Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 18

It’s been too long between #19 and #18.  I know this.  I got sidetracked.  I wrote a few pieces for a Prince site.  I wrote about duck hunting with my dad.  I wrote about sports.  Now we’re here at number 18 on a top 19 list that should ideally be done by the end of the decade.  That sounds like a long time, but it’s only three months from now.  Can I write about 18 albums in three months?  Hell yes.  Let’s go!

Lemonade – Beyonce

The year was 1998.  I was driving the Mothership.  For those of you not in the know, the Mothership was a white Ford Festiva.  She was dope.  A new song graced her speakers.  An R&B hit by a girl group with Wyclef rapping a verse.  I was intrigued.  The song was “No, No, No Part 2” and the group was the first iteration of Destiny’s Child.  Long before she was the Queen B, she had my attention.  What followed for the next few years was an impressive string of hits despite a revolving door of group members.

“Say My Name”
“Survivor”
”Independent Women”
”Bug a Boo”
”Bills, Bills, Bills”

My personal favorite, “Jumpin’, Jumpin” will still get the club jumpin’ 20 years later.  All bangers.  Even the one with all of the references to outdated tech.  “You make me wanna throw my pager out the window.  Tell MCI to cut my phone calls.  Have AOL make my email stop.”  Oof.  At least there isn’t a line about getting a Hertz rental car from OJ.  No matter.  It still bangs.  It seemed like there was a new member in the group every month, but the hits kept coming and Beyonce was the constant…actually Kelly Rowland was, too.  Shout out to Kelly.

2003.  B’s debut album Dangerously in Love drops.  “Crazy in Love” is fire, literally and figuratively.  Peak-era Hova rapping in the street in front of a flaming car was the shit.  Beyonce somehow looking sexy as hell while writhing around in front of some industrial fans.  That song was an all-timer.  I don’t know what happened after that, but I kind of lost interest.  I wasn’t feeling the Sasha Fierce album or 4.  For some reason I liked Destiny’s Child Beyonce better than solo.  I like the sound of 90’s R&B better than 2000’s, I guess.  For years Beyonce ruled the pop world and I listened to each new album with waning interest.

Something about Lemonade felt different.  Every new Beyonce album is an event, but Lemonade felt like more.  For the first time in nearly a decade I couldn’t wait to hear her new album.  In fact, as a consumer of pop culture, I felt I was obligated to hear it.  I don’t know how much of the album is autobiographical or how much was written for publicity like so many skeptics surmise.  Honestly, I don’t want to know.  This is what I hear: Beyonce – The queen, icon, drop dead gorgeous, voice of an angel, insanely talented and ambitious, wealthy, adored by millions, never anything but a picture of strength and self-confidence…but not on this album.  From the outside looking in she has everything and she’s invincible.  Here she’s stripped of all of that.  She’s human.  She’s been cheated on and she’s devastated, heartbroken, and angry.  She’s questioning her self-worth and wondering why.  It’s an amazing album made that much greater because it’s coming from someone you wouldn’t expect to be this vulnerable.

If I’m gonna get through 18 more of these by the end of the decade I’d better hurry my ass up.  Let’s get in to the Lemonade awards.

Favorite Song

This one is not difficult for me.  It’s Freedom with Kendrick Lamar.  If you follow the stages of grief on this album this song falls somewhere around acceptance.  This is a different kind of acceptance, though.  In the booklet accompanying the vinyl this song is referred to as hope.  This is Beyonce accepting the fact that she’s a bad motherfucker.  She’s gotten her self-confidence back.  An A+ verse from Kendrick Lamar doesn’t hurt, either.  By the way, click the song title above to watch an amazing performance of the song in a giant kiddie pool at the 2016 BET Awards.

Favorite Lyric

This one wasn’t easy on this album so I’m keeping it simple.  This is from Hold Up.

What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy?
Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy

Who hasn’t been there at some point in their life?  Even if it has nothing to do with being cheated on by a significant other.  Sometimes you’d rather take drastic steps that make you look crazy than be a doormat anymore. I dig that.  Stand up for yourself, B.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

It’s gotta be Love Drought.  Not a slow jam that you’re gonna dance to with your partner, but definitely a chill song.  I had to check the liner notes to make sure this song wasn’t written and produced by Kevin Parker.  This feels like a Tame Impala track with Beyonce’s vocals.  A nice laid back ethereal vibe on this song.

Favorite Hype Song

Since I already gave love to “Freedom” earlier Don’t Hurt Yourself gets the nod here.  It depends on how you’re feeling.  “Freedom” is the song that plays during the training montage in a Rocky movie.  It’s motivational.  “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is raw.  She’s angry and f-bombing all over the place on that track.  I’m not a songwriter, but here’s what I think of when I hear it: When I’m pissed off at work and have to send an e-mail to someone about it I write a really nasty e-mail.  Then I read it and say, “Holy shit, I can’t say that.”  So, I think on it, then write a second draft.  If I’m still salty I’ll send the second draft and probably get myself in a little trouble for it.  If I’ve calmed down I’ll tone it down some more and the third draft is usually more levelheaded and professional.  “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is the first draft.

Favorite Happy Song

Tough category on this album.  Lemonade is many things, but it’s not happy.  That said, All Night Long is the redemption song on the album, and that’s good enough.  There are hints of wariness as B sings about needing time to trust again.  For the most part, though, this song is about how true love conquers all, and what’s happier than that?

Song I’d Play if I Was DJing

Much like the happy song category, there’s not a lot to work with in this category.  Lemonade is also not a party album.  However, any song with a good beat that allows you to chant “middle fingers up” while waving a double bird in the air would get the nod from me at any party that doesn’t involve small children.  Sorry is the obvious party track on this album.

6th Man Award

I know what I want to say but it’s pretty heartless.  Doesn’t JAY Z deserve consideration here.  If he’s the person who could inspire this next level brilliance from the baddest chick in the game, he should get it, right?  Nah.  He doesn’t deserve credit for infidelity.  I’m going with the production team on this album.  That means a whole slew of people including Beyonce, Kevin Garrett, James Blake, Diplo, Ezra Koenig, Jack White, Melo-X, Diana Gordon, and I apologize to anyone who might actually read this who got a production credit on any of the tracks on this album but the list is really long.  There’s a great joke in the criminally underrated movie Popstar when Andy Samberg’s character Conner 4Real says “I used over 100 producers for just 17 tracks to guarantee that they’re all hits.”  There might be 100 producers on Lemonade and every track is brilliant by itself, but when you listen to the entire album the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Somehow with all of those people involved it doesn’t feel disjointed.  That likely has to do with Beyonce being involved in all of it, but the producers deserve credit as well.

No doubt, a lot of writers will have Lemonade higher on their end of decade lists than I do.  It arguably had a larger cultural impact than the other 18 albums on my list.  This album is a beautiful, heartbreaking masterpiece performed by the greatest pop music icon of our day.  But, I still have 17 more in my countdown and a lot of writing to do.

Next up is the first straight hip hop album on the list.  An album that Busta Rhymes called “The best album…from top to bottom in its entirety that I’ve probably [heard] in the last 10 years.”  Who am I to disagree with Busta?

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