It seemed like a good idea in the meeting ...
Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 / Hidden Beach, 2000
In the burst of neo-soul activity right at the turn of the 21st century, Philadelphia got its name on the genre's map thanks mostly to Jill Scott's sexy, lush, confident debut. She spends most of the disc quiet and cool, so when she bursts into second gear, it's an explosion of color and timbre. Her hometown is all over this DJ Jazzy Jeff-produced disc, from namechecking the Roots and Mumia to reciting shopping lists for what sounds like a summertime Belmont Plateau barbecue. And this young, most un-diva-like diva carries the entire album with a kind of poise, maturity and self-assuredness that allowed her to release its proper follow-up a full four years later. In 2000 Vol. 1 sounded like a soul throwback. Today it sounds like a classic.
29. Harold Melvin & the
Wake up Everybody / Philadelphia International, 1975
Philly soul was never more meaningful than this, a raucous, gospel-inflected slice of Teddy Pendergrass--growling, shouting, teasing and striking every note with the precision of a tuning fork. Just seven tracks long, Wake up Everybody is emotion distilled to a raw essence. The title track is a message song with real lift--a sonic rocket of hope. "Don't Leave Me This Way" is about as sad as it sounds. The album is a pinnacle for soul music, and few since have ever tried anything so simultaneously elemental and ambitious.
30. The Goats
Tricks of the Shade / Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1992
A terrifying romp, the Goats' Tricks of the Shade upended the Bush dynasty agenda when Dubya was still an education-supportin' Texan. The album stands as a mark of how far we've come, and 12 years later Tricks of the Shade is still relevant. MCs Oatie Kato, Madd and Swayzack exude swagger and confidence both in their antiwar, anti-ethnic-profiling stance and the operatic background beats. Anthem tracks "Typical American" and "Burn the Flag" blast into the right wing before descending into a smoked-out session of theme-driven rap. With this contribution, the Goats showed that protest can come with a side of Philly's finest booty-shaking riffs.
Missundaztood / Arista, 2001
Local gal made good, Pink stood out from the rest of the little-girl crowd right away. The knowing "Don't Let Me Get Me" conveyed adolescent self-loathing along with the adult determination to do something about it. "Just Like a Pill" fused the kind of meticulous production pop radio demanded at the turn of the millennium with a desperation and anger more commonly associated with punk. And "Get the Party Started" is a sublime dance anthem that bridges the gap between white and black radio. Britney Spears may taunt adult men with her bare midriff, but Pink might sleep with anyone at any time.
32. Laura Nyro
Gonna Take a Miracle / CBS, 1971
Still a cult classic 24 years later, Gonna Take a Miracle was the late Laura Nyro's tribute to the Carole King/Brill Building music she adored as a teenager. Though produced by Gamble and Huff, the album has none of the supertight production values that appear on so many of their TSOP efforts; instead, "Miracle" is one long girl-group (Patti LaBelle contributes mightily) jam session, with such great timeless sing-alongs as "I Met Him on a Sunday," "Jimmy Mack," "Monkey Time" and more, all done with white-girl-with-soul perfection.
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide