No, Somali-Canadian rapper/crooner K’Naan’s “God, Country or the Girl” did not make my list of best albums of 2012. And his post-facto denouncement of its contents in an op-ed in The New York Times (!) has nothing to do with it. With the exception of a cut with Nas (“Nothing to Lose“), K’Naan’s latest is, however, an objective lesson in how not to organize an album. It’s like a potluck dinner for development workers who like music. Too many aging rock star guests (Bono, Keith Richards), trying too hard for the chart-centered pop ballad (e.g. “Is Anybody Out There” with Nelly Furtado) and the “world music” feel of everything (in no fit of irony, he samples Paul Simon on one song). But on to better things. Here’s 10 albums I liked this year; in no particular order.
Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls.”Not every album on this list is music by African artists. Take Alabama Shakes. No one else comes close to commanding a stage like lead singer Brittany Howard (I saw them play in December last year at the Mercury Lounge in New York City). Every cut on this album deserves a mention, but I’ll single out the ones that made the earlier self-titled EP: “Hold on” (my single of 2012), “I found you,” “On your way” and ”You ain’t alone.”
Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, M.A.A.D. city.” Forget the hype, this is genius work from producer Dr Dre and Lamar.
Laura Mvula, “iTunes Festival 2012.” After I heard her single”She” (there is a music video now), I had to hear more. I found she has an EP of 4 songs recorded live at the iTunes Festival. (I know this is strictly not an album, but it is my list.)
The Brother Moves On, “ETA.” New South African genre-busters. The next BLK JKS. Even The Guardian noticed.
Frank Ocean, “Channel ORANGE.” He “grew up in Sierra Leone.”
Spoek Mathambo, “#APARTHEIDAFTERPARTY #JUNE16, 2012.” If mixtapes were albums.
Cody ChesnuT, “Landing on a Hundred.” This is a long way from “The Seed.” On the new album he also namechecks every African country (yes Facebook commenters we know it is a continent). Cody later apologized for not shouting out Mali.
Christian Scott, “Christian aTunde Adjuah.” Some people claim jazz is over, that’s till they hear Scott, Soweto Kinch, Ambrose Akinmusire and Robert Glasper (who unfortunately tweeted some dumb comments about non-English rap recently).
Hemelbesem and Isaac Mutant, “DOUBLE STORY.” In the post-POC and Brasse vannie Kaap age, most people associate Afrikaans rap with Jack Parow’s playful costumed act or attention-seekers Die Antwoord’s freakshow. That’s till they’ve heard veteran rapper Isaac Mutant. On this album, Mutant, whose style reminds of Wu Tang Clan’s wordplay mixed with grime style, teams up with another Cape Town MC, Hemelbesem. Get your hands on it.
And Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, which includes this tune: Rocky Ground.