Honestly (released November 3, 2017)
Playas, I gotta tell y’all, after spending almost THREE hours of my life – and probably 10 years off my lifespan – listening to my Cousin Chris Brown’s gargantuan album, I nearly jumped for joy when I checked out the runtime of Lalah Hathaway’s latest album.
Twenty-eight minutes. There’s a blessing in that brevity.
I can understand why some fans might feel slighted by such a streamlined release – in the past couple of months alone, Musiq Soulchild and Jhene Aiko both dropped albums than run longer than a Madea movie. We’ve been conditioned to think that bigger is better.
And I’m still having nightmares from that eternal Heartbreak on a Full Moon. *shudder*
But when it comes to great albums, less is almost always more. It takes Lalah less than a half-hour to bare her soul and deliver quality R&B. Lalah’s lineage and her time-tested vocals make her R&B royalty. Honestly, her seventh studio, LP, is just another jewel in that crown.
The title track kicks off the album and hooks your ear immediately thanks to stuttering production that sounds straight from a 16-bit RPG video game. In fact, a majority of production here feels lifted from a Super Nintendo composer (in the best of ways). Why else would her album cover simply be a 16-bit video-game sprite? And while her vocals are pristine – listen to how she floats the word “honestlyyyyyyyyyyyy” – it’s the message that’s even stronger. Lalah’s new video flips the concept from a disintegrating relationship to that of a disintegrating nation, spotlighting issues from the National Anthem controversy to police brutality. Tackling social issues certainly isn’t out of the norm in this climate but Lalah’s forceful vocals and her, well, honesty, takes that message far.
And while that message continues with “don’t give up,” with guest star Lecrae dropping gems along the way (“you needed space to reach the stars/you’ve been planted, you don’t realize your soil/you just take that ground for granted”) Honestly quickly settles into familiar territory, with Lalah’s love lessons looming large. #alliteration
“change your life” features Lalah talking greasy – “don’t need no reason, say you want it now/don’t be scared you can speak up.” Fans more accustomed to Lalah’s trademark sound will also gravitate toward “y o y.” With her warm, soothing vocals, she doesn’t really need to do much more than repeat “why, oh why” over and over to make her point known.
But most impressively, Lalah is able to embrace the changing sounds of an evolving genre without sacrificing her artistry. It’s a lesson a lot of her peers could learn. The shouty hooks of “what u need” and “won’t let it go” are all the rage on urban radio, but Lalah’s grounded vocals puts substance over style on both the stammering production of the former and the alluring strings on the latter. Current single “i can’t wait” also succeeds with that formula, balancing a mainstream bounce with warm vocals and solid writing. It’s the proper way to evolve your music.
Big things come in small packages, and Honestly wastes no time in raising the bar. It quickly delivers quality material before stepping back and letting the listener beg for more.
The ladies at my old church in Louisville used to have a saying about long-winded preachers – “it ain’t gotta be long to be strong.”
Please teach these young’ns, Lalah.
Best tracks: “honestly,” “i can’t wait,” “don’t give up”
4 stars out of 5