We absolutely love categories in this country. Anyone who’s ever filled out a tax form, and I know my real hustlers never have, knows exactly what I’m talking about. Our compulsive need to fit people into pre-packaged boxes holds especially true in hip-hop. All you hear is that rapper’s street, or club, or pop. That singer’s a cross between Beyonce and Ciara, or Rihanna and Keyshia, or god forbid Britney and Fergie. We complain about how monotonous radio music is, then savagely crush anyone who dares to drop a new sound. And I’m probably the …
DJBooth Album Review
In honor of today’s guest, the one and only Kevin Michael, I’m going to do my best to avoid easy categories. Michael grew up a bi-racial kid living in the hood and attending Catholic school, not exactly an easy road to walk, and his music is every bit as diverse as his background. His self-titled album Kevin Michael (when in doubt just name the album after yourself) revolves around a constantly orbiting series of hip-hop, pop, r&b, soul, acid jazz and even a little country. The album range proves Michael is still trying to find his own voice in the midst of all these influences, but in the meantime it’s a fascinating exercise in musical possibility.
Most labels execs would have a heart attack if the first song off their new artists’ album was We All Want the Same Thing. Lucky for us Atlantic Records actually has some "cojones" (look it up…in a Spanish dictionary). We All Want has some distinctly southern production with a 1950’s vibe. Close your eyes and you can picture the song being played on a wooden farm porch under a scorching summer sun. Lupe Fiasco lays down some rhymes, but the real story is Michael’s wavering high-register vocals. It’s hard to think of a more courageous way to open an album. Kevin Michael’s very next track finds Wyclef Jean contributing his distinctly island-seasoned production to It Don't Make Any Difference To Me, a single about putting aside racial differences and seeing the real beauty in someone. It’d be good to see Michael delve deeper into the complexities of race than a simple sentiment like “it don’t make any difference to me,” but the track’s still commendable in its sincerity.
Just in case some reviewer was tempted to write that his more pop-fueled songs sometimes border on inspirational Disney fare ( I would never) Michael sets out to prove he can get his grown man on. Ain’t Got You borrows heavily from Sinead O’Connors remorse filled ballad Nothing Compares to You, a track crying with string melodies and soulfully driving percussion. Michael’s vocals can often be lighter than Nicole Richie on a diet, but on Ain’t Got You he shows some real depth and range. The track should serve as a comforting musical shoulder to cry on for anyone missing their better half. The reason his woman’s not around anymore is probably because of Weekend Jumpoff, a bouncing ode to that lady you kept tucked away for after-hours fun. The beat is the most club ready jam on the album, it’s a driving rhythm and slinking bass reminiscent of a late night creep. I’ve been trying to avoid comparisons, but Michael’s vocals live in that space between Michael Jackson’s melodies and Lloyd’s charisma; not a bad place to be for a young singer.
Michael pays homage to his musical mentors throughout the album but occasionally he gets so lost in imitation and vocal flourishes he goes overboard. Love Letter is agonizingly close to a perfect track, if only Michael had exercised a little restraint. The beat’s the kind of dark and complex electronica Timbaland would be proud of; but Micheal frustratingly insists on backing his lead vocals with falsetto background work that screams overkill. Liquid Lava Love, a track every bit as pulsing and slow as its title suggests, suffers exactly the same fate. It’s Michael’s attempt at straight up sex appeal, but the real get-down is drowned in vocal wanderings and distracting improvisations. Sometimes less is more, one of the hardest concepts for a young artist to learn. Still, let’s cut Kevin Michael some slack. The man is actually making music that holds true to his heart and defies easy categorization…despite my best efforts.
Listen to More: Kevin Michael Written by Nathan S.
Working Boy, Inc.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"It Dont Make Any Difference To Me ft. Wyclef Jean" (2007)
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