If 2020 was purgatory, 2021 was hellfire. Both personally and universally, 2021 was an absolute mess. Throughout the year, I felt as though I was missing something from music. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to enjoy it. One could call it depression, some may call it “being in a funk.” However you spin it, I was frustrated with myself. Here, with the world at my fingertips, with the help of the supercomputers we’re all so dearly attached to– and yet, no interest in what once was my refuge. So imagine my annoyance when I sat down to write the annual roundup for TGG. No, really, just imagine it. Me, staring at a blank white page on my computer screen, sifting through my library, in an attempt to scrounge for enough to create a list worth writing about. “Impossible,” I thought to myself with Imposter Syndrome pumping through my veins, “Nobody cares and nobody wants to read old news.”
Upon further reflection of the previous year, I’d realized that I had actually enjoyed quite a lot of music this year. Then– faint, like a whisper in a long hallway, a different thought came to me. What if you just wrote about what you want to write about, how you want to write about it? The little devil on my shoulder taunted me. I couldn’t do that, could I?
I could, and I did. Enjoy.
Heaux Tales – Jazmine Sullivan (2021)
At the top of a somewhat chronological list, we have Jazmine Sullivan’s EP, Heaux Tales. Although 2021 ultimately felt like scraping the barrel for music, there were a few exceptional releases. Sullivan’s January release of Heaux Tales presented me with hope for the year to come. As a single woman in her late 20s, it felt like Jazmine was singing directly to me. With anecdotal interludes about relationships and sex, Sullivan and company created an experience similar to a night in with the girls, sipping wine and talking shit.
Favorite tracks & interludes: “Put It Down,” “On It” (with the ever-lovely, ever-real Ari Lennox), “Donna’s Tale”
Come Over – Kowloon (2021)
Up next, we have Los Angeles musician and filmmaker, Kowloon’s Come Over. In addition to the ladies of R&B, Kowloon’s debut album restored my faith in music in 2021. Written, recorded and mixed entirely in Kowloon’s apartment, Come Over is, essentially, a post-apocalyptic love story with hefty amounts of tragedy weaved throughout. Kowloon’s voice– reminiscent of Matt Berninger of The National– exudes a natural melancholy that bodes incredibly well in contrast to the somewhat upbeat, 80s-inspired instrumentation.
Favorite tracks: “Life In Japan,” “Wake Up,” “Paradise”
Skin – Joy Crookes (2021)
British singer-songwriter and TGG favorite, Joy Crookes, released her debut album, Skin, in October. A soul album with jazzy instrumentals (think: brass, wind, bass– all of our favorites, and lots of it), Skin was a breath of fresh air among some questionable releases this year. Crookes’s raspy vocals paired perfectly with timeless lyrics and violins on “To Lose Someone” should be enough for you to consider giving the rest of the album a spin.
Favorite Tracks: “Skin,” “To Lose Someone,” “When You Were Mine”
Vince Staples – Vince Staples (2021)
July was, by far, the best month for music in 2021. With artists like Charlotte Day Wilson, Snoh Aalegra, Isaiah Rashad and many others releasing full length albums, I was almost overwhelmed. Joining my July playlist of “to-listen-tos” was Vince Staples, who released a self-titled EP, produced by Kenny Beats. Clocking in at just over 22 minutes, Vince Staples was easily one of my favorite releases this year. A more mature project, Vince Staples highlights Staples’s best attribute: his ability to interweave humor with somewhat grim lyrical content. Vince Staples is an artist with an abundance of personality; with this EP, we’re privy to just one evolution (of, hopefully, many more) of the spectrum of his character.
Favorite tracks: “The Shining,” “Take Me Home,” “Law of Averages”
Inside Out – Nilüfer Yanya (2021)
London-born singer-songwriter, Nilüfer Yanya, released 7-track EP, Inside Out ahead of her upcoming sophomore album, PAINLESS, in October. Yanya’s unique voice maneuvers itself over airy melodies and ear-catching chord progressions so well that you almost forget about the somber lyrical content. A collection of previously released and unreleased tracks, Inside Out‘s sequencing is what left a lasting impression on me. The steady transition from anger and confusion on “The Florist” to dismal melancholy and fear on “Sliding Doors” presents a full range of emotion to sift through, both sonically and lyrically.
Favorite tracks: “Sliding Doors,” “Thanks 4 Nothing,” “Small Crimes”
Limbo Cherry – LAUREL (2021)
“I was expecting a lot of people who did listen to my old music to maybe say they weren’t liking the new music,” LAUREL shared with Pile Rats earlier this year. “Sometimes people want us to just stay the same, and not change anything.” As a continuation of her 2020 pop rebrand, UK’s LAUREL released her EP, Limbo Cherry in June. The artist made last year’s roundup with the first ideation of her newfound sound, Petrol Bloom. With the four-track collection, Limbo Cherry seems an apt sequel of exploration of sound and artist persona for LAUREL.
Favorite tracks: “You’re the One,” “Wild Side”
The House is Burning – Isaiah Rashad (2021)
The long awaited third studio album from TDE’s Isaiah Rashad presented another glimmer of hope for music in the previous year. This one, I couldn’t wait to spin. With a five-year gap in his discography, it’s guaranteed that Rashad felt the pressure of millions to conceive a project that would be as indelible as 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade. I’d wager he succeeded in those endeavors with The House Is Burning. Rashad enlisted the talents of several others on THIB, including the talented Amindi.
Favorite tracks: “Darkseid,” “HB2U,” “Lay Wit Ya”
A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun – Aly & AJ (2021)
Keeping up with the alt-pop rebrand trend, up next we have Aly & AJ‘s A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun. The duo’s fourth studio album follows 2020’s We Don’t Stop, a project that I also thoroughly enjoyed (“Take Me” was at the top of my “Dance Alone and Drink Wine” playlist– don’t judge me). A Touch of the Beat is a 47-minute drive along the coast, with the wind and groovy basslines intertwining your fingers and tangling your hair. Forgive me, but listening to it makes me wanna leave it all behind.
Favorite tracks: “Slow Dancing,” “Lost Cause”
soft thing – LOONY (2021)
Neo-soul songstress, LOONY released soft thing, an 8-track EP in June. LOONY wears her heart on her sleeve with soft thing. Beautifully narrating the charms of unabashed vulnerability and trust in love with tracks like “raw” and “mine,” soft thing ended up being one of my favorite releases this year.
Favorite tracks: “beg,” “ours”
A Good Night in the Ghetto – Kamaiyah (2016)
This one is just for fun. Although fashionably late to the kickback, coming across Kamaiyah‘s 2016 mixtape was the most enjoyable musical experience I had this summer. When personal problems felt overwhelming, I called on Kamaiyah to remind me to, despite everything, “live every damn day like it’s Friday.” With bangers like “Ain’t Goin Home,” A Good Night in the Ghetto transports us back to a simpler time, when going out was more socially acceptable.
Favorite tracks: “Freaky Freaks,” “Mo Money Mo Problems”
Elephant in the Room – Mick Jenkins
Home Video – Lucy Dacus
the melodic blue – Baby Keem
Not Your Muse – Celeste
Both All the Time – Faye Webster
USEE4YOURSELF – IDK
Alpha – Charlotte Day Wilson
Lionel Boy – Lionel Boy
Lyrics To Go Vol. 2 – Kota The Friend