I started writing about music in 2008, as a freelancer for an array of blogs, websites, and indie magazines. As a music journalist I would review albums and live shows, as well as interview artists. I always had a day job but being able to chat with creatives I admire from around the world was a perk and a privilege. To some degree, it was also a 24-hour job. I was constantly reading other blogs and magazines to check for the latest music, researching and pitching stories, and listening to new albums or attending concerts. I have since written articles, features, blogs, and infographics for a variety of businesses and organizations.
Though I rarely write about music these days, thanks to Spotify, I now know my top 10 artists over the last 4 years; a sweet mix of neo soul, French house, rap, funk, electro-RnB, and instrumental hip hop.
So I thought to share. Below are the artists, some well known and others lesser known, but all great in what they do. Favorite albums and tracks included.
1. Erykah Badu – Although the Dallas-based singer’s debut record, 1997’s Baduizm, still gets play with singles like “On & On“ and “Next Lifetime,” as well as her mixtape, 2015’s But You Caint Use My Phone, I would still love to see her in concert a couple more times. I‘ve seen her live twice, years apart... Houston in 2007, and Okinawa in 2000. I did enjoy her appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk last year.
2. FKJ – Vincent Fenton, better known as French Kiwi Juice, is a Paris-based multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer, who I came to know in 2014 through his Take Off EP. Known for live looping with a multitude of instruments in tow, FKJ actually performed in Beijing last summer. I caught his set at Tango Live, a venue about a 20-minute walk from my apartment. And he played a handful of ze greats: “Lying Together,” “Go Back Home,” “Waiting,” “Drops,” and “Tadow.”
3. Jill Scott – R&B singer Jill Scott has been one of my favorite artists since her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1, released in July 2000. Known for sensual lyrics and golden anthems, Scott’s records are rooted in realness. Having seen her 3 times in 3 different cities — Houston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., I still favor singles like “Gettin’ in the Way,” “A Long Walk,” and “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat).”
4. NAO – My love for British soul, funk and acid jazz goes back to Jamiroquai and The Brand New Heavies in the 1990’s. Over the years I have become a fan of numerous Brit soul artists like Jessie Ware, Andreya Triana, Sam Smith, Sinead Harnett, Amy Winehouse, and Rebecca Ferguson, to name a few. Nao is an English singer-songwriter and producer who captured my ears with her 2016 debut, For All We Know. She describes her sound as “wonky funk.” My favorites include “Happy,” “Adore You,” and “DYWM.”
5. SiR – I happened upon SiR Darryl Farris in 2015 while browsing for new music at a record store in Saint Louis, Missouri; his proper debut Seven Sundays was playing on the overhead. Fueled by a soulful, mellow sound, the R&B singer’s whole album is a vibe. “Love You” and “You Ain’t Ready,” a duet with D Smoke (his brother, and Netflix’s Rhythm & Flow winner) are favorites. Also, check out “Ooh Nah Nah” featuring Masego on 2017’s Her Too EP, and “Hair Down” with Kendrick Lamar, on his latest Chasing Summer. #hypnotic
6. Drake – What can I say about Aubrey Drake Graham?? Hit after hit since 2010: “Best I Ever Had,” “Take Care,” “HYFR,” “Started from the Bottom,” “Energy,” “One Dance,” “Hotline Bling,” “Fake Love,” Nice for What,” “In My Feelings.”
7. Onra – I finally got a chance to hear (and meet) Mr. Arnaud Bernard live this year, in Chicago at Lincoln Hall, after discovering him back in 2010, while I was living in Brooklyn, New York. Based in Paris, Onra blends samples from records from around the world, giving them a sometimes exotic, futuristic, funk sound. His 2010 Long Distance LP includes one of my absolute favorite electro-funknsoul joints, “High Hopes,” featuring singer Reggie B. Also, check out Onra’s Deep In The Night EP (2012) and Nobody Has to Know (2018).
8. Kendrick Lamar – I probably didn’t thoroughly listen to the dark and beautifully-complicated To Pimp a Butterfly until I heard “Alright” as the intro track to the first episode of HBO’s Insecure, in late 2016. By that time I had to revisit. Then the Pulitzer Prize winning DAMN. dropped, in April 2017, with the Billboard hit “HUMBLE.“ hitting dancefloors all the way in Beijing. And that solidified my love and respect for Mr. Duckworth.
9. Solange – A Seat at The Table, Solange’s third record released in 2016, giving us the Grammy-winning single “Cranes in the Sky,” amongst “F.U.B.U.” and “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
10. Ohbliv – When I write I usually have music on low volume in the background. Like many, I have different playlists for different moods. I love instrumentals though. That’s how Virginia-based beatmaker Ohbliv eased into rotation with the groovy Tribeka” off 2016’s Baker’s Dozen, and the swanky “Don’t Take My Love for Granted” from 2018’s Retrospective album. But the prolific artist has over 60 releases on Bandcamp.