Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Urbanite End of Year Awards (The Countdown) - New R&B Artist of the Year

The other week, we gave you The Urbanite's definitive list of the best music and artists of 2011.  With only days away until the end of the year, and after much deliberation and last minute changes, the list has finally been made.  We'll be revealing the winners in the new year, but here is a look at the best new rap artists that just missed the cut and why in the New R&B Artist of the Year award.

5. Aloe Blacc

If you have not yet heard of the name, then you will definitely have heard his song that has appeared on multiple TV shows, adverts and, constantly, on the radio.  The song had, in fact, been released in 2010 as part of his Good Things album.  It was only, however, when the track appeared as the opening song of the hit TV series How To Make It In America that Aloe's stock began to rise.

And that is because, as a song, I Need A Dollar defines our generation.  It is a song of austerity, poverty, of boom and bust.  It has become an anthem for the downhearted - an ode to the difficult times we now live in.  Based on the success of this song, and it's message, Aloe has appeared in numerous festivals, including Glastonbury.

The song itself has a personal story to it.  Aloe was made redundant a couple of years before the song was made and used that experience, and the financial difficulties he faced at the time, as the foundation for the song.  Lucky for him, then, that a lot of people have now been put in a similar position and can resonate with his vibe.

4. Ed Sheeran

The thing that is remarkable about Ed Sheeran is his ability to appeal to so many different people at the same time. The little girls love him because of his sweet voice and boyish charm.  The hoodrats love him because he gets constant props from grime artists and urban singers alike.  And the indie crowd love him because he is, in more ways than one, a throwback to the hippy 70's where folky songs were the talk of the town.  With his acoustic guitar and ginger hair, Sheeran is fast becoming a recognizable star and rightly so.

He is part of the new breed of singer/songwriters that are pushing UK music forward.  The most amazing thing is that, most of the time, his songs are about utterly mundane topics; listening to your ipod on the bus back home, breaking up with your girlfriend at university - it is all hardly groundbreaking stuff, but the way in which he has done this has won him many fans.

The way he is marketed is also brilliant.  Whether by bringing out a new mixtape promoted exclusively through twitter, or by holding a free gig to fans just for the sake of it, Sheeran has a way of endearing himself to the public - all of which will help him reinvent himself and stay relevant/popular.

You can't say he has not deserved his success this year.  He is a known work-aholic, famously playing over 600 gigs and releasing five EP's in the space of three years.  He does run the risk, however, of being overexposed (something which would be musical suicide in the indie/urban scene that he is trying to fill).  Advice to Sheeran would be to take a step back in 2012, and refrain from releasing too much music.  I have a feeling, however, that he will not take this type of advice on board.

3.  Jessie J

There is little to say about Jessie J that has not been said before.  Yes, she has written songs for Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus.  Yes, she went to the famous Brit School that also spawned Amy Winehouse, Adele and Leona Lewis.  And yes, Do It Like A Dude was originally written for Rihanna but sounded so good Jessie had to take it for herself.

Despite hearing these repetitive stories all year round, Jessie J's status continued to grow throughout the year, in part to the strength of her debut album.  Although it was a rushed effort, released in early 2011 in order to maximise the success of her first two singles, the album was still a very mature effort that showcased her vocal and written skills.

She has also begun to make inroads into the States and follow in the footsteps of her fellow Brit School alumni Leona and Adele.  Price Tags made it to number 23 on the Billboard 100 and she made her first US television appearance on Saturday Night Live in September.  Her album also made it to number 11 in the US charts, which is no mean feat.

It will be interesting to see where Jessie J goes next from here, but on the basis of the success of her first, rushed album, her attempt at being the next Adele is not too far off.

2. Frank Ocean

Put simply, Frank Ocean is one of the reasons why music was so good this year.  The Odd Future member has had a great, tumultuous year - he went from having to leak his own album in order to remind his record label of his existence to being hailed as the future of R&B and 'one to watch' by the BBC.  He was bought in by friend Kanye to sing on the classic 'Watch The Throne' album and he also co-wrote one of the best songs on Beyonce's album, I Miss You. Finally, his work with Odd Future created the fantastic She, with Tyler the Creator, and his association with the crew has opened his music up to more and more fans around the world.

And to think, it could have all been different with Christopher Francis Ocean.  Nostalgia Ultra is the R&B mixtape of the year (which is some feat when one considers that The Weeknd released three amazing mixtapes in 2011), but it was very close to not being released.  When it was released, however, his stories of broken marriages, suicide, absent fathers and drug-taking received critical acclaim in both the US and the UK.  Each track on the album has a message or meaning, and the brilliant videos (especially for Swim Good) complimented the man as an artist.

It is no surprise that shortly after the album was leaked, Ocean was in the studio with Kanye and Beyonce.  Some of the post-Nostalgia songs that have been released are also of immense quality.  Thinking About You is a short piece of musical genius, testing the limits of Ocean's voice.  Best Seller, on the other hand, is an upbeat number that showcases his fun side.  And lastly, on U Got It, he composes a mainstream, radio friendly song that could easily be played on Radio 1 or Capital.

Which all means that this is the year that Frank Ocean finally goes mainstream.  Having been one of the first to champion him, and attended his historic performance in London, The Urbanite cannot wait to see what he produces in 2012.

See all nominations here.  Winners will be announced shortly.

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