Some artists have great stories. More than just their music, it’s the myths and legends surrounding them that catapult them into the spotlight. 50 Cent’s a great example. When he first came out, people weren’t saying, “you gotta hear this guy, he’s a great rapper,” they were saying, “you gotta hear this guy, he got shot in the face nine times. Nine times!” Or take Keyshia Cole. As soon as America realized just how crazy her family situation was it brought her fame to the next level. Never underestimate the power of a great story. …
DJBooth Album Review
We can now add Brutha to the list of artists who stand out above the crowd on the strength of their story alone (hence their reality show on BET). Brutha is comprised of five...um...brothers who are themselves part of twelve siblings. When you have a family that large you better start bringing some money to the table, and so Brutha’s musical father pushed Anthony, Jared, Jacob, Papa and Grady Harrell to work in harmony from an early age, culminating in a deal with Def Jam and the release of an aptly named debut album, Brutha, that’s drawn comparisons to old school groups like Jodeci and made them part of the Black Male R&B Group Renaissance. It’s a great story, but even a great story can quickly turn into a gimmick if you can’t back it up with great music. Is Brutha more than an interesting idea for a reality show? Let’s find out.
There’s no better place to start than with their lead single, I Can’t Hear The Music, an electronically swirling track that’s made them a favorite of hyperventilation-prone girls everywhere. Musically, I Can’t Hear The Music is one of those tracks that isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds; it’s really just a continually looped piano melody and some clapping percussion, and it’s that simplicity that makes it so catchy. To kick things off guest rapper Fabolous does what he does best – run from gunshots in a parking garage. No, I’m sorry, I meant to say he drops a simple, punchline-heavy flow that’s perfect for radio r&b jams (see Shawty Is A Ten for more). For their part Brutha does their job capably, delivering a vocal performance that’s just good enough to make Can’t Hear a hit but lacks any truly impressive performances. (By the way, I would highly recommend that all the guys out there always listen to the music. It helps with the whole “dancing to the rhythm’ thing that girls seem to like).
Brutha is punctuated by club ready tracks like Can’t Hear and the Ne-Yo-esque What If, but the bulk of the album is filled with mid-tempo crooning about love sought after and lost. In fact, the true measure of a black male R&B group is how hotly they inspire sweet love-making - or just flat out f**king - and on that count Brutha comes out somewhere in between Day 26 and Jagged Edge. Take Set It Off, a steamy track about a man who’s run out of patience with his girl’s “you have to earn my lovin” demands. It’s a perfectly decent track, but if I was looking to finally seal the deal with a hesitant girl this is far from the song I’d choose; partly because of the “I’ve been patiently waiting to ride and get rode on” lyrics, partly because while Brutha’s notes are always pitch-perfect, they just don’t seem able to really bring the soul. It’s a similar story on Ghost, a slowly paced track about a relationship that’s one of the album’s best. Ghost is the kind of track everyone can relate to, and Brutha makes it work, but it lacks that “feel my pain” element that all great R&B has.
What’s odd about Ghost and about Brutha as a whole, is the minimal harmonizing they do. Most of the album’s songs, from the ballad She’s Gone to the marching Make You Love It, seem to be designed for solo artists, with the rest of the brothers serving as glorified back-up singers. For a band comprised of family members, Brutha doesn’t always work well together when it comes to their music (see Boyz II Men for the epitome of how it’s done). Ultimately, Brutha is a slightly above-average r&b group, and if they want to become more they’ll have to make music that’s even more interesting than their story. It won’t be easy, but neither is growing up with twelve brothers and sisters.
DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 01/4/09
Island Def Jam/Goodfellas Ent.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"I Can't Hear the Music ft. Fabolous" (2008)
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