Underloved Gems

My recommendations for artists that don’t receive the love they should

I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately, and it’s got me thinking about all the artists that never reach the pinnacle of infamy that they deserve. The modern music industry is a mess that is constantly reinventing itself in order to stay relevant. This has translated to millions of artists and albums flooding the internet every day, and resultantly, a lot of really good music can get lost in the hunt for today’s fifteen seconds of fame.

So here’s my list of artists, albums, or songs that you might not know, have heard of, or need a reminder for. Small note, in no way am I implying these artists have not been successful. It’s just a list of personal favourites who aren’t that common in everyday conversations.

Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya

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We start out in my home South Africa with two soul artists who have left an indelible mark on South African music. Both Letta and Caiphus were a big part of my childhood, with some of my fondest memories being of my dad blasting their collaborative live album on road trips. The two artists have great solo albums, and Caiphus Semenya is an astute songwriter, but my favourites still come from the Music in the Air live album.

Favourite Songs: There’s music in the air, Nomalanga, Ziphi’Nkomo

Anita Baker

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Ok, so some of you who are a bit older might be a bit confused by this one. “How could someone not be aware of Anita Baker?!”. But the reality is that unless all parents do the job of informing their children of the every great artist of their generation (which most parents don’t) then the chances of people younger than 30 knowing who Anita Baker is, is subject to either their good taste in music or them being black.

That being said, Anita Baker is one of my favourite vocalists of all time. The way in which she was able to melt her smooth soulful doo-woppy jazz vocals with eighties and nineties R&B is what makes her style so much more special. Definitely need to check her out if you’re the R&B soulful type.

Favourite Songs: Sweet Love, You’re My Everything, Just Because

Barbara Streisand – The Way We Were

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Originally recorded for a film of the same name, this song laments the crisis of human regret and nostalgia. All the shoulda woulda, coulda’s. All the times we wish we could return to. All that nostalgia. All that pain. Streisand brings it all across beautifully in this song, and it really hits my soft spot for lyrical content.

Riz Ortolani – Oh My Love (Feat. Katyna Ranieri)

This song has some popularity as a result of its use in the soundtrack for the 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive, and if you’ve seen the movie you understand why. But this song is much more than its popular film reference. The striking vocals from Katyna Ranieri climb with intensity in this pleading message of belief in a better world. Also, the lyrics in this are incredible, so here they are:

Oh my love look and see
The sun rising from the river
Nature’s miracle once more
Will light the world

But this light is not for those men
Still lost in an old black shadow
Won’t you help me to believe
That they will see a day a brighter day
When all the shadows will fade away
That day I’ll cry, that I believe
That I believe

Oh my love high above us
The sun now embraces nature
And from nature we should learn
That all can start again
As the stars must fade away
To give a bright new day

Bert Joris and the Brussels Philharmonic and Brussels Jazz Orchestra – Alone at Last

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Let’s just stop over at Jazz for a second. I’m not sure of the effect that movies such as La La Land and Whiplash have had on the public reception of jazz, but let’s just assume that people still associate it with boring elevator music. But as is argued in both films, there are just some things that jazz does that no other genre can.

This piece by Bert Joris and the Brussels Jazz and Philharmonic Orchestra always reminds me of the great capacity jazz has for creating music of deep feeling.

Kamasi Washington

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Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is arguably the most critically acclaimed album in the modern era of hip-hop. And this is mostly because Kung-Fu Kenny had a variety of crazy talented artists collaborating on the album. One of these artists was Kamasi Washington, a saxophonist who’s quickly risen up Jazz’s international ladder to stardom.

I listened to his album only after discovering he was pegged to do a collaboration with Flying Lotus and was surprised by how much I enjoyed his soulful approach. I also saw he has recently formed a group with other Lamar contributor Terrace Martin, so I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.

Favourite Songs: Change of the Gaurd, Claire De Lune

Bheki Mseleku- Meera Ma (Divine Mother)

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Ok, last jazz song. For those not in the know, jazz is a really prominent genre in South Africa, and after having attended the Cape Town jazz festival I made it a mission to explore more local acts. This is when I came across pianist Bheki Mseleku. I struggle to find the words to define Mseleku’s music. It’s raw and emotional, and so in touch with what he is trying to get you to feel. It is also, unashamedly African and his talent on the keys is incomparable. It is also worth reading into his life’s story, which makes the emotion in his music make sense.

Kaytranada

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I had heard about this producer after the release of his 2016 album, 99.9%. Given that this album seemed to be getting some critical praise at the time (as well as a lot of love from the hipster corners on the internet) I thought I’d give it a listen. Later I would discover that Kaytranada was part of a larger trend of extremely talented and experimental producers with their influence exuding from most good Hip Hop, R&B and Alternative artists. His solo album is a great listen, and he has a variety of great remixes and features. Definitely worth your time.

Favourite Songs: Glowed Up (Feat. Anderson Paak), Bus Ride, You’re the One (Feat. Syd) 

Isaiah Rashad

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TDE by far boasts the biggest roster of quality rappers and I’m willing to fight anyone who disagrees. The likes of Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q are undoubtedly some of the best hip hop artists of the modern era (extra emphasis around Kendrick) and the more recent addition of Isaiah Rashad is continuing that. Rashad’s flow is crazy on most tracks, and he really has a talent for creating a vibe on every track with his singy rap style. The recent combination of him and Goldlink on tour has me lamenting his lack of international exposure. Here’s hoping that’s different now.

Favourite Songs: Wats Wrong (Feat. Kendrick Lamar), Silkk Da Shocka (Feat. Syd), Titty Dolla

Noname Gypsy

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Finally, an artist that really hasn’t been spoken about as much as she deserves to is Noname Gypsy. Noname has received some level of popularity from her features and combinations with other Chicago rapper Chance The Rapper, and her debut album Telephone was a critical hit. But I cannot praise this woman enough. She is a breath of fresh air, and arguably one of the best lyricists in the game.

Favourite Songs: All I Need (Feat. Xavier Omar), Freedom Interlude, Casket Pretty, Bye Bye Baby, Israel (Chance The Rapper Feat. Noname Gypsy). 

 

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