Without much notice, mellow-natured R&B-er Elijah Blake published his newest studio album today by enabling an open, SoundCloud stream-session. The entire album is also available for purchase in iTunes.
A behind-the-scenes sort of artist, Blake hasn’t yet produced the public hype that his big voice–or his writing ability [see Usher’s “Climax]–deserves. Besides a summer 2013 hit collab with Common, “X.O.X.”, he stays one of Def Jam’s best kept secrets.
Ability-wise, Drift sounds nothing like a fledgling attempt at R&B. Elijah’s smooth vocal texture and comfort with improvisation make us forget that it’s his first album, and the reason for his label signing becomes apparent quite early on. “Wicked”, the opener, layers multiple Blake-harmonies like a cake. “Strange Fruit”, likewise, does its job with singing cries and abundant [and very competent] falsetto. Vocal talent’s certainly not the problem. The only issue is dullness—a consequence of Blake’s reliance on pedestrian, sensual themes; in simpler terms: those consistent with cookie-cutter R&B.
But it’s not his fault.
Up-and-coming singers fighting to stay above the surface of R&B’s waters can’t help it these days; the pressure for content conformity tempts everyone from Miguel to Trey Songz…and a lot give in. But the attainment of any ‘classic’-level status requires a deeper retrieval of substance. After all, mastery of distinction is what legendized the Maxwells and D’Angelos of the R&B narrative.
I’ll still replay the 8 tracks, though, for Elijah Blake vocal-sake. A J. Cole assist on the whinily-produced “Vendetta” also provides lyrical redemption. Give Drift a listen below: