Kendrick Lamar drops number #1 album, To Pimp A Butterfly.
Considered a genre bending, crown achievement for hip-hop music, Kendrick's 2015 album opened the doors for the possibility of the rebirth of classic hip hop albums filled with conceptually intricate songs, knocking beats, voracious rhymes and virtuosic performances by incredible musicians. With a formula 1/3 G- Funk and Funkadelic , 1/3 Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron and 1/3 NWA and Nas, Kendrick's dynamic presence in the marketplace thrilled Grammy voters to the tune of 11 Grammy nominations including Best Album. His album not only titillated and inspired his fans while challenging also them to love themselves on the song "I", the words for another also became an anthem for youthful protest in America as the chant "We Gon' Be Alright" was used often as the battle cry for civil and human rights. Kendrick's "Alright" was the first protest chant or song to be used nationwide since 'We Shall Overcome', essentially celebrating the birth of a new era of youth voiced protest songs. For me personally, the song 'The Blacker The Berry' had some of the best lyrics I have ever heard on any hip-hop recording. Comparing the beefs between Zulu and Zhosa tribes to the Crips and Pirus in the third verse once and for all proved to me that Kendrick was even blacker than both the names Tyrone and Darius.
Brittany Howard and The Alabama Shakes, Sound And Color
An African-American woman releases a #1 rock album that is celebrated by the press, her musical peers and the people. It goes on to receive national news coverage and acclaim, hit singles and commercial spots and then completes the rounds with an Album Of The Year nomination from the Grammy board. Brittany singing "Gimme All Your Love" was undoubtedly something to write home about, making us feel like Screamin' Jay Hawkins was going to hop out of her guitar or wonder if Nina Simone had a newly discovered album with P-Funk. She then followed up with another surprise album called "Thunderbitch" which was a nice touch to round out her stellar year.
F. Gary Gray, Straight Out Of Compton
The long awaited and highly anticipated film about the legend of NWA not only was a summer blockbuster holding the #1 chart position for weeks, it also later became the highest grossing film by an African-American director of all time for F. Gary Gray and a legitimate Oscar contender. Highly respected and appreciated by both fans and critics Straight Out Of Compton proved that if promoted and presented properly films about urban culture and hip-hop legends could perform dynamically in sales both domestically and globally.
Dr. Dre, Compton Soundtrack
After 16 years of patience and hope for a Dr. Dre album, we finally received the Compton soundtrack, a furious blend of modern and old school hip hop featuring the next wave of talent from Aftermath Records. Solidifying the positions of Jon Connor, King Mez and newcomers Justus and Anderson Paak, Compton left Detox rumors behind forever and replaced them with the possibility of more Dr. Dre music in the future with a new generation of hungry, super talented Aftermath artists pursuing hip-hop world supremacy. Dr. Dre once again incredibly earns the Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album after a 16-year hiatus.
D'angelo, The Black Messiah
As well as waiting for Dr. Dre to release an album, many others dreamily and wishfully spoke of waiting by their speakers for 14 years for D'angelo to drop a new body of work. I personally was left hoping and waiting for more, watching the years go by while treasuring the Voodoo album as the crown achievement of modern R&B. Not to be let down, D'Angelo returned where he left off, putting out a collection of soulful vibe music evoking the ghost of Funkadelic's Cosmic Slop that will be appreciated for many years to come, garnering him a Grammy nomination for Record Of The Year for "Really Love." Thanks, D!!!
Queen Latifah, Bessie
Queen Latifah totally dominates the screen with her performance as the great blues singer Bessie Smith. Latifah and Monique left no stone unturned as they growled, rattled, shimmied, shook, and thrilled the television audience to an Outstanding Television Movie win at the Emmys.
Ryan Coogler, Creed
Coogler returns to directing after his stellar work on Fruitvale Station with the dauntingly and almost insurmountable task of rebooting the Rocky franchise after six previous outings. Ryan goes to his star, Michael B. Jordan and they explode with a Rocky film that yields comparisons in impact to the Oscar winning original, metaphorically seizing the Rocky based opportunity of the underdog taking on a mighty champion and going the distance. "Yo Ryan, We Did IT!" (in Rocky voice)
Michael B. Jordan
Although Marvel has blessed us with flying entities of color like the Hulk and The Vision, Michael B. Jordan's Human Torch becomes the first African-American man in the Marvel movie franchise to fly the friendly skies without the addition of artificial power or machinery. This was unusually ironic as the first African-American guy the world saw fly also happened to be named Michael Jordan.
