I’m not going to lie, this year has felt like a blur. It wasn’t my most eventful year in terms of traveling or living some big, memorable, life-changing experiences. It was a year where I took a step back, practiced gratitude, and tried to live in the present a lot more. I’ve also taken a step back with the website, as some of you regular readers may have noticed. There’s no real reason for it, just wanted to do other things with my time. I’ve also been listening to new genres, and that’s been reflected in the writing I’ve done and some of the selections on this list. Speaking of which, as we’re at the end of the year, it’s tradition to list my favourite projects that came out in the last 12 months. As usual, they are in no particular order, and as usual, these projects are the ones I have listened to / enjoyed the most. This year I went for 30 albums, plus an additional 2 that technically came out late last year, but just missed my list because I had already made my mind up by then. So without further ado, let’s get into the list!
Navy Blue – Song of Sage: Post Panic!
This is the first of two albums that came out last year that absolutely blew me away. Navy Blue has quickly become one of the most versatile and engaging hip-hop artists over the last few years, and his album Song of Sage: Post Panic! is a beautiful addition to his already incredible discography. Throughout 18-tracks of gorgeous, soulful production, Navy Blue channels his creativity to bring emotive and introspective raps that are poignant and have stuck with me this whole year.
Moor Mother & billy woods – BRASS
This is the second of two albums that came out last year that absolutely blew me away. I described Moor Mother & billy wood’s masterpiece BRASS as being “one of the better collaborative albums in years” and I firmly stand by this statement. It’s an unsettling, disorienting album full of piercing and poignant vocal performances and incredibly dense poetry, coupled with incredibly haunting and hypnotic production that is just striking and bold. This is dystopian hip-hop done to perfection, with both billy woods and Moor Mother’s chemistry being as good as I thought it would be. One of my favourite albums of all time at this point – this has been in non-stop rotation since it came out.
MIKE – Disco!
MIKE is one of the great producer-emcees of this generation. His signature jazzy, muffled, and soulful production is amplified on his most recent album to date, Disco!. He sounds alive and well on this album, with positive, self-reflecting raps that fit perfectly with his off-kilter experimental production. While the sound of the album doesn’t necessarily reflect that title name (it doesn’t really sound ‘disco’ at all), it’s undeniably a happier, more forward-thinking project from one of the most creative and incredibly gifted artists of his generation.
Pink Siifu – GUMBO’!
Simply put, Pink Siifu one of the most versatile, eclectic and free-spirited artists making music today. GUMBO’! is an amalgamation of all his different sounds and styles, combining ethereal jazz with boom-bap and Southern hip-hop beats and influences. His music is vast, both catchy and intricately composed, and the balance between all of this makes this album one of his most complete to date. It’s still amazing to me witnessing his growth as an artist since 2013, but he is really one of a kind, and this album is proof of this.
Pink Siifu – Negro Deluxe
As mentioned, Pink Siifu is one of the most versatile and complete artists making music today. 2020’s NEGRO was a pure punk release, with frantic guitar screeches, an almost abrasive, aggressive album that was one of the most striking things to come out that year. This year, he pretty much released a new album entirely, with 20 additional tracks, both originals and live renditions from the original album. NEGRO DELUXE doesn’t offer the same punchy, all out noise that NEGRO provided, instead opting for a more subdued, soulful side that contrasts, yet complements the intensity of the original. I’ve had this project on repeat, and as a double album, it is a powerful listen.
Sons of Kemet – Black To The Future
One of the most poignant and immersive jazz albums of the year, Sons of Kemet’s Black To The Future is an incredible body of work that showcases the sheer talents of 4 incredibly gifted jazz musicians. The drumming, the melodies and intensity of this album makes it such an immersive and important listen, while the features artists provide a unique sonic quality that makes me want to return to it often. The pummelling energy of the saxophone and tuba melodies, combined with the entrancing drumming and percussion makes this a truly spectacular listening experience.
Irreversible Entanglements – Open the Gates
There are few albums that capture the dystopian angst and unnsettling reality of the world around us, but Irreversible Entanglements provide exactly this, in an album titled Open The Gates that is as vast and explorative as it is inward-looking and introspective. There are some truly spellbinding moments on this album, compositions that make my jaw drop with sheer amazement, and this is not hyperbole. This is an absolutely incredible body of work, and one I think every jazz fan should delve into.