Play With The Changes (released April 30, 2021)
Music fans love a comeback story. London-born and Toronto-raised singer Rochelle Jordan isn’t sitting around waiting for someone to pen her story for her – she’s ready to control her own narrative.
Ten years ago ago, RoJo seemed poised to be one of the industry’s newest defining stars. An earlier adapter of the moody R&B that would define the decade, she seemed to have the industry in the palm of her hand: A couple of promising LPs in the early 2010s; a writing credit on Childish Gambino’s “Telegraph Ave,” one of the standouts from his highly underrated Because the Internet 2013 album; and her breakout song “Follow Me” from her 1021 album the following year.
But when 1021 stumbled, a new label deal proved problematic and health issues took their toll, she was forced to re-evaluate her career.
A new deal and new direction now define Rochelle’s journey. She dropped these jewels in a recent interview: “I had a lesson to learn. And that’s to not let anybody strangle or suffocate my career again.”
Rochelle’s now ready to Play with the Changes, an album that once again strives to buck conventional R&B trends, embracing the freedom she’s sought years.
It’s no secret that I’ve had my complaints about “vibey” records for years now, but album opener “Love You Good” is atmospheric done right. The production is minimalistic but the scampering beat provides constant energy that keeps your ear engaged. Rochelle’s airy delivery – a sorta-combo of Mariah Carey and Aaliyah’s wispy notes – are strong enough not to get lost in the beat.
But this album’s most defining factor is definitely the rave-like atmosphere it creates. The pulsating “Got Em” feels like it was manufactured in C&C’s Music Factory. It’s super infectious. The synth-heavy “Next 2 You” lies in that same vein – ditto the globetrotting groove of “All Along.” It’s those types of genre-pushing sounds that will distinguish this album from the pack.
There’s much more here than vibey techno, though. Rochelle clearly has something to say. Her message rings loudest on the album standout “Broken Steel,” where she shatters the impenetrable “strong Black woman” stereotype to reveal that women hurt too. “Maybe I’m just that soft,” she wonders “because you’re playing too rough.”
It’s a theme that continues on “Lay,” realizing that in a world that sees her man as a target, the safest place he can be is in her arms. “Your head is always on a swivel, I like it better when it’s on my pillow.” It’s the plight of every Black woman expertly showcased in one song.
While a couple of tracks tend to blend into the background (“Something,” “Nothing Left”) Play with the Changes‘ greatest strength is its boundless creativity – from the addictive hook of “Count It” to the sonic strobe lights of “Dancing Elephants.” It’s not only the most daring project of 2021 so far, it’s probably her best LP to date.
Traditional R&B fans may be thrown off by this weird chimera of electronic dance and atmospheric soul, but if it’s one thing Rochelle has learned in her 10 year journey is that she’s finally ready to tell her story on her own terms. No labels, no boundaries, no inhibitions.
Just shut up and dance. It’s comeback season.
Best tracks: “Broken Steel,” “Got Em,” “Count It”
4 stars out of 5