When I was a kid, Stephanie Mills was a member of my church, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn. My whole family was front and center to see her perform the Wiz on Broadway. When Diana Ross and Michael Jackson teamed up for the movie version we were front and center again, so logically I was front and center to see it's latest presentation and was inspired and entertained by its newest incarnation. I was not alone as 11.5 million viewers tuned in to see this African -American musical, written by African-American writers and performed by African-American actors and singers. We must also take in to account that the original Wiz was written at a time where nothing of this scope had ever been done before. Let's do it again next year!! (doesn't the Cowardly Lion remind you of George Clinton?)
Ava Duvernay, Common, John Legend and Selma
Ava Duvernay attends the Oscar Awards as the first African-American female director to ever be nominated for a Best Picture award. To put an emphatic stamp on the evening, Common and John Legend win the Oscar for best song. Special shout out to Ava for finishing up the year 2015 strong with her own self-styled Barbie doll selling in huge numbers.
Lee Daniels, Empire season 1 ends and season 2 begins
After putting Oscar awards in the hands of Monique and Halle Berry with his production and direction, Lee Daniels enters the television market with new, undiscovered talent led by two theatrical Thespians in Terrance Howard and Taraji Henson and produces the highest rated broadcast drama in television in five years, enshrining the name Empire to be spoken in the same breath of shows like Dynasty and Dallas. Empire ends a seasons and begins a new one with approximately 18-20 million weekly viewers balanced on its shoulders.
Speaking of huge numbers, the honorable mention Achievement Of The Year of award goes to underground hero James Wright Chanel, who after out "OnMyOwning" Patti Labelle on YouTube while opening and tasting her pies, inspires the people to go out and buy $2.5 million dollars worth of Patti's sweet potato pie over the weekend, making him a instant celebrity and household name and proving that commercial advertisers are possibly not capitalizing on the potential spokespersons, singers and artists who could best sell their products.
Other Honorable African-American mentions:
Adele, a UK singer who achieved monumental and global success singing Rolling In the Deep, a song deeply rooted in the tradition of Black Negro Spirituals, Slavery field chants and Motown classics, returns with a Lionel Ritchie reminiscent smash hit that revitalizes the sales of the music industry. Hopefully, more artists will get an opportunity to soulfully sing their hearts out on songs and get played on the radio and supported by the masses in 2016. Shout out to Anthony Hamilton who has a big one coming.
Person Of the Year In The Arts Award goes to Akon, a guy born in Missouri and raised in Senegal (making him as African-American as one could possibly be)who gets the highest respect and acknowledgment for travelling around the African continent working to light the homes of 600 million people with solar electricity. His vision and mission is beyond a crown achievement and offers some dynamic hopes for the future. More power to Akon, as the biggest waste on the planet is the loss of human potential. There could possibly be 100 Einstein's and Teslas just waiting for their opportunity to learn and show off their genius to the world. With their lights now on maybe they will be able to assist in lighting the future of humanity.
Alicia Keys... raises $25,000,000 at her annual Black Ball for AIDS research. Who does that???
Cross culture special notice goes to--
Hamilton the Musical
Rooted in a true love and passion for hip-hop music, Boricua's own Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton debuts on Broadway and takes the nation by storm while telling a political story of early American history performed to Miranda's libretto inspired by the rhyme cadences of Jay Z, Eminem, Beyonce and Big Pun. Kudos to the cast and for The Roots collaboration that produced a #1 hip-hop album and highest charting Broadway cast album in charted history. Broadway officially loves hip-hop.
Drake Vs. Meek Mills returned the world to the art of the rap battle on wax as Canada took on Philly with no violence and no shootings... just good old fashioned my song against your song, my rhymes against your rhymes.... or in this case, Twitter fingers versus actual songs and rhymes.
...and to finish with a bit of shameless promotion...I'm counting on all of you guys to back me when I join forces with Dr. Dre this year to release a Contemporary Classical album featuring some of the best beat makers and orchestral arrangers in American History.
If you have any additions or anything I missed please leave them in the comments.
Mark Batson is a multi-platinum award winning producer, musician and songwriter for Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews Band, Seal, Dr. Dre and Eminem. He is an alumnus of Howard University and also former pianist for The Smithsonian Institution's African American Culture Department.