• Kanye West / Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage

    Kanye West, 'Yeezus' (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

    Just to make thangs interesting, let's start this off in the gooey middle: Yeezus' midway point, wherein Kanye West reverts to his trillingly trill-talking Auto-Tuned voice, that bridge of sighs and lamentations that fan and foe alike know from 2008's surprisingly graceful, soul-stirring, and unabashedly mawkish 808s & Heartbreak. One could argue, based on that accomplishment —and by dint of the three similarly robotic and romantic planks here — that Kanye's android vocalese has injected some of the most unforced emotionality heard in Black American (as opposed to British) R&B this century.

  • Azealia Banks, 'Fantasea' (self-released mixtape)

    "Welcome to the After-Future," is how the poet Mike Ladd aptly summed up the deflationary aughts of this century. A moment in history when the choices for bold, visionary expression in popular media were reduced to Team Al Qaeda or Team Abu Ghraib, Osama Bin-Laden or Bush-Cheney. Fortunately, we all live in the Afro-Future now — a time when a two-term Black President with an African name that isn't "Fela" looms, and super-WASP wacktresses employ conversational French to chortle about niggas in Paris. Praise Jah, the Afro-Future also seems hellbent on expectorating a race of Black Barbarellas: Sirius Space Vixens and warp-driven Black chicks who spit, think, and morph faster than George Clinton or Eminem, and lust after haute couture and non-stop public adoration like R. Kelly once pined for his jeep.

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