Frankly we struggled a bit with what to call this category. R&B didn't feel quite right, neither did pop, neither did soul. What would you call an album like Raury's Indigo Child? Theophilus London's Vibes? So we settled on Best Non Hip-Hop, a designation I hope makes it clear that we're talking about awesome, often hard to categorize music that wasn't hip-hop. And after thousands of votes, two excellent winners have emerged out of all the not-hip-hop albums that dropped last year.
Reader's Pick: Jhené Aiko "Souled Out"
The world had been waiting for this album from Jhené Aiko for a long time. For nearly the last three years she'd been gaining more and more fans thanks to her own solo material and a steady stream of impressive guest work, but it was all leading up to her proper, major album. All that waiting only seemed to fuel fans' appreciation even more, as they turned out in droves to not only cop Souled Out but sing its praises. From start to finish this is one of those albums that creates a mood, an atmosphere, a continuous feeling, that makes it the perfect background music, and we mean that in the best way possible. This is an album that can literally serve as the soundtrack, the backing music, to your life, and album that will be there on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and everywhere in between. Souled Out was well worth the wait, thank you Jhené.
Staff Pick: Sam Smith "In the Lonely Hour"
It may seem odd to quote Dead Prez right about now, but the amazing thing about music is that if you feel it you feel it and if you don't you don't, and there weren't many artists in 2014 that people felt more strongly than Sam Smith. There's just something about his honesty, his songwriting, that voice, that connects with people on a deeper level, and impressively he managed to assemble all those qualities in an album that simply doesn't have any filler - from top to bottom it's a tight yet sonicaly expansive project that already feels like will stand the test of time. How ironic that an album called In the Lonely Hour made us feel not-so-alone last year? We can't wait to see what Sam Smith has in store for us next.
Congrats to Jhené and Sam Smith, who both showed that there's still music being made that's capable of reaching out hearts. And for the complete list of award winners, hit that link below: