By Mawuse Ziegbe
I recently went back to Boston for a truly mystifying experience: my middle school reunion. Unlike high school or college reunions, it's too long ago for grudges or festering sexual tension to result in a truly glorious Ricki Lake moment. Instead, I was peering at people who I last saw eating glue and making macaroni art talk about diversifying their portfolio. The Capri Suns and knee scratches have been replaced by Blackberrys and breasts. The girl who used to wear goofy leggings is now dating a mayor. The girl who I used to build forts with is now doing nerdlinger stuff at IBM. The curly-haired boy who used to live for "soccah (God bless those Boston accents)," now owns a landscaping business and looks like a skinhead. Someone brought out a faded lit-mag where booger-picking classmates wrote 5-line stories about the history of pizza. And at one point I heard the unmistakable wail of the Macarena. Even the post-reunion toke-up had that unshakable element of "I'm going to wake up from this foolishness any minute now."
So let's ditch my awkward memories for music reminiscent of a simpler time: Raphael Saadiq's latest album, The Way I See It. Saadiq is having no part of the 21st century and that's just grand. There are lots of sunny marches and churchy grooves that sound like they come with vinyl furniture and a pair of saddle shoes. I'm all about "Stayin' in Love" and "100 Yard Dash" and Saadiq's liberal use of the tambourine. The only handicap is that the songs sound very similar and are mostly distinguished by their relative amounts of tambourine ("Big Easy," moderate tambourine, "Love That Girl" mega tambourine). But most importantly he still has that earthy sensuality and those magical basslines that really melt my butter.
Sonically, each track on Jazmine Sullivan's debut Fearless is distinct but lyrically, she's got the torch thing on lock. Imagine every possible way one could muck up a relationship and Jazmine's got some lyrics dripping with melisma and "drama with my ex-boo" sentiments. There are speaker-crushers for any occasion: If you're getting cheated on ("Live A Lie"), if you're cheating ("In Love With Another Man"), if you want your boo back ("Need U Bad") and if you've just caused sizable property damage ("Bust Your Windows"). A truly versatile record for those who think happy endings are for tossers. The Lauryn Hill comparisons can easily be made (the melodies, Wu-Tang samples, Salaam Remi connection, etc) but for the most part, Jazmine is her own woman. The biggest difference is back in the day we used to dub artists like Hill and Sullivan "Neo-Soul." Now they're simply known as "talented."