The Year In R&B: 2014

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal 
For the year of 2014, music was in such a strange place. It felt like music was making a comeback to the essence, but also straying farther away from it in the same respect. While the mainstream sound was leaning towards a bridge between pop, R&B, and hip hop, the underground sound of the genre was leaning towards an eccentric Neo-Soul vibe, and there was separation of sorts. You'd also see legends keep their brand in tact by doing more of what people loved from them, while still advancing the sound. It was almost as if the lines were being drawn in the genre and everyone was picking the side they stood on. Don't believe me? I'll explain. You had the mainstream R&B male, who in an attempt to be a sex symbol or a street savvy R&B singer, created music with harder hitting beats, smooth autotune layered vocals, and very simple yet catchy hooks as well. You had the R&B female, who was either attempting to empower or recovering from scorn. There was the eccentric and moody sound, with atmospheric and muted production and compressed vocals, usually upheld by singers who weren't of the usual variety. Then, as I mentioned, you had the legends who did what they wanted. Those legends would end up making the best albums of the year. However, as we delve into 2014 in R&B, let's start with the mainstream R&B male and the albums released.

Trey Songz's Trigga and August Alsina's Testimony were the product of the ever changing genre of R&B, for better or worse. Was I a fan of either album? Not really, but they served their purpose of creating catchy tracks and hits. Trey did have the catchy "Cake" and August had a few catchy tracks as well, so they both had success. The same could be said for the hybrid of hip hop and R&B that is Ty Dolla Sign, as his Beach House EP seemed to climb the charts and delight the audiences. I heard many songs from Ty in clubs during the year, showing that he is. Chris Brown was known for making hits and singing hooks to entice the world, and he returned once again after a tumultuous time in his life with the "X" album, which featured "Fine China" (a favorite of mine) and "Songs On 12 Play". Omarion would continue that vibe that August, Chris, Trey, and Ty captured with his very underrated Sex Playlist album, including the hit "Post To Be" with Chris Brown and Jhene Aiko, which of course started the "eat the booty like groceries" trend that came after. Needless to say, the R&B mainstream male lane was a successful one.

If you consider Pharrell to be R&B, one could include his "G I R L" album, in this list as well. It was a cross between that eccentric moody vibe and the mainstream R&B vibe in a way. It was your standard smooth Neptunes sounding album, with a bit of soulful vibe and pop appeal combining to create lush production and melodic hooks. It's essentially Pharrell doing what he does best. If you're a fan of OVO and the eccentric/moody sounds they bring, then you know very well about the next release here. PARTYNEXTDOOR would release his PND Two project, and though I'm not a big fan of his music, his track "Recognize" was pretty popular, earning him a hit. PND would see success with this project and rise even more so to fame, adding to the OVO dominance that Drake and The Weeknd started.

Women were dominating in 2014 on the R&B tip from all ends of the spectrum, and one of the more talked about releases came from Teyana Taylor with her "VII" album. It was a solid effort and I remember it being heavily discussed in R&B circles and on social media. Kelis, who had been under the radar for the most part since her split from Nas returned with her "Food" album, which had a few solid tracks on it as well. Jennifer Hudson would release a new album, as would Ashanti with her comeback album Braveheart. The year signaled a number of comebacks, but none was as hilarious as the Mariah Carey "Me... I Am Mariah" album, sparked her "long awaited" return. Mariah had struggled to gain her footing in music after her 2005 mega success with the Emancipation of Mimi album, and this was seemingly no different. Speaking of different, if you're a fan of different sounds in R&B, you might be interested in the FKA Twigs album "LP1", which was a pleasant surprise on the year as well and definitely of the eccentric variety with a more underground sound. If you're still looking for more of the eccentric yet moody vibe, another Jhene Aiko release would definitely do the trick, as she would release her "Souled Out" album. The album wouldn't be successful as her previous releases in terms of appeal, but was still a solid release for her fanbase.

For those of you who loved music of the Mary J. Blige variety, but on a lower level, K. Michelle would release her "Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart" album, which isn't a release that I personally enjoyed, but it was a significant release due to her reality show persona that garnered her fame. Mary J. Blige would release her London Sessions album, showing her attempting to musically get out of the lane that she paved and Keyshia Cole continued in a way.
Speaking of Keyshia Cole, she returned with her Point of No Return, her sixth solo album. The album itself isn't necessarily memorable, but for Keyshia, to have six albums under your belt and maintain a level of relevance has to be important. Between K. Michelle and Keyshia, you had enough music to appeal to the crowd who loves this sound. From heartbreak to jealousy to strong feelings of love, those two ladies have the spectrum covered.

Another name that managed to get some traction was Tinashe, the gorgeous singer who released her debut "Aquarius", which spawned the big single "2 On", which also featured a remix with Drake on it. She was a blend of all the sounds of the year together, but leaning more towards the mainstream vibe, which worked for her. On a different front, the beautiful
SZA would hold it down for the TDE collective with her EP, showcasing that the crew wasn't just run by the Black Hippy squad. I've always liked the SZA sound and I think she's definitely underrated as an artist. Her EP was a bright spot on the year, which was welcomed.

