Stealth Isolation: Reflection for the future & the Best Black Albums of 2020
JORDANNAH ELIZABETH | 12/31/2020, midnight
This time last year I had no idea that I would be tasked to write a series of pieces chronicling the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was teaching at a small Catholic school and preparing to go to Park City, Utah to cover the Sundance Film Festival. On New Year’s Eve, I was party-hopping with friends not ever guessing that would be one of the last times I would be able to congregate freely with my community and strangers alike.
Nonetheless, I have fond memories of 2020 amidst the chaos and loss. I’ve been able to focus on my family more, I wrote a pilot script, an adaptation of my 2017 novella, “The Warmest Low,” and I received a book deal to write a middle-grade children’s book called “She Raised Her Voice!: 50 Black Singers Who Changed Music History.”
As I reflect, I think about the millions of people who want to see this year done away with. But I also hope people who are grieving and quarantining remember this year as a year of transformation and a historic time in history that was full of protest, cultural growth, and art and music. Black artists are known to protectively drive their cultures through times of panic and unrest. Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and many other powerful musical artists lent their voices to the Civil Rights Movement to ease the immense tension and strife of the abolishment of segregation. This trend has gone on during this era of George Floyd, but this year, as things seemed to have been moving at hyper-speed, has coaxed Black artists to release projects that have already been in the works, allowing themselves to not have their expression silenced but to make sure that music moves forward even if they didn’t have the time to write full albums about the pandemic and post-modern civil rights.
I’d like to share my choices for the Best Black Albums of 2020. Many of the artists I’ve chosen and have been listening to are released through my favorite jazz label, the hip and visionary International Anthem. I loved their catalog this year. It has been consistently inspiring, promoting the music of brilliant Black musicians who have taken the jazz world by storm with Angel Bat Dawid, Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger, and Jeff Parker’s musical offerings.
Then, of course, there’s Drake, whose 2020 album “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” entertained and pacified the world with the dance craze “Toosie Slide” which sat amongst dark, sexy and ethereal songs like “Not You Too,” “Pain 1993” and “Chicago Freestyle.” The album is perfect for aimless drives through the city at night and long evening walks that are taken to ease anxiety and cabin fever.
Rapper 2 Chainz was able to speak directly about these times with his song “Quarantine Thick” on his album “So Help Me God!” which helped give me a bit of self-esteem and a giggle due to the song’s humor as I’ve gained a bit of weight during this sedentary time. Jay Electronica released an intensely deep album along with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra and the incredibly talented jazz and experimental music artist Luke Stewart.
Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood, “Live” (International Anthem)
Luke Stewart, “Exposure Quintet” (Astral Spirits)
Irreversible Entanglements, “Who Sent You?” (International Anthem)
Jeff Parker, “Suite for Max Brown” (International Anthem)
Jay Electronica, “A Written Testimony” (Roc Nation)
Sun Ra Arkestra, “Swirling” (Strut Records)
Drake, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” (OVO Republic
2 Chainz, “So Help Me God!” (Gamebread Def Jam)
The Weeknd, “After Hours” (XO Republic)
Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger, “Force Majeure” (International Anthem)
What albums have you been listening to this year? What got you through? How did music help you heal? These are things to think about as we enter 2021. Let your memories flow but do not let them hold you back from being hopeful about the future.