We may live in a singles-driven, pick-what-songs-you-want-from-the-menu world now, but there's nothing like buying an album and letting it play straight through. No skips. No pressing stop to listen to something else. Just letting it ride out and getting lost in the groove. That's the sign of a good album, and 2011 had its fair share. That's why narrowing down all of the albums that we had in heavy rotation at SBHQ was quite a task, but we whittled our collective favorites down to a Hot 16 to present SoulBounce's Best Albums of 2011. We started out the year anticipating many of them, but a few snuck in to surprise us with just how undeniably great they were. We have high expectations for another banner year for progressive urban music ahead, but not before looking back on the exceptional year that was and our Hot 16 plus a long list of albums that deserve honorable mentions. Be sure to come back tomorrow to find out which one of these albums will receive our Album of the Year nod during our annual SoulBounce Honors.
Adele 21 [Review][Buy]
I almost feel bad for any other artist who released an album in 2011 because this was Adele's year and 21 was the album that had a stranglehold on everyone's attention. Somehow we could all feel or at least relate to Adele's pain of a relationship gone wrong. Between her heartfelt delivery, gut-wrenching lyrics, and that undeniable voice, 21 rightfully dominated the album and singles' charts with the ubiquitous "Rolling in the Deep" (which has to be the most covered song this year, if not ever). -- Butta
Bounce to: "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone Like You," "He Won't Go"
Betty Wright and The Roots The Movie [Buy]
After their too-reverential collaboration with Al Green on 2008's Lay It Down, there was a tangible risk that The Roots would create an album full of "Tonight Is The Night" and "Clean Up Woman" rehashes -- in other words, completely negate their entire purpose on the project. Thankfully, they acquit themselves quite well on The Movie, guiding Betty Wright towards a sound that's decidedly modern (or at least, modern-retro), while remaining true to the essence of Betty Wright. Thankfully, she leaves the rapping to guests Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. Well, mostly. -- Remi
Bounce to: "Go! (Live)," "Old Songs," "Real Woman" feat. Snoop Dogg
Debórah Bond Madam Palindrome [Buy]
With a seven-year hiatus behind her, Debórah Bond and her band/production team Third Logic had a mountain to climb with the release of her sophomore set, Madam Palindrome. Thankfully Debórah and the guys managed to recapture the eclectic magic found on her debut DayAfter, resulting in a classy, sophisticated set of soul songs that should satisfy the DeBo stans as well as gaining her a whole new set of fans. -- SoulUK
Bounce to: "Perfect," "If I Didn't Need You" feat. Lewis Taylor, "5:35"
Jill Scott The Light of the Sun [Review][Buy]
After the uneven The Real Thing - Words and Sounds, Vol. 3, Jill Scott took the time to rebuild, reveling in new motherhood. And it shows -- from the sublimely sunny "Blessed" to the cinematically forlorn "Hear My Call," The Light of the Sun (her first to top the Billboard 200) sees Scott more confident, focused, and decidedly sexier than ever. Sure, it's less emotionally raw than the third (and ostensibly final) Words and Sounds offering, but its composure and self-assuredness is all the more satisfying when you know where she's been. -- Remi
Bounce to: "So Gone (What My Mind Says)," "So In Love" feat. Anthony Hamilton, "Le Boom Vent Suite," "Rolling Hills"
Kendrick Lamar Section.80 [Buy]
Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar is the man The Throne should be watching. He brings conscience, edgy, left-coast rap to the forefront in his skillfully executed album Section.80, an astute musical assessment of the internal hopes and challenges of '80's babies. The project, which tapped into talent from up-and-coming artists such as KING, J. Cole, and Terrace Martin, is one of a few rap albums of 2011 that confirmed that hip hop is indeed still alive. -- NubianEmpress
Bounce to: "A.D.H.D.," "Poe Man's Dreams (His Vice)," "Rigamortus"
KING The Story [Buy]
For a three-track EP, KING's introduction to the world sure packed a wallop of a punch. From the first moment that they appeared out of thin air less than two months into 2011, the trio of lovely ladies -- sisters Paris and Amber Strother and pal Anita Bias -- seemed to turn the digital world upside down, before righting it again. Industry folk like Questlove, Phonte, and Erykah Badu were among the first to sing their praises and before long, they found themselves opening up for none other than his Royal Highness, Prince. All on the strength of these three simple songs. Not sure you can get any more bad ass than that. -- Ivory
