As we enter May, I would like to remind you of the first Sunday in April. That night was the 64th Grammy Awards. Considered the pinnacle of music awards, the Grammy is home to some of the most recognizable names in music history. One of the highest honors they can bestow on an artist is album of the year.
The nominees this year were:
– Jon Batiste, “WE ARE.”
– Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, “Love for Sale”
– Justin Bieber, “Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe)”
– Doja Cat, “Planet She”
– Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
– ELLE, “The back of my mind”
—Lil Nas X, “Montero”
– Olivia Rodrigo, “Sour”
-Taylor Swift, “Forever”
– Kanye West, “Donda”
Jon Batiste ended up winning the grand prize, but it’s certainly not his first major award. He was placed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, awarded the American Jazz Museum Lifetime Achievement Award, the Harry Chapin ASCAP Humanitarian Award, the Movado Future Legend Award, a diploma from the Juilliard School of Music, several Grammy awards, a Golden Globe, a Critic’s Choice Award, a British Academy For The Arts Award and even an Oscar for Best Original Score.
If you don’t know him, you may be familiar with his band Jon Batiste and Stay Human with whom he has appeared nightly as bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” since the show’s last performance. which debuted on CBS in 2015.
Although I’m more of a Jimmy Fallon fan, Batiste’s accolades can’t be ignored. His album of the year, “WE ARE,” was heralded as a wonderful blend of New Orleans jazz with soul, funk and hip-hop blended perfectly like a Bourbon Street shrimp stew. After listening to the album several times, I can say that I see where these accolades come from.
Personally, I think HER’s ‘Back of My Mind’ was a better album, but Batiste’s ‘WE ARE’ moves away from the pop that usually dominates the awards.
As you progress through the album, you can hear Batiste’s New Orleans background layered over modern pop, Motown and hip-hop styles. In one song you get large group backing vocals and in the next you’ll have an acapella that slowly invites pianos, drums and brass. Later, you’ll find a three-minute soothing piano instrument, then you’ll hear Batiste rapping. It’s an album that captures your ears in a wonderful wall of sound.
At its core, the album is highly political and personal, covering themes of racial and social injustice, community, childhood and adulthood (there are literally songs called “BOY HOOD”) and “ADULTHOOD”) and gospel and faith while never feeling anything less than pleasure. With marching pianos, clapping choir hands, and marching bass lines, you feel like you’re in a ’60s dance hall waiting to be featured on “American Bandstand.”
Some notable songs include “WE ARE”, “CRY”, “BOY HOOD”, and “ADULTHOOD”. These songs highlight most of the best parts of the album that I talked about earlier. I particularly like the dynamic between “BOY HOOD” and “ADULTHOOD” with a piano instrumental separating the two, the song “MOVEMENT 11”. This is by far my favorite section of the album as it shows the dichotomy between the two subjects and Batiste’s personal experiences in both.
Overall, I would say “WE ARE” is a good album. Do I think it’s the best album of the year? No. It is a dynamic work of art that has its benefits and can easily be ingested by the average listener and its importance in today’s climate cannot be underestimated.
Batiste is just the 11th black artist to win album of the year and the first since Herbie Hancock won it in 2008 for “River: The Joni Letters.”
As far as success in numbers, the album didn’t really do much. The album peaked at No. 24 on the pop charts while “WE ARE” climbed to No. 13 on the singles. Since the album’s release in March last year, he hasn’t done much commercially. But Batiste is not a “selling” artist. He’s a pioneer in the world of blues and jazz, but aside from his work on Disney’s ‘Soul’, his music has never garnered so much attention.
I admit I didn’t know him until the nominations were announced earlier this year, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out and an ear out.
Jack R. Jordan is a reporter for The Moultrie Observer.