Like A Drug (to be released Nov. 6, 2015)
Over on The Books of Face, one of my boys asked a question that has been plaguing R&B fans for nearly a decade:
Is R&B really dead?
This was my response: “Dead? No. Fans just have to dig a bit deeper to find substance. LOTS of artists are doing the genre justice. You just won’t hear it on your lame hip-hop radio station.”
One of those artists is John Michael, and with every note, he’s keeping the genre we love off life support.
JM’s 2013 debut, Sophisticated, blew me away with its simplicity. It never tried to overstep its bounds, nor did it chase after cheap radio trends. It was just a man and his music. Michael’s follow-up, Like A Drug, is slightly more daring but still sticks to the script. It’s that R&B you’ve been missing.
Fans of 90s R&B will instantly fall for “Fill Your Glass Up,” a smooth but flirty cut that’s certainly hip-hop influenced (JM even drops a few bars mid-track) but has its roots firmly in soul. We’re here for the vocals, and that’s where the album succeeds.
Michael’s vocals bounce between horns on the single (and title track) “Like A Drug” while floating to the stratosphere on the dreamy “All You Gotta Say.” “The Corner” is equally breezy — even when JM talks about his hood roots, the vibe is still silky. Chicago steppers will be lining up for this one.
Although Michael is great at creating an atmosphere, Like A Drug is much more than mood music. His lyrics expertly set scenes that match the album’s sonic backdrops. “Makin’ Love” is pretty self-explanatory, and while his intentions are obvious, the sexuality never goes too far over the top. We’re talking sensual, not sleazy, here — a perfect compliment for the production, which sort of resembles an R&B remake of Young Money’s old “Every Girl.” “You Want Me,” one of my favorite tracks from JM’s 2014 mixtape, returns for a second tour of duty, where he warns his girl that he’s down for one night, but he’s gonna vanish with the morning sun. And on “Already Gone,” much of the album’s bass-heavy production is stripped down to give JM’s vocals more room to breathe as he watches his girl move on. It really showcases just how effortless his vocals can be.
Most impressively, Michael has the instincts of a music veteran. “Run” is the perfect case study — rookies looking for an uptempo track would simply drop an frantically paced beat from a flavor-of-the-month producer, breaking up the album’s mellow vibe. Instead, JM simply raises his vocal intensity on the track’s relaxed production. That way, the album’s smooth vibe isn’t compromised, yet the energy level on this one track is raised. It’s REALLY impressive for an artist who is still developing his craft.
The future of R&B really is in good hands.
It’s easy to assume that Like A Drug is a simile for JM’s obsession with love — and make no mistake, he’s the kind of guy who loves love itself. But at its core, Like A Drug isn’t so much an addiction to women as it is an expression of his addiction to his music. He’s an R&B junkie who craves the music we love in its most pure form.
So no, R&B ain’t dead. Not as long as John Michael’s addiction remains.
Best tracks: “You Want Me,” “All You Gotta Say,” “Fill Your Glass Up”
4 stars out of 5