Bounce to: "The Story," "Supernatural," "Hey"
Lalah Hathaway Where It All Begins [Review][Buy]
Where It All Begins may not have been what some Lalah Hathaway fans expected, but it was everything that we all needed. It showed Lalah branching out yet still staying true to her signature sound and leaving lesser singers in the dust. The album featured more uptempo songs than on her last few records, allowing Lalah to let her hair down and kick up her heels. And when it's time for those heels to come off, Ms. Hathaway slows the tempo down as only she can on cuts like "This Could Be Love" and her update of "I'm Coming Back," 21 years after its appearance on her debut album. -- Butta
Bounce to: "Small Of My Back," "This Could Be Love," "Lie To Me," "You Were Meant For Me," "I'm Coming Back" feat. Rachelle Ferrell
Les Nubians Nü Revolution [Review][Buy]
In the six years since their last album, the sisters Faussart found their inner party girls. The duo have never been known for the danceability of their music, but Nü Revolution is replete with some seriously infectious uptempos. To be sure, this release is still primarily made of the midtempo cuts they've become known for over the years. But in 2011, they seemingly have no time for filler, offering an album that's near wall-to-wall perfection. If I had a franc for every album I could describe that way... -- Remi
Bounce to: "Deja Vous" feat. Eric Roberson, "Nu Soul Makossa" feat. Manu Dibango, "Nü Revolution," "Vogue Navire"
Little Dragon Ritual Union [Review][Buy]
While their previous albums Little Dragon and Machine Dreams garnered them some critical attention, this year's Ritual Union seems to have put Sweden's Little Dragon on the map. Picking up on themes presented in their first two outings, it takes their R&B, pop, and electronic influences and pushes those boundaries further than they ever have. Yes, it's not entirely accessible to the masses, but that's kind of the point. This album presents some of LD's funkiest grooves and trippiest sounds in an effort to mine music's past in order to build the foundation for the sound of the future. -- D-Money
Bounce to: "Ritual Union," "Little Man," "Brush The Heat," "Shuffle A Dream," "Precious," "Seconds"
Mark de Clive-Lowe Renegades [Review][Buy]
Although he regularly hits fans off with free music via his blog, Mark de Clive-Lowe saved his best musical goodies for Renegades. Filled to the brim with worldly sounds and just plain ol' good music, the L.A.-transplant continued to show his versatility and range in the studio. He could be directing listeners to the dance floor one minute, like on "Get Started," or submerging them ear-deep into a jazzy jam session on "Interlude II" the next. And with an international supporting cast featuring the likes of Omar, Sheila E., Nia Andrews, Bembe Segue, Pino Palladino and more on deck, there's just no way that anybody could lose. -- Ivory
Bounce to: "The Why" feat. Nia Andrews, "Renegades" feat. Nia Andrews, "Get Started" feat. Omar & Sheila E.
Phonte Charity Starts At Home [Review][Buy]
I admit that while I was excited to see what Phonte would serve us on this solo album I wasn't quite sure what to expect; I just knew it would be something worthwhile. There are some artists who even if you have no idea how you will respond to their work you know it will be quality, because they consistently give the best of themselves. From first listen, Charity Starts At Home is one of those albums that requires a second, third, and fourth listen just to allow you to soak in the ridiculously rich lyrical content. Ever the honest emcee unafraid to speak his mind and in some cases share a bit of his heart, Phonte showed us exactly who is on this album and it did not disappoint. -- Peachy Kween
Bounce to: "Ball and Chain," "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" feat. Carlita Durand, "The Life of Kings" feat. Evidence and Big K.R.I.T
Proh Mic Rhythm For Days [Buy]
