Grading the Top 10 in … Urban Adult Contemporary!

1. Anita Baker, “Lately”


Anita Baker covers Tyrese’s hit from 1999 and makes it very much her own. I really hoped this would be a cover of Massive Attack’s “Lately,” because Ms. Baker would absolutely kill it doing Shara Nelson’s part. Anita Baker is a national treasure, a Detroit Lions fan, and one of my favorite celebrities on Twitter. The first label she was ever on was called Ariola Records, which makes me laugh because I am an idiot. Last night she simultaneously live-tweeted the debate and the Lions-Bears game and it was glorious. She makes use of caps lock when appropriate, loves to drink cups of coffee, and always ends with her initials, “ab.” A sample tweet from Anita: “FREE GIFT!! Limited Time offer! Get it NOW. While it lasts!! His GIFT…of This Brand New Day!! :) ab”

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “The Queen of Quiet Storm —AnneBoleynMarquess

2. Anthony Hamilton, “Pray for Me”


I said it the last time I graded the UAC chart, but Anthony Hamilton is the dude. This song was co-written and produced by Babyface and Antonio Dixon (not the Colts defensive tackle). The final-act climax is perfect.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “This song is so true. I’m 15.” —pleaseclap

3. Miguel, “Adorn”


His name’s Miguel! And he is funky!

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “Love this song … but what a weird video. Reminds me of the first Freddy Kreuger movie where he is running through the school killing the kids in their dreams, loll. But Miguel brought it as usual. I hope this new look is just a phase thought, he’s too cute for it.” —blkazn77

4. Mary J. Blige, “Don’t Mind”


Not only is the Mary J. Blige song from the Burger King commercial an actual MJB single, it’s a really good one! Wrapped up in a tasty flour tortilla!

Grade: B+

Best YouTube Comment: “MARY J! Is original!!! I love her, she is so classy, she can make a whole video by herself dancing on a chair in the middle of the room by herself! She be jamming loll!!!” —felicia92086

5. John Legend ft. Ludacris, “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”


Luda and John Legend team up for this Phatboiz song from the Think Like a Man soundtrack released on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. They have both been better elsewhere. It’s still good, but not the best you’ve ever had.

Grade: B

Best YouTube Comment: “this song is a breeze its nice for fall and winter ahhhh” —cinnaminss

6. R. Kelly, “Feelin’ Single”


Am I the only one holding my breath for an R. Kelly and Taylor Swift duet? They both sing about love and being single all the time. R. Kelly has always been a pioneer in leather outergarments, but here he rocks some Chicago aviator chic with buttery leather gloves, rhomboid sunglasses, a gray motorcycle jacket, and a rippling silk scarf. Around two minutes in, the video turns into a movie-musical riff recalling Guys and Dolls, Moonwalker, Dick Tracy, and Singin’ in the Rain. This fades back into the party-photography-style video for this hot-stepper. Only R. Kelly, you guys.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “R KELLY IS A MUSICAL GENIUS” —psal23v

7. Alicia Keys, “Girl on Fire”


I tend to like one out of every few Alicia Keys singles. This isn’t one of the winners. In the video, Keys plays a Betty Draper–type housewife trapped at home in a series of tight-fitting, fashionable outfits. How is this not from a Hunger Games soundtrack? Did you know that Billy Squier has a writing credit on this song because they sampled the drums from “The Big Beat”? Are you as surprised as I am that they’re not the drums from “The Stroke”? Alicia performed it with the American women’s gymnastics team onstage, of course.

Grade: C-

Best YouTube Comment: “that cutting plants at the table to the beat of the song is so funny” —pastcineo

8. Tamia, “Beautiful Surprise”


OMG TAMIA!!! The Canadian R&B songbird is married to Grant Hill, who appears as her love interest in this video. She is opening for R. Kelly and still cranking out gossamer jams like this one. What a beautiful surprise!

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “This song is real as fuck.” —PhillipScarborough

9. Robin Thicke, “All Tied Up”


Robin Thicke is really sounding like Michael McDonald in portions of this song. Specifically on the Doobie Brothers’ “Minute by Minute.” Otherwise it’s Thicke thanking his lucky stars that against public wishes, Justin Timberlake keeps marrying Jessica Biel and signing up for more movies instead of coming to reclaim his blue-eyed soul throne. It might have been a shadow, but I thought I saw the video girl’s nipples.

Grade: B-

Best YouTube Comment: “James Dean swag” —caseywalker

10. Avant ft. Keke Wyatt, “You & I”


Keke Wyatt and Avant bring their magical chemistry to another duet. “You & I” is a back-and-forth in the spirit of classic low-rider oldies, conjuring up nostalgia and enduring love much like Avant’s musical hero R. Kelly does.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “Love them … they need to make a lovers cd for V’Day … Keke killed that indeed” —Tdiamond24

Filed Under: Billboard, Grading the Charts, John Legend, Ludacris, Miguel, R. Kelly, Robin Thicke, Top Ten

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert