Overgrown (released March 19, 2021)
I’ve often said that every decade or so, music ushers in a new generation of fans. That influx of fresh ears usually coincides with a change of musical direction as well.
And after the last decade of R&B, we’re definitely due for a change.
With the sounds of the 2010s dominated by hyperactive EDM, moody “vibez” or auto-tuned hip-hop, you have to applaud Joyce Wrice for her more back-to-basics approach.
Maybe the secret to moving R&B forward in 2020 is to look backward a bit.
The LA-based singer has spent the past few years crafting her sound but she really caught my ear with last year’s “So So Sick” – its mid-2000s vibe felt like it leapt off of AJ and Free’s 106 & Park couch and right onto my playlist. But by no means did it feel dated. It felt like a revival, a burst of energy in a genre that had so often felt stagnant in recent years.
Joyce’s debut album Overgrown continues that trajectory, an album with roots firmly planted in the glory days of the 2000s but willingly branches out into its own directions.
A lot of that is due to the compelling production.
Album opener “Chandler” is a sonic delight. Bass guitars thump in the background, keys tinkle and heavy strings weep, giving the production, and by proxy, Joyce’s vocals, a more robust and decadent feel than R&B’s recent sparse and dour offerings.
The beat of “Falling in Love” scampers around like something from a Mega Man game while current single “On One” and “Losing” both are tailor-made for springtime cruising (if outside ever opens back up). I love the addition of Freddie Gibbs on “On One” – it allows Joyce to focus solely on her lovebird lyrics while one of the greatest rappers in the game right now effortlessly drops heat.
Allowing the singers to actually sing and the rappers to actually rap – what a concept!
Credit Joyce for using the sonic diversity to present different styles of her sound as well. The mood-setting “Addicted” are the kind of “vibez” that I dig – sultry but never sleepy. The title track is a traditional piano ballad, giving her light, airy vocals the opportunity to shine. Meanwhile, Joyce’s remix of “That’s On You” is a cool nod to her heritage by incorporating a bit of Japanese into the verses.
There’s also liberal use of interludes here – another R&B trope that’s long due for a comeback. Most of them are solid, with “Hot Minute” being the standout, but I’m REALLY conflicted over “Westside Gunn’s Interlude.”
Yes, THAT Westside Gunn. DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT Westside Gunn.
Even though Westside Gunn is one of my favorite rappers at the moment, I have to admit his sex and violence shtick feels really jarring here. Props to him for not compromising his sound but listening to him brag about having girls on all fours and murdering ex-boyfriends doesn’t QUITE fit the tone of the album.
Regardless, the missteps are small. While some tracks like “Think About You” are serviceable but don’t stand out, it’s Joyce’s chemistry with guests like Masego on “Must Be Nice” or the feel-good energy of “Losing” that really define this album.
R&B has been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past 16 or so months – be it Rona or just stagnant creativity. However, Overgrown is easily one of genre’s most promising debuts, instantly making Joyce a star to watch.
If Joyce is R&B’s future, brighter days might just be ahead.
Best tracks: “So So Sick,” “Falling in Love,” “Chandler”
4 stars out of 5