Mary J. Blige
Has Mary's cry of "drama" finally turned into crying wolf? On the poorly titled Breakthrough (Crossover would have been more apt), Blige takes on U2's "One" with Bono singing along and purges herself of the grimacing diva tag she so lovingly held. Fortunately, artistic decisions like the Aryanized-alien album pic and the U2 cover are tempered by some of the best soul material she's ever worked with, much of it based around her ever-more forthright confessions and stormy-weather music to match. In addition, 9th Wonder and Will.I.Am. (!) lend career-defining beats
The best imitations are always built around empathy. So whether Jamie Foxx is doing the buck-toothed drag of Ugly Wanda on In Living Color or channeling the lilt of Luther Vandross, the techniques are all one and the same. Most of this debut album will be called audacious precisely because the thoughtful '80s R&B approaches of producers like the Underdogs and hip-hop refugee NO I.D. make Foxx sound like he belongs—instead of just being a note-perfect parody.
Ain't Nobody Worryin'
Hamilton's fifth album proves there's still no other singer in R&B who can sound so good singing so wrong. He embraces all the stuff lesser singers avoid—the grit and the sandpaper—and spins melismatic threads of gold with it. Already a hardened veteran of the business, he nonetheless has made what, for him, is a lighthearted album. With superproducer Mark Batson at the helm on most tracks, Hamilton dives into Gamble and Huff strings and the old Stax workouts of his breakout, Comin' Where I'm From. It's easy to pine for that album's wrenching pathos—but Hamilton, recently married, admirably shows that good love ain't any less emotional.—Matthew Lurie