Can We Please Stop Comparing Miguel to Prince?

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When you rake in the second-highest ratings for Saturday Night Live this season and Mariah Carey's gushing about how much she loves you, you know you're doing something right--and that's exactly how things went down for Miguel (and Vince Vaughn, too, but c'mon) on the show this week. The addition of harder, grittier, kick-the-doors-down guitars to Miguel's velvet voice and textbook R&B breakdowns made for a polarizing SNL spot, one that brought about a handful of Prince comparisons on Twitter (we'll get into that) and some well-deserved attention for the man who gave us Kaleidoscope Dream, that record none of us have been able to get off our mind since last September.

See also: Live: Miguel Outlasts The Rain At Rye Playland

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Five Lesser-Known Soul Men Worth Your Attention

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You're right to believe Frank Ocean was robbed by Mumford & Sons for Album of the Year at the Grammys Sunday. But nevertheless, last year was a good one for r&b, one that saw different facets of the genre take center stage. By extension, Frank Ocean is now a household name. And though Kelly Clarkson might not have been familiar with him, lots more people know the name Miguel than when the LA-based crooner dropped his Kaleidoscope Dream in October.

It got us to thinking about some other r&b artists we've been listening to for years that never crossed over into the limelight. Here now, five lesser-known soul men you should lend your ear to.

See also: Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, Miguel: Who Will Be the Token Black Guy on Year-End Best of Lists?

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Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, Miguel: Who Will Be the Token Black Guy on Year-End Best of Lists?

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There's an intense race going on right now. A race not a lot of you may know about. A race that even the people involved may not know they're a part of. But it's a race, and it's happening: the race to see which r & b singer will end up on most critics' top-ten lists at the end of the year.

It's a big deal. Because, usually, at the end of the year, r & b is all but excluded on year-end lists. Which is what makes this year so exciting. Three artists are on the lips and minds and fingertips of critics, all of whom have a shot at Top Ten album honors just before the planet explodes like the Mayans predicted.

Those three artists: Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, and Miguel.

See Also:
- Live: Miguel Takes Control At Joe's Pub
- Live: Bon Iver and Frank Ocean Are Trying to Break Your Heart


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Radio Hits One: Nine Songs From 2012 That Should Have Been Huge

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The term "flop" in a musical context usually refers to an unsuccessful album. Although singles constantly perform above or below expectations, a song will rarely get a reputation as a flop unless there's a lot riding on it, such as a pre-release single from a big-name album. In 2011, Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" and Lady Gaga's "Judas" failed to launch and became notorious stumbling blocks for two women who had up to that point experienced one success after another.

In 2012, no singles have fallen short of expectations in such a high-profile way, but hundreds of songs are constantly being lobbed at radio, and some great tracks get lost in the shuffle. Last year, I critiqued the singles campaigns of recent albums, suggesting how different tracks could have been released in a different order. But right now, I feel compelled to highlight some singles that simply deserved better, because by December, these songs will be long forgotten in lists that boil the year in pop down to "Somebody That I Used to Know" and "Call Me Maybe."

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The Top 3.28 Hip-Hop Songs Of The Week

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Rap has always had a dividing line between the rapper and the guy that yells out things on stage because it's America, damn it. That man used to be the DJ, who'd spin records for the rapper and rap along to his verses to get the crowd hype. As the years went by and quality DJing became more rare, the sidekick became some guy the rapper grew up with who had comparatively marginal talent, but who made for a great hypeman.

Eventually, though, the sidekick would eventually make one major mistake: He'd try to make his own way as a rapper, to less than stellar results. Memphis Bleek hasn't come out of Jay-Z's shadow after 15 years. Spliff Star has seemingly disappeared after trying his hand at something more than being Busta Rhymes' energetic rapping Smeagol. The less said about the non-Eminem members of D12, the better.

But every once in a while, they put together music that's not an embarrassing reminder that most of their success comes from being a friend of a superior rapper. This week, we focus on a few of those people: Method Man's marijuana-holder Streetlife; A$AP Mob; and Fat Joe (who, while not a weed carrier, was Big Pun's less talented homie).

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Live: Busta Rhymes Pauses Conversation With Bun B To Perform At Angie Martinez's BBQ

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@hot97/Instagram
Fabolous.
Angie Martinez's Backyard BBQ
The Garden At Studio Square
Saturday, August 18

Better than: Getting lost coming home from Queens.

CBS sitcoms, Tom Wolfe and Republicans alike have all painted New York City as a noisy, grimy nightmare, a melting pot of sex and kvetching, guns and soupy hot dogs, where steam rises like prices and trash falls like dreams. No place for families, a godless murderzone where the women are as fast as streets are clogged, where stress stains the ceilings and piss, the sidewalks. Bright lights lit by hellfire and Wall Street's cigars. Millions of people—all strangers—passing one another, every face as hard as their concrete surroundings, a Darwinian experiment thrown to the rats.