Proh Mic managed to craft one of 2011's best under-the-radar releases. Equal parts soul, funk, and hip hop, Rhythm For Days had something for everybody's musical tastes. Whether he was getting down and dirty with his former Hawthorne Headhunters co-hort Coultrain on "Turn It Over" or getting in touch with his sentimental side on "Sweetest Pain," Proh showed that he is one of music's most versatile producers out today. Even when he's trying his hand at reworking classics such as Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music" ("Don't Stop") and Nu Shooz's "Can't Wait" ("I Can't Weight"), he somehow masters the art of taking you on a walk down memory lane and blasting you to the future at the same time. A delicate line to straddle, but in this Seattle native's nimble hands, the task seems like a piece of cake. -- Ivory
Bounce to: "Turn It Over" feat. Coultrain, "Joy Ode to Trees" feat. Jimetta Rose, "Sweetest Pain"
Rahsaan Patterson bleuphoria [Review][Buy]
While many artists formerly tagged as "neo soul" continue to tread the same old tired path, Rahsaan Patterson has shown over his last couple of releases that changing it up a little can be a good thing. With bleuphoria he stepped even further to the left and, while some thought it was a little too far, we here at SoulBounce were more than happy to follow. -- SoulUK
Bounce to: "Ghost," "Crazy (Baby)," "6 AM"
The Foreign Exchange Dear Friends: An Evening with The Foreign Exchange [Review][Buy]
After releasing three amazing, and very different albums, it was only right that SoulBounce fam The Foreign Exchange capitalized on their amazing live shows and released a live album/DVD combo. The laid-back acoustic vibe gave fans who have seen them live a lil' something different while at the same time giving those yet to have the pleasure a glimpse of the group's genius. -- SoulUK
Bounce to: "Take Of The Blues," "House Of Cards," "Daykeeper," "All the Kisses" feat. Amber and Paris Strother
The Roots undun [Buy]
The past year saw The Roots further cement their status as the hardest working band in show business. While still retaining their day job as Jimmy Fallon's house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, they managed to tour worldwide and release two albums, The Movie with soul legend Betty Wright, and their own concept album undun. Telling the story of the tragic life of protagonist Redford Stephens backwards, it was a bold move from the crew that doesn't seem like it should work, but it just does, from their choices in collaborators to choosing to let the last album tracks be orchestral movements. undun just shows that, even after almost 25 years in existence, The Roots still have some new things to show us. -- D-Money
Bounce to: "One Time" feat. Phonte and Dice Raw, "Stomp" feat. Greg Porn, "Lighthouse" feat. Dice Raw, "Make My" featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Dice Raw
Zo! ...just visiting three [Download]
Zo!'s ...just visiting series has established itself as one of the most exciting to come along in recent memory. The producer/multi-instrumentalist just has the knack for picking the right songs and pairing them up with the right artists to create magic. ...just visiting three was no different from previous efforts in that regard, but the third time was definitely the charm and the best EP yet thanks to stellar performances from Sy Smith, Nicholas Ryan Gant, Jeanne Jolly, Eric Roberson, Anthony David, and his partner in TFE crime, Phonte. -- Butta
Bounce to: "Black Cow" feat. Sy Smith and Phonte, "Marzipan" feat. Eric Roberson and Phonte, "Everything She Wants" feat. Phonte, "Playing Your Game Baby" feat. Anthony David
Allen Stone Allen Stone
Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Anthony David As Above So Below
Applejac Applejac Presents: Playin' Favorites
Ben Westbeech There's More To Life Than This
Beverley Knight Soul UK
Big K.R.I.T. ReturnOf4Eva
Boom Clap Bachelors Mellem Dine Læber
Bucie Princess of House
Common The Dreamer/The Believer
Daley Those Who Wait
Dego A Wha' Him Deh Pon?
DJ Jazzy Jeff & Ayah Back For More
Eric Roberson Mister Nice Guy
Frank Ocean nostalgia, ULTRA
Gloria Estefan Miss Little Havana
Goapele Break of Dawn
Hollie Smith & Mara TK Band of Brothers Vol. 1
iSHE & Hezekiah iSHE + Hezekiah Project
J*DaVeY New Designer Drug
Jamie Woon Mirrorwriting
Jill Scott Hidden Beach presents The Original Jill Scott From The Vault Vol 1.
Kelly Price Kelly
Kindred the Family Soul Love Has No Recession
Ledisi Pieces Of Me
Lenny Kravitz Black and White America
Maimouna Youssef The Blooming
Marsha Ambrosius Late Nights, Early Mornings
Mary J. Blige My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act 1)
Maysa Motions of Love
Miguel Migs Outside the Skyline
Reel People Reel People Presents Golden Lady
Soulpersona The Lapdancer
Thundercat The Golden Age of the Apocalypse
Van Hunt What Were You Hoping For?