Remember those days when your parents, aunts, uncles or even grandparents used to play music around you when you were a kid and say “young one, you don’t know nothin’ bout this here – this is grown folks’ music?” You could grasp an understand of what they were talking about when listening to R&B albums like R. Kelly’s 12 Play or Lovers Rock by Sade; that’s what they would call ‘Grown & Sexy’ music. Flash forward 20 years later, and the style of Rhythm & Blues has sprung a new division entitled Ratchet & Blues (we all remember the Crunk & Blues phase when Ciara first came out). The-Dream has been known for his R&B music over the years, but more so as a songwriter and producer. He’s been known to be involved with the southern influence of his songs (well, he is from North Carolina), but that’s not the point here. The point is that when artists have built their names around a distinct sound, they usually throw a curveball here and there, and with Mr. Nash’s case, that’s exactly what IV Play is – a curveball. A lot of people may call this a hit, but I’m viewing it as more so a miss although it does have a general appeal for what today’s general audience prefers – the ratchet.
You know, I used to find it funny when Jay-Z & Beyonce kept their whole relationship a secret like the rest of the world didn’t know what was going on, and that included subtle references to each other in whatever songs they did. Since they’ve been married and had a child, they don’t seem to shut up about each other now, and that’s fantastic for them (in all seriousness). In this turn up phase of music, there’s much ado about nothing when it comes to the subject material and on High Art, it’s no different. You get the initial burst of ratchet that The-Dream is likely to convey for the duration of the album, and also the verse that Jay-Z threw up there was probably a favour that The-Dream requested after the whole “swap meet” clowning at The Grammy’s (which is still a tad bit hilarious). Whether you were high or not listening to this, the level of height that the ‘art’ on this track produced was probably an 8 foot ceiling in a downtown condo.
The-Dream (I should just abbreviate it as TD, not to be confused with the Bank of the same initials) is known for having mastering the art of song to song transitions, as they were creative and yet so subtle that you just went right into them with no delay. The transition into IV Play was a reflection of that, but as far as consistency throughout the whole album with them – it just wasn’t there. As far as that ‘grown and sexy’ theme that most young adults (who claim to be grown) will proclaim, there’s definitely a shift in tone when it comes to being really direct in what’s happening here. Foreplay is often done as a warm up to sex – just to get things started; but there are folks who just like to get right into it – no time to waste, let’s get it on (word to Marvin).
Since he stated previously that he didn’t care for any foreplay, it’s fitting that the next two songs were all about that action. Equestrian (Horse riding – use your imagination) & Pussy are exactly what you’d think they’d be – just sexy time. There are traditional R&B lovers that were pretty upset at the fact that the content was so bluntly vulgar, because there are different ways to express just exactly what every R&B brings up in 85% of their songs – making love or sex. This is raw, ratchet, and straight up ignorance (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Up to this point, there’s nothing holding me to stating that this album is anything great, but there are catchy songs on it for the most part. Turnt was very interesting to say the least because two artists collaborating on one song that you’d never expect were Beyonce & 2 Chainz. I mean, they’re all under the Roc Nation umbrella, but still. ‘Baddie Bey’ has embraced her grown up wild side and many are appreciative of that, whereas many think that she’s just trying too hard (she has an album coming out this year, so I don’t know what to tell you). 2 Chainz is 2 Chainz and we’ll always accept that he’s just here for hype and ignorance (and you can’t forget that ‘Turn Up’ is one of his regular sayings – the ATL thing to do).
One of the reasons why I wanted to listen to this album is because Gary Clark Jr. was featured on it. If you know me (which I doubt you do), I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him at Made In America last year. Jay-Z hand picks the list, and he was on the bill for both days (the only artist to do so), so he must have been good, which he was. I hope that more people in Hip Hop & …this R&B mash-up genre use him on a regular basis, because he brings that soul along with him. He could be a legend one day. Too Early is the beginning of what looks to be the personal and actually traditional R&B sound that many were waiting for in the first place. The guitar playing backed by GCJ (say that out loud and it sounds like Juicy J – random, I know) adds a dynamic to the song that makes you feel the song more, and that’s what I appreciate about it. It felt like an older Blues song or something that Anthony Hamilton would sing; dealing with the hardships of relationships can be stressful – this song brings an emphasis on that. At least it’s a song that I can finally enjoy.
