Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be 50 Essential Albums by LGBTQ Artists, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Considering that the qualifier “LGBTQ” can often be open to various interpretations, for the purposes of this particular list, we have defined an artist as LGBTQ if he, she or they have ever publicly identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. Moreover, albums by groups have been included in the list if any of their members fit the aforementioned criteria, even if some members do not.
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THE INTERNET | Ego Death
Columbia/Odd Future (2015)
Selected by Justin Chadwick
Ever listen to an album for the first time and wonder how you—or more broadly, the world—ever functioned without it? Well, listening to The Internet’s transcendent third studio album Ego Death provokes precisely this sense of awestruck fascination. Integral members of the acclaimed Los Angeles-based Odd Future hip-hop collective along with Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, among others, Sydney “Syd” Bennett and Matt Martians formed The Internet as a soulful offshoot project in 2011. Their first two LPs, 2011’s Purple Naked Ladies and 2013’s Feel Good, are both excellent. But Ego Death is unequivocally their career zenith to date.
Uncompromisingly imaginative and bold—both sonically and conceptually—Ego Death is propelled by Syd’s softly sensuous vocals and unapologetically sincere lyrics that glide atop lushly atmospheric grooves. As she explained to Ebony, the album’s title derives from the notion of “becoming vulnerable and becoming sure of yourself within that vulnerability and learning about our egos. Realizing that we have them, trying not to deny them, but at the same time being conscious and trying to use them the best we can.” The pervasive spirit of the album is one of hope and reassurance, though an air of melancholy can also be detected throughout, as Syd explores the central and interconnected themes of love, lust, loss, and liberation.
And though our country continues its ongoing struggle to fully embrace LGBTQ rights, more slowly than it should due to the unethical resistance from the Right, it should no longer strike listeners as particularly novel that the objects of Syd’s ruminative lyrics are other women. Nonetheless, right from the first moments of album-opener “Get Away,” a gorgeous ode to romantic escapism, it’s strikingly refreshing to hear her feelings conveyed in such a naturally confident, devil-may-care fashion.
Other standout moments include Syd duetting with Janelle Monáe on the soaring space-age serenade “Gabby,” comforting a skeptical lover on the breezy “Under Control,” and flexing her persuasive Patrón-aided powers of seduction on “Special Affair.” Elsewhere, stellar rhyme support is provided by Tyler, the Creator and Vic Mensa on the bumping party anthem “Palace/Curse” and anti-inhibition hymn “Go With It,” respectively. Arguably the most poignant song is the somber “Penthouse Cloud,” which finds Syd lamenting the “war outside” and envisioning a “paradise in the sky when we die” as the ultimate escape from the world’s ills. Even a cursory interpretation of the opening lines (“Did you see the news last night? / They shot another one down”) suggests that paramount among these ills is the ceaseless pattern of unarmed black men’s deaths at the hands of reckless police.
Last year’s Hive Mind came damn close to matching it, but Ego Death is thus far the peak of The Internet’s musical powers and one of the decade’s strongest albums overall.