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>Even though on my last post I spoke about how this years album releases have been lacking. Well three new releases that I wasn’t expecting much from have actually really surprised me (well, two of the three) and make 2010 seem like it might be a nice year in music after all. This is what I’d like to call my Atlanta Special Edition because not only are all of these artists from Atlanta, but they have all collaborated with each other on multiple occasions.

Usher‘s 6th studio album “Raymond v. Raymondwill be released March 30th, and I’m so proud to report that this one is worth the purchase. 2008’s “Here I Stand”, had Usher playing the “devoted husband and father” role and I think the album and it’s promotion suffered because of it. Not a terrible album by any means, but his live performances were severely lacking and his interviews became intolerable with him trying to convince everybody how much in Love with his new wife he was. And than just a few months after that album dropped it was announced that he was getting a divorce. This album starts off by making the point “there are three sides to every story. One side. The Other Side. and The Truth” and the rest of album seems to just point out the different sides and doesn’t really seem to deal with the truth. However that’s not a complaint, because pretty much everything about this album is great. Just on a production level, this is one of his best albums. The various producers ranging from Jim Jonsin to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis offer Usher tracks with so much depth and complexity. Even though the album sticks to what Usher is good at, R&B, there is a good bit of diversity on the album as far as it’s tracks. And even on the Dance/Pop’ish tracks it’s not just the typical and lazy repeated loop of a keyboard sequence, there’s always something new coming up with each minute on each song.
Lyrically it’s also very on point, as I keep listening and noticing clever lines and even some thought provoking ones. The albums BEST (yeah I said it!) track “Mars v. Venus” is a great example, where he uses space travel and astronomy terms to equate with sex and love. “Pro Lover” is another well-written track, you might miss the genius of the lyrics at first because the track is so fun and his vocal delivery is so creative, but listen to the lyrics on the second go round. Throughout the album, like I said before, he shows the different sides of what can make a marriage go south. And I definitely appreciate that he’s not blaming anybody, (well at least not on every track), he accepts his part and also acknowledges how the female in the relationship might feel. It’s a really well-rounded album lyrically.
And Vocally, Usher is on fire on this album. The lead in track “Monstar” almost doesn’t even sound like him, his vocals are way more relaxed and even conversational on this Disco inspired track. And even though “Foolin’ Around” plays like “Burn part Two”, his vocals actually save what might be considered a dated track. The difference from this album from the last album vocally is Usher seems to be a lot more present and determined to let his voice be the star even though he has A+ tracks to sing over. He plays with his voice in so many different ways, and truly shows that he does have some major talent outside of his dance skills.
I can’t wait to see some Live performances from him to show if he’s Really back, but this album is a winner. There’s really not a bad track on the album, and even if certain songs have things lacking, the amazing production lyrics or vocals save it from floundering.

Ludacris released his 7th album “Battle of the Sexeson March 9th. And having been very disappointed in his last two albums I didn’t expect hardly anything from this one. Once a great force in the Hip Hop game, I had counted Ludacris out really. Upon listening to his new album though, I realized what was missing from the last two albums. FUN! Luda was always the rapper with the great skills, but the one that always made you laugh (in a good way) while listening to his rhymes. It seems like on the last two efforts “Release Therapy” and “Theater of the Mind”, he tried to get too serious and forgot what made him a star. So happy he returned to form with this effort because not only does it make for a solid album, but in a lot of ways made me love Hip Hop again. Having said that, the “Battle of the Sexes” theme isn’t very obvious throughout the album except for “B.O.T.S.”, if the idea was to show conflicting sides of this battle, he kind of failed because instead of it being about a Battle it’s more just talking about relationships in general. Even than, “Everybody Drunk” and “Party No Mo” don’t seem to fit at all, even though they are two of the better tracks. “How Low” and “My Chick Bad”, which are the two first singles, are two of his best songs because though they seem misogynistic based on the titles, he actually does celebrate women and doesn’t degrade them as hard as some other rappers even R&B singers (this is something I’ve always loved about Luda actually, he’s very pro-woman and definitely appreciates and celebrates them). He has his required sex songs with what seem to be required guest appearances by Trey Songz and Ne-Yo. (Speaking of, Ne-Yo’s collaboration “Tell me a Secret” is a great song… but the true star is Swizz Beatz for the very subtle but very original and creative drum track) Overall, it’s not his best album by a long shot but it’s a great return to form and just a Fun album.

Monica, on the other hand, has just released her 6th studio album “Still Standingand Fun is definitely not a word you can use to describe this outing. If you can get past her and producer Missy Elliott taking a DUMP on two R&B Classics (“Silly” by Deneice Williams is turned into the awful “Everything to Me” and “Betcha She Don’t Love You” by Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King into “If You Were My Man”), what your left with is a pretty standard contemporary R&B album. With her singing about the standard R&B stuff… Love, Love Loss, Cheating, Breaking Up, etc etc. However I think the biggest problem with this album, and Monica’s entire discography the past 8 years, is that she takes herself a little too seriously. The albums title track proves this, where she paints herself out to be this artist with so much adversity and so much hate, when that’s never been the case. Monica has always been one of the more respected artists in the R&B game, and she’s been wealthy and successful since she was 14 years old. So lyrics like “been through the storm, had dirt on my name” and “Whatever don’t kill you make you stronger, well I must be the world’s strongest woman” don’t make much sense to me knowing her story. And I think this self-imposed importance really makes some tracks that might have been great a little dull. Her contemporary and one time Rival Brandy released an album full of generic Pop songs in 2008, but it was her voice and her energy that brought those songs up. Monica is just lacking something and it’s probably because she thinks she can’t have fun or she won’t be taken seriously. The very last two songs are winners though, the Jermaine Dupri produced ballad “Love All Over Me” and the Stargate produced “Believing In Me” are a lot better than you would think given just the titles, and her voice matches up nicely with the simple productions. Overall, not a very good album, and to be frank Monica hasn’t really progressed much and that’s probably another major problem I have with the album. It can very easily blend into her last two albums “After the Storm” and “The Makings of Me”, and to me that’s not a good thing.