Beyonce’s comeback was perhaps the most ubiquitous. Break my Soul was everywhere following it’s release in late July, and Cuff It became even bigger soon after. Renaissance” is packed with dancefloor jams, and the house and disco orientated album was a love letter to club culture that managed to also pay homage to its gay, black and hispanic underground roots. Also infusing afro/trap/jersey and other influences, it’s a superb pop album that Beyonce has barely had to promote conventionally, such is her cultural importance.
House and club culture were also to the fore in some of this year’s other big releases. At the beginning of the year The Weeknd released the accomplished Dawn FM, another solid offering from the Toronto artist whose ascent to the top of the pop world continues year in year out. Disco and house grooves featured prominently here, but like Beyonce, there was a precedent in his career too. There was a far bigger play made of a dance release by Toronto associate Drake, whose Honestly, Nevermind was the first of two album releases he dropped this year.
Drake is always a polarising figure, but despite his cringeworthy nature, there’s no denying his ear for good music. Many will accuse him of co-opting styles that are already prevalent, rather than innovating, and that’s true, but he still delivers the bangers year in year out too. Honestly, Nevermind was again packed with some great house tracks, though it was the more conventional Jimmy Cooks that found more favour with rap fans, and helped shape what was to come. Some of the overall reaction was rooted in a disturbing homophobia, and many rap fans have difficulty recognising that lots of the roots of the genre were linked to disco back in the late 70s and early 80s. The album was uneven nevertheless, and his subsequent effort with 21 Savage, Her Loss, was received much better.
Kendrick Lamar’s Mr Morale & the Big Steppers is definitely one of the best albums of this and any other year but again, some of the reception has been mixed. Kendrick went deeper on this one, his first proper album since Damn, and it’s every bit as important as the classics he dropped before. We are truly privileged to be around at a time when such an iconic artist is at his peek. A great album.
Later in the year, another couple of great artists dropped gems, and much of the last week has been taken up by various music fans adjusting their end of year lists to include both Sza and Little Simz.
Sos by Sza is an eagerly awaited and long overdue follow-up to CTRL that is full of ambition and beautiful music, while No Thank You is another assured album from the excellent Little Simz, who has been very prolific in the last few years.
Steve Lacy released another of the best albums of the year. Led by Bad Habit, which was everywhere in 2022, Gemini Rights propelled the Internet guitarist into the big league, and it’s a wonderful album. In hip-hop and R&B there were many other great albums too, and Pusha T, Nas, Brent Faiyaz, Denzel Curry and Ireland’s very own Sello brought the goods. In Ireland, it was quieter overall on the hip-hop/r&b front regarding albums, but many are building towards 2023.
Pop music was about more than just Beyonce in 2022 and Lizzo, Charli XCX, Rosalia, Bad Bunny, Stromae and FKA Twigs are more artists who impressed me with their album releases. Lots of brave music is being made in this realm at the moment, and the diversity of music and influences and styles is great to see. Good music is good music at the end of the day, we’ve been blessed with some great albums. In afrobeats, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, Rema, Asake, Omah Lay, Rema, Fireboy and others led the way, as the sound became even more global.
Finally, let me pay tribute to Cork’s Dr Fiasco, who sadly died last week. He was a great guy and a great DJ who played hundreds of wonderful parties in Cork over the years, and who was a wonderful radio presenter too. He battled his illness with typical bravery and dignity, and he will be sadly missed by all of us.