For the legends of R&B, sticking to the script never hurts, and for Mya, Jagged Edge, and Joe, that's exactly what worked for them. Mya brought her new EP Sweet XVI to the table, and reminded us why we loved her in the first place. Joe would return with another album, his 11th, with Bridges. It was first release under his new label and the sound was what you would expect from Joe, and as always, it works. This was probably his best album in the last 6 or 7 years, which shows that he never really loses a step. As for Jagged Edge, what better way to make a comeback than with a sequel to your most infamous album? They went back to the drawing board with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def to create J.E. Heartbreak 2, an album that definitely earned some attention for the group again. Sales wise, it didn't hit a big mark, but it certainly brought them back to the spotlight for a moment.

Still, with all these releases in 2014, the only one that really captured my attention heavily was the long awaited return of D'Angelo and his 3rd album "Black Messiah". This album was the pinnacle of the year for me, hip hop, pop, R&B or otherwise. From the vivid song "The Charade" to the smooth "Really Love" to my favorite song on the album, "Another Life", this album was everything I wanted to hear from D'Angelo after nearly 15 years and then some. Black Messiah is my highlight of 2014, and there's not much that comes close to it. You've heard enough from though, how about we kick it over to Tonio for his opinions on 2014 in R&B.

In 2014, we had debut studio albums from Jhene Aiko, Teyana Taylor, FKA Twigs, Nico & Vinz, August Alsina & Ty Dolla Sign. We also had some familiar faces dropping in Ashanti, Omarion, Mya, Keyshia Cole, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Kelis, JoJo, Jagged Edge and more. The vets also had some music to share, as we got projects from Prince, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, and Joe.

Jagged Edge were back with Jermaine Dupri producing so before listening, I knew I'd find gems on "J.E. Heartbreak 2" and I did. I enjoyed this album. They pretty much kept the same blueprint, which works for them. Stand out tracks were
"Future", "Things I Do For You", "Love Comes Down", "Hope" and "Ready".

Trey Songz's "Trigga" was a dope album. I feel like he's completely found his lane in content, and he chose the right production for this album. "Cake", "Touchin, Lovin" feat Nicki Minaj and "SmartPhones" really stuck out. Jhene Aiko's "Souled Out" had a very laid back sedated vibe to it. "Limbo", "W.A.Y.S", and "To Love & Die" stood out to me.

Other songs that stood out to me on the year:
FKA Twigs- Two Weeks
Teyana Taylor & Fabolous- Broken Hearted Girl
Chris Brown-  They Don't Know feat. Aaliyah & Fine China
Omarion, Chris Brown & Jhene Aiko- Posed To Be
Ashanti & Jeremih - Love Games
Mya Sweet- Right Now
Nico & Vinz- Am I Wrong & In Your Arms

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
Two slept on albums for the year come from legendary names, and they are among the best to be released in 2014. It's no shock that in the new age of R&B, the best releases come from the veterans who have perfected their lanes and not conformed to the moment. I would mention the posthumous Michael Jackson album Xscape in detail, but I'll just say that it was an enjoyable listen, but bittersweet. However, the two slept on albums on the year for me really stuck with me. Those albums cemented something for me as a listener, and I still listen to them regularly (even though it's only been 3 years). Let me briefly touch on those two albums before we close this out.

Babyface and Toni Braxton's "Love, Marriage & Divorce" is an album that caught me by surprise. I knew the two could make good music together, but had no idea that an album could work with them. I thought maybe one song or two together per solo album, but the chemistry displayed on this project was truly amazing and signaled a comeback of sorts for both. My favorite song on the album is "Rollercoaster", which sounds like a classic Babyface and Toni collaboration with a slight new age twist. I loved every ballad and the theme of the album. It takes you through a relationship in all phases of it, good or bad. Babyface and Toni pulled off a winner. As for the other album...

Prince's Art Official Age was one of those albums that I personally slept on because of the fact that I was still enjoying the classics from the Purple One. However, the electricity in the music here is undeniable. The production was more lush than we'd heard from Prince in years, and the bridge between funk and soul made me feel like I was listening to Prince in his ultimate prime again. My favorite song on this album was the Lianne La Havas featured track "Clouds", as both Prince and Lianne created something timeless. Who would have guessed that an artist on their 37th album would still be cranking out hits and quality product? It's a testament to his greatness.

When I look back on 2014, it isn't filled with too many fond memories musically in general, but the releases were aplenty, as always. I think D'Angelo, Babyface & Toni Braxton, and Prince showed me that no matter how many new artists show up, the legends will always be there to supply what is needed. So 2014, while you weren't a top tier R&B year, there was enough music for all listeners to enjoy.



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