Contemporary R&B Catch-up: Syd, Rihanna, BJ the Chicago Kid, The-Dream


Syd – Fin (2017)

The oft-quoted “For me, this is like an in-between thing—maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform” is telling, but I don’t begrudge her one bit: having been a fan of the Internet since 2013’s Feel Good, she deserves more success, and if she feels like genericism’s the way to get to the radio (ie. lead single “All About Me”; the pitch-shifted vocals of “Smile More,” though that one has a lovely “Turn the lights low” hook), then as long as she gets there, I s’pose. But she doesn’t quite get there on her debut solo album. Hit-Boy, capable of some really woozy or visceral productions (and sometimes both) understandably reigns it on opener “Shake Em Off”; the stuttered hook of “Know” recalls something similar on Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” and on the other side, the held “Walking away” hook in “Insecurities” curiously recalls Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” (anyone?). And while the synth tune on “All About Me” has grown on me (to say nothing of the entire first verse), someone else would’ve handled the “woo”-sounds better than Steve Lacy: they don’t sound as potent as probably hoped; she’s better with the sensual stuff for now.


Rihanna –  Loud (2010)

Only one great song (“Only Girl”) plus another good one (“What’s My Name”), and yet, somehow, between the second-rate Lady Gaga (“S&M”) and Taylor Swift (“California King Bed”) attempts, and reviving a painful Avril Lavigne hook from 2002 (“Cheers”), this album spawned seven singles. I suppose we should be thankful “Love The Way You Lie (Part II)” wasn’t among them?


BJ the Chicago Kid – In My Mind (2016)

He sings well…on other people’s tracks. I have no issue navigating through the lyrical clichés (ie. “Church,” which is about missing church but getting to heaven in other ways; some chick named Isabella whispers French come-hithers to waste time on the otherwise pleasing “Love Inside”), it’s the sonic clichés that bother me: “The Resume” is a 6-minute black hole that delegates Big K.R.I.T. to intro duty; proper opener “Man Down” doesn’t even sound like BJ is on his own track. Nothing as catchy as “Sex X Money X Sneakers” or as surprising as “His Pain II” (both from his non-major label debut, four years back), to say nothing of “Shame” (Freddie Gibbs) or “Kush & Corinthians” (Kendrick Lamar).


The-Dream – Climax EP (2013)

The machine keeps churning (“Com’on”; “Dope Bitch”), although I confess a bit of surprise to hear the acoustic and electric guitars working in tandem in the back half of “Roc” and the darker beat of “Thirsty Whore” (though “You need a father figure, put your tiny hands in mine” is unintentionally grotesque).


5 responses to “Contemporary R&B Catch-up: Syd, Rihanna, BJ the Chicago Kid, The-Dream

  1. Wowzers, I didn’t even know ¾ of these people existed! So I’ll take your word for it! And the one I did know, Rihanna, isn’t even one I follow at all. A quick check of my iTunes reveals I have three of her tracks in my collection – two duets with Eminem, and one with Drake. And I only bought the Drake to see what the fuss was about (meh).

    Man, you are teaching me things on a Saturday morning blog post reading session!

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