What if the highest moment of your career had already come and gone? What would you do? Would...
DJBooth Album Review
Or maybe there’s another option. Maybe you could carry on, constantly striving to make it back to the top, even if you knew you may never get there again. That’s exactly what Compton’s favorite R&B son, TQ, has done. The year was 1999, and the smooth-voiced and silver-penned TQ had just dropped his ode to the West Coast, Westside, to a flurry of critical and commercial acclaim. The sky was the limit for TQ then, but in the ensuing years the spotlight has never shone as brightly on him as it did for that brief musical moment.
TQ didn’t fold, he simply continued to put out quality music, lent his songwriting skills to a host of artists and labels (most notably for Cash Money) and built an adoring fan base he could depend on to pay his bills. Fast forward to 2008, nearly a decade after his debut album Didn’t See Me Coming, and TQ’s still on the grind with his new album Paradise. The bad news is there isn’t a single song on Paradise with the kind of catchy hook and easy pop appeal to make him a superstar (again), but it’s more than good enough to make a lot of people very happy. Actually, maybe that was the good news.
TQ’s trademark has always been his ability to beat his hardcore Compton blood through an old-school R&B heart, and Paradise has no shortage of hard-yet-soulful tracks to bring out the laid-back lover in even the hardest of thugs. The lead single, also titled Paradise is a slowly banging memorial to deceased musical legends that could easily pass for as a distant R&B cousin of Tupac’s Thugz Mansion. There’s a reason TQ named his album after Paradise, its seamless combination of hip-hop, via a booming bass drum and a very-brief Krayzie Bone verse, and R&B’s heart-wrenching lyrical honesty, “I can’t see past the pain,” serves as a manifesto for TQ’s musical mission. But from a purely musical level, Paradise isn’t even close to the best example of TQ’s Compton R&B style - for that I'd turn to Pumpin. With a driving soul-rhythm and some complex harmonies, along with a perfectly placed Curtis Mayfield reference, Pumpin is nothing less then a musical bridge between 1972 and 2008. Then again, if you named your album Pumpin, people would have very different expectations about the album’s lyrical content, if you catch my drift.
Let me pause for a moment to address In My Lap. Paradise has me feeling pretty good, so I’m in no mood to tear it apart. Let’s just say that TQ’s foray into R. Kelly-esque territory did not go well, it’s not awful, but it’s certainly the low point of the album. So I’ve decided to pretend like it never happened and get back to enjoying Paradise. Self-inflicted amnesia; that may be the best idea I’ve ever come up with.
For all this talk about TQ straddling the thin line between hip-hop and r&b, he’s really at his best when he’s just doing straight up r&b. Ain’t The Same is the kind of quietly heartbroken track r&b was invented for. If you’ve ever realized too late that you let that special someone get away, you’ll be nodding your head in recognition to Ain’t The Same. By contrast Ebony Eyes takes a more lust-filled approach, using some Asian-inflected guitar and winding bass lines to entice that special woman to turn her ebony eyes his way. As enjoyable as both these songs are, they reveal one crucial fact; TQ doesn’t have an elite-level voice. A great singer has the power to make the listener hang on their every note, and while TQ can undoubtedly sing, he isn't able to produce that kind of breathtaking effect. Ultimately that makes Paradise a very well-written and produced album, but only a decently sung one. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. Because twenty years from now, after all the Donnies and Ray Js of the world have come and gone, TQ will still be making quality music. Remember, fame fades, but true talent never does.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/3/08
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