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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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