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ESSENCE Summer Music Hot List

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1. HOTTEST COUPLE:
Mr. and Mrs. Carter
At first it looked like another made-for-radio meeting, a collabo cooked up to move units. Over the years, Beyoncé and Jay-Z never said a public word about their relationship as it survived Beyoncé’s fierce dedication to her career (see Jay-Z’s “Lost One”). Their privacy even prevailed through their reported April 4 wedding at Jay’s Manhattan apartment. But we know how the couple really feel: “Your love can do what no one else can.”


2. HOTTEST CONCERT:
Alicia Keys’s As I Am tour

The achingly emotional voice. Her mastery of the piano. Four No. 1 albums in a row. More than a performer, Alicia Keys is a true musician, a rarity among today’s packaged disposa-divas. Make sure to save your ticket stub to prove to your kids that you witnessed this once-in-a-generation talent. For tour dates through June, log on to AliciaKeys.com.

 

3. MOST ANTICIPATED ALBUM:
Usher’s Here I Stand
Confessions—the industry’s last real blockbuster, which sold more than 9 million CDs and had four No. 1 hits—conferred grown-and-sexy status on the former boy wonder. But that was four years and one highly publicized marriage ago. Can Usher keep up with the six-packs du jour? Judging by the sinful first single, “Love in This Club,” Usher’s ready to crunch out another monster summer.


4. HOTTEST RAPPER:
Q-Tip

Righteous folks, despair not: The Abstract has returned, with a live band and a new album this month. On the first single, “Work It Out,” Tip gets right to the point: “Hip-hop is dead/ Some say it’s wack/We need to bring it back.” Who better for the job than one of the brothers who made us love it in the first place?


5. BEST MUSIC GADGET:
The Flip

Forget tapes, wires, memory, menus or multiple buttons. This tiny, rugged point-and-shoot video camera (theflip.com) is the hottest thing in video since YouTube. Take it to the mall, the club, the concert—even the beach, with the optional waterproof case. Because if no one sees it, did it really happen?

 

6. HOTTEST LIVE MUSIC EVENT AND DVD
Essence Music Festival

It’s the obvious choice. With this year’s performers ranging from Mary J. to Kanye, Chris Rock to Rihanna, the legendary New Orleans throw down remains a premier destination for music and electric slide lovers from around the world. And the good times don’t have to stop once you leave the Superdome. We’re releasing the 2007 Essence Festival Vol. 1 CD and DVD, with performances by Beyoncé, Common and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (CD available this month; DVD, in November).


7. BEST NEW ARTIST:
Estelle

Don’t you miss Lauryn Hill something ridiculous? Well, after hearing Estelle, you might not. Born in London to a Senegalese mother and Grenadian father, this fierce MC can rip rhymes in one breath and sing sweet songs the next. With beehive buzz and a Kanye collabo on “American Boy,” her talent is evident from an ocean away.

 

8. HOTTEST CROONER:
Ne-Yo

He pens hits for Janet, Beyoncé and Rihanna. His voice is melodic honey. And he wears a mean hat. As his new single “Closer” heats up dance floors—he drops his third CD on June 24—we’re sure to be wall-to-wall with Ne-Yo this summer.


9. ALL-TIME FAVORITE SUMMER ALBUM:
Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July

The sweat starts to trickle on track 2, as Stevie shouts out his love on “All I Do.” By the middle of the record you’ve master-blasted into a searing dancehall. After a cool respite for “Lately,” Wonder brings this timeless summer celebration to a triumphant close with “Happy Birthday.”


10. BEST COMEBACK
Al Green

The Roots’ mastermind, ?uestlove, and keyboardist James Poyser (who has produced Erykah Badu) helm this reimagining of Al Green’s legendary sound, with contributions from Anthony Hamilton, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae. The entire album, Lay It Down, was recorded with the artists face-to-face. You can feel the love seeping through your speakers.

 

11. HOTTEST RE-RELEASE:
Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad

As if the Grammy, the game-changing haircut and the imprint of “eh, eh” into our brains wasn’t enough, Rihanna’s getting badder when her album returns with a handful of new tracks, including the Ne-Yo-penned “Take a Bow.”


12. HOTTEST PRODUCER:
Nate “Danja” Hills

Pop stars keep stealing the best producers. Virginia native and Timbaland protégé DanjaHandz went from crafting tracks for the likes of The Game to working on new albums for Madonna, Mariah and Missy. When your name is on such smashes as Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and “My Love,” anything is possible.


13. HOTTEST ROCKER:
Santogold

Mix Nina Simone with a dash of M.I.A., add a dose of seminal Black rockers Bad Brains, and you might come close to the Santogold sound. The Philadelphia-born, Wesleyan-educated singer disregards all possible boundaries. With Santogold, it’s about being a bona fide original.


14. THE KILLER SINGLE:
Mariah Carey’s “I’m That Chick”

Hate all you want, but at 39, Mariah shows no signs of slowing down as the music industry’s sales come to a standstill. This time she connects with a combination of feathery vocals layered atop a banging drum track, courtesy of Stargate.

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