Struggle Love (to be released March 18, 2016)
There’s one key element all great R&B albums have in common – a perfect marriage of vocals and production.
That’s why some of your favorite artists need to stay off those DJ Mustard beats. Here’s some real talk for you this fine day: Every beat is NOT for every artist.
Jaheim knows better.
Struggle Love, Jah’s seventh release, layers his classic harmonies over live instrumentation. The result is a sound that is a perfect showcase for his voice — which still sounds like the reincarnation of Teddy P — while being the ideal backdrop for his love lessons.
Those lessons have been the hallmark of Jaheim’s 15-year career, offering blunt honestly and street sensibility to the lovelorn. He’s like reformed corner boy who has gone through it all and is willing to share his wisdom with young cats.
The album’s title track doesn’t stray from that legacy. Jaheim waxes nostalgic about love before money and fame, saying that he misses that “use up the data on your phone love.” Playa, my future wife and I spent two years living on opposite coasts, I can relate to that struggle. It’s the relatable, down-to-earth music that made Jah a star.
But as I alluded to earlier, it’s the robust, soulful production really shines here. Y’all know I’m a sucker for live horns, which give “Nights Like This” the perfect blaxploitation vibe. The keys and gentle sax on “Songs to Have Sex to” beg the listener to fulfill that track’s promise. The atmosphere is downright heavenly on the single “Back In My Arms,” but it actually takes a back seat to the remorseful “Keep.” “Something Tells Me” and “If I Were You,” are equally sorrowful but the soundscapes keep them from slowing to a miserable crawl.
Struggle Love’s biggest flaw comes down to one thing – track sequencing. The best tracks are all clustered in the middle of the album, bookended by weaker offerings. The album into “My Shoes” is the typical “Y’ALL CAN’T DO THIS LIKE MEEE” braggadocio C-list rappers drop weekly. “Aholic” is crippled by some cringe-worthy lyrics (but I can’t deny the triumphant Earth Wind & Fire-inspired production). Even some of the more poignant tracks like “One By One” (addressing inner-city violence), “Happy For Me” (the struggles of watching a friend build a family) and “Speak Up” (shouting down hypocrites) lag behind stronger offerings.
Listening to the album in sequence – as the listener should – winds up being an unnecessary roller coaster. The journey start out steady, reaches thrilling heights but then drops down. With a few edits and some reshuffling, Struggle Love could have really been a force.
Even with its shortcomings, Struggle Love is another strong entry in Jaheim’s underrated catalog. With that voice and that instrumentation, Jah makes the struggle sound so good.
Best tracks: “Nights Like This,” “Something Tells Me,” “Songs to Have Sex To”
3.5 stars out of 5