20 Best R&B Albums of 2014

The year in tough lovers, elusive chanteuses, purple royalty and more

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August Alsina, 'Testimony'

14. August Alsina, 'Testimony'

"I Luv This Shit" is this young Atlanta-via-New Orleans moaner's big breakout hit, and its mournful-yet-triumphal complexity (killer synth horns, too) sets the tone for his poverty- and death-haunted debut album, which synthesizes his dark past into a bright — or at least brighter — future. Here, even the song with the chorus of "She ride me like a porn star" has an angst-ridden edge, but it's more earned, compelling, classical world-weariness than dopey Weeknd-style lothario malaise. Rappers from Pusha T to Fabolous drop by to lend some hardness, but are not unpleasantly softened in turn by a throwback-minded struggle-R&B barrage that aims for "Living for the City"-style pathos and gets 30 percent of the way there, which is plenty close enough. R.H.

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