Run That Back!:10 Albums That Shaped Me

February 27, 2012  |  
1 of 10

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you’ll play the first chords of a record and you know immediately that this piece of art is going to become a part of you. Not just something you listen to as background music, not something you dance, absentmindedly in the club, but something you internalize. You find yourself recalling the lyrics to songs and applying them to the real life situations you face. We all have these gems. So let’s dig in with the masterpieces that I carry with me.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill

No need to beat around the bush. Quite a few black people born after 1970 would include this national treasure on their list. Lauryn was preaching in her first solo album. The Miseducation is the perfect combination of righteous and real. It always amazes me how perspective-changing art makes it’s way into our lives. A friend of my mother’s gifted me with this album for a random occasion and for months it never left my discman. I was only a fifth grader when this album hit the streets but even as a youngster I knew it was profound. I can’t tell you how many hours I sat, in my room, in my back yard, on the school bus, absorbing the knowledge Lauryn was dropping. The album made me laugh, cry, dance and think. It was perfection.

Who is Jill Scott? – Jill Scott

Jilly from Philly! Did Jill become our girl from the intro of her debut album or what? When Who is Jill Scott came out in 2000, there were no contemporary artists with a voice like her’s. Her voice was and is all encompassing. Whether she was hitting you with the robust force, the soothing almost baby-like melodic or the rhythmically timed, vividly spoken words, Jill made sure you consumed everything she had to sing and say on that debut album of hers. To this day I know every word to every lyric, interlude and ad lib. Who is Jill Scott is sensual, inspiring and just beautiful. A classic.


Confessions- Usher

Man! When Usher came out with this album, I already knew this would be the peak of his career. As harsh as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth. There was no way the man could have topped this one. Coming off of a somewhat scandalous and unexpected break-up with Chili everybody was trying to figure out which songs were about or at least inspired by her. But we got far more than a tacky tell-all album, we got some great music. I was a sophomore in high school when this album came out in 2004. Confessions literally became the soundtrack of that school year. The album will always hold a special place in my heart as it became the icebreaker I needed to finally speak to the fione azz basketball player in my journalism class. Thanks Usher!


Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack- Various Artists

I can not speak highly enough of the musical genius that is Babyface. (Indianapolis stand up!) The fact that this man wrote and produced an entire album’s worth of hits is almost unfathomable. Waiting to Exhale, like the rest of the albums on this list, is the type of record you can listen to with no skips. Every song is so beautifully written, so brilliantly performed and just so delicious. It’s got all the elements of love, from the teenaged crush tingles (Sitting Up in My Room) to the get over the break up phase (Not Gon’ Cry) and even the I’ve still got my my friends realization (Count on Me). This album is a classic, that’s as relevant today as it was back in 1995.


Supa Dupa Fly- Missy Elliot

After Tupac, Missy Elliot was the first hip hop artist I could really feel. No one and I mean no one had done what she was doing. From her outrageous punch lines to the random ad libs and subject matter, Missy was a game changer like a mug. She was one of the few females MCs who made it completely off of talent alone. She was not selling sex. She was selling good music. As a young girl, I could recognize and respect that. Not to mention, Timbaland’s genius beats would have you catching a serious case of whiplash. Once this album came out and Missy blew up, game would never be the same.


Got to Be Real, The Best of Cheryl Lynn– Cheryl Lynn

Cheryl Lynn must seem like a diversion from the rest of the list but if you hadn’t picked this up already, I was a kid with an old soul and I was constantly digging in my dad’s CD collection looking for something good to listen to. Of course I was familiar with Cheryl from “Got to be Real” and her duet with Luther, “If This World Were Mine,” but I got to know Cheryl and her impeccable vocals in sixth grade. Again, Cheryl’s CD was forever in rotation. If she wasn’t in my discman, she was in my backpack. Cheryl Lynn was so special because she was like my little secret. No doubt, I was the only sixth grader listening to her. Her voice was almost other worldly at times. Her vocal acrobatics are unmatched. If you’ve never listened to Cheryl Lynn, take advantage of my shared secret.


Africa to America: The Journey of the Drum– Sounds of Blackness

This list wouldn’t be complete without some gospel on it. While plenty of gospel albums could make the exhaustive list, Africa to America holds the top slot. Sounds of Blackness was the first group I’d ever heard who combined the gospel with African American history. As much as that album educated me, it simultaneously restored my faith. While I was seven when this album came out, it was and still is a staple of my childhood, as I heard it every Sunday morning. Even though, I’m not in my parent’s house anymore, I still carry some of those uplifting jewels with me on my iPod today. Those songs have encouraged me through some tough times.


Survivor- Destiny’s Child

Ok, so you might be looking at this album cover like for real? But in all seriousness, Destiny’s Child was the ish for girls in middle school, like I was at the time. Even though I didn’t quite know what to call it back then, these ladies were singing about female empowerment (Independent Women Part I and II) and having respect for your body (Nasty Girl), while still managing to be Hot (Bootylicious). It also didn’t hurt that I was in a singing group at the time and we sang their gospel medley in a local talent competition. Even though I knew I never wanted to be a professional singer, Destiny’s Child still served as a great inspiration for a lot of little girls as well as our group.


