Everyone loves a good playlist. There are ones we create for road trips, a get-together at the crib, 20-minute shower concerts, and sometimes when we need the inspiration to focus on our own craft. With how versatile music can be, the great thing about playlists is they bring back memories of the first time you heard a certain record, turning into a certain urge to dance like nobody’s watching, or let those undercover vocals sprang out. We’re less than two months away from an entirely new decade, and it’s more than a certain 2020 will bring more music that can be taken into consideration for our sound storybooks. But until then, I’ve decided to tone it down a bit, curating a playlist with some recent and seasoned tunes I find underrated, and serve as a self-care mechanism for fueling a peace of mind.
Beyonce, “Find Your Way Back” (2019)
The intro alone feels like dancing like no one is watching. One of the many beautifully written and orchestrated records from Beyonce’s executive produced, Lion King alternative soundtrack, The Gift, “Find Your Way Back” is an ode to finding our way around this big, big world. Bey’s smooth tone, accompanied by the Nigerian stylings of Bankulli, intertwined with the Caribbean cadence instrumental, this Afropop record is a feel-good piece as well as a testament.
Goapele, “Closer” (2001)
You may have heard this floating on air track from the 2003 film, Honey. However, it goes beyond that, as Goapele makes listeners feel in control of their destiny and centered on their inner-being. Personally, this is my ultimate go-to when I’m feeling discouraged or even basking in recent accomplishments.
Stevie Wonder, “Ribbon in the Sky” (1982)
Straight from the many artistic abilities of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” is 5 minutes and 50 seconds of pure, soulful bliss. I love this song for the fact that it reminds me of my parents, but also how the moments of instrumental are as beautiful as Stevie’s lyricism, presenting moments of love epitomized through, We can’t lose, with God on our side/We’ll find strength in each tear we cry/From now on it will be you and I/A ribbon in the sky four our love. For sure a top contender for my list of “Possible Wedding Songs.”
Kiana Ledé, “Heavy” (2019)
Ledé unravels an array of confrontations dealing with depression, anxiety and feeling the weight of the world even during better days in this song from her debut album, Myself. Although dealing with heavy topics, which is much needed to push the conversations further, this is a great tune to help calm the soul when feeling as if you’re alone. Newsflash: you’re not.
Beyonce, “Bigger” (2019)
If you feel insignificant, you need to think again. This is the beginning of the opening verse to Queen Bey’s “Bigger,” another track from The Lion King: The Gift album. This ballad radiates complete encouragement and perseverance despite the barriers. Now, also considered one of Beyonce’s best vocal performances, “Bigger” more so shines for its light at the end of the tunnel effect.
Brent Faiyaz, “Home” (2017)
When I think about interludes that should’ve been full songs, Brent Faiyaz, “Home” is always one of the first that comes to mind. In this opening track from Faiyaz’s debut album, Sonder Son, he tells a short anecdote about the side effects of getting bad grades in school and disappointing his mother. As tough as it may be for Faiyaz to express this, he’s able to do so in a sense where listeners can feel the same pain he does through his voice, creating what I like to call, vocal storytelling.
The Cinematic Orchestra, “To Build a Home” (2007)
This can literally be heard during any very dramatic scene in a television series or film; i.e. One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Orange is the New Black, This is Us, The Edge of Seventeen, etc. It became so familiar to me that every time I hear a snippet, I’m tempted to listen to the entire song. “To Build a Home,” is the equivalence to a lullaby, also good for meditation and those fake music videos we all create in our head while looking out the car window.
Travis Scott feat. Gunna & Nav, “Yosemite” (2018)
I’m convinced a lot of Travis Scott’s music is strictly created to make you feel as if you’re on the greatest high. Not pharmaceutically speaking exactly, but more so lifted in a way where a feel-good vibe is bound to arise. “Yosemite,” is a great mixture between Rap coming into collision with a bit of Electro-R&B, basking in the more extravagant parts of life.
Nao, “Orbit” (2018)
I know I said some of these songs were “arguably” underrated gems, but when it comes to NAO’s “Orbit,” there are no arguments to be made. Nao herself is a crazy talented, underrated gem, especially giving us other gorgeous records such as “Another Lifetime,” “Bad Blood” and “Saturn.” But there’s just something so pleasing hearing the bridge of “Orbit,” as it along with the rest of the song takes your mind and heart on a journey of love that is described to be out of this world.
Tank and The Bangas, “Rollercoasters” (2013)
“Rollercoasters” is described as being in love for the first time, by now Grammy-nominated Funk & Soul group, Tank and The Bangas. This poetic tune takes you on a trip of a beautiful metaphor, almost certain to make you cry the first time hearing it (well at least I did). Another track good for meditation, or using as a sound draft for journaling or being with the one you love.
