects this year, with Amy dropping another favorite release of mine on the year via her 2nd project "Back To Black". That album is a flawless listen and a true classic IMO. Still, with all these great albums, my favorite on the year still hasn't been discussed. Which album is that?

It's the sophomore album from one of my favorites, John Legend. The 2nd album from John, titled "Once Again", is a true classic and has a flawless tracklist. John manages to follow up his classic debut with yet another victory for himself musically, as songs like "Heaven", "P.D.A.", "Save Room", "Maxine", and "Another Again" are all among some of the best songs of the year. That alone makes it one of my favorites, but the production, the vocals and the overall sound is just so superb that it elevates the album. When I look back at 2006 in R&B, the first album to come to mind is this John Legend classic. All in all, 2006 was actually a very eventful year in the genre and featured a large number of noteworthy releases. I wish we looked back at 2006 and gave it more props as fans. Sure, the genre changed some, but there were plenty of artists making solid music despite the changes, and that's the biggest memory of this year in R&B.



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