Tree of Lyfe (to be released June, 23, 2015)
AYE YO YOU…
…um, that’s a pretty freaky looking album cover you’ve got going on there, Lyfe. It looks like the Human Centipede auditioning for Alvin Ailey.
But it’s really no surprise when you think about it. Lyfe has built his career on being unconventional.
Lyfe has spent his last five albums serving as R&B’s soulful Socrates, using his music to penetrate pressing issues in our households and communities. Life, love, family, religion, education, incarceration, redemption — he’s touched on all of them. While his peers tend to gloss over matters of the heart, Lyfe dives deep, using his music to uncover the frank truths in our lives.
Simply put, each album delivers the realest of real talk. Tree of Lyfe, Lyfe’s sixth effort, is no different.
The album begins with the simply put, “I Love You,” a breezy ode to his amour — “You are my glory, my revenge on every woman that ever ignored me,” before keeping it hood and saying she is “What K-Ci is to Jodeci … OOH YEAH.” Those entertaining touches are what make Lyfe’s music so personable.
“She Don’t Wanna” puts Lyfe in his familiar role as relationship counselor, warning a brother of the damage he’s doing to his mistress. “She shouldn’t have to live like this/she should be walking out the door but she can’t.” It’s a different spin on the “side-piece” mentality pop culture loves to exalt.
The Lyfe Lessons continue with “We’re Not the Same,” where he joins Algebra Blessett to emphasize substance over shine (“You think showing off makes you a boss/makes you look insincere and lost”) and the misleadingly titled #Hashtag, which skips the cutesy social media talk to delve into the harsh realities of the block. Lyfe speaks for high school grads who spent scholarship money to re-up on product for the streets. It’s real out here.
Lyfe’s raspy tones are perfectly complimented by Demetria McKinny’s warm vocals on “Talkin’ Bout Love” — and speaking of love, first single “Pretty Is” is the perfect confidence booster for young women struggling with image issues. Lyfe isn’t patronizing with his praise; he’s sincere, not trying to run game. Your boy Drake could learn a thing or 200 from this guy.
As with all his albums, some may find Lyfe’s messages a little heavy-handed and preachy. And sometimes his metaphors are a bit too, well, meta, like on “Gods.” But it’s the hopeful messages on tracks like “People,” when Lyfe croons “I think the world is changing” — that his themes really hit home. In just the past few days, in light of the tragic mass murder in a South Carolina church and the cry against racism that has followed, Lyfe’s messages are almost prophetic.
Tree of Lyfe is the prototypical Lyfe album — socially conscious themes fueled by authentic soul. Lyfe delivers the truths you need to hear, even if you don’t want to accept it.
Sit under Lyfe’s learning tree — no matter how unconventional it might be, he always delivers.
Best tracks: “She Don’t Wanna,” “Talkin About Love,” “I Love You”
4 stars out of 5