Notice how I skipped over Where Have You Been with Kelly Rowland as a feature – that should tell you my thoughts on the song already. I’m not heavy on R&B, and do correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I feel like there hasn’t been a really good male-female collaboration since Chris Brown & Jordin Sparks did ‘No Air’. I mean, unless that’s just me then cool – but the flow of this song just dragged on and on. I thought it would have been better, but it didn’t pan out the way I would have hoped to. I still love Kelly, however.
Bouncing back on the tracklist, Michael was next up, and the sole purpose was it to be a sort of paying homage to the King of Pop (dead or alive, it doesn’t matter – he’ll always be King). It was cool because of how he used Michael’s adlibs and notable falsettos. As for the song itself as a whole, I didn’t care for it. The lyrics of this album this far sounds like a much of sexting conversations – this one being the leader of all of them. The bridges & hook were the only things that I liked about this song, and the beat was pretty catchy as well, but when it comes to the raunchy R&B, I’d rather the rappers handle all of that; it doesn’t sound right with certain R&B artists (Miguel gets a pass).
Loving You/Crazy sounded like Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’ from the Justified album. It sounded wicked, but then for no apparent reason, the beat just changed up and personally, I preferred the first beat and hoped that it would have rode out for the whole song. Being in love makes people do crazy things like giving up everything that they have just to have that person (it’s funny because the word ‘sacrifice’ was one that was brought up on this topic). I think because of the fact that the beat changed up, I didn’t like the rest of it, so I just switched over to New Orleans which was an interesting title to say the least, but when you listen to it, it makes sense. New Orleans is home to a large traditional African presence, and that’s where Voodoo is often performed (I’m sure it’s done everywhere, but that’s what people know New Orleans for mostly, besides Mardi Gras). The-Dream here takes a spin on the city’s name as saying that a woman cast a voodoo spell on him that doesn’t explain why he’s so emotionally conflicted with her:
How can I love this bitch
And at the same time scream “ fuck this bitch”
And at the same time while I fuck this bitch
And at the same time had enough of this bitch?
I’m sure we’ve all had those thoughts about our significant others like “why am I with her? She pisses me off to the 10th power – but I love the shit out of her.” There are just things that warrant no need for explanation and you just have to roll with the punches as they’re delivered. Love is often a spell in which we’re the victims of – nothing much more than to put it that way.
There’s only so much vocal synthesizing I can handle before wanting to throw my laptop across the room. Self-Conscious was the last straw. I mean, I thought I was listening to The-Dream, not T-Pain (although The-Dream has been doing this for years, that’s not the point). I tried to fully sit through the song on numerous occasions, but as my ears were saying “sure”, my mind, body, and soul were saying “there’s not enough time in the world for this” – 3 negates 1 every time. Holy Love was alright, but much like the rest of the album, I just felt like there could have been more done, but it was plain. You know when you’re listening to a song and you just get nothing out of it? Like, no emotions or anything that compels you to stick around? That’s how I felt, but I know there are people who like R&B that’ll like it. It just sounds too Weeknd inspired for my liking, that’s also the issue I had with this song.
Slow It Down is a message to all DJs who play nothing but dance songs at the club to just stop doing it because when a woman is in the right mood, a slow song will heighten it. The problem is that, there’s not a lot of good artists around that are even making good slow songs. If there was an R&B section of today’s artists, I can’t see it going more than 15 minutes – it’s just not the same because everyone wants to be experimental, and what drives the business in the clubs? Ratchet noise and songs about alcohol and blowing money fast. This is why 90s R&B themed parties thrive a lot, because you can go the whole night tune after tune after tune in pure nostalgic freedom. Today’s R&B doesn’t give off the same feel, but at the same time, I get what The-Dream is saying on this – slow it down sometimes. In that case, make better slow songs, you R&B singers.
Now if you’ve already come to the conclusion that I didn’t like this album, you’d be correct. There were too many songs trying to be hits, and the production for the most part didn’t do anything for me as far as interest & entertainment. With a few love ballads, some club inspired songs, and an overall lackluster feel of misguided hope, this album swung and missed on numerous occasions where the standards were set pretty high, and The-Dream was on a run for making some great albums in his hay day. What happened? Who knows? I guess it’s pretty ironic that he sings “I can give a fuck about the foreplay” because that’s exactly how I feel about it. If you’re down for the raunchy & blunt style that TD brought to the table, then I hope you enjoyed it. Some things are better left for other artists to touch. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX