NEW YORK — The top 10 albums of the year by Associated Press Music Editor Mesfin Fekadu:
1. Ari Lennox, “Shea Butter Baby”: A message to the Grammy Awards, in the words of pop music philosopher Mariah Carey: “Them chickens is ash and I’m lotion.” Them is the Grammys, and the lotion is Ari Lennox’s “Shea Butter Baby,” a product that’s clearly too expensive for the super-dry Recording Academy. A nomination — or eight — isn’t necessary for any real music fan to realize how outstanding, soulful and poignant Lennox’s debut album is. Every song on the 12-track set is a winner, with Lennox’s voice and tone changing throughout the album, showing her skill, versatility and power. “Shea Butter Baby” feels as good as soaking in a warm bath, with the right candle — scent not too strong, but not too weak — illuminating in the background. It’s hard not to play “BMO,” which echoes Erykah Badu, less than 20 times a day; the title track with J. Cole is classic-sounding; and “Static” beautifully closes the album. Lennox’s “Shea Butter Baby” is the best album of the year, no matter if awards shows think differently, including you, the Soul Train Music Awards.
2. Summer Walker, “Over It”: Summer Walker’s debut album is perfect, as she spits matter-of-fact lyrics over some beats that borrow from classic ‘90s R&B hits including Usher, Destiny’s Child and 702. But even when she’s not sampling a song, Walker can hold her own, delivering a flawless album that’s easy to obsess over.
3. Anitta, “Kisses”: This Brazilian singer’s first trilingual album — featuring songs in Portuguese, Spanish and English — is adventurous, from its drop-it-like-it’s-hot opening number “Atención” to the sweet sound of the closing track, “Você Mentiu,” which would make you want to slow dance with your lover. In between are tunes that range from reggaeton trap (“Banana”) to groovy R&B (“Poquito”) to addictive pop (“Get to Know Me”). And while the album is jam-packed with all-star male guests, including Snoop Dogg, Caetano Veloso, Swae Lee, Alesso, Prince Royce, Chris Marshall and more — leading lady Anitta is the true star of the show. You Anitta more Anitta in your life.
4. Buku Abi, “Don’t Call Me”: Buku Abi’s debut EP is a R&B masterpiece, as the singer explores life as a 21-year-old woman navigating in the world of love, dating, sexual freedom, situationships and more over beats produced by her sister Jaah Kelly. Her album echoes SZA and other women brilliantly leading the pack in alternative R&B, and its proof that there’s more to come from the daughter of embattled singer R. Kelly.
5. Rapsody, “Eve”: 2019 was a great year for female rap, as Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Kash Doll, Saweetie and more reached new heights at a time that vets in the game like Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Trina and Yo-Yo put out new music. And then there’s Rapsody. Her epic “Eve” album not only is the best female rap album of the year, it’s simply the best rap album of the year. Her smart and skilled rhymes flow throughout the well-produced album, as each song is named after an iconic woman, from Nina Simone to Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. After this album, someone needs to make a song called “Rapsody.”
6. Yola, “Walking Through Fire”: Yola’s immense voice is so strong and soothing that it can’t do anything but put a smile in your face. Paired with production from Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, this English singer is a powerhouse on her country-soul debut, “Walking Through Fire.” And that’s just it — the album is pure fire.
7. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”: It’s probably not possible for Ariana Grande to make a bad album. All of her records, including her fifth release, “Thank U, Next,” are a perfect blend of radio-ready pop and R&B, and the songs are anchored by Grande’s booming voice and relatable lyrics. Thank you, Ariana, but when’s that next album coming out?
8. Khalid, “Free Spirit”: Select any song on Khalid’s sophomore album and you’ll hear a hit.
9. Pink Sweat$, “Volume 2”: The Philadelphia-born musician, who has crafted songs for country duo Florida Georgia Line and rapper-singer Tierra Whack, is delightful on “Volume 2,” a set of acoustic, guitar-friendly R&B tracks that must be replayed over and over again.
10. James Blake, “Assume Form”: After years of being the go-to-guy for help on your album, with big-names like Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott requesting his services, James Blake calls in the favour on “Assume Form,” and it was a smart move. Blake was already an amazing musician before this album, but opening his studio door to hip-hop producer Metro Boomin, co-producer Dominic Maker and engineer Nathan Boddy only maximized his downbeat electronic sound, with songs like “Mile High,” “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” “Barefoot In the Park” with Rosalía and “Into the Red” sounding both contemporary and classic.