25. Ne-Yo — The Year of the Gentleman
All R&B cats pander. If Ne-Yo’s more shameless than most, his compulsive flattery pays aesthetic dividends: The more precisely he describes the targets of his adoration, the sharper his songwriting. On “Miss Independent,” a professional lady’s ability to pay her bills on time gets him hot, while “Single” goes all to all the gals whose boring-ass men wouldn’t come out to the club. And “Why Does She Stay” is so heartfelt a profession of unworthiness you might even forget to ask why he doesn’t just shut up and do the damn dishes already. Just when the pedestal-propping gets too much, “Mad” enters into an argument with an actual, un-idealized woman.
24. Nas — Untitled
His beats aren’t always the freshest, but they’re effective musical settings for a 35-year-old singer/songwriter adapting that lyric-first style to hip-hop rather than folk/rock. (They’re more focused than the music on the over-hyped DJ Green Lantern Presents: The Nigger Tape too). Whether calling out O’Reilly and company, admitting that “Fried Chicken” is killing him, or contradicting Pac about whether America is indeed ready for a “Black President,” Nas grapples with world events as he perceives them, and despite a paranoid rebel’s tendency to credit mysterious cabals and extraterrestrial intervention, Nas’s missteps show more heart than most of his peers’ great leaps forward. Sure, his politics can be confused, if not outright foolish. But they’re never doctrinaire. Also, he has politics.
23. Titus Andronicus — The Airing of Grievances
Any band that follows “No Future Part One” with “No Future Part Two: The Days After No Future” knows how to play punk nihilism for laughs. Patrick Stickles blurts callow, often funny questions about God, parents, love and mortality as a grand phalanx of four (or more) guitars chases him through compositions sprawling enough to allow room for a fancy hammer-on mid-section and a harmonica-wheezing intro that totally rips off Springsteen’s “The Promised Land.” And “Titus Andronicus” encapsulates their worst fears. Prior to a singalong chorus of “Your life is over,” they list off the creature comforts death denies you: no more cigarettes, sex, drunkenness, and — what? “No more indie rock!”? Jeez, these guys aren’t kidding around.
22. Toumast — Ishumar
Tuareg desert blues was the decade’s most reliable motherlode of newly recorded Afropop. Thriving on nuance rather than novelty, favoring group creation over star power, the circular guitars and trancey call-and-response flirted with all-sounds-the-same. But if practically any Tinariwen, Tartit, or Erin Finatawa disc you happened upon would expose you to this music’s essential pleasures, Ishumar does likewise while sounding ever-so-slightly less all-the-same than the rest. Between the distinctive guitar licks of Moussa Ag Keyna and carefully arranged touches of French producer Dan Levy, you can almost pretend this is pop music.
21. Santogold — Santogold
It says less about the singer than the times that Santi White struck some as an oddball pop revolutionary. With help from old M.I.A. hands Switch and Diplo, Santogold (later, for legal reasons, Santigold) and musical partner John Hill sublimate the professional frustrations of an industry malcontent into a defiant posture of individual creativity, providing just enough context for their neo-new-wave. Ingenious vocal affectations temper tuneful abrasion, and angular electrobeats dare you to mistake ’em for R&B. That Santogold’s hits came to nest so comfortably within TV commercials says even more about the times–at the very least, that “oddball pop revolutionary” is an under-marketed brand.