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DJBooth Album Review
Novel’s music is good music. A gifted songwriter who’s penned tunes for everyone from Talib Kweli to Kelis to Lauryn Hill – more on that later – it’s hard not to feel Novel’s brand of richly textured and organic R&B. Unfortunately, the label bosses are more interested in having Novel make money than music, prompting the Los Angeles native to strike out on his own. The downside of his newfound independence is the continued delay of his debut album The Audiobiography, but the upside is the release of the mixalbum (more than a mixtape, less than an album, it’s a mixalbum) Suspended Animation, a title that hints not only at the music industry at large but his place in it. After granting Suspended Animation constant rotation status for two days now, I have to believe this is one Novel that will have a happy ending. That was a terrible pun, I apologize.
I’m far from the first person to compare Novel to Lauryn Hill, and it’s easy to see why. Like Lauryn he seems equally comfortable rapping, singing and songwriting, and does all three with an undeniable soul. The quasi-Hill status is most evident on Sky Might Fall, a song of hope with dark undertones that Novel fills with his engaging vocals, and Her, an acoustically oriented track that Novel lets slowly drip out of the speakers. In fact, as long as we’re playing the “over inflated comparison” game I’ll throw in one more. At first I couldn’t figure out why I was so drawn to Good Luv. Sure the song was tight, but there was some hidden reason I couldn’t take it off repeat, and then it hit me: D’Angelo. Good Luv sounds like it could have come off D’Angelo’s Voodoo, the best R&B/soul album of my generation. The slowly pounding percussion, the hypnotizing rhythms, Novel’s plaintive falsetto, they all conjured up images of D’Angelo, and Novel may agree given the “brown sugar” reference in the first line. Am I getting carried away? Of course I am. There was only one Lauryn (and D’Angelo) and there will always only be one Lauryn, but all the things we admired in her, her integrity and talent, we can admire in Novel.
As flattering as these comparisons may be, they’re ultimately more of a curse than a blessing for an artist. Sounding like someone else isn’t the goal, establishing your own music identity is, and in that regard Novel still has a little ways to go. Just take the title track Suspended Animation, a kinetically moving piece that showcases Novel’s versatility as he deftly transitions between rapping and singing. It’s almost impossible to do both with equal skill, and while Novel’s vocal abilities are undeniably stronger than his mic skills, he comes impressively close, closer than almost any other artist out there (shut up Kanye, you can’t sing). But is this the real Novel? Or is the real Novel the man who sings Put It On, one of the more traditional and radio friendly R&B tracks on the mixalbum. Or perhaps the real Novel is the guy who brings on Joell Ortiz and Papoose for So Much More, a more straight up hip-hop cut. While Novel’s ability to travel between all these styles is certainly admirable, he needs to develop a stronger presence so we can follow him through his musical travels without getting lost, a trick it took artists like…wait for it…Lauryn Hill years to perfect.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself. While Suspended Animation feels like the work of a musical veteran, Novel hasn’t even released his debut solo album yet. Suspended Animation will rightfully raise expectations sky high, and while some artists crumple under that pressure, something tells me that Novel is up to the task. The world needs more artists that make us feel. The world needs more Novels.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 07/15/09
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Fighters (Remix) ft. Joell Ortiz" (2008)
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