2006 was a really good year.
In the realm of R&B and hip-hop, I’m talking really, REALLY good.
While we’ve had memorable albums, groundbreaking songs, unforgettable anthems and a batch of new stars in the years that followed, I can’t think of a year since 2006 that treated us to such great, diverse music across the board.
There have been good years for rap. And there have been strong years for R&B. But in 2006, we had it all.
Let’s look back at the albums, songs and artists that made 2006 a year we still haven’t matched.
Longtime Soul In Stereo fans know that I’ve been doing this album review thing since 2008, and over the course of nine years I’ve only give ONE album the elusive 5-star ranking.
Well, in 2006, we were treated to THREE 5-star albums in one calendar year.
Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds went on to reshape R&B for the next decade – for better or worse. Alongside Timbaland, JT created a marriage of soul and electronic pop that revolutionized music’s landscape. Of course, that sound led way to electronic sound that has since LONG worn out its welcome, but in 2006 it was a fresh and exciting innovation. There hasn’t been a more complete blend of pop and R&B since.
Food & Liquor should have been Lupe Fiasco’s Reasonable Doubt – a critically-acclaimed bedrock that would vault its maestro to mainstream success. Things didn’t quite work out that way for Lupe, but in ’06, he seemed on the verge of hip-hop domination. Much in the vein of albums before it (Kanye West’s College Dropout comes to mind) and many albums after it (Kendrick Lamar’s Section 80, among others), Lupe doesn’t pretend to be who he’s not. Instead of thug posturing, he simply observes his hood and relays his findings in the form of biting social commentary. Immigration, single parenthood and hip-hop’s own hypocrites are analyzed in compelling fashion. It’s the best rap release of 2006.
Hell Hath No Fury was born from frustration. After Clipse’s head-turning debut, constant shakeups at their record label Jive put their sophomore project on the back burner. Their frustration – and anger – eventually created Hell Hath No Fury, the greatest “coke rap” album ever recorded. The album also coincided with the peak of The Neptunes’ production, making HHNF a sonic masterpiece just from the beats alone. But it’s the album’s realistic depiction of street life – the quest for wealth and the regret and paranoia that follows – that makes this one an all-time great.
The Game Changers
2006 gave us albums that not only changed the course of the genre, but also the careers of the artists who released them. Fishscale proved that Ghostface Killah was still Wu-Tang’s MVP a decade after his solo debut. Beyonce’s ascent to the throne may have started with her 2003 debut but she really gained her foothold with B’Day – and while it shows its age in some spots, it’s still Bey’s most consistent effort to date. Off the strength of his debut In My Own Words, Ne-Yo went from noted songwriter to solo superstar seemingly overnight. And three days after his death, J. Dilla left us with Donuts, a treasure trove of iconic instruments.
The Killer Comebacks
Yeah, I know 2006 had a couple of suspect comeback stories (I’m looking at you, Jay Z and Outkast). But they were the exception –many hip-hop and R&B pioneers successfully returned to reclaim their spots. Prince reminded listeners of his royal pedigree with 3121, his first album to debut at No. 1. Legendary Southern rap trailblazer Cee-Lo Green teamed with Danger Mouse and reinvented themselves as Gnarls Barkley, delivering St. Elsewhere, a trippy hybrid of soul, rock and funk. Busta Rhymes rebounded from years of mediocre releases to drop The Big Bang, which restored his frantic energy and aggressive bars. Janet Jackson’s 20 Y.O. celebrated two decades of innovation with a release that updated her sound but harkened back to her glory days. Juvenile dropped Reality Check, arguably the most underrated release in his catalog, while The Roots followed suit with Game Theory, another unappreciated effort in their vast discography. And even though it’s kind of a cheat since it technically was released at the tail end of 2005, we’ve gotta show love to Mary J Blige’s The Breakthrough, an album that dominated nearly half of 2006 and proved that MJB still held the crown.
2006 was the year stars were born. John Legend was already an established artist by 2006, but when he dropped his sophomore album Once Again in October, he solidified his spot and still is recognized as one of R&B’s biggest names 11 years later. T.I. can relate – while he claimed to be King of the South long before 2006, it was the album King that made him a commercial juggernaut. British soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae‘s self-titled album seemingly came out of nowhere but remained a force all year long, thanks to its inescapable singles. Sure, while longtime fans know that The Evolution of Robin Thicke wasn’t his first commercial release, it was the album that made Robin Thicke a major player in R&B. And thanks to Rick Ross‘ debut Port of Miami, Rawse had everyone in hip-hop “Hustlin’.”
The Underrated Bangers
And here’s probably the coolest thing about 2006 – the multitude of great albums that flooded our speakers a decade ago yet go unappreciated today. Rediscover these bangers:
Puff Daddy, Press Play
Jaheim, Ghetto Classics
Nas, Hip Hop is Dead
Monica, The Makings of Me
The Game, Doctor’s Advocate
Pharrell, In My Mind
AZ, The Format
Lyfe Jennings, The Phoenix
The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon
Cam’Ron, Killa Season
Donell Jones, Journey of a Gemini
Tamia, Between Friends
The Hot Singles
And, of course, there were an abundance of hot tracks – some that scaled the charts, others that just found a permanent home on our playlists.
What were your favorite albums of 2006? And which albums did I overlook? Let us know below.