It's almost out of character for the city, then, that Angie Martinez's BBQ on Saturday night was so low-key, so relaxed, a small-town block party held in often-overlooked Queens. Grids of dominos and games of spades played out among the trees and open sky; pitchers of sangria and lemonade held down the picnic tables. All that made the night distinctly New York were the names involved, a polka-dot collection of bold-faces: Questlove mixing VIC's "Get Silly" into dead prez into "Dance (A$$)" onstage while Joe Budden, Fabolous, Sanaa Lathen and Gabrielle Union Instagrammed one another in VIP. A scruffy Miguel stepped over legs and under arms to get to the bar, as DJ Khaled engaged in flirt-fighting with his fiancée over a smoking cigarillo. We found love in a hopeless place.

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Live: Miguel Takes Control At Joe's Pub

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Miguel
Joe's Pub
Tuesday, July 31

Better than: Watching at home (which was not too bad, either).

The dry-ice machine began covering the Joe's Pub stage floor at 11:22 p.m. By the time Miguel actually arrived onstage, the smoke had made it to the walking floor as well. It wasn't all that would seat itself there, either: After six songs, the Los Angeles R&B singer made a demand of an audience that would probably have done military-drill jumping jacks if he'd asked. "I need more women in the front. Sorry, fellas." He paused. "I'm not sorry."

He needn't have been, though maybe I'd feel differently if I'd been one of those displaced dudes, two of whom kept watching while seated on the floor—damn right they were going to see as much of show they'd shown up an hour early to see. Coming out in a black leather jacket and stud-heavy brothel creepers (his pompadour fit the ensemble perfectly), Miguel kicked things off with a blazing "Strawberry Amazing" and kept looking forward from there, switching to a pants-matching dark-olive slim-cut dress jacket for the next one, "Gravity." Not all the material was up to the level of performance, but a lot of it was, and the performance (sent out live via LiveStream and Spin; you can watch it here) was damn impressive.

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100 & Single: The R&B/Hip-Hop Factor In The Music Business's Endless Slump

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Usher's Looking 4 Myself, Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, and Chris Brown's wingdinged-out Fortune.
Here are a few recent data points from chart bible Billboard and data provider Nielsen Soundscan as we move into the second half of 2012:

• In its midyear music-industry report card, Soundscan reports a return to the dismal album sales climate; year-to-date disc sales are off 3.2% from the same period in 2011. Last year saw the first annual rise in sales in nearly a decade, with albums eking out a 1.4% gain in 2011 over 2010. In the first six months of 2012, only one album sold more than a million copies, and it didn't come out this year: Adele's 21. Among the Top Five best-sellers for the year so far are a pair of stalwart acts from the 1980s: Lionel Richie, who on Tuskegee reupholstered his old hits as country songs and wound up with the year's second-best seller to date (912,000 copies); and Whitney Houston, who passed away in February, fueling sales for her 2000 disc The Greatest Hits which is now the year's fourth-best seller (818,000 copies).

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Hit Machines: The Ten Best Singles Runs From Post-Confessions R&B Albums

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In his recent review of R&B singer Miguel's fantastic Art Dealer Chic series of EPs, The A.V. Club's Evan Rytlewski explained the singer's rise in popularity by floating the idea that his 2010 album All I Want Is You contained "arguably the most engaging singles run of any R&B album since Usher's Confessions." This argument is much closer to the truth than it may seem on first blush.

Though the genre has experienced a bit of a downswing in the past few years, it's been a reliable source of great pop music since Confessions' release in March 2004. But is Rytlewski's claim correct? Let's look at the R&B albums with the best runs of three consecutive singles since the beginning of 2004 and find out.

But first, some ground rules: The three singles must have been released consecutively—a dud single at any point breaks a string—and off a single album (sorry, Ciara and Ne-Yo); each must have charted on Billboard's R&B chart; and the three singles don't have to be the first off the album, though on this list they all ended up that way.

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Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part I: Was 2011 The Worst Year For Music Ever?

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A number one song from 2011. Not really helping the year's case, this.
Welcome to the 2011 edition of the Sound of the City Year-End Critic Roundtable, an epistolary back-and-forth about the year in music between five observers of the medium: Tom Ewing; Eric Harvey; Nick Murray; Katherine St. Asaph, also of Popdust; and me. We'll be discussing the year in pop over the course of the next few days, in hopes that a few healthy arguments (nothing too knock-down, drag-out) ensue, and that even if we don't figure out any answers, we'll pose a couple of new questions as the calendar flips to 2012. As was the case last year, when music editor emeritus Rob Harvilla launched this initiative, we are totally ripping off Slate's Music Club, which is currently ensuing with five different music smarties. (Read 'em all!)

To start things off, I'll pose the question in the title, which spins off the query Rob posed at the close of 2010. That is to say: Was 2011 the worst year for music ever?

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