Foreward (released April 10, 2020)
Longtime R&B fans have spent nearly two and a half decades praying that the genre returns to the prominence it enjoyed in the mid-90s.
Mainstream appeal. Classic albums released almost monthly. A seemingly endless supply of radio hits and romantic anthems. Whew, what a time.
If you want my opinion – and obviously you do if you’re reading this – the leaders of that movement were Boyz II Men, whose mix of impeccable talent, chart-topping success and worldwide appeal made R&B one of the hottest genres of its era. They were the standard-bearers.
Shawn Stockman is one of the signature voices of that legendary quartet, a voice so distinct that it seemed only a matter of time before he followed the path of the Charlie Wilsons and Smokey Robinsons and Michael Jacksons before him and branch out on his own. When Stockman turned heads in 1995 with “Visions of a Sunset” on the Mr. Holland’s Opus soundtrack, he seemed to be on his way.
Twenty-five years and a global pandemic later, we finally got that solo album out of Shawn. Better late than never, I guess.
But when you think about it, Foreword lands at the perfect time. In a world filled with uncertainty, there’s something comforting about embracing the familiar – why do you think those IG battles with your favorite artists from your childhood are doing so well?
While Shawn’s vocals bring a warm familiarity to our ears, don’t misunderstand me – as its name implies, Foreword isn’t just a nostalgia trip. It’s a veteran artist using his instrument to find his place in the current R&B landscape.
If you enjoyed Stockman’s 2018 EP Shawn (I certainly did, I named it one of the best releases of that year), you already know what to expect from Foreword – all those tracks find a home here.
Just like on the EP, “Been Too Long” remains the gem of the set. The pleading vocals and gentle harmonies just glide effortlessly. “Feelin Lil Som’n” lightly picks up the pace while still maintaining Shawn’s laid-back vibe. Meanwhile, his falsetto continues to shine over the acoustics of “Don’t Spare My Heart.”
The catchy groove of “Shawn Na Na” hits a little different today in quarantine land than it did two years ago: “The world is cold, people do so much harm/the only warmth we feel is in each other’s arms, we here.”
The newer tracks are just as solid. Stockman approaches “All I Do” with a tenderness that’s often lacking in today’s R&B releases, yet he has no problem switching to freak mode on “Left Right,” where he obsesses over his woman while her red bottoms click-clack in tune to the beat. “Me” provides a little unexpected introspection, as well, providing lessons of self-worth beyond Instagram likes.
Foreword is an absolutely effortless project. In a climate that loves to celebrate sizzle over steak, the album’s easygoing nature and no-frills approach means it may overlooked by fans accustomed to meme-able lyrics and TikTok-ready production.
But if the past few months have taught us anything as a society, it’s that there is value in slowing down and cherishing substance over hollow style.
Stockman appropriately wraps up Foreword with “Breathin,” an ode to pressing onward in the face of adversity: “The air you slowly took from me is now mine again, and now, I’m breathing.”
It’s a lesson in patience and a strong reminder that better days are ahead – even if it took us 25 years to get there.
Best tracks: “Been Too Long,” “Left Right,” “Feelin Lil Som’n”
4 stars out of 5