Seven decades. Seven songs.
Featuring the greatest Jersey/Atlanta collab of all time.
1920-50's: "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground" by Blind Willie Johnson (1927)
This song is simply haunting. The wordless feature shows how much gospel and blues borrow from each other, as Johnson quietly ruminates alone with his guitar. The song has struck a chord with many listeners, as the song was included on the 1977 Voyager Golden Record, the vinyl shot into space as a representation of life and culture on Earth.
This song's inclusion on the record is a great representation of the suffering seen on our planet, as morbid as it can get. It's a fascinating listening experience that could only come from a black person in the Jim Crow South.
1960's: "Letter to Hermione" by David Bowie (1969)
This track, from before Bowie became the Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, is one of the most soothing on his sophomore album. Bowie softly strums and sings a lullaby to a girl who's moved on from loving him. The lyrics are somber, but the song flutters along so calmly that you'll have to listen hard to notice.
Bowie is still trying to figure himself out on this record, still sharpening his pen. It's not his best but it's often fun to go back to the beginning of legendary careers and see where some of the all-time greats started off.
1970's: "Arrival" by ABBA (1976)
The Scandinavian pop supergroup took over the world with their fourth album, including some of their biggest hits. The title track of the album isn't a chart-topper like "Dancing Queen", but it was one of the tunes that fully embraced the Swedish background of the group.
Based heavily off of Swedish folk music, the choral track is an overwhelming force. Soaring synth pads match the voices and act as a foil to the lush vocals. The track is an interesting departure from an otherwise pop-oriented album.
1980's: "Please Bring Your Love Back" by Angela Winbush (1989)
Honestly, I just love Angela Winbush's voice. She has a great mid-range, can dip low and kills high notes, and this track proves each facet of her game. With the stellar harmonies throughout the track and the thick background vocals, this is the best of dramatic 80's R&B. However, most don't know how sharp Winbush was in the studio.
She was a top producer and songwriter in her day, writing for Janet Jackson, The Isley Brothers, and Sheena Easton. Winbush produced, wrote, arranged and performed every song on her sophomore album. She poured herself into the music, doing lead and backing vocals as well as keyboard work, synth bass, and drum programming. Female producers have long gone unnoticed and unappreciated, so give Winbush her due as an instrumentalist and a vocalist.
1990's: "Synthesizer" by Outkast (1998)
I love Outkast and I'm a Funkadelic stan so this is an easy choice, but I'll give some context for those who don't know. After ATLiens was deemed weird by many of their peers, Big Boi and Andre 3000 got weirder. They also enlisted the Godfather of weird to help out.
New Jersey's finest, George Clinton of Parliment-Funkadelic fame assisted the Atlanta act with his astral traveling alliteration littered literature, laughing to himself about lapdances on laptops. The Atomic Dog warms us up, but being able to hear Andre rip into a verse right after Clinton is the stuff dreams are made of, and my favorite moment in the track.
Aquemini is the album where Outkast really carved their place into the pantheon of rap All-Stars, and cuts like "Synthesizer" are the reason why.
2000's: "Faith" by Amp Fiddler (2006)
One of J Dilla's earliest mentors, producer extraordinaire Amp Fiddler knew how to craft a perfect R&B track. With a rollercoaster riff, Fiddler tells the story of a relationship going through a rough patch.
Flying around the world performing has been historically hard on couples, so Fiddler gets honest on this track. He knows she thinks that he's out running around on her, so he just begs her to keep the faith. With an incredibly bouncy beat, the song doesn't seem made for a relationship in dire straits, but Amp Fiddler has never been one for following the rules.
2010's: "Day 777" by Dr. Yen Lo (2015)
Dr. Yen Lo is the duo of Brooklyn wordsmith Ka and producer Preservation, and in 2015 the pair released an album loosely based off of the film The Manchurian Candidate. Ka's trademark husky and battered voice flows readily over the sparse production. The experimental beat isn't a head-knocker but instead accentuates Ka's verses, which serve to put rappers on notice.
"Listen, what you pitching son
Got em' sick and dumb
Cease all them jewels in your teeth if you ain't spitting none"
If Ka was tired of mainstream rap in 2015 then I hope he hasn't turned on the radio in 2018, for his sake. Either way, his verses display how seasoned and skilled he's become over a lengthy career. For anyone who might agree with Ka's view of modern rap, the rendition he serves up might be more fitting.