Brown Sugar– D’Angelo

When I was living in the Midwest and driving, just two years ago, Brown Sugar was still in my CD player. When it came to riding with me, my friends and family already knew the deal, we would be listening to D’Angelo. No one is smooth like D’Angelo is smooth and he really put it all out there for his first album. From the clever double entendres (Brown Sugar) to the respectable remakes (Cruisin’) and the captivating story telling (Shyte, Damn, MotherFawker), this album had it. Which is why I can’t stop listening to it.


The Hits- Prince

I like to think of Prince as my funky, fairy godfather. I cannot remember a time without him. Seeing that my father is a huge Prince fan, I know I was listening to the purple one in the womb and ever since. I tell people all the time, that in the video of my first birthday party, Prince is playing in the background. I really feel like he’s been there and gotten me through a lot. If I needed to think, Prince had something for me (Controversy), if I needed to tap into my Hot, there was something in his catalog (Get Off), if I was in the mood to be serenaded, there was a ballad with my name on it (Purple Rain) and if I needed to dance it out, no one put more stank on a track than The Artist. If there’s a single musician who’s provided the soundtrack to my life, it’s Prince, hands down.

So that’s my short list. Which albums changed your life?

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  • Zva

    1. Aaliyah – One In A Million
    2. God’s Property – From Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation
    3. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
    4. Dru Hill – Enter The Dru
    5. Destiny’s Child – The Writing’s On The Wall
    6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin On (I know this one is a little random but I went through a black power phase when I was in middle school)
    7. Nas – Stillmatic
    8. Kanye West – College Drop Out
    9. Justin Timberlake – Future Sex Love Sounds
    10. Beyonce – B’Day

    These albums were soundtracks to my life when they dropped : )

  • sorichson

    My Life- MJB
    Aquemini- Outlast
    Any Tried Called Quest album
    It Was Written- Nas
    Totally Crossed Out- Kris Kross

  • childofjesusrose

    yes great list! its a shame most of the type of music playing now is horrible and it will never be like real classic music as in this list!

  • Elizabeth

    Love this post but I think En Vogue would have starred in mine – I think they are fabulous!:)

    • nikole

      mine to those girls are still the bomb oh and some joedeci just about anything from the 90s

  • Mimix3

    Can’t forget 2pacalypse

  • applesauce585

    “Heart & Soul” by the Winans
    “Voyage To India”     India Arie
    “Pages of Life 1&2”   Fred Hammond
    “The Voice”  by Syleena Johnson
    “Love Jones Soundtrack”
    “Mountain High Valley Low”  by Yolanda Adams

  • shai-shai!!!
    blackstreet- another level?

  • dude! we’d make great friends because i had EVERY album on the list, minus cheryl lynn (my muse was phyllis hyman –her version of betcha by golly wow!~awesome!!)

  • KLOVE7

    Tender Lover – Babyface
    My Life – Mary J. Blige
    New Jack City Soundtrack

  • KLOVE7


  • Sofiyabeena

    missing MJ

  • Earthspirit

    Oh, and how dare I forget “What’s The 411?” by my older sister (in my head) Queen of Hip-Hop & R&B Ms. Mary J. Blige!

  • Annojah

    Baduizm – Erykah Badu
    The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
    Who is Jill Scott?Words and sounds- Jill Scott
    Worldwide underground- Erykah Badu
    Princesses nubiennes- Les nubians
    Plain rap- The Pharcyde
    Spiritual war- Fertile Ground
    Ame nouvelle-Meemee Nelzy

  • Truth

    Brandy – never say never (All of the songs are perfect)

    • nikole

      okay all day that was my album to destiny’s child wrintins on the wall and aaliayah one in a million as well as monica missthang

  • Earthspirit1

    1The albums/cd’s that helped shaped me were:

    1. Baduizm – Erykah Badu
    2. Groove Theory – Groove Theory
    3. Who Is Jill Scott..Words..- Jill Scott
    4. janet/ Velvet Rope – Janet Jackson
    5. Off The Wall – Michael Jackson
    7. Love Jones Soundtrack – Various Artists

    and this list can go on..

    • Shauna Nsaije

      Yes…oh yes…Thank you of reminding me of Groove Theory…But how can MARY’S MY LIFE not be ANYWHERE on here….It must be so obvious an integral life-shaper that we forgot to mention it.

  • Ash

    Confessions – Usher
    Survivor & Destiny Fulfilled – Destiny’s Child
    B’Day – Beyonce
    Late Registration- Kanye West
    The Diary of Alicia Keys & As I Am – Alicia Keys
    Beautifully Human: Vol.2 – Jill Scott
    The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill
    Just Like You – Keyshia Cole
    The Love Below – Andre 3000
    So Far Gone/Comeback Season – Drake

  • Lovely One

    Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (sooooo underrated)

    Musiq Soulchild – Ijuswannasing

  • icanbutiwont

    Sizzla – The Journey – The Very Best Of Sizzla (Fave ‘Black Woman and Child and Thank You Mama)

    Prince – Signs O The Times

    Muddy Waters – Anthology

    Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come

    Bob Marley and The Wailers – Legend

    Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

    Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

    U2 – The Joshua Tree

    Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

    Kanye West – The College Dropout

    I could go on forever 🙂

    • Kevin000147

      Great list. I’d also add Joan Armatrading

  • Netdandri

    You have great musical taste. A lot of these albums would be on my list, too. Nice list.