R&B Fridays: Episode 65

19 tracks from 19 different artists this week tells you that this episode is stacked with variety. Mostly established names too (at least in the R&B Fridays series!), so this is definitely one to be getting involved with.

As per usual routine, let’s catch up with the R&B week gone by: the new Rihanna single, Ne-Yo’s latest video, hugely anticipated visuals for Bruno Mars’ debut single, the official tracklisting for Bruno’s debut album, much-delayed video from Auburn, and finally the latest collab from Taio Cruz and Tinchy Stryder.

Willow Smith-Whip My Hair
-The daughter of Will Smith launches her music career with a bang. Not your typical child singer in the slightest, and at NINE YEARS OLD she has a shocking maturity in her voice and could quite comfortably be mistaken for someone twice her age. Her inflections and nuances have some similarities to Rihanna’s too, though Willow’s overall vocals are better. To cap it all off, this beat is also surprisingly good and this could be a guilty pleasure track for many.

Soulja Boy-Speakers Going Hammer
-Sorry to bring the mood down here. Purely for the (many) Soulja Boy fans, everyone else should steer clear.

Usher-You So Fire
-Some more strong unreleased material for Ush, so strong it could comfortably be album material. Really relaxed track, the likes of which he doesn’t really make too many of: it’s normally either bedroom slow jams or club music, not chillout R&B. A little unfinished as the vocal volume is ever so slightly off, but definitely worth checking out.

-Interestingly, the first thing that hit me about this song was its similarities to early Usher (and Trey Songz) material. Sammie definitely adds his own style to the mix though, delivering a type of hook that you probably wouldn’t get from the aforementioned singers, as it’s a fairly pop stylised. Decent all-round pop-R&B effort.

K-Young-Love Drunk ft. Crooked I
-Last week it was Raekwon, and now hip-hop heavyweight Crooked I makes an appearance in R&BF. This is a good track too, mixing things up between an uptempo feel and a more deliberate pace. The hook is a great demonstration of K-Young’s vocals, and along with Crook’s verse, serves as the highlight.

Keri Hilson-Still A Girl
-One of those tracks you have to like, purely because it utilises the acoustic guitar for the key melody of the track. It’s always a good move to throw that into pop/R&B tracks as it’s a universally-liked sound, and Keri’s unquestionable vocal talents round the song off nicely.

Jermaine Dupri-Take Me Away ft. Johnta Austin
-Pretty unusual one. The beat is very much made for an R&B slow jam, but Dupri solely raps on it. Having said that, Dupri does go for a more introspective rapping style which fits a little better, though it’s all a bit pointless as you’ll find yourself waiting for the Johnta parts in the last third of the song. Worth the wait too, as you’d expect.

Kevin Cossom-After This
-A simple and effective R&B slow jam. Haven’t heard from Kevin in some time, and he’s returned with some strong material which boasts a smoothed-out beat and some equally smooth vocals. Solid track.

Mary J. Blige-Anything You Want ft. Busta Rhymes and Gyptian
-Unexpected features on this one, and an unexpected sound too. This has the makings of a big track, as the hip-hop/R&B hybrid production lends itself to all of the artists involved, meaning no-one gets left behind. Busta Rhymes comes on a dancehall/reggae vibe too, which will catch you by surprise!

Karina Pasian-Just ‘Cause
-A leftover track from her Grammy-nominated 2008 debut album, this is another one of those lyrically defiant tracks that Pasian writes very well. It never comes across as too angry either, as the softness in her voice and piano-laced melodies ease the lyrics appropriately without stifling their impact. Worthy of an album inclusion for me.

Chrisette Michele-I’m A Star
-The new single from her forthcoming third album (n.b. I had no idea 2009′s Epiphany debuted at #1 in the US!), this is an uplifting track with some confident and positive lyricism delivered superbly. The production will win some fans too, with a ‘clinky’ effect giving it a nice touch of originality. Ne-Yo’s on backing vocals for this one too, adding even more depth to an already-stacked track.

Ron Isley-Close To You ft. Lauryn Hill
-Right, so firstly let me break this down for the younger readers: Close To You was originally a Carpenters song, and you’ll probably know it as ‘why do birds suddenly appear?’. For everyone else, LAURYN HILL has come out of nowhere and graced us with a feature alongside the evergreen Ron Isley. I know you’re excited, and you should be. Mighty fine vintage music.

Charlie Wilson-You Are
-Play this song and the one above back-to-back: they blend into each other perfectly! Soul heads, prepare for a second dose as Uncle Charlie takes to his piano to drop something that has throwback written all over it. This could comfortably be from the 80s or early 90s, and hence isn’t short on raw passion, unfiltered emotion and quality. Massive fan of Charlie’s vocals on this, though the horns section towards the end is also a highlight.

Shanell-Cupid’s Got A Gun ft. Nicki Minaj
-Back to 2010. This is a great collaboration from the two leading ladies of Young Money, with a dark and atmospheric production providing a memorable backdrop for Shanell and Nicki to do their thing. Shanell opens with some good vocals, whilst Minaj adds some creepy backing vocals along with a short verse before Shanell takes over again on vocals. Good track overall.

Alicia Keys-Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart (Ted Smooth Remix)
-The master of mash-up remixes fuses together Keys’ smash hit with the drumline from Snoop Dogg’s I Wanna Rock. It’s a great combination too, as the drumline is pretty simple and unobtrusive, and hence thickens the previously-gentle track considerably.

Sean Kingston-Dumb Love
-Pop fans, this is solely for you. Everyone else should just move past this.

Brutha-Stripper Song
-Always good to get some material from these guys. This one is a slower effort, but not necessarily a slow jam by definition as the lyrics and vocals are geared towards a more upbeat and perky track. It’s rarely done successfully, but these guys have definitely got it right here.

R. Kelly-Fireworks
-From Kels’ upcoming Epic album, this definitely lives up to the title of the album. It’s the progressive production that really sets this one apart, as it builds slowly throughout the verses to set up the tribal influences on the hook. Very, very similar to Sign of a Victory, but with more percussion that adds more depth. No-one is better than R. Kelly at these kind of tracks.

Ciara-Why You
-One of those extremely rare tracks that fits the mould of both a chillout track and a club track. The percussion is definitely uptempo, but the overarching synths and other production elements create a more chilled environment. My only query is whether this is actually Ciara, as at times it doesn’t really sound like her.

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