Novel. It's a fittingly double-edged moniker, for a man whose 'pen game' is much sharper than any sword. Indeed, Alonzo "Novel" Stevenson is a bit of a paradox. His forthcoming debut on Capitol Records, The Audiobiography... is a study in creative duality: equal parts sung and rapped. A daring opening salvo, given urban music's penchant for pigeonholing artists. Yet as Novel opens up, and his life's path and inspirations come into focus, his music seems less contradictory, more complementary. A product of luminary musical lineage - grandson of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Solomon Burke, son of former Motown VP Mickey Stevenson -- Novel is unequivocal about his own niche: "I consider it hip-hop." No stranger to the industry, Novel languished through record label rigmarole. Ironically, this shuffle mirrored that of his adolescence, a bi-coastal back-and-forth between parents. He ignored repeated industry advice to concentrate on one genre at the expense of the other. Always confident in his ability, and just now galvanizing his identity, he kept busy producing and writing for some of the game's biggest stars: Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis, India.Arie, Joss Stone, and Beyonce. Channeling principal influences Prince and Lauryn Hill, Novel was intent on authoring the next chapter of his life in his own voice. Eventually, Capitol Records, under the umbrella of Dallas Austin's Rowdy imprint, made Novel a home. "Capitol heard my music and totally got it," Novel beams. "They said, 'We know you're not just a radio artist. You have a story here that we have to build.' They were the first label to say that." Finally, all of his creative energy, his long-germinating frustration, his very soul would pour into the aptly-titled The Audiobiography...
The Audiobiography... is entirely self-made, save a few collaborations with Dallas Austin, producer No I.D. and DJ Toomp. An ambitious record, not simply for its content but also that it's all parts Novel: songwriter, singer, MC, producer. Novel knows a hip-hop audience may question his veracity. To that end: "I only write about things I've seen, experienced, or just conceived. And I incorporate other people's experiences along with my own." Novel merges his storytelling chops and ample life lessons on the striking, sweeping ballad "Velvet Sky." Elsewhere, "Song Cry" is an equally clever, two-fold reflection of Novel's upbringing. "I sampled my dad's music. It's about me growing up without a father for much of my life. I ran away from home a few times, and when I'd come back, my mom would tell me that it's ok to be a man and still cry. With all the stress, I was trying not to cry, and instead I'd just leave." But lest The Audiobiography... seem entirely somber, look to "The One." It opens with ethereal, strummed guitar, and unfurls as unabashed uplift, pleading for peace and unity. With Novel's resolve-testing past and zealous subject matter, he knows to expect instinctive labeling as a "conscious" artist. Fittingly, he's unbothered. "I'm comfortable because most conscious artists get caught up and boxed in this one particular area, and feel like they can't do wrong, they can't make any mistakes. We're all human; I have my flaws, I make mistakes, so I try to keep it, 'This is me, this is my life, this is who I am.' I want to talk about social issues but also about women, having fun, enjoying life. I'm trying to bring it all together without being too contradictive-- but that's what makes us human, a little contradiction. I think its better when you're vulnerable, so I let the world know this is who I am. I don't mind being called conscious."
I Am feat. Ben Folds, Talib Kweli and Spree Wilson
Fly Away feat. KnivezOut