Sabrina Carpenter, “Tell Em” (2019)
Now, we not gone sit here and act like Disney Channel stars haven’t birthed some certified bops! Girl Meets World actress, Sabrina Carpenter did what needed to be done on this sultry, secretive pop-ballad about keeping a brewing relationship on the down-low. It sounds like a peaceful romance and is sure to carry you into a never-before-told fairytale.
Mahalia, “Grateful” (2019)
UK native, Mahalia, is a master of mixing influences from 90s R&B, pop, and her Jamaican roots to create catchy songs centered around relationships. “Grateful,” is a cooldown, simmer from girl-power anthem, “What You Did” featuring another notable UK talent, Ella Mai, as it carries a sweet melody dedicated to the love of your life. It’s one of those feel-good, stay-in the arms of your lover the entire day tracks that ooze with peace serenity.
Wale feat. Kelly Price, “Sue Me” (2019)
One of the best parts of Wale’s “Sue Me” besides the name dropping and celebration of beautiful, black success, is the usage of the Mississippi Children’s Choir “I’m Blessed” sample. Kelly Price’s anointed and soul-filled voice lifts your spirit as she sings out, I want you to know, you’re so beautiful. There’s a certain reassurance in this song that accomplishes its goal of uplifting those listening; especially those dipped in melanin.
Beyonce, “Speechless” (2003)
From her debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, “Speechless” is without a doubt one of the most underrated and underperformed songs of Beyonce’s catalog. This sensual ballad led by Bey’s chillingly, smooth, vocal ability is perfect for a relaxing me-time bubble bath, or maybe home-cooked dinner for two, leading into an intimate slow dance.
H.E.R. ft. YG, “Slide” (2019)
The Westcoast did not come to play on this one. The first time I heard “Slide” by one of our favorite songstress of the new school, H.E.R., featuring YG, I was instantly hooked. How mellow H.E.R.’s voice resonates with the simple but effective late 90s beat, and leading into YG’s hyper-energy of bars given for a quick turn up. There’s no way better to categorize this than being the perfect track for a late-night drive. And that’s with the top down screamin’ “Money ain’t a thing.”
Floetry, “Say Yes” (2002)
Talk about real soul music, Floetry’s “Say Yes” would be the first song I would let someone hear if they asked. Top tier, harmonizing duo, Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart, delivered nothing short of the perfect love song in this body-chilling neo-soul track. Penned by Ambrosius and Andre Harris, the record beams with romance, igniting the epitome of sexy carried by calmness.
Jill Scott, “Comes To Light Everything” (2003)
A time to reflect is what Jill Scott gives in “Comes to the Light (Everything.)” This soul melody snaps you back into reality, after evaluating possible faults on your end. It brings everything to light, symbolizing how we simply cannot run from our problems or things we may have committed to in the dark. However, at the end of the tunnel, it’s bettering you for the next step in your journey.
Maxwell, “This Woman’s Work” (2001)
My experience and attachment to this song was hearing it in the 2000, Gina Prince-Bythewood film, Love & Basketball. Although perfectly fitting for the scene, and yall know which one I’m talking about, the song holds a deeper purpose, originally written and performed by singer-songwriter, Kate Bush, about a man’s perspective of the woman he loves experiencing a crisis during childbirth. A personal fave, and who we all know for his engaging, distinctive, voice, Maxwell, revamped the song, popularizing it through notable Black films and definitely in our hearts. It defined the strength of a woman, recognizing our greatest capabilities and the appreciation for the many barriers we continue to break.
Rufus ft. Chaka Khan, “Sweet Thing” (1975)
Another listing coming straight off the Love & Basketball soundtrack, Rufus and Chaka Khan’s definite cleaning on a Sunday morning energy hit, “Sweet Thing.” The intro alone get you to snapping your fingers, rocking back and forth and closing your eyes as Chaka sings, I will love you anyway /Even if you can not stay /I think you are the one for me/ Here is where you oughta be. This is and will always be a top contender on my shower concert setlist.
Beyonce, “Sorry (Original Demo)” (2019)
Ok, correct me if I’m wrong or let’s strike up a debate, but Sorry (Original Demo) is miles ahead of the one that made the album. Sorry Not Sorry. Beyonce was gracious enough to release this alternative version to the upbeat, stand-up on a table and scream the lyrics version we’re all used to. The demo is more vulnerable, mellow, and literally feels like floating in the Caño Cristales.
Karina Pasian, “Slow Motion (Live Acoustic Version)” (2008, 2011)
First and foremost, shoutout to my big sister for putting me onto a lot of the music I listen to today. Her taste in music during her teen years greatly influenced my selection and allowed me to discover an immense amount of underrated talent. This is why I’m ending this suggestive playlist with Karina Pasian, singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, genius who perfectly describes what it feels like to be in love with “Slow Motion.” I would suggest listening to the acoustic version re-recorded in 2011 for Pasian’s Trips to Venus, Vol.1 EP. Either way it goes, both the 2008 original and the rawer, 2011 revamp, needs no explanation for making it onto your peace of mind playlist.