Top 89 of 2018: Purple Current

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The Current's Top 89 of 2018
The Current's Top 89 of 2018: Purple Current (Luke Mills | MPR)

2018 has been a whirlwind for Purple Current. We launched on April 6, and since then, we've been trying to improve our offerings of Prince's music; his influences; and his contemporaries. In addition to that tall order, we've also been trying to celebrate the barrage of new music that fits inside Prince's musical universe. This is a hard judgment call. There're a lot of artists out there copycatting different eras of Prince's work, and that is not what we want to spotlight. We want to celebrate the artists who channel Prince's ethic for constant invention, not necessarily those who simply channel his sonic palette. Thanks in large part to Prince's tireless commitment to break down barriers imposed on black artists by major labels and put more agency in artists' hands, the top 10 list we present here represents many artists who can't be pigeonholed into a genre — and more importantly, don't see the point of fitting in when they sound so good standing out. Read on to discover Purple Current's Top 10 songs of 2018 (and listen to a playlist at the end).

10. The Midnight Hour – "It's You (feat. Raphael Saadiq)"
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have collaborated before, but never with the clarity and passion they show off on the Midnight Hour project. There are a lot of great tracks on the album, but Raphael Saadiq's silky voice on top of the clippy drum performance and spaced-out guitar of "It's You" make a perfect combination of retro textures on a forward-thinking song.

9. astralblak – "Sand Houses"
There's something happening in Minneapolis, and astralblak is at the center of it. The group of seasoned vets are sitting at the center of a hip-hop and R&B scene that has blurred its lines beyond the point of guessing. Most importantly, they are creating collaborative art that features some of the finest MCs, DJs, instrumentalists and producers in the city without ever sounding crowded. There's a lot of cooks in this kitchen, but we're coming back for seconds if they keep making tracks like "Sand Houses."

8. Chaka Khan – "Like Sugar"
Chaka Khan hasn't been particularly prolific in the studio in the past decade, and who could blame her? She has an incredible catalog, and she performs with the stamina and power of artists a third of her age. But the buzz surrounding her new single "Like Sugar" was tangible. Even over this funky dance floor-packing record groove, Khan sounds simultaneously powerful and intimate. Here's hoping the full-length is still on its way!

7. Prince – "17 Days"
It was a no-brainer that a track from Prince's Piano and a Microphone 1983 would have to make this list. Even though this album has been well-known to Prince-o-philes for decades, its remastered official release brought it back into the conversation, and for us, the best track on it is the skeletal version of "17 Days." From Prince's 2-and-4 foot stomping to his ethereal vocalizations seemingly staking out a space for distorted guitar, it is a revelation to hear the man work in real time.

6. Jorja Smith – "February 3rd"
Jorja Smith might prove to be the biggest R&B story of the year that doesn't include Jacquees claiming he's the king of R&B. Over mesmerizing kalimba arpeggios, Jorja Smith delivers one of the most plaintive messages of the year: "Why don't you lose yourself, for me?" The world has already caught on to Jorja Smith, but if you're behind, run down her entire record, because it is filled with powerful moments like the ones on "February 3rd."

5. Blood Orange – "Charcoal Baby"
The guitar is back in a big way in the R&B world, and the perfectly detuned lick that carries this song is emblematic of Dev Hynes's (the sole member of Blood Orange) willingness to go wherever his songs demand. Across all of Negro Swan, Hynes has established himself as a masterful writer and arranger with a gift for translating complicated emotions and messages into crystal clear songs.

4. Leon Bridges – "Bad Bad News"
Stepping back from the retro feel of his first release, Coming Home, Leon Bridges involved more collaborators on his sophomore effort, Good Thing. The track "Bad Bad News" features a hypnotic, loping bass line and some monster Wes Montgomery-style guitar leads. With sounds like this, it's no surprise that a lot of R&B purists have pointed at Leon Bridges as one of the most promising young artists working in the genre.

3. The Internet – "La Di Da"
Like we said earlier, the guitar is back in a big way in the R&B world, and with this first Internet record to fully feature Steve Lacy as a member, the guitar has arrived at the forefront of their sonic palette. One need only look at the Prince glyph on Steve's arm to know that he has done his homework on the various ways Prince worked guitar into his productions. The wah-wah work on "La Di Da" rose to the forefront for us, but this entire album is full of great guitar-centric R&B.

2. Janelle Monáe – "Make Me Feel"
Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer absolutely dominated our musical universe this year. From the rumors of Prince playing on some of the tracks to the confirmation that he was offering his input to Janelle during early production, Prince is in the conversation for this release. But, make no mistake, this is Janelle's record, and it is such a spectacular addition to her catalog. The songs are utterly memorable and sonically audacious, and the imagery surrounding the release has been undeniably iconic. We'd say 2018 is the year of Janelle, except this might end up being her whole decade.

1. Childish Gambino – "This Is America"
It's no secret that hard times call for powerful music, and no one answered that call with the same intensity of Childish Gambino. 2018 will be a hard year to summarize, and we imagine that most descriptions will start with pressing play on the video for Childish Gambino's "This is America." From the optimistic major key singing over the acoustic guitar to the dark, brooding pulse of the verses sitting on top of raw descriptions of the worst our country has to offer, this song is your sonic textbook for 2018.

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The Current Staff's Top 89 of 2018

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