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The music industry has become quite stale lately, and outside of maybe the Indie scene you don’t find many artists who really care to try new things. That’s the case in most mainstream genres including the contemporary R&B field, which is dominated by basically the sames songs (the sound, the producers even the lyrics seem to be recycled over and over). Fortunately, two of the R&B artists that shook things up in the genre around 2000 and 2001 are back with new releases, as well as a new artists who showed promise with their first single last summer. Are any of these three releases different enough to change the game, well no but they actually (for the most part) make for some solid recordings for this year.
Starting with neo-soul Diva Jill Scott. She begins her fourth album “The Light of the Sun” giving the impression this album will be different from her previous works. She’s rapping on “Blessed”, she uses some old school Hip Hop flavor on “Shame”, and pulls off an interesting beat-box remake of Lisa Lisa’s classic 80’s ballad “All Cried Out”. Jill is definitely trying new things on the first half of this album, she even sounds completely different using a huskier voice on the first single “So In Love” with Anthony Hamilton. Yes, she’s venturing out of her comfort zone a little bit, but it doesn’t deliver the flawless results she might have expected. Some of the songs just don’t sound right, and it feels like she’s forcing the sound rather than it just being a natural vibe for her. She does deliver on the latter half of the album which plays like your typical Jill record. Slow jams with clever wordplay, breezy bedroom music, even throwing her poetry into the pot on the fabulous (and too short) “Some Other Time”. By the time you get to the beautifully simple “Missing You” and “When I Wake Up”, you can almost forgive her for the musical choices made on the first half of the album. Overall it’s not her finest piece of work, but some of the isolated songs make for some of her best songs.
Musiq Soulchild‘s sixth album “MusiqintheMagiq” opens with a Swizz Beatz produced track “Anything” on which he talks about being faithful “despite my reputation”. Which is odd since Musiq has built his career around the image of being the lovable nice guy who just wants to be friends if a relationship is not desired. So to think of him as anything else seems like a big stretch of the imagination. And just like his image and persona, his music hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years which is both a good and bad thing. He stays in his own lane, and delivers the same love songs on every album to the point that you don’t come to expect much from him. “MusiqintheMagiq” follows pretty much the same pattern, but somehow delivers more of a punch than his last few albums. In fact this album might be his best since 2002’s “Juslisen”, it seems like the same Musiq but he is more present and energetic with this album than the previous works. And there are even instances where the concepts and lyrics show a more mature and (dare I say) more masculine Musiq. On his very first single (“Just Friends (Sunny)”) he talked about settling for being friends, and on this more mature album he says straight up he “I don’t wanna befriends” (on, you guessed it , “Befriends”). Even his sex songs are more convincing, and on top of the lyrical content the production on this album is also slightly different and more attention grabbing. Album closer “Likethesun” is a little more off-kilter and unique than most of his entire discography, and “Single” “Say I Do” and “Backtowhere” feel more alive than anything on his last album “OnMyRadio”. Musiq has delivered a very solid album, and he’s done it by staying true to his sound but expanding on it piece by piece.
Last summer, Miguel‘s first single “All I Want Is You” showed major promise. The love ballad, which was reminiscent of mid 90’s R&B, gave off the impression that Miguel might be brining in a new breed of contemporary R&B crooners. His debut album of the same name, released last November, shows little peaks of promise that he can deliver but is dominated by the same-sounding songs you can hear at any given moment on Urban radio. There are times when it sounds like he’s mimicing some of the top names in the genre. He channels Ne-Yo on “Vixen”, Usher on “Hero” and “To The Moon”, even The-Dream on “Teach Me”. And though these mimics aren’t half bad, somehow I was expecting more of a unique vibe throughout the album. I was expecting him to put a stamp on his music, to let us know “this is Miguel!”, and unfortunatley there wasn’t enough of that. Ofcourse the title track, and current single “Sure Thing” (quite possibly the best R&B song of the year) show hints of who he might become as an artist. And funny enough the way too short “Girl With The Tattoo” also shows he might be holding something within that will separate him from the slew of R&B dudes, so maybe we’ll have to wait for the second album for Miguel to truly emerge. Right now, “All I Want Is You” is a fun album but not the statement I was expecting from him.